Wednesday, June 05, 2019

COROS Pace Multisport GPS Watch Review-Watch this Pace: A $200 Ultra-Ready Watch

Article by Hope Wilkes

COROS Pace Multisport GPS Watch ($200)


Introduction

Hope: I don’t bring a great deal of expertise to this review. I’ve run in three or four different Garmin watches (Forerunner series and Fenix) over the years. So my approach to this review is my normal approach for any tracker I add to my kit: see how it works out of the box, without becoming an expert on every single feature. My measure for “is this a good GPS watch” is threefold:

Does it do what it claims to do?
Is it easy to use?
Is it special?

I’ll give you the bottom line up front: the COROS Pace is a good GPS watch. But I say that with a few nitpicky reservations. You’ll spend more time with your wearable tech than any shirt or pair of shorts, so nitpicky problems will matter, so I’ll get into those in detail.

Pros:
-Massive 25 hour battery life in training mode (30 days in standby)
-Size
-Weight
-Comfort
-GPS accuracy
-Optical heart rate monitor accuracy

Cons:
-Bluetooth upload hangs up/fails often
-Cluttered workout display (depending on settings)

Bear in mind that I’m not a major datahead and that I only put the Pace through its paces in outdoor run mode.

Battery Life
If you want to have a working watch at the end of your ultramarathon (100 miles or less), the Pace is the watch for you. Although I haven’t used it as my exclusive training/racing watch since Sam shipped it to me in April for this review and I haven’t taken it on any super long outings, I think it still says a lot that we’re now into June and I’ve only charged it twice. 

The stated 25 hour battery life in GPS mode seems like the low end of the Pace’s performance. Long battery life is good enough to excuse all manner of sins in my book.

Size, Weight, and Comfort
Fenix-like features in a Forerunner-like package. I love my Fenix 3 HR, but it’s a boat anchor of a watch that’s often uncomfortable on my wrist because it’s so big. During ultras and marathons its high-profile optical HR monitor bit into my skin leaving a bloody wound. Not so with the smaller, slimmer, lighter COROS Pace. Ladies, take notice: this is a full-featured GPS watch that will fit a slimmer wrist. The rubber strap is soft enough to mold to your arm and it’s free from sharp edges/pinch points. It has enough notches for a customized fit without being cumbersome. At 45 g, the Pace is light enough that I don’t notice it. During testing, my jewelry watch’s battery died, so I wore the Pace for several weeks as my all-day watch. It certainly reads more “sport watch” than some other models, but otherwise fit into my non-running life just fine.

GPS Accuracy
I’ll stress again that I’m not a gearhead or datahead. Tracked distances for my typical routes came up bang on what I expected or within a few hundredths of mile of what I expected. For my purposes and based on what (little) I know of current wrist-based GPS technology, that’s excellent.

Heart Rate Monitor Accuracy
I did not compare the tracked heart rate against output from a heart rate strap. My claim that the heart rate monitor is accurate comes from my own counting of BPM and my observation that the Pace’s measurements didn’t fluctuate wildly or seen way off from how I was feeling. The low-profile optical HR monitor fits basically flush with the wrist allowing for good readings. As with some other watches (from my collection, the Garmin Fenix 3 and Forerunner 235), the Pace returns “full recovery within X hours” advice after a run based on this data which is a handy feature.

Display
The running mode screen has the ability to show up to six data points. Mine shows heart rate, average pace, distance, lap (just the number of miles unless the lap button is used), activity time elapsed, and for some reason, heart rate again. There’s so much on here that I didn’t notice the duplication of the HR reading until fairly late in my testing. 
Evidently this is highly customizable in the app and Sam has made some changes when he put the Pace through its paces before I did. In writing this review I performed a reset which restored the much simpler default display measurements: pace, distance, and activity time elapsed.

Since I’m very keen on my running distance tracker staying out of my way, I don’t always wait around to get a perfect GPS fix. Occasionally I prefer to just get started as soon as I get outdoors. My Fenix 3 HR shows the GPS fix (or lack thereof) via a green (or red) ring around the display that doesn’t get in the way of any data on the screen. The Pace’s display shows a notice of poor GPS fix that occludes the top part of the screen, entirely obscuring the first HR readout on my watch. It seems like there should be a one-time notice of poor GPS fix and then this should go away. I’ll also note here that the Pace has the equivalent of an “are you sure you want to start tracking now?” screen when starting an activity with poor GPS fix that should eliminate the need for the constant on-screen display of poor GPS fix. If GPS connectivity changes/worsens during a run, that would be the time to display a notice of poor GPS fix.


Somewhat surprisingly given the Pace’s ability to show six data points during a run, I have to scroll through four screens to get my entire post-run summary which includes nine data points. I’d like to see smaller font and have everything on one or two screens.

Further, I’d be much happier with a dedicated light button than the somewhat frustration-inducing gesture-to-activate backlight. I think the backlight can be mapped to one of the watch’s buttons, but I have not tested that and it was not a default setting for me.

COROS App
I often don’t have reliable/secure WiFi access due to work travel or the patience to fiddle with upload settings on a daily basis, so it’s nice to have the flexibility to upload when I want to without worrying about loss of data. Unfortunately, data upload from the Pace isn’t entirely reliable. I’m running an iPhone 6S+ with iOS 12.1.4, so not the latest and greatest. Even so, I’d hope for better reliability than what I experienced with the Pace: sometimes I’d have to try three or four times to get data to upload after establishing the Bluetooth connection because the upload would hang up part way through.


I’m a “sometimes” user of Strava. The COROS app’s connection to Strava was poor. It claimed the connection was successful several times before it eventually worked. The automatic push of data from the COROS app to Strava was sketchy: if I waited multiple days to upload data, not all of the activities would transfer. I haven’t found a solution yet. This is the kind of thing the Pace needs to do smoothly and reliably in order to compete well against more established models. I’ll admit that out of frustration I haven’t put in a lot of effort into resolving the problem.

That said, when the app works, it’s very nice. Data is displayed clearly and in attractive colors. For privacy reasons I’ve left off the street-level map of my run, but the app displays nice maps that I can zoom and move and has the option to remove street data from the map image, while still leaving the route shape -- a nice touch for safe social media sharing.



Conclusion
Does it do what it claims to do? 
Emphatically, YES. The Pace delivers outstanding battery life plus solid GPS and HR accuracy.
Is it easy to use? 
Sort of. Out of the box it’s easy enough to track an activity, but access to the Pace’s full suite of features requires some patience and time with the user manual.
Is it special? 
Again, emphatically, YES. Despite my minor issues with the display and app, the Pace packs a lot of usability into a svelte, comfortable watch. The battery life is amazing, especially so given the low price.

For $200, the Pace is well worth buying. I’d recommend investing some time to update your app and your phone’s operating systems to the latest versions and to sit down with the Pace manual. This is a very fine watch that will be a standout performer over the ultra distance.

Hope Wilkes
Hope is a lifelong resident of Northern Virginia. No stranger to hills and humidity, this mid-packer is most at home on tough courses that might make other runners stay in bed. Hope has dabbled in ultras, including two 50-mile finishes, but has turned her attention to the marathon, working hard to improve upon her 2017 PR of 3:47:40. Already passionate about sneakers when she picked up running in 2008, it was inevitable that she’d become a running shoe geek. Hope funds her shoe habit with her gig as a financial services trade association program manager, a job that includes regular domestic and international travel. This happily married mom of two cats is also a first-year evening MBA student at Virginia Tech. In her free time she likes to review running shoes and gear at her blog Runner’s Reviews [https://runners-reviews.com/
Coros Pace Features Walk through Video

Comparisons (Sam Winebaum Editor RTR)
COROS Pace 
($200, price drop from $300) 49 g, 25 hours training, 30 days everyday use 
compared to:
COROS Apex 46mm ($350) (RTR Review)
55 g, up to 35 hours training in best mode, up to 75 hours in Ultra Max mode , 30 days everyday use 
Apex and Pace Comparison Coros.com 
The Pace has all the key features of the Apex except the Navigation (and also no barometric altimeter relying on generally pretty accurate GPS) and the Stamina features. Its physical hardware differs in having a plastic bezel and strengthened glass lens instead of the titanium bezel and a sapphire lens of the Apex. Although less than the Apex's 35 hours, battery life remains impressive at 25 hours. If you have a particularly thin wrist, the smaller lighter Pace should be slightly more comfortable and potentially offer slightly better optical heart rate results.


Garmin Forerunner 45 ($200, review soon) The 45 checks in with 13 hours of training time and 7 days in smartwatch mode, so way below the Pace. It is 13 g lighter in its comparable "large" 42 mm size, an important factor in helping ensure accurate wrist heart rate with a smaller and lighter yet 32 g 39.5mm size also available. It includes an intriguing new "incident detection" feature along with Live Track (both require you to also have a phone with you) feature to help with safety, all day stress tracking, and a Body Battery metric. 

Garmin Vivoactive 3 (some versions now $200 others $250 and $280, RTR Video Walkthrough) loses some of the Forerunner's and Pace's more sophisticated run training features and even a lap button, but gains a barometric altimeter (neither the 45 or Pace have baro relying on generally accurate GPS for altitude). The Vivo adds the option in some models of music playback from the watch and contactless payments as well as full access to the Garmin Connect IQ store. Its workout battery life is 13 hours without music playback and 5 hours with. Its after and during run extras for everyday use are important the Vivo is a good choice,

In both cases, if long battery life is a key must have the Pace is a superior choice at this price point. After that, it comes down to what features you must or must not have understanding that the other basics of the Pace, accurate GPS and decent wrist optical heart rate are roughly equivalent. 

Polar M430 ($200, RTR Review
The M430 only has an 8 hour battery life in training mode vs. 25 for the Pace. Its screen is lower resolution than Pace's but highly legible in sun and... you have to accept or like its rectangular shape. It has far more sports modes and a much deeper set of training tools, insights, and metrics built into its ecosystem.  While the Pace does a good basic job on the backend to help you track run  and other sport data with its app, the M430 is considerably more sophisticated and vast in its options, especially its cardiac based training insights.


The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the author's'.
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2 comments:

Greg S said...

Sorry, but this is just a bad chinese garmin knockoff. Maybe I would respect them if everything was not blatantly copied, but the menus and even the graphics are the same.

Dan said...

I also had poor upload speed/consistency with my Apex. That and an unreliable app (was removed from Play Store a couple days after I got watch rendering the watch useless) caused me to return it. Coros seems to have great blanketing of social media due to its gazillion sponsored athletes, but Garmin is a more time tested brand.