Tuesday, July 23, 2019

COROS Vertix GPS Adventure Watch In Depth Review: Rugged, Accurate and with Leading Battery Life

Article by Sam Winebaum

COROS Vertix Adventure Watch Dark Rock ($600)


Introduction

Coros burst on the GPS smart sports watch stage in 2018 launching the Pace (RTR Review) a $200 fully featured training watch and the Apex (RTR Review) a barometric altimeter equipped, longer battery life, titanium bezel, and sapphire crystal lens training watch at $300. Both watches demonstrated leading battery life, great GPS accuracy, and while adequate some work to be done on wrist heart rate accuracy.

With the new Vertix COROS takes aim at heavy duty multi sport training, vertical adventures and one might also say showpiece wrist statement sports watches such as the Garmin Fenix and Suunto S9. It is marketed as an adventure watch for your "Altitude and Attitude" with lots of focus on very long battery life, low temperature performance, rugged durability, and even leading 150 meter water resistance. While it has those adventure features I found that it is also a superb daily any run training watch as was its close sibling the Apex.

The Vertix adds several sports modes which the Apex and Pace lack such as: Trail Run, Hike, and Mountain Climb.  

I have been at sea level so I haven't been able to test its O2 saturation altitude acclimation feature which kicks in at 8250 feet although via the quick menu I have been able to manually measure Sp02.




The on wrist comfort of this 76 g watch is outstanding. The soft silicone band and streamlined hinge as well as placement of the 3 buttons (no touchscreen here)  higher on the watch towards the screen with a beveled case below has never caused the "bite" while typing or while sleeping which had me removing watches such as the Fenix 5X although here we also have a somewhat smaller case.
I was  particularly thrilled to see the Digital Knob which controls most functions and allows in workout data screens viewing is larger, easier to operate and has moved from the top right as in the Apex to center in Vertix. The small easy overly easy to spin Apex knob often spun inadvertently when the watch was waiting for a race start or paused. Press and if you were on different function such as Settings or Finish and didn't notice for a while oops... 

I have had zero issues of that sort with the Vertix knob although in summer heat there are fewer sleeves to catch as well. The new knob can even be auto locked and a hard pressing spin down can turn lock off. We found this default setting awkward to operate and turned it off. A long press on any button can also lock and unlock the screen and we found that easier to deal with.
I demonstrate the watch features in the video below.
Review & Watch Operating Features Video
I ran many times Vertix on one wrist and  the new Garmin Forerunner 945  on the other. I found very near identical GPS distance accuracy, wrist heart rate readings, and off and on course navigation alerts. Load a GPX route file and the watch will display your climb progress along the route (photo below) along with a somewhat hard to see on the run breadcrumb style map.
I got close its claimed 60 hour battery life, estimating 57 hours in training mode with best GPS sampling as well as the stunning 45-50 days of everyday use (assuming no training). 

The battery life is a game changer not just for sport but by banishing thinking about charging for literally weeks at time as we wore it and worked out for 20 days with 13 hours of training during the period, never charging  and only used 77% of its battery as shown in the photo above.

From that "adventure" perspective I estimate you could train/hike/climb 10 hours a day for about 5 days registering GPS track, navigation, and heart rate and in off hours sleep, notifications, steps etc...and with no need to recharge.  

And you can extend that training battery even further in the UltraMax mode which has a spec of 150 hours and in the sibling Apex proved very distance accurate.

You will not get all the bells and whistles of an extensive web based training and trend tracking platform, as for example with Polar or the on wrist mapping of the Fenix Plus and 945 or all their elaborate training features although you will get accurate breadcrumb type route navigation with quick off and on course alerts. 
You will get all the basic training data most require, with run data easily and automatically exportable and as I found in the case of Strava . 
Coros is app only, no web site, but the app is cleanly and well executed if basic in terms of long term training, heart rate trends, and other analysis. I think Coros assumes you will export to other platforms for these functions and that is OK.  There is no social component or currently the ability to adopt other users routes, although they could be exported and imported as GPX files. And as with Apex, the synching to the app is always flawless and super fast, fastest of any GPS watch I have tested as was the Apex. Just open app and pull down and transfers are in seconds to the app and then other platforms, Strava in my case.

Along with the performance and accuracy, the Vertix has a titanium bezel and cover with a diamond like coated sapphire crystal so its a very beautiful, highly highly durable smart sports watch as it also does notifications, sleep, steps. compass, timer, stopwatch, intervals, and all the basics except music control for a "reasonable" in class $600 given premium features such as titanium and sapphire crystal. 


The Fenix 5 Plus with stainless steel bezel, reinforced glass lens and about 1/3 the training battery life by spec at 18 hours will also set you back $600 while the new Forerunner 945 also $600 will get you 32 hours of training time and weighs 26 g less due to its all plastic construction. 
An Ice Breaker Edition, shown above with clear hinges and azure titanium bezel is also available for $700.

Pros

Stunningly long training close to 60 hours in best training mode, 150 hours in UltraMax mode with 45 day everyday battery life 
Rugged build with extreme conditions specs (water resistance and low temp battery)
Accurate GPS tracking
Quick "off and on" course route navigation alerts.
Comfort on the wrist. great looking for every day wear 
Superb on the run operating interface with the substantial and easy to operate Digital Knob
Very sunlight readable screen in workout mode with white background dark digits
Light 76 g weight for battery life and durable build
Premium materials at a "reasonable" price.
Rapid BT synching

Cons

Readability in watch mode is only fair in dim light without backlight or ambient light
Hard to see breadcrumb navigation screen
Elevation quite consistently off by  5-10 meters high, although at times it has been accurate.
Sleep tracking, generally accurate, on occasion can "gap" for  extended periods with no data then resume.
Adequate but limited app with few long term analysis or detail features (being worked on)
For a run use focus about 2x the price of the Coros Apex with a largely similar feature set.


Official Specs




Size and Comfort


At 76 grams with a physical size of 48.75mm x 48.75 x 16.75 the Vertix is a big watch. Yet, it is has been incredibly comfortable at all times. Surprisingly so. Even sleeping I have never wanted to take it off as I often did with the somewhat larger Fenix 5X or Suunto 9 and even on occasion the Fenix 5 Plus. 


The placement of the right side buttons and digital knob, high on the watch with top and bottom buttons, those that tend to dig into the wristt low profile, and the pronounced bevel angling towards the bottom along with an excellent fairly dense but soft silicone strap all seem to contribute to the outstanding comfort on my thin wrist. 
There is no need to over tighten to get a good wrist heart rate reading and when looser during every day wear the strap is substantial enough to not twist when the wrist press onto to surfaces.
 Display
The display is a Memory LCD. Readability in workout mode is excellent when set to black large digits on white background, even in sunlight, but it is wise to limit data fields to a total of 4 max (including bottom default) as with the max 5 things got tricker for my old eyes to see on the run in the sun, slower paced hiking not being an issue.

Readability in dim light other wise is only fair in watch mode when reflected light is not in the mix.


Operating

In everyday use Vertix is operated by a combination of its center right Digital Knob with a light button at top right and a second selection and back button/ long press quick menu access at bottom left. There is no touch screen here and it is not missed. The Digital Knob and two buttons create a superb and effective operating environment. 

Digital Knob

In every day mode 

Spinning the digital knob shows separate screens with daily activity status, heart rate stats, climb stats, barometric trends, temperature trends, message notifications and actual messages and emails which are surprisingly complete.  By pressing the knob in on climb, barometer, and temperature and then spinning the knob one can review past hours trends by reading.

Pressing the Digital Knob from the watch face accesses your sport modes, training history and recovery metric "Stamina" status in COROS speak , and system settings. Spin and press to select.


In workout mode 

Pressing the digital knob starts and pauses workouts. Spinning the knob displays the screens you have set up in the app and transferred to the watch for the sport. It is a super practical and effective way to operate a watch on the go. The Digital Knob is substantial enough to easily find and well knurled  or textured so even wet fingers can easily spin it

The digital knob can be set to auto lock with a hard pressing spin down unlocking. I found carrying out the gesture requires lets just say practice. I turned it off. Unlock via a long press on any button is also available In a situation where heavy jackets and gloves are in the mix which could potentially inadvertently depress the button I could see it as being useful as long as you will go for an extended period with only the need to see one screen of data.


Top and Bottom Right Side Buttons

In everyday non work out mode 
pressing the bottom right button cycles data such as steps, battery, stairs, last workout on watch faces
A long press of the bottom right button accesses a menu of options and is also the only place one can access the pulse ox sensing as well as the toggle to turn on UltraMax mode.
the top right button turns on the back light
In Workout Mode
Top right button activates the backlight
Bottom right button marks a lap.


Watch our YouTube review to see how the watch operates as well as its interface here


Screen Visibility on the Run
Screen visibility on the run is excellent, even with sunglasses but it is advised to limit the number of data fields per screen unless you eyesight is excellent. The smaller digits get hard to see on the move. Visibility is clearly also better when the wrist is tilted to take advantage of the trans reflectivity of the screen, as I did below in bright sunlight. 


External Sensors
Despite having a super rapid Bluetooth synch so COROS really knows how to work with BT, the Vertix (and Apex) can only pair to certain ANT+ external sensors such as footpads, bike sensors, etc..Why this is given excellent BT synching, I am not sure: battery life, something else? 


Watch Faces


There a 17 currently available watch faces including some pretty wild ones. You can customize theme colors but that is about it.II picked "default 1" below and have stayed with it. 
 I like that by pressing the bottom right button I can cycle through steps, last workout time, active energy, battery level, stairs, calories, etc..when I wish without resorting to the digital knob to scroll to screens. 

Battery Life

After much testing and calculating you can expect the following:
  • For every hour of GPS and optical heart rate training you will consume less than 2% of the battery so a run time in Best Mode of between 50-60 hours. A long test of over 2.5 hours got me an estimated 57 hours so close to the spec 60 hours. Rounding of the battery meter digits with such a low consumption can affect results. 
  • For every 24 hours of everyday use outside of training, but with a fair number of phone notifications, will also consume about 2% per 24 hours so expect 40-50 days worth of non workout battery, but who doesn't work out with such as a watch!
Long Term Battery Life Test
I put the watch on when I received it June 6th with its battery then at 94%. 
June 26th after 20 days of use the battery was at 17%. During that period I ran 11 times for a total of 11.6 hours. I never charged the watch during that period!

Bottom line if you run or workout about one hour per day every day you will get close to an amazing 25 days battery life out of the watch.

From that "adventure" perspective I estimate you could train/hike/climb 10 hours a day for about 5 days registering GPS track in best mode, navigation, and heart rate.. and in off hours sleep, notifications, steps etc...and not need to recharge.

If you want to get even more battery life the Vertix (and Apex) both have an UltraMax mode which extends the battery to a spec of 150 hours. According to COROS it works as follows: "For every 120 seconds, the GPS is switched on for 30 seconds. COROS’s Intelligent Stride algorithm along with motion sensors will kick in for the remaining 90 seconds."

I have not yet tested UltraMax on the Vertix but recently tested UltraMax on the Apex. I expect no significant differences. From my Apex review:
 "We tested Ultra Max during our 13 day trek across Switzerland and assuming the activity is started at 100% battery we hit the 75 hour Apex UltraMax spec. by extrapolating from a 9 hour hike. Total distance was very close at less than a 0.05 km compared to a Polar Vantage V run in highest sampling mode. Wrist oHR was also captured during the test. "

UltraMax is accessed by a long press on the bottom right button which opens a quick menu of options which includes turning UltraMax on and off. 

Extreme Conditions Performance
While I did not test in cold COROS claims as follows:
"Works down to -4°F/-20°C with less than a 30% depreciation in battery performance VERTIX lasts for 21 hours in GPS mode under -22°F/-30°C extreme testing."


GPS Accuracy

I tested the Vertix concurrently with the new Garmin Forerunner 945 during many road and trail runs. For almost all runs, except the very last few so something changed,  known mile splits beeped with a second or two of each other and final distances were within 0.02-0.03 miles / less than 50 meters of each other for runs of approximately 5-6 miles assuming I give both plenty of time to fully acquire satellites which can vary day to day watch to watch.


All Graphs https://analyze.dcrainmaker.com/


A recent 9km trail run with many twists and turns had both exactly at the same distance as shown above, 9.08km.

Elevation Accuracy
I live at sea level so to test elevation accuracy in the mountains I took the Vertix (and 945) on  a recent fast hike up Mt Washington, NH a/k/a "The Rock Pile".
I did not calibrate either watch before starting the hike. Mt Washington is 6288 feet / 1917 meters as shown on the summit sign above.
Neither watch displayed a spot on elevation at the summit but the Vertix was closer to accurate, off by 37 feet / 11 meters high. 
The start of my normal daily runs are at 30 feet / 9 meters above sea level. Below, also not calibrated one can see that the Vertix (blue) is showing 35 feet /11 meters higher than actual and the 945 (purple) is at 17 feet / 5 meters high. I also note the blockier/flatter lines of the Vertix in these low altitude conditions.

This said on a very recent run Vertix was much more accurate as to elevation. I am on a raised road near sea level in the photo below. It appears auto calibration timing might need some tuning?
Add caption
For the 9 km trail run shown below the Vertix also tracked somewhat higher than the Forerunner.

Data Fields

There are dozens of available data fields. You configure in the app and then load to the watch. 
Select the number of data fields to be shown on a screen, then cell by cell select metrics from the scrollable list at the bottom. You can have up to 5 screens per sport. 

Available Data Fields

Time of Day, Total Time, Workout Time, Distance, Laps, Calories, Cadence, Stride Length, Pace, Speed, HR, Avg. Cadence, Avg. Stride Length, Avg. Pace, Avg. Speed, Avg. HR, Max. Speed, Max. HR, Lap Time, Lap Distance, Lap Cadence, Lap Stride Length, Lap Pace, Lap Speed, Lap HR, Elevation, Total Ascent, Total Descent, Battery, Stamina, Aerobic TE, Anaerobic TE, Last Lap Time, Last Lap Pace, Last Lap Speed, Power, 3s Avg. Power, 10s Avg. Power, 30s Avg. Power, Avg. Power, NP, Avg. HR, Avg. Stroke Rate, Avg. SWOLF, Last Len. Strokes, Last Len. Pace, Last Len. HR, Last Len Stroke Rate, Last Len., SWOLF, Lap Strokes, Lap Stroke Rate, Lap SWOLF, Lap Ascent, Lap Descent, Last Lap Ascent, Last Lap Descent, Vert. Speed, 3D Distance, Grade.
* Some advanced run metrics  (not shown above) but selectable on the watch are not yet active 

Interestingly additional "vertical" focused metrics are only available in Mountaineering, Hike, and Bike and Trail Run mode.  Grade % is available for all these sports but  Current Lap and Last Lap Ascent and Descent are only available for Trail Run, Mountaineering and Hike but not for Bike. Not a big deal if you want those kind of stats in regular run mode, just configure the rest of the stats as you wish in a mode which supports.

Bike and both Run modes includes data fields for various external ANT+(only) sensors appropriate to the sports. 


I easily paired the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod with the Vertix and after selecting its data fields in Run mode and putting them on two screens,  metrics for the Pod displayed on the run.


After my run the Run Dynamics Pod data displayed in the app.
Trail Run and Mountaineering (skiing) include 3D Distance which takes into account rapid changes in elevation gain or loss at speed to more accurately calibrate distance. 3D distance is not available in other modes as GPS is judged sufficiently accurate although I wonder why it is not available in Bike.
I tested the Grade function and found it responded to even a subtle changes in grade in a bit less than 10 seconds. The little hill above started at 7% and surprised me ending up at 22%.

Optical Heart Rate Accuracy

Vertix (right) has a new back of watch sensing array when compared to the Coros Apex (left)
LEFT: COROS Apex                                             RIGHT: COROS Vertix

Not only are do the LED illuminating the blood flow through the skin larger but instead of the two relatively small ones on the Apex we now have three plus the new pulse Ox sensor which is furthest to the right in the photo below.


While my testing weather has been far warmer and more humid than when I tested the Apex in the winter (cold weather leads to lower blood flow and all watches and even chest bands struggle in these conditions confusing cadence with heart rate)  wrist heart rate accuracy has been very consistent and much improved over the Apex.  The additional and larger LED lights and what appears to be a new sensor as well as a smoother fit to the wrist all seem to contribute  

Graphs: DC Analyzer
All of my testing has been running both road and trail at relatively consistent paces. In the graph above, a trail run, the Vertix was a bit higher than the Forerunner 945 and actual based on perceived effort early in the run then settled in. None of the prolonged 20 beats higher than accurate stretches appearing suddenly in the middle of a run for no apparent effort reason seen with the Apex are seen above or have been seen in any of my runs.






It happens... in the graph above a road run it was the Forerunner 945 which struggled early then settled in as its readings are clearly higher than effort. 

Navigation

GPX files can be loaded through the app via Bluetooth to the watch from external sources or you can load your own Coros generated routes to the watch. Up to 10 routes can be loaded at a time.
In the photo above at 100 foot scale (press the digital knob on the navigation screen to zoom in and out by spinning it) I deliberately went off the loaded course, the red line. The watch is telling me I am 0.05 miles off course and the direction I am facing, blue arrow will get me back on course. I tested how much distance it took to alert me of "off course" by comparing to the Forerunner 945 on another wrist. 

The Vertix (and 945) chimed in with alerts at about the same distance, 65-70 feet or about 20 meters off course. Below I stopped exactly where Vertix notified me of "off course". On course is at the blurry red sign in the photo below


During the period I also tested a Suunto 5 in navigation mode which alerted at somewhat over 300 feet or 91 plus meters.


While the picture above is readable, in most bright light conditions with sunglasses on it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to see the breadcrumb map without stopping to squint at the map but for me the key are the off and on course alerts.

Equally useful is a fantastic screen which shows the route total vertical, highest and lowest points, route profile and vertical completed. 

I also noted that one is not able to pause the workout in map mode. Spin the dial to another screen to pause and then restart.


The navigation features are identical to those included in the Apex.


COROS App
COROS is app only in terms of platform. There is no web page view or direct connect to a computer. Long term analysis is currently limited to monthly totals. I expect COROS will expand the app capabilities over time. I also expect users will want to export to other platforms such as Strava which is easily and seamlessly executed.  Official details on navigating the app, what the app can do, how it calculates metrics is here
Daily Summary
Training Load, Fitness Index, and Fitness Level
The app displays basic fitness and training load metrics. While the VO2 Max estimate, Lactate Threshold and Resting HR appear accurate enough ( I am 46 VO2 Max on the 945)  I question the threshold pace... which may not take into account my advanced age and creaky legs..

Run Recap
The app displays nicely complete statistics for each run. I would like to see a comparative/trends option for the same route over time as well as the start and finish approximate temperatures, wind and humidity. 
As with the other COROS watches there is nifty privacy toggle which blacks out the map and locations if you so choose. Touching any split icon displays split time.
You can also see the route in satellite mode although it is quite dim and hard to see. 


Post Run Stats on the Watch


Conclusions

The COROS Vertix is an excellent new GPS smart watch in the rugged and premium category. Adventure and mountain positioned, it delivers market leading battery life and water resistance along with altitude acclimatization features through it pulse oximeter while also providing a full suite of watch run and multi sport features. Its GPS is as accurate as any competitor and its wrist HR very solid, but as with all wrist sensing, given the nature of the beast, not always perfect but so far significantly improved over the Apex. The elevation accuracy could use some further tuning. The app is basic and solid if less trends oriented as competitors. The app has no current social component. It obviously can be expanded over time or do as I do export the data elsewhere with COROS's always smooth synch. 

As with all watches, especially a premium one the choice is highly personal not only around features but fit, feel, and look. I have tested many, many watches including all the heavy and heavy duty premium competitors and somehow the Vertix just fits better and more comfortably, looks good and is a wrist "presence" without over shouting and that long long battery life in training and in every day use has me literally never worrying about charging, even if taken for 5 days on the adventures trail 10 hours per day in best accuracy mode, even longer in the available UltraMax.  In this day of ever more power hungry gadgets the Vertix is a welcome change and relief from the ordinary. 

Comparisons

Source: Coros
COROS Apex (RTR Review)
The comparable size is $250 less than the Vertix. With the exception of the altitude and extreme conditions features of the Vertix, and its long, long battery life at close to 60 hours, the 35 hour Apex has all of the same key features and technologies and is 20 g lighter. You won't see the Grade % and Lap Ascent and Descent data fields. I do think the Vertix wrist HR sensing module is superior in accuracy and the digital knob far better executed. Also with a sapphire crystal and titanium bezel unless you are going long and high the Apex is the "logical choice". This said the build, feel, and style of the Vertix could tug at your heart... The Apex looks and feels somewhat like a jazzed up plastic watch while the Vertix is a rugged good looking watch that can go anywhere off the road and trails.

Garmin Forerunner 945 (RTR Review soon)
Same price, lighter weight by 26 g and all plastic, the 945 is loaded with every training and other feature imaginable including pulse oximeter, on the wrist topo maps and turn by turn directions, incident detection, music storage, contactless payments, and more. Its best mode battery life of 32 hours is excellent but pales in comparison to the Vertix's close to 60 hours as does its battery rating in every day use of 2 weeks. If you wanted durability, style, and longest battery life the COROS. If you want all the  bells and whistles in a super light, all plastic watch the 945.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (RTR Review)
Garmin's adventure plus all multi sport features (same as 945 in respect to features although only the most expensive 5x has pulse ox and the 945 has the new Incident Detection feature)  offering is heavier and with comparable materials more expensive with considerably lower battery life in all models and especially the 5 Plus which is rated at 3x less battery life with the giant and heavy 98 g 9X and its 32 hour battery rating not a great choice for small wrists.  As with the 945 the on wrist mapping and highly effective turn indicators along routes are a distinct step above the Vertix's breadcrumbs although both alert to on and off route at about the same distance.  A statement watch as the Vertix is, the choice comes down to price, battery life, and the need or not for all the additional features of the Fenix. 

Suunto 9 Baro (RTR Review)
Comparable in weight and $100 more for a comparable materials titanium and sapphire version, the Suunto extends its comparatively weak training 25 hour best mode battery life while maintaining track accuracy through its effective Intelligent Battery and Fused Track up to 120 hours so approaching the Vertix UltraMax's 150 hours. The Suunto has a very weak every day battery rating of 7 days which pales in comparison to the 45 days plus of the Vertix. While it has been a while since I had the Suunto 9 I found it not nearly as comfortable to wear particularly when snugged tight to get decent wrist HR readings. And it was a watch I had difficulty sleeping with unlike the Vertix. 
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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1 comment:

Ryan said...

Nice review, but some fact checking is in order! The Apex now has all the same modes the Vertix has since a few firmware updates ago. Trail Run, Hike, indoor modes, etc.