Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Coros Apex Pro GPS Sports Watch First Look Review: Silky Titanium Lightness, Extended Battery Life, Swipe Touch Screen

Article by Sam Winebaum

COROS Apex Pro ($500)

The COROS Apex Pro. (59 g) launches September 17 slotting between the solid long battery life multi-sport Apex (RTR Review) and the very rugged adventure and multi sport focused Vertix (RTR Review). I had a few days to test it including 2 road runs and 2 mountain hikes in New Hampshire. 
COROS has rapidly emerged as a strong player in the sports smart watch game with very solid GPS (as good as anyone),  and more recently with Vertix and its new sensor array (shared with the Pro) I am finding improved wrist heart rate accuracy. Value is there as are premium materials such as sapphire crystals and titanium bezels.  Does it have all the performance condition and physiology features of watches such as the Garmin Forerunner 945, no, but it does have way more than the basics for all but the hardest core data geek, adding new run bio metrics with the soon to be released optional Performance Pod also covered in brief below.

While not a "social" platform, the Coros app, and Coros for now is app only with no web view, and does provide solid well presented data easily and rapidly exportable to more social platforms such as Strava. See our Vertix review here for details on app.
Having previously tested the Pace, Apex, and Vertix I can say the new Pro is my favorite COROS to date. It basically has all the features of the heavier in weight 76g and price $600 Vertix.

The battery life spec . in training mode (GPS and wrist HR)  now extends  14%  to 40 hours and my initial testing indicates it will at least meet that spec.

It adds a well implemented (tested in wet conditions this weekend) swipe only capacitive touch screen (also coming to Vertix as an update) to move rapidly through screens to go with its 2 buttons and Digital Knob which  operate all functions.

I also finding more comfort on the wrist from a streamlined band hinge and soft rubbery strap not to speak of the lower weight, only 9 g more than the Garmin Forerunner 945 an all plastic polymer watch and 5 g more and very slightly thicker than Apex with its titanium alloy bezel and sapphire crystal.

Looks are of course in the eyes of the beholder but the more subtle lime green, charcoal gray and shiny full titanium bezel is a sharp, modern but not overly loud look.

Several watch faces are available. Below the one illustrated on the packaging with theme color roughly matching the watch band.

The Pro adds the following key, new firmware features:
  • "Resume Later" for multi day activities, for example if you have loaded a long GPX track to navigation. Just return to the activity to restart. Will also come to Vertix.
  • "Hold to Finish". To end a workout press the Digital Knob down for 3 seconds. This prevents inadvertent sleeve or other actions as was sometimes the case with Apex. 
  • The ability to set the barometer to sea level (for weather predictions) or the usual station pressure, where you are located for elevation tracking.  
  • Set call and message notifications to be on or off directly on the watch instead of via the app.
It upgrades the Apex with what is now a full titanium bezel instead of one made of titanium alloy, a 14% greater workout battery life spec at 40 hours (GPS/HR), a pulse oximeter sensor for altitude acclimatization along with a new heart rate sensing array and the capacitive swipe touch screen.
Significantly, as I had issues with inadvertent spinning of the Apex's Digital Knob,  the Pro's Digital Knob is now larger and in the center button position instead of at the top where it could get leaned on or caught and spun with cuffs.
There is an auto lock function (as on Vertix) with unlock by rapid spin down of the Digital Knob or long press on any button. The swipe screen is active in workout mode even if the screen is locked. 
Instead of knob and one button we now have 2 buttons ( bottom right for cycling through standby mode data on the watch faces and as the back button when in standby screen or to exit elevation graph detail in workout mode,  marking laps, with long hold to access a quick menu. The top left button is for backlight. I have had no problems so far sleeping with  the watch.

Watch our Apex Pro Features Walkthrough Video

It weighs a mere 4 g more than Apex, and more subjectively, the more prominent looking bezel, larger buttons,  slightly thicker shape. and  subtle lime strap just makes the watch stand out more as a serious and also a touch playful watch for sport and every day.

Source: COROS Global

COROS Official Introduction Video

Initial Testing
On Trail
I tested the Pro on two hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, loading GPX files to follow as I completed my last of two of 48 Four Thousand Footers. The first 45 were completed in the 1970's when I was a teenager many before I was a runner. #46 was completed with my wife to be Dominique from Switzerland in 1984 on her first hike in the US... not the usual views of smooth trails of Switzerland but over time she took to our rugged authentic mountains and trails and is on her own 4000 Footer quest.  We hiked the last two the most northerly peaks, Cabot and Wamubek,  neither with summit views but spectacular trails to reach the summits through the lush boreal forest.
I tested the elevation at the summit of Mount Cabot in New Hampshire. We arrived on 9/11 flag day, the first Saturday every year after September 11 where flags are raised for four hours on all 48 Four Thousand Footers to remember and commemorate the 9/11 attacks and the victims.  
The summit is various held at either 4170 or 4180 feet elevation. The Pro had us at 4199 feet while a Garmin Forerunner 945 had us at 4191. Neither watch's barometric altimeter was manually calibrated at the start of our hike in intermittently stormy weather. 

The larger Digital Knob is much easier to operate than Apex's small finicky one.

It was lightly raining, very damp and sweaty on our first day's hike and I had no problem reliably operating the touch screen. Note it is swipe only, no screen pressing to take actions. All actions are through the buttons and knob. This is a smart and effective way to use a capacitive touch screen. See the video walkthrough above for a demonstration
As with the Vertix the Pro has a grade percentage data field which I loaded to a screen, also including total ascent and descent It generally seems accurate with a lag of about 10 seconds to adjust to changes in grade. It does both up and down grade percentages.
There are many available data fields  which you configure to your choice of layouts in the app then transfer to the watch.  On the screen above I chose to display the grade (top), ascent (lef), and descent (right).  If a route is selected for navigation (in settings on the watch after activity is selected and route is loaded to the watch from the app) two additional navigation screens will appear.
One screen will display total vertical climbed as well as a graph of the route profile. A press of the digital knob and you can change he scale by turning the knob or swiping. On a long climb I find the climb screen particularly useful but wish the Pro had the multi climb on a route metrics of Garmin's Climb Pro on the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 5 series watches.
The breadcrumb mapping of the route is identical to that found on the Apex and Vertix. Hard to see dark on black, it quite frankly needs work. This said the all important notifications of "off course" on a route you are following occur within about 65-70 feet about the same as the top end Garmin watches and about 4x sooner in off course distance than a Suunto 5 we recently tested (RTR Review). 

The same press and turn or press or swipe applies to heart rate, day's elevation, barometric pressure,  temperature trends in the standby watch mode as illustrated in the photo below.  Phone notifications are also available on the standby screen.

GPS Accuracy
Graphs: DC Analyzer
The Pro and Forerunner 945 tracked very close to each other in dense forest and rainy conditions on the out and back route. The Pro had 15.31km as the distance covered with the Garmin 15.61 km. I did not consistently stop each watch at every break potentially accounting for the differences. I have found the Vertix and now Pro within a very, very few hundredths of a mile of the Forerunner 945 with mile laps buzzing for all intents simultaneously. 

Save and hold to resume later is now available, a useful feature for multi day treks along a long loaded route.

On the Road
My first road run was along the ocean with very few obstructing trees most of the way. It was a progression run, faster pace each mile. The Pro (purple) and Garmin 945 tracked very closely.

Wrist Optical Heart Rate
While the Pro (purple) had a slight early high hiccup it seems to have a smoother graph with fewer jagged spikes than the Forerunner 945. I will be testing more in the drier colder conditions, always tricky for wrist heart rate sensing as there is less blood flow to the extremities in those conditions sometimes causing all watches to confuse cadence with heart rate.

In the end average heart rate was within 0.07 beats per minute of each other.

The slight difference in distance can likely be attributed to my stopping the Pro a few dozen yards before the 945 and potentially to the fact that in the early first few hundreds meters the Forerunner was tracking on the wrong side of Cable Road (left below) at the very start of the run.

Coros Performance Pod (coming October)
The Coros ecosystem will soon include the optional Coros Performance Pod (RTR review soon). I paired the Pod to the Apex Pro in seconds. Appropriate screens load to to the activity on the watch and can be customized,  providing  Running Efficiency and lateral, horizontal, and vertical power insights in the app (see below).
Just top of Average for Running Efficiency and not great Power results for me.. Need to work on my core...

On the watch a wealth of data such as Running Efficiency, Ground Contact Time, Stride Length, Stride Height, Stride Ratio, Left/Right Balance is available from the Pod.
A few runs in, I am finding focusing on Ground Contact Time, Cadence and Left Right Balance simultaneously seemed to positively affect Running Efficiency which is the ratio of speed to the power to weight ratio.  I set one screen to only show Run Efficiency and focused on it after watching other screens for Left Right Balance, Ground Contact Time, and Cadence and how I could affect those  then focused on maintaining and improving efficiency. Seemed to work.
By swiping rapidly between screens as I tried to maintain compact arm carriage, a good body position and a slightly increased cadence I was able to not affect Efficiency and get it above 90%.
I momentarily hit a perfect 50/50 Left Right Balance with a pretty poor 288 Ground Contact Time and relatively good 178 cadence, my pace being in the 9:50 or so per mile. More on the Performance Pod as I test further but the combination of a Running Efficiency score and actionable in run metrics all on the watch is a promising new approach,

Update: Coros Track Run by Michael Ellenberger

The Track Run map is accurate - even mirroring which lane I was in on which lap!
In Fall 2019, Coros pushed an update to their Apex, Apex Pro, and Vertix devices solving an issue that I'd hypothesize most runners have experienced - inaccurate GPS traces when running on a track. It seems so simple - tracks are outdoors, and often in clear spaces, clear from tall buildings or dense forests (Nike's Portland forest track notwithstanding). And yet, anyone who has done multiple laps on a track has found that the GPS map rarely matches up properly with the calculated distance, and the outputted track often has you running several meters into a nearby field, road, or field house before finding yourself on the other side of the track.

To alleviate this, Coros introduced a new sport profile, "Track Run." You select it similar to selecting any other sport - "Run," "Indoor Run," "Trail Run," "Bike," etc. You cannot select it on-the-fly; you must have ended your present workout in order to begin the Track Run (and, usefully, it reminds you to not begin recording until you're on the track). In practice, Track Run works exactly as you'd like - tracking you as you cruise laps with significantly greater accuracy. I tested this on a 400M track (accurate, as one might expect - it had me at 1.00 miles exactly as I came across the marked 1609 ). Several other reviewers have confirmed the accuracy of this mode, and for those conducting a long track workout, it's heartening to know the outputted data will remain true.
This is a general (no Track Run) output - decently accurate (within .05 miles for a two lap test), but considerably messing in its execution.

More interesting to me - as someone who infrequently runs on a track, but does frequently do laps of something (i.e. a 1-mile course that I've marked), the Apex and Track Run proved accurate even across an oddity - a 5-laps-to-a-mile, 0.2 mile track. Lap and lap again, the Coros stayed locked onto my run - if you look carefully at the track in the native Coros app, you can even see where I had to swing wide to avoid walkers or other runners. It's considerably more accurate than running with "regular" GPS (below) - and this is one of my more accurate maps of this track (to be fair, it is reasonably urban).

I've found the Apex to be accurate for most all runs - city running included, as below - and often superior to a Garmin Forerunner 245, 645, or Apple Watch Series 5. The addition of the Track Run mode is just another step forward - and proof that Coros intends to innovate, rather than follow, in 2020. It's important that they elected to push the update to all capable watches, rather than withholding it for only their top-end models (say, cut out the Apex and maintain only for the more expensive Vertix and Apex Pro). Hopefully this is a sign of an exciting 2020 for Coros, and GPS wearables at-large.

Initial Conclusions
The Apex Pro ($500) is a fine new addition to upstart and fast rising COROS's growing line up. Slotted between the Apex and Vertix and competing with watches such as the Forerunner 945, Suunto 9 and Polar Vantage V at $500 it is well priced for its construction and capabilities. No question it is built with premium rugged and light materials given its titanium bezel and sapphire crystal. The light weight and streamlined stretchy band make it extremely comfortable to wear around the clock and I find it stylish too.

 The 40 hour training battery life and 30 day everyday use spec are as good as it gets and recall this is a very light 59 g watch and significantly lighter with the same capabilities as the 76 g COROS Vertix. To date GPS accuracy and wrist heart rate have been as good as any competitor.

Serious runners, multi sport, and mountain focused athletes will find all the necessary features (a multitude of data fields, altimeter, pulse ox sensing, bio mechanics Pod option) as well as  plenty of flexibility to customize data fields and even now how one interfaces with the watch-touch swipe, Digital Knob, and buttons.  Thoughtful firmware updates (many to appear on other watches)  such as the swipe touch screen for viewing data, resume later, text and call notifications on or off directly on the watch, 3D distance, and weather predictions show COROS is carefully adding useful features as they grow and not just jazzing up hardware.  I wish for a better more visible implementation of the breadcrumb navigation or actual maps as the competing Garmin Forerunner 945 and Fenix have and a more visible screen layout in dim light in everyday mode, workout visibility being fine.

I will be continuing testing for a full review, coming soon!
Watch our Apex Pro Features Walkthrough Video
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!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes


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gtom said...

Hi Sam, does the Coros Pod provide Power data in Watts like Stryd or just Running Dynamics stats like Garmin Pod?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Gtom,
So far and not sure of final release or potential upgrades like Garmin Pod, no power estimate, but adds the Running Efficiency score which I am already finding very useful
Sam, Editor

Unknown said...

Looks like a very promising piece. Does it track sleep and recovery at all? I can't seem to find any info on this. Thanks!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Unknown, Pro does track sleep including: total, deep, light, shake, HR range, and Avg HR. Not as much, yet recovery. See our review of the COROS Vertix for more detailed info, mostly applies to both https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2019/07/coros-vertix-gps-adventure-watch-video.html
Sam, Editor

Lawrence said...

Thanks for the reply and link. I'll be sure to check out the Vertix review. I'd love to see some Recovery function on the Coros watches. I'm loving their stuff but Recovery is pretty much a make/break feature for me. Any suggestions on how to get word to them or ask about future development plans?
Thanks again!

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