Friday, January 20, 2023

Coros Apex 2 and Apex 2 Pro Premium GPS Sportwatch Reviews

Article by Jeff Valliere and Sam Winebaum


Introduction/First Impressions



Jeff V:  While I have tested/owned many GPS watches over the years from Garmin, Suunto and Polar, the Coros Apex 2 Pro is my introduction to the Coros brand.  Coros is known for its GPS accuracy and battery life, where the Apex 2 Pro builds upon that reputation by adding multi band frequency and increased battery life.  Add to that, Coros has added a host of new features, very closely resembling their flagship Vertix 2, but in a much more reasonable size.  My first impressions of the Apex 2 Pro are positive, as I like the very reasonable size/weight and especially the nylon band.  I had just switched over to a nylon band on my Garmin Epix 2 and will never go back to silicone, as the nylon band is so much lighter and more comfortable. 


Sam: As the Apex 2 really only differs from Jeff’s Pro in battery life, not having dual frequency GPS but all the same accessible satellite networks, lighter weight and slightly lower screen resolution I will keep my comments here brief. I will also provide some feedback on the Pod 2 which I tested for distance accuracy on an indoor track. Derek Li’s full review of the Pod 2 which he tested with the Pace 2 is here


Pros: 

Accurate GPS now with multi band GPS and all systems GNSS: Jeff/Sam 

Battery life: Jeff/Sam

Size and Weight: Jeff/Sam


Comfort: Jeff/Sam

Nylon band: Jeff/Sam

Great option for ultra worthy battery life for thinner wrists: Sam

Digital Dia:l Jeff/Sam

Addition of Pulse Ox: Jeff

Titanium beze:l Jeff/Sam

Sapphire glass:Jeff/Sam

32GB storage: Jeff

Maps: Jeff/Sam

Easy scroll through of all key daily and on the run stats via the Digital Dial: Sam/Jeff


Cons: 

Price/Value: Jeff/Sam

Inconsistent OHR: Jeff/Sam

Map quality and usability: Jeff/Sam

No automatic HRV overnight, comparatively limited and shallower sleep and recovery data: Sam



Specs:




Build Quality, Fit and Style:

Jeff V:  Overall I have found the build quality to be great, without a nick, scratch or blemish over the few months that I have been testing the Pro.  

Fit is excellent and while the watch seems a bit thick for its  size at 14mm, it does not seem at all obtrusive and fits fine under a sleeve. I have very thin wrists, but this is a very light (aided by the nylon band) 53g watch that is exceptionally comfortable.

Sam: My Apex 2 is thinner yet at 12.8mm and weighs a mere 43g both of which are exceptional given the battery life, more battery life usually translates to a thicker heavier battery and watch but not so here. 


Having a titanium bezel and sapphire crystal adds to the durability at such a light weight equation.  The nylon strap, why oh why did it take so long for watch companies to move away from more awkward fitting heavier silicone straps. This strap  is comfortable and adds to the light feeling on the wrist. A bit denser and more rigid, less stretchy than the nylon strap on my Enduro 2, it so far has stretched less than that strap which I expect to have to replace before the Coros strap. 


I also like that I can remove the watch from my wrist without the strap coming unhitched due to the plastic end keeper.


Screen Visibility:

Jeff V: Screen visibility is very good in bright sunshine and outdoors in good natural light, especially in a sport mode, as the numbers/data fields are a good size and are very clear/crisp.  I personally do not exceed 3 data fields, mostly because I run trails almost exclusively and need to keep my focus on the trail and not try to read smaller fonts.  In lower light conditions (almost always indoors), the screen visibility is OK, comparable to most Polar watches and slightly better than Suunto.  Activating the backlight helps, but there are no brightness settings, but just on/off and auto-activation.  I will confess to being a bit jaded after getting used to the vividly bright and legible Amoled screen of the Garmin Epix 2.


Above, in the shade of trees on a sunny day, the Epix 2 (left) is much easier to read.


Though in the bright direct sun above, the Coros is a little more legible.


Apex 2 Pro left, Epix 2 right


Battery Life:


Jeff V:  I have found the battery life to be spot on with the advertised numbers put out by Coros.  Especially in GPS only mode, the Apex 2 Pro just goes on and on and on without a charge.  I charge it so infrequently really (despite running or doing some sort of sport activity at least 90 minutes per day), thay I forget where I have put the charging cable.


Sam: I tested the Apex 2 battery life over multiple periods. I confirmed the 17 day everyday use (no GPS activities).  In GPS standard mode the spec is 45 hours and that is what I saw, actually a touch more. In All Systems the spec is 30 hours and I estimate 33-34 hours.


All of these extremes of battery life in GPS mode are not so much about doing an event that long but for sure during multi day hikes it comes into play. 


For me it is more about not worrying about charging. And here the Apex 2 shines. I went 6.25 days, with notifications on and used 48% of the battery while during the period running a half and several other shorter runs totaling about 5 hours of GPS use. This means running a bit less than one hour per day, my usual I can go about 12 days or so without charging which is mighty fine by me.


GPS Accuracy:



Jeff V:  Like the Epix 2, the Apex 2 Pro features Multiband/Dual-Frequency GPS.   Accuracy is proving to be as good as the Epix 2, which has become my benchmark.  For the duration of this review, I have run the both watches on either wrist in the same tracking modes and am really impressed how both watches vibrate/alert the mile splits either at the exact same moment or within seconds of one another about 90% of the time.  


Occasionally, they will not click off the mile at the same time and can get up to 1/10th of a mile off over the course of a run, but that is infrequent and not consistent as to which watch comes out ahead or behind.  When overlaying the tracks, the Apex 2 Pro track is almost always spot on with my footprints, though occasionally the track will drift off slightly (by a few feet) to one side of the trail or another, but this is typical with any watch and is even the case with the Epix 2 even.


Above, both the Epix 2 (purple) and Apex 2 Pro (blue) nail these tricky tight switchbacks about perfectly.  This is a very typical overview of accuracy for both watches.


Comparative maps and graphs: DC Analyzer

Above though, you can see the Apex 2 Pro (blue) tracking better, but then the Epix 2 recovers and gets back on trail where the Apex 2 Pro drifts a little.  This is just by a very few feet though and as wil all GPS  watches I have ever reviewed,  they stray from the trail a little here and there, but these two watches are overall the most accurate I have tested.


Above, Epix 2 (blue), Apex 2 Pro (red) getting it pretty close.


Sam: I can confirm that GPS accuracy is outstanding and for all intents and purposes equivalent to the $1100 Garmin Enduro 2 I tested concurrently including at a half marathon with many turns where the Coros came up with 13.11 miles / 21.1 km  and the Garmin 13.09 miles  / 21.07 km.  


I also tested the Pod 2 foot pod on an indoor track which measures 7 laps to the mile during two 3 mile runs on the same day. Below are the results. Remarkably close and consistent with no calibration before or after.

Below the same runs with the Enduro 2 with no foot pod or calibration. 


You can clip the Pod 2 to your waist band at the center back or to shoelaces, both clips provided. If you clip to the shoe it provides external temperature measurements. Below what it found during my run on the indoor track. 

I think the temperatures here (average 72F for the run)  and is exactly what is shown on the gym thermostat below.






Temperature at the wrist is of course inaccurate as far as weather conditions especially in cold so the pod as a temperature sensor is for sure useful Temperature can be set as a data field as can approximate “body temperature” from the wrist sensor.


Altimeter:

Left: Garmin Epix 2                        Right: Coros Apex 2 Pro

Jeff V:  The altimeter is in line with any other baro altimeter I have used, accurate when calibrated, but can easily drift over time with barometric changes as is the case with all of them.  If I calibrate before a run either by GPS or entering a known elevation (which I rarely remember to do), the Apex 2 Pro stays consistently accurate throughout the day.  At the very least, it captures the vertical feet gained/lost throughout an activity very accurately.


Epix 2 purple and Apex 2 Pro blue, both are very much in parallel the entire way.  I wouldn’t say either is more accurate and both give consistent readings along the way and end totals of vert gained/loss.



Sam: I saw similar accurate altimeter readings on the Apex 2.very closely matching the Enduro 2 with above the half marathon close to sea level.

And below trail running at altitude with the Garmin Enduro 2 (blue) consistently about 10 meters higher. Not sure who was the accurate one!. Neither was calibrated in both examples.



Maps/Navigation:


Jeff V:  The Map functionality has trickled down from the Vertix down to the Apex 2 line, which is great news.  Maps on a GPS watch for me are essential, making navigation much easier being able to visualize directions and see your real time location spatially.  When I received my Apex 2 Pro, I was under the impression that the maps would be pre-loaded, but in fact I had to go to the Coros website, select an area for which I wanted to download and then manually drag/drop the files into the watch while the watch is plugged into my computer and attached with the cable.  The maps are free and you can load as much as you can fit into the 32GB of storage.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be a difficult process, as the procedure was incorrectly described on the website and I needed help from Coros support to complete the process.  As of this writing, you also can not perform this process over Wifi and instead must use your computer and a cable, but I believe they are working on streamlining this process.  


Once I finally got maps loaded for Colorado, I was also surprised that I was unable to scroll through my data fields when in an activity and have the maps easily accessible as a data field, as is the case with other map equipped watches. Instead, you have to long press the lower button, use the digital dial to scroll the menus to get to maps and then select the map page.  


While not a huge deal, it is inconvenient, especially while trail running or biking.  The maps themselves are somewhat rudimentary, looking a bit chunky and lacking detail, lacking street names, trail names, points of interest, geographical features, etc….  It is basically just a somewhat rough topo map and that is about it.  It definitely helps some with navigation, but they are not the granular like maps on Garmin or the Suunto 7, though I think (hope) this can easily be remedied over time.  


Navigational functionality is also basic, such that you can set a course, but it will not give you turn by turn directions, will not provide re-routes if you get off course, but will alert you if you get off course (~100 - 200 feet for me).  Without turn by turn, you have to be looking at the watch often, otherwise it is easy to get off track.


Above Apex 2 Pro map detail at 500 ft.


Above Epix 2 at same zoom/location


Apex 2 Pro above


Epix 2 above

Sam: I concur with Jeff on the mapping. Not having place names and blocky loading has the Coros mapping and navigation lagging the Garmin and for that matter if your focus is a loaded route to follow even the map less but with turn by turn directions the  Polar Pacer Pro. 


I have found that on the wrist mapping is useful at hiking paces but less so on the run due to the small screen and to a lesser extent the lower resolution screen of the Apex after having also tested the far higher resolution Epix 2. If in doubt, I most often pull out my phone for a quick look at a Komoot map. 


Better and more useful I am finding are turn by turn directions and especially the Next Fork feature of my Enduro 2 which for a huge number of known trails and all roads, notifies you via a configurable data field on any screen including the actual Map screen of distance to upcoming junctions and even with no route loaded for the entire US (or other regions if you load them and often with many (but not all) trail and for sure all road names indicated as well.

 

Optical Heart Rate:  



Jeff V: I will preface that everyone will have different experiences with OHR, depending on the watch, your wrist size, skin color, skin thickness, vascularity, temperature, etc…  


The Apex 2 Pro has a new sensor, featuring a 5-LED sensor system with 4 photodetectors, but having not previously worn a Coros, I cannot compare.  I have found heart rate accuracy to be somewhat inconsistent, though it has improved somewhat over time.  My comparison to gauge accuracy is against my Garmin Epix Gen 2, which I find to be exceptionally accurate and almost always within a beat or two of chest strap readings.  The Apex 2 Pro however has often been out of sync with the Epix, often 10, 20 or even 30 beats off.  Occasionally though it surprises me and is in agreement, but that is infrequent enough that I do not put much weight in it.  I am hoping though that this can be remedied with software updates.  As with any watch with OHR though, if you are looking for absolute accuracy, I would recommend a chest strap.

In the graph above, the Garmin Epix 2 (purple), where the Apex 2 Pro (blue) are sometimes in sync and sometimes not.  This is a very typical snapshot of my current average runs.  Unlike many other OHR sensors, I am not seeing a consistent discrepancy where in those instances I believe the sensor is confusing HR with cadence.  Coros is giving closer readings such that I believe it is having trouble with accuracy vs. confusing metrics (HR for Cadence).  To me this is actually an encouraging sign and likely something they can improve upon with software changes.


It took a month or more though for accuracy to improve, as you can see looking at the above graph, Epix 2 (blue) vs. Apex 2 Pro (red) on one of my early runs, the Coros was most often way off (vs. now where it is sometimes off and less severe).  I am not sure if the Coros adapted to me, or if a result of softwares updates, for which there were one or two along the way (or perhaps a little bit of both).



Sam: I too found optical heart rate to lag the latest from Garmin in those tough conditions of cold and wind that have the sensors confusing cadence with heart rate and also while Nordic skiing, a long time challenge which only recently it seems Garmin has figured out a way to address. While in moderate conditions the Apex 2 did just fine, I challenged it in a half marathon with temperatures around 25F / -4C dressed with only a fairly thin base layer and light gloves so undoubtedly not great blood circulation towards my wrist. 


Below is a comparison of my wrist HR during that race with COROS (blue) the much heavier Enduro 2  (purple). Watch weight in the past was also a key factor in anomalous readings in cold weather, although with the nylon bands both watches have. far less so these days so far.  One can clearly see 2 periods where the Apex 2 (blue) matched my cadence with very high readings in the 170’s  which is my approximate race cadence. 


On the positive side for the Apex its graph has fewer in route spikes and at about 160 bpm is closer to my race HR and effort than the Garmin which was quite a bit lower that day. So with the exception of the high reading periods I would say the Coros outperformed the Garmin that day.


Heart Rate Variability (HRV)


Jeff V:  Unlike Garmin or Polar that track HRV through the night, Coros takes a different approach with a manual reading, where you touch the digital dial for one minute and get a real time HRV reading which is pretty cool.  It would be great however to see overnight HRV added that would factor into overall training metrics.



Sam: This is clearly an area where Coros lags. Could their approach be more accurate? I don’t know but I am not going to take the time to take manual readings as I have been spoiled by the more automatic approach of Garmin and especially Polar where overnight HRV enters into an overall recovery score combined with sleep and which includes several other heart rate metrics in the mix if you wish to view them below the top scores. For me daily HRV readings are a key indicator of recovery and status for training and I want them automatically upon wake up.


Sport Modes:



Jeff V: I will not delve into each sport mode, but suffice to say that Coros has you covered for just about any sport you can think of.  Like Garmin and Suunto, you can customize the data screens for each activity from the phone app, which makes the process really easy.



In activity/sport mode, the screen and digits are easy to read in direct light, but in tricky lighting, I have to try a little harder.


Sam: I find the 1.2” screen with 240 x 240 more than adequate in terms of legibility on the run. Having black fat enough fonts on the white background is key. The visibility is clearly superior to the Polar Pacer Pro with its white thin digits on dark background. 


Compared to my larger display Enduro 2 with its higher resolution (260 x 260) on the other wrist concurrently I must say I have never thought the Apex legibility was lacking for my poor old eyes but of course more screen real estate and higher resolution is always better!


Menus/Widgets:



Jeff V:  Overall I found the menus and widgets to be intuitive and easy to navigate with the 3 button design and digital dial, that makes the process smooth and fast.  With lack of a better place to mention this, I love that the orientation of the buttons/screen/dial can be flipped so that the watch can be worn on either wrist.  


Coros App

Sam: The Coros app continues to improve. Setting data fields is easy and intuitive but needs to be done in the app and can’t be done on the watch.


Workout summaries are complete and easy to understand. 

Each graph is touchable to bigger view with the ability to overlay several other lines of data and then by running your finger across see the detail along the way as data points for each.


Note how Effort Pace (mustard yellow) rises ahead of actual pace (green) on the big last climb (blue shading) to the right. Effort Pace should have been yet more accurate, more rapid in reaction, if I had used the Pod 2 which I did not for this particular run. 

The several sharp drops in pace to zero were for photo stops on the Park City groomed snow trails!



Conclusions:


Jeff V:  The Coros Apex 2 Pro is a great watch and I really value the GPS accuracy, class leading battery life, fit, style, comfort, quality, easy to navigate menus and the software.  


That said, I would love to see the quality, detail and granularity of the maps improve,with better resolution, including labels, trail/street names, points of interest, summit names, etc….  It would also be nice if the maps were preloaded on the watch, or the process to upload the maps to the watch were more clearly outlined on the web instructions.  


OHR accuracy could also be improved in my opinion, but again, results vary and what works for one, may not work for another. This was just my personal experience with accuracy.  It has been a great experience familiarizing myself with the Apex 2 Pro and as an introduction to Coros. They do great work and are continuing to close in on the competition.  I do think that where Coros would have the biggest advantage over the competition would be to beat them in price, providing a watch that can do most of what the competition can do at a better value.


Sam: The Coros Apex 2 does two of the three essentials for a GPS watch extremely well: battery life and GPS accuracy.  One would be hard pressed, as Jeff and I did in comparing it to two Garmin at $1000-$1100, to say the $400-$500 Coros lags in any way on these elements unless a super long battery life (Enduro 2) and a high resolution screen (Epix 2) are worth the premiums. If you really need that kind of battery life COROS Vertix 2 at $700 is available. 


The Apex 2 is light and comfortable at all times including sleeping due to its light 43g weight and excellent nylon strap. 


As indicated in the review, optical heart rate high readings need some work and the mapping still lags the competition in performance and utility.  


At $400 value will primarily depend on your need for its  battery life and on board mapping more than anything else as competitors such as the Garmin Forerunner 255 come in at $50 less with close to the battery life but no maps on board, while the Polar Pacer Pro (RTR Review) is $300 with superior recovery tracking and I think also training features but less battery life, not as legible a screen and turn by turn directions with breadcrumb route tracking instead of full maps.


The Apex 2 does just fine by me.  With up to 45 hours of GPS tracking and most importantly in my test over 12 days of use with a bit less than one hour of GPS tracking per day and all notifications going, it is in the realm of not thinking about charging which is a winner for me in any watch. 


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Tester Profiles


Jeff Valliere loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better. He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 12 year old daughters to the outdoors. Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years. He is 5’9” and 145 lbs.



Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he is very lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.


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