How to choose the best GPS sports watch
GPS sports watches are the perfect companions for your workouts and sports adventures, like hiking, biking or snowboarding. Finding the best GPS sports watch or multi-sport watch depends a lot on the types of sports you practice. Most sport watches keep track of the distance you cover, speed and pace, but if you want to have a better overview, you'll need a device which has a heart rate monitor, altimeter and other types of sensors to monitor specific activities, as well as your health. It doesn’t matter if you are a regular cyclist, a casual swimmer, or a hardcore triathlete: there's definitely a sports watch that fits your style, you just have to know what to look for when choosing one of the top sports watches of 2017.
Even though the main purpose of GPS sports watches is to guide you through your everyday exercises, you would still want a device that looks good and is comfortable to wear. This is a matter of personal preference but there are some important aspects you should consider:
The width of the band: having a wide band is great if you a watch that firmly holds its position on your wrist. On the other hand, having a wider band is generally much less comfortable, especially if the material is not very flexible.
The screen size: the average screen size of sports watches is around 2.2 inches. A larger screen makes it easier to use apps and check your activity reports. However, if the screen is too large, the device will also be heavier and larger, which might make it uncomfortable if worn for very long periods of time.
Most manufacturers would outright tag their sports watches as being designed for certain activities. A sports watch designed for a particular activity, like swimming or golf, has the sensors needed to track the specific movements for that activity. The apps on these devices will also be configured to track the relevant metrics. So it's important to take into account which types of sports are targeted:
- Diving: a sports watch designed for diving is completely waterproof and can withstand severe water pressures. They usually have a waterproof rating of at least IP67, which means that it can be immersed in water at a depth of at least one meter. Such devices should be able to monitor your remaining gas levels, the duration of your dives, and show additional information that might be relevant, like the sea level you are at.
- Swimming: since water is much more dense than air, a sports watch designed for swimming should be shaped to easily glide through water. It should also come with features designed for swimming, such as a stroke counter and automatic stroke recognition. The stroke count is calculated using sensors that monitor the movements of your arms during a swimming session; with advanced tracking sensors, the device can automatically detect the type of stroke and record the swimming exercises accordingly.
- Golf: a golfing sports watch would come preloaded with golf courses’ maps, as well as the measurements you will need when you play. It might also come with scorecards and a shot distance calculator.
- Cycling: sports watches designed for cycling have a design that can easily glide through the air, saving your wrist from that air drag you might encounter when going fast through a headwind. They will also come with sensors specifically tuned for cycling, like a cadence sensor and a wind speed sendor. A cadence sendor measures the revolutions of the pedal can tell you how fast you were biking. The speed might also be influenced by external factors, like the wind. In this case, a wind speed sensor is very useful. It allows cyclers to adjust their routes so as to avoid the wind, or at least adjust their direction to go through the wind with ease. Most sports watches designed for cycling come packaged with a dedicated bike mount.
Sensors and tracking technologies
Regardless of the sports the devices are specifically meant for, all sports watches track the number of steps and the distance covered. Some watches which are not specifically designed for diving or swimming may still be water resistant and have a waterproof rating of IP67 for protection, and these features are still great. Some other important features are:
- 3D Compass: a regular compass is great, but when the device is not held at level, it can’t really provide you with any useful information. A 3D compass has sensors on all three axes, giving you the direction you are facing relative to geographic points and regardless of whether the watch is level or not.
- Pace: a device which can measure pace uses the distance you’ve travelled, mostly through a GPS or an odometer, and the time you have consumed in your travel, in order to calculate how fast you were going.
- Route tracker: sports watches with a route tracker map out the journey you have done. This makes it possible for you to revisit that particular journey and use the mapped route as a guide for your future trips. With some watches, you can also share this mapped route with your friends or even an online community, so you could help out other people who are looking for interesting routes.
- Altimeter: a sports watch equipped with an altimeter uses the GPS or a barometer, or even both, to measure the altitude. This would be greatly appreciated by hikers, cyclers who go uphills, and even by plain adventurers who visit the mountains.
- Barometer: equipping the watch with a barometer makes it possible to measure the changes in air pressure. A sudden change in air pressure would mean a change in weather. This is a very important feature for people who plan long journeys.
Besides helping achieve your training goals and keeping track of your performance, multi-sport wacthes are also very useful for monitoring your health and keeping fit. Just like fitness trackers, high-end models have a built-in heart rate monitor and other sensors to keep track of important metrics:
- Heart rate: devices with a built-in heart rate sensor measure your heart rate through the pulse in your wrist. This can help you adjust the rythm during your workuts and make sure that you are training in a healthy way.
- Calories burnt: the watch is using a wide array of data made available through the sensors, like your heartbeat, steps made, types of exercises and so on, and corelates that data with your weight and height in order to calculate the number of calories you were able to burn during a certain period of time. This is great if you’re strictly following a diet plan. It can also boost your morale during a session. Isn’t it great to have a visualization of the effort you’re doing for a healthier lifestyle?
- Calorie intake and blood glucose: some wearables have apps that allow you to record your calorie intake. This is a key feature if your goal is to loose weight. of course, if you’re burning some fat, you also gain some of when eating, and being aware of how much of it you take is necessary when your goal is to lose weight.
- Body temperature - a body temperature sensor would be crucial for those travelling in places with extreme temperatures. Being aware of the temperature of your body is important in avoiding hypothermia or hyperthermia, reducing the risk of running into a life threatening condition.
There is nothing more irritating than having your trusty companion die out on you in the middle of a workout session. It is important to check how many hours your sports watch can last on one charge, depending on what you’re using your device for, so check out the values for the battery life in hours in different modes:
- GPS mode: this mode allows you to track your routes on the map during an adventure, and consequently, the distance you’ve travelled.
- Training mode: allows you to use all the functions you would need during your workouts.
- Power save mode: turns off all additional features but can still perform basic functions such as telling you the time.
When your watch does run out of energy and needs to be charged, being able to charge the device through a USB port would come in handy, in case you ever forget to bring your charger with you or if there’s no outlet in sight. Some innovative wearbales might come in the future with mini solar panels, so that the battery can be charged continuously while there’s still sunlight, and use the remaining energy to power the watch through the night, or when in a shade.
If you travel a lot in different places and cross multiple time zones, you might want to consider buying a sports watch with a world timer to save yourself from the hassle of manually setting up the time every now and then. Some sports watches also have vibrating alerts to remind you to get up and move if you’ve been stagnant for quite a while. These alerts can also be set up for different notifications you would like to receive from your phone.