Today was a good day. Nearly 2.5 hours of running. Some of it in the beautiful Royal Parks and some of it down the A3 past Tescos. It was warm enough and I was carrying enough gadgets and kit to warrant being mugged.
Specifically, I was testing the fancy new GPS modes whereby watches periodically turn GPS on and off to record a track. Cleverly they fill the gaps in the GPS track with estimates based on your wrist movements ie from the accelerometer in the watch.
Here’s what I did & used
- Ran for a long time in alleyways and under trees, bridges and foot tunnels. Occasionally I did funny zig zags to try to confuse the watches #RealWorldScenario (#What??)
- Polar V800 for the ‘perfect’ GPS track. Perfect, that is, if I had fully charged up the battery. Which I hadn’t #Idiot
- Suunto 9 using FusedTrack in Ultra mode (one GNSS reading every two minutes, GLONASS enabled)
- Coros Apex 46mm with UltraMax (GNSS 30%, motion sensor 70%, GLONASS enabled)
- Garmin 935 with UltraTrac (presumably just periodic GPS)
- I was also testing out my VaporKrar 4L hydration pack which, so I am reliably informed, makes me look like a su1cide b0mber. But which also is extremely good at carrying stuff. I was also ok-googling on some Jabra Elite Active 65t earbuds too in a desperate attempt to fast forward, as my running mix seemed to have got corrupted with Little Mix and the Wu Tang Clan.
Test 1: Kingston Bridge
This could be better entitled ‘Glad we cleared that up then’
- Green = V800
- Blue = Coros Apex – is actually good on the bridge but off-target on the tunnel
- Orange = Suunto 9 – broadly OK, considering
- Red = Garmin 935 – broadly good but skews the correct shape downwards in the bottom left of the image.
The green V800 track IS pretty much the route I actually took, which was going under the main bridge at each and going under the long Horse Fair tunnel to the right. It looks like this when zoomed in a tad more.
Test 2: Hogsmill River
This would be better entitled ‘let’s see which watch makes a pig’s ear of this‘ … see what I did there? No? I’ve underlined it.
Even the V800 is wrong here. When I was running next to the words “Hogsmill River” is also running next to a large, 3m high, metal fence (hence bad GPS reception)
The Suunto 9’s track is clearly the worst. However remember it is on a much LESS frequent sampling rate and so what you see inevitably happened. You have to make the trade-off with the kind of route you are likely to be doing and the, hopefully better, battery longevity that the Suunto can deliver.
Test 3: The A3 and Col du Motspur
For those who don’t know the A3, it’s a little bit like the Pacific Highway. Except without the Pacific and instead ‘with’ New Malden.
I went under the A3 to the left of the image via a foot tunnel and ran around the roundabout in the centre.
The V800 is a perfect track. The others are alright, I suppose. But the Suunto does not seem to be firing it’s motion sensor up cleverly enough to properly record the large roundabout.
Test 4: Whoa
Let’s take a step back and put these into perspective. I can sense you’re not buying into the level of accuracy.
The following image has the scale in the bottom RHS. So you can see that, at a high level, the general level of accuracy of all of them is sufficient to broadly record where you’ve been. It’s just digging down into the details where you get more and more disappointed the more you zoom – but DON’T forget, that’s to be expected. You are making this trade-off for a superior battery life and, in reality, only very long distance athletes and people who’ve forgotten the charger ( 🙂 ) are the ones who are going to be using these kinds of modes.
Test 5: Prince Charlie’s Pied-à-terre
To the North of this section of the run (below), in Richmond Park, is Prince Charles’s ‘Hunting Lodge’. A smallish estate house by Royal Standards. I occasionally run past the police when he is staying there. In hindsight, with what I was wearing today (the Kral Vest), I’m perhaps lucky the armed guards weren’t there. Phew.
Sadly I was going to run a circle around the ancient sundial that was immediately outside his house. It was there last week and has been for years… but some oik has since nicked it.
Anyway, I’m disappointed with myself here as I tried this same section last week Last week there was a bug with the Coros so that test failed. And today the V800’s battery ran, so that’s a half fail too. So I’ve drawn on, as best, I can where I actually went (Green)
Running up and down a hill and zig-zagging around trees seemed to confuse the Apex on the left. The Garmin is good in the same place and probably matches very well where I ran under the trees. However the Garmin on the right was also WAY out. Strange.
My guess as to what confuses some of these modes is that when they turn ON GPS; if the reception is bad or confusing at that exact moment (eg near a building or under a tree), then a bad fix is obtained and the algorithms and subsequent attempts to get the next GPS fix start from the place where the initial bad reading was taken. If that makes sense?
Test 6: Nearly Home
This time there is a gently curving path in a wood near Zac Goldsmith’s gaff. Zac is the local environmentalist Conservative MP, if such a thing exists. I wrote to him a few years ago to moan that his false threats of resignation if the Heathrow expansion were given the go-ahead were somewhat unbecoming of a gentleman. I asserted to him that he would, almost certainly, put self-interest first and never resign. Heathrow got the green light and Zac did immediately resign. Fair play Zac.
See; if you come running with me and you get all the local gossip.
I’ve drawn on the image the section, in green, where the V800 failed to record (my bad). Through the trees, again, the Garmin 935 in red is just about right (apart from near the green bit). It’s also out on the right hand side as well.
These are the headline battery lives with these special GNSS modes enabled. Remember, this is why you are using these novel performance modes.
- Garmin Forerunner 935 – up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode (with wrist-based heart rate), or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac mode (without wrist-based heart rate)
- Suunto 9 – up to 120 hours (Ultra mode)
- Coros Apex 46mm – up to 100 hours
Note the specs say ‘up to’.
The overall distances between each watch vary by over 2.5k. So you are really only going to be using these battery extending modes if you have to. They are only ever going to give you an approximate track of where you have been. Nevertheless the concept is still ‘clever’ and I like them all for that.
Remember that you can’t compare the Garmin to the Suunto to the Coros and say which is best. They are all making different compromises.
Here is another link to a simialr post that I produced when Suunto first came out with FusedTrack.