“What is the best triathlon watch for 2016?” you ask.
A tricky question as, in May 2016, the best watch is probably still not yet released. There will be AT LEAST 2 NEW triathlon watches in Spring 2016 but there WILL almost certainly be 2-4 ADDITIONAL new models by the end of October 2016.
Suunto Spartan ULTRA
June 2016: Updated forecasts <Here>
What do YOU mean by BEST? Most often it is taken as ‘most features’. The recently announced Garmin 735XT just wins on the ‘most features’ front. But do YOU really need to know what your Vertical Oscillation Ratio is when you run? Do YOU really need to know what a Connect IQ data field can estimate your W’bal to be during those hard hill reps?…thought not!
So if you count the best-BUT-ACTUALLY-USEFUL features then these Suunto, Polar and Garmins are on par with each other:
STRYD: Garmin 920XT, Suunto AMBIT 3 SPORT, Polar V800
So what is best for YOU depends on your needs and budget. You’re an individual, not a number. Right?
All I would say, regarding whatever you end up buying, is: make sure that what you buy has Heart Rate and GPS recording abilities – simple ! The point of saying this is to exclude smartphone apps as a realistic alternative.
Even when those uber-basic points are addressed you may go on to further complicate matters for yourself by including a list of features you will like – such as smartphone notification display, 24×7 activity tracking and 3rd party positional tracking of you. Maybe you want outdoorsy-features or mapping-features? Or to support sports other than triathlon? Adding some of those features to your wish list will probably help you narrow down your list.
I have met a few elite triathletes and LOTS of very good ones. You’ll be very disappointed to learn that many don’t wear any of the watches you’ll be thinking of buying unless doing photo shoots. Most of them don’t have as much money as you to spend on kit! You’ll also be disappointed to find that when you go swimming with your tri/masters club that there is almost an inverse correlation between cost of sports watch worn by the swimmer and the speed of swimmer! Think about it.
But that didn’t stop me spending lots of money on gadgets either 🙂 I’m just saying that it doesn’t REALLY matter that much what you buy.
You’ll probably benefit more AND go faster by paying close attention to how your body feels and augment that with daily training-readiness checks (ithlete, EMFIT QS). Couple that with a good training plan appropriate to you and your race distance (see menus above) or coach (ask) and you’re good to go. You’ll probably ignore this bit, I know!
If you’ve already got a lower-end Garmin and have invested money in ANT+ gadgets and invested time in building up your Garmin Connect data then you might as well go-Garmin when you upgrade, especially if you have an ANT+-only power meter.
The almost-discontinued Garmin 310XT is more than fine as a tri watch and perfect as a duathlon watch. If you’re a beginner swimmer it’s all you will need to count laps. The 910XT is a competent watch and will also do the job; you might go for the 920XT, 930/5XT or 735XT if you are a gadget nut and/or excellent swimmer.
If you like circular watchfaces and Garmin. Then the Fenix 3 has nearly exactly the same features as the 920XT – there’s also an expensive, optical HR version and further excitement as the Fenix 3 was recently updated with special straps. The 735XT is also round and pretty; it’s been built to be a lightweight populist tri-watch but lacks professionally competitive features in a few areas eg lack of bike mount. Great for small wrists though.
Is it as round and pretty as the Suunto Spartan SPORT (below)? Probably not.
Polar V800 -Suunto Spartan Ultra – Garmin 920XT
If you take offence at spending hundreds of pounds/dollars on an ugly watch then you will avoid the 310 and 920 (I have both).
If you still want to go-Garmin why not get a running watch and a cycling computer? After all you don’t look at a watch much at all when swimming.
Polar and Suunto offer MUCH prettier options, admittedly probably not in my blue colours shown a few images above. But hey! I like blue. No-one else does.
Polar, Suunto and Garmin will all allow you to get data out of their environment and sent ‘somewhere’ else. Don’t worry about that. If you haven’t bought a power meter yet then buy a multi-band one (BTLE+ANT+) when you can, if you already have a power meter then you are likely tech-savvy and you will know which manufacturers that limits your tri-watch choice to! If you have other accessories, like HRMs and footpods, don’t let those sway your choice of watch; accessory replacements are relatively cheap.
The Polar V800 is essentially as good as Garmin’s 920XT and 735XT – in terms of having the most useful features, that is. The Suunto AMBIT3 Sport and Suunto Spartan ULTRA/SPORT have a few unique and peripherally innovative things (eg STRYD-profile support & EPOC); if you own Apple products then you’d probably buy the AMBIT 3 or the Suunto Spartan Ultra/Sport. I’m not sure why, just seems to be the way it is from what I’ve seen – quality of construction and lack of bugs on newly released products perhaps?
The old Suunto AMBIT 2 is perfectly fine as is the old TomTom multisport – replacement(s) due 2016/17.
The Garmin vivoactive is fine for beginners when used for “consecutive single sports” NB: this is not quite multi-sports/triathlon, it’s great for those who want a nice looking watch Replacement already announced and soon due on sale it’s a bit big for a ‘band’ though. Again on the “consecutive single sports” point, you could also go for the new and highly competent TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 – But, again, watches like this are not really triathlon watches. they just have ‘some’ usefulness in triathlon.
I’d probably NOT go for the Garmin Fenix 2, there’s better fish in the sea.
The Timex IronMan watches seem to be worn by a few people who are quite good but the watch is no big deal in itself. If you want to look like a pro, up until you start swimming, the Timex is the one to go for!!
Understatedness is king in Gadget-world!
For the one-off triathlon or duathlon you will also find that many running watches are waterproof enough for a race and have a rudimentary cycling mode eg Polar M400 for £100.
But by the same token if you’re in it to finish then surely all you need is a timer and/or basic speed/hr info? Your current watch may well be OK for that.
Guess below, you might win a kudos prize.
If you want the latest-greatest thing for pure pose-value then you STILL need to wait for new models this year🙂. They’ll keep coming, trust me! Early June for the next one!! and then after that September!!!
May 2016 – For example, here is the first and newly announced Forerunner 735XT. Some may say it’s a populist triathlon watch. Definitely a watch for those who can afford it. It’s fully featured BUT DEFINATELY NOT the best for a competitive triathlete.
June 2016 – Suunto Spartan ULTRA high-end Tri and adventure watch announced.
July 2016 – Suunto Spartan SPORT high end tri watch announced .With optical HR by the end of the year. oooooh baby.
Suunto have some unusual, usage-specific variants of the AMBIT 3, such as the KAILISH and VERTICAL models. They are not really triathlon watches.
The Fenix 3 was recently updated with optical HR and special straps if that’s your thing. It will be replaced by March 2017 at the latest IMO.
Also have a look at
Let me know your criteria and I will give my opinion/recommendation (below).
Otherwise if you want lots and lots of features that you won’t use, it’s “Buy the most expensive Garmin you can afford” – which is a bit of a boring, expensive and rubbish recommendation IMO. Personally I would buy the Suunto Spartan SPORT and revel in the new features that will be released into it during 2017.
Go on, be different.
20April 2016 – Recommendations below updated because of price rises.
- Garmin 735XT – Most features, not necessarily all useful! Bike issues. Best aesthetics for small wrists.
- Garmin 920XT – Feature-full, not necessarily all useful! A bit ugly.
- Polar V800 – All the relavent features. If less than the AMBIT3 – buy it. Best looking.
- Suunto AMBIT3 – Best value for money at the higher end at the moment.
- Garmin Fenix 3 – Best selling of those 5. Mainly for non-tri reasons. Suunto SPARTAN probably a best longterm bet for a 2016 purchase.
- Suunto Spartan SPORT – Clever holistic feature ecosystem around a beautiful watch. Could be the Fenix-killer in 2017.
June 2016: OK we’re half way through the year. Polar (V900?) , Garmin (in addition to the 735XT there could be a Garmin 930XT and 935XT) and maybe even Epson (TriSense) might yet surprise us with the final tri-watches of the year. <Here> are some more thoughts on that topic.
PS: If you want to know what I have then unfortunately my answer lies in the first image of this post – I have a Suunto A3, Garmin 920XT and a Polar V800…very 2015!! I borrow other devices from friends or PRs from time-to-time. On loan I currently have a rather nice Suunto Spartan ULTRA as well as a Spartan SPORT.
FWIW 1: Xmas present for 2016 I would want a Suunto Spartan ULTRA. To be CRYSTAL CLEAR – It’s NOT the best right now but it will be a good longterm investment with continually improving firmware.
FWIW 2: The 920XT probably is the best but ugliest ‘proper’ tri watch which you wil only wear for sport but it will soon be replaced and is not being developed much more in terms of new features.
FWIW 3: My best-ever performance was at an ITU Duathlon event and I didn’t wear any gadgets and I mostly trained with an ancient Garmin 305…do the Gadget-Math!
Here are some more options and prices, I’d use any of them. Unfortunately in Spring the prices go up😦 . As a guide you should really be paying <£250 for the 920. NOT £320. eesh!
If you asked questions (and got answers) or found any of this info or info on the site useful please make your next purchase through one of these links…standard prices. It helps support my efforts.