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COROS Apex GPS Watch Performance Review

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COROS is a sports technology company based out of California that has entered into the GPS watch scene within the last year. It’s done so with quite the aplomb typically reserved for experts in the game— their watches feature beautiful design and well thought-out functionality. They’re clearly taking an angle on the trail-running scene—it seems they’ve been snatching up and sponsoring everyone in the elite ultrarunner range, from the Coconino Cowboys to Camille Herron. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed—while purely anecdotal, I’ve seen more buzz around COROS in the last couple of months than most other running products outside of shoe drops. We tested out the COROS Apex over the past few weeks, and while I’m in-between training cycles (and the holidays did me real good), I was still able to get in a good mix of runs to gather some good conclusions. 

SPECS

The current COROS lineup consists of three models—the COROS Apex in 46mm and 42mm and the COROS Pace, a watch that appears to be directed more at the tri world. I received the 46mm Apex in black, with a black strap (they have a variety of interchangeable straps in appealing colors on their website). The 46mm Apex comes in at $349.99, while the 42mm is $299.99. The Pace is also $299.99, but we did not review that, so that’s the last you’ll hear about it in this review.

As with any GPS watch, there are a shit ton of specs. A full table and comparison can be found on the COROS site, but I’m not going to go into great detail about things like timers and step counters because if a fitness watch doesn’t have those in 2019 and/or it’s not a Casio watch with a calculator face it then I’m not reviewing it. I will cover the most important aspects here.

DESIGN

In my opinion, if I’m dropping $350 on watch, I better be able to wear it in public without looking like I just pulled it out of a Happy Meal (I’m looking at you Polar and entry-level Garmins). Thankfully this watch almost straight-up rips the case design from the Garmin Forerunner 635, with a few tweaks. (I’m not judging you, COROS— GPS watches only have so many hardware variations before you start moving into that Happy Meal territory).

I loved the design out of the box. It’s clean and modern, and the watch employs only two buttons (a traditional button and a crown knob/button) for all its functionality. THANK YOU FOR THIS COROS. I don’t need ten buttons on my watch; I’m a runner, not a NASA mission control operator. It’s frustrating how often UI/UX is overlooked in the GPS watch industry, but COROS knocked it out of the park on this one. Seriously, their design people deserve all the accolades this watch gets because that’s a main factor in what will separate them from the rest.

The silicone strap is comfortable to the point I forget I’m wearing it. I have a wrist the size of an infant squirrel but was able to sneak into the last hole on the band. The 46mm size doesn’t look overbearing and will work for most people. I had no issues with it and was able to comfortably wear cuffed sleeves without it getting caught.

While there were virtually no setup instructions to be found in the manual or online, it turns out there really didn’t need to be. Setup was incredibly easy. I downloaded the app and paired to my phone within minutes. Navigation through the watch is seamless. The digital knob is also a button and allows for easy scrolling and selection of menu items, all placed in a logical order. I just knew how to use it without using it. It was a wonderful experience. Same thing with the app. It was fluid and intuitive with no significant lag time between loading screens and data.

The built-in display designs and watch faces are absolutely fantastic. The numbers, font faces, and simple flares of design make it appealing to the eye, much more than any other GPS watch I’ve encountered. It can display step count, time, heart rate and other data without crowding the display. Incoming texts/Facebook messages/phone calls are all easy to read. There’s an array of other faces in the works for future firmware updates, and I can’t wait to play around with them.

In-activity screens can be set up with four different pages that—once again— are super easy to set up within the app. Within each page, there are four different layout options to display data, and there are over 30 options to choose from, everything from average pace to lap cadence to total descent.

The screen itself is okay— but certainly not great. It is unnaturally dim, even in well-lit conditions. I often find myself having to use the responsive wrist-turn backlight even in a well-lit room. When I asked COROS about this, they were aware of the issue and have plans to release future firmware updates with brighter colors. Presumably, this was done to conserve battery power, but it would be nice to have the option to turn the brightness up. That said, its responsive backlight does a fine job of illuminating the screen while running at night or in lowlight conditions.

TRAINING

Coros Apex

Typical training options, including indoor options for everything. For running, you simply press the knob, select run, and then have the option for typical run training, as well as aerobic, anaerobic, or interval training. I actually love that there are only four options for this because anything more is bloviated excess. After your run/bike/swim, the screen provides a nice array of data that is easily scrolled through using the digital knob. Included in this set of data is your VO2 max, recovery advisor, threshold pace, last-7 days training load, and personal fitness index. COROS is also able to determine your overall effort, broken down into stamina level (0-100) and training effect (0-6). Their built-in trainer will notify you that it’s time to rest up, and based on the effort level and training history, you will then be able to see an advised recovery window before you begin your next activity — additionally kind of cool.

BATTERY

I have to say; the battery life is pretty incredible on this device. I charged it in under 2 hours, and it stayed charged for over two weeks, including roughly 5 hours of GPS activity. On another full charge, I ran 14 miles in the morning in continuous GPS mode and at the end of the day still had 90% battery life. I also had the backlight setting on (when turning my wrist to look at the watch or when navigating the display) during this time. COROS touts it as 35 hours on straight GPS mode, 100 hours on ultra MAX GPS mode, and 30 days of normal usage. I have to assume this is with the backlight turned off, but in any case, this crushes the competition at this price point. As noted above, I think this is partially accomplished by the dim display, but either way, it’s very solid.

GPS

First things first—connecting the COROS to GPS is incredibly fast. After the first couple times, it would find a satellite within 30 seconds max. The watch has the option of selecting either GPS or GPS + Glonass. I used both at times with similar results. I put this GPS against my Polar M430 for testing purposes. Before you scoff, my Polar— despite a lot of things I hate about it including the design, usability, battery life, comfortability, etc.— has been absolutely rock solid for over a year in terms of GPS tracking. It’s never dropped during a run through city or through woods, and it has worked perfectly during all my races, always coming in just a notch above the race distance, which is to be expected.

Paired against my Polar, and using GPS + Glonass, the COROS Apex was at times off from my Polar M430 by a couple of tenths of a mile in shorter distances, and up to a half mile on long runs. That said, it was shorter in distance, not longer. This also happened to Meaghan compared against her Garmin. I know that different watches produce different results, and for different reasons, but it was consistently off from our comparison watches. However, in a race scenario, it performed well. I ran the Carlsbad Half Marathon, and it came in at 13.22, with no aberrations along the course. Granted, the course was very open along the coast, so there were no interference issues. I was pretty pleased with this testing scenario.

I have my suspicions for the shortages in other runs, namely that I had my watch on auto pause because I’m always hitting stop lights in the city and I’m too forgetful to consistently turn it off and on. Admittedly this isn’t the best test-case scenario. That said, the auto-pause on the Apex takes about 20 seconds to set, and about the same once it starts back up. This would account for more time/less distance. Oddly enough, when I compared several runs head-to-head with my Polar and found that the COROS generally appeared to be accurate, but when it went off course, it really went off course.

Below are some comparisons.

The first example is on a dead straight away in generally open area while going under a bridge. As you can see, the COROS (blue) handles this quite nicely, while losing some tracking under the bridge, it recovers nicely, while the Polar took a little more time to come back.

 

The second example is a portion of a downtown run in a small town with medium sized buildings (COROS in blue, Polar in red). It definitely missed a couple of corners and went off into the buildings on both the out and back.

The third example is a segment where I ran to a group meet-up through my neighborhood in the city. As you can see, the COROS (this time in red) is significantly off in this situation. Of the several runs I compared, this was probably the worst anomaly.

HEART RATE

I found the heart rate monitor to be reliable on most of my runs. I don’t wear a chest strap ever, so this is a direct comparison with my Polar M430 HRM. While an Optical HRM isn’t as reliable as a chest strap, for my purposes I was adequately satisfied comparing it to my Polar M430. I didn’t find any obvious spikes or aberrations in all my runs, and at the beginning of my runs, the HRM showed a gradual increase in my heart rate as opposed to the typical spike I get from my Polar.

SYNCING

Currently, COROS can sync directly to Strava, TrainingPeaks and the Health Kit on your iPhone. Let me say that the syncing is freakishly fast. Like, from watch to phone to Strava in under ten seconds, and that’s a long run upload. I kind of couldn’t believe it, as my Polar M430 and other watches routinely take up to a minute to sync. The downside, and something COROS should look into, is that there’s no way to delete an activity (that I’ve found anyway) directly from the watch, so if you accidentally start a run, finish it, then start a new one, it will still sync and upload a 0.1 mile run to Strava. This happened on a few occasions, and it drives me crazy because you also can’t set your activities to automatically upload as private either, which would be nice. UPDATE: COROS is releasing new firmware on 1/30 that will address this issue and allow activities under one minute to be deleted from the watch. Fantastic!

PRICING

The COROS comes in at a very competitive price— $349.99 for the 46mm and $299.99 for the 42mm. While it doesn’t offer music or pay options like similarly priced Garmin models, for those who are more pure runners- and I think this is COROS’s target market in going after ultrarunners- those options are supplanted by the beefier battery life and overall better functionality/design (which I prefer).

THE GOOD

I love almost everything about this watch. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of certain Garmin models, but it comes in at a good price point for what it delivers. Which I love. I just want to run, have something that tracks my runs and provides basic capabilities, and have it look good all day. As I’ve stated, the design and functionality in both the watch and its app are as close to perfect as I could find in a watch. The band is super comfortable, and the fit is perfect. The sync is lightning quick. The battery life goes forever.

THE BAD

As I’ve said before, the display is far too dim. Now, simply pressing a button or turning your wrist will turn on the backlight, but even then it doesn’t produce a great display, especially indoors. The knob—while I love it when navigating the display, it’s incredibly sensitive— so much so that just wearing long sleeves or brushing against an object often rolls the knob and vibrates the watch. It can get pretty annoying when I’m playing with my kids. That said, there is a button lock, so for race conditions, make sure that is utilized. 

COROS APEX 46MM CONCLUSION

COROS has come roaring into the GPS watch market with a product that is sure to turn some heads. Garmin will hold the throne as it always does, but COROS is more than capable of chipping away at its armor. They’ve already wooed elite athletes who have been dissatisfied with their past sponsorships (see: Tim Tollefson with Suunto). I also like that they’re taking the ultrarunner angle. It’s a smart move at a time when the ultrarunning scene is blowing up with sold-out races across the country. They’re clearly a savvy company, and if they keep it up, and refine their technology even more, they’ll quickly become a go-to name in the running industry.

Shop COROS Apex 46mm

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