Question: I’ve decided I want to train for a marathon next year. I want to get a decent sports smartwatch to help encourage myself. Is one of the tracker devices enough or is it worth getting one of the fancier ones? Would an Apple Watch do the trick? A friend of mine recommended a Garmin, is that any use? I’m not a tech expert but know my way around a smartphone well enough.
Answer: You have three main choices: a basic (but decent) health tracker, an advanced sports watch or a general smartwatch that covers most of your bases. Only you will know exactly which will suit your lifestyle best. But I’ll give you a flavour of what’s good and bad about the ones I’ve tried.
A good basic hybrid device for fitness is Fitbit’s Charge 3 (€139). Its core functionality is measuring steps and sleep, with full reporting and the ability to synchronise with a number of common running or fitness apps. It also adds social and SMS messaging alerts without going over the top on it – this is primarily a text-based device. Because it’s a relatively slim, monotone device, it has a fairly decent battery life of around five to six days.
There’s also a premium version of the gadget (which costs €20 extra) that now supports Fitbit Pay (though that’s only useful if you happen to bank with KBC or AIB).
So with this, you’ll have your basics covered and a reasonable amount of extras at a price that hopefully won’t kill your budget.
However, if you’re looking for something fancier – and that looks more robust – the one I’d currently recommend from my own use of it, is Garmin’s Fenix 5 Plus (€699).
This is a big step up in terms of functionality. Garmin is known for being a top-of-the-line sports watch brand and it’s easy to see why here. This watch tracks just about any kind of sport you can think of. It even does a good job of assessing activities such as yoga, should you decide to partake.
But it’s especially good for running. The data it feeds back is unparalleled – everything from pace and distance and elevation to things like cadence. It has a metric called Performance Condition which gives you an overall indication of whether your body is capable of the training routine you’re setting out for. There’s also a Training Status data set that assesses how you’ve done (relative to all your other data metrics) over the last seven days.
These are examples of the type of advanced fitness feedback that keeps Garmin at the premium end of the scale.
As for keeping score of your workouts, this synchronises with some major apps such as Strava.
There are others like this that you can try (Fitbit has one called the Ionic that costs quite a bit less and does a reasonably good job). But of all the premium, dedicated sports and fitness smart watches out there, this is probably the king.
The question again presents itself: just how core a sports watch do you think you really want? Because the latest generation of ‘general’ smartwatches now do an increasingly good job of being fully competent aides for (especially) runners. Apple’s Watch, which is by far the bestselling general smartwatch, is a case in point. Its recently-released Watch Series 4 (from €439) is an absolutely competent running companion. It also has the advantage of synchronising with more fitness apps than any other wearable device. The new model has a few advanced features such as ‘fall detection’ and can even take an ECG (although this feature needs regulatory approval to be switched on).
If you want to save a few quid, Apple’s Series 3 Watch (from €279) does just about as good a job for running. Its screen is a little smaller than the Series 4, but it’s still an excellent wearable that exceeds the general capability of its rivals as an all-rounder.
Samsung also has a viable alternative, the Gear S3 Frontier (currently €199 on sale at various outlets). This is a circular smartwatch with a clever way of navigating through features. The front-facing rim of the watch rotates to control certain things. It’s a very intuitive way of getting around the watch and is unique to Samsung when it comes to the main smartwatch brands.
Another relative advantage it has over Apple’s Watch is an always-on display, meaning you don’t have lift the watch face towards you to spark it to life. This is a small thing, but not having an always-on display irritates some people.
The Gear S3 doesn’t run as many apps as Apple’s Watch. This may be a disadvantage to some, but if you’re mainly interested in sport and fitness, you might not care. For running, its native functionality absolutely does the job, integrating nicely with Samsung’s S Health platform. With GPS and an accelerometer, it’s very solid when it comes to tracking.
Recommended: (Premium) Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (€699 from various retailers) or (basic) Fitbit Charge 3 (€139 from Currys)
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Vodafone V-Kids Watch
€65 plus €3 per month
Vodafone’s new V-Kids Watch is a junior smartwatch with its own sim card. Other than acting as a watch, its basic functionality is to allow a child to alert a parent or guardian (via an SOS button) if there’s a problem. It also has a tracking feature built in so parents can know where the child is.
Panasonic Lumix FT7
€449 from Conns Cameras
This new camera has a novel feature: it’s waterproof to 100 feet. That means you can take it diving (within reason) or mess around with it in the pool. The 20-megapixel, 4K camera, which has a 4x zoom, is also shockproof, meaning it easily handles falls up to two metres.
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