One of the most asked questions in the Tri community!
I have been delaying this post for a long long time, and thanks to Anirban’s push to write a blog about this topic, here it is finally!
Some disclaimers before I start:
- This post contains my opinions only, and other’s opinions may differ. People have favourite brands, biases, etc. However, my opinions are based on my experiences and lots and lots of data collected over the internet, reading through blogs, scouring reviews. Yes I am a tech geek 😉
- The info in this post is posted based on info collected till 26.09.2018. Technology is changing so rapidly, everyday there’s a new phone…and new smartwatches too. So keeping a track of these is difficult. BUT, I will try to update this post from time to time as and when new products launch.
- There are several brands of fitness trackers in the market right now. Garmin, Suunto, Polar, Fitbit, Tomtom, Apple (?), Samsung,….and there are more and more every month. TBH, I do not have much info about Polar, so while they may have some decent watches, my recommendations won’t include them. Doesn’t mean they are bad. It just means I don’t have info. My focus will mostly be on Garmins and Suunto – they are considered the gold standard and most triathletes use Garmins.
- This post is for someone who wants a reasonably decent watch (which has a GPS). I won’t go into watches without a GPS. Whenever you are buying a watch for tracking outdoor workouts, get one with a GPS. If it doesn’t have a GPS, it is usually for indoor activities like gym, indoor cycling, treadmill, etc.
- For deeper info about a watch mentioned in this post, please refer to www.dcrainmaker.com to check out reviews and tutorials. The guy is very genuine and you’ll enjoy the reviews over there.
HR: Heart rate –
Nowadays many watches track your heart rate during activity, and also throughout the day.
There are two types of HR tracking:
- Optical HR: Uses a light source (almost like a green laser under the watch, in contact with your skin) to detect your HR. Not the most accurate, doesn’t work in the water. But decently accurate for steady runs and bike rides. Can be affected by tightness/looseness of the watch, skin colour, etc. Very convenient to use since it resides on the watch.
- Chest Strap HR / ECG HR: Much more accurate and reliable. Can be used under water (on some models). Can be used to take measurements like HRV and can be used to estimate VO2, Lactate threshold, etc. But inconvenient to use since you need to strap a belt to your chest.
Multisport mode/Triathlon mode:
This is a feature found in triathlon watches, which let’s you seamlessly transition from one activity to another.
Example, in a triathlon, you use this mode to track your activity. You start with the swim, and when you are done with the swim – press the lap button once and it goes into transition 1. After you are done with transition, press the lap button and the watch switches into bike activitiy….and so on. Basically it records the entire triathlon as one activity (with splits for each sport and transitions) without having to exit swim tracking and start a separate activity for bike, and then run. You can customize this and choose any type/number of sports in this ‘multisport’ mode. A useful feature for brick workouts as well. It also tells you the total time since the beginning of the first activity – a useful feature in triathlon events. This feature is available only in a few high-end watches.
Many other watches do track all three activities, but they do it individually, there is no ‘multisport’ option. This means you will have to end your swim activity, (no option for transition), start your bike activity, end it, and then again start a separate run activity.
So, to choose your ‘ideal’ smartwatch/fitness tracker, you first need to ask yourself a few questions:
Q #1: What activities am I going to track? – This is going to determine what activity features you want on your watch!
A) I am a pure runner (for now), and just need it to track my runs, some cycling rides and maybe hikes once in a while, and I don’t care much about swimming.
B) I am a beginner triathlete who wants to track all three sports individually – swimming (pool), cycling and running – along with several other things like monitor heart rate, etc.
C) I am an intermediate/elite aiming for Half-Iron, Ironman distances and want a “multisport” watch which records open water swims and a long battery to last 16+ hours!
Q #2: What distances are you targeting? – This is going to determine the battery life you need on your watch!
A) Casual runs, half marathons, small cycle rides 50k-ish
B) Marathons, Longish bike rides (100k), Half Iron triathlons
C) Ironman distances, BRMs, Ultra Marathons
Q #3: What is your budget?
1) Under Rs. 15000/$199
2) Rs. 15000 to Rs. 25000 ($199 to $349)
3) Rs. 25000 + ($349+)
Q #4: Do you want to use this watch in your daily life as well?
This particularly is important because nowadays the watches measure your full-day heart rate and give some very interesting insights like your recovery, your stress levels, etc.
This is also important because many watches have smart features like answering/declining phones, viewing/answering messages, etc.
And finally, this also determines the looks of the watch you want. You can’t be wearing a weird shaped fitness tracker at work. But if the tracker looks like a watch (some of them look absolutely killer!) you could double it up as a daily watch and fitness tracker.
Q #5: Can you ask someone to get it from the US?
Again a very important question, because these watches are more expensive in India, without even considering the discounts and deals available in the US.
If you know someone who is coming from the US and can get you a watch, it’ll cost you much less.
I can deep dive into a lot of categories based on activities, price, battery life, etc. But since everyone in this forum is looking for a triathlon watch, I am going to keep things simple, and make only a few suggestions depending on your budget:
Price Point 1) Under Rs.15000/$199
|Fitness Tracker||Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro||Garmin Vivosport||Garmin Forerunner 35|
|Price in India (INR)||Rs. 11999||Rs. 15990||Rs. 15990|
|Price in USA ($)||$145||$169||$169|
|Multisport (Triathlon Mode)||❌||❌||❌|
|GPS battery life||9 hrs||8 hrs||13 hrs|
|Looks like a…||Fitness band||Fitness Band||Watch|
|Available on||Flipkart||Amazon India/USA||Amazon India/USA|
Price Point 2) Rs.15000 to Rs.25000/$199 – $349
|Rs.15000 to Rs.25000/$199 – $349|
|Fitness Tracker||Sunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR||Garmin Forerunner 735XT||Garmin Vivoactive 3|
|Price in India (INR)||Rs. 17224 (pink) / Rs. 21699 (black)||Rs. 30000||Rs. 24990|
|Price in USA ($)||$223||$319||$299|
|Multisport (Triathlon Mode)||✔||✔||❌|
|GPS battery life||10 hrs||14 hrs||13 hrs|
|Looks like a…||Watch||Watch||Watch|
|Available on||Amazon India/USA||Amazon India/USA||Amazon India/USA|
Price Point 3) Rs.25000 + / $349+
|Rs.25000 + / $349+|
|Fitness Tracker||Garmin Forerunner 935||Garmin Fenix 5/5X/5S||Suunto 9||Garmin Forerunner 645|
|Price in India (INR)||Rs. 42990||Rs. 54990||Rs. 55990||Rs. 39900|
|Price in USA ($)||$425||$550||$599||$425|
|Multisport (Triathlon Mode)||✔||✔||✔||❌|
|GPS battery life||25 hrs/ 50 hrs (Ultratrac)||25 hrs/75 hrs (Ultratrac)||25 hrs/50 hrs (Endurance)||14 hrs|
|Looks like a…||Watch||Watch||Watch||Watch|
|Available on||Amazon India/USA||Amazon India/USA||Amazon India/USA||Amazfit USA Website|
|Notes:||Best in class – go for it!||Better looks, but heavier than the 935. Internally = 935||Suunto not at par with Garmin, avoid.||Running watch, not for pro triathletes. Better to shell out a little more and get Garmin Forerunner 935|
Curious case of the Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The legendary Garmin Forerunner 920XT – one of the most famous triathlon watches – is almost 4 years old now, and has been discontinued by Garmin.
It remains to be a favourite among triathletes and they swear by it for several reasons (mostly just because many of them haven’t upgraded to a newer and better watch – e.g. Garmin 935/Fenix 5).
No doubt the 920XT was the king for a couple of years, but since then Garmin has released watches like the Fenix 3, Forerunner 935 and the Fenix 5, which are way better in terms of features and battery life as well.
The 920XT most notably lacks an optical HR sensor. Features like sleep analysis, VO2max estimation, stress monitoring are absent because of this (you’d have to use a chest strap for these features).
It has a weirdo design and looks ugly as f***, making it impossible to use in day-to-day life. The Fenix series (and even the 935 to some extent) look really good and can easily double up as a office/fashion watch.
The interface of the 920XT is dated, and Garmin no longer issues new features to this watch.
It is very difficult to get a 920XT these days. A year ago you’d have been able to get a good deal for the 920XT, but I don’t think it remains for sale anywhere.
So if you have the money, and some friend says 920XT is the best, just ignore him/her and just buy the 935/Fenix 5. Period.
And if you don’t have the money and desperately need a triathlon watch, go for the Suunto Spartan Trainer (which will last for half-iron distances) and be happy, because chances are, you are unlikely to get another 920XT in the market.
Curious case of the Apple Watch
The Apple Watch (Now in it’s 4th iteration) is an interesting activity tracker. It is more of a smartwatch and less activity tracker actually.
With a GPS battery life of just 5 hours, it is difficult to recommend it as your primary fitness watch.
It does record all sports (including openwater swims), has a lot of apps and has a beautiful UI.
But for people like us doing triathlons, it does not seems sturdy enough to be used as an out and out training watch.
You’ll need another Garmin for your long training workouts. The Apple Watch can definitely be used for shorter workouts like quick runs, pool swims, etc.
Curious case of the Amazfit
A new company (backed by Xiaomi) called the Amazfit has entered the wearable market, and has the potential to cause a distruption.
The price points at which they are offering advacned features is ridiculous and if executed right, they can give Garmin a run for their money.
They all have GPS, optical HR and sync with Strava.
They lack in a few areas like user interface, screen quality, lack of sensor support….but their first generation of watches are a decent bunch!
I would say, stay away from these first generation devices. Better let the company settle in the market, improve their interface and accuracy.
Currently they are not available in India, and can be purchased in the USA from their website. I am sure, they will soon come to India, seeing Xiaomi phones’ success.
Below is a comparison of the 3 watches relevant to runners/triathletes.
|Fitness Tracker||Amazfit Bip||Amazfit Pace||Amazfit Stratos|
|Price in India (INR)||NA||NA||NA|
|Price in USA ($)||$70||$130||$199|
|Multisport (Triathlon Mode)||❌||❌||✔|
|GPS battery life||22 hrs||35 hrs||20 hrs|
|Looks like a…||Watch||Watch||Watch|
|Available on||Amazfit USA Website||Amazfit USA Website||Amazfit USA Website|
Hope the post was helpful and you got an idea for your next triathlon watch! Some things which I couldn’t cover were Chest strap, sensors, etc. which I may cover in a future post (when I start using them!)
For any questions, ping me directly or comment below!