I’ve sworn by my Garmin GPS watches for many years now, and while I’ve dabbled with mobile apps, they don’t come close to the experience you get with a watch built for that purpose. So when I got my hand on the Sony SmartWatch 2 (or should that be the other way around?), I though that it might finally be the time to put those GPS watches away.
Round One – Price
The first round of tests is a simple one. What’s the price of each watch and the value for money each one offers?
[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last][two]
The Garmin Forerunner 110 comes in at £149.99, or £169.99 complete with a HRM. With a bit of shopping around, you can get them much cheaper with the price at writing (Oct 2013) £89.99 and £109.99 respectively on Amazon.[/two] [two_last]
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is priced strangely also at £149.99 for the silicone strap or £169.99 for the metal strapped version, but available at considerably less (at time of writing the silicone strapped version was going for just over £112 and the metal strap version around £130 on Amazon).
However, you then need to shell out around £50 or so for a compatible Bluetooth HRM. We used a Polar WearLink Bluetooth HRM in the tests with a review to follow.
But the phone and HRM are useless without a half decent Android smartphone, so if you haven’t got one of those then things start to look very expensive indeed [/two_last]
We think that while at first glance they’re similarly priced, the SmartWatch 2 starts to look more expensive once you add a HRM into the mix and astronomical once you factor in the price of a smartphone. While the Garmin is cheaper, it’s strictly a one trick pony, whereas the SmartWatch 2 is a useful gadget in it’s own right.
Round one goes to? The Garmin 110, on points.
Round Two – Features & Spec
What do these two watches have to offer that the other doesn’t?
[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last][two] The Garmin has a monochrome screen displaying the required stats. It doesn’t look particularly ‘cool’ but it’s a practical bit of kit that despite the cheap feeling strap, is built to last. You can’t see the display in the dark, but there’s a handy back light for night use. Needless to say that it’s waterproof enough for any runner’s need.
The Garmin 110 used in the test has been in use for over 3000km and the HRM was cannibalised from a previous watch with just shy of 2000km on the clock. I’m yet to change the battery in the HRM strap.
Unlike some of the other Garmin GPS watches, it doesn’t provide altitude information or even a simple grid reference or location, which is something that could be easily incorporated.[/two] [two_last]The Sony SmartWatch 2 has a full colour display and has the potential to do almost anything, so long as it will fit on a screen the size of a postage stamp (remember them?) and you’ve got the app. It’s waterproof to IP57, but is your smartphone?
The Runtastic app provides all sorts of stats about your run and also includes the elevation, which is a major feature if you’re trail running or walking. It doesn’t show your location, but there are apps available that can provide this in Lat/Lon format.
Other apps are rather thin on the ground at present, but you can use the SmartWatch 2 to control your music tracks, check texts, email and twitter feeds among other things, while still running.
Not only that, but we think that the SmartWatch 2 looks really spiffy and If you’re bothered about that sort of thing then you can get away with wearing this all the time, smart or casual. Neither is it particularly large, but slightly larger than the Garmin which might be an issue if you’ve got delicate wrists.[/two_last]
While both have enough features to log your run, the SmartWatch 2 offers so much extra functionality that we can’t really fit it all in the paragraph above. The ability to check who’s ringing is something I find useful so I can let someone know where I am, as well as being able to reply with simple texts from the watch.
If you listen to music then the ability to control them from the watch really is a killer app. However, we think that the current crop of apps don’t even scratch the surface of what’s possible and thought it was a major disappointment that we couldn’t see a live map of our run without opening a separate map app.
Round two goes to the SmartWatch 2.
Round Three – Speed
You’re ready to run, the last thing you want to do is to be made to wait by your tech.
[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last][two] The Garmin takes an age to find a signal. Well, a good 2-5 minutes, depending. [/two] [two_last]The Sony Smartwatch 2 depends on your smartphone for location as it doesn’t have an inbuilt GPS, which meant for me that the location finding was almost instantaneous. [/two_last]
For me, the SmartWatch 2 starts up a lot sooner. That’s mainly as the GPS is active on my smartphone most of the time so I’m good to go. I’m often stood about waiting for the Garmin.
Round three is an emphatic knock down for the SmartWatch 2.
Round Four – Ease of Use
The SmartWatch 2 may be laden with features, but how easy is it to use during a run?[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last] [two] The Garmin simply requires you to switch it on, wait for the GPS signal and you’re away.
While you’re running, you can just glance down at the watch to see where you’re at and press a single button to change views if you need to. The views on the 110 are rather limited, but sufficient and very easy to use.
To get the activity from the watch you do need to attach a clip to the watch, which is a bit fiddly but at least you get to charge it at the same time. I can then import the activity file into SportTracks3 on the PC and export the file as a GPX if needed.[/two] [two_last]The Sony SmartWatch 2 however is a bit more complicated. Once you’ve got the whole thing set up and the running app of choice installed (basically just Runtastic at the moment!) you then need to press the power on button before selecting the app on the watch screen. Then, and only then can you press start.
But the issue is with viewing your progress during the run. You currently have to press the on button twice in quick succession (which it took me a while to figure out) and I managed to stop my run by mistake, splitting my run into two activities on far too many occasions.
One advantage is that after you finish your run, your activity can be posted immediately to the Runtastic website. I use PC software for logging, and while it was initially a pain having to download the activity, it’s actually slightly more convenient.
You also have to have your smartphone with you at all times. That’s not a problem for some, but I had to get a small waist pack as most of my kit lacks pockets and the shorts that do have such deep pockets that the phone swings annoyingly. It’s fine in a jacket or a waist pack.[/two_last]
The Garmin is so much easier to use, as you’d expect.
Round four is a Rocky Balboa like recovery for the Garmin, knocking the SmartWatch 2 out of the ring and onto an unsuspecting spectator.
Round Five – Accuracy
It’s all well and good plotting your location quickly, but is it accurate and how do the heart rate measurements compare?[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last] [two] The Garmin has so far survived over 3000km on the hill and running, and on plotting the routes on OS mapping, it’s clear to me how accurate they are. This watch has been used to log the routes on this site, so we must have confidence in it!
I’ve checked many of these routes on TrackLogs software on OS mapping, and generally speaking they’re not far off what I’d plot on the mapping software itself.
The only issue is that as it’s slow starting up, it can be a bit off for the first minute or so. perhaps placing you 50-100m off your starting point. This is usually in a heavily built up area where I can barely see half the sky. This doesn’t lead to as much of an error overall as you’d expect as it tends to plot the route parallel to the true location and almost cancels itself out.[/two] [two_last]While this is software dependent, the Runtastic app seems rather remiss at plotting the route, cutting out corners and between 0.2 and 0.5km off over the course of a 10km run. That’s not a lot in the big scheme of things, but annoying none the less. The strange thing is that there were twice as many trackpoints than in the Garmin file. Clearly the Garmin was measuring the more important points!
The images below demonstrate the differences across a couple of runs.[/two_last]
The Garmin 110 files are first, with the Smartwatch/Runtastic results second. We’ll let these speak for themselves.
A Note on the mapping. While it looks like the plot is slightly off the path shown on the map – the plots line up perfectly with the paths on 1:25km mapping. I’d trust the alignment of the OS mapping over the satellite maps any day (there’s also a discrepancy on the summit of Snowdon between them) and this is NOT an error by either the Garmin or the SM2/Xperia. Due to copyright, it’s a fine line as to wether we can show a screen cap of these, so we won’t!
While it’s purely software based, the routes saved by the Runtastic app were shorter than the distance covered. I’d bet my life on the tracks plotted by the Garmin, that is once it’s warmed up as the first few minutes plotted tend to be a 100m or so off. Even so, the total seems to work itself out OK and these errors only seem to occur when I set off on specific runs in built up areas with a poor view of most of the sky.
Round five sees the Garmin continue to rally, and put the SmartWatch 2 on the ropes. It’s not looking good for the SmartWatch 2.
Round Six – Battery Life
Will they last the duration? Come to think of it, will you? Is the battery life of these devices …
[two]Garmin Forerunner 110[/two] [two_last] Sony SmartWatch 2[/two_last][two] The Garmin will generally plot 8 hours worth of data, tirelessly. If you’re not logging your activity, then it will function as a watch for over a week. Not only that, but as you don’t use it for anything else it’ll be there ready and waiting to log your run, so long as you’ve fully charged it. [/two] [two_last] The SW2 – the watch itself doesn’t seem to lose much juice during the course of a run, but your smartphone will be running itself flat with the Bluetooth and GPS running. The watch itself will last a good 4 days between charges.
Biggest issue here is having a sufficiently charged phone for your run. You’ll need to plan ahead, and keep it charged.
A one hour run will take in about 10-15% of the phone battery life on a Sony Xperia Z with no particular effort made to conserve battery life. There’s no saying how this will function on other phones, but you’d assume it’ll be in the same ballpark.[/two_last]
Overall we reckon it was an undisputed knockout for the Garmin. While it didn’t go down to the wire this time, it’s clear that there’s so much untapped potential in the Sony SmartWatch 2 that with the right app it could knock the traditional GPS watch out of the reckoning. But potential is one thing, and right this minute, there’s little doubt that he best option for logging your run is a dedicated GPS watch.
But if you’ve already got a smartphone, and you want the SmartWatch 2 for the sheer pleasure of owning one, then it’s starting to look like a better option. If you listen to music on your phone while running, then it starts to become a much closer run thing (sorry!) It’s then a matter of buying a Bluetooth HRM, but while I find them invaluable, it’s not an essential feature for everyone.
The biggest issue is that you have to click multiple buttons in order to see your progress while running, and it’s too easy to stop your run by mistake while doing so. This is something I managed to do on most of my runs while checking progress, which really let this down for me. The run info needs to be shown on the screen all the time, but with the back light off to conserve battery life. If this issue was ironed out then we think that the result above could easily have been in favour of the Sony SmartWatch 2.
We thought the Garmin 110 outperforms the Sony Smartwatch 2 / Xperia Z / Runtastic combo as it’s simply easier to use, reliable during the run and more accurate.