What's the deal with COROS? Is there more to the Apex than battery life?
Disclaimer: The following review covers the COROS Apex 46mm watch. It was provided to me by COROS Australia for the purpose of review - no one (either at COROS or TEMPO HQ) has had any influence or input into the below article.
Running can be a simple sport - some people would say you don’t even need a pair of shoes. But for most of us, shoes are the single most important item we need for running. Second place would have to be a watch.
I’ve always worn a running watch (i.e. something that tracks distance, pace, etc) but probably never appreciated them the way we ought to. I’ve always seen their shortcomings as gaps in technology - i.e. poor battery life is never the fault of the manufacturer, it’s that the technology doesn’t exist.
So when COROS came onto the market in mid 2018, many of us were wondering ‘OK, so what’s different?’ The running watch market has been dominated since forever by Garmin, with Polar playing a role as clear #2, and more recently we’ve seen smart watches remind us why running watches are so good (but if you ever want to run 20 seconds p/km faster - get a smart watch).
I’ve been wearing a COROS Apex 46mm since basically December 25th, 2020 (provided by COROS Australia) and here’s my take on what’s different to other watches, what I like, and what I think could be better.
Firstly, I need to say that I’ll focus on the functionality for runners. You can track a bunch of activities with this watch - you can go swimming, skiing, snowboarding, rowing, and more. I’ve used this watch only for running - a variety of types, which I’ll cover below.
If you want the glossy brochure from COROS, you can check all the features and benefits at their website here.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND LAYOUT
First impressions taking the watch out of the box and strapping it to my wrist are of quality. I deliberately haven’t looked up the price of this watch, so when I unbox it I feel like I’m getting a top of the line, premium watch that must compete with Garmin’s top offerings. The watch has a titanium alloy bezel with sapphire glass, and the profile and design of the watch strike me as sleek - I’m a runner, not a footballer - I have skinny arms and wrists, and the last thing I need is a giant watch hanging off my arm. The Apex 46mm doesn’t feel small or dainty, but modern and light, while still giving me confidence it will last.
The biggest adjustment is the lack of buttons - don’t worry, there’s no touchscreen in sight (whoever thought touchscreens were a good idea on a running watch was never a runner), but instead there’s a dial on the top right, and a single button on the bottom right of the watch. Let’s talk about the dial straight away - it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on...that’s it. Now about 6-8 weeks on, I quite like it - I can't imagine going back to basic buttons. It is definitely easier and quicker than pressing a button a bunch of times. The first few times I ran with it, I found the dial cumbersome to change screens while running, but once I got used to it, I definitely prefer it. The lack of buttons on the left side of the watch also adds to the sleek look of the Apex.
Navigation of the different screens and menus is easy - depending on the watch layout you choose (it’s easy to switch between layouts - I’ll get to that later), there’s a stack of information on the home screen - personally I’m interested in my step count each day (especially given I sit at a desk all day), and as a photographer I’m interested in sunrise and sunset times each day. I thought some other info included could be a bit gimmicky - like altitude, but then I did find myself looking at it on a recent trip to Falls Creek (where we were regularly over 1400m).
You turn the dial to unlock the screen, then press it to get to your activity screen. Here you can choose your activity type - the ones for me were running, trail running, and track running. You can also access any workouts you’ve sent to the watch, or you can create basic workouts on the watch itself.
On that, custom workouts is a must-have feature for me in a watch. I’m a marathoner, and my coach will set me new workouts every week - rarely do I do exactly the same workout more than twice in a marathon block. The basic interval feature on the Apex allows me to set up a session on the watch in less than a minute. It will let me set a warm up, interval length and quantity, recovery, and cool down - I can’t set custom pace zones in this basic interval screen, but for longer efforts like thresholds where I can fluctuate a few seconds per km, it’s all I need. An example - last week I had a workout that was 30 seconds hard, 90 seconds easy - repeated 15 times. The 30 second intervals weren’t about hitting an exact pace, just getting up on my toes, fast and controlled. I was able to program this into the Apex faster than I could tie my shoes.
For more complex workouts or sessions when you want precise pace zones and alerts from the watch, you use the COROS app to create the session and then send it to the watch - this is a feature I used for something like a Mona Fartlek or a Michigan. It’s easy to set up, and it syncs with the watch super quick - we’ll talk about the app later.
Another cool feature you can take advantage of is the sync with services like TrainingPeaks. My coach inputs all my training into TrainingPeaks, which also talks to the COROS app, making it super easy to open a TrainingPeaks workout in COROS, and then send it straight to your watch.
If you’re into trails, the trail run activity profile is great. I found it easy to quickly change the data I was shown on the watch via the app - for instance, I don’t really follow HR when I’m road running, but on the trails I’m more interested in it given pace is sometimes not easy to interpret. I also enjoy being able to see the grade of any climbs I’m doing - it’s a number cyclists are obsessed by (myself included, once upon a time), and I like being able to see it on the trails.
The Apex has the same map functionality as the Garmin 935 I have been using for a couple of years - that is, you can load a GPX file onto it and follow the map, but that’s about it. To be fair - I’ve never had any issues with the Garmin 935 functionality here, and nor have I with the Apex. But it’s good to know I could take this watch onto a new trail somewhere I’m not familiar and at least have a basic map to get me through.
The only downside on the trails was that now I’m seeing an accurate elevation number - my old watch was cooked and used to give me very generous stats on any sort of hilly runs, so when i ran a favourite trail recently with the Apex I was disappointed to see a much smaller climbing number! (it is however much more accurate - I know this because my old watch would give me about 50m of climbing in 200 metres down my street - which has a surface like a billiard table).
I don’t run ultras so I haven’t fully tested the battery life on an epic trail run.
I’ve already talked a bit about the ability to create workouts on the watch itself, and creating them on the app is also pretty simple (and allows you to go into more detail - setting pace zones or HR zones etc that you wish to stay in). So I won’t talk more about that here, other than to say - if your current watch doesn’t have this functionality, you should really consider upgrading to one that does. If you’re doing a tough workout, there’s nothing worse than having to stare at your watch constantly and work out elapsed time, figure out when the next rep starts, and more. Simply listen to the beeps and you know when the intervals are changing (a lot of watches offer this functionality - my point is just that the COROS do a particularly good job of making it a faster, simpler process).
Another feature I really like on the Run profile is the ability to quickly set activity alerts. Again, this could be a pace zone, HR zone, and more. It differs from programming a workout in this way - on my easy days, my coach just wants me to go out and jog for 60 minutes. Left to my own devices I sometimes have a tendency to run too fast (this is where you insert a meme about running too fast on recovery runs), so I’ve recently started setting up a pace alert to keep me between 4:40p/km and 5:10p/km. If I go outside of that range the watch will buzz and alert me. The alerts are so annoying that they’re quite effective, and as a result I’m running easier when I’m supposed to. Can other watches do this? Sure, but is it as simple? No. It literally takes less than 10 seconds to set this up at the start of the run. And if you use the same alerts regularly, it’s just a matter of toggling them on/off.
Once you’re on the run, it’s all pretty similar I reckon. Text size is easy to read, the layouts are logical (and if you don’t like them you can change them), you press one button to lap (if that’s your thing) and another to stop the workout. One thing I do like is when you pause the run (say, at a traffic light), the watch gives you a timer of how long it has been paused for. So you could also use this in workouts if you’re one of those people who is super precious about your average pace on Strava, I guess. Instead of leaving your watch going during a rest period, you can just pause it and keep an eye on the paused time. Not my style, but you do you.
I’m including this after I’ve written the rest of this review because it’s something I keep getting asked about. Again, as a former cyclist power dictates so much of how we train - even now, I ride my bike indoors on a Kickr and am obsessed with my power numbers. But with running, I would argue that power data has not yet become mainstream (for a number of reasons, but I’m not here to make the data nerds upset so let’s move on). I legitimately do not care about power numbers on a run - but I understand that some people do.
Anyway, since I’ve been uploading runs with the Apex to Strava I’ve had countless (literally dozens) of private messages asking how I got my power data to upload, which foot pod do I use, and so on.
You’ll be pleased to know that the COROS Apex reports running power without a foot pod (it will also work flawlessly with Stryd foot pods, or alternatively - COROS has made their own which you can buy), and seamlessly uploads to places like Strava. How accurate is the data? Obviously I don’t know, but I know someone who does (or at least has spent more time on it than me). Skip here to check out what DC Rainmaker has to say about the power readings on the Apex, but the summary is - when compared to using the Stryd foot pod, the data from the Apex is very similar with no major discrepancies or evidence of wilding out (that’s a technical term). So, if training with power is something you’re keen to explore then the Apex might be a good option for you.
It seems so simple, right? Create an app that’s easy to use, intuitive, reliable, and fast. Well, we finally have one in the running watch industry. The COROS app is great, it’s everything it should be - it’s easy to create workouts, there’s great reporting and dashboard tools, and perhaps best of all - it syncs almost instantly with the watch.
I’m not here to talk about things I don’t like from other brands, but I’ll just reiterate - the COROS syncs workout data within 5 seconds of opening the app, and I would say averages about 3 seconds.
You can also customise all your data screens and even change the layout of the watch face, and guess what? It updates immediately. Huge. If I create a workout in the app and then push it to the watch - you guessed it, instantly syncs.
Now here’s the interesting thing - there is no desktop version of the COROS app. There’s no website you can go to, everything is in the app. But don't sweat it - to import a GPX route, I airdropped one from my Mac (created in Strava) to my iPhone and selected ‘Open with COROS’ and then was able to save and share to the Apex.
The downside to the app is you don’t have infinite data records like you do with other services. If I (or anyone else) log into my Garmin Connect account I can go all the way back to my first activity recorded on a Garmin (2011!) and check out all the data. On a COROS I believe you’re limited in how far back you can go - don’t blow me up because I can’t remember where I read that, but it may be 12 months or similar. Is that a big deal? Probably not for Strava users but if you are someone who doesn’t use a service like Strava, it might be relevant to you.
It’s the first thing most reviews mention when talking about the COROS Apex (or any COROS product really). And while I would agree the battery life is impressive, it’s not life changing. I actually like all the other stuff the watch does - the fact I only have to charge it once every two weeks doesn’t excite me. We spend our lives charging devices now - I charge my phone every night, my laptop is always charging, camera batteries, vacuum cleaners, and more - so whether I charge a Garmin battery every 7 days or a COROS battery every 14 days, I’m not particularly bothered. But it is worth mentioning that the battery life does appear superior to other watches I’ve worn, and anecdotal feedback from others I’ve spoken to is the same. I actually got 12 days from each charge, almost exactly - a few people I've asked have said they get even longer from a charge, so I could be on the low side here.
I love the simplicity of the Apex. It does what it needs to do, and it does it efficiently. Everything is easy to set up - whether that’s on the watch itself or via the app, it just works. It’s intuitive and it syncs quickly. When it comes to things like accuracy, I have no reason to doubt it. I run with people who wear other brand watches and we all report more or less the same numbers - both in workouts and easy runs, on trails and road, and so on. I also like the physical design of the watch. I have arms like a string bean (as in, arms as thick as a string bean is, not the same arms as a string bean - they obviously don’t have arms), and the Apex sits well on my wrist. It’s not bulky, I’m not smashing it into things.
Finally, I actually really like the dial system. It sounds silly to say, and at first I thought COROS just chose the dial system to be different, but it’s great during a run - especially a workout. I know this sounds absurd because pushing buttons is hardly a brain buster, but when you’re cooked halfway through a session and you want to check something, the dial is absolutely the way to go.
So, is there anything I don't like?
Let me see if I can articulate this - the app is great. Let me say that again. However - it just lacks some polish. It’s the only real interface COROS users have, and it just feels like there are corners of the app or certain screens that never got finished - the fonts are not consistent or the page loads really slow. Are these deal breakers? Absolutely not, but it definitely takes some polish off the brand. The brand seems to be signing professional athletes at a rapid rate, but I’d love to see them sign another developer to spend a couple months on polishing the app.
The other thing that I've been having trouble with is one of the metrics on the watch. Like I mentioned at the top, it's cool to be able to read the altitude on the watch, and there's also a screen that displays the temperature. Since day one, I don't think this has displayed an accurate temp for me, it always reads a few degrees higher than any other source. I spoke to the team at COROS about this and they said it's primarily designed to gauge the water temperature when swimming, but if I wanted a more accurate temperature out of the water, I would need to take the watch off and let it sit for a few minutes.
Am I bothered that I can't get an accurate temperature on it? No - like most people, I check the weather on my phone before I go outside. Do I think I would ever use the temperature metric on the watch even if it was super accurate? Probably not. But do I wish it was better explained somewhere? Yep.
In Australia the Apex 46mm has a RRP of $620 (accurate as at mid Feb 2021) but if you hunt around there's always someone with a sale on. Again, I’m not here to compare every watch in the world, but the Apex represents great value. The next time I’m buying a new watch or someone asks me to recommend a watch for them, I’ll be looking closely at COROS.
If you want things like music or the ability to pay for stuff on your watch, then COROS isn’t for you. They’re not features I look for in a watch, but you do you.