CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Highgear Axis review: Highgear Axis

Highgear Axis

Rebecca Viksnins
2 min read
Avid hikers and trail runners will find a lot to like about the Highgear Axis, a $150 (list) wristwatch that incorporates a digital compass, a barometer, an altimeter, and a chronograph. While weekend warriors will probably find some of its components a little intimidating, the Axis lacks some of the features serious performance fiends would want, such as a heart-rate monitor and a PC component for downloading and splicing performance data. Still, it does what it's supposed to do quite well.
The Axis nicely fits both petite and large wrists; it has a large, very readable screen featuring a three-second EL backlight, and it is waterproof up to 30 meters. It comes in three colors: black, blue, and tan. In default mode, the screen displays the time, the current temperature, and a weather-forecast icon. Five controls circle the perimeter of the watch face: two buttons on each side in standard sports-watch formation and one at the bottom center that triggers the altimeter and the compass. We like the layout, but the controls themselves are somewhat stiff and hard to press. Setting up and navigating through the watch's options are straightforward processes, though as with all sports watches, you'll have to master some Morse code-like keystrokes.
We took the Axis on a day-long trip to Mt. Taurus, a rocky climb located just outside New York City. Temperature readings seemed slightly off, probably because the watch picked up our body heat, but they were close enough to remind us to take frequent water breaks. Weather data are based on the watch's barometric readings and expressed using one of four icons, which aren't especially helpful; you can look at the sky and tell that it's overcast. However, the watch does store 24 hours of barometric data and display it as a chart, which can be useful when reviewing your performance data later.
The digital compass and the altimeter are the handiest features on the watch. Even though we didn't get lost enough to need it for frequent reference, we found the digital compass pretty much spot-on. Before you use the watch, you'll need to calibrate the compass, which isn't an especially scientific process: you slowly rotate the watch 360 degrees, then repeat. Exposure to magnets, speakers, and travel will easily throw off its reading; Highgear recommends that you recalibrate frequently. Altitude data is displayed as a bar chart, which isn't precise, but it's useful. The Axis can store up to eight hours of altitude info (each bar represents 15 minutes of data) so that you can review it later. Highgear also recommends that you frequently calibrate the altimeter; it's based on barometric readings and occasionally requires fine-tuning. Highgear backs the Axis with a one-year warranty.
Overall, while we'd like to see a heart-rate monitor on the feature list, we recommend this watch if you tend to wander into the woods a lot. It's not a good pick if you live on flat terrain--say, Florida or Texas--or want a device for urban outdoor sports.