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Nike already offers a way for runners to keep track of their workouts with its Nike + iPod Sport Kit, but at CES 2011, the sportswear company gave athletes another tool for recording their runs: GPS. Teaming up with TomTom, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS now enables runners to collect route data, in addition to distance, pace, and other information, making it a great training aid. It's also one of the most attractive and easy-to-use GPS watches on the market. However, is it worth the $199 price tag? We hit the road to find out.
GPS sport watches aren't the most stylish gadgets, but they aren't meant to be fashion accessories, either. Still, there's nothing wrong with wanting a good-looking device, no matter what its purpose, which is why the Nike+ SportWatch GPS stands out from the crowd. Unlike a lot of the bland fitness watches out there, the SportWatch features a pretty eye-catching design with neon green (or yellow?) accents. It may be a bit much for some, but at least the green is relegated to underside of the wrist strap and a single button on the side, so we don't think it's too loud.
The other thing we noticed right away was the size of the watch. At 1.46 inches wide by 10 inches long by 0.63 inch thick, it looks rather bulky when you first take it out of the box, and we definitely had concerns about whether it would be too cumbersome for running. It does feel a bit clunky when you first put it on, and we wouldn't use it as our everyday watch, but the SportWatch felt very comfortable during our run, without any parts pinching or digging into the skin.
When not in run mode, the watch's screen simply displays the time in large, bold numbers, with the date and battery life shown on the right side in smaller detail. On the left side of the SportWatch, there are three buttons: two to scroll through various functions and one on the bottom that acts as a select and menu button.
Ready, set, run!
When you're ready to go for a run, just press and hold the yellow bottom button and select the run option. The watch will then search for the GPS signal (the GPS radio is built into the watch) and the Nike shoe pod sensor.
The Nike+ pod is included in the box and though they're designed to work with Nike shoes, it's not necessary. You don't even have to use it at all, but it's a good backup in case the watch loses the GPS signal, as it continues to track your distance, pace, and calories. We placed it under the removable padding in our sneakers. We should also note that the Nike SportWatch is also compatible with the Polar WearLink+ heart-rate monitor. You can link them by going to Run > Options > New sensor, but you'll have to buy this separately. Once the sensors are linked, you're free to run like the wind.
Once you're running, your distance is prominently displayed on the screen, while you can use the scroll buttons to get other various data, including pace, elapsed time, and calories burned, on the upper third of the display. You can program the watch to mark laps based on distance or time, or you can simply tap the screen while you're out running.
When you're done, just press the bottom button again to end your workout. The SportWatch will even give you a little pat on the back by displaying encouraging messages like "Great job!" or "Personal best!" It will also give you a friendly reminder if you haven't run in a few days as a little motivational nudge.
At home, you can upload your workout data to your PC or Mac. Nike cleverly incorporated a USB connector into the wrist strap that you can flip out, plug into the included USB cable, and so connect to your computer.
Once connected, the Nike+ software automatically loads and transfer information to the Nikeplus.com Web site where you can view your workout summary by pace or route, with data on your splits and laps, fastest mile, slowest mile, elevation, and more. The Web site also offers options for creating goals and challenges, custom training programs, and a social component, whether it's posting your run data on Facebook or Twitter or connecting with other runners.
We tested the Nike+ SportWatch GPS in Manhattan and overall, we were quite happy with it. The watch, like the Nike+ Web site, is very easy to use. Setting up and using the watch right out of the box is quick and easy, but if there's one thing we'd change we'd like to be able to actually set the time right on the watch. Right now, you need to connect it to your computer first.
As for the SportWatch's actual performance, we had some initial problems with the GPS. On our first run, the watch couldn't lock onto a GPS signal at all, so we just used the shoe pod to track our distance and pace without route information. We ran into the same issue on our second run, but after toggling the GPS off and on again, we finally got a GPS fix. We didn't have any subsequent problems getting a signal.
When reviewing our run data, however, we noticed that some of the GPS data was off. For example, we noticed the starting point for one of runs was about seven blocks off from our actual position. We didn't experience GPS inaccuracy all the time, but it did happen more than once. Also, while the SportWatch does a good job of covering the basics, it does lack some of the more advanced features of other GPS watches. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 405 has a "virtual partner" to challenge you to pick up your pace and offers wireless data transfer.
Battery life is impressive. After several runs of about 1 hour each, we saw barely a dent in battery life, and needed to recharge after about five days. Nike says the SportWatch will last up to 9 hours of run time and requires about 2 hours to fully charge.
For most runners, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is a great and simple way to track your workouts. We wish it cost slightly less, but you're also getting the shoe sensor as part of the deal, as well as a good-looking timepiece. That said, serious runners or triathletes might find the SportWatch a little too simple, as it lacks some of the more advanced features, such as multisport use (biking, for example) and the ability to view previous workouts on the watch, and thus, might want to look at alternatives such as some of the Garmin Forerunner devices.