Magellan, manufacturer of portable navigation devices, gets into the wrist-wear business with the Switch series. These wristwatch-shaped activity monitors aren't very good at telling the time, but they are great for monitoring a host of parameters related to running, biking, hiking, walking, and swimming, thanks to built-in GPS location technology. They're rugged, waterproof, and compatible with an array of ANT+ fitness monitors.
The Magellan Switch
Magellan's Switch Series of GPS activity monitors starts with, of course, the Switch. This small device uses a wristwatch design with a 1.26-inch screen to display information about your current activity -- for example, a run.
It gathers this information from its internal SirfSTAR IV GPS receiver, which reports positioning data with accuracy of 3-5 meters. Out of the box, it can monitor your latitude, longitude, and altitude. More importantly, it can use that data to calculate total distance traveled, pace, total activity time, and lap averages for all of those values. The unit can also calculate caloric burn based on your age, height, weight, and observed heart rate when paired with an optional ANT+ device (more on this later).
There are nine available activity profiles accessible via the Switch's menu system including road running, trail running, marathon running, road biking, mountain biking, criterium biking, swimming, walking, and hiking, and a tenth multisport setting for tracking triathlons, for example. Each of the activity profiles features customizable displays, activity goals, recording preferences, training alerts, pace keepers, and other preferences.
The Switch is shockproof and waterproof with a maximum submersion depth of 50 meters, making it useful for tracking swimming activities, running and cycling in the rain, and dealing with sweat. Flanking the Switch's monochrome LCD are five rubberized buttons, most of which have multiple functions. To the left are the buttons for manual lap marking and activity start/stop, which double as confirm and back buttons when in the unit's menu, and serve the third functions of saving the current GPS location and resetting the current activity when held. To the right of the screen are the status and menu buttons, which double as up and down selectors when navigating a menu screen. Finally, there's the power button (also on the right side of the unit), which simply powers the device on and off.
An 8-hour battery life from a full charge and the fact that the current date and time (automatically set by GPS) are hidden under a menu somewhat limits the Switch's usefulness as a wristwatch when you're not actually running, swimming, or biking, but I won't hold that against this device. When it's time to charge the Switch, simply attach the included USB cradle to the back of the unit's body. While connected to a PC or Mac, users can log onto Magellan's Web site to upload their activity data (saved in a FIT format) for analysis, comparing, and sharing.
The Switch Up
The Switch Up is the step-up model in the Switch line and is largely identical to the Switch. It can do everything that the standard Switch can do and more.
The wrist-worn Switch Up is thicker than the Switch, but that's because the unit can be separated from its wrist strap and attached to an included bike mount that attaches to almost any bike tube in seconds with a pair of rubber straps (also included). The Switch Up's design means that you'll also have to remove it from the wrist strap or bike mount to attach it to the USB charger.
Internally, the Switch Up adds a vibration motor, which allows users to feel notifications for pace, time, laps, etc., in situations where they may not be able to hear the audible beep -- running while wearing headphones, for example.
Additionally, the Switch Up features a barometer, for more accurate monitoring of elevation changes, and a thermometer, for monitoring ambient temperature.
Magellan Heart rate monitor and ANT+ monitors
Both the Switch and the Switch Up are compatible with ANT+ monitoring devices, including heart rate monitors, foot pods, bicycle speed and cadence meters, and power meters. Additionally, Magellan offers both Switch devices as part of bundles that include a Magellan-branded heart rate monitor.
After strapping the heart monitor around my chest, just below the breastplate of my rib cage and directly on the skin, the Switch and Switch Up were able to automatically recognize and record my current heart rate, peak heart rate, and activity average heart rate, as well as calculated caloric burn for the activity profile based on the data gathered from my ticker.
Performance and Magellan Active Web site
After charging the Switch Up to 100 percent battery, I strapped it onto my wrist, wrapped the ANT+ heart monitor on, and headed outdoors. Magellan recommends that you power the device on outside for fastest GPS reception. The ANT+ device was recognized almost immediately, but initial satellite reception took about 5 minutes, which wasn't too bad for a fresh-out-of-the-box device.
I hit start and went for a brisk walk around downtown San Francisco. The road-running program (I neglected to change the program from run to walk) defaults to auto-laps in one-mile increments, so every now and then I'd feel my wrist buzzing. When I was done with my walk (about 40 minutes) I was puzzled to see that the Switch Up was reporting a low battery. Puzzled, I powered the device off and put it away.
Later, I plugged the device into my Mac and attempted to upload the recorded activity to http://active.magellanGPS.com but was puzzled to find that there was no saved activity. Digging through the instructions again, I noticed that the Switch series devices don't automatically save their data at the end of a session. With a bit of fiddling, I found the reset and save function (accessed by holding the activity start/stop button for a bit) and was able to successfully upload my data to Magellan's site.
Once there, I was able to view my walk on a Google Map, track my pace, elevation, and heart rate on colorful chart, check calories burned, and access a host of other data recorded by the Switch Up. Activities can be set as public or private and shared with other Magellan Active users. Additionally, fitness and GPS geeks can download their activity data in a number of formats including FIT, CSV, KML, and GPX.
The Magellan Switch devices are rugged, easy to use, and can be extremely useful for monitoring a number of activities where a fragile smartphone running an app like Runkeeper or Nike+ may not be ideal. Sure there are waterproof cases for iPhones, but I think serious triathletes would require something more robust and less bulky for monitoring their running, cycling, and swimming.
However, the Switch series isn't exactly cheap. While they are competitively priced, the $229.99 entry price for the basic Switch precludes this from being an impulse purchase for those who aren't really serious about fitness. Step up to the Switch Up and you gain a few neat functions (thermometer, barometer, and vibration motor) and a ton of flexibility with ability to be used with an included bike mount, but the buyer is also adding to the price tag when they choose this $299.99 device. Both switch devices are more expensive than, for example, the Nike+ SportWatch by TomTom, but are also a bit more fully featured and compatible with more monitoring options thanks to ANT+ compatibility. Still, I'd rather be seen in public wearing the more svelte and attractive Nike watch, which actually functions better as a timepiece when not in use...then again, I'm no athlete, so take that last opinion with a few pinches of salt.
Additionally, both the Switch and Switch Up can be purchased in bundles that include the ANT+ heart rate monitor for $279.99 and 349.99, respectively.