Sunday, 18 November 2012 23:25

Comparative Review: Garmin Forerunner 10 & Nike SportWatch GPS


We compare two leading candidates for the role of a GPS device on the runner's wrist.

These devices are nothing like the GPS you have in your smart phone or the dedicated device in your car. There are no maps, just a simple watch-like device with a digital display. They record your movement; they don't display it.

Think of them like a black-box flight recorder for a runner!

The Nike SportWatch GPS


The Garmin Forerunner 10

Both devices will permit the upload of your path to an online mapping service and will offer comparative information - fastest mile (or kilometre), run speed etc.

Let's start by listing the common features of both devices.

  • Access GPS to track the runner's speed and path (TomTom on the Nike; Garmin uses its own technology).
  • Plot any stored trip on a digital map.
  • Online community to compare progress with friends and rivals.
  • Keep track of historical 'bests' and summaries of the most recent few runs.
  • Function as a 'normal' wristwatch.

Given that they are intended to function in a very similar manner, what are their differences?

  • On an identical trip (one unit was on my wrist, the other in a pocket of my backpack - never more than 1m apart, probably closer to 50cm most of the time), they disagreed on best mile, best km etc. This was actually on an open-top bus trip around Santiago in Chile, but it was a useful comparison. The difference wasn't great, but more than perhaps could be expected. Obviously it was not possible to determine which was correct!
  • The Garmin took approx. 45 secs longer than the Nike to acquire satellite lock (the Nike isn't particularly quick either).
  • At the end of the journey (about 5 hours in total duration, including a few walks into buildings) the Garmin was showing the battery near exhaustion, the Nike seemed to still be around half full. Note that 5 hours is the Garmin's quoted battery life with GPS enabled
  • The Garmin offers a run-pace facility, allowing you to pre-determine a running pace; the unit will then advise whether you are ahead or behind that pace. In addition, it can automatically stop recording when you stop (at traffic lights for instance). The Nike does not have these abilities.
  • On the other hand, the Nike will permit the use of shoe-inserted communication 'pods' which are useful when running indoors. It also has an alarm of the type found on many digital watches.
  • Both permit the breaking of the run into "laps” - the Garmin by pressing a button; the Nike by a simple tap anywhere on the face (this tap action will also turn on the back-light for around 5 seconds). An exercise 'freak' of my acquaintance opined that the tap would be much better than fumbling for a button which he currently has to do - he didn't tell me the make or model of his watch.

So, having used both for walking and riding both bicycle and open-top bus (with my dodgy knees, I'm no longer a runner!) how do they compare?

At 62g, the Nike is considerably heavier than the Garmin (40g), although it is worth noting that a selection of men's watches in my house weighed between 24g and 56g so 62g perhaps isn't that excessive. Presumably the weight difference accounts for the longer battery life of the Nike.

In connecting the device to the computer, the Garmin has a small plastic USB-connected cradle that wraps around the underside of the watch and makes contact through 4 metal contacts embedded in the back; the Nike has a standard USB connector built into one end of the wrist strap which may be directly inserted into a computer (or via the provided USB extension cable). For both units, this is the only way to charge the battery.

The Nike USB connector included in the wrist strap


The Garmin charging clip - note the row of four contacts near the top which match with the rear of the watch

The Nike has a custom application (downloaded from their web site) which manages the upload of 'runs' whereas the Garmin has a browser plug-in for Internet Explorer or Firefox (not Chrome) to achieve the same result.

Once uploaded, the Garmin will offer the plotted route along with simple stats; the Nike does all of this but adds a height profile of the run and the ability to replay (at a fast-forward pace) the entire trip.

In normal (non-running) use, the Nike is the more stylish unit, many users would be happy to wear it day-to-day; the Garmin however is far more reminiscent of digital watches of a long-bygone era.

Note that although my wrist isn't excessively large, the Nike strap only comfortably connects on the very last hole (this cannot be changed due to the embedded USB wiring and connector) whereas there were a couple of spare holes on the Garmin. In addition, the Garmin presents numbers on its face (time, distance data etc.) in blocky, pixelated characters (recall the comment about bygone digital watches?) whereas the Nike shows most data (particularly the time when in watch mode) in large relatively smooth characters. Perfect for those of us who can't see much without our reading glasses.

Finally, and it's a very small thing, I travel a lot and when waking up in the middle of the night in a hotel room, it is very easy to fumble for the Nike and tap the face to see the current time. The Garmin has no equivalent feature.

My personal preference is for the Nike as I would expect to want to wear it as a day-to-day watch in addition to its exercise mapping abilities and it seems to have a better range of features, although there are specific features available only in the Garmin which may make it a compelling buy for some users.

Recommended retail for the Nike is $199; for the Garmin, $149.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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