Nike+ SportWatch GPS Review

The build up
I am a gadget guy, and also big into tracking things (heck, “Track It!” is the first of my 10 Principles), so the Nike+ SportWatch GPS was a shoe in for me to want to try out.  Not only that, but I’m totally hooked on NikeFuel and the Nike+ ecosystem (despite not really enjoying working out in Nikes anymore since I went toward the minimalist route).

I’ve been eyeing the watch for months, but the $199 price tag always put me off.  Well, two things happened – 1. they lowered the price to a more palatable, though still high $169, and 2. CitySports (which I love – great store with a great Outlet section online) gave me a $40 off coupon for spending too much money with them too frequently.  OK, three things happened – my wife also went out of town, so I could get away with buying this without too much scrutiny.  So I took the plunge.  For the price, you get a Nike+ shoe sensor ($20 value), and a USB extender chord thing to make charging easier.

This review comes on the back of some fast walks rather than runs as I’m recovering from surgery and haven’t been cleared to run yet.  No matter, I got a good feel for what the watch can do and how it will work in my workout routine.  In a word, well.  In two words, very well.  I could keep going and adding the word ‘very’ more.  You get the idea.

What it is
So, what is it.  It’s a watch that is really not ideal for every day use as your core watch.  It could work, but it’s not ideal in my eyes.  More on that in a minute.  It’s a wide, plastic band that has a large LCD face that displays the time on two rows in very big type.  It looks bulky but doesn’t feel bulky once on (it’s really rather light), but can be a little annoying to get on due to the USB connector and built in cap on the end of the strap that I always seem to struggle to get through the closure mechanism.  Once on, it’s all good, though.  It comes in all black, black with bright fluorescent yellowy-green, bright fluorescent yellowy-green with black, or black with light blue.  I’d have liked a more LIVESTRONG-esq yellow, and maybe a black with red and black with white option.  I got the black with yellowy-green.  I wanted to be bold but not ‘yellowy-green with black’ bold.

What makes it tick (no pun intended) is two things – one is that it packs a GPS receiver from TomTom, plus the smarts to know what the signal means to calculate things like pace, distance, speed, etc.  It goes a step further by letting you mark laps, auto-marking laps at distance intervals, or giving you a worthlessly hard to hear beep at some time interval (which you can customize for rest and sprint timings if you’re into interval/HIIT/Tabata training, as I am).  If you plan to use headphones while you run, don’t plan on hearing the beeps.  They’re actually audible, but I can’t imagine relying on them.  (I use the app Seconds Pro for the iPhone to do my interval timing instead, and built a custom interval program for my runs).  It also has an alarm clock and stop watch, plus a backlight, which is necessary for LCD watches since there are no hands to glow in the dark to show you the time.  I like being able to see the time in the middle of the night without having to fire up the backlight on my watch, and you can’t do that since this thing has an LCD.  No day-glow hands here.

How you use it
You don’t set many things up on the watch itself, but instead use Nike+ Connect for Mac or PC to do a lot of customization and settings management.  You also charge the watch this way.  You can have the time auto-set or set it manually, do 24 hour time, units (miles vs km) and then you can customize the heck out of the running display.  There are a lot of metrics to choose from – pace, average pace, distance, elapsed time, time, calories and distance.

You have to choose between pace (in minutes per mile or km) or speed (in mph or km/h) in the Connect app, too.  I don’t really understand why you have to make this choice.  If you choose speed, then you can see speed and average speed as two stats.  If you choose pace, then you can see pace and average pace as two of the stats.  Why can’t I see my speed and my pace?  Why are these mutually exclusive?  I’d like to see both.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “Then that would be too much info to have to scroll through,” I’d say, “No, dude. You’re wrong. You get to select what info you want the watch to display, so you could just choose not to show one of those, and all would be well again.”  But, you didn’t say that, so I didn’t say anything back.

You get to see 2 things at once on the Run screen, so you choose which you want to see in the big section (I like average pace), and then you can scroll through all other stats in a smaller area at the top of the watch screen.  You also set the details on whether you want to be able to mark laps manually, automatically or not at all, or if you’d rather have the watch give you interval markers.  I’m not sure why you have to choose one or the other, but this is typical of Nike.  In their great (in my view) Nike+ GPS running app you can get info about progress, pace, etc every X minutes or X miles, but not both.  I want both, dammit!

My impressions
So, how did I like the watch when running, err walking fast?  I loved it.  While I like the Nike+ GPS app on my phone, taking the phone out of my pocket, or bending my shoulder weirdly to read it while it’s lashed to my bicep just isn’t a great option, and the app doesn’t give me feedback enough for me to adjust my pace proactively enough to get the performance I’m trying to get.  The watch changes that. I had constant feedback on my average pace – the key metric I try to manage) totally on demand.  I ended up shaving a half minute off my pace today as a result.  That’s huge.  I also found it more motivating to get the real time, on demand feedback, and ended doing another half mile on my walk.  Yes, it was a bit of gamification as I was using the stats and feedback to try to outdo my performance, and that’s a very powerful and increasingly popular technique to get people to work out (and one that is at the heart of Nike+ and NikeFuel).

It can also connect to a heart rate monitor.  I didn’t test this out, but I’ve seen people comment about this working well.  Since I didn’t try it, I’m not sure where this info is presented, but I’d guess it’s one more stat you can cycle through during your run.  It’s really easy to cycle through stats, and the watch is responsive and moves quickly through things which is critical to give you the info you need quickly so you can get back to focusing on your run.

After the run, the watch stores your stats, which you can review from your History screen.  It also gives you some motivating words at the end of your run – very Nike+ to pat you on the back for everything you do.  It can also remind you to run if you haven’t in awhile – also very Nike+ to try to get you active.  It also tracks personal records (PRs), and obviously syncs all of this back to Nike+ so you can track your progress more richly, share your performance with friends, Twitter, Path, Facebook and on Nike+ itself.  It also translates the GPS data into a map, showing where you ran, and color coding your path based on pace.  If you marked laps, it will also denote those on your run route.  I like it quite a bit.  This is also where it adds NikeFuel to your data (the watch now ‘does’ NikeFuel after a recent update, but it really doesn’t as Fuel doesn’t show up anywhere on the watch – what’s ‘doing’ Fuel is the Nike+ website).

My depressions
I have only two gripes.  The first is the forced trade-offs, which is sort of a Nike+ issue overall.  The GPS app does it by forcing you to get info spoken to you at distance or time intervals, but not both.  The watch forces you to choose between speed or pace for no apparent reason, and also makes you choose between intervals or laps, but not both.  Why can’t I mark a lap and get chimes for interval markers?  This is by no means a deal breaker, but it’s also something I’d imagine Nike could fix with a software update.  So, Nike, since I’m sure you have nothing better to do than read my blog, can you change this, please?  (I was serious – I really don’t think Nike is too busy with running their multi-billion dollar company or anything.  Lots of idle time on their hands, I reckon.  OK, I wasn’t really serious.)

My other gripe is that I can’t use this as my only watch, so I have to put it on and take it off since I want to see the time at night without bugging my wife with some garish backlight (the backlight works really well).  Gripes others seems to have consistently are around trouble getting a GPS lock.  I got satellite signal lock literally in under 5 seconds every time.  And I never lost the signal once, despite walking under trees for a few hundred feet.  I didn’t through tunnels or anything like that, so maybe that’s what I needed to do to ‘break’ the signal.  No, my trouble was with the shoe pod, and it’s likely user error.  I couldn’t get it to be recognized by the watch.  Now, I don’t know if the thing is asleep or what.  Supposedly it wakes up when it’s moved around, but that didn’t work.  So I tried the sleep/wake button (there’s no light or anything to tell you a) that pressing it worked or b) whether you just put it to sleep or awoke it).  There’s nothing in the instructions about needing to use that the first time, but not using it wasn’t working, so I figured what the heck.  Well, that didn’t work either.  This means that I was totally reliant on the GPS.  The shoe pod is meant to let you get going while you wait for satellite lock and to help when you lose the signal (like going through a tunnel).  It also allows you to use the watch on a treadmill.  So far, I don’t have those options.  I doubt it’s the watch, though.

To buy or not to buy?
So overall, I’m very much a fan, and really glad I got it.  Now, I ended up paying $108 because CitySports gave me the box to their demo unit, so when I came back to the store to get a box with an actual watch inside, they gave me $21 back for my troubles (thank you for that!) on top of the $40 I had already saved.  To me, it’s a no brainer at $108 if you are a runner, into stats, and, well, have $108 you can part with and still pay your bills and eat.  At $169, I would have to seriously think about, but would still probably go for it after forgoing a few other purchases or trying to cut back for a little while to justify it to myself.  At $199, I’d say no way.  There are other options out there for $99, and they seem to be well-reviewed (Garmin has a wide range of options starting around $99, for example – I know some folks with them that really like them).  For me, I think the Nike+ SportWatch was the right move because I’m bought into Nike’s ecosystem for tracking things.  It’s probably not as hard core as the Garmin stuff, and you’re definitely paying for ‘style’ and brand here.  But that doesn’t make it bad.

I found this watch to be a great way to track your exercise.  Another great way is with trackbodi.es – our iOS app that’s all about tracking your workouts, fitness, body stats, etc easily and clearly.  Check it out at http://www.trackbodi.es!  You can use the data from the watch as your running stats in a cardio workout – that’s what I do with it.

Have you tried it, or used a competitor product?  Let me know your thoughts? Did it help you enlighten.your.body?

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

One comment

  1. Two points to update you all on…

    First, I added the Nike+ shoe sensor to the mix for back up to the GPS when I’m outside, and for when I’m on the treadmill. It’s weird – working alone (e.g. on the treadmill), it works well. Having the GPS alone outside works well. Having both – less so. The end result seems fine, but my pace seems way less accurate than with only one sensor going. The average and the distance all work out, but if I watch my pace, it’s really erratic throughout my run. This get frustrating when trying to see where I’m at for a given interval.

    Second, like my first FuelBand, this SportWatch is going back to Nike due to a malfunction. Nike is awesome about it – they let me pick a new color (I didn’t change), and also start the warranty timing again (lots of companies keep the warranty from the original purchase date despite giving you a new unit). Basically, while it still works great, and charges fine, it won’t really communicate with the computer, which makes it really tough to send my runs to Nike+. Basically, if I keep trying over and over, and restart the watch a bunch of times, I can usually get it to send the run data, but it’s getting tougher and tougher. My guess is something is breaking in the USB connection in the wrist band. The power is connected fine, but something is screwy with the connection to the brains/storage of the unit so it isn’t communicating well despite charging and working fine. Nike is sending me a new one first, and then I can send the old one back. They also offered for me to take it to a Nike Town, but I don’t have time.

    I will also say, 7am to 10pm Pacific for customer service hours is awesome. Awesome. While I wish I didn’t have to call, the guy was knowledgeable, got me good enough to get my run synced, and then offered the no-charge replacement and took care of everything. I’m still really happy.

    And I’ll end on the idea of really happy. As an update, I friggin’ love this thing. I don’t even use the Nike+ Running app anymore. The watch is all I need. I’m now totally sold at $108 and $169, but on the fence at $199 just because of the wealth of other options at that price point. For me, I’m tied into Nike+ so alternatives don’t really exist. That’s kinda Nike’s point. Build the ecosystem. Keep the customer for life.

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