Battle of the GPS watches: Which fitness tracker won Run in the Dark?

Battle of the GPS watches: Which fitness tracker won Run in the Dark?

So, Run in the Dark is over for another year, and the first lesson to take from the evening was obvious, even without any fitness trackers: l have disappointingly low willpower.

I put half of the blame down to the course here. I set off with the intention of running 10km, but providing an exit lane for people at the 5km mark is just asking for trouble isn’t it? There were plenty of others doing the walk of shame alongside the running track, and I wasn’t wholly surprised to find Expert Reviews editor David Court hanging around near the bag drop point. We both trudged off to the pub.tomtom_overview

So I ran 5km. Well, I say ran – because I had every intention of running 10km (until the 4km mark when the idea first dawned on me that I could just beat the rush to the bar) I actually ended up doing so slower than my usual Park Run pace. My official time read 29:08, but what did the fitness trackers say?

Tracking the trackers

A word of warning: it was physically impossible for me to start and finish the timers simultaneously. I simply don’t have enough hands. Still, it should be pretty obvious which ones locked on quickly and were simple to start and stop:

Time

Distance

Average pace

Steps

Max heart rate

Average heart rate

Calories burned

Actual

29:08

5.0km

5:49

Fitbit Surge

29:59

5.07km

5:54

4,586

146bps

134bps

462

Microsoft Band 2

30:05

5.32km***

5:39

5,756*

183bps

170bps

602

Samsung GearFit 2

29:49

5.15km

5:47

–**

187bps

145bps

542

TomTom Spark 3

29:56

5.05km

5:55

5,646*

181bps

170bps

550

* This wasn’t split out specifically for the run, so includes all my steps between 8pm and 9pm. I was only running for around half that time. ** Although the GearFit 2 lets you break steps down by hour, it only shows them as a graph without numbers. So I did more steps between 8 and 9, but as for how many more – ¯_(ツ)_/¯ *** Annoyingly, despite the GPS being flicked to “On” on the Microsoft Band 2, the app tells me “I need to enable GPS on my band to record a map of my run”. I think it locked on shortly after starting, but I don’t know for sure.

First things first, I actually didn’t start timers on the start line, as there was a short walk up. So although all of the trackers overestimated the distance, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t longer than 100 metres, which leaves the GearFit 2 slightly overestimating and the Microsoft Band 2 badly guessing.fitbit_overview_pic

As for heart rate, I think we have to say that given the Microsoft Band 2 and TomTom Spark 3 zoned in on the same area, they’re most likely to be correct. The GearFit 2 wasn’t far behind, but the Fitbit Surge was badly underestimating. No way was I that relaxed.

The GearFit 2 was closest to being spot on in terms of average pace, according to my sums based on the actual time given by Run in the Dark.

Split stop

So here’s how each of the trackers broke down the splits:

1

2

3

4

5

Total:

Fitbit Surge

6:19

5:45

5:36

5:54

5:54

29:28

Microsoft Band 2

5:34

5:34

5:34

5:38

5:30

27:50

Samsung GearFit 2

TomTom Spark 3

7:09

5:26

5:34

5:43

5:33

29:25

Given the Microsoft Band 2 reckoned I did a whole extra third of a kilometre, it’s unsurprising that the first five don’t add up to the actual time. In general, each of the watches seems to give pretty even splits, except the GearFit, which just shows the information as a graph, without any usable numbers attached. Like this:gearfit_2_splits

It is, however, as you can see: all over the place.

Charting the heart

Finally, let’s take a closer look at each of the heart-rate breakdowns. In alphabetical order, we have:

The Fitbit Surge:fitbit_surge_heartrate

The Microsoft Band 2:microsoft_band_heart_rate

The Samsung Gear Fit (taken from the app, as there’s no web presence):gearfit_2_heart_rate

…and finally the TomTom Spark 3:tomtom_heartrate

The GearFit 2 really loses ground here. There’s no way I went to my maximum heart rate around two-kilometre mark and then levelled out. Likewise, the Fitbit is clearly too low. Therefore, it’s the Microsoft Band 2 and the TomTom Spark 3 that give the best readings on this score.

So if there can only be one…

To be clear, I know this isn’t a scientific test. For heart rate alone, having two watches on each wrist clearly isn’t ideal for optimal performance, and as I’ve already said, I don’t have enough arms to ensure they all started simultaneously.

That said, in terms of what we know (that the course was 5km – with maybe a short 100m lead-in), the Microsoft Band 2 badly overestimated the distance I traveled. That might be down to it claiming it wasn’t using GPS – but it was definitely switched on, so I think it probably locked on a little late.

In heart-rate terms, the Fitbit underestimated, and the GearFit 2 was all over the place.

Which, for consistency alone, leaves one winner today. Congratulations TomTom.

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