Branded with Timex's popular Ironman licensee's name, the Speed + Distance System is for the exacting runner, cyclist, walker or anyone else moving who wants the answers to those always-debated, sometimes-burning questions: How fast and how far?
Having tested systems in the past that used accelerometers (with limited success that included lots of caveats about accuracy) and with familiarity with GPS systems, we set out to see if this system -- introduced in April 2002 -- is one that would work, would be adaptable to different needs, and be satisfactory to different bodies, types of users and terrains.
First reaction by one rather small runner was that the Garmin GPS unit that attaches to your upper arm was unwieldy, big and heavy. Well, that proved wrong. Its wide elastic band fit snugly, prevented slippage and was mostly quickly forgotten after a few minutes by two users of very different sizes.
Exactness? Like any GPS, the more trees between you and the sky, or the deeper the canyon or gully you were racing through, the less exact it was -- particularly with speed. On some trails, the system would indicate a broken link off and on, but would log back in again automatically when connection was established. One of our users found that if he switched the GPS unit to the arm facing out and away from the hill, he was able to re-establish connection quite frequently -- though doing so more than once or twice was admittedly quite a pain especially while trying to stay running and not face-planting. At the end of the run, the distance still seemed generally accurate, while the average pace and speeds tended to become a bit skewed.
When we tested it on clear and open roads with pre-measured quarter-mile markings and no interruptions, the distance system was nearly on the money. We did find that hitting pause was extremely important for more accurate speed rates if you stopped for any reason so the system didn't think you were just going really, really, really slowly and calculate that into your averages. When it was blocked from continuous satellite connection -- especially if more frequently during an outing -- speeds sometimes indicated much faster or much slower than reasonably possible until it settled in again. More blockages meant more odd speed readings.
The button design seemed to work well, although we generally just found the screen with the features we preferred to monitor, then just left it there rather than flipping around with buttons during a run -- always annoying. We didn't have a data download link or the heart-rate feature we hear is coming soon, so one user actually wore a heart-rate monitor on one wrist and this on the other. Rather goofy, but likely not unusual.
Users do have to watch the battery on the GPS unit, however. With 12 hours of stated life, those can get eaten up pretty quickly on long outings and leave you with a blank screen.
All in all, it seems like a pretty good training device, particularly if you're going to be mostly in areas with fewer trees and other satellite blockages. If you must know the answers to "how fast" and "how far," this is likely for you.
SNEWS Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $200, 50-lap memory watch ($225, 100-lap memory watch)
For More Information:www.timex.com