The Apple Watch Series 1 is Apple’s second attempt in the smartwatch category. This review will be focusing on its capabilities as a run tracking watch when paired with Strava (as of Strava’s August 7th update, version 16.0.0). After owning this device for about a year now, I think I’m ready to give a thorough review of it in this regard.
As a quick disclaimer, this was my first activity tracker besides my phone, so I can’t compare it to other, more dedicated running watches like the ones Garmin and Tom Tom make. I do however understand that the Apple Watch has its limitations when compared to higher end fitness focused watches and trackers. That seems like a good place to start, let’s talk limitations.
The most obvious limitation of the Series 1 is its lack of built-in GPS. This means that you need to have it tethered to your iPhone to track your runs if you want it to track your distance and where you go. That right there can be a major deal breaker for some. Personally I like to keep my phone with me at all times so it hasn’t been an issue, but I can imagine the benefits and freedom of being able to go out for a run with nothing but a watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 added GPS, so if you’re interested in being able to use GPS without your phone then that device would be better suited for you.
The next major limitation when using this device as a run tracker is its battery life. Usually I can comfortably make it through a day without needing to charge, unless I went on a particularly long run that day. I estimate that if starting with a full charge, you’d be able to get about 6 hours of running in before it dies. Fortunately I haven’t gone on a run of that length. Combined with the battery drain from normal daily use though, if I go on a 2 or so hour run I might need to juice it up for a few minutes at some point during the day to ensure it can last me to the end of the day.
The Strava Apple Watch app has its own limitations. First of all, you can either start a run from the watch, or from your iPhone. If you start it from your phone you can’t track the progress on your watch, and the same goes for if you start it on your watch. They basically act completely independently from each other, except for the fact that you need your phone with you regardless of how you want to interact with Strava for GPS purposes. I always start my runs from the Watch app, but that comes with some drawbacks. My biggest complaint is the lack of audio feedback. That’s a feature you can only get if tracking the run from your phone instead of from the watch. Want a voice telling you how fast that last mile was? Too bad, for some reason that’s not possible. I’ve also had issues with non-voice split notifications. You can get notifications on your wrist after each mile, but half the time they never come through.
Another drawback of the Strava Apple Watch app is the touch interface. While this isn’t the fault of Strava, it is very difficult to interact with the app with sweaty fingers. Likewise, in rainy weather it’s virtually impossible to interact with the watch; better get used to bringing a rag with you (and have a way to keep it dry) if you want to run in the rain.
Wow, this post unintentionally turned into an airing of grievances. Based on what I’ve said so far you may think the Apple Watch isn’t useful at all as a run tracker. It does have a couple of redeeming qualities though (again, I’m specifically focusing on running related features).
The screen is beautiful, bright, and easy to read. Seeing the data it displays is a breeze, I have no problem glancing at my wrist to check my split pace or average pace (you can choose which it displays), total elapsed time, total distance, and current heart rate. And speaking of heart rate, the sensor has proven to be accurate, with only occasional glitches and misreadings.
The Apple Watch paired with the sport band is also very comfortable. I have nothing to compare it to, but I’ve had no discomfort and it’s very easy to put on and take off. Being able to rinse it off to clean it when it gets salty from sweat is handy as well.
Ultimately the Apple Watch Series 1 is useful as a run tracker, but most of its upside comes from its abilities as a smartwatch. I purposely didn’t talk about that side of it since this post is focused on running, but I may make a separate review of the watch if there’s any interest in that. So while there are a few aspects of the watch that make it good for running, there are more downsides. If you are looking for a device to be a dedicated run / fitness tracker and don’t really care about smartwatch features, you’re probably better off passing on the Apple Watch for now until they make some improvements in later iterations.
OFFICIAL ARBITRARY RATING:
(this rating was made of the Apple Watch as a running watch and not as a device as a whole)