By Shelby Johnson
Basic summary: The second member of the COROS global watch family (along with the Pace), the APEX is best known for its hefty battery life. Compared to the Pace, the APEX has been given a facelift sporting a sleek new design in addition to new features such as navigation, fitness tracking, and sleep tracking.
MSRP: $299 for 42mm, $349 for 46mm
General features (46mm):
- Face dimensions: 46mm diameter, 14 mm thickness
- Weight: 55 g
- Satellite systems: GPS, GLONASS, BDS satellites
- GPS battery life: 35 hours (full GPS), 100 hours in ultra max mode, or 30 days of regular use
- Barometric altimeter
- Wrist-based optical HR sensor
- Titanium alloy/ceramic bezel and sapphire glass materials
- Vibrating and audio alarm options
Activity tracking features:
- Continuous HR
- Sleep tracking and metrics
- Calories, steps, exercise time
- Daily summaries available, but not weekly or monthly
- Intelligent stride algorithm learns your stride length for improved accuracy when GPS signal is weak
Run training features:
- Speed, pace, distance
- Route navigation
- Wrist-based optical HR
- Training efficiency: stamina level and training effort
- Activity-based recovery time
- Advanced training analysis: VO2 max, threshold pace, recovery advisor, 7-day training load, personal fitness index
- Bluetooth compatible with Android and iPhone
- Wireless data transfer
- Auto sync data transfer
- Receives mobile notifications from phone (although not in active mode)
- Customization through COROS app (no website)
- Online communities: link to third party such as Strava or Training Peaks
COROS has made a strategic entry into the ultrarunning community by focusing on key parameters important to distance runners: super-long battery life, simplicity of use, and value price points. They’ve also made a targeted push in recruiting a number of prominent ultrarunners as ambassadors to help spread awareness of the brand.
The APEX is the second GPS watch offering from COROS, and comes in two sizes, the 42 and 46mm, which vary slightly in battery life and materials. Our female tester preferred the 42mm, as the 46mm proved hard to strap down for a secure fit. The 46mm is extremely durable, composed of titanium alloy and unscratchable sapphire glass; anyone who has taken a spill or two while wearing a GPS watch can appreciate this feature. The 42mm casing uses a ceramic bezel with the same glass. In operation, both versions are identical, using two buttons on the right side of the watch. The lower button is used mostly for intervals, while the upper bezel is the main controller of the watch, in a similar manner as Apple watches but without the touch screen.
We’ve developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with the rotating bezel. It allows for simple scrolling through screens while at rest, but becomes more difficult to do while running; it’s hard to calibrate how much force is needed to shift between screens in comparison to the simplicity of pushing a button. When training in winter conditions we found that the bezel can be inadvertently turned by a jacket sleeve, and using the bezel is quite difficult when wearing gloves. However, once you’re accustomed to its quirks, the bezel does get easier to use over time, and makes for quicker scrolling through screens than most push-button watches.
Battery life of the APEX is likely its most impressive feature, as the 46mm model ranges from 35 hours of active GPS mode to 100 hours when in Ultra max mode. We used the 46mm APEX in active mode during a 12-hour 100k effort this spring, and finished the race with 67% battery life remaining. Ultra max mode is intended for slower activities like hiking, but one cool feature is the ability to switch from active GPS to Ultra max mode in the middle of an activity if your battery life is running low. COROS claims that their battery has more efficient power technology that allows extended battery life without the bulk of larger watches, and they definitely appear to have delivered in that aspect. The battery has a wide temperature range, and should fully perform in temps from 14 to 131 degrees F.
As an activity tracker, the APEX provides the basics for you with a scroll of the bezel, from time and date, steps, calories burned, heart rate graph, altitude, atmospheric pressure, external temperature, compass, and smartphone notifications. Although the APEX receives message alerts for calls, texts, and social media apps, during activity all of these are automatically disabled, which is a bummer if you’re trying to screen messages. Within the resting (non-activity) setting, you also have access to the COROS AI trainer, which is designed as a wrist-based coaching system. You can use it to set aerobic or anaerobic targets for your upcoming workouts; during the activity, the AI will give you cues about your effort in relation to the goal. After an activity, the AI trainer shows your recovery time, real time stamina and aerobic or anaerobic training effect.
For exercise activities, there are a limited number of overall activity options, but again, it covers the basics: run, indoor run, bike, indoor bike, pool swim, open water, and triathlon. Within the run setting, the APEX allows you to choose between interval, aerobic, and anaerobic settings based on HR zones, which is a feature common on higher-priced GPS devices. You can customize up to five data screens during activity, each of which can hold 2-6 pieces of information. While the number of data parameters isn’t as robust as offerings from Garmin or Suunto, there are still plenty of options to choose from, and most runners will probably find the key parameters they want to track including time and splits, pace data, elevation and climbing, stamina, cadence, and HR. Once completed, you can’t delete a short duration or accidental activity, which would be a nice addition for future releases.
A newly added feature to the APEX is navigation ability. You can download a route from either a previous run or a GPX file, then view the route and the elevation profile during your activity. The dial on the watch allows you to zoom in and out to see how far you may be from the route. Downloading the route was easy, but during activity this was another feature that proved to be tricky with the bezel for zooming or directional orientation. The watch will notify you if you leave the route with an off route alert, and you can also change navigation features on the fly if you want to select an alternate route. Overall the navigation capability isn’t as advanced or user friendly as more expensive watches, but it’s a feature set rarely seen on watches in this price range.
A GPS watch is nothing without accurate mileage and elevation tracking. COROS claims to have more accurate distance and elevation readings than the other watches on the market – however, throughout our testing, the COROS APEX consistently came up shorter for both mileage and elevation than its competitors. Although it is difficult to determine whose readings are actually correct, this can be frustrating in a race setting when the readings for aid stations or end of race are continuously short. For example, during the aforementioned 100k race this spring on a well-established course, the APEX measured the course at 60 miles with about 1000 feet less elevation gain. The watch was off by a similar factor at the Santa Barbara Nine Trails race earlier in the year.
All of the COROS program is accessed through a mobile app platform; there is no website or desktop application to use. Instructional videos are posted on YouTube, but there’s not always something to answer a specific question you may have about features or operation. The app provides a recap of your daily statistics including exercise activities and sleep tracking. The sleep tracking is fairly well developed, with a detailed graph of your duration spent in each sleep stage. A fitness index includes resting heart rate, VO2 max, lactate threshold, and threshold pace; but we found some irregularity in these numbers –particularly the VO2 max – compared to other devices we’ve used. One drawback to the app is that all of these data categories stats can only be viewed for a single day; there is no ability to see trends over time, although this is something that COROS is reportedly working on for future watch updates.
Overall the COROS APEX offers a compelling option for a budget-friendly, moderately advanced feature set GPS activity watch. Its battery time is difficult to match and the features and construction are competitive with many other watches on the market. Its GPS accuracy seems a bit off, and the app is relatively primitive, but COROS has been gradually rolling out updates since the release of the watch that should hopefully address these drawbacks. The bezel operation may never feel comfortable for some users, but others may prefer this setup. It will be interesting to see how this particular model develops in future months, and how COROS will further insert itself into the competitive GPS watch landscape.
The COROS APEX watch is available for purchase at www.coros.com.