The Epson Run Sense SF-810 GPS watch – first impressions

I was recently contacted by the lovely people at the PR company looking after Epson’s range of ‘GSP Sports Monitors’ and asked if I’d like to review the Run Sense SF-810. I haven’t looked at another GPS watch since I bought myself a Suunto Ambit2 a while ago, so I thought ‘why not’… Here’s what I think so far.

Out of the box

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The watch and the cradle. A nice solid package.

The Run Sense SF-810 seems to be a very practical, no nonsense product. None of the crazy colours that some brands are introducing. This is a black and grey number in a solid box, with a clear set of instructions. I was into the packaging and working out how to charge up the watch in seconds.

There is a Quick Start guide which meant that I was able to get up and running really fast (pun intended) and I have to say that at every stage the instructions were really well illustrated and described – a small detail, but I love not having to decipher badly translated instructions or useless IKEA-style illustrations that make no sense at all.

In the hand

I have to say that when I heard that Epson were getting into wearable tech, I thought “why would they do that – they make printers”. But one little bit of info about Epson and it suddenly starts to make sense. Epson is the name that most people call the Epson Seiko Corporation – and of course, Seiko is a watch brand. I remember Seiko watches back in the ’70s and ’80s. James Bond (in his Roger Moore incarnation) wore one in Moonraker (it was a detonator for a little wrist-mounted bomb!) and they have long been at the forefront of digital watch technology.

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On the wrist the watch is not bad looking and weighs next to nothing.

So here we have a GPS unit that is the love-child of an electrical engineering firm and a digital watch maker. No wonder there are some great details.

The watch is pleasingly light. My Suunto is great, but it is a brick. A very advanced brick, but I would never have worn it for a marathon because it is too heavy to not be noticable and I have always wanted to race in kit that is as unobtrusive as possible.

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The spring in the strap holds the Epson SF-810 nice and firmly on the wrist

To add to the lack of weight, Epson have built a little ‘spring’ into the strap, which means that you can fix the buckle and the little bends in the rubber strap lengthen and hold the watch tight. Not too tight – in fact there is just the right amount of tension. I haven’t had a chance to test this theory yet but I imagine that if you were running for a long time and your wrists started to swell in the heat, this strap would simply stretch a little to accommodate it.

The buttons on the watch all have an accurate feel – there is a little click when you push them, which means you know you have engaged the function you want. I think this is particularly helpful with the lap button which is larger than the other three and at the 4 o’clock position, so perfect for the thumb to hit it at the end of a rep. Nice touch that.

The watch also has a vibrate function that I have not fully managed to get my head around, but if there is an option for the watch to vibrate at set times or distances or when you leave a heart rate zone, that will be fantastic. I’ll report back when I have a better idea of what the vibrate thing is all about.

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Clicked into the cradle

The watch is connected to a Mac or PC with a cradle that I initially thought looked a little over-engineered. But because the HR monitor in this watch is in the unit itself, the data and charging points need to be on the side because there is a light on the bottom that reads the heart rate. So the cradle is a great way to charge the watch and download data. There is a very satisfying click when the watch snaps into the cradle and from my initial test the unit seems to charge really quickly.

What else?

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The RunSense 810 in its No NonSense packaging

There are a few things that I have not been able to fully test yet. The heart rate monitor seems to be very accurate but I haven’t done a long run or a hard session with the watch on yet so I’ll have to text that later.

I also haven’t tested the battery life yet so I’ll have to run the watch and see what it does.

The literature also boasts that the watch will measure stride length and cadence. Now I have to say that I have never personally worried about any of that stuff. In fact I have only had a small amount of tweaking to my running style, thanks to Nick from RunningWithUs. I actually think that trainers and coaches who tell people that they need to run at a certain cadence or with a particular foot strike can do more harm than good. But each to their own. I suppose if you do want to bobble along at a certain cadence then having a watch that tells you will save the need to be constantly counting. Again, once I get into this watch and work out what it is all about, I’ll write an update to this initial post.

I also have to say that I have not created an account on Run Connect which is the proprietary platform that Epson uses to extract, store and analyse data. And I don’t know if it is Strava compatible. As soon as I do, I’ll review that too.

Overall, so far, I have to say that I am impressed. This seems like a well built watch with an intuitive set-up and user interface. Maybe on this showing Epson is about to become a big deal in wearable tech. I’ll certainly keep using the unit I have here and give more feedback in due course.

Running to the beat of a TomTom – review of the TomTom Runner GPS watch

Mention TomTom to most people and they will know this as the brand behind the in-car satnav, beloved of drivers from the easily bewildered to taxi drivers who know longer have the knowledge that they used to. In fact so synonymous is TomTom with that market, that this brand has almost assumed the status that Hoover has in the vacuum cleaner market – it is a byword for the product rather than a brand name.

IMG_1288But TomTom is much more diverse than just the in-car products that grace a billion windscreens.  TomTom has products for road users as diverse as campers, caravaners, truck drivers and motorcyclists. And for some time now, TomTom has been the driving force (pun intended) behind Nike’s Sportwatch – a great example of two brands collaborating in areas that they specilaise in, to bring a great product to market.

In a rather unexpected twist, however, TomTom has decided to go it alone and launch its own range of watches… the aptly named TomTom Runner and it’s sister watch, the TomTom Multi-Sport.

Taking on a busy market

TomTom have decided to launch a product into a busy market – GPS devices are really ubiquitous now and I really only know a couple of runners who don’t own at least a basic one.

I suppose that TomTom thinks that they already have the technology and through their association with Nike, have already established that there is a market ready and willing to spend money. But it still makes me wonder why any company would launch into such a competitive environment.

The challenge for TomTom will be to see if these two new products can create a space in the running and multi-sport sector for their products. There are already quite a few brands trying to own the budget end of things including Soleus, who have a watch that has overcome many of the criticisms that were leveled at it initially. There are budget offerings from Garmin and Polar, who are both working hard to assert their “we were here first” dominance on the market. And at the cheaper end of things, you also have to take into account the Nike SportWatch GPS which at £129 for the basic version, is a great bit of kit for the money (and a little confusingly still says that it features TomTom technology interestingly and is still for sale on the TomTom website).

At the more premium end of the market Suunto will relieve you of a little over £400 for a watch that will record everything you can possibly imagine in a unit with a 50 hour battery life. And with the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, you have a £360 watch which they claim “is the only all-in-one, GPS-enabled device that provides detailed swim metrics and tracks distance, pace, elevation and heart rate for running and cycling”

So where will the TomTom Runner or MultiSport fit in?

The differences and benefits

Having tried the watch, I think this is firmly aimed at the mainstream runner and triathlete: someone looking to understand their training, but perhaps not obsessing about every tiny detail. TomTom tell me that they are looking to an audience of ‘challenger athletes’ to buy this watch. So what is a ‘challenger athlete’? Well TomTom think they are the type of runner or multi-sport participant who:

  • Wants more than the absolute basics in terms of statistics from their workouts
  • Runs and/or swims and bikes three to five times a week at least
  • Has clear goals that they are looking to achieve

Sprinting with Robbie Britton

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Please note that the screen is blank because I ended up running the battery down to see how long it lasts!

When it came to trying out the unit, I had the opportunity to use the watch at an event in Battersea Park, running with none other than GB Ultra Runner Robbie Britton, who despite his predilection for long races (he won the North Downs Way 100 and the South Downs Way 100 this year) has a wicked turn of speed when it comes to a 200m sprint!

We were issued with a watch and set off for a run. The first thing that I noticed, was how light and thin the watch is, compared to my Suunto Ambit. The unit is kept super-thin, by moving all the controls onto the wrist, making for a longer, thinner unit than many other watches manage.

The team at the event had set the watch with a sample ‘workout’ – in our case a 2km run. This allowed us to try out one of the features that the TomTom team really seem to think will be popular – the ‘Goal’ feature, where you have a visual and physical (more on that in a minute) prompt every so often, telling you how far you are through the workout.

Actually I am not sure I like this function all that much: I love running and having something tell me that I am 25% or 50% of the way through my run, feels a bit too restrictive – what if I feel great and just want to run a bit further? But I guess if you are the type of runner who just wants to get the session done, it could be motivating to know that you have a good proportion behind you. And of course, if like me you don’t care how much of your pre-planned run has been done, you simply don’t use this function.

IMG_1292What I did like, that I discovered when using the Goal feature on the watch, is the vibrate mode. So at 1km into our 2km run, the whole unit vibrated, just like a mobile phone on silent, to let you know that you have reached a certain point. In situations where you want to know that you have passed a mile or something like that, the vibration function is, in my opinion, brilliant.

The other thing that I really like about the TomTom Runner, is that the watch unit comes out of the strap. This has a few benefits in my opinion:

  • You can change straps either because you want a longer/shorter/wider/thinner one or bcause you need to replace a damaged one
  • You can remove the unit and pop it in a pocket or bag if you want to record your run or workout, but not be distracted by glancing at your watch the whole time
  • You can take the unit out of the wrist-strap and put it into a handle-bar mounted strap if you want to use the TomTom MultiSport for cycling as well as running

Longer-term testing

Since the event at Battersea Park I have played with the watch quite a bit and I have to say that it has continued to impress me. The display is really easy to read, with a white-on-black read-out that seems to cope with most light conditions. The four-way toggle controller that sits on the wrist is easy to use and the GPS fix is as fast as anything I have used before.

The 10 hour battery life that TomTom claims, seems to be a bit pessimistic after I left the unit running in its box overnight and I suspect that, initially at least, you can get more out of it than 10 hours. The charging cradle is really easy to use, although you do have to remove the unit from the strap to connect it (a minor inconvenience) and I have been told – though I have not been able to verify this myself yet – that the data can easily be extracted to most of the online platforms that you are likely to want to share your stats with.

So all in all I have to say that I quite like the TomTom Runner. I think that it is a very neat and lightweight watch, with really simple and intuitive navigation and some clever design ideas built in. Whether the world needs another GPS device is questionable, but I think that if you are after a watch that will give you all the stats and functionality that you need if you fit into the Challenger category that TomTom have identified, then this watch is well worth looking at.

You can find more details on www.tomtom.com and pre-order one of these watches for £150.

If you do buy one, please let me know what you think.

The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part one: Timing

It was my birthday a while ago and my aunt sent me one of those gently amusing cards that cause very little offence or mirth. Here it is…

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But it got me thinking about how all too often, achieving a goal can become a daunting exercise over over-whelming complexity. I know it was for my first few races.

But now I take a much simpler approach to the marathon and I thought I would share my plan with you in four blog posts over the next week:

  1. Timing (this post)
  2. Hydration
  3. Nutrition
  4. Psychology

Time to think about time

I really strongly suggest that you do not use a GPS to manage your pace on race day. They are notoriously inaccurate and especially when surrounded by 37,000 other GPS watches.

If you are running a marathon that has its course measured by the Association of UK Course Measurers, then the mile markers are accurate. Very accurate.

If your GPS beeps to tell you that you have run a mile before or after the mile marker… then your GPS is wrong. Thinking otherwise is a mistake that too many runners make.

If you accept that your GPS device might be a bit out, then think about this: if your GPS is short by 15 seconds per mile, that is six and a half minutes for a marathon. If you are aiming for a sub-4 hour marathon, your GPS only needs to be 43 meters out per mile – which is only 2.7% – and you will finish in 4 hours 6 minutes.

So what do I suggest?

A stopwatch. I use a GPS watch, but I turn off the GPS function and just use the watch as a stopwatch. Each time I pass a mile marker, I hit the lap button. If the time for the last mile is more than my target pace, I am behind schedule and if it is less than my target pace, I am ahead of schedule. I can then adjust as necessary. Simple.

The next post will be up in a couple of days. In the mean time, what do you use to make sure you are on pace? Or do you not bother with that? Let me know what your tactics are and how you have honed them in the past.