Monitor your run and get motivated with the Nike+ SportWatch GPS (review)

I like to track all of my GPS data when I run and carrying an expensive phone is not the best option when you run a lot in the rain. Thankfully, Nike has an affordable GPS watch that helped get me through my first half marathon.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Monitor your run and get motivated with the Nike+ SportWatch GPS (review)

I have written about various life tracking tools in the past, but also like to use dedicated devices optimized for tracking focused physical workouts. I enjoy using my MOTOACTV, but Motorola has given up on it and the battery barely lasts me one long run so I was interested in checking out one of the more modern devices. Many of these run $300+ and I am really not that serious of a runner yet. I have been using a $149 Nike+ SportWatch GPS and for the most part I think it is a great fitness tracker with a couple issues I would like to see addressed.

Check out my image gallery of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS.

In the box, specs, and first impressions

The Nike+ SportWatch GPS was launched in 2011, but has seen several firmware updates that make today's product much more useful to the runner. Firmware updates have added watch controls, average pace metric, support for NikeFuel points, and more. Current firmware shown on this eval unit is 5.2.8. They have also updated the color options a couple of times and the latest red/black one sent along to me to evaluate (same colors as my MOTOACTV) was just released in October 2012 as a Best Buy exclusive.

The retail package includes the Nike+ SportWatch GPS, a USB charging cable, and a Quick Start Guide. I understand there is also a slightly more expensive package that includes the Nike shoe sensor, but this one did not have that accessory. If you are going to run a lot on a treadmill or inside then you really do need the shoe sensor since GPS doesn't work inside and your experience will be limited. You can also connect a compatible heart rate monitor (Polar Wearlink+), but the one I have for my MOTOACTV does not work with the SportWatch GPS. Unlike the expensive workout trackers, there is not a ton of options on the SportWatch GPS. If you are a casual runner like me then this is great since I really don't need all the advanced data and just need all the basics.

Specifications of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS include the following:

  • Internal memory to store up to 8+ hours of runs
  • Battery life of approximately 8 hours
  • 3 axis accelerometer to measure data
  • 2.4 GHz GPS receiver
  • Backlit LCD
  • Water resistant to 5 ATM
  • Dimensions of 1.5 x 10.1 x 0.6 inches and 2.3 ounces

The SportWatch GPS appears to be very well constructed with a durable rubber watch strap and metal securing clasp. I have a large wrist and there are two more holes until I max out the band on the SportWatch GPS so large people may have an issue with the band size. I wonder about the plastic integrated USB part of the watch, but after over a month of use I haven't experienced any problems. The display is large enough to easily read and the three side buttons are easy to access on the go. Overall, I was impressed with the quality and design. The GPS software is powered by the well known TomTom brand so you can expect it to be accurate and detailed.

Setup and performance

The first thing you should do when you pull the SportWatch GPS out of the box is connect it to your computer either directly (with the USB connection on the watch) or with the included USB cable to make sure it is charged up and so you can setup everything for your personal usage through the Nike+ Connect utility. It is also important to connect the SportWatch to your computer every couple of days to keep the GPS status updated and speed up connections when you run. There are four main entry screens in the Connect utility:

  • Profile: Enter a username for the Nike+ website, weight, distance units (miles or km), date of birth, and gender.
  • Time and date: Select if you want it to match the computer or enter manually and also toggle if you want to use 24-hour time or not.
  • Customize: Here is where you setup what appears on the SportWatch display, including whether you want to see pace or speed, what you want to see in the upper small stat loop, what favorite stat do you want in larger font below the loop, when you want to hear sounds, toggle for the inverted screen, and if you want to setup run reminders.
  • Laps & intervals: The SportWatch GPS has a cool function where you can tap above the display while on a run to see the backlight activated (great for runs in the dark) and also to let you mark off laps. You can also setup auto laps and intervals if you train with these methods.

You will also see you are now setup to acces the Nike+ site through the setup process and on this website you will see all of your run data in full detail where you can also include how you felt, weather conditions, type of terrain you ran on, what shoe you ran with, and any other comments. You can share your run info via Facebook or Twitter as well. I like being able to track how many miles I put on a pair of shoes and appreciate the option to toggle between different pairs. You can set goals on the site and add friends to track and share data with. You will also find you gain awards by hitting milestones and will see stats for your personal records. Another handy aspect of the Nike+ website is the ability to view places and find local runs that others recommend for you to try out.

So after you perform the initial setup and have a charged SportWatch GPS, you head on outside for your run. There are two upper buttons on the left side that you use to jump into the SportWatch software and scroll through the five options; clock, run, history, records, and stopwatch. You press the colored button (matched to whatever color you have inside your band and red in this case) to select items. If you already setup your SportWatch then you really only need to select run, select any additional sensors (shoe sensor or Nike heart rate monitor), and then continue. You will see an icon linking sensors to the SportWatch and then select start to get off and running. You can scroll through stats as you run, but I just let it auto loop and only touch the SportWatch to turn on the backlight or manually add lap stops.

After a run, you connect your SportWatch via USB and see all of your collected data synced up to your Nike+ account where you can then enter more information to associate with the run. There are settings in your account to automatically share your collected data as well.

I used the SportWatch during my first half marathon in November and was happy I had it along since my iPhone and Runkeeper freaked out when I entered the I-90 tunnel. The SportWatch didn't like losing the GPS signal overhead either, but did a pretty good job of continuing on track and came out in the end with just about the right stats. It did show I had one 5 minute mile, which is never going to happen for me. I run in wooded areas and in rural back roads and the SportWatch has performed flawlessly in all of those regular runs. It failed in DC, as I detail below.

Areas for improvement

I went to DC in early November and was excited to use the SportWatch to capture my two planned runs around the National Mall. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes the SportWatch still couldn't get a GPS fix so I couldn't use it during my runs and had to resort to using my iPhone. I found out that I should have connected to a PC to update the GPS data since I traveled across the country and the SportWatch was having issues getting a fix. I want to see this improved because I don't always travel or have a computer handy and other GPS devices don't need this to function.

I also have issues with the Nike+ service and don't like that I cannot add data manually. Yesterday as I was getting ready to head out on a run I noticed that the SportWatch battery had died so I had to use my iPhone. I returned from my 8 mile run and then wanted to get the data into Nike+ since I have some goals setup I am trying to meet. It turns out you CANNOT manually enter data so if you don't use the SportWatch then you are out of luck. Last month when I ran in DC I was able to upload data that I exported from my iPhone with a handy online tool some developer created, but unfortunately Nike changed something on their server so this no longer works. I also found another free online tool to help you export data from Nike+ that you can then put into other data sites like Runkeeper or Endomondo. This is handy in case you decide to stop using a SportWatch or decide to use multiple tools for tracking and sharing your fitness data.

Pricing and final thoughts

The Nike+ SportWatch GPS that I tested is available in several color options for $149 MSRP. I think it is great for the casual runner who wants to track the essentials and the price seems reasonable for what it provides. It is well designed and after more than a month of running in the rain, at night, and in the fog it has served me very well. I want to see Nike open up a bit though so I can manually enter runs and export my data since there is limited storage on the SportWatch and I sometimes use other devices.

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