Last updated: 10-Aug-20
By Steve Diederich
Coros, as it turns out, have been producing some pretty impressive watches.They are known Stateside by trail and distance runners, by mountaineers and climbers – however they only get a tilted head look and a “huh?” from us Europeans.
The APEX Pro is the successor to the APEX and is positioned in terms of price and functionality towards the top end of premium trail running watches.
- Waterproof to 100 mtrs
- Huge battery life (to 30 days)
- Oximeter (blood oxygen level)
- Heart rate Monitor
- Thermometer, Barometer, Accelerometer, Gyroscope
- Touch Colour LCD screen
- Easy to use partner App
- “Night mode” lighting
Being used to the goliaths from Suunto, Garmin and Matrix, the APEX Pro looks more like a fashion item. It is super slim given its tech and even more impressive on weight. Once on your wrist, the soft silicone strap is comfortable with just enough pressure to ensure the Oximeter and Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) can function effectively – weight has been shaved off the unit with the use of titanium alloys to deliver a 59g (a sliver over 2 ounce) unit.
The overall feel for such a light watch however is one of quality – industry standard sapphire glass and an anodised alloy body gives the impression that this will last. To my taste, the Kermit green 22 mm strap didn’t do it for me, but given that there are so many alternatives straps cheaply available, this isn’t really an issue as the body is a handsome piece that wouldn’t feel out of place in any social situation or activity.
Although obviously geared at the runner/tri-athlete, there are a multitude of sports functions that the AI in this watch can handle including 21 of the most popular activities. I would have liked to have seen a few more of these, for instance “Bike” has only 2 options – “indoor” and “bike”. Given that mountain biking, gravity biking, gravel biking, x-country biking, e-biking, commuter biking and road racing are all sizeable options within just this one category, I would hope that Coros would be adding another layer of depth to these via their updates.
Talking of updates, Coros is really active in updating the functionality of the watch and the companion app regularly over the air. It was good to see these updates coming in regularly and to see improvements to stability and functionality offering a product that improves with age.
These options are divided into both watch and activity functionality and are impressive in terms of their range and their ease of use.
Tracked in real time and recorded for your later examination are:
- Barometric pressure
- Altitude profile and levels
- Heart rate
- Calories burned
- Distance covered
- Stairs climbed
You can configure this information to show on most of the watch face options available.
This is the banana skin that so many watch manufacturers slip up on – they provide great data and unfathomable menu options where you try to make sense of the data if you can find it! The good news is that the APEX Pro, together with the App, gives you lots of visual data, even showing you (graphically) the muscle development your exercises have focussed on.
The watch navigation is via the standard three button format – the difference is that all the scrolling is done via the crown that allows you to push in to take you to the sub menu you have selected. The top button activates the backlight that you can also select via the crown to have in a night mode. This draws minimal power but allows you to see the watch face in the dark, for those night runs. The bottom button is the back button that takes you back up the menu tree – all very logical.
With an LED screen, it is clear. The trick is when you set the watch up, you have a choice of many styles and colours you can choose from (you load these from the app to the watch). I found that it was easiest to not overload the amount of information you choose to have on the watch face – less is more. There are more face choices than you would ever need, but a nice touch all the same.
The screen in certain functions enables touch screen (most useful in track navigation when you are trying to make sense of your positioning) which again is a useful feature. I am not a great fan of touch screens per se as the nature of activity is that you are likely to inadvertently change items on your screen that you don’t want to touch. Whilst we are on the subject of accidentally changing things, crown bezels are normally all too easy to activate in error when flexing your wrist – something I do all the time. The answer to this on the APEX Pro is an auto lock that stops this happening and to release it, you just hold down the crown …. and the world is good again!
Without a shadow of doubt, this is the killer feature for the APEX Pro – this isn’t a little better than other watches, it is a huge leap in terms of improvement of a watch that isn’t the size of a small saucepan. Coros reckon you get 40 hours of run fun with everything turned on and humming.
I must admit that I haven’t got near the 40-hr figure but have seen 34hrs go past with the battery still alive and GPS mapping, heart rate and all sensors working. This is quite remarkable given the size of the unit, and I would have thought that a watch of this size wouldn’t have this capacity. I guess this is down to well written software, good choice of components and a dose of pixie dust.
Whatever it is, if you turn off all the gadgetry Coros claim a 30-day watch life – which is nothing short of marvelous. I have played around at turning off the watch at night (really easy to do) and turning it back on in the morning – this extends the battery even further. The good news also is that a full charge from flat took me 2hrs 23mins which given the run time is spectacular. You can turn off specific functions of course to better manage the battery life to suit your requirement.
To further enable battery life, in Run mode you can dial in UltraMax GPS mode. This keeps all the sensors and proprietary algorithms that reduce the GPS polling and “best guess” your tracks through the gyro, barometer and compass (with surprising accuracy) that allow the battery to eke out its reserves. Whilst this will mean that you lose some of the finer detail of GPS tracking, in return you get longer battery life when this becomes critical.
Heart Rate Monitor (HRM)
The problem when testing HRMs is that they are hard to benchmark, so for this we used an i-watch, an oximeter and a Whoop band, the closest thing to a consumer medical grade tool that you can easily afford and source. We have matched the performance of several fitness trackers with this and have found a large range of accuracies – the APEX Pro included.
We found some of the instant readings could be out by quite a margin (in common with many optical HRMs) and often this is down to positioning and sweating. However, when it came to the median or average readings, the APEX Pro pretty much matched the other devices and held a realistic result over extended periods, which in realty is probably of more use if you are tracking heart rate zones.
In common with most advanced fitness watches, you get alerts when you are tracking outside re-selected HR zones, and instant visual clues with a “traffic light” indicator system.
Benchmarking can be challenging …..
As you may expect from a watch with heritage in climbing and mountaineering, an accurate Oximeter to track the O2 level (specifically SpO2 – the peripheral capillary oxygen saturation) is a useful tool to evaluate altitude acclimatisation. When enabled this nifty feature collects elevation (above 2,500mtrs) and SpO2 data, works out heart rate zones against real-time heart rate monitoring and will alert you when you are out of the designated zones to ensure you are stay in the “safe” zones. We tested the oximeter on the APEX Pro against the normal finger tester, both results were remarkably similar.
Gone are the days when a sub-optimal GPS chipset was even partially acceptable; performance from the Coros was reliable and accurate, and when looking at the tracking after each outing it was detailed and complete every time. Whilst the APEX Pro wasn’t the quickest to get a signal to start with, it was quick to re-acquire it when/if the signal was temporarily lost – you are alerted to this with a beep and vibration. One step that took some getting used to is, after selecting an exercise, you need to wait for the watch to get its GPS signal and then select “Start Now” rather than it starting automatically – No biggy, but this caught me out a few times initially.
You can easily pre-load routes onto the APEX Pro from the App. This worked really well and the watch tells you when to make turns and when you are off course. I found this to be accurate and easy to use.
Living with the watch
The APEX Pro has really grown on me. After the usual big running watches that often feel bulky and weighty, the Coros feels like a “next generation” offering. Slim, light, lots of functionality – it is just easy to live with. I haven’t had any battery life anxiety, I don’t notice it on my wrist, it performs well and is bug free.
It also has nice touches, such as giving you real-time information on the gradients you are running (which inevitably encourages you to seek out bigger gradients). Whilst running, the cadence, average pace and incline readouts give you a simple “at a glance” reading that is really easy to keep an eye on, and if you want other information displayed this is also really easily selected by rolling the crown bezel.
The level of data available across most modes is seemingly endless and too extensive to include. However, for the sake of illustration, take the Trail Run mode that allows you to select, for example, a route that you have recorded/loaded into your watch. It will alert you to cadence changes, heart rate out of zone changes and give you a metronome to run to if that is your need. It will also tell you if you are off course.
You can select a pace and it will let you know when you are off pace, or off cadence and of course will auto pause if you stop for any reason if you want it to. Another neat feature is the 3D distance adjustment, that utilises your elevation gain/loss to calibrate against the 2-dimensional map distance, so you can see how far you really travel rather than what the map tells you.
The data that just this mode can give you includes:
- Total time
- Workout time
- Avg / Max / Lap Stride Length
- Avg / Max / Lap Pace
- Avg / Max/ Lap Speed
- Avg / Max / Lap Heart rate
- Aerobic TE
- Total Ascent / Descent
- Running power
- Running Efficiency
- Stride height
- Vertical Speed
- Grade (gradient)
- Left / Right balance
I also like the idea that you can set the watch to remind you when you need to fuel / drink (something ultra-runners too often easily forget).
The App is not overly featured and complex and is simple to use, it includes some nice features such as a muscle heatmap which shows you what muscles you are using the most. If mountain running is your thing then you should definitively be putting this APEX Pro on your shortlist as the heritage derived from the Coros Vertix outdoor watch plays nicely into this watch across lots of features.
And then there is the price – It sits right in between the cheapy fitness watches and the extravagant oversize, over featured (in my opinion) watches. At around £450 it is priced competitively.
This watch will be staying on my wrist. I will change the band but other than that, the APEX Pro isn’t coming off!
PROS: WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THE COROS APEX PRO?
- Battery life – Real life multi-day capacity
- Light Weight
- Slim, robust build
- Intuitive ease of use
- Excellent functionality
- Lots of sensors, GPS, Barometric, Gyroscopic, Compass etc
- Legible displays
- Low power draw night light
- Fantastic for mountain / altitude usage
- Good range of data including VO2 max, Lactate threshold, Sleep performance, threshold pace etc
- Links with most 3rd Party Apps (Apple health, Strava etc)
- Customisable data and display
CONS; WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT THE COROS APEX PRO?
I am now being pretty picky …..
- Activity range is not (yet) deep enough
- Unnecessary step in exercise start
Others you may want to consider:
Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire £669
Suunto Spartan Ultra £369
Huawei Watch 2 £199
Have you tried the Coros APEX Pro? Don’t agree with this review? What’s your opinion? Add your own comment to this review and share your experience and passion for running with others.
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All images by Steve Diederich