Killer battery life, a robust build, useful feature set and intuitive user interface make the COROS VERTIX 2 a serious contender at the upper end of the GPS ‘OutdoorsWatch’ market.
COROS are a relative newcomer to the GPS smartwatch market which has been dominated by Garmin, Suunto and to a lesser extent Polar. However their late arrival hasn’t stopped them making shockwaves, originally with their outrageously good value PACE watch which offered an amazing balance of performance vs price that none of their competitors have been able to match even now. However with the VERTIX 2 COROS are aiming for the high end outdoors market and in many ways they’ve hit the bullseye.
In the early days it was clear that running was the core of COROS’ functionality and that still underpins much of the their line and to a certain extent the metrics required by the COROS app – more of that later though. However with the VERTIX 2 COROS have introduced some new functionalities and enhanced core features which make it a serious contender for anyone focussed on the outdoor arena including their existing trail running converts. This expanding focus is also reflected in the role call of COROS athletes. Talking of athletes picking the top three across the road, trail, outdoors sectors COROS have pretty much sewn up the GOATs: Eliud Kipchoge, Kilian Jornet, Tommy Caldwell! These athletes are not just there as advertising eye candy either, Kilian’s initial meeting with COROS co-founder Lewis Wu in Norway led to him sharing his adjusted pace algorithm and there are clearly other potential ideas that will feedback into COROS’ future development. COROS’ refinement and development is very responsive, at times they have been criticised for being a little premature with certain features but functionality and accuracy issues are usually rapidly addressed with firmware updates. Tommy Caldwell is the the COROS athlete directly associated with the VERTIX 2 with it being the most ‘outdoorsy’ of the COROS line up and for a limited time there is a Tommy Caldwell #painisprogress stainless steel mug available from COROS with Tommy’s handprint sans finger tip etched into the base honouring his resilience after unfortunate loss of a finger tip.
So what makes the VERTIX 2 a great choice for your outdoors pursuits? I’m going to break it down into the key features that I’ve found useful in my normal training and when climbing and hiking about.
Battery Life. This is insane! You get 140hours in normal full GPS mode. It is difficult to imagine an event or route where you would drain this battery! Now in reality you’re probably going to want to use the Dual Frequency GPS mode for enhanced accuracy and this drops the battery life down to 50hours – so 2 days. Multi day routes and events will often entail camps where there is no need to track so something like the Marathon Des Sables or the Intergrale route are going to be fine but if you’re concerned you can always opt for a lower resolution GPS setting. In everyday terms it means that you rarely have to recharge and you can leave things like 24hr heart rate monitoring, sleep monitoring etc. on with no concerns. Whist getting used to the VERTIX 2 I had dual frequency GPS on, 24hr HR and sleep monitoring plus lots of backlight fiddling with the interface to learn functionalities and still had 40% battery left after 3 weeks of regular 1 or 2 workouts a day.
Interface This is subjective but of all the GPS (and ABC) watches I’ve used the COROS was the easiest to learn. I know for some folk the spinning crown is a little divisive and I’d but myself in that camp before actually trying it, thinking it would be delicate and fiddly. Bottom line it’s not at all. I suppose you only have to look at Apple the original gurus of human interface design and their use of it on the Apple Watch to know that it’ll likely be a good idea. In fact I could operate the crown with most gloves on baring big belay mitts. You can also set the backlight key as a ‘shortcut’ key to access certain features. When climbing, trail running or hiking I have had this set to give one button access to the maps.
GPS Accuracy With all-satellite dual-frequency GNSS support the VERTIX 2 has the potential to be the most accurate GPS watch going. In general I have found the GPS accuracy in dual frequency mode to be excellent, not faultless but better than my Polar Grit X and my admittedly ageing Garmin Fenix 3HR. This was especially true in mountain areas and I was quite frankly stunned at times on how accurate it was in relation to paths which were invisible being buried under snow. Closer to home it would accurately show which side of the street I ran out and back along. However there was the odd occasion when it would plot my track ‘walking on water’ along the River Wharfe – so don’t blindly trust it. COROS are especially good at posting firm-wear updates that help fine tune their products performance so GPS accuracy may improve even more (the chipset is apparently the same as used by Garmin) with the only limiting factor being the antenna.
Maps/Navigation Having maps on a GPS watch is something I’d originally dismissed as I thought the tiny window that a watch face presented would render them pointless. As a primary means of navigation I still think that is true with two exceptions. Firstly having a downloaded .GPX file as a route for a trail race – using the VERTIX 2 helps lessen the cognitive load of navigating and often all you need is a quick check that you’re on track. Secondly for climbers accessing unfamiliar crags in low risk terrain – many guidebooks are providing GPS co-ordinates and you could use these alongside a suitable app to create a .GPX approach route. For normal mountain navigation the VERTIX 2 proved excellent as a means of doing a rapid location check and or as a back up to conventional map and compass work. The size and clarity of the screen is a definite plus here. Currently there is no way to plot a route within the COROS software so you have to rely on third party apps, however this feature is due with a Spring firmware update alongside full turn by turn navigation. See the teaser below:
App Integration A critical part of any GPS watch system is the phone app and web platform used to log and analyse your workouts as well as install updates and upload .GPX files. The COROS app is excellent – virtually on a par with Polar’s and better IMHO than Garmin’s which I always found muddled and fussy. In the entire testing period I’ve never had an issue with connections between phone and watch – it has worked seamlessly and pretty much instantly. I’ll detail the COROS EVO Lab platform a bit later suffice to say it’s likely to meet pretty much any normal training requirement. If you use Training Peaks or Strava to log workouts then COROS integrates with those too.
Build Quality The VERTIX 2 is a beast of a watch measuring 50.3 x 50.3 x 15.7mm and weighing in at 89g with the supplied silicon strap. It has a scratch resistant Sapphire Glass (just as you’d find on top end dive watches) with the bezel and case back being made from titanium alloy. It is twice as waterproof as the the other COROS watches being rated to 10ATM with a working temperature range of -30°C to +50°C so unless you go cave diving or leave it exposed in extreme arctic/antarctic conditions you’re good to go. The buttons and scrolling crown all have a quality feel with subtle haptic feedback that both make the VERTIX 2 a joy to use. After over a month of use I can not see any scratches despite a few ‘collisions’ with volumes on the bouldering wall and the other usual mishaps of active use.
Climbing Specific Features There are a number of climbing specific features that prove useful to climbers who like to log their training and performance. For myself there was a slight learning curve involved in their use as logging training and performance as it happens has never been part of my routine, I always record details after I’ve finished a training session or day out and usually only in the most rudimentary of fashions. With the VERTIX 2 you can record routes, pitches, vertical ascent, falls (!), style (flash, onsight, redpoint etc.), grade and so on. Some of this is automatically recorded by the watch’s sensors and some you have to manually input. I tended to make do with the various auto recorded data and not do much manual input which limited the accuracy but I could easily see this feature ‘growing’ on me the more I used it. Certainly for sport climbing, indoor routes and even trad routes it may prove useful. There’s no specific bouldering mode but I logged my sessions without manually inputting each problem and it gave me a reasonably accurate indication of the total metres climbed – helpful to check on just how much time was spent nattering! For winter climbing the hassle of manual interaction is less likely to see it used.
I’ve used the VERTIX 2 for running, biking, strength training, climbing (indoors and out) as well as a spot of hiking around the Cairngorms searching for Scottish winter! I’ll detail the quirks and issues I’ve had with it first. Like every wrist based optical HR watch I’ve used the HR data can be a little erratic depending on certain factors. Biking with tight jacket and glove cuffs is particularly bad, at one point it gave me an HR of 180 something, I’ve not seen since my 30s! On the other hand running and hiking were pretty good and like any wrist based sensor its accuracy will be dependant on not being ‘disturbed’ too much by vibrations and clothing. Still I’d stick to a chest belt HRM for if I wanted to seriously analyse heart rate training data or needed stick to specific zones. As I’ve already mentioned the large clear screen is a boon – especially for those of us who rely on reading glasses to see fine detail on a map these days. With the VERTIX 2 I could see all the menu items and data that I required and the map detail when zoomed gave sufficient detail to check my ‘fine navigation’ without resort to the reading glasses – result!
I found the user interface particularly intuitive and only had to refer to the online ‘manual’ once – however the online help is excellent and comprehensive. Customer support too is responsive. Whilst in the Cairngorms I noticed that the topo maps weren’t showing up although I could select them and hybrid maps on the watch. I hadn’t lugged my laptop along so couldn’t check that they were correctly installed (that turned out to be the actual issue) but I fired off an email to customer support and received a helpful reply inside 24hours.
My main training use for a GPS watch is to track fitness, fatigue and training load in order to make progress and hopefully avoid injury – the whole progressive overload thing. Every platform will offer some version of these metrics and on COROS’ platform they are helpfully; ‘Base Fitness’ ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Load Impact’. However to unlock this functionality fully you must complete a certain quantity of calibrated runs, and it has to be running, other activities will not count. Three flat 30-40 minute runs at a steady effort were all that was required for me but if you’re not a runner or if you’re injured (I had a bit of an achilles issue during the review period) then this may be problematic. Without this procedure the COROS’ apps usefulness is a bit more limited. To be fair all the major players will require some calibration period, for instance with Polar it took a month of activity before accurate feedback was possible so in many ways COROS’ approach is more time efficient providing you can complete the runs. Also COROS allows you to download some data from other platforms but this is limited to certain file types (.FIT files from Garmin being the only ones currently) so you are not starting from scratch with your activity data. Once this calibration is complete you get a Base Fitness trend (hopefully upward) and a Load Impact vs Fatigue graph that allows you to progress without over training alongside a predicted recovery time before your next heavy session. This data is available on the watch (see below), phone app (see above) or website.
As I became more familiar with the watch I settled on a pattern of use that best suited my needs. On the hill or out trail running I would set the backlight shortcut button to bring up the hybrid map (I tend to rely on traditional map and compass for navigation) for a quick fine nav check if needed. The actual route following feature seemed to work fine but it’s just not how I’d normally work. The back button was used to access the HRV test first thing in the morning as another fatigue/stress contra indicator prior to any planned heavy training (or as an excuse for a day off!). When strength training the rep counting feature I found a little variable, fine for certain exercises but sensitive to tempo on squats and other compound movements. Potentially the ‘muscle heatmap’ it produces could help you plan more effective sessions or highlight neglected muscle groups if used diligently. I already log sessions using a phone app so I only experimented with this feature briefly as I didn’t want to be spending time logging sessions on my phone and my watch – I’d end up with a digit-al over use injury! The climbing features I used more, mainly to see how they might fit into a normal day or training session. I think there is probably more scope for use during training especially if you are following a plan. Once you get used to the system of logging climbs it is quick and easy to do, requiring only 2 or 3 button presses after unlocking the watch. I didn’t try to log any winter climbs with the VERTIX 2 – it would be a little too much faff in Scotland – though if I was cascade climbing in sunny Conge it might happen! It wasn’t until I’d been using the watch for a few weeks that I realised I could configure it so that the digital dial could be away from my wrist/hand and so less likely to be accidentally knocked during activity (see pic).
If you access System -> More Settings -> Digital Dial (the Crown) you can set it to be on the left or right as you look at the watch face. This helped reduce some of the erratic readings I’d seen when using the Wrist Based Optical HR but didn’t totally eliminate them particularly when cycling.
Overall the VERTIX 2 is an amazing GPS watch up against some serious competition from the top end of Garmin’s range. For my usage it easily holds its own from an ‘outdoor athlete’ viewpoint. The build quality, user interface, mapping and GPS accuracy are all winners. The optical HR is a bit erratic during certain activities but I have found that with every wrist based optical HR watch I’ve used and I’m aware that it may be down to wrist morphology
- Build quality
- User Interface
- App integration
- Maps & straightforward location/navigation
- Climbing specific features
- Quite bulky
- Optical HR eratic in certain activities
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