BEST Smart Watches for the UK Outdoors 2018
Smartwatches give you the ability to monitor your heart rate, step count, location, speed and a whole variety of other statistics.
For anyone who loves the outdoors, a smart watch is a vital part of kit that can not only improve your performance but potentially also get you home faster and safer.
With an explosion in demand for smartwatches and fitness trackers, there are quite literally thousands of devices available to suit every want and need, coming in a range of sizes, colours and digital or analogue watch faces.
Smartwatches now have general functionality closer to smartphones, including supporting various apps, a mobile operating system and Bluetooth connectivity and you can use them for everything from organising your calendar to making a phone call or tracking your health.
But with so many options on the market, ranging from £20 to £500, it’s hard to know where to start.
A watch’s extensive functionality may suit one user, whilst others may prefer a device without all the bells and whistles. Here we are focusing specifically on smart watches designed with keeping active and getting outdoors in mind.
What should you look for in a smart watch?
This seems like an obvious one and will go a long way in dictating your choice of watch. In terms of outdoor smartwatches, a higher price will generally equate to a more reputable brand, a modern design and a greater number of functions and features. If you just need a watch for daily use to count your steps and encourage you to keep active, you will be looking at the £30-70 range. If, however, you need an intelligent timepiece that can track your whereabouts, feedback on weather conditions and tell you distance covered, then it’s likely to be closer to £400. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or professional athlete, a good smartwatch will be a great investment.
Android and iOS compatibility
Don’t buy a smartwatch without checking whether it is compatible with your phone. Some watches can be plugged straight into a computer to retrieve data, but most of them work best by syncing up to your mobile to tweak settings, download activity data and map out routes or alter fitness programmes.
Watches that have multiple functions, including GPS, will tend to burn through energy stores faster. Although advances have been made to increase battery life, you don’t want to set off on a weekend hike and have your watch die halfway through. Most smartwatches with colour screens tend to last 24-36 hours between charges, with outdoor fitness trackers being designed to last up to 60 hours.
Hybrid smartwatches that look more like analogue timepieces have the longest battery life but they lack touch screens and generally have fewer options. Although they might be better for wearing at work and out socially, we still prefer the digital interfaces as they’re easy to read and generally have more functions – but everyone is different. Also note that smartwatches that let you view emails, photos and play games – such as the Apple Watch – are super sleek in their design, but are not as well-suited to outdoor activities.
Although the big, flashy watches can be pretty attractive and make you feel like you’re James Bond, you’ll quickly get tired of wearing something so bulky. If you want a day-to-day watch for general activities, the occasional run and gym session, choose something sleek and lightweight – this way you’ll be more inclined to leave it on all the time and will thereby get the most out of it and its pedometer/ activity tracking.
So, now that you know what to look for in a watch, you can start looking for one that suits you and your activities.
Below we have reviewed six fantastic smartwatches that are on the market right now – each tailored to certain sports and uses.
Smart Watches Reviewed:
Suunto Ambit 3 (Peak)
This watch is perfect for hiking, mountaineering, trekking, cycling, running and backpacking. The Suunto Ambit 3 offers four versions, each slightly tailored to specific activities – Suunto Ambit 3 Peak, Ambit 3 Vertical, Ambit 3 Sport and Ambit 3 Run. The Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watches are designed for hiking and mountaineering with key features including built-in GPS, altimeter, barometer, thermometer and compass. For a fraction more, some Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watches also come equipped with Sapphire glass lenses.
The Ambit 3 Peak is highly durable, being able to withstand quite a few knocks and scrapes whilst out and about but isn’t as bulky as many of its counterparts in this price range. Although the display is a little less sophisticated than the Casio and Garmin alternatives, the interface is user-friendly, quick to pick up and easy to use on the go.
One of the features that stands out is the Ambit’s highly accurate GPS reception. The reason for this is its high-performance GPS antenna, which naturally supports navigation and tracking and can be synchronised with the wearer’s mobile phone and Movescount – an app built for analytics and planning. Users can real-time track their speed, distance, elevation gain and a number of other statistics. Connecting to a smartphone also allows the user to see incoming or missed calls, messages and notifications.
Mpow Fitness Tracker
The Mpow Fitness Tracker is a basic smartwatch with heart rate, perfect for beginners that are simply looking to track their activities and tailor their fitness needs accordingly. The Mpow watch is small and slender, designed to be worn 24/7 and will also remind you if you’ve been inactive for an extended amount of time and can track your sleep patterns.
The watch is waterproof to three metres and despite its small size, boasts a high-capacity battery that can be charged from any USB slot, rather than needing to carry an additional cable or charging station. The unit takes 45 minutes to charge and can run for up to a week. The built in USB also means that it can be connected to the user’s computer for fine-tuning or software updating. Once paired with a mobile via Bluetooth, the unit syncs all activity data and will vibrate for incoming calls or texts. Like other activity trackers, the Mpow features a heart rate monitor, pedometer, step-counter, distance travelled and calories burned, as well as a sleep quality monitor.
Because it is a budget version, the pedometer is more of an estimate than an exact count (around 90-95% accuracy) and there are limited functions available – as you might expect. An added bonus is the Find Your Phone option, whereby pressing down on the screen will sound your phone beeping a few seconds after – allowing you to quickly locate it and get out and about.
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit was one of the first onto the scene with its smart watches and fitness trackers and remains a firm favourite. The Charge 2 has a bigger display screen than its predecessors and maintains its ease of use and navigation. Syncing with your mobile means you can easily read notifications and get reminders, and the unit can record your calories, steps, sleep patterns and heartbeat.
This is the perfect watch for causal athletes, with its multi-sport tracking modes, which can track running on the treadmill or real life, weight-training, cycling, cross-trainer and more. The downside is its lack of GPS, so for tracking routes or distance the user must also have their mobile phone with them.
Upgrades from previous versions include the VO2 max feature, which supplies information on the oxygen levels in your blood (cleverly calculated by comparing your running speed and heart rate measurements) and saves them in the Cardio Fitness section of the app, and an adjustable brightness setting so you can clearly read the screen in bright sunlight. One thing they still haven’t managed to totally eradicate is that sometimes the display fails to come on when flicking the wrist to check the time or current stats – although this is negated by repeating the gesture or touching the button on the side.
For people that want to change it up, the straps can easily be switched out for different colours or even for a leather or metal alternative – just to make the unit look more like a luxury accessory than a fitness tracker.
Renowned for their satnavs, TomTom later branched into the smartwatch market and they’ve done extremely well. Although they offer smartwatches at varying price points, the Adventurer is best in class, excelling in a number of areas and looks as good, if not better, than the Apple Watch. This is not for your average everyday user but is for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts that want feedback on a range of activities and are willing to invest in getting the best out of their time and performance.
For the slightly eyewatering price of about £230, users have access to highly accurate GPS, a heart rate monitor, fitness age and VO2 max, music, altimeter, compass, personalised workouts and advanced training modes. The multiple sports modes are accurate and easy enough to switch between, allowing you to track everything from hiking or biking, to swimming and gymming, skiing and running. In fact, there’s very little that it can’t do.
Perks that you might not have seen with other smartwatches include its lift detection mode that recognises when you’re going up a ski lift and summarises your previous session or run, and the route exploration feature that can help you build a running or cycling route and display it on your watch. Because of all of the features and options, its battery life isn’t outstanding but can be lengthened by temporarily turning off GPS and the heart rate monitor.
It is worth mentioning, however, that TomTom has recently decided to discontinue its investment in wearables. Although they’ll have products on offer for a while yet, with plenty of supporting apps, it could be worth bearing in mind.
Garmin Fenix 3
The Garmin Fenix 3 multisport watch combines advanced fitness training, outdoor navigation and smartwatch features with an athletic design. Alike TomTom, Garmin was previously equated with GPS systems but has now also conquered the wearables market with their smart timepieces.
The Fenix 3 supports a variety of activities with dedicated profiles for trail running, cycling, swimming, climbing, skiing, golfing, rowing and many more. Everyday users benefit from the integrated activity tracker training features, and advanced running metrics, but also have access to navigation and route tracking, a barometric altimeter and electronic compass.
Although the watch does a bit of everything, it is particularly good for winter sports. What makes it great for skiing and snowboarding is the heavy-duty design that can withstand high-speed wipe-outs and won’t fall off your wrist. The unit features a protective PVD-stainless steel bezel and buttons, UV-treated silicone band and an ultra-strong glass fibre reinforced housing along with a sunlight-readable high-res display. Above anything is its smart features designed for the mountain. The unit can track individual ski runs as it records speed, distance and vertical drop data, with an automatic run counter offering auto pause support and you can then use the app to collate and compare data from various slopes or days.
Although the watch doesn’t come cheap, this is a worthwhile investment for athletes, particularly skiers and snowboarders, who want to build up a picture of their activity and results and track progress. It also offers a Find My Phone feature, is fully water resistant to 100 metres and has a battery life of up to 40 hours if entered into its smart saver mode or up to three weeks in basic smartwatch mode. The watch can be customised by downloading free watch faces, apps and widgets too.
Sitting at the upper end of the smartwatch price range, this watch offers a killer spec sheet with features that you didn’t even know you wanted until you saw them. Nixon is a notoriously cool brand with a great reputation amongst surfers and skiers, and this watch falls in line with its previous smartwatches.
Although the sheer size of the watch face and 48mm case could be off-putting, Nixon have managed to make it a big fashion statement. This allows the user to incorporate it into daily life and wearing, with a selection of bright straps, rugged design and surgical grade stainless steel – making it pretty robust. The Gore-Tex membrane ensures waterproofing to 100 metres and a long life in the water.
The best part about this watch is The Mission app, built for keeping the user updated on local conditions and the and suitability for getting outdoors. The Mission app tracks local and pre-selected surf locations, reporting on weather, the size of waves, weather and high/low tide times.
Although this is a firm favourite for anyone taking to the waves, it also boasts a lot of ski-friendly features. Wearers can get the current weather, temperature, wind speed and snowfall updates. A five-day forecast for favourited areas can be accessed to check inches of snow, which ski lifts are operating and how many runs are open. Serious boarders can also opt to purchase the stick-on sensor for their surfboard/skis to get even more data sent to the watch.
Another exciting feature is the microphone, which Nixon has invested into and the results are clear. Users can shout commands whilst shredding the slopes or take a call on the chair lift without worrying about dropping their phone or ruining it with constant hot/cold temperature changes.
Elsewhere, users get all of the usual smartwatch benefits including notifications, Google Now, performance tracking and multisport mode. The key issue is that its GPS and other numerous features drain battery life pretty quickly – so when not in use, it would be worth turning them off.
If you’re someone that enjoys the waves in summer and the slopes in winter, this watch will allow you to get the best return on your investment and make the most out of your passions all year round. The main catch is the enormous size and we would recommend trying it on before investing!
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