Road Tested: Five GPS Training Computers

  • By Scott Boulbol
  • Published February 21, 2013
From left to right: Suunto Ambit, Polar RCX3, Magellan Switch-Up, Timex Ironman Global Trainer, Garmin Forerunner 910XT

We vigorously tested five GPS computers to find which one can take your training to the next level.

Suunto Ambit
Standout: Most reliable GPS signal.
Weakness: No multi-sport mode.
Equally suited to your daily workout or a trek in the Himalayas, the Ambit is the best bet for more adventurous multisport athletes. It’s fully equipped for backcountry use, offering the quickest and most reliable satellite connections, never once losing touch during runs through dense forest. The user-friendly online training site makes your data easy to review and share. Ambit lacks multisport mode, so it is best saved for training and wilderness adventures instead of race day.
Rock it: If you want precise training details but still race by feel.

Polar RCX3
£254 with GPS pod,
Standout: Ultra-light, compact, comfortable.
Weakness: Missing some functions and compatibility with non-Polar accessories.
Running is noticeably more comfortable with the Polar RCX3 because of its sleek design and remote GPS pod. It offers a wide array of features, especially when paired with the GPS sensor, although it is missing altitude, navigation and power-display functions. While the numbers can be tough to see on the smaller screen during training, helpful icons tell what data you’re looking at.
Rock it: For something fully functional when you need it, sleek and slim when you don’t.

Magellan Switch-Up
Standout: Clever snap-in mounting system for bike and run.
Weakness: Buttons are small and can be difficult to engage while training.
The unit snaps onto modular bike and wrist- top mounts for the different sports, making ride data easier to see. The watch, however, is thicker than some. Its white- on-dark display stands out, making Switch-Up the easiest to read of the group in sun, shade or water. And the nine different screen settings are highly customisable, with each field offering dozens of options. We found navigating the device to be simple and intuitive.
Rock it: For bike and run data clarity.

Timex Ironman Global Trainer
Standout: Flawless bike and run tracking in a durable body.
Weakness: Bulky watch face and confusing online training programme.
Lacking a few of the bells and whistles found on the Garmin and Suunto, we found the Global Trainer still effectively tracks workouts, especially bike and run. The simplest watch in our test, its combination of large, easy-to-push (even while train- ing) buttons, and a common-sense flow to all of its functions made it a breeze to operate. Its basic “watch” mode saves battery for casual use.
Rock it: If function (and value) trumps form-factor.

Garmin Forerunner 910XT
Standout: The most functions in an easy-to-use package, with the longest battery life.
Weakness: No casual “watch” function.
Our favourite for a variety of reasons – flawless S/B/R tracking, for starters–but virtual turn-by-turn navigation makes the 910XT stand alone. It allows users to download a “course” online, and the watch will tell you where to turn with impressive accuracy. Swim stroke length data is another unique feature. Early testing of firmware updates showed that Garmin successfully corrected any glitches.
Rock it: For the most intuitive, user-friendly way to track triathlon.

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