The Nike+ SportWatch GPS is not the first sports watch to plug into a computer, the first to offer GPS, or the first to put your data online where you can share, compare and brag to friends. So how did Nike saunter back from CES this year with an armload of awards and a queue of eager customers?
Like the Apple of the athletic world, Nike’s not looking to do it first, it’s looking to do it simpler, sleeker, and with a marketing budget that would make Kobe Bryant blush. The SportWatch GPS takes the same tech previously wrapped in button-studded watches for diehard competitors and makes tracking runs novel, easy and just plain fun for folks who wouldn’t know Prefontaine from Plantar Fasciitis.
Though Nike makes some sharp conventional timepieces that look as good with khakis as they do with nylon running shorts, the SportWatch is not one of them. From the rigid rubber watchband and overly beefy face to the fluorescent “volt yellow” highlights, this is clearly an athletic watch through and through.
It works. An inch-wide band keeps it firmly grappled to your wrist, a sturdy dual-pronged clasp ensures it won’t unhook accidentally, and the closely-spaced perforations let your wrist breathe while allowing tiny adjustments for just the right fit. The “excess” end of the watchband even has two prongs that snap into the holes beneath to keep it from flapping around.
The display on the SportWatch uses the same inverted white-on-black color scheme that a lot of trendier sports watches use, which can be easier to read in the sun. It’s also surprisingly dense with pixels, so numbers and even tiny print look smooth and easy to read.
The same running-centric design that dictates the SportWatch’s styling applies to the features Nike has crammed in: If it doesn’t have anything to do with running, the SportWatch won’t do it. Even the most basic features you could find on a kid’s digital watch, like an hourly chime or alarm, have been stripped out. There’s no question Nike could have included these features, but we suspect it was an intentional move to cut the clutter and avoid anything that could interfere with the running settings.
Put it in “run” mode and things start to get interesting. Using an internal GPS sensor (“powered by TomTom”) or the Nike+ sensor you pop in a shoe, the SportWatch GPS will tell you your pace, total distance, total time elapsed and total calories burned, all at a glance, on the move. Though it saves every run in the watch, the real fun comes when you get home. The wristband actually conceals a full-size USB connector which you can pop open, plug into your PC, and push every detail of your run online to a Nike+ account. Your runs are chronicled by date, available for others to see, and meticulously plotted against Google Maps with your pace overlaid in full color.
Part of the beauty of owning a watch that plugs into a computer comes from actually setting it up on the computer, rather than spending twenty minutes reading a matchbook-sized manual and clicking buttons the size of pinheads to set the time. The first time you plug the SportWatch in, it prompts you to download Nike+ Connect software, a lean and unobtrusive app that interfaces with the watch. Really, you’ll only use it to configure the watch and upload data, the meat and potatoes reside online. Consequently, Connect requires you to create a Nike+ account the first time you use it, which serves as repository for everything you’ll add from then on. After that, it’s a simple matter of choosing your preferred distance units, entering your weight, gender and a few other specifics, and you’re off and running. Literally.