Coros Apex Watch
“Coros Apex hits the sweet spot if you're a triathlete, but lacks the extra features to set it apart.”
- Lightweight, slim design
- Incredibly long battery life
- Intuitive interface
- Quick and reliable mobile syncing
- Limited activity tracking
- Training metrics need improvement
- No web-based analysis
We first encountered Coros in 2018 when it introduced the Pace, a triathlon-focused fitness watch that turned heads with its incredible month-long battery life and Garmin-inspired design. With the debut of its second watch the Apex, Coros followed its own path creating a GPS watch with a distinctive design and impressive feature set. We tested the $350 Coros Apex while running, hiking, biking, and swimming to see if it has what it takes to compete against high performance fitness watches like the Garmin Fenix 6, the Suunto 5 and the Polar Ignite.
A durable design that works everywhere
The Coros Apex has a clean and modern design that looks good both on the sports field and off it. With a single button and a digital crown, the Apex has a bit more refinement than I am used to seeing in a rugged fitness watch. I tested the 42mm version of the Apex which had a very readable 1.1-inch display with a 218 x 218-pixel resolution and 64 colors. Whether I was inside working or out running on roads and trails, I never had any issues seeing my stats or incoming alerts on the display. The only thing I wish I could change is the white text and black background on alerts. Other watches use a white background and black text, which is much easier to read. I assume Coros went off to the power-saving dark side to eke out as much battery life as possible.
When it comes to day-to-day use, the Apex is very comfortable to wear. On the underside of the watch is the heart rate monitor, which is nearly flat with the bottom casing. When you get a snug fit with the band, the heart rate monitor makes secure contact with your skin, but it does not dig into your wrist. The silicone band is removable, but you won’t want to replace it. It is one of the most comfortable bands I have worn in a fitness watch. It is soft on your wrist and very flexible, so it moves when you move. Unlike other watch bands, the silicone strap on the Apex doesn’t seem to accumulate a lot of dirt and grime. Even after a sweaty run in the woods, the band was wet from sweat but otherwise clean.
The Pace had a plasticky feel that felt cheap, but the Apex is not some cheap knockoff; it looks and feels solid, thanks to the sapphire glass screen and the ceramic bezel of the 42mm version. Both the screen and the bezel held up to months of trail running and hiking. Even after rock scrambling to the top of Mount Washington and to Katahdin, there was not a single scratch on my Apex watch. Coros also sells the Apex in a 46mm version, which I did not test. Not only does this version have a larger display (1.2-inches) with a sapphire glass screen, but it also has a titanium alloy casing.
Intuitive and easy to use
Coros gets a big high five for its user-friendly interface. The watch uses a single button that functions as a back button and to access the shortcuts menu. There’s also a digital crown button that you can use to scroll through the menu system and then press to select the items on the screen. The menus are just so intuitive that I didn’t have to go online to find out how to access the settings or change the watch face. With a few clicks and some scrolling, it was simple to figure out what to do.
Speaking of scrolling. Unlike the Pace which had four buttons for navigating the user interface, the Apex has a single button and a digital crown button. The digital crown is easy to use, though you have to get used to the nuances of scrolling. You only need about a quarter turn to move from screen to screen. Any more than that and you will blow right by your selection. The digital crown also uses natural scrolling, so you turn the crown upwards to move down through the screens.
Limited fitness tracking, but abundant data
Coros advertises the Apex as a “premium multisport watch” but the watch is primarily designed for the triathlete in training. You can track both outside and indoor running, biking, and swimming. You also can track all three activities in the Triathlon sports mode. If you want to track any other activities, you have to choose between hiking, GPS cardio, or gym cardio. It’s disappointing to see such limited choices, especially when the competition offers additional choices such as walking, elliptical, strength training, and more. You have to start and pause each activity manually as there is no automatic exercise tracking
While the Apex may be limited in the number of activities it tracks, it has a ton of metrics that you can view while exercising. During an activity, you can view your pace, distance, heart rate, elevation and more in real-time by switching between the five data screens. The heart rate data was comparable to my Garmin and Polar wrist-based monitors. My favorite data point was the incline which calculated the grade of the hill I was climbing or running. If you don’t like the layout of the data, you can customize each data screen using the Coros app. When you are done exercising, you can save your data, but unfortunately, you cannot discard it unless the activity is less than a minute long. I hope Coros adds a discard feature as it is inconvenient to delete an activity after it has synced to the mobile app and any third-party services.
Like its competitors, Coros includes lactate threshold, VO2 Max and similar training intensity metrics. It’s in some of these areas that the Apex starts to fall apart. No matter how hard I hiked or ran, the training effect metric, which calculates how much an exercise contributes to your fitness level, never went above inefficient. Even when I hiked eight hours non-stop to the summit of Mount Washington and back down, the training effect meter didn’t even budge. My threshold pace, which calculates how fast you should run was also way off. It had me running a 7-minute mile on trails when I usually run a 10-minute mile.
Good sleep tracking, solid GPS
Coros adds sleep tracking into the mix, but the metric is not the company’s forte. The Apex does a decent job detecting when you go to sleep and when you wake up. It breaks down your sleep into deep sleep, light sleep, and awake times. It also measures your resting heart rate and graphs it along with your sleep data. The interface is clean, but there is no sleep score or similar metric to help you analyze this data. The Apex also doesn’t have a pulse oximeter, which is becoming increasingly common on fitness trackers and smartwatches.
There’s also built-in GPS/GLONASS/BDS that is as quick to lock and as accurate as competing GPS watches. Distance recorded by the Coros was comparable to my Garmin, Suunto, and Polar watches. The Coros support breadcrumb navigation allows you to follow the course that you’re recording, or one that you uploaded to the watch.
Decent mobile app, smart notifications
The Coros Apex connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth LE and Coros does a decent job with its mobile app. It syncs extremely quickly to the watch providing plenty of performance analysis for the casual athlete. The layout of the app is simple and intuitive so you can spend more time reviewing your data instead of trying to find where it is hidden. The app is broken down into a daily summary, an activity diary, medals/profile section, and a device screen. I spent most of my time in the activities section, as that is where the meat of the data is stored.
In the activity section, you can see an overview of each activity which includes the type of activity (hike, run, bike and so on), the distance, pace, date, and location. Tapping on each activity displays a detailed graphical analysis of your performance. These graphs present your performance data clearly and are easy to understand I especially like the use of colors which allows me to see the intensity of my heart rate and the speed of my cadence at a glance. Coros also calculates your heart rate zone and the training effect of the activity.
There are a few key areas in the Coros app that need improvement. The first is history. There is no way to view trends. I can switch to the daily view and see my sleep or steps for the day, but I cannot see how those parameters have changed over the week, month or year. This is a must-have for Coros down the line. Also missing is a web app that allows you to view, export and analyze your performance online.
Smart notifications from your phone pop up quickly on the watch display, but they are condensed. Each text or email alert only shows a small portion of the message. You can clear the alert on the watch, but you cannot respond. With phone calls, you can silence the ringer or refuse the call from the watch. As I mentioned above, I wish the alerts were white with black text, which is much easier to read than the existing black with white text.
Coros also supports several third-party services including Strava, TrainingPeaks, Apple Health Kit, and others. Syncing is reliable and fast once you end an activity. Almost without fail my activity was already on Strava before I even got into my car.
I don’t know how Coros manages battery life, but the company has nailed it. The battery life far exceeds any other fitness watch I have tested. The 46mm version promises up to 35 hours in GPS mode, and 30 days in regular use, while the smaller 42mm version has 25 hours in GPS and 24 days in daily use. These are the company’s estimates, and they are not an exaggeration.
I used the Apex to record an 8-hour hike, and it barely put a dent in the battery life. The watch was ready the next day to do it again. When not recording activities, the Coros Apex sat idle in a drawer for over a month and still had enough battery to record a five-mile run. If that isn’t enough stamina for you, the watch includes an UltraMax GPS Mode. This power-saving mode dials down the heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking to provide up to 100 hours of continuous activity tracking.
Price, availability, and warranty information
The Coros Apex is available now from Coros and select online retailers such as Amazon. Pricing starts at $300 for the 42mm model and climbs to $350 for 46mm model. Coros provides a warranty for its products covering defects in quality and workmanship for two years after the original purchase date.
Coros took quite a few steps forward with its Apex GPS watch, but it still has a way to go in the features department if it wants to be on a level playing field with its competition. Its biggest selling point is its battery life which is still unrivaled. Performance tracking is also good, as long as you don’t rely too heavily on the advanced training metrics. It’s also lacking extras like music and mobile payments.
Is there a better alternative?
The Apex’ weak point is its limited feature set. If you want more metrics to obsess over and benefits like music and training, the you should look at the $300 Garmin Forerunner 245. The Forerunner 245 is focused on running but that’s not all it does. It also supports both indoor and outdoor activities like swimming, strength training, and more. It offers coaching through Garmin Coach and a virtual partner so you can improve your time on an existing run. Another solid choice is the $230 Ignite from Polar, which blends fitness and training with a stylish design. The Ignite has a ton of metrics and a training mindset that’ll help you reach your goals as long as you are willing to put in the work.
How long will it last?
The build quality on the Coros Apex is solid and should last at least two to three years under normal use. The company regularly updates its devices, adding new features and improving existing ones.
Should you buy it?
Yes, the Coros Apex is a solid performing fitness watch for those who run, cycle, or swim. Its extra-long battery life is unrivaled for its size, making it a great choice for endurance athletes. Just take some of its advanced metrics with a grain of salt.
- The best smartwatches for 2020
- 3 smartwatch deals you can’t afford to miss today
- The best cheap Fitbit alternatives for workouts
- Best fitness apps for the Apple Watch
- Best smartwatch deals for August 2020: Samsung, Fitbit, and Apple Watch sales