Sports Technology Buyers Guide: Winter 2020-2021
By cuterose

Sports Technology Buyers Guide: Winter 2020-2021

21/05/2022  |   570 Views

It’s that time of year again – the Annual Sports Technology Buyers Guide. One of these years I might even publish it more than once per year. Still, this is when I try and cover a wide range of sport gadget areas.My goal here being to give my specific recommendations – exactly the same recommendations I’d give to my own friends and family.This post isn’t here to list every option on the market in an effort to make every manufacturer happy.Of course, as more and more companies get into the market, there ends up being more and more possible scenarios as the products expand in functionality.

As with last year, for the most part the stronger brands have gotten stronger, and the brands that were struggling have fallen further by the wayside. There are exceptions to that though, for example we’ve seen smaller brands like COROS really start to cement their place in the market in certain price buckets. Still, there’s a reality when one company in the industry (Garmin) sells many millions more sport-focused devices than everyone but Apple, that there’s just going to be more categories that are in their favor. This was the first year they’ve overtaken Fitbit and Samsung in smartwatch sales. But beyond that, no other company is releasing 10-20 fitness/outdoor/sports devices per year. And while sometimes they whiff, but most times, they don’t.

In any case, one could try and write recommendations for every possible edge case, but realistically I think there’s probably already too many categories below as it is.Plus, that’s what the comments section is for. I try as best as possible to answer all those quirky edge-case questions.

Oh – wait, if you’re new around here note that I don’t take any money/sponsorships/whatever from any of the companies in this post. Or from any company I review for that matter. So if I like a device, it’s because it’s a legit good device I want to use. With that, let’s dive into it!

GPS Smartwatches:

While last year (2019) saw an explosion of new watches, this year saw a bit more of a measured pace. Some of that likely due to COVID-19, but most of it simply due to the tick-tock nature that some manufacturers take insofar as new watch release cycles. The industry has slowly been shifting to match Apple’s yearly release cycle for Apple Watch, it’s simply not likely to be the case for every product line out there (just like it isn’t for Apple and some of their other product lines, such as computers, Apple TV, etc…).

In any case, this category hasn’t changed a ton, though there have been some minor updates within it. And again, keep in mind that there are still some good watches that don’t make the cut here. In many cases there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just not what I’m likely to recommend to friends and family, which is how I approach this.

Note, I specifically break-out the triathlon section down below in the next header.

Casual Athlete: Apple Watch (variants noted below), Fitbit Versa 3, Polar Ignite, or Garmin Vivoactive 3

Here, let me break down who should get each one. It’s probably easier that way:

Apple Watch: If you’re looking for a watch that’ll track your workouts but won’t obsess over data – while still giving you the best all around smartwatch experience, there’s no question here – it’s the Apple Watch. The tricky part is deciding which one. Series 3 is a steal these days at $169 (remember, it has GPS as well as offline music support). Meanwhile, Series 6 is the newest with the fully always-on display, SpO2, ECG, and a pile of nuanced changes you won’t notice. Apple also rolled out the new Apple Watch SE this year in an attempt to split the difference, coming in around $279 instead of the $399 of the full Apple Watch Series 6. The software is virtually identical on all three watches, which are only separated by display/ECG/SpO2/storage/speed differences – though, the HR sensor isn’t as good as on the Series 6 (and my testing doesn’t quite find the GPS as good as the Series 6 either).

Fitbit Versa 3: The Versa 3 is Fitbit’s latest mid-range smartwatch, and includes GPS and offline music support. While I haven’t found the optical HR sensor all that great for me, I’m also aware that many people aren’t quite as picky as me there, especially if you’re focused on having a Fitbit, I think this is one of the spots to be in. Notably, I’d struggle to recommend the higher-end Fitbit Sense, as I just don’t think Fitbit does a good enough job of making sense of all the newfound data they’re collecting. There’s just not enough in the way of usable recommendations there yet. Maybe down the road, but not today. Thus, the Versa 3 is a good split in the middle – plus – you get far better battery life than an Apple Watch (and, it’s compatible with Android).

Garmin Vivoactive 3 or Vivoactive 4: I know…I know, you’re saying ‘Wait, why the VA3 and not the VA4?’. Simple – price to features. The Vivoactive 3 floats between $110 and $130 these days, and is an incredible value (add $30 for the Vivoactive 3 Music if you want). The Vivoactive 4, while very good, floats at $249. But practically speaking, for the vast majority of people, there’s just not a lot of extra ‘stuff’ on the Vivoactive 4 over the VA3 that makes me want to spend double. Sure, if you want to spend the extra money for the Vivoactive 4, the additional side button is nice. Same goes for the Garmin Venu, which is merely a Vivoactive 4 with a prettier screen. But if you don’t care about that, save the cash.

Polar Ignite: While I think the Ignite is still very slightly overpriced, I think what the company is doing around dynamically prescribing workouts and recovery/strength/flexibility workouts is super cool. Plus, the watch integrates well into the larger Polar ecosystem, so it doesn’t feel like a budget watch – but like an athletes’ watch. The Polar Ignite has less in the way of smartwatch features (for example, no music), but makes up for it in all the sports/fitness features like structured workouts, day to day guidance on what you should do next to stay fit, and how to add secondary workouts like stretching or core workouts to round it all out. I think it’s one of the best products Polar has made in years.

Data-Driven Athlete/Runner: Garmin Forerunner 245/245 Music or COROS Pace 2:

Garmin FR245/FR245 Music: Garmin’s most current mid-range Forerunner now encompasses almost all of the higher end stats found on what was last year’s highest-end watches. Of course, as always, there are new higher-end stats in the land – which you’ll find on the FR745/945/Fenix 6 (I cover those later). But for most people, you’ll find you get everything you could possibly need for running or racing with a Forerunner 245 or 245 Music. PacePro being one of the big additions, which allows you to get dynamic pacing information based on grade and splits. You’ll also get the newer safety/tracking assistance features as well as more data fields/page layouts than years prior. More recently it also got Garmin’s new Track Running mode, which snaps your workouts to the track to get flawless GPS tracks and distances. While the previous FR235 was solidly middle of the pack from a features standpoint, so much has been packed into the FR245 now that it feels more premium than the price point suggests.

COROS Pace 2: The new COROS Pace 2 is a full multisport watch that can do swim/bike/run/triathlon, but even more than that – it does running very well. It’s got a built-in track running mode, but also has native running power inside the watch itself – so no need for secondary sensors or the like. This can be used for pacing instead of native running pace. The watch recently got increased structured workout support from TrainingPeaks, as well as numerous watersport modes for stand-up paddleboarding and more. Oh…right, one last thing: It’s only $199. This watch easily competes with far more expensive watches from Garmin, Polar, and Suunto (and more recently the Wahoo RIVAL watch). About the only thing the COROS watch lacks is a bit of polish in the app, but on the watch itself the data game is strong.

Best in Class Sports/Fitness Watch: Fenix 6 Pro Series

There’s still really no competition here. If you’re looking for the most feature-packed higher-end watch, it’s going to be the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Series. Ok, I guess technically it’s the MARQ Athlete, but I’d prefer to spend that near-$2,000 elsewhere.

But the Fenix 6 – that I like. I’d personally recommend the Fenix 6 Pro variant, since it includes maps and music. While Garmin has Solar this year in all the variants, all my testing has shown that in the Fenix 6 implementations, it’s minimal in usefulness at best (whereas on the Garmin Instinct Solar it’s actually meaningful). But ultimately, you’re not buying this watch for its tiny solar panel – you’re buying a Fenix 6 because it does everything you could ever imagine a sports or outdoor watch doing, and generally speaking it does it pretty darn well. Garmin has clearly focused more on fixing bugs in the last year than years past, and it’s showing.

Again – if you’re looking for the best fitness watch money can buy that isn’t MARQ, then go Fenix 6 Pro Series. If you want something a bit swankier, MARQ is great too. And if you want to save a few bucks you can pick up the plastic Fenix 6…called the Garmin Forerunner 945. It’s almost identical in features. Almost.

Music Wearables Services:

More and more music is becoming baseline for wearables. I cover my specific recommendations throughout this piece, however I do briefly want to touch on music services, as that might drive your decision matrix. Most notably, apps that cache your music for playback when your phone isn’t near. Here’s the current list:

Apple Watch: Apple Music (Note: While there are apps like Spotify for the Apple Watch, they don’t cache music yet, though it can now stream it via cellular/WiFi)Fitbit: Pandora, Deezer (the Spotify app on Fitbit doesn’t download/cache your music)Garmin: Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, DeezerSamsung: Spotify, TidalWearOS: Spotify, YouTube Music

In any case, here’s the complete list of recommended GPS devices:

ProductAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Apple Watch Series 3$169-$179Amazon
Apple Watch Series 6$399/$499 (cellular)Amazon
Apple Watch Series SE$279Amazon
COROS Pace 2$199AmazonWiggle
Fitbit Versa 3$229Amazon
Garmin Fenix 6 Series$549-$1,149AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin Forerunner 245$299/$349AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin Vivoactive 3$129Amazon
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music$169AmazonWiggle
Garmin Vivoactive 4$299AmazonCompetitive Cyclist
Polar Ignite GPS$229AmazonWiggle

The Why Not: So why not the Polar Grit X? I actually really like that watch, but I’m frankly just not sure where it fits into the above, except perhaps in a hiking category. I really like the look of it (primarily the black variant), and Polar’s features are good there, though, I worry about it seemingly being feature-abandoned with the Polar Vantage V2 and them deciding not to port anything back to a 6-month-old watch. As for the Suunto 7? As you’ll hear about in my 2020 Watch Year in Review post/video with DesFit tomorrow, I would have slated this as the Watch of The Year prior to launch – but ultimately it fell flat in execution. It’s gained some ground back, but still needs some more tweaks (notably, HR sensor strap support – though ideally other sport sensor support, but also I continue to find the offline mapping finicky). I can deal with the poor battery life, but not the lack of sensors. And the Instinct? Look, it’s great. Even better on sale right now at $169 – seriously, that super great. And the same could be said for the Forerunner 45 @ $149 now. And on and on. My goal here though isn’t to try and capture every possible watch. There’s a LOT of good running watches out there – and a lot of good watches become great watches over Black Friday sales.

Triathlon-Specific Watches:

This category is for what the industry calls ‘multisport’ watches, but that typically just translates to triathlon watches.They track your time/distance/etc… within the three sports – swim/bike/run.From a non-triathlon multisport aspect, these watches are often used by everyone from windsurfers to skaters, mostly because of their versatility and flexibility in configuration and display customization.

Sports Technology Buyers Guide: Winter 2020-2021

Note that the minimum requirement to be a multisport watch is specifically a multisport mode, which allows you to record multiple sports (e.g. swim/bike/run) in a single activity/file. If you have to stop the workout to change modes (like on a Fitbit), that’s not a multisport watch. That’s just a watch that happens to have multiple sports (at least by commonly accepted industry definitions).

Overall Best in Class: Garmin Forerunner 945

I know, I know, you think the Fenix 6 should be here. But I don’t. Mainly because a heck of a lot of triathletes want something that has a quick-release kit, so they can move it to their handlebars. But if that doesn’t bother you, then go forth – you can absolutely scratch out ‘Forerunner 945’ and replace it with Fenix 6 above. They’ve got virtually identical everything, from software to internal hardware (with Fenix 6 having a handful more features).

Still, as for the FR945 – both myself and y’all seem pretty darn happy with it since it came out last year – and nobody’s screaming yet. It’s got more metrics than you’ll frankly ever need, but I have found the Training Load Focus/Balance bits useful for remembering when to mix up the intensities a bit. And if I want to do offline music, I can do that too – it can connect to Bluetooth Smart headphones and cache my Spotify playlists. Also, if you can’t make the FR945 fit budget-wise, just grab the FR745 instead – it’s what I’ve been using the last 3 months without issue. It’s basically (roughly) a FR945 without maps, saving you $100.

Best Budget Option: Polar Vantage M or COROS Pace 2

In some ways, it’s really a disservice to assume that because these are budget options that they’re somehow bad. After all, the COROS Pace 2 is an incredibly powerful triathlon watch – easily way more feature-rich than the $379 Wahoo RIVAL. The same goes for the Polar Vantage M, which packs in tons of features, especially around structured training and training load. Plus it got even more features late last year as part of updates from the Polar Ignite. Both are great options if you’re getting into triathlon and aren’t sure what to get.

ProductAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
COROS Pace 2AmazonWiggle
Garmin Forerunner 745AmazonWiggle
Garmin Forerunner 945AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Polar Vantage MAmazonWiggle

Note: For *triathlon* I do NOT recommend the Garmin Vivoactive series or Garmin Instinct:

I want to be really clear on this.The reason I don’t recommend these watches is twofold, but mainly centers on the fact that they don’t support a multisport mode.Yes, it supports running, and cycling, and indoor swimming.But you can’t tie all those together in a race or training.Further, while the Garmin Instinct series does support openwater swimming, it doesn’t support multisport mode.

This is pretty similar for some of the other running watches like the Polar M400/M430/M600 or Garmin FR45/230/235/245/620/630/645.Yes, they all support running and cycling, but none support multisport modes (nor openwater swimming).If you cycle sparingly and don’t swim, then they’re all still viable options.

Also, why not: Before folks ask, why not Suunto 5 or the Wahoo RIVAL? Honestly – I think Suunto has lost the plot here with their app/platform ecosystem. At a time when Polar and COROS keeps pushing ahead on not just their features via firmware, but also their platform behind it all – Suunto keeps removing things. Which is too bad. Last year they owned the budget category here. As for Wahoo’s just released-last-week RIVAL, it’s simply not ready yet for prime time. It’s missing far too many core features/functionality, especially compared to the COROS Pace 2 (at about half its price), or the well worn Polar Vantage M. Also, since someone might ask – given Wahoo doesn’t have a web/analytics platform and Suunto seems bent on getting rid of theirs, then wouldn’t we just ignore the Suunto’s platform stuff for the Suunto 5? Sure, I suppose. I like the watch itself, just not the lack of clarity on where the company is going.

Cycling Tech:

Before we go too much further, if you’re looking for indoor trainers or trainer apps, then check out my two dedicated posts on that. My trainer post is pretty darn new – only a few weeks old. And my trainer app guide is from this past spring when everyone was rushing indoors.

In any case, we’ll start with the tech that goes on your handlebars.

All Around Cycling GPS: Garmin Edge 530 & Wahoo BOLT

If we were to play purely a features game, the Edge 530 would win this category no problem (or the Edge 830 if you want to pay $100 more). But it’s not as simple as that. For what the Wahoo BOLT lacks in features it does make up for in simplicity and ease of use. Mostly.

Starting with the Edge 530 – it got a boatload of new features upon launch. ClimbPro being one of the biggest, which automatically shows each segment of your climbs as you go through them on a course. It’s super cool for hilly/mountainous routes. Atop that, for mountain bikers there’s a massive swath of new features from trail routing to jump metrics. And of course – the biggie for the Edge 530 was that it now includes detailed routable maps for your region. That’s the core difference to the Wahoo BOLT, which while it has underlying maps – they can’t route atop them on the fly without a pre-programmed route.

Meanwhile, the Wahoo BOLT does support navigation as long as the routes are sent to it from your phone or a 3rd party service. And it supports all the sensors you’re likely to use, including Garmin’s Varia Radar these days. Atop that – one of the biggest points for the Wahoo is the phone integration, which is super smooth and ‘just works’. There’s no fiddling with trying to get or keep the pairing, nor is it complicated to find features. Sure, it has less features (a lot less), but, it’s also just simpler for many folks to pick up and go.

Either way – you won’t go wrong with either unit. You’ll largely find the Edge 530 on my handlebars these days, with the odd Edge 830 showing up here and there. The main difference between the two being the touchscreen (which, as yesterday can once again attest to – works perfectly fine in the pouring rain).

Best Mapping GPS: Edge 1030 or 1030 Plus

When it comes to depth of mapping features, there’s really no competition here – the Edge 1030/1030 Plus wins every time. Note that Garmin released the Edge 1030 Plus this past summer, which includes a handful of new features, but many of those new features have been recently added to the original Edge 1030 this past month. So if you find a good deal on the Edge 1030, I’d grab that.

If you want to do it from your handlebars, there’s a pretty darn strong chance the Edge 1030 can do it. It’s a bit bigger than I probably need, it does things well and there’s no touchscreen issues (or clumsiness like the Edge 820 touchscreen). I don’t really know of anyone that doesn’t love their Edge 1030. Even the comments mirror that on not just my review, but all reviews. People are happy there, minus a few folks with a blue halo display issue – but support seems to take care of them pretty quickly, and Garmin says they’ve long-since changed the manufacturing cause of that.

The main thing that really differentiates the Edge 1030 from something like the Wahoo ROAM is the onboard database of not just points of interest, but also addresses. It’s the ability to do literally everything from that unit – no phone required.

Why not list: While both the Wahoo ROAM and Karoo 2 have mapping (as does the Bryton Rider 750), it’s really in a different league to the Edge 1030/1030 Plus. As for the Sigma ROX 12, the company has basically pulled out of all markets that aren’t named or bordering Germany, so…yeah. On the Karoo 2, I could see it making a run for this list next year, depending on where features end up. It’s just starting to ship two weeks ago, and you’ll see my full review in a couple more weeks. I also have the Bryton Rider 750 and have been putting miles on that, but feels more like a beta unit than a final shipping device.

Best Budget GPS Unit: Lezyne Mega-C/Mega-XL, or Stages Dash L10

We’ve got the Lezyne Mega-X at $199.Lezyne has like 38 different models between $100 and $200, I tried to explain it all here a few years ago, and then they added more. They’ve all got minor nuances.These units can do basic mapping, and pull in routes from sources like Komoot, as well as legit turn by turn navigation in terms of things like saying ‘Left on Maple Street’. The Lezyne units support both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.

The Stages Dash L10 gets included this year, especially if you’re a power meter user. The depth of power meter metrics is super deep there, and the battery life too. Plus, it’s sub-$150 (well, just $75 starting tomorrow on sale). Seriously, it’s got the data features of a $300 unit. However, it lacks a lot of the other more common features in fancier cycling GPS units like Strava Live Segments. But if textual data’s your thing (or if you wanted a better SRM-style bike computer, this is where it’s at).

So what about the Edge 130? It depends, it’s floating down around $170 on various sales/deals right – which is a so-so deal for a basic unit with more polish than the Lezyne (but less features). But it lacks in areas like Garmin Connect IQ support compared to higher-end Garmin units.Of course, you’re paying for the rest of the Garmin ecosystem. Also, note that the Edge 130 wasn’t designed to be a replacement for the Edge 500 (which some folks seem to think it is). If you look at it like a budget GPS first, then it’s got fantastic features. But if you approach it as a smaller Edge 520/530, you’ll be disappointed.

Best Safety Sensors: Cycliq Fly6 CE & Garmin Varia RTL-515 Radar

We’ve seen radar usage increase among cyclists as well as bike computer makers, supporting the Varia Radar (the RTL-515 is the current version that combines bike lights + radar, the RVR315 is just the radar). Over the course of the year we saw Wahoo add support to their product lineup for it, then we saw Hammerhead add support, followed then by Stages adding support. There’s good reason: It’s an awesome little device. I’ve yet (still!!!) to find someone who bought one that is unhappy with it.

Next, we’ve got the Cycliq cams.If you’re not familiar, this isn’t an action cam per se, but it’s the closest category I’ve got.It combines a rear light (which you’d want anyway) with a camera.Basically, this is a safety cam.And not in the sense that it’s going to save your ass, but rather, it’s like an insurance policy for later.I have it on my bikes while riding around the vast majority of the time and it’s just silly easy to use.

Now, this isn’t really a replacement for a GoPro or the like, it doesn’t have anywhere near that level of quality.Rather – it’s just so in the event something bad happens to you – you can prove it wasn’t your fault, or even better – catch the person if they left you at the scene. Also, I haven’t yet tried their slightly refreshed version this past fall – but do like their previous CE version.

ProductAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Cycliq Fly6 CEAmazonWiggle
Garmin Edge 1030AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin Edge 1030 PlusAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin Edge 530AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin RTL515 Varia RadarAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin RVR315 Varia RadarAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Lezyne Mega-C GPSAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Stages Dash L10AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle

Swimming Tech:

This category remains unchanged from last year, save swapping out the Polar Vantage M for the COROS Pace 2 – simply because it’s a budget category and the COROS Pace 2 is a bit cheaper.

Best All Around Swimming Watch: Garmin Swim 2

In a category that actually has no formal competitors, I guess it was bound to win. Like showing up on race day and being the only one in your age group. But in actuality, it really is the best swim watch out there – even taking into account all of the multisport watches that mostly do swimming just fine. The reason it’s the best is rather simple: It’s got more features, and does all of those features better. There’s a pile of new indoor features, especially around automatic rest tracking.

But I think the real star of the show is the openwater swim accuracy. Previously the Apple Watch won that category, but with the Swim 2, Garmin managed to wrestle that crown back. It was borderline scary how accurate it was. Check out my full review for all those side by side track comparisons.

Budget Swim Watch: COROS Pace 2 or Apple Watch Series 3.

If you’re looking for both a pool and openwater swim watch on a budget and don’t care about as much of the fancier smartwatch features, check out the COROS Pace 2. It’s simply a full-featured triathlon watch that also happens to do swimming pretty well.

Similarly, the Apple Watch Series 3 spits out fantastically accurate openwater swim tracks, as well as really strong indoor swimming. Sure, it doesn’t have the most full-featured swimming functionality – but if you’re mostly looking to just track laps and splits, it’ll more than do the trick.

Honorable Mention: FORM Swimming Goggles

It’s hard to categorize the FORM Swimming goggles. It’s not a watch obviously, but this year it did get openwater swim support if you have a Garmin or Apple Watch. But even if you don’t have one of those, if you’re primarily pool bound, it’s incredibly good at tracking your swim without ever requiring a glance at your wrist or a touch of the display. It just does it all automatically while displaying the stats in real-time on the inside of the goggle, heads-up display like. Sure, it’s a bit pricey at $199 (but will be on sale for Black Friday), and how well it holds up long-term remains to be seen. But the company rolled out integration with the Polar OH1 heart rate sensor, which gets your HR data into the goggles/data files too. Note, do be sure that if you’re specifically getting FORM for openwater use that you pick a Garmin or Apple Watch that’s compatible, as not all Garmin watches are compatible (such as the Garmin Swim 2, because it doesn’t have Connect IQ app support).

Apple Watch Series 3Amazon
COROS Pace 2AmazonWiggle
FORM Swim Goggles (with heads-up display)Amazon
Garmin Swim 2AmazonWiggle

Sensor Connectivity:

If you’re getting any of the units listed above, you may be in the market for accessories.Obviously, some bundles include accessories, while others do not.Here’s what I recommend based on having entire buckets worth of accessories to test with.

In general, almost nothing has changed here in that I strongly favor dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensors over single-channel versions (e.g. ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart only).These sensors are available in all categories now.The reason for going dual is simple: It allows you the flexibility to choose whichever device you want and know it’ll work with it.Be it using it with apps like Zwift or Strava on Bluetooth Smart, or your bike computers or watches that just do ANT+.Or both at once!

Heart Rate Sensor (Chest strap): Wahoo TICKR, Polar H9, Garmin HRM-DUAL, 4iiii Viiiiva

Looking for a non-optical HR strap? I almost exclusively use the Garmin HRM-DUAL and the Wahoo TICKR series. I personally give a slight edge to the Garmin HRM-DUAL because it’s not just dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but actually dual-Bluetooth Smart. While the scenarios are somewhat limited that you’d need to concurrently connect two Bluetooth Smart devices (such as Zwift at the same time as a Polar or Suunto watch), I appreciate the flexibility. Also, I think the strap is more comfortable.

Yet at the same time, you’ll often find me rockin’ the Wahoo TICKR (often the X, but I rarely use the X-specific features). Personally, if you’re going to go for a TICKR and don’t have a specific need for the TICKR X features, then just pick up the regular TICKR and save a bunch of money.

I have a Polar H9 permanently attached to our Peloton bike (now at home), merely to always have something there. It too works great here with dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart.

Finally, there’s the 4iiii Viiiiva. It’s always the forgotten one, but it’s a super function-rich strap. It has a boatload of extra features around ANT+ to BLE conversion and offline storage. Plus all the regular dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart HR bits.

Oh, one note for Garmin users:

If you’re looking for running dynamics with your Garmin device, that’ll require an HRM-TRI, HRM-RUN, HRM-PRO, or RD-POD – or, more recently the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 can do that too. The HRM-PRO is the only one of that group from Garmin that’s dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and despite being pricey, it’s what I’d recommend if you’re a Garmin user that wants Garmin Running Dynamics. While the TICKR X does transmit the Running Dynamics standard, just be aware that it lacks a few fields that the Garmin straps do.

Similarly, if you’re planning to be a Wahoo RIVAL user, I’d veer more towards the Wahoo TICKR X than the Garmin straps, since the TICKR X transmits additional Running Dynamics data that the RIVAL doesn’t yet see from the Garmin straps.

Heart Rate Sensor (Optical): Polar OH1+

If I’m using a standalone optical HR sensor, it’s almost undoubtedly the Polar OH1 Plus. After adding ANT+ to it via firmware update last year, it’s quickly climbed into my gear bag. You’ll find it on almost all my runs. Not only does it broadcast dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but a simple double-tap will record the workout to memory and then sync easily into Polar’s Flow app/platform.

While in years past I’ve recommended the dual ANT+ Scosche Rhythm/Rhythm 24, the app experience just isn’t what Polar’s is. Little things like having only a handful of hours of onboard storage for that is tough – whereas I can record boatloads of workouts to the Polar OH1+ and it happily syncs them all down the road. Plus, you get the entire Polar training analysis ecosystem along with it.

As for the just announced Mio Pod, in my testing at this point I’m seeing good accuracy results. And the app shows promise – but has some gaps that’ll keep it off this list for now. But I could easily see a case where early next year it mind find a spot after some app updates.

Cadence-Only: Wahoo RPMv2 or Garmin Cadence V2

I’ll use either unit, when I use one at all. Both transmit dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cadence signals, however the Garmin also transmits a second pairable cadence signal. For cyclists using a watch that’s Bluetooth Smart only (like Polar or Suunto), this would allow you to concurrently pair it to your watch for tracking your workout there, as well as pairing it to your smart trainer app like Zwift.

Note that technically I find the Garmin ANT+ cadence-only attachment system slightly better than Wahoo’s, as it doesn’t require zip ties and instead uses an industrial-strength rubber band.But that’s probably not a big deal for most people.

Speed-Only: Wahoo SPEED or Garmin Speed V2

While I rarely use a speed sensor on my regular road bike, I do use one on my commuter and cargo bikes – simply to track mileage. The Garmin V2 sensor will act like a normal dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart speed sensor, but it’ll also quietly download a copy of every ride to your Garmin Connect account (and then onwards to connected apps like Strava).

If you don’t care about that, then realistically it won’t matter which sensor you use. Like the cadence sensor, the Garmin does have dual-Bluetooth Smart as well as being dual ANT+/BLE, but for an outdoor unit that’s frankly less important. Again – either the Wahoo or Garmin one will work just fine – both are dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart.

Speed/Cadence (Combo): Wahoo Blue SC

If for some reason you really want a magnet-based sensor, then the Wahoo Blue SC is what you want. It includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. Bontrager also has a dual option out these days too, but I haven’t tried it yet. Most of these are made in the same factory and just rebranded.

ProductAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
4iiii Viiiiva ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart HR Strap & BridgeAmazon
Garmin Cadence Sensor Gen2 (Dual ANT+/Bluetooth)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Garmin HRM-DUALAmazonWiggle
Garmin HRM-PROAmazonWiggle
Garmin Speed Sensor Gen2 (Dual ANT+/Bluetooth)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Polar H9AmazonWiggle
Polar OH1 PlusAmazonWiggle
Wahoo Blue SCv2 - Bluetooth Smart/ANT+ Speed/Cadence SensorAmazonWiggle
Wahoo RPM (Bluetooth Smart/ANT+ Cadence Sensor)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Wahoo RPM+SPEED Bundle (Dual ANT+/BLE)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Wahoo SPEED ANT+/BLE SensorAmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Wahoo TICKR (2020 Edition)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle
Wahoo TICKR X (2020 Edition)AmazonCompetitive CyclistWiggle

The Why Not List: Some people will ask about Whoop. I’d just read my full Whoop In-Depth Review to understand why I wouldn’t recommend it. And eventually, I’ll get around to creating my Whoop In-Depth Review video for YouTube, an then take this darn thing off my wrist. Thus, I can say that 6 months after my written review, my opinions have not changed. In fact, with 6 months and more than 200 workouts worth of data, they’re stronger than ever.

Action Cams & Drones:

For the most part, the action cam industry is consolidating. But this year we did see DJI get into the mix with a very solid first attempt at things with the DJI OSMO Action. Super strong first attempt. Meanwhile, we haven’t really seen Garmin touch their wares in a few years – so I’ve gotta believe they’re stepping away from it at this point. There are of course a bunch of random budget cams out there on Amazon. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for there.

Best All Around Action Cam: GoPro Hero 9 Black or Hero 8 Black

Both of these units are fantastic. The Hero 9 Black somehow once again ups the quality (5K) and more importantly the stabilization. It also offers the new GoPro Max Lens Mod, which I’ve been using constantly lately – it works really well for my uses since it keeps things perfectly leveled no matter the orientation. The only annoying thing about either the Hero 8 or the Hero 9 is the stupid side door, which is still finicky to use, though, this works to solve that.

While the Hero 9 has the higher end resolution/stabilization, you frankly won’t go wrong either way. I’ve converted to using the Hero 9’s in my workflow, but both produce fantastic images that are smooth and clean.

As for the DJI OSMO Action? Yes, it’s good. Especially the dual-screens. But the OSMO Action smartphone app still really lets it down. While GoPro was hardly the poster child for app development, things have really gotten better over the last few years. The apps work cleanly, they do what you expect, and the entire ecosystem just works. My GoPro quietly uploads all of its footage to the GoPro Plus cloud each night when I plug it in, just for backup. DJI lacks any of that today.

Best All Arounder Drone: DJI Mini 2 or DJI Mavic Air 2

This is a tough category. My heart (and probably my brain) want to shout ‘Still the original Mavic Air!’, and that’s true. That’s the last of a generation from DJI that allowed you to control the drone from your phone, ideal for stashing the drone in your back jersey pocket and taking it for a ride anywhere. These days all the DJI drones not only require you carry their controller, but it’s bigger than the drone itself.

Still, despite that probably-edge-case, both the Mini 2 and Mavic Air 2 are fantastic drones that produce incredible images. And my bet is that if I showed you footage of both side by side, you couldn’t tell the difference.

Instead, the difference is really in the underlying features and hardware. The Mavic Air 2 has sensors to (try and) keep you from crashing, whereas the the Mini 2 lacks those, but keeps the weight under 250g, which is the magic number in many countries for minimizing paperwork you need to fly a drone. Both the Mini 2 and Mavic Air 2 shoot in 4K. And both can handle crazy high winds.

Beyond the sensors/hardware, the Mavic Air 2 includes more advanced Active Tracking, which can track you as you ride/run along. It’s not perfect (see my videos on that), but it’s pretty good for most normal use cases.

Best Solo Shooting Sports Action Drone: Skydio R2

When it comes to sports tracking though, there’s no competition. The Skydio R1 came out about two years ago and was incredible for sports tracking with its 13 cameras onboard that was virtually impossible to crash, but the price tag was $1,999 – far too high for most people. Not to mention the size was roughly that of a pizza box, and it didn’t fold up either. Still, it was hard to set aside just how incredible the autonomous tracking was.

Well, Skydio solved that with the R2. They halved the price to $999, increased every spec they could on it, and shrunk the size to roughly that of an iPad’s dimensions (except thickness, it’s thicker of course). Of course, the wait list is long, and it’s still not available outside the US. But dang, is it impressive. And I’ve got some even more impressive footage coming next week from some testing I did a few days ago.

ProductAmazonB&H Photo
DJI Mavic AirAmazon
DJI Mavic Air 2Amazon
DJI Mini 2AmazonB&H
GoPro Hero 8 BlackAmazon
GoPro Hero 8 Black Charging Port (Ulanzi G8-7)Amazon
GoPro Hero 9 BlackAmazon
Skydio 2

Don’t Forget the Product Comparison Tool:

Ok, lots of recommendations.If there’s a category I’ve missed (entirely plausible) – just drop a note in the comments and I’ll try and come up with a recommendation and add it above.

More importantly though, you can mix and match just about everything I’ve talked about above, with in-depth comparison tables over at the product comparison calculator, which today supports: Action Cameras, Drones, Heart Rate Straps, Watches/Bike Computers, Power Meters, Activity Monitors, and Trainers.

Select product use/budget for a comparison from the drop down menus:

Select product type:Select product use:Select price range:

Note: While many running watches have a basic bike mode, only running units that are multi-sport focused are also included in the bike-only results (in addition to bike-specific units). Hiking units are those that include a Barometric Altimeter, Magnetic Compass and navigational functions.

Or select products for comparison by clicking the product boxes below:

(title missing) Adidas Smart Run GPS Apple Watch Series 2 & Nike+ Edition Apple Watch Series 3 Apple Watch Series 4 Apple Watch Series 5 Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch Series 7 Apple Watch Series SE Bia GPS Bryton Cardio 60 Multisport Watch COROS APEX COROS APEX Pro COROS Pace 2 COROS Vertix COROS Vertix 2 CycleOps Joule 2.0 (Original) CycleOps Joule GPS Epson ProSense 307 Epson SF-810 FINIS Swimsense Fitbit Ionic Fitbit Sense Fitbit Surge Fitbit Versa Fitbit Versa 3 Fitbit Versa Lite Garmin Edge 1000 Garmin Edge 1030 Garmin Edge 1030 Plus Garmin Edge 130 Garmin Edge 130 Plus Garmin Edge 20 Garmin Edge 200 Garmin Edge 25 Garmin Edge 500 Garmin Edge 510 Garmin Edge 520 Garmin Edge 520 Plus Garmin Edge 530 Garmin Edge 705 Garmin Edge 800 Garmin Edge 810 Garmin Edge 820 Garmin Edge 830 Garmin Edge Explore Garmin Edge Touring (Normal) Garmin Edge Touring (Plus) Garmin Enduro Garmin Epix Garmin Epix (Gen 2) Garmin Fenix Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X) Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X) Garmin Fenix 5S Plus Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar Series Garmin Fenix 6 Series Garmin Fenix 7 Series Garmin Fenix2/Fenix2 SE Garmin Fenix3 Garmin Fenix3 HR Garmin Forerunner 10 Garmin Forerunner 110 Garmin Forerunner 15 Garmin Forerunner 210 Garmin Forerunner 220 Garmin Forerunner 225 Garmin Forerunner 230 Garmin Forerunner 235 Garmin Forerunner 245 Garmin Forerunner 25 Garmin Forerunner 305 Garmin Forerunner 310XT Garmin Forerunner 35 Garmin Forerunner 405 Garmin Forerunner 410 Garmin Forerunner 45/45S Garmin Forerunner 55 Garmin Forerunner 60/70 Garmin Forerunner 610 Garmin Forerunner 620 Garmin Forerunner 630 Garmin Forerunner 645/645 Music Garmin Forerunner 735XT Garmin Forerunner 745 Garmin Forerunner 910XT Garmin Forerunner 920XT Garmin Forerunner 935 Garmin Forerunner 945 Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE Garmin Instinct Garmin Instinct Solar Garmin MARQ Athlete Garmin Swim Garmin Swim 2 Garmin Tactix Garmin Venu Garmin Venu 2 Garmin Venu 2 Plus Garmin Venu SQ Garmin Vivoactive Garmin Vivoactive 3 Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Garmin Vivoactive 4 Garmin Vivoactive HR Garmin Vivosmart HR+ Garmin Vivosport Hammerhead Karoo Hammerhead Karoo 2 Leikr GPS Lezyne Mega- XL GPS Lezyne Mega-C GPS Magellan Echo Magellan Switch & Switch Up Microsoft Band 2 Mio Alpha Optical HR Monitor Motorola Motoactv Nike+ GPS Sportwatch O-Synce Navi2Coach Polar A300 Polar Grit X Polar Grit X Pro Polar Ignite 2 Polar Ignite GPS Polar M200 Polar M400 Polar M430 Polar M450 Polar M460 Polar M600 Polar RC3 Polar RCX3 Polar RCX5 Polar Unite Polar V650 Polar V800 Polar Vantage M Polar Vantage M2 Polar Vantage V Polar Vantage V2 Samsung Galaxy Active SIGMA ROX 12 SPORT Soleus 1.0 GPS Soleus 2.0 GPS Stages Dash Stages Dash L50 Stages Dash M50 Suunto 3 Fitness Suunto 5 Suunto 7 Wear OS Watch Suunto 9 Baro Suunto 9 Peak Suunto Ambit Suunto Ambit2 Suunto Ambit2 R Suunto Ambit2 S Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto Ambit3 Sport Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Suunto Spartan Ultra Timex Cycle Trainer 2.0 GPS Timex Global Trainer Timex Marathon GPS Timex One GPS+ Timex R300 GPS Timex Run Trainer GPS 1.0 Timex Run Trainer GPS 2.0 Timex Run x20 GPS Timex Run x50 TomTom Multisport TomTom Multisport Cardio TomTom Runner TomTom Runner Cardio TomTom Spark TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3 Wahoo ELEMNT Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT V2/2021 Wahoo ELEMNT MINI Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM Wahoo RIVAL GPS Watch

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