Our Favorite Running GPS Watches
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Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS Review
My first watch that could track vertical gain was a Highgear Axis. Sadly, the chronograph could only go to 23 hours and 59 minutes. I was not blazing 100 milers so I needed something more and moved to a different brand. I’ve always had a soft spot for Highgear though and was more than excited when I was given the opportunity to try their GPS running watch, the Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS, that has pretty much every feature that a trail and mountain runner could want.
Overall, this is a nice device with a few quirks. You can track pace and distance (via GPS), heart rate, weather, find your way back to where you started, altitude via barometric pressure, or just use the 100 hour chronograph without GPS and still get you ascent and decent data all for retail of $250 (as low as $200 online).
There are a few downsides. Using the GPS radio cuts the battery life to around 8 hours of timing, which is fine for training but not great for those 50+ mile excursions. The heart rate monitor chest strap is bulky and not as comfortable as a the newest generation of soft straps available. Lastly, the software to manage the device is quite basic.
For more details, check out the video below and watch the full review.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS Review Transcript
Welcome to Trail Trials, the video review section of iRunFar. In this video we’re going to take a look at the Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS wrist-top watch.
When we open the box of our Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS watch, we’re going to be greeted with three main items along with some manuals. Those three main items are: heart rate monitor, a sync cable, and a watch. We’ll start off by looking at the heart rate monitor.
Heart Rate Monitor
This device is what you would consider more of a classic style where you have the larger piece in the middle, which is kind of your guts, with the user replaceable battery. It’s kind of long and rectangular in shape. Then we move out to more of these hard rubber sensors that are on the side. So it would have been nice if this would have been smaller and a softer fabric all the way around, but it wasn’t. This still works fine. It was still able to capture heart rate and I felt like it worked as advertised in terms of being able to get heart rate data.
You’re also going to get a charging and a sync cable. This is a USB plug on one end; you’re going to be able to plug that into your computer. There’s PC-only software at least on the download, and I’ll give you a look at that. This is a device that is going to clamp onto the back of the watch. There are four pins on the back of the watch, and there are four pins along with a tooth and a little indentation. That’s going to allow it to clip on. It’s a little tricky sometimes, but if you move it around, you’ll end up getting it. This is going to allow you to synchronize your settings also. So there are settings we can make on the computer; there are settings we can synchronize on the watch. We can back up those settings, and we can also restore those settings if the watch resets or something along those lines. We can bring all those back, which is nice, and we’ll take a look at that.
The main thing, of course, is the watch. From a structure standpoint, I’d say this fits in line with what I’d consider a medium-sized sports watch. It’s not a super thin and light device, but you have a rechargeable battery, a GPS, a barometer, and an altimeter inside of this. So you’ve got a lot of guts in here that are doing things. Because of that, you have a little thicker size. Though I’d say in terms of comparing it to other watches that have barometric pressure and altitude, this isn’t a whole lot bigger. In fact, it’s probably smaller than some of those on the market. In terms of how it’s going to be on your wrist, because it doesn’t have “offensive views” of things like a large antenna poking off of one side or a big square-type look, you could use this as a regular watch. Because it syncs up via GPS, you could even go to different time zones, literally change that, and you’re back up and running.
This watch has a 100-hour chronograph. So what I really like about this is the ability to have a watch that will go from both being able to do time and distance as well as if I want to be able to use this as a stopwatch and not use GPS, I can do that. That’s done very simply through either using or not using the GPS button over here at the 9-o’clock position.
Let’s work our way around the face here. At the top we have the START and our LAP button. So when we’re inside of Chronograph or when we’re inside of Run Data and we’re going to use a running routine, we’re going to use this to “start” and to “lap.” We can also “auto lap” at various intervals; we can set that on the watch, we can set that on the computer, or we can manually “lap” it when we want to.
In the middle we have STOP and SAVE. So obviously when we want to “stop” our exercise, we’re going to do that here. When we hold that button down, that’s going to save that exercise.
At the very bottom, we have a VIEW and an OK button. So based on what we’re looking at—so here we’re on the main screen with the watch—we can change our view; we can have the seconds; we can have the day; we can have the weather; we can have lots of things show up on here when we’re using that.
As we explore different modes through our MODE button over here, we’re going to be able to change those views inside each mode. So we’re always coming back to these. Then the other things that the START/LAP, STOP/SAVE, and the VIEW/OK button are going to do, is inside of a menu system. So say we want to make a setting change, we’re going to toggle up and toggle down that list through here, and we’re going to verify or turn it on/off by or select that item by using the OK button. So it’s pretty simple navigation.
So when we’re looking at MODE, this watch really works in a linear fashion. So we’re on “time,” and then we’re on “run.” So based off of what’s happening you can see you get indoor or GPS. If we were to choose “indoor” instead of GPS, we’re not going to have our radio on. It doesn’t have to be just for indoors, but obviously that’s what it’s telling us. Once it finds its signal, which is just did, it’s going to tell you how much available memory it has (we have 60 hours of available memory on the watch). Then it’s also going to tell you how much battery life that you have. So we’re at 95-100%, and the watch is clear of any exercise data. Based off the fact that our GPS is on (we went to “mode”—“run”—GPS on), we’re going to be presented with some various screens here. So in this one we’re going to have “total running time,” “distance,” and “speed/pace” (This is “run,” so we’re going to have “pace.”) down here at the bottom. If GPS wasn’t turned on, we’d just get a simple chronograph and lap; so we’d get those two options as part of the watch. So it’s dynamic in that if that radio is turned on, you’re going to be able to use it.
As we move through, we have “chronograph,” so again, this is going to share some of the features—we’ll just say “indoors.” You can see we’re at 80% battery life here, 60 hours (of saved exercise bouts available), and then we have “lap,” “distance,” and “exercise time.” “Distance” isn’t going to work, because we didn’t do GPS; so that’s why there are no numbers there (just dashes). So there are just going to be these two, and of course we can change that around as we see fit. Heart rate monitor—we can go in if we’re going to use it; obviously that’s going to turn on, and we’re going to be able to see our heart rate.
I really like this one here. Once I’ve gone out and run, I can use this “route” feature and use it as a bread crumb trail to get back to where I started at. So it’s a really good way, if you’re unfamiliar with a place, to get back to your starting point.
We also have our barometer, which we can set. So if we’re wearing this and we’re somewhere that we’re worried about weather sneaking in on us, we can set our current barometric pressure, we can set our weather conditions; and if that drops, we’re going to get some ideas as to what’s going on.
So this is great for climb. If I’m out and I want to see how much climb I’m getting, I’ve got GPS speed and distance as well as how much climb. So I can also measure vertical speed. Now the one thing I’ll note about this is this does not set automatically. If I want to get my altimeter, my reference point for how far above sea level I am, I have to do that manually, and I have to do that every time. In fact, in most cases, this does give you more accuracy to be able to go in and set that barometric pressure, set that altitude, and, hopefully, get that more realistic or better readings from that.
At the bottom we have “run data.” So you saw that we have 60 hours. This will be populated with our runs. We can go through and see pace and time, but we can sync these with the computer obviously; we’ll look at what that’s going to look like.
We can put way points in here if we’d like. We have to get back to somewhere, or we’d like to find something, or we want to record a certain point for a reason—we’ll do that here.
ALARM and basic watch features including “SET.”
So that’s working our way through the watch. Now that we know what the features are, we’ll go and take a look at what the software provides us on the computer side of things and take a look at those data points.
So we’re going to plug the watch in and start our Highgear XT7 ALTI-GPS software. We’ll download the data (We’ve already done that to speed things up here.), and then once that’s done we’re going to be able to go into our summary points. So when we look at this, it’s going to give us the different exercises that we’ve done; it’s going to show it in a chart. But as you can see, it’s very utilitarian in how it’s going to work.
So up top here, we can look at the last run that I did on 9/23/12. We can look at how far I went—7.1 miles at an average of 7:30 pace. If I’d have had the heart rate monitor on during that time, that would have given me that information. As we move through over to the right, this is going to give us out track point. As you notice here, it’s going to take a track point about every 5 seconds. So depending on how quick and accurate of a reading you need, you may want something like that to be faster. This isn’t something that can be changed to be every 1 second. However, I will say in my tests, I found that based off my routes that I knew the distance of, this thing was generally spot on.
So this is your “Summary Data.” You have a “lap data” that you can go into which is going to be a little more specific if you turned on the “lap.” So we can see here from the run on 9/23, lap time of 8:31, 8:10, 7:42, down to a 6:44. I get those individually because I had the auto lap turned on every mile.
We can go to “Weekly Data.” This is going to give us how much distance we’ve obviously run while we wore the watch. There’s no way to go in and add manually, so this is all coming off the watch. So this is only that. I don’t have any other way to track that through here. Here is “Month Data.” Then we can also do a “Map.” This is going to go out and initiate Google maps and show me where it was that I went. It actually does a decent job of showing what your route was. It’s going to give you “point in time” and show you how fast you were going, what time of the morning it was, and those kinds of things which are nice to see along a route. Obviously this was a road run here, as you can see, through a town. I can get that information, you can even change the views, and you can print it out if you want to.
“Way points”—none saved, but we can do that.
“Settings” I talked about. I can go through and change these and synchronize and save that to the watch and go back and forth. That can also be done on the watch, or I can do it here. I can delete my workouts or I can delete all my workouts. These are two features that I thought were kind of nice. Every now and then, you get a device that doesn’t work so great, or something happens and it hiccups and you’ve got to go back in and retrieve all your settings and set them back in. This allows you to back them up and recover that back to the watch which is nice to be able to do.
Here’s an interesting tab, and I call it “interesting” because it doesn’t act how you’d think it would act. So when you click “Map My Run” basically what happens is it says, ”We’re going to name a file.” So, we’re going to pull a file off and we’re going to save that as either a TCX or a GPX file and then you’re going to be able to upload that to “Map My Run.” So even though it says “Map My Run,” any of the training sites that will accept TCX or GPX files, you can use this with. For some reason they just decided to use “Map My Run.” It could be a partnership or something along those lines. Just know that that’s something you can do.
Then also, you have “Download.” We’ve already showed that. That was on the splash screen. You can click that and can initiate that to pull the data off the watch. Then our “Home” tab is going to take us back.
So what you can see is that this is pretty basic in terms of features that are available. The watch does a lot of great things. However, you’re going to want to use the watch probably a lot more than you will the software and maybe even use a different software package online in conjunction with the device to really get the most bang for your buck.
In closing, the XT7 has really become my go-to watch for any type of training that I’m doing. It’s small enough that it’s not cumbersome. It allows me to track speed and distance, whether I’m just out for a road run or on my long weekend runs when I’m hitting the trails and I’m out there for awhile and I want to know how much climb I’m getting via altitude. I’ve got barometric pressure available so I can keep an eye on the weather and pull that shell out if I need to. I really found all those things to be what makes this watch good. The downside is you’ll only have an 8-hour battery compared to other watches on the market that provide the same features. But again, it’s a trade-off. This is $250 for retail and as low as $200 online, where some of those other devices providing these same features are upwards of $500. So, the XT7 ALTI-GPS from Highgear is definitely worth checking out.
Call for Comments
Any questions or comments—please leave those below this review. Thanks for watching. We’ll catch you next time.