Nike has joined forces with GPS specialist TomTom to produce a new distance and time tracking sports watch. Building on the successes of its online resource at nikeplus.com, SportBand, and its Nike+ software for the iPod and iPhone the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is the next logical step.

When we first got a look at the Nike+ SportWatch GPS back in January we were quite simply bowled over. At the time we were promised a UK launch date of 1 April. That didn’t quite work out, but the Nike+ SportWatch GPS was on show at the London Marathon Expo just before the big day on 22 April, and I’ve been using my review sample since then. So, is it worth the £179 asking price?

First impressions

If first impressions count for anything then the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is an absolute winner. It looks nothing like any other sports watch I’ve seen. The sleek black fascia is accompanied by a bright yellow interior that shows through the wrist strap notches. One of the three buttons, all on the left side of the face, is also bright yellow.

The watch defaults to telling the time, showing the hour in one large numbers row, minutes beneath, and, in a column to the right side, the date, day and battery status. This watch is a fashion statement in its own right, and I’d be quite happy to wear it daily.

The watch is quite chunky with the face section measuring 37mm wide x 16mm thick and about 55mm high. It wasn’t too big to sit neatly on my small wrist and at 66g it is pretty light too. There is a long wrist strap that should be large enough for pretty much anybody, and plenty of notches so that the fit is secure. You can wear it loose if you want to, but aren’t forced to do so by a lack of adjustment. There’s no band to secure the unused portion of the wrist strap. Instead – and this is a stunningly simple but clever idea – the end of the strap has two toggles which lock into a pair of notches on the wrist band for a really secure fit.

Looking for negatives, I’d say that the fact that the wrist strap and watch are all a single piece might be a problem for the future. There is always the possibility that the physical parts of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS could break – I’ve not had it for long enough to gauge how well it copes with wear and tear.

In the box

The packaging is minimal and all made from nice recyclable cardboard with not a plastic section in sight. Along with the watch itself you get a small printed manual, Nike+ sensor (Shoe Pod), and USB cable.

The Shoe Pod sensor is a very important part of the overall kit. It is a tiny lozenge shape, and anyone with the Apple iPod or iPhone Nike+ kit will already be familiar with it. If you have a pair of compatible Nike shoes it sits in a cut-out inside the left shoe. If you don’t wear Nike shoes, you’ll need to find a way to fix it to your laces.

Here Nike has made an error as there’s no lace fixing provided with the sensor, or at least there wasn’t with my review sample. I definitely felt under-equipped without the Shoe Pod fixed to my laces. It is fortunate for Nike that I didn’t go through any long tunnels while testing the Nike+ SportWatch GPS. In such situations, where the GPS signal is weak or non-existent, the Shoe Pod kicks and feeds speed and distance data to the watch.

Set up and configuration

Nike has ensured that the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is extremely easy to get started with right out of the box. I had to connect it to my PC and get a firmware upgrade before I could get started, but mine was an early sample. You probably won’t have to go through that. Instead, a PC connection will charge the battery and automatically upload any data since your last run to your space at http://www.nikeplus.com/.

Where most watches expect you to enter your weight, sex and age data and make other settings on the watch itself, there’s a neat piece of PC software that automatically installs and which you can use to store this information along with other date that is automatically transferred to the watch. This is so much easier than fiddling about with buttons on a watch itself – and the competition should take note.
So, aside from personal profile what else can you set via a PC? Well, under the ‘Time and Date’ heading you can force the Nike+ SportWatch GPS to take its settings from the PC or set them manually, and can opt for 12 or 24 hour time.

Under the ‘Customise’ heading you can turn sounds on and off, and tell the watch what data to display in an upper display area that you can loop through by pressing two of the side buttons. The options are pace, distance, time elapsed, calories burned and clock, and you can choose any combination of these to appear in the cycle.

You can also customise what’s shown in the larger, lower static display area. If you have the watch set to automatically save laps this is fixed, but if you don’t have automatic lapping enabled, then you can choose between those earlier categories – distance, time elapsed, pace, calories and clock. And you can also get the watch to issue run reminders – cheeky little notifications that it is about time you got out there and clocked some miles.
Finally, you can configure some settings for laps and intervals, choosing a manual setting or automatic settings. The former is good if you want to time yourself between different physical locations that you regularly pass on runs. It is a pity that you can’t mix and match auto and manual lap measurement, though.

You can also set up intervals – useful if you are building up to running a long distance and working on a walk and run combination, though intervals can also be set up with mile, kilometre and other personalised distance measurements.

As you make these settings they are automatically transferred to the Nike+ SportWatch GPS.

This is great as you don’t have to fiddle around with the watch to change settings. You can make some minor adjustments on the watch itself, though, for example toggling between automatic, manual and no lap recording, and turning the intervals settings on and off.

The USB cable provided very cleverly slots into one end of the strap and the fitment clips away so it is nicely protected.

That’s a really neat design feature. But it is tempered by the fact that you need to use the USB cable Nike provides because the fitting at the watch end is slightly different to that on a standard USB charge cable. Remember – the cable ferries data both to and from the watch as well as charging it.

And even when you are just charging and not transferring data, while Nike’s cable looks like standard USB at the charging end, it didn’t like the couple of USB to mains power adaptors I use for all my other USB kit. The charger only seemed to like taking its power from a laptop USB port.

I’m not sure how much I would like living with this in the long term, but realistically the Nike+ SportWatch GPS battery is good for eight hours of GPS time or 50 hours of standard operation, so it ought to last most of us for up to a week away from a computer without the need for a power boost.

You can also pair the Nike+ SportWatch GPS with the Polar Wearlink+ heart rate monitor, which is also compatible with other Nike+ running equipment. Note, though, that the watch is not ANT+ compliant.

In use

When it comes to everyday use the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is just about as easy to get on with as it could possibly be. Once you’ve been through the setup process you just tap and hold the yellow ‘select’ button for three seconds and the watch starts looking for satellites and the Shoe Pod. It flashes icons while these are being searched for, shows them solid when they are found.

If you don’t want to use the Shoe Pod then you can turn it off by getting into a simple settings menu – you just press one of the black side buttons, select ‘Run’, then select ‘Shoe Pod’ and it is toggled on and off as you press the yellow select button.

When satellites are locked (and the optional Shoe Pod has been found) the watch will display ‘Ready’ and you are OK to start your run by tapping the yellow Select button.

Run as much as you want, and use the scroll buttons to move through those criteria you’ve set up for the smaller upper display.

In reality I found I didn’t bother with these much, relying on just the two main bits of information on display, which after some experimentation, I set as distance for the larger display and pace for the smaller one. The big screen and huge readout was a real plus point when running along – especially when tired, as it was always easy to see the key information at a glance.

I never found myself in need of a backlight, but if you should be in that position, a simply tap of the screen turns it on for a few seconds.

When you’ve finished a run you hold the Select button again for three seconds and the run is recorded. You get a quick peek at a summary screen which shows distance, pace, time taken and calories burned. I’d have liked to hold this for longer than the couple of seconds it displays for, but you can call it up again by looking at your run history which you get to by pressing either of the black buttons. Runs are organised by date and the watch will retain the 50 most recent runs, dropping the oldest one off the end to make room for the newest.

I did notice a serious problem with the calorie counter. The Nike+ SportWatch GPS thinks I burned 159 calories on a 30 minute 5k run. My Garmin Forerunner 310XT puts it at 360 calories on runs of a similar length and time. One of them is way out. As other devices I’ve tested are close to the Garmin’s estimate, I think Nike needs to look again at how its calculations are made.

When you are ready just connecting the Nike+ SportWatch GPS to your computer is enough to launch the associated software and runs are uploaded to nukeplus.com.

The watch retains some key statistics which you can access in the Records area. Total distance covered fastest mile, fastest km, fastest 5k and 10k and longest run. If you happen to beat a record you get a little notification telling you of the fact. Nike calls this an ‘attaboy’. Nice way to show your awareness that lots of women use your products, Nike!

Conclusion

It has to be said that Nike has got ease of use just about perfect with the Nike+ SportWatch GPS. It is a fine balancing act to get the range of features on offer and the simplicity with which you use them just right.

To be honest, I’d have liked more features, though. Vibrating alerts when auto laps are taken and a virtual running partner are two of my three key missing features. The third is distance splits. I’m very keen on looking at my time for each kilometre of a run, and the Nike+ SportWatch GPS only offers that level of as a scrolling report on the run summary screen. You can’t pause it for long enough to take a note of each split which is a bit of a pain. If you want that, as well as a maps of your run route, elevation and other more detailed data, you have to examine the uploads on nikeplus.com.

The problem with the calorie burn calculation is a serious one, and Nike will need to address it quickly. Fortunately I’ve already noted how easy it is to get firmware updates onto the device. Hopefully Nike will fix the problem soon and a firmware update will be issued quickly.

Even with my grumbles, there’s no doubting that the set up and ease of use are about as close to perfect as I’ve seen in a running watch. The automatic uploading to nikeplus.com and computer based setup app are both super features. Also, while the range of features on offer is basic, there is enough to keep a huge number of running enthusiasts happy.

Overall, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is a great first effort for a sports watch from Nike and TomTom. If you are already a user of nikeplus.com I can see the lure of continuing to have access to your library of running data with a new sports watch. Assuming Nike has a roadmap for more sports watches, the competition would do well to take note.

Pros:

  • Stylish
  • Clever USB connector design
  • Good battery life
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Comes with Shoe Pod

Cons:

  • Limited features
  • Problem with calorie burn calculation
  • No vibrating alert
  • Must use provided USB cable for PC connection and charging

Manufacturer: Nike (with TomTom)

Nike+ SportWatch GPS: £179.00 inc VAT