I’ve heard a lot about the Coros Apex (from $299.99 USD) and was thrilled to finally get a unit to use. In a wearables market dominated by the big players such as Apple, Samsung, Android wear in one corner, and Garmin, Polar, Fitbit and Suunto in the performance end, it is uncommon to see a newcomer gain significant traction over a short period of just 2 years.
And that’s what Coros has accomplished. The company has already rolled out 3 watches as of publication with a fourth watch seemingly in the pipeline.
The Coros Apex has a solid battery life that puts other manufacturers to shame. In my case, the Coros Apex lasted 21 days with numerous workouts recorded, on a single charge.
The Apex Watch has an ingenious scroll button that worked really well and tracked pool swim distance and strokes impressively. There are the ubiquitous wrist heart rate and multiple GNSS systems but, the main draw is actually the price. At just USD $299.99 for the 42mm version, it is hard not to be enticed. As of Nov 2019, Coros has added proprietary track-mode for users who train on tracks and further announced their Coros running pod – think running power! And from June 2020 onwards, custom strength workouts will be available. Lastly, Runner’s World just awarded the Coros Apex the “Gear of the year 2019″ for the long-run-watch category. Not Suunto 9, not Fenix 6 Pro, not Polar Vantage V, but Coros Apex.
Read on to check out the full details of this remarkable watch from Coros.
COROS APEX LOOK AND FEEL
The Coros Apex feels sturdy and well-constructed. The titanium alloy bezel along with sapphire glass is sure to tantalise those looking for GPS sports watches of premium make. The watch body is crafted from nylon and fiber glass.
Two physical buttons, one of which is a digital knob, controls the workings of the watch. I should make mention here that the knob is intuitive to use and ingeniously implemented.
Coros basically replaced standard 3-button configurations I’ve seen in other watches with innovation. I particularly liked how a single turn of the digital knob is accompanied by haptic feedback in the form of a light vibration, perfectly timed in tandem with the scrolling of the display.
So, It doesn’t matter whether you’re swimming or fumbling with sweat drenched fingers, the knob works perfectly unlike touch displays. The lower right button activates the “back” or “lap” features, and a long press brings up a quick control menu.
There is a list of workout profiles which should cover most activities broadly. At present, it is not possible to create custom workout profiles on the Coros Apex.
The display views nicely under bright sunlight and backlight allows visibility in the night. Personally, I thought the display could do with a higher level of contrast since it appeared a tad washed-out when illuminated under low light conditions. At present, there are no options to adjust display brightness levels.
The back of the Coros Apex houses the optical HR sensors which appears tiny in comparison to the competitions’ watches. Nevertheless, the watch delivered decent levels of HR recording performance during my usage as we shall see later in the review.
The biggest difference between the 42mm and 46mm, besides the physical size and make, is the battery capacity. The 46mm version of the Apex lasts longer in all aspects of use, including GPS enabled workouts or in smartwatch mode.
Coros Apex’s battery is quite the gamechanger; I went a full 21 days on a single charge with all day wrist heart rate turned on and smart notifications enabled. Furthermore, I also clocked these workouts over the 21 days:
- Roughly 5 hours of GPS enabled workouts with every second recording
- Roughly 5 hours of non-GPS enabled workouts
You should take note that the battery charging reminder comes up at 10%. And at 2% battery, except for time display, all other features becomes inaccessible. According to Coros, the watch takes 2 hours to charge from flat to full.
Granted battery life shouldn’t be the single determinant whether you pull the trigger on the Coros Apex or not, it is remarkable nevertheless.
The Coros Apex is waterproof to 100m and is suitable for both pool and open water swimming but not diving.
The Apex has a barometer which is a rarity considering comparable GPS watches in the similar price range such as the Polar Vantage M, Suunto 5, and the dated-but-still-capable Garmin 735XT aren’t equipped with one.
The watch strap is removable and should fit most industry standard 22mm options.
Beyond that, Coros has their own library of watch faces for the user to choose from. I found most of the watch faces too flamboyant for my liking and stuck with the simple analog face which you will see throughout this review.
The Coros Apex ships with GPS + GLONASS right out of the box. GPS + Beido was added via future firmware updates. Then there’s the standalone GPS only. No Galileo though.
Owing to assisted GPS (A-GPS), GNSS acquisition speed is regularly fast and I can almost always start my runs within 1-2 minutes.
Singapore is also known as the garden city. While we don’t have the luxury of vast plains or huge nature reserves, we do have trees planted nearly everywhere you can set your eyes on. So, running in Singapore requires a wearable to combat the disastrous recipe of high-rise buildings coupled with unending tree foliage.
I’d usually test the wearables in 3 locations where I regularly run at.
- Trail running at Mac Ritchie
- Outdoor run in urban Singapore alongside housing development board flats (HDBs).
- Hills intervals
So, here are the results.
The Mac Ritchie 10km trail was recorded as 9.71km by the Apex watch. The tool of comparison in this case was an iPhone 6S running Polar Beat app. Tracked route is decently close to the actual trail as shown below; not too much off the track and no “running-on-water” incidences.
Next I ran beside towering HDB flats and the wearable of comparison was the Garmin Forerunner 945.
While the recorded tracks are not the best I’ve seen, it isn’t bad at all. Furthermore, the Coros Apex recorded a tighter route this time when compared against the FR945.
Lastly, I had the hills intervals, shown below, where the recorded distance was similar to that recorded by a Garmin Forerunner 945 even thought the recorded tracks differed in tightness.
Generally, I like what I’m seeing on the Coros Apex. It doesn’t turn your head like the Suunto 5 does but it is still good.
Based on my experience, nearly all GPS enabled watches I’ve used have good and bad days, some just more than others. My experience with the Coros Apex should be used as one form of reference but never the single determinant whether the Apex’s GNSS accuracy is top notch; accuracy can differ from day to day even for the same watch.
To put the Coros Apex to the test, I compared the recorded wrist HR readings versus that as recorded by a Polar H10 chest strap and a Polar OH1 optical HR sensor on select activities which I believe most runners will engage in:
- Outdoor trail run (~60 mins)
- Outdoor intervals (~25 mins)
- Constant paced indoor treadmill run (~75 mins)
The test venue is tropical Singapore where humidity is perpetually high and the temperature at the point of test is an average of 31-33 degrees Celsius; guaranteeing every outdoor workout is a sweat -drenched affair.
The outdoor trail run is carried out at the Mac Ritchie 10km trail loop, the central water catchment area of Singapore. The pace is easy but the humidity and heat kept the stress on the body, so the HR is persistently high throughout the run.
Besides two deviations as observed below, the Coros Apex’s optical HR sensors managed the outdoor trail run environment well.
There is this stretch of uphill where I do all my slope intervals. It’s about 280m uphill followed by 280m downhill, flanked on both sides by foliage and buildings.
As you can observe in the graph below, the Coros Apex’s HR sensors took time initially to “warm up” but it seemed to falter towards the end again.
Lastly, the Coros Apex was pit against the Polar OH1, an optical HR sensor for a constant paced treadmill run. This is an easy test and it should be a stroll in the park for any decent wrist-based HR sensors. As expected, the Coros Apex delivered.
I should add that the Apex also reads heart rate underwater and the results were good at times and less than decent in others. It definitely wasn’t as consistent as the Polar Precision Prime sensors.
The graph below shows one of the swims I did which left me impressed with the Apex’s optical HR sensors. You can see that the Coro Apex’s HR basically tracked the OH1’s after about 5 minutes of warm up. The Polar OH1 was worn on the swim goggles attachment.
Overall, it is pretty good performance for Coros’ wrist heart rate sensors during my usage.
Recorded workout sessions can be reviewed directly on the Coros Apex or on the Coros mobile app.
Even though you can get a quick summary from the watch, the Coros mobile app offers a lot more information, including graphs, charts, workout benefits and physiological measurements and so on.
One thing I particularly like is the Coros app’s ability to share the workout in multiple formats including:
The app is limited in function when compared to the competitions’ platforms. For example, You can’t add training remarks at present but you may edit the distance. Sharing of workouts stats via select social media platforms is possible as well.
Because the Coros Apex also tracks all day activity, you’ll see these data both on the watch and in app.
The Coros app is also where you can customise the display settings for the watch during workouts.
The Apple Watch has their secret lab that crunches out physiological measurements; think HRV and VO2 max. Polar has their in-house science backed physiological measurements as well, offering metrics such as training load pro, recovery pro, VO2 max estimation, recharge and so on. Garmin, Suunto, and many other companies license their physiological science from Firstbeat.
The situation for Coros is a bit unique. The company doesn’t license from Firstbeat, nor do they have years of scientific data to fall back on in order to pull off a Polar. Yet interestingly, you’ll find plenty of physiological measurements on the Coros Apex. These include:
Stamina & Recovery
I couldn’t find any documentation in app or on Coros website but I’d assume this is literally how much stamina the user has left. This number increases with rest. The full countdown to recovery is also indicated on watch.
Aerobic TE and Anaerobic TE
5 categories here:
I had doubts about the validity of this reading based on a hills intervals session I did where I literally pushed so hard, I had to stop prematurely before completing my training program.
For the same run, Firstbeat’s readings on a Garmin FR945, with HR data from a Polar OH1, had my aerobic TE at 3.6 which implies I’m in the range of “improving” to “highly improving.”
The Coros Apex had me at just 1.9; or the equivalent of “inefficient” according to their scale.
This reading can be accessed both on the app and on the Coros Apex watch.
Varies from 0-120; from minor to excessive. This takes into account past trainings and is supposedly a reading to inform users of the potential for injury should it trend high consistently.
Includes resting heart rate, estimated VO2 max, Lactate threshold and Threshold pace.
This metric combines VO2 max, lactate threshold and workout efficiency and has 4 levels. Either you are a beginner, or recreational athlete, advanced athlete, or elite athlete.
Training load, fitness levels and fitness index can only be found within the Coros app.
The question on my mind, and many others I’m sure, is how does a company that burst unto the wearable watch scene just 2 years ago manage this level of physiological feedback metrics? I checked with Coros and was informed that “COROS uses machine learning and advanced algorithms to improve certain reading and estimation based on the user’s ongoing usage and performance. We may release white paper in future. “
I also found out that “COROS works with a partner to co-develop the COROS trainer and other fitness data. The workload between COROS and our partner is shared almost equally. Our partner has its original lab designs and algorithms while COROS provides feature designs, user case applications and real-world testing. The development and improvement is an on-going process and we are confident with the in-house development process. COROS is aiming to create a better and more accurate platform for the sports community.”
I’m not in a position to dispute the numbers unless I’m dead sure but it would definitely clarify my doubts if I could like see the white paper, or any validation documents for the matter.
Even though the Coros Apex is both BLE and ANT+ enabled, it only connects to external training accessories via ANT+, reserving the BLE for compatible mobile devices which it syncs data to.
I was able to connect a few ANT+ devices I have on hand, such as the ANT+ enabled Polar OH1 and H10, a Wahoo cadence meter, and the robust Scosche Rhythm+.
Coros has also released their own running pod which they aptly call Coros Pod. As of 15th November 2019, the Coros Pod is officially available at $69.99. I just got a unit a hand and have yet to test it but here are some pictures so you can have a better idea what it looks like.
The tracked metrics of the Coros Pod will supposedly include:
- Ground time
- Stride height
- Stride ratio
Stryd compatibility is not complete so you won’t be able to see power readings if you have this running power meter on hand.
I was also told by Coros that the APEX supports ANT+ enabled cycling power meter, speed/cadence sensor, HR chest strap, bike trainer and the Coros Pod.
STRUCTURED & STRENGTH TRAINING
Coros added a pretty huge update in May 2020. The company was bold enough to add structured training for running, swimming, biking, and strength training.
Specifically for strength training, owners of the watch can now create their own strength training routine by selecting exercises from a library within the Coros mobile app, completely with animations in the app.
The created structured workouts can then be synced to the watch and used from the wearable directly but without animations. But, it is still impressive.
As a sign of innovation, Coros has produced a muscle heat map to show which parts of the body was worked on so you can pay attention to the neglected areas.
In their announcement, Coros has also hinted at the possibilities, in the future, of the provision and sharing of sample workouts by athletes and coaches.
It is possible to upload routes to navigate to via the mobile app. You won’t get full topographical maps but more of a breadcrumb and arrow alternative.
On an iOS device, the Coros app connects to Strava, Training Peaks, RQ, Apple Health, and WeRun.
The Coros Apex is the only watch I’ve used to date that could accurately track my swimming strokes and distance when used for pool swimming; even when I went one lap freestyle and one lap breast for 20 laps.
No other wearables I have used comes close to this level of stroke identification. Well done Coros! What’s even more impressive is that Coros listed the stroke types alongside distance and pace directly in app.
Your mileage may vary because of the difference in swimming strokes style. But, my belief is that I should never have to swim in a particular manner to help a $400-500 USD watch recognize my strokes; it should be other way round. In this case, a $300 watch.
There is also a quick menu that is enabled by long-pressing the lower right button.
This allows the user to access features like timer, stopwatch, compass, navigation, or make changes to GNSS recording mode; such as switching the Ultramax feature on or off.
I also like how the teadmill distance calibration option comes up after every treadmill workout. This isn’t something I get in other wearables.
When connected to compatible mobile devices, the watch can receive non-actionable smart notifications.
COROS APEX IN A NUTSHELL
The digital knob on the Coros Apex is clever, so is the offering of sapphire glass and titanium/ceramic bezel at prices in the range of $300. Battery life is amazing and pool swim tracking worked like a charm for me. Wrist HR recording, GNSS enabled workouts are all implemented effectively. The post treadmill workout calibration is thoughtful.
There are a lot of things to like about the Coros Apex and this company is bringing innovative updates to their devices on a regular basis. The muscle heat map and structured workouts are good examples. Then there is also the GNSS acquisition map, detailed battery meter.
On the flip side, the display contrast could be better. Also, I would have liked to see the white papers behind Coros’ physiological measurements, and perhaps a more intuitive, comprehensive, and customisable mobile app system.
At less than $300 USD, the Coros Apex makes a compelling case if you are on the lookout for a multi-sport GPS watch. So compelling I went ahead and bought one to see what else Coros will infuse into the watch in the future. And I’m glad I did because there has been numerous updates to date.
While the Apex can’t offer the comprehensive experience you can get from premium watches such as the freshly announced Garmin Fenix 6, it gets the training essentials done remarkably and at a bargain.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. If you reside in Singapore, You can get the Coros Apex, Pace, or even the Vertix from Red Dot running company. For international readers, you can purchase the Coros Apex from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site! Happy running 🙂