The Nike+ Sportswatch GPS is a device billed as a personal running coach that you can wear on your wrist. The GPS-enabled watch is designed to help runners track their training, running performance and fitness. It comes in black, white, black-and-blue and black-and-red (plus other color combinations) and costs between $190 and $215, depending on which color watch you purchase. In comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 220 watch retails for $230, and the TomTom Multi-Sport costs about $150. I tested the Nike+ Sportswatch GPS for several weeks to find out how well it kept up with my training.
Overall Rating: 5/10
The Nike+ Sportswatch GPS is one of the more affordable GPS watches on the market, and the watch has enough features to satisfy most runners. One of the biggest draws of the Sportswatch GPS is being able to tap into the robust Nike+ online community. Nike's experience with running apps and online software meant that I had very few problems uploading data from the watch.
However, I occasionally encountered problems acquiring a satellite signal, and the watch doesn't track as much data as some other GPS running watches (like the Garmin Forerunner 620 or the Polar M400).
I liked the design of the Nike+ Sportswatch GPS, and I think it is one of the most stylish GPS watches currently on the market (which is saying a lot, considering most running gadgets are designed to be sporty and practical, rather than fashionable accessories). The width of the watch face is thinner than most others — particularly the watches with round faces, such as the Garmin Forerunner 220 — but the watch itself is still pretty bulky. In fact, I found the watch would occasionally get stuck when I was putting on or taking off a shirt with long sleeves.
Yet, despite the watch's size, it was very comfortable to wear. I did have to use the strap's last setting in order for it to feel snug, so people with very small wrists may find the Sportswatch GPS too big. [Video: How to Get the Most from Wearable Devices]
Although the device is not designed to track swimming, it is waterproof, so if you're logging miles on rainy days, you don't have to worry about damaging the watch if it gets wet.
The Sportswatch GPS is easy to use, and with only three buttons on the left side of the watch face, I appreciated that Nike kept things simple with this device. When you're not using your watch to track a run, the watch displays the date, time (in huge numbers) and the amount of battery charge left, so you can wear it as an everyday watch.
The screen of the watch is very clear, and I had no trouble reading my stats, even with glare from the sun. When it's dark out, tapping right on the watch face itself activates the backlight. During runs, you can also tap the watch face to create a split, or indicate a new lap. I loved this feature, because it minimized the number of times I needed to look down at my watch while running, so I rarely had to interrupt my training or even break my pace.
Occasionally at the start of runs, the watch had trouble finding a satellite signal, or was slow to acquire a satellite lock. I found this really surprising, because the watch's GPS is powered by TomTom, one of the most well-known brands in GPS technology. Interestingly, the TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch was very quick to locate a satellite signal, so I'm unsure why there would be a difference.
If you purchase the bundle with Nike's accompanying shoe sensor, you can link the shoe pod to your watch, as well as the Nike+ Connect software online and the Nike+ running app on your smartphone. This sensor acts as a backup in case you lose the GPS signal during a run (say, if you run through a tunnel, or find yourself in an area where the satellite signal is weak). Also, if the watch has trouble acquiring a satellite signal at the beginning of a run, as happened with me a few times, you can also choose the "Quickstart" mode on the watch's menu to bypass the satellites and connect to the shoe sensor instead. This quickstart mode will also work for indoor runs.
Value of Information: 4/10
During runs, the Nike+ Sportswatch GPS displays the standard measures — pace and distance — but at the end of your workout, the screen will also show your time and how many calories you burned. If you're interested in tracking your heart rate, you can also connect the device to a Polar Wearlink+ heart rate monitor, which is sold separately.
For an even more detailed breakdown of your training, you can upload the data from runs to your computer or smartphone. The Nike+ Connect software and Nike+ running apps have been around long before Nike released its Sportswatch GPS in 2011, which means this company has a lot of experience with fine-tuning running apps and building a solid online community. As such, I encountered very few problems uploading my runs online and to my smartphone (something I've rarely been able to say about fitness gadgets).
Part of the watch's buckle is a USB plug, so it was extremely easy for me to connect the device to my computer. An extender cord is also included with the watch, but I found I rarely needed to use it.
Once my information was transferred online, I was able to see an animated map of my running route, splits for each mile and changes in elevation. The Nike+ Connect software also let me craft specific training plans, and set up laps or intervals for future workouts. The watch also stored up to 50 of my most recent runs, which was a helpful way to see my history and assess my progress. (For comparison, the Timex Ironman Run Trainer 2.0 watch can store only 15 runs before it runs out of room.)
One of the things I really liked was being able to tap into the Nike+ community. The Nike brand has such a loyal following that it was fun being able to connect with other runners and running groups in my area. Once you have your account set up online, you can also access training programs, set up personal goals or challenge others in the Nike+ community.
But I wish the device had a built-in motor so it could vibrate to give you alerts mid-run. Other GPS watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 220, can send vibrating alerts for interval training, and I always find that to be a helpful training tool. This watch is also missing the built-in heart rate sensor you'll find on some newer GPS watches, like the TomTom Runner Cardio or the Fitbit Surge.
To make training fun, and to inspire you to keep moving, Nike rewards you with virtual badges and trophies for your efforts, such as the "Gold High Mile Trophy" for running more than 50 miles in a month. In addition, each mile logged helps you progress through Nike's color-coded levels.
The Sportswatch GPS also keeps tabs on your personal bests, so if you beat one of your records, a nice congratulatory message, such as "Way to go," will pop up on the screen. After passing certain milestones, you can receive messages from a celebrity athlete after you sync the workout to your computer or phone.
If you need an extra push to workout, this watch is a great motivator because it has built-in run reminders. If the watch has not logged a run in five days, a message will pop up to encourage (or shame) you to lace up your sneakers. I'll be honest, this perceived back talk from the watch got me pumped up enough to log some miles during weeks when the device had likely been idle too long.
Editor’s Note: In February 2015, we changed the rating system we use in our health tech reviews from a 5-star system to a 10-point system. Not all of our ratings were a straight conversion (i.e. 2/5 stars = 4/10 points). Instead, we adjusted some of them in order to give our readers a better idea of how these devices perform in relation to each other.
More Reviews: See all our GPS watch reviews to find the best one for your needs.
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Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.