COROS VERTIX Adventure GPS Watch: Hands-on with their new premium watch

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Today COROS announced their new VERTIX multisport GPS device, which adds in SpO2 measurement for high-altitude adventures, while also bringing with it a more premium feel that apparently demands an equally premium price – from $599 to $699 depending on exact model. The company has adopted quick release style bands as well as an even longer battery life than the APEX watch from earlier this year. The company claims they’ve got the longest GPS battery life on the market at 150 hours in UltraMax mode. Though, the new 60 hours in regular GPS mode is equally impressive and beyond anyone else.

The VERTIX matches other premium watches in using sapphire glass screen with a titanium DLC bezel, all while being waterproof to 150m deep – more than anyone else on the market. With that super quick overview, let’s get handsy on the watch. Note that this is a beta/prototype device, as the final units aren’t expected to start shipping till June.

Further note this is not a review. It’s simply a hands-on post. My reviews are typically done on final devices with final firmware. Those have longer test periods. As noted later in this post, I ran into some trouble with my first test unit that required a new unit be sent out. I’m not holding that aspect against them at all, just as I don’t for any company/device still in beta/prototype phases (that’s the point of those phases: To work out bugs/issues).

Hands-on with the VERTIX:

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While the vast majority of the VERTIX features and user interface is almost identical to that of the APEX I reviewed a couple months ago, there’s one big difference you’ll notice: The case.

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Yes, that beast of a drop it off the back of a semi-truck on a highway case is actually what it’ll ship in. Except, the final version is more of a grey color than the black prototype case seen above. But either way, they went full-on nuclear football for this unit.

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I’m all for stunning cases and unboxing overkill. But this is taking overkill to an entirely different level. Inside you’ll see the straps sitting off to the right, while the watch hangs out on the left. Below deck are the charging cables and paper bits. Personally, I wish there was also a bag of Peanut M&M’s in there. That’d change my mind entirely.

I mean – can you imagine how awesome it’d be to just be unboxing your new watch and find a bag of M&M’s inside? Seriously. I should patent that idea somehow.

In any case,  the device starts with the button layouts: Three buttons all along the right side, one of which is a digital crown. The idea with the digital crown is that you can use it in place of dedicated up/down buttons. Also, sorry three’s some dried salt on there. I had finished a run shortly before.

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While I get the concept, I’m not sure it really works in an adventurer/hardcore watch. Just like I didn’t really love it in APEX either. I found I often overshot on the menus, and had to double-back a bit. The other two buttons on either side of the digital crown are used in a variety of situations, including as a ‘back’ button.

Flipping the watch over you’ll find two new things. First is the new quick-release bands. These snap on/off in a virtually identical design to that of Garmin and their Fenix series watches (a theme you’ll find throughout the COROS lineup). Just like Garmin’s iteration, these works great:

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Next, you’ll notice the updated optical sensor package, which includes an SpO2 sensor, for measuring pulse oxygen levels. It’s a feature we’ve seen multiple companies introduce in the last year, starting with Garmin on the Fenix 5X Plus, and then Fitbit on their Charge 3. Since then Garmin’s added it to a myriad of wearables, both inexpensive and pricey alike.

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In addition there’s the charging port. This is only for charging, and not for USB download of workouts. Workout download occurs via Bluetooth Smart (no WiFi).

With the VERTIX you’ll access the SpO2 function by long-holding the lower right button, which brings up the rotary toolbox menu. It’s here that you can measure your SpO2, which is shown against your current altitude. Note that the altitude in the below photo was showing as –561ft. While I did have GPS lock shortly before it, it didn’t seem to update this value. Likely a beta/prototype bug.

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In addition, when you’re higher than 8,250ft (~2,500m), it’ll show a small gauge that gives you some clarity on whether your SpO2 reading is concerning or not. I haven’t had any reason to be above 8,250ft, so I haven’t seen the gauge. But I did go in an airplane last week, which the altimeter said was pressured to about 6,800ft, so I went ahead and measured it there.

The measuring process took substantially longer than Garmin’s SpO2 sensor, and also took three attempts to get it to take (on both flights). Whether it was correct or not, it’s hard to say (just like knowing whether Garmin’s value is correct or not). I’d say it was a wee bit low, but not totally unheard of. Garmin on the FR945 came in at 94% a few seconds later.

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The challenge here is that these values aren’t saved anywhere to the app, though it is saved on the wrist in widgets. Contrast this with Garmin’s SpO2 tracking where you can plot this over time (useful for longer periods at altitude), this is less useful beyond the immediate/last readings. That said, one area that COROS is doing which Garmin isn’t is alerting based on SpO2 values, if the altitude is above 2,500m. So if it’s doing background reading of your SpO2 values and detects a value above the below noted thresholds (a PDF guide they sent along), then it’ll give you an alert.

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Next, switching to start a workout, the watch has all the individual as well as triathlon modes you’d expect from a multisport watch: Running, Cycling, Swimming, Multisport (Triathlon) mode – the indoor/outdoor variants of most of those, as well as hiking and ‘mountain climbing’.  All of these sports are accessible using the digital crown button:

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After you select a sport it’ll go off and find GPS as well as ensure a lock on your heart rate via the optical HR sensor on the back. You’ll see status shown along the bottom, including battery life.

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If you’ve got ANT+ accessories like power meters or speed/cadence sensors (or external HR straps), you can pair them in the settings menu.

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Additionally, while you wait for GPS to acquire satellites you’ll find the three structured/focused training options.

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These allow you to create an interval workout with multiple steps using time or distance, as well as two Training Effect focused workouts for aerobic and anaerobic training:

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Once out in a workout, the data pages can be changed by scrolling the digital crown. And you can lap by pressing the lower right button, while the upper right button is start/pause/stop.

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After your workout is complete you can save it, and it’ll sync to the COROS app, which allows you to analyze the workout as well as sync it to platforms like Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Apple’s Health Kit.

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You can further connect to the device for configuration of settings like the watch face or even updating the firmware.

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In addition, on the smartphone app you can customize sport modes as well as data pages.  In fact, this is the singular area where they do something Garmin doesn’t: Smartphone configuration of data fields.

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You can choose from a number of metrics, even running power running efficiency metrics like leg stiffness, vertical vibration, and ground contact time.  Though at present those features aren’t available yet. Both the running efficiency metrics and running power are slated to arrive via future firmware update.  But hey, at least unlike Garmin you can pull it in as a legit running power data field. Thus, it’s three versus one on that front (as both Suunto and Polar also have that capability).

The app also allows you to create routes and add them to the watch. This functionality is identical to that found in the COROS APEX. Note that while the VERTIX will allow you to see a breadcrumb trail, there are no maps on the device itself.

Let’s warp up by chatting about accuracy (GPS & HR). I would normally do a deeper dive into accuracy, but things didn’t quite work out. Shortly after my first run with the unit (but before I contacted COROS), they e-mailed to say that some early prototype units may be having GPS related accuracy issues, which they believe was a hardware problem. In looking at my GPS tracks, it’s clear my unit was one of those with issues. In general, the tracks weren’t awesome. You can see this run below where I compare it to both a Garmin Forerunner 945 as well as a Polar Vantage V Titan (with the latest GPS updates).  It’s often in the trees or buildings when I’m not. Ironically, all of these units use the same GPS chipset, so you can see the impact of things like antenna design and other firmware aspects (here’s the file to dig in):

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This was most notable when it didn’t properly pick up GPS again for nearly 90 seconds after existing a tunnel.  The company has sent me a new unit, but it didn’t arrive in time for today’s post. I’ll be digging into that new unit prior to final release/availability, which is slated for early June.

From a HR accuracy standpoint, my understanding is that piece is working as expected. So let’s take a super quick look at that run anyway.  In this case it’s compared against an HRM-DUAL chest strap:

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As you can see, things aren’t bad at all. One brief moment when I did a short sprint that the COROS seemed to bobble, but then again, this was a pretty easy run from an optical HR standpoint being relatively stable. Once I get the final unit, I’ll definitely be diving more into accuracy aspects of both.

The Summary of All Summary’s:

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With the VERTIX, COROS is clearly aiming for Suunto and Garmin, though, that was honestly always the case. We’re seeing COROS add features far faster than Suunto or Polar though, which could prove challenging for either Finnish company if COROS can get traction in the marketplace. To that end, one has to credit COROS for throwing plenty of developers at the watch lineup to get them where they are from an on-device standpoint.

I guess the challenge I have here is how exactly one would want me to phrase my final thoughts on the unit. After all, I think you come here for the ‘tell it like it is’ honesty, something that’s harder to find in magazine or ambassador reviews.  So, I’ll give you two options for you to ponder what I think of the unit. Like a choose your own adventure story.

Option A: If you met me in a bar somewhere, I’d tell you (even without drinks) that the COROX VERTIX was essentially a Fenix 5 (non-Plus edition) knockoff, except, not a very good one. I’d tell you that while the exterior shell/fonts/etc match what they copied, the underlying features and platform aspects just don’t exist.  I’d also note that the adoption numbers I see from various training platforms show that COROS simply isn’t achieving even Kickstarter-type metrics.

Option B: On the flip side, if you wanted me to be overly positive, I’d tell you that the COROX VERTIX has stepped up in looks from the COROS APEX, and that they’ve incorporated new functions that the company could take advantage of down the road with better integration between the device and the smartphone. I’d point out that the quick release bands are a nice addition, while the SpO2 function could be handy if you’re at high altitudes often and for long periods of time. Additionally I’d note that the SpO2 alerts is a feature not found on any other GPS watches to my knowledge.

I guess my challenge is that while COROS jumped out of the gate very well with the COROS Pace about a year ago, we’re now on their third device in that timeframe. That unto itself wouldn’t be an issue if they had the backend platform (both mobile app and site). But they don’t. And more importantly, yet again like previous products – the price doesn’t match reality. At $599-$699, it’s just crazy talk. Seriously, it’s nuts. Go pickup a fancy Suunto Spartan series watch for a portion the price and enjoy more features and deeper platform connectivity. Or pickup a Garmin Fenix 5 for less, with even more features.

See, the whole point of “knockoff’ products is to pay less for them. That’s why they’re knock-offs. They’re not as good as the original, but we as society mostly don’t care and we pay happily pay a portion (or fraction) of the price. Be it sunglasses, apparel, or even action camera batteries. But somehow that pricing message got lost in translation. If this watch was $349, then I’d be like: Boom, tell me more!

But at $599? Nope. Pass.

That said, if for some reason you really do still want to pickup this unit – then you can do so using the linkage here via Clever Training – a partner which which helps support the site.  And heck, you can even save 10% too with the DCR Coupon Code DCR10BTF.