When the time came to upgrade my GPS running watch, there were certain key features I wanted to make sure the watch had. Specifically, I wanted a watch for road and trail running that was not big and bulky, could monitor my heart rate through the wrist without a separate (uncomfortable) chest monitor and had good battery life that would, if needed, last a few days for long ultramarathons or multi-day adventures.
The Coros APEX is a fully-featured GPS running watch for small wrists and therefore caters well to women in particular. Now that I have worn this watch for several months in training, racing and regular lifestyle use I can impart my knowledge and experience with the APEX. This review covers the key features of the Coros APEX GPS trail running and ultrarunning watch, and how it performs while running.
What differentiates the Coros APEX GPS Watch from other GPS running watches?
While the Coros APEX GPS watch offers features similar to other brands (namely Garmin and Suunto), including training software and the wrist heart-rate monitoring, the two stand-out features of the APEX for me are it’s size/weight (a mere 50.8g/1.8oz), and superior battery life. Oh, and did I mention the low price point?!
The Coros APEX is also featured on our ‘Best GPS Watches for Ultrarunning’ comparison, which compares it to the Garmin and Suunto competitors in this space, and in our ‘Coros GPS Watches Compared’ post, which compares the APEX to the PACE and VERTIX Coros running watches.
Size and weight of the Coros APEX
Firstly, it is great to see a GPS watch with so many features that is not huge, heavy and uncomfortable to wear on my small wrists. This was a huge draw, especially as I didn’t want to compromise on other features just to have a smaller watch. I have the 42mm size, the Coros APEX also comes in a 46mm option. The silicone strap that the watch comes with is also comfortable and soft to wear for hours on end
Battery life when running and for regular daily use
The battery life of the Coros APEX is a big differentiator for Coros.
The excellent battery life, combined with the comfortable size and weight of the watch itself, mean that I can wear my watch for regular daily use for several weeks without charging it (depending on how much I am also using it for running).
This is helpful as it tracks steps, calories and heart rate throughout my day. The APEX battery life for the 46mm and 42mm models is as follows:
APEX 42mm: 25 Hours Normal GPS Mode / 80 Hours UltraMax GPS Mode / 24 Days Regular Use.
APEX 46mm: 35 Hours Normal GPS Mode / 100 Hours UltraMax GPS Mode / 30 Days Regular Use.
Usage and interface
The Coros APEX is controlled by a dial and button on the side, and can be worn on either wrist by rotating the display 180 degrees via the settings options. I love that it is not a touch-screen watch and that you can control it with these two simple methods, as it means it will work in all conditions and not be affected by being wet or if I touch the wrong part of the screen.
The dial took a bit of getting used to, as the watch auto-locks after a brief period of not being touched (including during a run), and it needs to be scrolled through in one spin in order to unlock and use the functions. If you do a half-turn then the watch will not unlock. I initially found this a bit annoying and had to try several times to get it unlocked the first time but now I know what to do to unlock it the first time around then it’s not an issue. My only other minor issue with the interface is that some of the text is rather small and you have to hold still (maybe even stop running) to read the details. I noticed this mainly when I pass a lap and the text reading what lap you just completed (eg Km 5) is tiny – but then, can you have everything? If you want a small watch, it will understandably come with a small display! The 46mm version of this watch should be definition have a larger display if this is an issue for you.
The displays can be changed to suit your preference, with multiple screens in use at any time, which you can flick through by turning the dial.
Functionality – including elevation gain / loss, cadence and wrist-measured heart rate
The Coros APEX tracks everything a regular (yet fairly demanding) runner may want – of course, speed, time, pace – all the usuals, as well as elevation gain / loss, weather (via the built-in barometer) cadence, calories and heart rate. From this data the watch also calculates estimated fitness levels including VO2Max and lactate threshold, and the efficiency of your aerobic and anaerobic training activity.
I’ve found the wrist-based heart rate monitoring to be just as accurate as any chest-worn heart rate monitor, this is something I really wanted in a GPS watch, as I find the chest-mounted straps so uncomfortable. To ensure the HR monitor is as accurate as possible, I make sure the watch is not loose on my wrist so it doesn’t move around when I run.
The Coros software is regularly updated and pushed through via the phone app – there were so many updates to install when I first received the watch that it took an hour to get through them all!
Speaking of the app, the Coros app syncs from the watch significantly quicker than my old Suunto Ambit 3S, and I have not had any issues with connectivity. I have the app set up so that my runs are also automatically pushed through to Strava, but as the Coros app is so enjoyable to use, I use this more than Strava to look at my detailed performance indicators.
The straps and sapphire glass have stood up to the usual trail-running abuse and elements, as well as surviving occasional biting by our puppy, Kepler – the watch has come off unscathed from this abuse, with no scratches despite his best attempts – I have to say, I was surprised and impressed (his teeth are sharp!) – this resistance to scratching is also promising as it indicates the watch will be just fine even if I accidentally scratch it on rocks etc while out on the trails.
The Coros APEX is also waterproof to a depth of 100m so wear it in as many rain storms you like, it’s not going to get any water damage.
GPS navigation and barometer features
The Coros APEX has never taken more than 45 seconds to lock on to a GPS signal – this is a great plus as I don’t have to hang around for minutes before a run to have enough signal to get a lock on (As I generally wear this watch trail running and not in the city, I have not used it extensively around tall buildings, which can pose a challenge for any GPS device when it comes to picking up signal).
I am someone who generally likes to just grab their gear and head out the door, without pre-plotting courses to follow using GPS navigation features, so I haven’t used the navigation features a great deal. Unless you’re really into gadgets (which I am not) then I am not convinced that many people actually do use GPS watch navigation features on a regular basis, although it’s nice to have them as an option… navigation features are useful to have if you’re running a new route, to get an idea of how far along a route you are, and whether you’re on / going off-course. If navigation features are important, and you value more detailed maps and navigation, then the best type of GPS running watch we have come across is Garmin’s Fenix 5 Plus Series.
Price / cost of the Coros APEX
Ultimately, I am more likely to use an important piece of gear based on its features and suitability for the job, rather than going by price. Having said this, when a watch this good comes in at HALF the price of its closest competition, together with the aforementioned compact size and excellent battery life, the Coros APEX is excellent value for money.
The Coros APEX is a tough one to beat, and I don’t think you can go wrong with this watch for the majority of running and even multi-day hiking and fastpacking adventures. This is the reason why it has proven so popular with trail runners and worn by a multitude of elite and expert ultrarunners around the world.