The Best Beginner’s GPS Sports Watch: COROS PACE 3 Review
Before the relatively new sports brand COROS caught my attention, I’ve had Garmin and Polar watches for years. Those were just fine, although a bit on the expensive side. And when I got into long distance triathlons, the batteries were just barely making it through.
Then, COROS came along. With a new twist: ultra long battery life. Intriguing!
COROS’ history is short and interesting. Founded in 2016, its first product was a smart cycling helmet which was crowdfunded through Kickstarter. The campaign was a huge success. Two years after the helmet, in 2018, it put out its first GPS watch, the PACE. I jumped on the train in 2019 with the larger model, the APEX Premium, and was convinced this was the new watch brand for my running hobby. It was a perfect fit.
The company’s big breakthrough came with the follow-up to their first GPS watch, the PACE 2, in 2020. It was focused on track athletes, had a light weight and minimalist design, and they were able to sell it for just 199 US dollars. In a market where runners were accustomed to throwing out 500+ dollars for a GPS watch, a cheap and pretty watch which did 90% of what the expensive ones did, became an instant hit. I’ve had the PACE 2 for about two and a half years and loved it.
And Now, They’ve Updated It
At the beginning of September, 2023, the PACE 3 was announced and could be ordered slightly after. For me, this was an instant buy. They’ve increased the price slightly to 229 US dollars (249 Euros), but with its feature set it’s still unbeatable in that price range.
So, what’s new?
- Dual-Frequency GPS, 5 different satellite systems
- Improved wrist heart rate with 5 LEDs and 4 photodetectors
- 38 hours of GPS (up from 30h)
- Wi-Fi, Pulse Oximeter, Music
Also, you’ll notice there’s an improved UI, but it’s mostly optical. Animations are quicker, so I assume there’s a more powerful CPU in this watch. It’s still a lot easier to navigate than the Garmin watches I’ve used recently.
The hardware design has changed, as well. It’s even more minimalist on the outside, looking sleek and unobtrusive. In stark contrast to most other sports watches, this is one I think you can wear daily without looking like an outdoor nerd, if that’s the kind of impression you want to avoid giving.
The weight of the watch has increased from 29 to 30 grams, which still is ridiculously low. I’m sometimes wondering if I’ve even got a watch on my wrist, and I really like the feeling of not having a huge chunk of plastic or metal swinging with my arm.
Here’s What I Think of the New Features
Most of those advertised new features are great improvements on paper, but honestly they are improving something which already had been great. For example, I’ve never really had any big GPS issues, as far as I can remember. So while a more accurate GPS is certainly great, I don’t think I would have noticed the improvement without knowing about it. An added Wi-Fi chip is cool, but since I run with my phone anyways, the Bluetooth connection is all I need. Same thing with listening to music – I don’t need or want to store music on my GPS watch. Some might, I don’t.
I was interested in the improved heart rate sensor. We’ve got 5 LEDs instead of 2, and 4 light receivers instead of 1. So it must be more accurate, right? On the other hand, I’ve tested watches with that setup and wasn’t convinced of their accuracy.
Can the PACE 3 finally replace a heart rate strap? The answer is, unfortunately not. But I think most other watches are also still not able to do so.
The touchscreen is something I was interested in playing around with, and it was fun at first. But I personally feel that using the wheel (or crown) to scroll feels better. The touchscreen was working fine, even when wet, but I often accidentally scrolled when touching or wiping sweat or rain off the watch. That annoyed me so much I deactivated the touchscreen.
So much for the new features. But why then should you buy a PACE 3?
There Are 3 Main Reasons to Buy a PACE 3
- Huge battery life. Never worry about recharging. With 15% left, you can still do an easy marathon.
- Simple, minimalist, and beautiful design. You wear it on your wrist all the time, after all.
- Low price. It’s far below what the other companies charge for watches which aren’t as great.
This makes it the best beginner’s watch. It has all the features you need as a runner. I’ve taken the predecessor swimming, biking, on triathlons, I’ve run in big cities with GPS obstructing skyscrapers, I’ve done ultramarathons in forests, multiple marathons on consecutive days, night races, everything. It has never failed me. Which is why the PACE 3 will do at least as well as the PACE 2 – with its bigger battery and more accurate GPS.
Also worth mentioning, COROS has a great track record of maintaining their software. You buy a watch once and get firmware updates which regularly add interesting new features or otherwise make the watch noticeably better. This is something other brands don’t do nearly as well.
What does it leave to be desired?
In a perfect world, the PACE 3 would have full map navigation.
That’s the one big feature I’d love having on the small and lightweight PACE 3. It’s also impossible to do, at least right now. Navigation requires a big CPU, even more battery power, and ideally 32 GB of storage for the maps which again requires more CPU and battery power. That’s why currently only the mid-range watches can do it well enough, while the upper end watches pull it off nicely. But for getting those watches you’d have to part ways with about 500 or 800 US dollars, respectively. And, they weigh three times as much and look big and chunky.
Why the Competition is No Real Competition
There are a few watches made by other brands which come close to the PACE 3 in terms of price point and feature set, but none of them are clearly superior. Here are a few candidates.
Garmin Forerunner 55
- Looks and feels cheap
- Old GPS chipset
- 10g heavier
- Less battery life
- PRO: just 199 USD
- No touchscreen, no altimeter
- 10g heavier
- Less battery life
- Weak firmware update history
- PRO: looks quite nice
Apple Watch SE
- More like a lifestyle watch, not well suited for runners
- More expensive at 249 USD
- Really weak battery life for runners
- PRO: has lots of other features, nearly as light
COROS PACE 2
- Slower CPU, possibly not getting as many updates long term
- PRO: slightly cheaper
The new COROS PACE 3 is the best watch for everyone who is a runner or wants to get into running and doesn’t need track navigation. If you already own a PACE 2, it’s safe to keep it for a while before upgrading to make the most use of the extended update and support period.