Gear Review – Soleus 2.0 GPS Running Watch

Posted: 21/03/2012 in Review

After almost five months of being very well looked after by my iPhone and Runmeter, I have got to the point where I’d like to be able to see my pace as I run, and not need to take my phone if I don’t want to. Having decided that a GPS watch was required, I had a bit of a features list the I was looking for:

  • Must have GPS – footpod just doesn’t work for me, and as I like trail running and intend to do a lot more, I’d heard that footpods just don’t cut it as your stride varies much more than on a road.
  • Must sync to my computer in some way – I’m a stat-geek, and I like to blog and share what I’ve been up to – some way in which to do this is essential.
  • I like to know how much climb I’ve done, especially on the trails, and while I recognise that my iPhone is decidedly random in its altitude measurement, it’s still something I’m keen on.
  • Must be idiot-proof because, well, I’m an idiot and if it isn’t simple I’ll get confused, annoyed and tetchy.
  • Cheap, must be cheap – not necessarily knock-down cheap, but I can’t afford a £400 watch, no matter how much I might like the look of it.
  • Heart rate monitor – am I fussed? I thought I was, but I think it’s a nice-to-have, and to be honest I don’t know what I would do with it, other than generate extra numbers to play with.

With those thoughts in mind, I set forth through the internet, Runner’s World forum and various magazines. I came up with a couple of options, with the fall-back of being happy to be persuaded by something entirely different if it ticked the boxes. My two thoughts were the Garmin 110, which seems to be the world’s choice, and the Soleus 2.0 which is a new device, and about which I could find not one single review. There’s a Soleus 1.0 that does pretty much the same but without the option to upload to a PC, and that has a few decent reviews, so I was happy to take a look.

On the Garmin, there were reviews and opinions aplenty, including a whole slew talking about misted up screens, tricky connectors and customer service problems – I don’t normally pay too much attention to that sort of thing, figuring there are plenty picky people out there and I’m a fairly easy going chap, but the number of those reports was worrying me a bit.

With this valuable information in hand, I headed to Northern Runner in Newcastle, knowing that they stock both the Garmin and Soleus watches, with my bank card in hand and a glint in my eye.

Talking to the chap in the shop, it became clear that I’d pretty much nailed the options in that price range – there were Suunto watches and Timex watches, but not one with a GPS, which pretty much ruled them out for me (I also like looking at the maps from runs on Google Maps, it feels like more of an achievement). I checked my list against the watches, the Soleus doesn’t show altitude (though more on that later), and the 2.0 doesn’t have a heart rate monitor (the 3.0 does), but will download to my PC (which the ultra-reasonably-priced 1.0 doesn’t) so ticks 99% of my boxes. The Garmin comes with a Heart Rate Monitor, may or may not show altitude – the chap in the shop reckoned not. When I asked about the misted screen phenomenon, I was told that they had some customers who had reported that problem. In my mind, electronics and moisture do not mix, so it reinforced the choice I’d already made and I handed over my pennies for the Soleus 2.0.

(Picture from the Soleus website)

What do you get?

In the package there’s a watch, nice and compact you could wear it as a wristwatch without anyone noticing. It’s black, and mine has orange detailing – there’s a silver/gray detailing version available too. The strap works well, it’s comfortable to wear and the addition of a little nub to lock the strap in place is clever. There are six buttons on the watch, three to either side, and they’re easy to operate. That they’re placed up the side of the watch, towards the face rather than towards the back reduces the chances of you actually pressing them while moving around. The different Soleus watches have a motto printed on the back – the 2.0 says “Leave the passed behind” – it made me smile, which is never a bad thing with electronics.

You get the connector doo-hickey, which is a black bulldog clip with a USB cable on the end – the clip has four pins and a locating bar, which you have to line up with the four connectors on the back of the watch – it was a bit fiddly at first, but after two or three goes I got the knack, and I can’t see it causing any future problem.

There’s an instruction manual. For the multi-lingual, there’s loads of information – it just happens to be the same relatively light instructions in many different languages. It tells you how to charge the battery, how to set up the watch (very briefly, with no detail of what the sub-menus do or how they work), how to acquire a GPS signal, how to start/stop/save a run, how to customise your information, how to view your run data, how to download to a PC (not clear if it works with a Mac) and a cautionary note about water resistant not being the same as waterproof. If there’s one thing that lets the package down a little, then it’s the instructions; for me at any rate as I like to know what all the gubbins do before I do them. Saying which, I’ve since fired off a few e-mails to Soleus about various features and they have always responded stunningly quickly – longest response was still on the same day – that’s pretty fantastic return speed and they answered the query everytime in a helpful manner, so I’m much more comfortable knowing I can ask a question and get an answer, even though I’d prefer it right in front of me from the start, or clearly available on their site. If the instruction leaflet is a minus point, then their customer services are a double-plus. [EDIT 22/03/12 – there’s a 2.0 quick start guide on the web site that gives you instructions on the different functions]

Soleus’s website lists the main features as:

• GPS: high-sensitivity receiver
• Distance: current & total in Miles or Km
• Pace/Speed: current & average
• Interval Timers: set up to 5 individual timers
• Data Upload & Storage: USB pc upload and 100 lap memory
• Calories Burned: current & total Kcal burned
• Chrono: 1/100 second resolution
• Data Storage: 100-lap memory
• Water-Resistant: 3 ATM
• World Time: 106 cities covering all time zones
• Rechargeable Battery: USB rechargeable lithium-ion
• Weight= 2 ounces

Then what?

I was planning on a longer run this morning, and having my shiny new toy (and good weather), I decided to try out seven miles, using the watch for pace, time and distance. I also carried my iPhone with Runmeter chugging along in a pouch so I could compare the two afterwards.

GPS acquisition – it took maybe three minutes to acquire a signal. Not too bad; I may be a bit more bothered about it if we were back in the depths of winter. I read a suggestion elsewhere that you could always leave the watch on a windowsill before you go out and it will be ready to rock and roll. That sounds like a good plan. For reference, I live by the coast, so I start my run with in excess of 180 degrees of uninterupted horizon, and only low buildings around the rest of the circle. It’s shorter than my trekking Garmin etrex takes, so I’m not going to grizzle about it, and as it was I had the opportunity to look expectantly out to sea for a brief moment.

So, GPS acquired, start run. I think there is some smoothing of pace going on – and that’s a good thing. When it first started (and was not benefitting from the smoothing) there was randomness a-go-go, with the pace leaping about like a drunken lord. However, after a handful of seconds it settled down into a nice 9:40 pace and pretty much hovered there for the first mile. I don’t know if this happens on other watches or not (the starting randomness bit), but when I reviewed the GPS tracking on the map afterwards, it was all good, so no worries.

Seven miles later, and I’m back to where I started – the watch has measured my distance, given useful pace times and how long I’ve been running. You can customise the displays to show pace, speed, calories, clock, timer and distance. The fields are changed by using the View/Enter button, press to change the bottom field, press and hold to change the middle field. The top field shows the timer, and I don’t belive it can be changed. There’s a nightlight for night running, which is a pleasant indigo – I haven’t had to use it yet, but I suspect it will do well – it also has an auto light feature which I would guess is linked to the clock, so it will light up if you pass a mile (or km) at night. You can alter the contrast if you need a bit more easily visible display, I found the factory setting to be just fine.

To compare with Runmeter, eh? Well, I’m happy to report there was 0.03m miles in it over 7 miles, that’s a 0.04% difference, or essentially naff all. I should try a measured distance some time, but as a comparison my iPhone has pretty much nailed distances I’ve pre-measured on the map, so I figure the watch is also as spot-on as I could need.

Getting home, I downloaded the Soleus software from the website to download the data – it’s important to start the software, THEN connect the watch, otherwise the connection doesn’t work – simple thing to remember. I also found it easier to connect the cable to the watch, then plug it into a USB port. Once you’ve done that, a little window appears asking if you want to download data, and once you’ve done that, it asks if you want to delete the data from the watch. All good, but what about the software?

Well, it’s OK – it doesn’t make you coffee while it works, but it does the job – and I get the impression that it’s something that will have added functionality in time, remember, this is a new watch, so it’s early days. You have a few screens to choose from – the raw data (with an overview and the each-second data), lap times (the watch can auto lap at 0.4, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 miles – or km if you’re using km) or you can press the Start/Lap button to manually start a new lap,  and weekly and monthly roundups. There’s also a Google Map tab, that displays the map of a chosen run, very handy for me, and a print map tab. There are backup and restore tabs, a download tab and finally (and most excitingly) a MapMyRun tab. Using this MMR tab generates a TCX file of your run data that can be uploaded to MMR without all the messing about manually entering stuff.

For a stat-geek like me, the MMR link is heaven – I like to have everything in one place, be able to analyse it a shout about it, and generally log the life out of my activities. Remember I said I wanted altitude data? Well, MapMyRun provides this – I think from it’s own internal basemap, but what the heck, I get an accurate height map of my run, total ascent and a swanky grading system that tells me how many ascents of what grade I’ve done on my run. More than perfect. So, if you’re a trail runner, hill runner, fell runner, or you just live somewhere hilly, you can get that information from using a Soleus 2.0, via MapMyRun. Checking on a back-and-return run, it pretty much gives a mirror image, which is what I’d expect, and better than my iPhone used to give, with sudden leaps in height in peculiar place. I’m planning to take it out on more a significantly hilly run soon, and I’ll update with how it copes with that (and trees, just for good measure). The other good thing about MapMyRun is that you can generate a Google Earth 3D fly-by of your route. That’s got to be worth having, I reckon – I certainly enjoyed it.

Overall summary

The Soleus 2.0 is a cracking watch at a cracking price – I’m very glad I chose it. If you don’t care about uploading, get the 1.0. If you really want a heart-rate montor, get the 3.0. They seem to be based on the same chassis, with different extra bits enabled and the required peripherals (two-way data cable, HRM for the 3.0) included.

Positives:

  • Lightweight and low-profile. Looks neat on the wrist.
  • Accurate measurement.
  • Links to MapMyRun means altitude data can be seen.
  • Customer service is brilliant.
  • Great price.

Negatives:

  • The manual gives you the bare essentials to get going, it doesn’t give you the depth of all the features – maybe an in-depth article on the website would do the job?
  • The software is in its early days, but it does do the job, and I’m sure it’ll be a process of continuous improvement – the week/month summary doesn’t give the right figure at the moment, but Soleus tell me they’re aware of the issue and are working to resolve it. [EDIT – 26/03/12 : There’s a new version (v.1.0.4) that Soleus tells me solves the week/month issue. However, before you install it (if you’ve got an earlier version) BACKUP YOUR DATA – there’s nothing to tell you to do this, but installing the new version will wipe all your runs – I only lost a week or so’s worth, but I wouldn’t have liked to do this after a month or two… I’m hoping (‘cos I suggested it) that they put a message by the download to warn people to backup first, apparently my data would have been fine if I’d done that. Will update on whether the new version works once I’ve done another run… EDIT – 30/03/12 : New software v.1.0.4 seems to work just fine with the weekly and monthly data]

UPDATE: March 2013

Ok, I’ve had my Soleus for a little while now, and generally I’m quite pleased with it. It locks on relatively quickly, though sometimes has a bit of a fit and takes a few minutes. Best to stand still while it’s getting it’s bearings, and the more open the view of the sky, the better (as with any GPS).

I have been using it a bit less recently – I traded up to a Mac, and there’s no software to download on a Mac. If I want to upload my watch, I have to ferret out a netbook hiding somewhere in the house, charge it up, link to that, download the data, turn it into .TCX files and then upload to MapMyRun.  Just reading it you’ll get why I don’t do it that often.

On the plus side, the watch will charge up from the Mac’s USB port, which is helpful.

Soleus posted on Twitter that they were partnering with Strava and that it would be possible to upload from their watches directly to the site, therefore the Mac/PC issue would disappear. That was in February, and they reckoned it would be done by the end of the month. At 14th March, still no sign. I’m being charitable and assuming they meant end of March, but it’s coinciding with me thinking about getting into some heart rate training. That means either a Soleus 3.0 or another watch – could even go for a Garmin 110 and get that functionality. A question on Twitter asking if there was an update has been met with silence, so it looks like the 110 is winning at the moment.

Just to reiterate – I still like the 2.0 very much, I just find the faffing around to get it to work due to the lack of Mac compatability puts me off. Just had a look and found there are 11 runs on there, going back to January that I haven’t bothered to upload.

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Comments
  1. thebriars says:

    It may just be urban myth but I did hear that consumer GPS receivers such as we get in watches etc have a small but important error margin built in so that they can’t be repurposed for use by terrorists and bomb-makers. Would welcome your views on this or those of your terrorist readers if there are any. Nice route by the way!

    • I think that’s right – it used to be a much bigger error, that was to stop you from pinpointing locations via GPS – the US Military were responsible for it, I believe. About ten or so years ago, they relented and allowed the accuracy to be much better, so it’s only off by a few metres at most now, I reckon – it used to be something laughable. If you could lay your hands on a military GPS unit, my understanding is they somehow filter out the noise in the signal and give a way-accurate location (or so I believe I’ve read).

      I do hope you’re not planning anything nefarious though, such as challenging the distance on your local Parkrun… 🙂

  2. Lucy Thorpe says:

    My Soleus has just broken 1 day out of the year long guarantee. The mode button has ceased to function. I am very unhappy indeed.

  3. s says:

    i have the soleus one, and am generally unhappy with it, it is cheaper than Garmin watches but the quality if obviously less. the recent run it tagged on an extra kilometer, it can find satellite at all to begin unless i stand still, and is generally unrealible. Some races it has let me down completely.

    nice post

    • Thanks – I’m now more frustrated that after a year of Soleus saying they were working on a Mac version of the software, then that they were partnering with Strava at the end of Feb, I still have no way to use it with my Mac. Switched back to using my iPhone to be honest. Going to run my first ultra in a week – Soleus is likely to stay at home.

  4. Keisha says:

    I just got the Fit 1.0 and I love it. I did notice that their website now has a sofware download for mac. Not sure if it is of use to you because it is only for newer versions but just thought I’d share.

  5. Walt Wehner says:

    I’ve gone through 2 in 6 months – the buttons just stop working for no reason and the whole GPS becomes useless. Total joke.

    • Sounds like you’ve had some bad luck with duff units – mine still works fine. I did notice the Strava upload facility is there now, but I’ve been unable to get the Mac driver to work with the Soleus software to download the .GPX data in the first place. As I’ve moved on to a Garmin 310 now, I’ve stopped trying to get it to work.

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