When Kevin at Ascent Runs provided the opportunity to try Epson’s SF-810 GPS watch, I was hesitant. How many GPS watches do I need? I have a couple Garmins and a Microsoft Band 2 (a recent purchase), did I want to go through the paces of learning a new device? After a little thought, however, I realized I had not yet found the perfect (for me) running watch, so why not give it a go…
I picked one up at the Love Can Be Cold 8M trail race (Disclosure: Epson provided the watch for this review; but I have no reason to provide anything but an honest personal review). After getting home and uploading my race stats from my Band, I unpacked the new SF-810. The packaging is simple and it comes with a small bit of paper that folds out into a helpful poster-sized instruction sheet – there’s also the usual web-page address providing the same and more.
The first thing I noticed was how light and subtle the watch felt. With a few exceptions, all GPS watches are getting smaller, looking less like wrist-computers and more like, well, watches. The SF-810 presents information on a nice screen surrounded by four simply labeled buttons. Similar to all GPS watches, the SF-810 can be a bit fiddly to set up, but it is relatively simple once the pattern of button pushes and scrolling menus becomes familiar. It becomes even simpler if you download the RUNSENSE app (why all caps?) to your Android or iOS device and establish a Bluetooth connection. At that point your phone becomes an easy interface useful for setting up screen preferences and personal info. I learned of the app after getting my watch set up using the button and scroll puzzle on the watch, and felt silly for not realizing the simplicity of the app beforehand. But once you get the watch’s four screen preferences set to your liking, there is not much else to adjust. I dropped back into the phone app to set for Daylight Savings, but other than that I have not used it much.
Each of the four screens is divided into three user-defined sections: one large central display and two smaller displays above and below. A simple heart-rate zone graph occupies the top of all screens and the bottom shows satellite lock, battery level, and heart-rate connection. I set the first screen to the three things I’m most interested in on a daily basis – distance, pace, and split time. In Espon jargon, “split” seems to be distance, which is fine because I am rarely interested in “laps” or segments within runs (That is until Strava tells me Ryan stole my CR on my front-door trail segment yet again!) Some of the jargon might be more familiar to track and field athletes, and this confused me, your basic trail runner, during initial set up.
A simple button push (lower left) changes to the next screen; here I have total ascent, altitude, and time of day. I’d be happy if those were the only two screens, maybe happier given I don’t really need more data than that. But you got it if you want it, so the user-options continue. I might simply set the third and fourth screens to repeat the first two, so I can just scroll through them (just thought of that), but if you want a live bar-graph of your pace per mile or more heart-rate detail, it’s available. Screen scrolling is easy with the push of a button or a screen-tap (user selectable) so no big deal having four screens; data hounds will love it.
So let’s go run. The watch fits great; the band is flexible, light-weight and simply works. A quick push of the Start/Stop button (upper right) and you don’t have to wait long for satellite lock. It’s impressive – easily the quickest of any device I’ve used. Sure, if you jump a good distance between your usual trail runs and some exotic trailhead, it’ll take a couple more minutes to find you, but on a daily basis it’s just a button-push, a quick wrist-vibration and beep, and you are ready to go. Hit the Start/Stop button again and you’re off. (I used to wonder why everyone at a race-start was holding their wrists; some strange ritual of the religiously running?)
It took me a few looks to get accustomed to the three-decimal places in the distance readout. The combination of an accelerometer, calculating and incorporating your stride-length, with the GPS increases the distance or split accuracy, and I agree that the device’s accuracy is very good, but precision to 1/1000 of a mile or kilometer is silly. Sub-meter-accurate GPS units are complex, expensive devices (I use them daily) and they often require post-processing with base-station comparison. This isn’t a complaint against the watch at all; to me, however, it’s simply irrelevant precision and just made me chuckle – after 9.999 miles (chuckle) the display adjusts to two decimal places. I’m used to the display now and it’s fine, but I really hope no one cares about 1/1000 of anything while on a trail run.
The central display of each screen is easy to read, even for a reading-glasses old guy. I’ve got laser-enhanced distance-vision and can see a pinecone on an oak tree several miles away (who put that there?), but without readers I can’t see my phone at arm’s length. On trail runs in new places I carry my readers, but I rarely have them on my daily trails. But, I’m usually only a Start/Stop user on a daily basis so it isn’t a big deal. I have the watch set to vibrate at each mile interval, so I get feedback when I have a certain goal besides just getting back to the trailhead. On a long outback run, I’ll carry my readers to read my maps and I’m not typically in a big hurry so pulling them out of my pack’s chest pocket is easy-enough if, say, I want to disappoint myself with the day’s elevation gain – “you gotta be kidding me, only 1,200 vertical?!” Anyway, the contrast is good, and almost everyone should find the Espon to have good readability.
As you finish your run, it’s a simple push of the Start/Stop and the measurement pauses. A second push will get you going again, or, more likely, you’ll push and hold to store the data. You can upload the data to the mobile app or connect the phone to the USB connection module (provided with the watch). At first glance, the module seems rather clunky for such an elegant watch. However, attaching the watch and making a good, working connection is super easy. Using Windows 10, the USB connection is immediate and a simple upload dialogue box gets your data into the RUNSENSE cloud-based application (of course, the mobile app via Bluetooth gets you uploaded to the same spot). Your watch gets recharged and updates can be downloaded while docked. I’ve occasionally struggled with various Garmin connectors and Bluetooth glitches; the Epson USB simply works.
The RUNSENSE View website provides an easy place to log and store your daily workouts. All the usual possibilities for tracking your progress and presenting data are here. I find it to be a little busy and overloaded with colorful, cartoonish icons, but there is wide variety in the ways to present data – by activity, by time period, by PRs, etc. It is undoubtedly difficult to provide a new and improved daily log and tracking app, adding to plethora of possibilities across innumerable run/health apps for devices and as web sites. If this is your first app, you’ll probably dig into it and really like it. The data and map (all-important to me) presentations are good and customization seems endless. Like I said, if you start here, you might just stay here and be very happy.
Given personal preferences, however, it’s great that RUNSENSE, like most other cloud-based logs, allows you to connect to several other applications. Your favorite is probably here. I’m a long-time, habitual Strava-user and prefer its data presentations and social community, so I connected the two apps and all my activities are seamlessly shared. (Oddly, Strava still seems to support only one-way auto-connections; but RUNSENSE allows you to upload GPX files measured on other devices). Social connections for showing-off and/or getting that all-important motivation – if it’s not uploaded, it didn’t happen – are available with shares to Twitter and Facebook.
Finally, all-important and happiness-limiting battery-life seems very good (note to self: don’t let this bother you so much, just enjoy the run). I haven’t found a GPS watch that’ll get me through a 100-mile day-night-day event and this is no exception. But that’s my problem, not the watch’s! Epson touts a 20-hour run-time with standard GPS and heart-rate settings. I haven’t gone that distance with it yet. More importantly, it holds a charge for days without use, pausing in sleep-mode when idle, and has always been ready to run during the week, even when I haven’t docked it for a while. It’s very functional and looks great as a day-to-day watch and in all likelihood would be ready-to-go without daily charging – something I can’t say about the Microsoft Band, a device that has great “smart/fitness watch” potential if MS could increase the battery life. However, the Epson SF-810 is now my go-to running watch and will likely be for a long time and many miles to come.
This is a four-star (out of five) device. Initial set-up is a little fiddly but a connected device really simplifies things, and once you have it as you like it across the four, reader-friendly screens, it’s flawless. Keeping the optical heartrate monitor clean is important, but not having a strap is a good reason to go with the SF-810 (other Espon models rely on the strap). The RUNSENSE website (three stars) is super-detailed, but overdone with colorful icons and crowded presentation. I expect if you like that kind of thing, it could be very helpful, and you’ll probably dig into it and get a lot out of it. The USB connection works every time.
I was pleasantly surprised, thinking of Epson as my printer/scanner company. No toner cartridges to replace here, just a very good watch (indeed, it’s a Seiko). Get one and hit the trail.