At first glance, it may seem disingenuous of me to promote a new GPS device on the market – after all, I’m on record as feeling generally ambivalent about the necessity of GPS gadgetry for distance runners.
However, when I was contacted by a company called AIM to test their MyTach GPS Sports Training Watch, I jumped at the opportunity for a couple of reasons:
1) They’re an Italian company, which makes them paisan to me. And I was taught to never deny a request from the motherland – it’s right up there with “never take sides against the family” in the Italian rulebook.
2) I’ve always been curious as to whether my running would be impacted by using a GPS – and this was a great opportunity to try it.
Oh, one more thing …
3) I love doing product reviews. I’ve mentioned that before, haven’t I?
I received the gadget in the mail just before Christmas, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to use it. For this review, I also enlisted the help of some partners, as I’ll explain shortly.
AIM is headquartered in Milan, Italy – and based on a review of their website, they are primarily known for motorsport (dragsters, motorbikes, Formula 1, etc) applications instead of endurance sports. In fact, some of the data measurements seem more applicable to engine performance than ultrarunning – but that could just be a case of me wanting to keep things simple.
When the MyTach package arrived, my goal was to see if I could charge it up and figure out how to use it without wading through a complicated manual – that’s my little test of any gadget’s user-friendliness. I’d say I figured out about 80% of it on my own – which is a good thing, as the user’s manual (both paper and online) has several strange phrases that obviously lost some clarity when they were spit out of the Italian-to-English Google translator.
Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to customize the screens I wanted and head out the door for some running – and that’s when I solicited my training partners’ input as well.
Obviously, when talking about running GPS devices, the first name on everyone’s mind is Garmin. A few of my friends use the Forerunner 305 and 405 models, and one of my main goals for this review was to see how the MyTach compared – both in form and function – to the more prevalent Garmins.
So basically, I started bugging the crap out of them. Before we’d start a run, I’d ask, “Do you have your satellites yet?” and “What’s your altitude right here?” When we broke into a jog, I’d say “What’s your pace right now?” Every quarter-mile or so, I’d ask “What distance do you have?”, and when we were under tree cover, I’d say “Are you still picking up your signal?” I became quite skilled at turning a 6-mile trail run into a 1-hour quiz show. Finally, after each run, we’d compare all of the cumulative data as well.
Having said that, let’s do some comparisons:
Here’s a picture of the MyTach next to the Forerunner 305 from the top …
And one from the side:
(MyTach on left, Forerunner on right)
Size-wise, it’s not dramatically different. However, the MyTach isn’t contoured like the Forerunner, which may be a factor for some people. I’ve worn the MyTach for runs of over three hours, and comfort wasn’t really an issue for me. From website information on both brands, the MyTach is listed as slightly lighter than the 305, but since I don’t own a postage scale, I can’t independently confirm this claim.
This part was interesting to me: almost across the board, the MyTach picked up signals quicker than the Forerunner (typically within 5-10 seconds), and kept the signal locked in even under heavy tree cover. On its website, MyTach advertises something called FCHS (Fast Connection High Sensitivity) technology; honestly, I don’t know enough about how satellite science works – does the MyTach use different satellites? Does it have a superior internal antenna or tracking device? – to explain the improvement, but I can tell you that it’s noticeable.
However, it’s not just gathering the signals that’s important – it’s what the device does with them. Which leads us to …
If signal tracking was the best surprise from the MyTach, accuracy was the most bothersome. Basically, I don’t know whether the numbers are right.
Distance-wise, in comparison with the Forerunner, my distance readings were generally about 0.1 mile off per every 3 or 4 miles of running. Remember the mileage discrepancy in the previous picture? My friend and I did the exact same route that day; my watch read 6.2 miles, and his read 6.0. Two-tenths per 6 miles isn't huge - but if you’re doing a 3-hour run, it can lead to a large degree of error. Interestingly, the MyTach mileage was always higher – so I chose to believe those numbers instead of the stingy Garmin readings. Call me opportunistic.
The altitude readings between the devices showed a similar discrepancy – in most cases, the MyTach readings were lower than the Forerunner, sometimes by more than 100 feet. One day, I ran to the top of a hill with a signpost marking 1800’ above sea level, and my GPS said 1680’. Again, there might be some scientific explanation for this, and the MyTach readings might actually be the accurate ones – but I don’t know enough about the technology to speculate on this.
I found myself lamenting that the MyTach accuracy might be questionable, because the sheer volume of data it collects is quite impressive. Some of this information is stuff that I either couldn’t decipher (for example, the unit for time stoppage is written as cm – is this a European measure I’m not aware of?) or didn’t understand (what exactly is a variometer, anyway?), but a lot of it seems like it would be extremely cool for data geeks out there. If you select the cycling mode, you also get information about current slope and total height differential – a nice feature for people who like to track cumulative elevation change on a run.
The accessories for the MyTach are very similar to other GPS devices on the market. It comes with a combination USB port/wall-charging dock, and fully charges in about an hour. Battery life with the GPS operating is listed at 9 hours. There is a downloadable software program on the MyTach website that interfaces with Google Earth for mapping your route after a run. The memory storage is “rolling”, meaning it replaces the oldest stuff with new data as it gets full. Its capacity in this regard seems pretty good – I currently have about 10 different runs stored on mine, and none of them have been reset yet. The unit also comes with a handlebar mounting system for bikes, so it would be ideal for a bike/run workout similar to some of the high-end Polar GPS devices.
From what I can tell, MyTach is only available for purchase through the company website, where it retails for 195 Euros (currently 253 US dollars) – and this might be its biggest obstacle to breaking into the North American market. That price puts it almost $100 higher than the Garmin Forerunner 305, and nearly as expensive as the Forerunner 405, which has staked its claim as the ultimate next-generation wrist-mounted GPS device.
Overall, the MyTach is different than the Garmins – in some ways better, in other ways worse - but it doesn’t blow them out of the water. I imagine that a significantly lower price point is probably necessary for it to steal some attention and market share away from the industry standard.
See previous product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.