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January 22, 2009

MyTach GPS Sports Watch Review

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:

1) Form:

Here’s a picture of the MyTach next to the Forerunner 305 from the top …

(Note that my GPS - on left - reads 0.2 miles longer than the Garmin. More on that to come.)

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.

2) Function

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 …

3) Accuracy

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.

4) Extras

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.

5) Price

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 info@runningandrambling.com.


Martin 1/23/09, 1:10 AM  

Good review. Interesting because they have just started doing a lot of advertising here in Italy for the MyTach. Bad translation is about par for the course in Italy. Price is an issue but is confusing because European prices (which you are quoting for the MyTach) are much higher than US prices. In Italy the Garmin 305 official price is 269 Euro while the 405 official price is 329 Euro. It is possible to find cheaper at 180 and 255 Euro respectively.I would imagine that they will give the MyTach a lower price when they bring it to the States.

stronger 1/23/09, 9:17 AM  

When I run with the trail group everyone seems to have different readings on their Garmins. It could be that you're going extra mileage because your MyTach is picking up the signal before the Garmins and again in tree cover. In that regard, the MyTach could be more accurate.

Backofpack 1/23/09, 9:59 AM  

Almost everyone I run with wears a garmin, and as stronger said, our mileages are almost never the same. A lot of the time it ranges from .1 to .01 difference. We have attributed it to whether you hit the button at the exact same moment, whether you side tracked to a potty or stepped ran ahead and back, stuff like that. Also, the garmin 05 series needs a software update for accurate elevation. My biggest complaint for all of them is battery life. For runs beyond 8 hours, we are SOL! Eric plans to use both his and mine on his next 100 miler.

Chic Runner 1/23/09, 10:25 AM  

I need help picking out a Garmin! Ugh! I figure for a full I gotta be legit with a garmin or I'm going to be worthless. :/

Terence Dove 1/23/09, 11:29 AM  

I have one from the UK Mytach dealer and use it mostly for motor racing. I'm not sure how you would test it for accuracy, but we find that on a 1km circuit it is always producing lap times in the same tenth of a second as infra red timing beacons.

So it must be fairly accurate.

Annette 1/23/09, 12:24 PM  

Were you comparing your readings during your run to a 305 or 405? Just curious since I have a 405 and it's quicker at picking up satellites than my friend's 305 - but I haven't done the quiz show with him yet to determine the difference on all aspects. ;)

Rick Gaston 1/23/09, 3:48 PM  

This is the second review I've read for this watch. Stuart thought that the MyTach also picked up signals quicker and stores a wealth of information. Looks wise I'm not impressed. For a watch that is a bit more expensive it should look more stylish too. Garmin, Suunto and Polar has done better in the watch design department.

So far I've been fine with my entry level Polar HRM. The first one broke so I picked up another used entry level HRM. Since most of my training is based on time rather than miles I've never felt the need to get a Garmin type of watch. It'd be nice to have the information though, especially on new trails.

mweston 1/23/09, 5:01 PM  

I have two 305's. I bought the second one for my first 50 miler last year since I can't do that in 9 hours (I think the 405 has a slightly shorter battery life, so I haven't considered it, plus it's more expensive). Time to lock onto satellites is sometimes annoying, and I don't look at altitude during a run since the altitude data needs some good smoothing to be useful. I recommend SportTracks (free to try) for doing a better job of that than the software that comes with the Garmin (I have no connection to them except as a user), but I don't know if they support the MyTach.

Alisa 1/24/09, 5:06 PM  

Interesting...I didn't really even know there were other GPS watches besides Garmin.

Good to know if my 205 ever dies I can look into a different brand.

triguyjt 1/24/09, 5:56 PM  

interesting...and like alisa..I thought Garmin was the only company..I am still getting used to my 305....and probably only have 10-13 runs on it....
people tell me the garmin software for putting on your computer is not as advanced as other sites like sport tracks... I am still finding my way around on this..

Rainmaker 1/24/09, 8:50 PM  

Good write-up. I didn't even realize the company existed. Although as you pointed out, being more expensive is a bit of a barrier for them - and combined with being overseas may hurt as well. But I do like that you say they've done Google Earth intergration - more than one can say about Garmin's desktop software...

My Life & Running 1/28/09, 11:31 AM  

Thanks for sharing info on another GPS device option. I adore my Garmin and didn't realize there was something else out there. After reading your post, I still think I'd pick Garmin. Niether are pretty, but the MyTach looks very 80's-fitness-gear to me??

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