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December 15, 2011

Soleus GPS 1.0 Review

I typically shy away from GPS reviews, partially because the whole prospect seems entirely overwhelming, but also because I have very simple tastes.

The only piece of information I really care about getting from a GPS device is “How far have I run today?” I don’t care about vertical gain or compass direction or barometric conditions. I don’t care about my heart rate zones or calories burned. I don’t care to upload, map, or otherwise analyze any data after the run. I don’t care to maintain a digital training log or join yet another online community. Just tell me how far I’ve run.

Although it’s a simple premise, it’s also an important one, for reasons that might have more to do with my own neuroses than any physiological rationale. When I’ve got an ultra in my sights, 30 miles is kind of my standard benchmark when it comes to completing a good long training run. 30.5 miles is a legitimate long run, but 29.8 is woefully inadequate. (OK, yes … it’s not the physiology; the problem is me.) Therefore, it’s also crucial for the device to be accurate, so I’m not always wondering if the distance it says I ran was the distance I really ran. Honestly, I can drive myself crazy with this stuff.

Finally, from a practical standpoint, I’m absolutely terrified of taking on in-depth GPS reviews. There are too many technological considerations than I can legitimately understand, and too many features and components that I don’t adequately utilize; consequently, it’s hard for me to deliver an authoritative opinion on whether a device is worth the (normally very hefty) cost. Especially when my friend DC Rainmaker has become such a guru on GPS devices, there’s no way I can pretend to match that kind of expertise.

So why am I reviewing a GPS watch today? Because the product in question is almost revolutionary, in all the ways that are most important to me. It’s basic. It’s affordable. It’s eco-friendly and low-profile. Best of all, it’s highly accurate, and tells me exactly how far I’ve run.

Soleus GPS 1.0; photo from Soleus website

The Soleus GPS 1.0 has the potential to be a game changer. It retails for $99 (actually, even less than that – see the end of this post), a price point that is less than half of the lowest-cost wrist-mounted GPS from Garmin. It offers the basic features you need – plus a few others – without needing a software program or tech support to figure out how to use the darn thing. For technophobic runners who appreciate simplicity, accuracy, and affordability, the Soleus GPS gives you exactly what you’re looking for.

Continuing the theme of simplicity, my review is going to be somewhat stripped down as well, for reasons I explained earlier. However, I’d be negligent to not refer you to DC Rainmaker’s full in-depth review of this same device, which he breaks down in his typical “all the information you ever wanted plus a lot of information you didn’t realize you needed” fashion.

Timex sleek Ironman on L, SOleus GPS on R

Here’s what you get with the Soleus GPS 1.0: a GPS watch that is roughly the size of the Garmin 401 and Garmin FR610. It’s marginally bigger than my customary Timex Sleek Ironman watch, but with a weight of only 2.0 oz, it’s not much of an extra burden on my long runs. It has an alarm, chronograph, lap/split tracking, 100-lap memory, 12-second backlight, and a USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The casing is water resistant to 30 meters so it’s fine to wear in the rain.

Additional features that are nice (but which I don’t really utilize) are calories burned – calculated by an algorithm using body weight and distance run – and your current pace or speed in metric or English notation. Like I said, I’m not so much into those things; I mainly want to know how it works in measuring distance.

First and most importantly, the Soleus GPS is super accurate. I did my first test runs at the track, where the readings were spot-on. While running with training partners, I did comparisons to their various Garmin units, and distance measurements were usually within a few hundredths of a mile for runs in the 10- to 12-mile range. On trail runs, it appears to hold its satellite signal quite well in canyons and under tree cover. The signal also holds steady when the device is underneath a jacket sleeve, which is pretty much every day at this time of year.

Top to bottom: chrono, distance, time of day

While running, you can choose from a few different displays; the one I use most frequently is stopwatch / distance / time of day, which are the only three things I’m concerned about when I’m on a long training day. You can take split times or create lap markers at regular intervals, but I don’t even do either of those things. Like I said, I’m basic.

There are a few minor drawbacks that I’ve encountered in daily use, the first of which is a slow satellite acquisition time. It often takes up to a couple of minutes to lock into a signal, which is significantly slower than my friends pick up signals with their Garmins. I’ve also had some difficulty with the size of the “stop/save” button, in that it’s small in relation to the others, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep pressed down for long enough to save your data. When I’m wearing gloves – which again, is almost every day this time of year – the button is even trickier to push firmly.

Finally, the size of the display numbers is fairly small in comparison to most other watches or GPS devices I’m familiar with. If you have difficulty with small readouts, this might be problematic, but luckily for me it’s just a minor inconvenience.

Aside from those issues, the Soleus 1.0 is everything I want in a GPS – and more importantly, it doesn’t bother with the things I don’t want. I suspect that I’m not the only one who appreciates a simple, straightforward GPS, and there could potentially be a big market for something like this - a highly accurate device that tells you how far and fast you’re running, for a price that won’t set you too far back.

The Soleus GPS 1.0 normally retails for $99, but you can currently find them on sale for $87 from Amazon.com.

*Product provided by Soleus
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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JimDog 12/16/11, 5:34 AM  

Holy timely review batman!! My daughter ran her first 5k about a month ago and is running her second tomorrow. She currently borrows my Garmin for her race(s).

The wifey and I are thinking of getting her a GPS watch of her own if she keeps up the running. But didn't think she wanted/needed a $200+ watch. I saw this thing came out the other day and was wondering how good it was for only $99. Sounds like it's perfect for someone like my daughter!!

One question (and I think I found the answer online, but just to verify), it does not connect and download your run data to your computer correct? Not a biggie, as she can just enter it manually in Excel or MapMyRun or whatever.

Great review!

Donald 12/16/11, 7:15 AM  

JimDog: That's correct - no connecting or downloading to a PC. Sounds perfect for your daughter!

Nate 12/16/11, 8:05 PM  

I have military associates that I work with who have the Soleus GPS watches. For that price, it is a good fit, for anyone. That being said, if you want the luxury of having your watch since automatically with your PC than a Garmin would probably be the better fit. I have had the new Nike TomTom GPS watch before and it is unique in that the display numbers are large and easy to see but you have to hook the watch up to the computer/laptop in order to see the statistics of your workout.

I currently have the Garmin 610 which is quite pricey but it all depends on what you are looking for in a watch and what your overall running goals are.


Ed Hansberry 12/23/11, 8:06 AM  

Nice review. One question. Can you clearly see the face with polarized sunglasses? I had a cheapo stopwatch I ran with and I had to twist my arm and head so the face was clearly visible when wearing sunglasses. I got the Timex Ironman and its face is unaffected by polarized lenses, which I suspect most good sport watches are.

I never wanted one of those $200 syncing watches, just something to measure distance and help with intervals. This looks perfect, but want to ensure I can casually glance at it while running without having to twist around trying to find a viewable angle.

Pedometer watches 12/24/11, 1:26 PM  

Thanks for the review. I have been thinking of getting a new GPS watch. The Soleus is a great price and one that I can take with me when I travel.

Donald 12/29/11, 9:49 PM  

Ed: I don't have polarized lenses, so I can't really comment on that. I'd suspect the reading will be similar to a standard digital watch.

Anonymous,  1/5/12, 1:17 PM  

Will this one track hiking miles? I like to run but I also love to hike and would love a watch for both. I am considering the Soleus GPS 1.0 or the Garmin Forerunner 110.

Donald 1/6/12, 6:34 PM  

@Anon: yes, it's great for hiking - I've used it a couple of times that way, and the accuracy is great.

Anonymous,  3/26/12, 9:15 PM  

Can you tell me - can you set it to "beep" (or give me some type of auditory notification) at mile/km intervals? i see i can set it to auto-record my splits/miles, etc...but i like the little alarm/beep that the garmin makes at each mile.

Donald 3/27/12, 9:57 PM  

@Anon: Yes, you can set it to beep (and light up) at a set interval.

harvestwidow 7/5/12, 11:00 PM  

I just bought this watch today after searching high and low for a watch that was affordable and did just what I wanted it to; tell me how far I've gone and how fast I'm going!! I don't need a darned heart rate monitor or the price that seems to go with the devices that have both. Now, if I'd found one that did both at a decent price that would be fine but it seemed a watch that did just enough wasn't out there. I called radio shack and they told me that not only did they have a GPS watch but it was on sale at 89.99 and after the prices I'd been encountering that seemed too good to be true. I walked in and bought it after a short discussion with the salesman. Could it be that I'd found a watch that did just what I wanted that was affordable? I noticed the lag on finding the satellite but I use map my run and music on my iPhone and setting that up before each run takes some time so I can't see my watch holding me up. I'm taking it out for a spin tomorrow. I'm sure it won't be simple at first but I hope I catch on quickly and if not, 30 day money back guarantee. Love this review and the in depth one.

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