The performance running watch category has always been dominated by names like Garmin and Suunto with players like Polar bringing up the rear, but over the last few years we have seen the emergence of COROS and they have rocketed into popularity unlike any brand in the space. It started slowly with the PACE and then they launched the APEX and VERTIX, but today we want to talk about their multisport flagship, the APEX Pro. The APEX Pro is truly designed to be the watch that can do it all and much like its competitors having this on your wrist represents a badge of honor in the community because when you see one, you immediately know what that person is up to. How does it compare? Well, let’s find out.
- One of the best multisport watches on the market especially for trail and ultra-distance runners.
- An improved version of the APEX featuring 40 hours of Battery life (5 more), an Optical Pulse Oximeter, and a Barometric Altimeter.
- Weighs in at 59 grams and measures 47 x 47 x 13.4 mm, feels slimmer than you might expect.
- Retails at $499.99 USD and comes in 3 colors for Men and Women.
Finding a good running watch is truly a personal journey for many and when you find it, it would take an act of God to pull it from your wrist and also, you probably talk about it all the time and are constantly in sell mode trying to convince others to buy it. The APEX and now the APEX Pro live in that space. They are watches that can truly do everything and do them all really well. So whether you are a road or trail runner, taking on an ultra, swimming everything and everything, knocking out triathlons, or truly just a general multi-sport athlete there is something here for everyone and everything can be customized on a per sport basis. You’ve probably heard this before from other brands, but the nice part here is the APEX Pro does all that and still feels a little lighter, a little slimmer, and actually a little easier to use in many cases. There is less on the watch itself and more in the app which for us is great because with the incredible amount of functionality these types of watches offer, having it all confined to the watch face can be quite challenging.
Style & Aesthetics
Honestly, the APEX Pro looks a lot like watches you’ve seen before, the Garmin Fenix line in particular, but we will say it does feel slimmer on the wrist overall despite having the same size face. If you want something subtle, the black is innocuous enough that you can wear it to work and whereas the white and silver iterations offer alternative casual styling. The answer to the question we get asked a lot, is it big, the answer is yes, but it is improved from other multi-sport watches you’ve tried prior. If you think of something like the Fenix 6x, the APEX Pro feels less bulky on your wrist while still offering that very large viewable area.
GPS performance can always be a tricky one and honestly, it isn’t worth going into the subtleties and the minor misses between these watches because they are all so good. On a given day, anything can have a minor effect on quality so we will always see variations. You can see from the mapping below how well it handled a very long run so we had no real complaints in this area. Also compared with the Strava view, and note Strava typically does apply their own algorithms to sort out GPS issues, but very little needed here. In remote areas of the Pacific Northwest or in heavy tree-covered areas, we still saw very solid results.
Where it truly shines is in its ability to get a signal pre-run. This sounds crazy but so many watches take a ton of time to get a solid GPS location before your run starts and it’s annoying for most runners. This happens within a second or two on the Apex Pro and in most cases, it has your GPS before it’s even got heart rate. This is a HUGE plus because when you are ready to go, the APEX Pro is ready to go.
Battery life on the APEX Pro is, in a word, fantastic. At 40 hours of continuous use, with up to 100 hours in UltraMax mode, and an insane standby you barely ever feel like you are charging this. Honestly, during testing, we found ourselves going up to 2 weeks before we needed a charge and then a full charge takes only 2 hours. It does sport one of those wonky connectors as all its competitors have, but it works well and is better than others we have tried.
We are packing a lot in here, but want to offer some general feelings about the running experience using the APEX Pro. First off, in terms of feel, it is going to sit a little on the heavier side, but whether it’s truly noticeable or affects the run, the jury is out for us. Anectodatelly we can say that after hundreds of miles logged on our sample unit, it didn’t really change anything about our running style due to the weight, and in fact you just kind of get used to it.
When you first start using the APEX Pro, you will probably just start in the standard run mode to see how well it functions. The watch setup goes quite quickly and the time to do this for us was minutes. From there, you walk outside and in less than a second it has already picked up the satellites, so GPS was locked. You will barely start a little active stretch warm-up before the heart rate is locked as well. So overall, the out of the box, get up and go was on point. From there, you get into your run and the watch itself can kind of play two roles. First, it can disappear and just give you those a little update add at every mile OR you can really configure it to provide a ton of feedback to modify the run, all of which depends on what you’re doing on a given day. If you want to set up training plans, or workout programs, or be notified in certain situations, the APEX Pro is flexible enough to account for all of this.
After your first few runs, you will want to jump into the app experience even more and the amount of functionality here is very high and a good portion of it is hidden especially the training and workout programs. Once you find them, they can become a really key element to the use of the watch.
Now if we had to call out a few key features, the first one we would hit on is Track mode. The track run mode basically solves a lot of the randomness you run into with a GPS on a track. COROS has got some pretty solid magic in here that just resolves a lot of those changes and variability. So if you’re a track runner, huge benefit. Next up would be for trail runners and in particular, those that are running early in the morning, or late at night. The night mode actually works really well and it seems silly to think of a backlight as a benefit, but most watches force you to press a button to interact with it just to conserve battery life, but in this case, you have the option to keep it always on it which is great during certain times a day if you want that level of control. The best part is that it is smart enough to turn itself off when you start the workout or at sunrise.
We do need to dig into the touchscreen on here. They have introduced the ability to quickly move between certain views by gesturing, but to us, this is just a marketing hot button. Good physical mechanisms like the knobs and buttons on here work quite well to navigate around and the touchscreen in many cases can lead to things changing when you didn’t expect it. We actually tried to stay away from using it after our first few runs so while it feels clever, a good portion of runners like a nice solid button to ensure they’re getting the correct feedback/response when using their watch. The note here is that if you want it, they have it, and if you don’t want it, it doesn’t hurt.
Lastly, we should really just touch on simple running as well because if anything, the APEX Pro really excels in this area. While it is not a “feature”, it is core to the watch. So whether it is road or trail you are tackling, the quality of the data including heart rate, oxygen, elevation, cadence, etc is all so solid and it just works seamlessly together. Now you can argue numbers and whether the APEX Pro is “perfect” but it’s all so well handled and presented back to you that as an athlete, you grow to trust it and use that guidance as gospel. If anything, the best word to describe this watch is… reliable.
COROS App & Training
The COROS App (available on iOS and Android) is truly one of the strongest mobile experiences out there and they have done a great moving some of the functionality others try to bake into the watch, into the app. It does sport all of the standard functionality including a view for your daily activity (Calories, Exercise, HR, Sleep, Steps, etc) as well as a detailed historical Workout view. Inside the Workout view, you can deep dive into your individual workouts. We won’t get into the individual details, but needless to say, it surfaces every possible piece of information you can possibly imagine and then makes sharing super easy.
As you move into what seems like the Profile view, you will find the rest of the features which include Workout Programs and Training Plans, Navigation Routes, Muscle Heatmaps, and your PRs. The Workout Programs feature seems pretty simple until you realize you can scan a QR code on the COROS site and bam… you’ve got a strength workout from Sage Canaday. This can be then synced directly to the watch where you can then do the workout. They have these across numerous disciplines and with a number of athletes. so definitely a “hidden” gem. The routing system works just as easily although lacks the QR code scan piece, that would be an awesome feature.
Lastly, you have the Watch tab which seems basic, but unlike other watch apps, the COROS app gives you a lot of customization control here instead of having to do it on the device which is appreciated. Update watch faces, reconfigure elements, change colors, etc.
APEX vs APEX Pro
There are some subtle differences between the APEX and APEX Pro that are worth pointing out. First, it is slightly bigger overall in width and in height (47mm vs 46mm and 13.4mm vs 11.9mm) and it also weighs about 4 grams more overall. The screen on the APEX Pro is touch-enabled which is not a major selling point for us, but some may like the functionality. The APEX PRO also features 5 hours more of additional battery life when using full GPS. Lastly, it has an always-on-back-light option which seems silly yet is huge because it can feel a little dim sometimes.
The BIG areas of difference come when we get down into the Optical Pulse Oximeter. This provides continuous blood oxygen monitoring as well as oxygen pulse monitoring during exercise. It also introduces the ability to track Altitude making this a much better choice for trail and ultra runners who are spending a good portion of time on the trails and in the mountains. For many, this won’t be a huge deal, but for us, it is 100% the reason why you would buy this over the original APEX.
Here are the detailed specs, straight from COROS for those that really dig them.
- Display Size – 1.2 in. 240 x 240 (64 colors)
- Display Type – Touch Screen Memory LCD
- Physical Size – 47 x 47 x 13.4 mm
- Weight With Silicone Band – 59 g
- Weight With Nylon Band – 49 g
- Materials – Sapphire Glass/Titanium Alloy/Aluminum/Silicone
- Water Resistance – 10ATM (100 Meters/328 Feet)
- Phone Connection – Bluetooth
- Accessory Connection – ANT+/Bluetooth
- Navigation – GPS/QZSS, GLONASS, BeiDou
- Optical Pulse Oximeter
- Optical Heart Rate Monitor
- Barometric Altimeter
- Speed, Pace, and Distance
- Route Navigation
- VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold
- Recovery Measurement
- Continuous HR
- Sleep Tracking and Metrics
- Calories and Step Tracking
- Much more…
If it wasn’t clear from the above, we are definitely huge fans of the COROS APEX Pro. We do think the audience will probably skew towards trail and ultra runners, but as a team that does both and dabbles in tri as well (and likes the option to record a SUP here and there), it is hard to find too many faults. We wish the screen was brighter, but the dedicated backlight button and optional always on backlight resolve this. We hope for more band colors, but there are aftermarket options out there. It is one of those devices that “just works” even though it might feel highly complex. It does take some effort to learn the watch if you want to take advantage of all the features offered, but for general use out of the box… it does everything you can ask.