Design & HandlingFrom the sleek packaging to the watch itself, this is a product that's clearly been made with great attention to detail. So much so that it's not difficult to imagine Nike drawing inspiration from its first partner in the Nike+ project—design-conscious Apple. On top of that, the Nike+ website is clearly optimised for Safari, the Apple web browser. Windows users running Internet Explorer or Firefox do seem to get the raw end of the deal, with seemingly endless loading times that soon become tiring. That's certainly a shame, but there is a simple solution—switch to Safari for Windows or Google Chrome, which uses the same engine as Safari. That said, Nike does seem to be aware of the problems some users are having and is apparently working to fix them.
The SportWatch is surprisingly compact considering that it has a built-in GPS (note that the GPS only records your route—the watch can't be used as a sat nav route guidance tool). On most people, the SportWatch looks just like a regular watch, but slim-wristed users may find it a tad bulky. However, compared with other GPS sports watches on the market, such as the Garmin's Forerunner, the Nike+ SportWatch is actually pretty small. As well as its decent size and high-end finish, the watch seems pretty robust. In fact, our well-used test model was dropped, bashed about and scraped against a wall, surviving with just a few tiny scratches to show for it.
Ease of use is clearly a priority in the SportWatch as the controls are very simple. Everything is controlled with two navigation buttons and one OK/select button (the yellow one). Nike and TomTom have loaded the watch with high-contrast display, which makes it easy to check your stats at a glance when you're out running. Plus, when running at night, you can tap the screen to activate the backlighting and see your stats. Although the backlit screen makes things nice and easy to read, you sometimes have to tap the screen several times for it to actually light up—sometimes it works first time, other times you have to try two or three times. Note that you can also use the screen tapping function to register laps. This makes us think that it wouldn't be too difficult for Nike to integrate a genuine touchscreen, which would clearly make a nice addition. The SportWatch is suitable for triathlon training too, as it's waterproof to an equivalent pressure of 5 ATM.
The watch has a decent battery life, and you can run for up to nine hours before you need to recharge (via USB). However, Nike doesn't replace worn-out batteries, so even though you may shell out the best part of £200 for the watch, we wouldn't count on the battery withstanding more than five years (at most) of regular use before giving up the ghost.
Watch InterfaceSo how do you actually run with the Nike+ watch? For starters, you can either use the watch with the GPS only or coupled with the Nike+ sensor in a pair of special Nike+ trainers. Using the watch in conjunction with the sensor provides more detailed information about your stride as well as extra data such as altitude.
With the sensor in your shoe and the watch strapped on your wrist, the next step is to press the OK button (the yellow one) for three seconds. Then you have two options: wait around five minutes for the GPS to find a signal or select QuickStart to start running straight away and let the GPS kick in after you set off. That all sounds great in theory, but we found that the QuickStart option just didn't work—the GPS never, ever kicked in after we had already started running. In other words, we could never use QuickStart if we wanted GPS data for a run. This could just be a technical bug, however, and it could end up being corrected with one of Nike's forthcoming firmware updates.
During your run, two stats are displayed simultaneously onscreen—a main stat and a secondary stat. You can select which information (time, distance, laps etc.) you want the watch to display in each position via the set-up program that launches when you hook your watch up to a computer. The main stat is displayed in big numbers in the bottom part of the screen, while the secondary stat is displayed in smaller numbers at the top of the screen. You can set the watch to display just one secondary stat or you can select several stats to scroll through using the two navigation buttons. Note that straight out of the box, all the secondary stats are active. Available options are time, pace (time per kilometre or mile), calories burned, clock and heart rate (with the additional heart rate monitor accessory). When you've finished running, press the yellow OK button for another three seconds.
When not in use, the watch displays the time. Pressing one of the navigation buttons brings the main menu up onscreen. Here you can access your History to view stats from your previous runs or Records to see your personal bests (fastest kilometre/mile, longest distance, total distance).
Web InterfaceOnce you're back at home, the watch needs to be hooked up to a computer using the USB connector hidden in the buckle. Then, all the data from your latest runs is uploaded to the Nike+ server. You'll need to create an account on the Nike+ website to access all the functions and features this service has to offer, as well as to view your routes. In fact, the most interesting thing about the product is probably its interaction with the Nike+ platform. Nike+ is a bit like a social network, since while it allows you to view all kinds of information about your runs and track progress, you can also set challenges with friends, share routes and share results on Twitter or Facebook. Note that for the moment you can't share information directly on Google+.
With the Nike+ interface, you can analyse each of your runs in detail. For runs that have been tracked by the GPS, the route is shown on a Google Map equipped with a range of Nike+ tools. As you can see above, your route appears in different colours, shaded green where you were fastest and fading through orange to red where you were slowest. Again, it's all part of Nike's aim to make everything as user-friendly as possible.
We didn't notice any real problems with the accuracy of the GPS, and even switching to a pavement on the opposite side of the road was shown on the map. A few rare signal losses did occasionally give dodgy results in places, but that didn't happen often.
Another really great feature of the Nike+ site is the virtual Coach function. This is great for beginners and can really help you stay motivated and not give up on running. It's a particularly good solution for those of you who start off with the best intentions only to give up a month down the line! Several different coaching programmes are available: the first programme helps beginners build up from walking to running, but there are also training programmes for 5 Km, 10 Km, half-marathon and marathon races. While the first programme will help beginners get into running, the more advanced programmes can help you train effectively for a specific distance and a specific time. Once you've chosen a programme, your running schedule is displayed on a calendar that tells you what kind of run you need to do each day to reach your target. We found it quite addictive, especially since it's really satisfying to see how you progress and improve throughout a programme.
- Relatively compact for a GPS watch / Sturdy build
- Backlit screen
- Easy to use
- Nike+ website
- Screen tapping function is unreliable
- QuickStart mode never picks up a GPS signal once you've already started running
- Nike+ website doesn't work well with Internet Explorer or Firefox
The Nike+ SportWatch is an excellent running companion. Nike and TomTom have clearly thought long and hard about the user experience and have pulled the whole thing off pretty well. It's not perfect, as several features still need improving, but we think this watch could really help runners stay motivated.