Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

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We’re taking more notice of Coros with every new sports watch it launches. First came the Pace, then the Apex, a £300 multisport GPS watch that was able to rival the Garmins, Suuntos and Polars of this world.

So now in steps the Vertix, a watch built for outdoor lovers that clearly has Garmin’s Fenix 5 series and the Suunto 9 set in its sights. It’s hoping to bring the heat to the sports watch establishment with a design that works in extreme temperatures, offers a mammoth 150+ hours of battery life (in UltraMax GPS mode) and off a host of features that will keep climbers, trail runners and hikers safe when they’re hitting high altitudes.

Essential reading: Best outdoor watches to buy

But with those big new features comes a jump in price. Coros is no longer playing in that affordable space like it did with the Pace and the Apex, and now wants a piece of the top-end action. Vertix pricing starts at $599, which makes it $50 cheaper than a Fenix 5 Plus and around same price you can pick up a 5S Plus or a Suunto 9 for right now.

The Vertix starts shipping on 4 June, but we’ve been fortunate to be able to spend some decent time getting to know it. As we’ve not been able to fully test all of the features that will be available at launch, we’re going to hold off from putting a score on it yet. But we ran indoors and outdoors, and climbed up some snowy mountains to find out if Coros has come up with another great sports watch.

Coros Vertix: Design and build

With the Pace and the Apex, it was impossible not to feel like Coros was aping the looks of its rivals. With the Vertix, things really don’t change on the front. What you get here is a very Fenix-like, 48mm sized watch made with a titanium bezel and sapphire glass covering the 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 display. You also get 22mm quick-release watch bands (that are actually quick to release), and all of the important sensors packed into the back of the watch.

Coros is offering the Vertix in four different looks giving you the option of going with something low-key or with a more eye-catching bezel and watch band combo. We had the all-black one to try out, which isn’t that exciting, but is every bit an outdoors watch. You’ve got a slightly raised bezel to help offer protection to the display, machined screws to add to its rugged exterior, and all of its physical buttons down one side of the watch.

Its 48mm frame means that size-wise, it’s smaller than the Suunto 9 (50mm) and has more in common with the stature of the Fenix 5. Like Garmin’s watch, it doesn’t weigh heavy on the wrist and we’ve had no cause to take it off due to irritation or discomfort.

Coros Vertix in-depth hands on: Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

We’ve already mentioned those physical buttons, which are your means of navigating the non-touch display. The button up top turns on the backlight to aid nighttime visibility, while the bottom button is the back button and also lets you handily scroll through data on one of the sub dials on the watch face.

In between those you’ll find what Coros is calling a Digital Knob. This is essentially a lot like the twisty watch crown-like button it included on the Apex. Twisting that Knob up and down lets you scroll through data screens, workout modes, zoom in and out of maps in navigation mode and can be pressed to select items. It’s a lot more pronounced than it was on the Apex, a decision to make it easier to use when you’re wearing a big pair of gloves or when you’re in the water. In the pool, it does offer a nice way to scroll through your data screens. Out in the snow, we had a mixed experiences particularly with bigger, bulkier insulated gloves. Once you can get hold of it, it’s fine, but it can be a touch fiddly initially.

In terms of waterproofing, Coros has managed to make the Vertix durable enough to be submerged into water of up to 150 metres of depth. That’s 50 metres more than its rivals. So if going really deep is a big factor for you, the Vertix has certainly got you covered.

Coros Vertix: Outdoor features

Coros Vertix in-depth hands on: Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

Coros’ approach to building an outdoor watch is to focus on the things it thinks climbers, mountaineers and trail runners care about most. So it’s not messing about with music storage or payments and instead focusing on delivering big battery life, including strong navigation and tracking features and a design that’s well equipped to handle all terrains.

Essential reading: Sensors explored – Pulse oximeter and wearables

At its core, it’s a multisport watch that covers sports like running, cycling and swimming (pool and open). It also triathlon-friendly and carries over the AI Trainer feature Coros introduced with the Apex to offer insights into recovery and offering stamina readings based on optical heart rate data.

There is now a bigger emphasis on outdoor pursuits, making use of a sensor array that includes a barometric altimeter, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and thermometer. These onboard sensors aim to provide more insightful data for activities like mountain climbing, hiking and trail running with activities like skiing to be added at a later date.

Like the Fenix 5 Plus watches, it also includes an optical pulse oximeter, which is a sensor designed to help indicate how you’re acclimating to high altitudes. The sensor measures oxygen levels or oxygen saturation in the blood along with your heart rate to provide the information.

In the case of the Vertix this sensor form its Altitude Acclimation Evaluation System. It’s a feature designed for climbers and kicks in when elevation is above 2,500 meters. It then provides a score from 0-100 indicating the climber’s acclimation to the current climate. It’ll then provide recommendations on whether a climber should proceed on getting higher or to descend if they have any symptoms related to altitude sickness when oxygen intake and blood oxygen saturation decreases.

Coros Vertix in-depth hands on: Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

Hiking data compared: Coros Vertix (left) and Garmin (right and centre)

Now while we did manage to traverse some pretty steep mountain terrain in our testing, we didn’t manage to make it above 2,500 meters. When you do try to access that altitude monitoring feature and you’ve not hit the required elevation the watch will tell you the feature is not available.

We did do some mountain climbing and hiking to get a feel of what the Vertix could manage. Fortunately, our elevated activities did involve some snow and it was able to handle those cold temperatures without a problem. Once you’re ready to track, you’ll be able to see data like you elevation grade, ascent, descent, which seemed in line with what we recorded on the Forerunner 935 set up in the same tracking mode. The sample data above from a hike shows that data like elevation and average speed was largely consistent too.

It seemed to handle that mountain terrain fine as well from a durability point of view. You’ve got a nice big screen to view your real-time information and was comfortable to wear for those long hours of hiking.

Something we haven’t got around to testing is the navigation support, where you have the ability to import routes to the device and use that digital knob to zoom in and out of maps. We’ll add our thoughts on that in our full review.

Coros Vertix: Sports tracking

Coros Vertix in-depth hands on: Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

Away from the outdoor-centric features, the Vertix much like the Apex performs well as a standard sports watch. There’s GPS there of course, with BeiDou and Galileo satellite coverage set to be added at a later date. There’s also a heart rate monitor, a feature we had a mixed experience with on the Apex.

We took it out for a few training runs and races and found the performance mostly in line with Coros’ Apex and Pace watches. GPS accuracy is strong and nippy to pick up a signal while metrics like average pace, distance and cadence were in line with what we recorded on a Forerunner 935 we wore on the opposite wrist.

Coros Vertix in-depth hands on: Hitting the mountains with the Fenix rival

Heart rate data compared: Coros (left) and chest strap (right)

For heart rate, it’s still a mixed bag. One initial difference is the prompt to wait for a reliable heart rate reading to be picked up before you can get tracking and can take a couple of minutes to do.

For one interval session compared to a heart rate monitor chest strap, it performed well for accuracy. In one race, the average heart rate was a lower than what was recorded by the chest strap and produced a higher maximum heart rate by 5bpm. Fortunately, you do still have ANT+ compatibility to pair up a heart rate chest strap if you want something sturdier.

Coros seems to also be taking the same approach as Polar and Suunto in beefing up the features, promising new software additions through firmware updates. It’s stated that the Vertix will support advanced running metrics including running power, footpod compatibility, structured workouts and back to start option for navigation.

Initial verdict

As we said, we still have a bit of testing left to do before we can cast judgement on the Coros Vertix. Navigation features and the watch’s suitability for swimming are still things we’ll need to explore.

Based on what we’ve played with, we can say the Vertix looks set to be another solid addition to the Coros family. Yes, it does look a bit like another outdoor watch fave that you can already buy, but it also offers features previously only available on pricier Fenix and Suunto watches, just for less money. The omission of smartwatch features like payments and music support might be a dealbreaker for some people when other sports watches are heading in that direction, but for serious climbers and those who love getting up high to train and explore, we’re not sure they will be greatly missed.

What you get with the Vertix is an outdoor watch that is about putting the smarts on the wrists that climbers, hikers and trekkers will appreciate most, and there is certainly a lot they will appreciate here.



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