Overview of the COROS APEX GPS Watch:
The COROS APEX is a sleek GPS watch with great battery life at a solid value. Overall, I think it’s a great option to consider if battery life and price are the two most important factors you are considering.
The APEX is the second watch from COROS (hear about their first watch, the Pace, at the 1:04:20 mark here). What sets the APEX apart from all other GPS watches except COROS’ own PACE watch, is the battery-life to price / value ratio. Not only is the battery life and value great with the APEX but COROS didn’t skimp on the build quality either. The APEX is made with the same premium materials of its more expensive Garmin, Suunto, and Polar variants. Add to all of this a unique two-button design and we have an intriguing new option in the ever-crowded GPS wearable market.
There are watches that do more (e.g., it doesn’t have full mapping capabilities, onboard music storage, cardless payments, a pulse oximeter, or ‘intelligent battery modes’) but watches that include those features cost A LOT more. What it does include is a feature set that should appeal to most trail and ultra runners, including: the longest-lasting battery life in standard GPS mode anywhere close to these price points of $300-$350, a barometric altimeter, a comfortable, lightweight, and rugged build, an optical heart rate sensor, and advanced running metrics. The two main drawbacks I see are the two-button design, which I’ll discuss in more detail below, and the accuracy of the optical heart-rate sensor.
Note: given the number of features available on GPS watches these days I’m going to focus on the items I believe most folks care the most about. If you are new to considering a GPS watch or simply want a full list of all the features available you can see that via this Amazon Affiliate link (And you will be supporting URP if you decide to purchase this way too!)
- Weight: 55g (impressively lightweight and slim)
- Thickness: 14mm (2-3mm thinner than a Suunto 9 or Garmin Fenix 5)
- GPS with Glonass and BDS satellites
- Barometric altimeter
- Battery life: Up to 35 hours in GPS mode, 100 hours in UltraMax mode, and 30 days in watch mode (and yes, you can charge mid-activity if 35 hours is not enough)
- Wrist-based optical heart rate sensor
- Built with premium durable materials like titanium alloy and a sapphire lens
- Just two buttons control everything (with one being a multi-function turn dial)
- Up to 100m water resistance
- Data transfer: Bluetooth only
- Sensor support: ANT+
- Data captured: lots (i.e., while it obviously captures things like distance, pace, vertical ascent, etc. it also includes ‘advanced running metrics’ such as VO2 max estimate, recovery time, and lactate threshold)
- Customizable options: relatively limited compared to Garmin, for example, and their Connect IQ platform
Now for more details. In this review, we’ll break things down in to four areas:
- What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the product.
- What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the product better.
- When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the product excels.
- How it compares: my current go-to product(s) and how this compares.
- Should you purchase? My overall recommendation on whether to purchase or not.
- Purchasing Information: where to go to purchase this product.
I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!
What’s good about the COROS APEX?
- The value. At either $300 for the 42mm version or $350 for the 46mm version the APEX is a solid value.
- The battery life at this price point. If battery life is your primary concern either of the two APEX variants are hard to beat (note: the 42mm version includes a lower capacity battery rated at up to 25 hours in GPS modem, 80 hours in UltraMax mode, and 24 days in watch mode compared to the 46mm version which includes a battery rated up to 35 hours in GPS mode, 100 hours in UltraMax mode, and 30 days in watch mode). In my real-world testing I did a complete battery rundown test and saw just over 24 hours in GPS mode before the battery died with the 46mm version. If there is a way to turn off the optical HR sensor, which there is not to my knowledge, I’m sure the battery life would be significantly improved.
- It’s comfortable. The APEX is sized right, lightweight, and surprisingly thin despite that high capacity battery. The watch strap is made of a soft and flexible rubber. The sizing adjustments are spaced close enough together to find the perfect all day fit.
- The screen is easy to read. The 240 pixel by 240 pixel LCD screen is clear and visible in direct sunlight. No complaints on screen clarity.
- You can charge the battery mid-run. You won’t be able to wear the watch on your wrist while charging it mid-run due to the placement of the charging port but you could certainly stuff it in a pocket or pack for those extra long efforts if needed.
- Data transfers REALLY fast. Post run data transfers amazingly fast via Bluetooth to the COROS mobile app (and then on to Strava for example). It’s the quickest data transfer I have seen from a watch / mobile app yet.
- You can set the elevation manually. This is arguably a relatively minor thing but I appreciate that COROS built this in to the software on the APEX. In heavy cloud clover or dense tree cover I like the peace of mind of starting a run and setting the current elevation when known.
How could the COROS APEX be improved?
- The two-button design. I know many folks are fans of the simple, uncluttered button layout we see with the COROS APEX but I’m not sold on the design for running. Long sleeves or gloves will constantly turn the rotary dial unless the screen is locked. And similarly, while easy to turn with one hand mid-run it’s not as easy to ‘get it right’ on the first try as a single button push would be to advance to the next data screen for example. The two button-design makes the watch look cool, and works great for everyday use (if you lock the screen) but I prefer the conventional five button layout for running at this point.
- The optical heart rate accuracy. Admittedly, with my skin color and sweat rate I have a hard time with the accuracy of most optical heart rate sensors I have tried at high intensity levels. However, the optical heart rate sensor on the APEX has been consistently inconsistent at all intensity levels based on my real world testing. Sometimes it tracks well at steady-state efforts and other times it’s been tracking 40-50bpm lower than I know my heart was pumping at. I think more work is needed on this sensor.
- Can we get a discard option? If you start an activity and then stop it, you only have two options: ‘Finish’ or ‘Resume’. Having to manually delete an activity you either don’t want or inadvertently started (remember, it’s easy to mistakingly hit the turn dial) after the fact (and also remove it from Strava) is annoying to say the least. Edit: with the latest firmware update you can discard any activity <1 min in duration.
- Delivering on their commitments. This is not a knock on the APEX watch itself but on COROS’s ability to deliver on their planned firmware updates. One key update they committed to this past December was a ‘Navigation Track’ firmware update aimed at hikers, mountaineers, and trail runners. Here we sit in early March and we have yet to see this update yet. Other firmware update commitments were missed with their previous watch, the PACE, as well.
When to use it?
Every run or race. With a long-lasting battery, barometric altimeter, and comfortable & durable build, the COROS APEX can be used for every run or race you can throw at it.
Similar products to compare with:
We could use a lot of words to compare it with all the competing GPS watches and wearables on the market today. From the recent watches from Garmin, Suunto, and others I’ve tested I think it comes down to the following considerations:
- If you want the most amount of features available today you need to look at the options from Garmin (read the review of the Garmin 935 here). With features like on-board music storage, full-mapping capabilities, a Connect IQ platform for customization options and apps, and cardless payments no other brand currently competes with Garmin in the features department. Then again, you will also pay for these features as you can easily spend $600-$800 (gulp) on a high-end Garmin without batting an eye. Probably the closest competition from Garmin today in the same price category as the APEX is Garmin’s new Instinct GPS watch. At $300 it’s quite similar in a lot of ways but lacks the battery life of the APEX. What you get in return from the Instinct is a slightly better feature set in my opinion with the reputation and backing of the team at Garmin.
- If you want ‘intelligent battery modes’ and / or all the different sport modes available to you via the movescount.com platform you can consider the options from Suunto. Again though, to get a comparable battery life in a Suunto you will be spending $500-$700.
If you want to spend less there are a lot of great options available today that do all of what the COROS APEX does with the exception of the battery life. Feel free to comment below on what types of features are most important to you and I can hopefully suggest some specific options to consider.
Should you purchase the COROS APEX?
So, your head is probably spinning. Did I like the watch or do I think it’s not quite there yet from a design or software standpoint? And the truth is this is a tough question to answer. As I’ve noted multiple times I think the value play is strong. You cannot find a 35 hour GPS watch anywhere close to this price point today. Plus, it’s comfortable to wear, looks good, and is made from premium materials. The questions I think you need to ask yourself when considering the COROS APEX are:
- Do you need 35 hours of battery life (or are you OK charging your watch more frequently in a given week or month and/or not having a full watch battery for those few races a year where you may need 20+ hours of battery)?
- Do you frequently change data screens and/or wear long sleeves or gloves when running?
- Do you need an accurate optical heart rate sensor built in to your watch?
- Do you like the ability to customize you watch and/or want added features like on-board music storage?
If the answers to all of these questions are NO then I would absolutely recommend purchasing the COROS APEX.
Questions about a specific feature or use case, comments, or feedback on this watch? Please share! And thanks for reading!
If you’re interested in purchasing this watch, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.
If that’s not an option, please consider using this Amazon Affiliate link . The return policy is great, and it’ll drop a few nickels into URP bucket if you decide to keep it. Thank You!
Meet Your Reviewer: Ben Zuehlsdorf
I am an avid running gear junkie. When I’m not smelling new shoes I’m usually running, biking, skiing, or snowboarding around the local trails in Marin County, California or the Lake Tahoe area. I also love talking shop with the San Francisco Running Company or Alpenglow Sports community of friends. I was once a road marathoner but now have transitioned almost exclusively to the trails and racing ultras the last five years.
Disclaimer: This product was provided to URP/me for testing purposes. All words and thoughts are my own and no compensation was offered nor received.