A lot of people have asked me about training watches in the past, and each person wants a very different thing. The ones we used to sell in the shop came in 2 types, Garmins and Suuntos.
The Garmins are generally an all in one affair, with GPS, Heart Rate and all the bits and pieces you could really need. In one watch, with a HR band that goes across your chest.
I must point out here, that if you want to know speed and distance when running, GPS or a foot pod are the only 2 ways in which you will be able to achieve this.
GPS will tell you pretty much exactly where you have been, generally you can upload this onto your computer, and in many cases of GPS software these days, you can then look at where you have been on google earth, or a similar mapping programme.
A Foot pod is an intelligent pedometer, it will generally use accelerometers to tell where you foot is, and when it lands etc. It needs to be calibrated to your stride, but after that, it is pretty damn accurate. Note that Foot Pods do not tell you WHERE you have been, only how far you have gone, and what speed you have been running/walking at.
Garmin uses GPS to tell you how far you have gone, where you have gone, what speed you have been running at, how many metres you have ascended and descended, averages of speed and distance, and the Heart Rate belt tells you all of that gubbins, but about your Heart Rate. However, it is an expensive bit of kit.
The original one was the Forerunner 205- which was known for its slightly dodgy GPS signal, rapidly losing any type of knowledge of where it was if you went under tree cover or near a building. The 305 was a vast improvement on it, and is the best if you are on a budget. (I'll do a comprehensive review of it later as I still use mine a lot).
The 405 was released next and has a rather snazzy touch bezel, which goes mental in the rain, or, more annoyingly, with sweat that you may drip on it as you run around the park. (in my opinion this was a step back in the evolution)
Next out was the 310XT, a step away from the touch bezel and back to the 305 style watch. This was made pretty much specifically for Triathletes, and is waterproof. However, the GPS doesnt work particularly well on the arm as you swim, so I know a couple of guys who own this watch who put it in their swimming cap, which is apparently fine, and a good low-tech solution to the problem.
I haven't used the most recent versions like the 610, but if someone wants to lend me one, I'd love to have a play with it!
Suunto originally had the X series, which was taken over by the T-series a few years ago, which is still the best Suunto series for serious training. The new M-series has just come out, which is the "movement" series, which is good for general exercise, but won't give as much information about how you are training, and is a bit more of a watch that tries to make you exercise...
The Suunto way is to get you to buy a watch which is also a Heart Rate monitor, and if you want, get pods which expand the watches capacity- so you can then buy a foot pod, a GPS pod and/or a bike pod. It is a good thing to note that the T-series watches (except for the T6) do NOT connect directly to your computer, and you have to buy a PC pod in order to be able to upload all your training information to the computer. (This used to be called a PC pod, but is now, somewhat more snazzily) called a "movestick".
The T1 is the most basic of the series, and is basically a watch with a Heart rate monitor. You can't expand it- in that it won't recognise any other pods. So if you just want a watch that tells you what your heartrate is and never want to know how fast you are going or anything like that, dont want to load your info onto a computer, or anything, it works. It is functional.
T3 is the next one up. This is expandable, you can use any and all of the pods that Suunto offer, it has more memory in it and will remember more stuff. Gives info about training zones and percentage of Max HR, and is generally the middle of the range Suunto that I would recommend.
The T4 is exactly the same as the T3, except that it has a "coach" function on it. Ostensibly you tell it your info- height, weight etc, and it works out a program for you to follow in order to get fit. I think it may be the precursor to the M series. My girlfriend used one for the bike commute to and from work for about 5 months, and eventually ended up on the highest setting... I think its not worth the extra money- so if you don't want a T6, buy a T3.
The T6 is the daddy of the T-series, it has more bells and whistles than I know what to do with. This is the only T-series watch that does elevation gain/loss, it also records EPOC (which is the amount of time it takes for your breathing to return to normal after exercise- working out how long it takes to re-synthesise lactacte in your muscles), and generally has more information than a sports scientist actually needs to know about your exercise. So, if you are a total geek about information, and like looking at lots and lots of numbers, this is the watch. It doesnt come cheap though.
It is also worth pointing out here that the Suunto GPS pod does NOT tell you WHERE you have been, or WHERE YOU ARE. It uses the GPS signals to work out how far you are going and at what speed. Don't expect to be able to download your track information from a Suunto. (unless it is the X9 or the X10- but these are GPS watches, and hence marketed as different beasts)
I have not used the M-series watches, but I know of them and have had a play- these are great as a builder between the T1 and T3- basically plugging a hole with a pretty watch for people who want more than the T1, but not something that looks like a T3.
Ah, one final point.
The Suunto range is basically built upon a watch that does other things- hence it uses watch batteries that you can replace yourself. The batteries last different amounts of time depending on how much you use the watch and what for. My girlfriend got through a battery in her watch and a battery in her bike pod in about 5months. Its a good option if you want a scaleable training device, which is also a watch, where you dont have to buy EVERYTHING all at once.
The Garmins are GPS training devices which you CAN use as a watch if you really want to. However, they are bulky- because of the GPS reciever that is built into the watch, and they have a relatively short battery life- hence they are rechargable- generally by USB. The longest I have seen mine run for- while tracking GPS signals was about 14 hours. Garmins are excellent if you are going to use them as a specific training device, and you already own a watch which you use as a watch.
If you are after a GPS watch- realise that the battery life is going to be short- and that all of them are rechargable.
The longest I have seen an X9 run for- without being switched onto GPS, just running as a watch- was about 18 days.
The X series are Suuntos version of the GPS watch- but I dont have space here, so I'll write about that at some other point.