“What is the best triathlon watch for the coming year: 2017?” you ask.
2017 is going to be a year of new triathlon watches. January 2017 has seen two already. There WILL be more. Some of them SOON.
This post talks through all the contenders and then there are links to detailed reviews of most of the models you are likely to consider. If you find these recommendations or the reviews useful then please help support the blog by purchasing through the Amazon links at the end. I get a small amount back from Amazon which helps keep the blog running.
This post WILL BE CONTINUALLY UPDATED THROUGHOUT 2017 as new models emerge and are reviewed. This post was originally based on 2016 MODELS.
What do YOU mean by BEST? Most often it is taken as ‘most features’. Going into 2017 the summer announced Garmin 735XT just wins on the ‘most features’ front. But do YOU really need to know what your Vertical Oscillation Ratio is when you run? Do YOU really need to know what a Connect IQ data field can estimate your W’bal to be during those hard hill reps?…thought not!
Then in January 2017 the Fenix 5x was announced. At least for a few months this has THE MOST features. Ok you can’t buy it yet but, nevertheless, it HAS the most features. You can pre-order the Fenix 5 (here).
ESSENTIAL READING: Top Running Watches At Christmas 2016
So if you count the best-BUT-ACTUALLY-USEFUL features ON A WATCH YOU CAN CURRENTLY BUY AND USE then these Suunto, Polar and Garmins are on par with each other:
So what is best for YOU depends on your needs and budget. You’re an individual, not a number. Right?
All I would say, regarding whatever you end up buying, is: make sure that what you buy has Heart Rate and GPS recording abilities – simple ! The point of saying this is to exclude smartphone apps and basic watches as realistic alternatives.
Even when those uber-basic points are addressed you may go on to further complicate matters for yourself by including a list of features you will like – such as smartphone notification display, 24×7 activity tracking and 3rd party positional tracking of you. Maybe you want outdoorsy-features or mapping-features? Or to support sports other than triathlon? Adding some of those non-core, non-tri features to your wish list will probably help you narrow down your list.
I have chatted to a few elite triathletes and lots of very good ones. You’ll be very disappointed to learn that many don’t wear any of the watches you’ll be thinking of buying unless doing photo shoots or appeasing sponsors. Most of them don’t have as much money as you to spend on kit! You’ll also be disappointed to find that when you go swimming with your tri/masters club that there is almost an inverse correlation between cost of sports watch worn by the swimmer and the speed of swimmer! Think about it.
But that didn’t stop me spending lots of money on gadgets either 🙂 I’m just saying that it doesn’t REALLY matter that much what you buy.
ESSENTIAL READING: Top Running Watches At Christmas 2016
Garmin – the elephant in the room
If you’ve already got a lower-end Garmin and have invested money in ANT+ gadgets and invested time in building up your Garmin Connect data then you might as well go-Garmin when you upgrade, especially if you have an ANT+-only power meter.
The almost-discontinued Garmin 310XT is more than fine as a tri watch and perfect as a duathlon watch. If you’re a beginner swimmer it’s all you will need to count laps. The 910XT is a competent watch and will also do the job; you might go for the 920XT or 735XT if you are a gadget nut and/or excellent swimmer. IF you loved the Fenix 3 you might hold out for late Q1.2017 to get your hands on one of the many Fenix 5 variants. The Fenix 5 CAN CERTAINLY be used in a triathlon. However it is LIKELY that Garmin will also VERY SHORTLY release a successor to the 920XT – ie this will be DEDICATED TRIATHLON watch, it has features that we can predict with some certainty and these are discussed here for the ‘930XT’ BUT it will LIKELY BE RENAMED to ‘something else’.
If you like circular watchfaces and you like Garmin. Then, instead of the 735XT, there is the Fenix 3 which has nearly exactly the same features as the 920XT & 735XT – there’s also a more expensive, optical HR version of the Fenix 3 with the same features but ALSO optical HR. You might well consider the Fenix 3 to be a great choice over the Fenix 5…it is cheaper and has similar functionality AND it largely works. The Fenix 5 will have a period of ‘bug fixing’ to deal with…just as your races start 🙂
The 735XT is also round and pretty; it’s been built to be a lightweight populist run-cum-tri-watch but lacks a few professionally competitive features eg lack of bike mount. Great for small wrists though.
Is it as round and pretty as the Suunto Spartan SPORT (below)? Probably not.
If you take offence at spending hundreds of pounds/dollars on an ugly watch then you will avoid the 310xt and 920xt (I have both).
If you still want to go-Garmin why not get a running watch and a cycling computer? THIS IS becoming an increasing popular choice.
After all you don’t look at a watch much at all when swimming and a cycling computer is potentially a LOT better for, ahem, cycling than a tri watch.
Polar and Suunto offer MUCH prettier options, admittedly probably not in my blue colours shown a few images above. But hey! I like blue. No-one else does.
Polar, Suunto and Garmin will all allow you to get data out of their environment and sent ‘somewhere’ else. Don’t worry about that. If you haven’t bought a power meter yet then buy a multi-band one (BTLE+ANT+) when you can. If you already have a power meter then you are likely to be tech-savvy and you will know which manufacturers that limits your tri-watch choice to! If you have other accessories, like HRMs and footpods, don’t let those sway your choice of watch; minor accessory replacements are relatively cheap.
The Polar V800 is essentially as good as Garmin’s 920XT and 735XT – in terms of having the most useful features, that is. The Suunto AMBIT3 Sport and Suunto Spartan ULTRA/SPORT have a few unique and peripherally innovative things (eg STRYD-profile support & EPOC); if you own Apple products then you’d probably buy the AMBIT 3 or the Suunto Spartan Ultra/Sport. I’m not sure why, just seems to be the way it is from what I’ve seen – quality of construction and the AMBIT’s general lack of bugs, perhaps?
The old Suunto AMBIT 2 is perfectly fine as is the old TomTom multisport. The Suunto has been replaced but the TomTom will NOT be replaced with a new multisport model.
The Garmin Vivoactive is fine for beginners when used for “consecutive single sports” NB: this is not quite multi-sports/triathlon, it’s great for those who want a nice looking watch. The Vivoactive HR replacement is already announced and on sale it’s a bit big for a ‘band’ though.
Again, on the “consecutive single sports” point, you could also go for the new and highly competent TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 – But, yet again, watches like this are not really triathlon watches but do have some usefulness – there are many more of this type.
I’d probably NOT go for the Garmin Fenix 2, there’s better fish in the sea even if you get a good price.
The Timex IronMan watches seem to be worn by a select few people who are quite good but the watch is no big deal in itself. If you want to look like a pro, up until you start swimming, the Timex is the one to go for!!
Understatedness is king in Gadget-world!
For the one-off triathlon or duathlon you will also find that many running watches are waterproof enough for a race and have a rudimentary cycling mode eg Polar M400 for £100.
But by the same token if you’re in it to finish then surely all you need is a timer and/or basic speed/hr info? Your current watch may well be OK for that.
If you want the latest-greatest thing for pure triathlon pose-value then you may well need to wait until Spring 2017 for the 920XT REPLACEMENT…but will it be bug-free?
- Review: Polar V800 (replacement due, Polar V900 )
- Review: Garmin Fenix 3 or Garmin 920Xt (replacements due, Fenix 5! & 930XT)
- Review: Suunto AMBIT3 (replacement: “AMBIT 4 SPORT” is the Spartan SPORT)
- Review: Garmin Forerunner 735XT
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN ULTRA (on hold)
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT (wrist oHR), when released
- Review: Garmin Fenix 5X (March 2017)
Suunto have some unusual, usage-specific variants of the AMBIT 3, such as the KAILISH and VERTICAL models. They are not really triathlon watches.
There is also a new and probably imminent SPARTAN-variant to the AMBIT3, called the SPARTAN TRAINER, with optical HR and SPARTAN firmware. As of 3/Oct, no-one is quite sure what it is. It’s NOT the planned optical version of the SPARTAN SPORT but it is called SPARTAN, it does have oHR and it is sporty cUS$270. Confused? Me too!
Also have a look at
- Alternatives to Garmin (across other sports sectors, not just tri)
If you want lots and lots of features that you won’t use, it’s “Buy the most expensive Garmin you can afford” – which is a bit of a boring, expensive and rubbish recommendation IMO.
Go on, be different.
- Garmin 735XT – Very many features, not necessarily all useful! Bike issues. Best aesthetics and great for small wrists.Garmin 920XT – Feature-full, not necessarily all useful! A bit ugly. Probably the best tri watch. Replacement due imminently in 2017.
- Polar V800 – All the relavent features. If priced less than the AMBIT3 – buy it. Good looking. Most accurate GPS, maybe. Probable replacement due 2017.
- Suunto AMBIT3/ AMBIT3 SPORT – Best value for money at the higher end at the moment. Accurate GPS. Replaced by SPARTAN ULTRA/SPORT.
- Garmin Fenix 3 – Best selling of these 6. Mainly for non-tri reasons and outdoorsy/adventure reasons. Replacement due Q1.2017.
- Suunto Spartan SPORT/ULTRA – Clever holistically featured ecosystem around a beautiful watch. This continues to improve buy for the looks now and for the features in summer. WARNING: I LIKE THIS WATCH BUT IF YOU BUY IT IN Q1.2017 YOU WILL BE INVESTING IN THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLATFORM AND NOT CURRENT FEATURES.
- Garmin Fenix 5 collection – Expensive and feature-full. Interesting options that include mapping and versions for the smaller-wristed.
- Suunto SPARTAN Sport HR (optical HR) – announced Jan 2017
- Polar V800 replacement (V900?) – A totally unknown quantity. Some thoughts on V900 functionality (here).
- Replacement to 920XT (likely March/April 2017)
- Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER (SPARTAN-in-an-AMBIT-shell, otherwise details unknown, expected Q1/Q2.2017)
Let’s turn it around:
- Most pro-tri solution: Garmin 920XT
- Most ugly: Garmin 920XT
- Prettiest: Suunto SPARTAN
- Great value techniness: Ambit 3 Sport and Polar V800
- For thin wrists: Garmin 735XT, Fenix 5s
- Old Model/Budget: Garmin 310XT and Garmin 910XT
- First Tri: Any old waterproof sports watch
- Biker turns tri: Garmin Edge 820 + a running watch!
- Runner turns tri: Garmin 735XT
- Best 2017 investment for the future: Suunto SPARTAN
- Best with maps: Fenix 5x
- Best for smaller wrists: Fenix 5s, maybe also V800.
- ‘Budget’ tri-watch THAT IS ACTUALLY DESIGNED AS A TRI WATCH – maybe the Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER
If you want to know what I have then unfortunately my answer lies in the first image of this post – I have a Suunto A3, Garmin 920XT and a Polar V800…very 2015!! I borrow other devices from friends or PRs from time to time. On loan I currently have a Suunto Spartan ULTRA as well as a Spartan SPORT. But…
I will be buying the Fenix 5x and the replacement 920XT (930XT) in Q1.2017.
ESSENTIAL READING: Top Running Watches at Christmas 2016
Here are some more options and prices, I’d use any of them for racing/training. Get your timing right. As a guide you should really be paying <£250 for the 920xt. NOT £320. eesh! Most of them are linked in the shop, above, to other countries’ Amazon sites if you’d like to support this blog. The SHOP LINKS ALWAYS link to the LOWEST Amazon prices including Black Friday/Cyber Monday – the prices shown were accurate on 13Dec2016.
|Garmin Epix (I like this but I doubt it will remain properly supported)||£300.00||Link||$549.99||Link|
|Garmin Fenix 3 (Sapphire)||£349.00||Link||$449.99||Link|
|Garmin 910 XT||£190.00||Link||$176.00||Link|
|Garmin VivoActive HR (A nice ‘cheap’ option)||£148.00||Link||$132.00||Link|
|Suunto AMBIT3 sport||£153.00||Link||$222.00||Link|
|TomTom MultiSport Cardio||£119.00||Link||$139.77||Link|
|Suunto Spartan Sport||£280.00||Link||$549.00||Link|
If you asked questions (and got answers) or found any of this info or info on the site useful please make your next purchase through one of these links…standard prices. It helps support my efforts.