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Face Off: Two Trek-Ready Smartwatches for Triathletes

We pit two monster, trek-ready smartwatches against each other in a fierce competition for multisport bragging rights.

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We pit two monster, trek-ready smartwatches against each other in a fierce competition for multisport bragging rights.

Photo: Oliver Baker

Garmin Fenix 5X

$650; Garmin.com

What: Nearly twice the weight (at 98g) of the tri-popular Forerunner 935, the fēnix 5X is the Forerunner’s adventurous, lifted-pickup-driving cousin. Boasting all of the Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, and WiFi connectivity you’d ever need on a big 51mm color screen that displays preloaded U.S. TOPO maps, routable cycling maps, and GroupTrack.

Pros: The exibility and compatibility to do literally everything a smartwatch can: Import and export workouts, training programs, Strava, routes, maps, and (way) more. This is pretty much a small smartphone with wrist-based heart rate, and buttons instead of a touchscreen (we’ll get to that). Garmin’s super-expansive, nearly open platform is widely customizable with 16GB of memory and a monster battery life (12 days in smartwatch mode, 20 hours of GPS/HR).

Cons: With a feature list on the fēnix 5X that reads like a volume of The Lord of The Rings, the actual navigation of this watch’s system can have a steep learning curve sans-touchscreen. The many, many customizable options are a blessing for those who like to manage every detail of their training sessions, but can be an overwhelming curse for those who aren’t comfortable with so many settings. Also, small-wristed triathletes take heed: The fēnix 5X is burly.

This Is For: Data geeks who want to do (or have the option to do) absolutely anything with their training and racing.

Photo: Oliver Baker

Suunto Spartan Ultra

$700 (without HR belt); Suunto.com

What: A sleek, modern take on the wrist-mounted mapping devices of old, the Spartan Ultra weighs in at 77g (roughly 20 percent lighter than the fēnix 5X) and features a slightly slimmer body. It still packs in over 80 preloaded sports with racing and interval modes.

Pros: A super easy-to-use interface and a touchscreen that works well for navigating the watch’s system, the Spartan Ultra has a super quick out-of-the-box setup. We also love some of the clever hiking/trail-running training features like Suunto’s storm warning alarm and a heatmap that helps plan routes based on popularity (via Movescount.com). The tri race function is another easy-to-use multisport highlight.

Cons: While simplicity is key, those who like to manage every detail of their training may nd the Spartan Ultra slightly limiting, and Bluetooth Smart-only connectivity means no ANT+ devices or automatic WiFi uploads to Strava (you can still upload to Strava through the Movescount app). The touchscreen is ideal for navigation, but a lack of built-in topo maps seems like a missed opportunity. No built-in heart-rate monitor (add another $50 for Suunto’s belt) is also out-of-step with competitors at this price point.

This Is For: Triathletes who need their info tracked but want something super-sleek and easy-to-use straight out of the box.

Winner

Garmin: The built-in maps, super-long feature list, and forward-thinking expandability means this is the only watch you’ll need for a very long time.

RELATED – 2018 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Watches