When a company approaches me with a product and claims it’s the “best,” and the “most,” and the “greatest” in whatever category, I pay close attention. When that company is a freshman GPS watch company? The attention turns into scrutiny. When that company that’s advertising their watch as the “most” and “best” is priced similarly to a Garmin Fenix 6? Let’s just say that I’m a little skeptical.
Coros Wearables, a U.S.-based international company founded in 2014, specializes in wearable fitness devices ranging from ordinary GPS sport watches all the way to bike helmets that literally have tail lights and bone conduction headphones built in. But for them to stride into an arena dominated by Garmin and Suunto, proclaim themselves as the best, and charge basically the same as some of the most popular offerings from these established brands, is nothing short of brash.
In general, GPS watches are seen as a sort of status symbol among outdoorsy types and military personnel. The idea, it seems, is to show everyone that you’re a serious squad leader who can pull a 10-digit grid with your watch. The other part is that these watches generally are pricey, large, and are prominently displayed at Clothing and Sales on base, so everyone knows what they are, and how much they cost. These watches also usually offer rudimentary smartwatch features like notifications, step counting, pulse tracking, and pulse oximetry, and the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch is no exception. This is the cream of the crop when it comes to the Coros catalog, so I came into this with my standards set very high.
As a quick disclosure: Coros loaned me this watch for the purposes of this review free of charge. Here’s how it held up to all the torture we put it through.
The Vertix comes in a gray Pelican-style case with a steel logo placard on the top, which really sets the tone for this thing as a serious adventure watch. Inside the case are multiple levels of dense foam, housing the watch itself and the straps on one level, and the warranty, manual, and charging cable immediately beneath it. The case itself is mostly for show, as the handle is too small to comfortably use for carrying, but I’m sure it could be gutted and repurposed later for water-resistant storage for your phone while kayaking, or whatever.
The watch itself is a large, industrial affair, grossly exceeding its stated dimensions of 47 mm by 47 mm, and 15.6 mm thick, clocking in at 52 mm in diameter including the crown and boasting a lug-to-lug measurement of 55 mm. The Coros is roughly the size of the ego of your average Texan; this thing is beefy, and the lugs will overhang all except the largest of wrists. This is standard for GPS watches in this category, and overall the current trend with watches is to go large, but this still means that smaller wearers will have a hubcap strapped to their wrist, leading to a bulky feeling in spite of the titanium case construction with molded polymer lugs.
The watch comes with a very soft 22mm-wide proprietary rubber strap that clips onto the semi-fixed rotating spring bars, and features enough holes to allow for even the smallest of wrists, all the way up to people who want to wear it over top of a wetsuit or cold weather gear. The strap itself gave me a nasty rash, as it didn’t allow sweat to escape after two weeks of constant wear, apart from taking it off to shower. Additionally, the clip-on design means that if your watch experiences significant pressure, the clips may fail, which is why you don’t see this design more often. This means that if you want different straps, you have to buy them from Coros. Thankfully, they offer nylon options that may be less rash-inducing.
The controls are bare-bones, featuring a free-spinning crown that can rotate both ways and be pushed in to select various onscreen options. Above and below the crown, there are two pushers, the top for turning on the backlight, and the bottom to return to the previous screen. Additionally, the bottom pusher can be held down to access the toolbox, which allows you to use various features such as your compass direction and location, alarm, stopwatch, and map. On the screwed-down case back, you have the charging port, pulse oximeter and sensor, and markings that indicate the basic specifications of the watch. Of particular note is the fact that the back of the watch says “waterproof 150m.”
Put plainly, this marking is not allowed to be used by several governing bodies, including the Federal Trade Commission, because no watch is truly waterproof. This oversight technically makes this watch not authorized for sale, and should be corrected by the manufacturer as soon as possible.
The digital display covers the better part of the face of the watch, and features a color display with a resolution of 240×240 pixels. Over the display is a sapphire crystal that is basically impervious to scratching, even with me jabbing at it with the point of a knife. The watch required an immediate firmware update as soon as I took it out of the box, which is pretty standard with smart devices, but when I completed the update, I was greeted with a cheery and confident “upgrade succeed!” Which brings me to the GUI, website, manual, and pretty much every bit of English text associated with the Coros Vertix: It’s bad. The broken English is abundant, and between that message, and dial themes labeled things like “neno sign” (neon sign) and “back to future” (Great Scott!), the overall impression is that they half-assed the global release of their product.
The UI itself is confusing, and unless you’re tech-savvy, you’ll find setting this up challenging, especially since the user manual is of no help. Setting the watch to only use GPS and QZSS, and to avoid using the Russian GLONASS system or Chinese BeiDou system, required considerable trial and error. Still more effort was required to switch the location format from Lat/Long to MGRS, which is the format that I’m used to. Further diminishing the appeal of the display is the fact that on all but the simplest dial layouts, the screen is very washed out, making it difficult to read text or see detail on smaller-scale designs.
In addition to this, the vast majority of the themes are just frankly ugly to my eye, and either feature too little information, a cluttered design, or somehow, both. Getting the watch to integrate with popular fitness programs is another issue as well, given that the Coros app does not integrate with options like Samsung Fitness, Apple Fitness, and the various Nike and Under Armour apps. Instead, if you want to integrate with those, you’ll either have to have your phone on you, or manually enter the details that the Coros app saved. However, if you use a program like Strava, the Coros app does support that, along with several other apps like Running Quotient, Adidas Running, WeRun, and Runalyze.
The Vertix also dips its toes into the trendy smartwatch and fitness wearable territory of various offerings from Fitbit by not only featuring the ability to see the notifications from your phone, but also perform various tasks such as being a step counter, silent alarm, stopwatch, and timer. Unfortunately these features are very shallow, and are essentially what you could get from even the cheapest smartwatch. The cell phone notifications don’t even render properly, with some words bleeding onto the next line and making it difficult to read. I’d advise leaving the notification function off, since all it does is buzz to alert you when you have a notification on your phone, like some sort of bizarre 21st century pager. Additionally, though this one came in black, Coros offers the Vertix in several different colors including blue, green, and red. They advertise it as “Ice Breaker: Break the Ice in any group setting with this one of a kind watch,” but really, the only attention the watch got was “is that a Garmin?”
How we tested the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch
Coros boldly claims that this is the “most durable GPS watch” and has “the most battery life of any GPS watch,” and honestly, with superlatives like that, I had to test this thing to the point of what could only be described as abuse. The company warned me that it wasn’t a military watch, and so I decided to test it in only civilian settings, barring setting the coordinate format to MGRS. But first, I had to see if it stands up to how normal people use it, which is as an everyday sports watch.
Luckily for me, the watch came without any sort of charge whatsoever, which allowed me to measure how long it takes for the Coros Vertix to charge. In roughly 50 minutes, the watch went from zero to a full charge, which was a pleasant surprise, especially considering that I was charging it off an external battery pack, rather than some sort of fast charger. One item that I was not terribly happy with, however, is the proprietary charging cable, which is short, and attaches to a port on the back of the watch, covered by a non-captive small rubber cover. The cover will almost certainly get lost if you misplace it while charging, exposing the charging port to dust and dirt, as well as either environmental moisture or sweat from your wrist.
Coros claims the Vertix can run for 45 days on one charge, “enough to hike the John Muir trail.” In practice, what I found is that the watch will actually last two weeks on a single charge under normal use for things like my daily runs and trips to the gym, telling the time, step counting, and other normal tasks of daily living. While this number is still impressive considering the battery lives of many smartwatches or fitness wearables that require charging every other day, I’m not sure where they got the 45-day figure. Maybe that’s how long the battery lasts if you charge it and just let it sit on a table somewhere, but if the battery lasts 14 days when using the GPS and biometric sensors for things like mapping 5k runs and making sure I get my steps in, I’m not sure it would last much longer while tracking your route through the John Muir trail. This doesn’t really matter, since as I mentioned above, the recharge time is very short, but still, the stated battery life isn’t even remotely accurate.
So now it was time for the abuse, to see if the Coros Vertix is ready for life’s little accidents, especially as the alleged “most durable GPS watch” out there. The first test was to make sure the crystal was actually sapphire, and rather than shelling out for a diamond tester, I just took a knife blade and attempted to scratch, chip, or score the surface. No effect. To see if the crystal had an anti-reflective coating, I shined a flashlight onto it and looked at the reflected light on a wall, where it showed the telltale blue hue of AR coating. The second test was a simple impact resistance test, which consisted of forcefully throwing the watch against metal, concrete, and wood, dropping the watch off my second floor balcony onto the sidewalk, and then testing for function. This test yielded light scratching on the titanium bezel, and also caused considerable damage to the plastic lugs, which showed deformation and pitting from the concrete. This pitting caused discomfort while wearing the watch, and damaged the controls to the point of the click function on the push-in crown completely disappearing after being dropped from the second story.
To test how the finish stands up to saltwater exposure, since the ad material features claims of how “waterproof” their watch is, my mind went to boating and diving. I covered the Vertix with salt, added warm water, and let it sit for three days in open air. After washing the salt off, the watch showed minor pitting and corrosive effect on any of the metal surfaces, but no chipping of the finish or damage to the crystal. As an additional corrosion test, I soaked the watch in Goo Gone, Turpentine, sodium hydroxide (oven cleaner) and vinegar, one after the other. None of these showed any sign of damaging the finish of the watch, even over the course of several days.
As a final test, I subjected the watch to extreme temperatures, since they advertise it with photos of climbers on snow-capped mountains using their product, and I know how extreme temperatures can affect electronic devices. First was extreme heat, with the watch being rated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, much higher than most places on earth will ever get. However, direct sunlight and ambient temperature will build over time with constant exposure, and the surface temperature of an object can get much hotter than the ambient temperature. Thanks to the specific heat of titanium being higher than steel, the watch will take much longer to heat up, which meant that even 30 minutes in a 170 degree oven with artificial humidity in the form of a steam pan, the watch still functioned, and was cool to the touch within 10 minutes.
The second test was extreme cold, to evaluate the stated 21 hours in GPS mode at minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold kills batteries, and the Vertix is sadly no different, being powered by a simple lithium-ion rechargeable battery. I put it in my freezer, wrapped around a cooling grilled chicken breast with a core temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate body heat, and set the watch to track XC Skiing. The battery lasted two hours even with a source of ambient heat, which is much less than the stated 21 hours. While I’d offer the caveat that your body would provide a constant source of heat, rather than cooling with the environment, unless you’re dead or hypothermic, and the caveat that the freezer likely acted as a Faraday cage of sorts, which may have caused the GPS unit to use more battery in the effort to find a satellite, this does not bode well. I did not do a controlled GPS-tracked activity in normal temperatures for that length of time, but I would hypothesize that two weeks of GPS-tracked runs of approximately 20 minutes apiece with no battery failure speaks to the warm-weather performance of the battery, even in GPS mode. As a final note about cold temperatures, I initially had some concerns about wearing a metal-backed watch in extremely cold temperatures, based off anecdotes from the early days of aviation, in which pilots went to great lengths to avoid letting their wrist watches touch their skin at high altitudes, to avoid the metal adhering to their skin. This fear was alleviated by research that showed that titanium has very poor heat retention and conduction properties, which means that it will not sap heat from your skin as much as steel would. However, extreme cold and the steam from the cooling chicken led to the watch icing up, making the controls nearly useless until you break or melt the ice off of them.
What we like about the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch
The Vertix certainly lives up to its promise of being a durable GPS watch, with its sapphire crystal, titanium case, 150m of water resistance, and performance against sharp impacts and abuse above what the normal user would do to their watch. Additionally, the functions of the watch are useful for tracking many different kinds of workouts, no matter your sport of choice. It also delivers in terms of value for the money, with the titanium construction and sapphire crystal at a retail price of roughly $600, which is much cheaper than equivalent Garmin offerings with the same features. Finally, it delivers on being lightweight and having a longer battery life than other offerings. Fourteen days might not be the advertised battery life, but it’s still a solid number.
What we don’t like about the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch
The overall execution of the Coros Vertix could be described in one word as “rough,” taking into account the display, the UI, the battery performance, and the advertising material. It feels like a prototype of a watch that could be an effective GPS sport watch, but that hasn’t had the care and dedication put into it to actually make it a proper contender against giants like Suunto and Garmin.
The display is ugly, washed-out, and has none of the vibrance that it advertises, paling in comparison (figuratively and literally) to Garmin watches of similar price, to say nothing of how it stacks up against Apple and Samsung smartwatches. The UI can be confusing, especially for those who aren’t as tech-savvy, and it features a lot of broken English that doesn’t suggest a level of polish that’s befitting of the $600 price tag. The battery performance was so much less than the advertised number that I emailed the manufacturer to ask them if they had given me a watch that had a degraded battery due to overcharging. (They hadn’t.) The choice of plastic lugs and a rubber strap meant that the lugs are very vulnerable to deformation from impacts and wear, and the rubber strap caused a severe breakout on my wrist due to its inability to wick away moisture.
The advertising material is another point of deficiency, to the point where I’d even question their advertising standards, because frankly this watch isn’t the “most” or “best” or “greatest” anything, and is at best a more durable than average FitBit. And the fact that they’re advertising the watch as “waterproof” rather than “water-resistant” nearly 80 years after the term was quasi-outlawed just shows that they either didn’t know, or didn’t care, and brings into question for me whether or not they actually abided by ISO water resistance testing standards.
If you want a GPS watch that features respectable water resistance, sapphire crystal, and functions tailored for the outdoorsy individual, any of the Garmin offerings will suit you well. Yes, you’d have to pay an additional premium, but the saying “buy once, cry once” applies here. Suunto also makes solid watches at a slightly lower price, albeit at the expense of some functions. The Coros Vertix just isn’t it, feeling rushed to market and poorly finished. I hope Coros takes into account the criticisms that I’ve outlined here, and improves their product accordingly. They can start by de-hyperbolizing their marketing materials.
FAQs about the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much does the Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch cost?
Q: Is Coros better than Garmin?
A: In the field of battery life, maybe. To my knowledge, no company has battery life equivalent to the Coros Vertix, even if Coros does vastly overstate their battery life. Perhaps the same also applies in water resistance, if the stated 150m water resistance is accurate. Otherwise, a sapphire crystal Garmin will beat a Coros every time.
Q: What do YOU use for a GPS watch, Matt?
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Matt Sampson is an 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native. In his past life, he worked in tactical gear retail and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is Oklahoma.
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