(Pocket-lint) - Epson, most famous for its printers, is making the move into sports wearables with its Runsense range of GPS-enabled watches. No ink carts or A4 paper to be seen anywhere.
Running watches aren't a new concept, of course, with big names like Garmin and Polar having already had plenty of time to perfect their sporty gadgets through multiple iterations. Can Epson, the new kid on the block, hope to compete?
From design to tracking, and battery life to the software, we've tested the Runsense SF-810 to see how it compares and whether Epson should stick to the printers.
Build and design
For a first product Epson has done pretty well with the SF-810. It's compact enough to be worn as a watch but there are enough buttons to remain functional. Sure, it's not going to win any beauty contests but in a Casio G-Shock kind of way we like it. It certainly feels strong.
The screen is greyscale with a choice of light text on dark or vice versa to suit the lighting conditions – it auto adjusts this which proves helpful when out late. There's also a light which illuminates the entire screen for those really dark training outings.
The brilliant extra on the Epson Runsense SF-810 is the built-in optical heart rate sensor, that glowing green light emitted from the rear. This is light-based system is unobtrusive, works well and makes the watch not much bigger than the Garmin or Polar watches which don't have heart rate built-in, or a little larger than the TomTom Cardio, which does.
The rubberised strap is worth a mention too, as it's light, comfortable and, perhaps most importantly, breathable – we felt comfortable wearing it all day, not just while running. Sweat is no contest for this wearable.
Run, walk, cycle
Running is the core activity available on the Runsense SF-810, with walking and cycling options also available. Despite being waterproof to 40m deep, swimming isn't a distinct option, with no stroke- or pool length options – however, the built-in accelerometer suggests this could be a mere software update away.
Starting an activity gives you the option to locate a GPS signal for tracking, or to use the indoor mode for treadmill and gym use, which utilises the built-in accelerometer to track steps instead. The heart-rate monitor can be utilised whichever mode is in play.
For tracking cycling the GPS and altimeter help track speed and elevation, with all the pace, time, heart-rate and so forth features available, but there isn't a specific setting for it, nor can sensors sync for wind and cadence measures. So it's not a proper cycle tracker.
And so back to running, which – and you'd guess it from the name – is the Runsense's main appeal. Once out and about, feet pounding the tarmac, there are a few pre-programmed screens to select from: the first shows heart rate, lap pace and distance; the second has split and lap times; the third heart rate, altitude and time; and the fourth shows heart rate and stride.
The great thing is that all these screens can be edited so you can have up to four screens laid out as you'd please – this is easily done from the app on your smartphone. A helpful beep from the watch when connected to the phone is a nice reassuring touch too. However, while the screen is big enough some of the smaller readouts, when you pack three lines in it can be hard to read while running in the dark – the light helps here – which may mean stopping to get a clearer look at the readout. It's just a bit too busy.
On the watch itself a long press of the light button accesses settings, while a press of the display button powers it down – not that you'd know without the manual as there are no markings on the watch to help. A few times when trying to access settings we accidentally turned the SF-810 off, which was annoying.
GPS and HR quality
After plucking up the courage to step out into the freezing cold, one of the potentially most annoying things about a fitness watch is having to wait while it finds a GPS signal. Tick tock. Fortunately Epson has done well here, with GPS targeting the watch within half a minute each and every time.
We did have issues when the watch needed to be updated – which is done via a PC – sometimes meaning we were already out the door and ready to run before powering up, only to be met with an update screen. One way around this is hard reset by pressing all four buttons at once – your data isn't lost so this is a good quick fix option.
The heart-rate monitor worked perfectly while we were testing, displaying a real-time pulse rate. The pulse was detected within seconds and the readout was steady throughout the run, even when the watch wasn't strapped on particularly tightly. You can tap the display button to see heart rate anytime too, even when not working out – which is nice for those who need at a glance heart rate updates throughout the day.
Being able to see average heart rate as well as beat-to-beat rate was useful while training. The watch also offers the ability to train within heart rate zones, so if fat burning is your goal you can set that and the watch can vibrate to alert you when you're moving outside of that specific zone.
Epson claims the Runsense SF-810 will last for 20 hours with GPS and heart rate in use continuously, which seemed about right, and is far beyond the five-six hours that the TomTom Cardio caters for. It's not a patch on the Garmin ForeRunner 920XT's 40-hour battery life though, even if that product lacks a heart-rate sensor.
It would be difficult to make the 14.12mm watch much thicker to accommodate a physically larger battery, as it's already on the chunky side. But whether new to running or going for the full marathon, there's enough juice in the tank to keep going whatever you're likely to need.
To recharge the battery there's a charger cradle that the watch clips into. This uses a USB cable meaning it can be plugged into a laptop or phone charger easily to get it back to full, which happens within an hour.
If you're a Mac user you will have to stick with your phone only, be it Android or iPhone, as Mac OS isn't supported by the Epson Runsense software yet. But since you can't update via the phone you're a bit stuck if you don't have access to a PC. So this watch is really for PC owners only at this stage.
From the app you can update GPS data easily for faster access before you head out. The app also allows you to upload recorded workouts and view expanded details like graphs for heart rate zones, maps, and data listings. These are all laid out on a calendar – but this wasn't working for us on Android.
As you can see from the image above not all the data was being displayed in the Graph section and the Map also didn't work – only offering a link to a browser. The upload shown on the far right took a good five minutes to get online too.
Which highlights one of the system's biggest issues: uploading a workout just is not simple. You need to go into watch settings to turn on connect mode, then open the app and turn on Bluetooth on your phone, then select upload. But this only gets it onto the phone. You then need to select it from there to upload it to the Epson Runsense online software, which essentially works like a browser within the app – it's not too smooth and requires complete reloads when jumping between screens.
Epson assures us its software platform is being updated and will work better in the future, but right now it still feels unfinished. When there are so many other established providers out there – from RunKeeper to MapMyRun and many more – this is the area that the Epson is most behind in. Which is no small issue.
As a first product there's plenty to admire about the Epson Runsense SF-810: the built-in heart-rate monitor, quick and accurate GPS, waterproof design, and decent battery life all make it a very attractive prospect.
But at £300 it's pricey and can't justify it. The main reason being the software needs work – and then some. The watch itself is a more positive experience, although the busy on-screen display isn't ideal for quick-glance runners. These things could be fixed in the future, of course, so if you want to be an early adopter and get yourself a GPS watch with heart-rate monitor built in, Epson may yet be onto something.
But we can't award on what doesn't exist yet. That price point and the shabby software cost the Epson dear, meaning for now it doesn't make much sense, let alone Runsense.