2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Sports Watches To Help Burn Off The Turkey

If you’re planning a marathon next year or just full of delicious stuffing and turkey, you may want to look into getting a sports watch. These wrist computers offer GPS, heart-rate, and pace measurements for runners, bikers, and, most recently, swimmers and they can help motivate you to get off your duff and, what’s more, help you shave some seconds off your time.

I’ve used all of these except the Garmin and they range from $350 to about $200. When looking at a sports watch, take into consideration your daily regimen as well as your – or your intended recipient’s – favorite sport. Something like the Nike+ GPS watch is best for runners while the Polar RCX5 works for triathloners. Just starting out? Take a look at Garmin and Suunto for simpler sport computers designed to motiviate you to get off your keister.

The Polar RCX5 – $349 – The RCX5, which I reviewed here and someone did a better job of reviewing this watch here and we both found this to be one of the simplest and most complete sport watches for those in the “high-performance” segment. Out of the box it doesn’t do much but assess your current heart rate. However, coupled with Polar’s various sensors for bikes and shoes as well as their GPS unit, it gives you a full run-down of your activity using a web-based sync platform.

To use it you simply select your sport – running, swimming, biking, or other – and start exercising. There’s little else to worry about. Wireless sync allows you to connect to Macs and PCs to download your workouts and the battery lasts about a year of heavy/mid-range use. Note that this unit does not have GPS built-in and add-ons are fairly expensive.

Garmin Forerunner 610 – $349 – This is Garmin’s flagship running watch complete with built-in GPS, a touchscreen, and Garmin’s unique “virtual training partner,” a little app that pushes you to go faster and farther in your runs.

Buyer Beware: The $399 version of the watch includes a heart-rate monitor (the $349 does not). It is fairly self-contained. You can connect to your PC or Mac using the ANT+ protocol and the watch is rechargeable and lasts about week of heavy use.

Nike+ Watch – $199 – When I first tried the Nike+ watch I found it to be delightfully simple but woefully bad at picking up GPS signals. Subsequent updates have improved the GPS sensing software enough to give this watch a second chance and, because it works with a heart rate monitor and the Nike+ footpod you can use it inside without having to depend on satellites swirling above.

Suunto M5 – $189 – Suunto is best known for their hiking watches but they’ve recently become more adept at building and selling great exercise watches. The M5, for example, is a self-contained training coach. The watch asks you your goals – weight loss, fitness, back hair growth (not really) – and then tells you how many calories – and how long – you need to run. A helpful reminder pops up every day to tell you when you’re supposed to exercise. You actually don’t need to connect this one to the PC very much (but you can) and its handsome styling makes it a nice everyday watch as well.

Check out the rest of our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide here.