Review: Magellan Echo smart running watch

Echo-OrangeThe Magellan Echo is a smart watch designed for runners and cyclists. Unlike some of its competitors it doesn’t try to replace your smart phone, instead it’s designed to supplement the phone – and that’s both a strength and a weakness.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Echo is the lovely clear screen. Text is crisp and easy to read on the 1-inch display, even in sunlight. The watch is light-weight and has just the bulk that seems to be fashionable these days. It comes in a variety of sporty colours, or a nice under-stated black.

As you turn it on, the first thing it does is take you through the instructions to pair it to your phone. Pairing it to the phone is absolutely essential as the watch does not come with built-in GPS, it relies on the phone, and the phone’s apps, for data. The Bluetooth connection means that you can see that data at a glance on your wrist – and that’s the big selling point in using the phone, the information is readily accessible. In that sense it’s less a smart-watch and more a repeater for a smart-phone.

The advantage of relying on the phone for the smarts is that you get a much more powerful device doing the work than can be squeezed into a watch’s form factor. And then, importantly, there is battery life: Because the watch leaves the heavy lifting to the phone, it uses a normal watch battery which will last for 6 months.

You also get a device that works with whatever phone app you like using: You are not tied to an app from the watch manufacturer. Currently the apps that work with the Echo are Strava, MapMyRun, Wahoo Fitness, Runtastic, and iSmoothRun. We used MapMyRun, simply because that’s our standard running app, and found the integration seamless.

Of course the obvious issue with leaving the heavy-lifting to the phone is that you have to carry both phone and watch. That didn’t strike our testing group as a serious problem, but it depends a lot on what you are looking for. If you are the sort who just wants to see your stats at the end of the run then the watch is probably an unnecessary encumbrance. But if you want to monitor your progress the Echo is a clever way to go as long as you’re happy with the phone coming along. And if you listen to music or audiobooks, or the chasing footsteps of zombies, on your run then you’re going to have your phone with you anyway.

The other factor at play in your decision-making will be that the Echo also has a heart-rate-monitor option via a chest strap. So right there you have data which you need to easily accessible on your wrist and which the phone wont provide for. We didn’t try the HRM simply because everyone in our test group, even the serious runners, hates wearing the things – personal choice again.

In keeping with the fact that this watch is mostly a surface for your phone to write information to, it is priced more cheaply that competing watches, that come with everything built-in, at a RRP of $149 ($199 with heart rate monitor).

Bottom line is this is a great watch as long as you’re happy carrying your phone with you too. There are some real advantages to the approach of using watch and phone in combination, so unless you really don’t want to carry a phone while running the Magellan Echo is worthy of serious consideration as a companion device.

Magellan lent us a review copy of the Echo which we are now, after wiping the sweat off, returning.

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