Final weekend, I strapped on 5 health smartwatches, drove to Mount Diablo State Park in California, and hiked about 2,100 toes to the summit. Why? To resolve which smartwatch model — Apple, COROS, Garmin, Polar, or Samsung — was most correct for monitoring elevation.
Most high-end smartwatches sport a barometric altimeter to guage your elevation acquire throughout out of doors exercises. Altimeters use air strain modifications to calculate elevation modifications in coordination with GPS knowledge. However some are extra correct than others, and most manufacturers do not allow you to calibrate your beginning place manually.
I’ve wished to check this for a while, ever since my experiment final yr after I wore six smartwatches for 6,000 steps to see which got here closest to the actual quantity. Since then, I’ve additionally performed a number of multi-watch GPS accuracy assessments for critiques, however these have all been two-dimensional assessments: I’ve by no means recognized how correct my watch is when it tells me I’ve climbed X toes or Y flights of stairs.
For my check, I selected three watches I’ve already reviewed — the COROS PACE 3, Garmin Forerunner 965, and Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic — together with two I am presently reviewing, the Apple Watch Extremely 2 and Polar Vantage V3.
Apologies to the hikers with favourite manufacturers I did not convey alongside; my arms, skinny as they’re, solely have a lot room. Charging and becoming on 5 watches was greater than sufficient to handle, they usually obtained me loads of aspect glances on the path because it was.
Plus, a few of my favourite wearables (just like the Fitbit Charge 6) haven’t got altimeters in any respect, that means they can not be trusted for elevation knowledge, other than GPS estimates.
Fortunately, you may simply check your individual smartwatch’s accuracy in order for you!
Merely select a hike on a web site like Alltrails, such because the Mount Diablo via Summit Trail hike, and observe the minimal and most elevation, together with complete elevation acquire. Then, hike it your self and examine your watch’s outcomes to the truth.
The desk under reveals the outcomes of my smartwatch elevation accuracy check:
|Complete elevation acquire
|Precise GPS knowledge (AllTrails)
|Apple Watch Extremely 2
|COROS PACE 3
|Garmin Forerunner 965
|Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Traditional
Be aware: You probably observed a lacking knowledge row. That is as a result of someday on the best way down Mt. Diablo, my Polar Vantage V3 crashed, displaying an infinite loop of the Polar brand, then manufacturing facility reset itself after I obtained dwelling. The Polar subreddit reveals other people have had related points up to now.
Fortunately, I snapped a photograph close to the height displaying my elevation (3,729 toes) and complete acquire (2,018 toes) on the time. Add one other 100 toes or so of climbing, and the Vantage V3 was in all probability fairly near what my different watches confirmed; I simply can’t give precise knowledge, particularly with out the beginning elevation. I am actually upset that this glitch tousled my check!
Figuring out the ‘finest’ smartwatch altimeter
We have now three metrics to assist choose which smartwatch is finest for elevation accuracy. Let’s begin with minimal elevation, which is the preliminary auto-calibrated end result the smartwatch makes whenever you begin a exercise.
Garmin and Apple miraculously tied right here, each 9 toes off. COROS was 34 toes quick, or 25 worse than Garmin, however that is nothing in comparison with Samsung’s end result, which fell 261 toes quick.
Wanting subsequent at max elevation, Garmin fell eight toes wanting the official summit quantity. Principally, though Garmin was off by just a few yards every time, the hole between the minimal and most (2,080 toes) was simply one foot completely different from the official knowledge (2,079 toes).
COROS’ max end result, 3,825 toes, was 24 toes quick; once more, although, for those who take a look at the entire distinction (2,089 toes), that is simply 10 toes off the satellite tv for pc knowledge, which most hikers will fortunately settle for.
Apple’s max-elevation knowledge had me floating about 24 toes above Mt. Diablo, and its complete distinction (2,094) is 15 toes above. Contemplating all of the smarts you get with an Apple Watch Extremely 2 in comparison with most fitness smartwatches, that is a minor discrepancy that watchOS followers in all probability will not thoughts.
You may additionally name the Galaxy Watch 6 Traditional’s complete elevation distinction (2,097 toes) completely respectable, however the max elevation was simply as absurdly wanting the mark because the minimal elevation. Samsung had an Alti-Barometer app on the Galaxy Retailer that will have fastened this, however it was designed for Tizen OS and does not work correctly with Put on OS.
Lastly, we will take a look at complete elevation acquire, which (to make clear) is completely different from the subtracted sums above since you acquire further elevation every time the path goes up and down.
At first look, the Apple Watch Extremely 2 crushed this metric, solely overreporting by eight toes. The issue is that I did go up and down the steps on the summit a few occasions, in addition to took some aspect paths with mini-hills that added pointless ups and downs.
So though the Garmin Forerunner 965 and COROS PACE 3 each measured an additional 92 toes of climbing, I ponder if my precise end result was someplace in between these two and the Extremely 2. The truth that they each had the very same end result was one other shock.
The benefit of the most recent Garmin Forerunner watches, the PACE 3, and the Apple Watch Extremely 2 is that all of them have dual-band GPS monitoring. If the mountain you are climbing is obstructing the road of sight to the closest GPS satellite tv for pc, they’ll use one other satellite tv for pc to calibrate your place. And since watches use GPS to enhance altimeter outcomes, meaning you are very prone to get one thing shut to an correct end result.
For those who’re utilizing a GPS-only watch just like the Galaxy Watch 6 Traditional, your elevation outcomes might find yourself extra of a crapshoot regardless of the built-in altimeter. The flawed beginning elevation might not matter from a sensible standpoint, however the truth that it underreported my elevation acquire by no less than 100 toes is much less forgivable.
I am hoping that Samsung will fix its fitness issues in 2024 and that the Galaxy Watch 7 Professional is extra reliable. Within the meantime, although, I am actually proud of how Garmin, COROS, and Apple carried out in my check. Garmin received for particular elevation numbers, Apple received (perhaps) for elevation acquire, and COROS got here shut on each counts.
Moderately than rooting for one clear winner, I need as many manufacturers as doable to offer you correct outcomes so hikers and cyclists have a wealth of decisions.
If you are presently on the hunt for a brand new smartwatch, bike laptop, or handheld GPS, my suggestion is that you do not take it as a right that an altimeter within the specs sheet is a positive signal of reliability. Hold your receipt, take your new be careful on the path ASAP, and just remember to get outcomes which might be fairly correct.