Did I Just Waste $150 on This Piece of Gear?

by Travis Pizel · 22 comments

I’d wanted one for years. Let me rephrase that: I’d craved one for years.

It seemed like all my running friends owned a fancy GPS watch used to collect statistics about each and every run. At races, I’d notice countless runners poised to hit the start button on their GPS watches when the gun went off. I convinced myself that owning one would add a formality to how serious I was about my running.

So I walked into a sporting goods store and dropped $150 on my very own GPS watch.

I loved my new toy. After each run, I connected it to my computer and downloaded my info. I’d be shown a map of my route and given statistics that helped me gauge my training progress, as well as show me what I needed to work on. I felt like I finally had the tools to help me reach my full potential as a runner.

As any runner proud of his training would do, I posted my run stats on Facebook. It was about that time I started noticing other runners posting information about their runs from something called MapMyRun. I asked a friend about it, who explained it was a free smartphone app. I felt the lump my smartphone made in my pocket and started to wonder if my $150 GPS watch was a waste of money.

I downloaded the MapMyRun app to my Android phone and did some comparisons. Here’s what I found:

GPS Watch Features

  • Data downloaded and viewable on computer only
  • Shows pace, speed, heart rate (if monitor used), and elevation relationship graph
  • Displays course route on map
  • Displays total time and average pace
  • Displays current distance and pace while running
  • Watch face always illuminated

MapMyRun Features

  • Data stored on website; viewable anywhere
  • Shows pace, speed, and elevation relationship graph
  • Displays course route on map
  • Displays total time and average page
  • Displays mile split times
  • Displays current distance and pace while running
  • Phone blacks out and locks after a period of time

Final Analysis

The GPS watch has two advantages over MapMyRun:

  1. The watch face is always illuminated to check stats while running more easily
  2. The watch is small and quite unnoticeable, whereas my phone is bulky

But MapMyRun has its own advantages:

  1. It’s FREE
  2. Gives better data (mile split times)
  3. Quite frankly, the web interface is way better than the GPS watch’s application

Is the GPS watch worth $150? I haven’t decided yet. Having the ability to easily see your total time, distance, and current pace is a big part of why I wanted a GPS watch. I’m past the 30-day return window, so I’ll either keep it or sell it at a reduced price on Craigslist.

If you’re a runner, you might want to check out MapMyRun before you spend your hard-earned cash on a GPS watch. You might find that the free app works just fine for you.

Should I keep the GPS watch? Or just cut my losses and sell it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Andrew Heist says:

    As a finance-conscious runner I also faced the GPS watch vs. smartphone dilemma.

    When I dove into the world of smartphones, I justified the vast cost increase by committing to use the phone’s capabilities to replace other objects (and their associated costs) as much as possible. In keeping with this commitment, I decided to find a way to make my smartphone work for tracking my running data.

    I first went with MapMyRun, but came up against the same problem of always wanting to see the pace, distance etc. I found RunKeeper, which will (rather loudly) announce your distance, current pace, average pace at whatever intervals you choose. It is also a free app, and I’ve found it to track more accurately than MapMyRun.

    Not quite happy with the audio-only method of monitoring my stats, and also concerned about sweat damage to my phone, I purchased a water resistant arm-mounted phone case with a clear plastic face. I mount it on my forearm and can see my stats any time, it protects from rain and sweat penetration, and at $20, I am saving $130 over the GPS watch option (and have one less object to deal with in my life). Apart from making me look a bit like RoboCop, it’s a nearly perfect solution to this dilemma.

    • Sounds like you’re happy with your solution…for me I’m not sure I could get used to having my huge Galaxy S4 mounted on my forearm. It may be worth a try. Do you have a feeling for how much of your data plan it sucks down while you’re using it?

  • Sassy Mamaw says:

    The watch is easy to wear while you are running, and you don’t risk damaging your phone. For someone starting out, the app would be great, until they are sure they are going to stick with it. You are a serious runner, so it’s not a waste of money. My opinion might be different if you had paid $1500 for it rather than $150. As Dave Ramsey says, it’s about the ratios. For your financial situation, and your commitment to running, the watch is a good choice. Enjoy!

    • David Ning says:

      I agree with Sassy. Whether it’s worth it all boils down to how much you are saving/spending as a whole. If you are killing it with your savings, then you are okay no matter what you buy!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      You are reminding me of the question I ask myself for each purpose – “will this item bring me an appropriate amount of value for the cost?” At first glance, maybe the answer is NO, but when you consider the consequences if I busted or lost my phone…I believe the answer is a resounding YES!

  • If you are a serious runner (sounds like you are), I think the watch is worth the money if it helps you track your progress and possibly help improve your performance. I have a friend who broke 3 iPhones all from his sweat when he ran with his phone. He had even tried to put the phone in ziploc bag and still managed to break it! lol So just imagine the cost of replacing those 3 iPhones or any other smartphones.

    • David Ning says:

      Yikes! All I managed to do was scratch my current iPhone and shove a ton of dirt into the camera lens. The phone still works though, so I should consider myself lucky!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Great point, Alex. If my watch happened to break (or get lost), it would be disappointing but I wouldn’t have to replace it. If my phone busted though….yikes. I’d be heading to the store, or scanning Craigslist for a purchase THAT DAY.

  • Misty says:

    I agree with Steve that the watch is made for sweating and it is more accurate on your pace and distance. I am not sure which Garmin you have but I have a very old one and it will show me the mileage splits. If you are just running for leisure and you don’t care about accuracy then I think using the free app is a good option.
    Hope that helps 🙂

    • David Ning says:

      One thing I like about the phone is that I don’t have to fiddle with cables to sync data because it’s done online automatically. I do give up some accuracy, but for leisure, it doesn’t really matter all that much!

      • Travis Pizel says:

        It’s actually a NewBalance watch, Misty. I wish the app that came with the phone was a little better…..and that I could share the results with social media. Maybe a Garmin would have given me that capability.

  • I’m not a big runner, but when I run I just use my phone. I’ve used MapMyRun and Endomondo, both are pretty good. The phone is bulky but I barely notice it and it has music. I would also be constantly looking at my watch to see how much time I have left… it would be annoying.

    • David Ning says:

      Right now I put my phone in my back pocket and yes, I don’t notice it at all. Good point about music, since an upbeat tune can help energize us for the entire workout!

      • Travis Pizel says:

        I think by writing this article, as well as responding to the comments I’ve come to the conclusion that the watch was a good purchase. I bought it to conveniently see my pace and my split times when I’m running a “loop” that is a known distance several times in one day. As I get more serious about my running with a goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon one day, I’m now positive that the watch will be a nice item to have.

  • Nick says:

    I did the same thing. I run more to stay in shape and not at all serious. Thought it would be nice to have a GPS watch to track my stats. I had a Garmin. Got one as a gift and soon realized it took way too long to find the satellite reception. Fed up with it (for majority of reasons above), I sold it for a reduced price and got a Pebble. I wear it and use it everyday, which I have never done with any watch since I was 10!

    • David Ning says:

      Good to know about the GPS. I’m thinking of getting a Garmin for my bike so the stats can be in front of me while I ride. I figured it would motivate me to ride harder/faster if I see the numbers, but nothing would work if there’s no GPS signal!

      • Travis Pizel says:

        I don’t understand why it’s so hard for the watch to find a GPS signal. My phone has one all the time…but I have to go outside, and wait for my GPS watch to “beep” and tell me it found a signal. I have to say, I tried the mapmyrun with my phone a few more times, and I find myself constantly digging it out of my pocket to look at it. It may be free, but it’s not convenient when I REALLY want to know how far I’ve gone, or how fast I’m going.

  • Steve says:

    I never run with my smartphone. The watch is made to put up with the sweat of a hard workout and can handle the rain. I also don’t have to worry about breaking my phone or getting mugged for it.

    • David Ning says:

      That’s true. Running in the rain would just about kill any phone. I learned the hard way by ruining the camera of my smartphone this way!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Those are good points, Steve. You never want to say never, but I don’t have much fear of being mugged in my city. But rain and sweat could be a concern, however. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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