Running has changed quite a bit as an activity over the last decade or so. Moisture-wicking (or "technical") clothing has become commonplace, portable media players are small and light enough to not be a hinderance, and GPS watches and other gadgets have emerged on the scene and rapidly come down in price. While some may think those devices are reserved for only the most serious runners, they can actually be a great tool for those just starting out as well.

One of the latest such gadgets is Timex's Ironman Global Trainer, the company's first true GPS sports watch (previous models relied on a separate GPS module), and one of the few rivals to Garmin's well-established Forerunner line. How does it stack up? Timex kindly let us put the watch through its paces so we could find out. Read on for our review.
Gallery | 31 Photos

Timex Ironman Global Trainer

Timex

Ironman Global Trainer

Pros

  • More watch-like than similar devices
  • Easy to use while running
  • Water-resistant to 50 meters

Cons

  • Might be too big for some
  • GPS performance not quite up to par
  • Software options a bit lacking
Summary

Timex’s Ironman Global Trainer is solid device that’s decidedly more watch-like than other GPS watches, but it’s still on the large side, and more expensive than some competitors.



Hardware

The first thing you'll notice is that the Timex Ironman Global Trainer is big -- much bigger than you'd think from simply looking at the press shots of the device. While it definitely has a more watch-like appearance, it's actually a bit bigger than Garmin's older Forerunner 305, which remains one of the more popular GPS watches on the market (and arguably delivers the most bang for the buck -- check the gallery for a few comparison shots). The weight of the Timex is a bit more balanced, however, which makes it slightly more comfortable to wear, but the difference between the two is really negligible once you're actually out running. Anyone with small wrists will definitely want to try one on before buying, though.

Of course, the size is largely a result of the watch's GPS capabilities which, like most of Garmin's watches, consists of a SiRFstarIII GPS chipset. That doesn't necessarily mean the watches will perform equally, however, and while things were a bit hit and miss, we found that our Forerunner 305 generally acquired a signal faster than the Timex and was able to more consistently acquire a signal in difficult situations -- indoors near a window, for instance. Others have also noted that the Timex seems to measures distance a bit short compared to Garmin's watches, and we also found that to be the case in our tests -- although we only noticed a discrepancy of about eleven meters per kilometer (not quite the 2.5 percent difference others have reported). Those issues could seemingly be fixed with a firmware update, however, and DC Rainmaker reports that an early firmware update he tested did greatly improve the watch's ability to acquire a signal -- we tested the watch with the most recent, publicly available firmware.

Where the Global Trainer really distinguishes itself, however, is in its design. Not only does it actually look like a regular sports watch (albeit a large one), but it has seven big, easy-to-press buttons (three on either side and a start / split button on front) that makes using it while running a breeze -- which isn't always the case on some competing watches. Those buttons surround a 1.5-inch display (the same size as the Garmin), which is able to display up to four different data fields of your choice at once (pace, distance, heart rate, etc.) -- and this being a Timex, the watch also has an Indiglo backlight, although that's actually quite a bit less bright than some other backlights out there.

Just as importantly, the watch is also about as durable and water-resistant (to 50 meters) as you could hope for, and it's of course equally well-suited for swimming and biking as well -- unfortunately, the same can't be said for this reviewer. For a detailed look at those capabilities, we'd recommend taking a look at DC Rainmaker's review.

Accessories

Inside the box you'll find a USB charging / sync cable (with a clip-on mechanism to attach to the watch), an AC adapter attachment for said cable, a bike mount, and, if you opted for the bundle, a heart rate monitor. That latter item is as close to a must-have accessory as there is, but the watch will work with any ANT+ heart rate monitor if you happen to have one already or would prefer to add one later. You can also use the watch with a bike power meter, but Timex has curiously chosen not to offer any support for footpods, which doesn't exactly make the watch an ideal option for anyone that spends a lot time on treadmill.

Software

The software side of things is separated into components: the Timex device agent application that lets you transfer data to your computer and configure the watch (much easier than fiddling with settings on the watch itself), and Timex's Ironman website, which is simply a rebranded version of the TrainingPeaks website.

While the device trainer is simple and straightforward enough (although with a few quirks -- you have to press the erase button after each download to avoid duplicating data the next time), the web-based component is more of a mixed bag. On the upside, TrainingPeaks gives you a good deal more flexibility than Garmin's similar Connect offers, including everything from meal and nutrition tracking to an equipment list that'll let you keep an eye on how many miles your putting on your sneakers (and even more if you upgrade to the premium version). On the downside, the interface leaves a bit to be desired, and the sheer number of options at your disposal can be a bit overwhelming for beginners or those only interested in keeping track of the basics. You also can't simply upload data directly from the watch to the website, as you can with Garmin Connect.

One other note: while Timex is advertising the watch as both Mac and PC compatible, there's still no Mac device agent as of this writing -- Timex says it will be available sometime next month.

Wrap-up

There's no question that the Ironman Global Trainer stands out from the current crop of GPS watches. It's tough and water-resistant enough to truly live up to the Ironman name, and it's appearance alone is no doubt enough to get some folks interested. What we haven't mentioned so far is the price. At the moment, the Ironman Global Trainer is available exclusively from REI for $250 (or $300 for the heart rate bundle), and will be available from other retailers worldwide this September. For comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 305 is now available for as little as $150 (including a heart rate monitor). Of course, the Global Trainer does offer a number of advantages, but it does also come up short in a few areas that may make it a tough sell for some people. The good news is that many of the watch's issues (apart from its size) can seemingly be remedied with firmware updates and, if it gets discounted a bit from its full list price following its expanded launch next month, it may well become an even more attractive option.