COROS Apex GPS Watch Review

 

The COROS Apex is a high-end GPS watch that’s sold at a budget-friendly price. It’s designed for runners, cyclists, swimmers, and triathletes.

After tracking a variety of activities with this watch for several months, I can say it’s one of the best values out there. While it has a strong set of features, the factor that stands out the most is its impressive battery life. The 46mm APEX lasts 35 hours in GPS mode, while the smaller 42mm APEX can track you for 25 hours. With this much battery life, you’ll spend much more time focusing on your training runs than you will worrying about your watch being charged.

Besides the battery, the APEX does basic GPS tracking, wrist-based heart rate, and fitness tracking to count steps and monitor pulse throughout the day.

Let’s take a closer look and dig into the APEX’s features….

Unboxing

Taking the APEX out of the box, the first thing you notice is that the watch is nicely sized. 

The screen is big, allowing easy reading. But it’s not too big. It’s not going to overwhelm anyone with thin wrists. 

The watch weighs just under 2 ounces. So it has some heft to it, but it doesn’t feel overly heavy.

The wrist band did feel a little plastic-y to me. And it was sometimes tricky to get it tight enough on my wrist so it didn’t move. But it never felt loose when I went running with it.

Extra color bands can be bought separately. These quickly swap out: just pull on a small metal lever on the watch band near the clasp.

The APEX comes with a single charging cable that connects from a small port on the back of the watch to a standard USB port. Unlike some Garmin watches, there is no clip-on charger. 

This is both good and bad. On one hand, it makes for a more secure connection. But on the other, the cable pokes out the back. If you want to charge and wear the watch at the same time (probably not necessary unless you are running in an extra long ultra event), you can’t do it.

Screen size and resolution

The watch I tested out was the larger model, with a 46mm diameter. This version has a silver titanium bezel that looks sharp. What I liked was that the bezel wasn’t too thick. The high-resolution color screen can display several points of data at once, and is easy to read in a variety of conditions. 

There have been a few complaints that the watch is hard to read in bright light. Personally, I didn’t find that to be the case. But the contrast isn’t very strong, so I could see it happening. Partly, this is a battery-saving decision. Brighter screen = less battery life. In my view, I’ll take the battery. But you can also reverse the contrast, which might make it easier to read.

Battery

Probably the biggest strength of the APEX is its awesome battery. 

The 46mm version has up to 35 hours in GPS mode, and 30 days in regular use. The smaller 42mm version has 25 hours in GPS and 24 days in regular use.

Both of these are very strong compared to other watches on the market. When you factor in the cost, it has one of the best battery-to-dollar ratios available.

If you are willing to sacrifice some location accuracy, the APEX comes with an UltraMax mode. The watch saves battery by taking fewer GPS plot points, relying more on cadence and pace calculated with the built-in accelerometer. In this mode, the 46mm version can get up to 100 hours. The smaller APEX can each 80.

Honestly, the battery life with GPS is so good, you’ll likely not need the UltraMax mode. Regular GPS should provide plenty of battery for all but the longest activities. 

Buttons and user experience

Two buttons on the right side of the watch are all you need to control the APEX. The top button is also a crown dial that’s used to scroll through various menu screens.

Overall, I found the APEX simple to use. The buttons and menus are intuitive. There weren’t many times where I was left scratching my head trying to figure out how to do something.

From the main screen, the crown scrolls through various displays that detail calories burned, heart rate (including a graph from the past 6 hours), temperature, compass, and phone notifications.

From this screen, you can hold the bottom button down to find a display with basic watch functions such as alarm, timer, and stopwatch. Custom watch faces and the Do Not Disturb function are also found here.

Push the crown button and you’re taken to a menu of various activities including running, bike, and swimming. Scroll to the activity you are about to start, then hit the crown button once more to reach the workout menu.

Select start or choose a specific workout such as Interval Training, or the Aerobic and Anaerobic options (more on this later).

It’s also on the workout menu screen where the APEX starts to find GPS. Once it beeps, you’re ready to go.

If you want to use the UltraMax GPS mode, hold the bottom button down after you start the activity. Another menu with that option will pop up.

Customizable screens

The APEX has a lot of flexibility in how its display looks. 

Choose a watch face to match your style. Customize a color theme. Use the watch itself or the app to change settings.

You can also override activity presets if you want to change how data is displayed while you are running, biking, swimming, etc. This has to be done through the app.

This is easy to modify. You can change what’s shown on each screen, how many fields are displayed (2, 3, 4, or 6), and what you want each section to show.

Activity Tracking

The APEX excels at the common activities most athletes will use it for: running, biking, swimming (open and pool), or combining all 3 in a triathlon.

With its compass, breadcrumb map (to be introduced in Feb ’19), and barometric elevation, it would also work well for hiking.

It’s missing the skiing and paddleboard functions you get on a Garmin fenix or Forerunner 935. But that’s not a huge deal in our opinion.

Running

When running, the APEX tracks time, pace, distance, heart rate, calories – plus cadence, stride length, and elevation.

The APEX excels at outdoor runs with GPS. But it also tracks indoor treadmill runs and measures the same data.

Once uploaded to the COROS app, runs look like this:

Cycling 

The Biking function tracks similar data as running, but displays speed instead of pace. It can also measure the grade of a climb, and tracks how far you’ve climbed and descended.

The APEX is compatible with ANT+ accessories like a cadence sensor, power meter, or bike trainer. 

Swimming

The APEX is waterproof to 100 meters. For both pool and open-water swims, it counts laps, records distance and pace, and tracks heart rate. 

Triathletes

There are a couple of nice features for triathletes. 

First, the APEX has a multisport mode, allowing one-button transitions between activities. So as you switch from swimming to the bike to running, the data screens change with each activity. It also records the tri as one long activity instead of 3 separate ones.

And as we already covered, the watch tracks open water swims, bike rides, and runs.

Hardware Features

Besides GPS and the long battery, the APEX has some other hardware features built into the watch.

Wrist heart rate

The APEX tracks heart rate through your wrist, both during a workout and constantly throughout the day.

We’ll dive deeper below, but there are several types of workouts built into the watch that incorporate heart rate as the driving factor.

If you prefer to use a chest strap HRM, the APEX works with any ANT+ monitor. Garmin also uses ANT+ technology, which means if you have any old Garmin HRMs lying around, they’ll work with the APEX.

Barometric Altimeter

The built-in barometer is used for measuring elevation. It’s much more accurate than GPS elevation.

Thermometer

A built-in thermometer measures ambient temperature without needing to link to weather app. Scrolling through the main screen on the watch, the APEX displays the temperature over the last 6 hours.

Because the APEX sits on your wrist, it’s influenced by body heat, and not too accurate in our opinion.

Software Features

Besides setting the APEX for basic activity tracking with GPS, there are several different ways to use the watch while working out. 

Interval workouts

One of the best ways to use the APEX for speedwork is by programming a set of intervals and letting the watch track your splits.

After selecting your activity, rather than selecting start, you scroll to the interval option. You’ll choose how many sets to do, how long (by time or distance) you want each interval to be, along with how long (time or distance) you want rest periods to be. You can even choose to build in a warm-up and cool down period.

This is by far one of our favorite GPS watch features. Doing your speedwork this way lets you get off the track and do them pretty much anywhere that’s safe.

Alerts for pace/cadence/heart rate

Another option to improve your workouts is by setting various alerts. Say you want to keep your heart rate within a prescribed HR zone. Set the APEX to your desired zone, and it beeps and vibrates if you go over or under.

Alerts can be set for pace, cadence, and heart rate. Setting it up is easy. After selecting your activity, go to the Settings menu and choose Activity Alert. Pick your metric and parameters.

Auto-Lap

It’s also in this menu that you can choose the length of the auto-lap. By default, it’s set to one mile.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Workouts

Only available during outdoor or indoor runs, these types of workouts are a unique way to build your fitness.

They’re designed to use your heart rate, VO2Max, anaerobic threshold, and stamina to custom build a workout that will increase your aerobic or anaerobic fitness.

Found under the Interval option on the Run menu, these workouts can be set to medium, high, or intense difficulty. 

Once you select the level, the APEX starts you off on a short warm-up. Once it thinks you’re ready, it sets a heart rate zone it thinks is appropriate to build that level of fitness.

What’s different is that this workout only ends when it thinks you’ve run long enough in that specific heart rate zone. There is no set time or distance. This makes it a bit impractical for outdoor runs unless you want to do loops somewhere. But it’s an interesting training option that’s found only on the APEX. Give it a try on a treadmill or track to get a feel for distance and intensity.

Recovery Time & Stamina

Using its heart rate algorithm, the APEX determines your stamina and training effect after each activity. 

A training effect score between 0 and 6 is assigned after each workout for both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. This – along with its VO2Max and lactate threshold calculations – helps the APEX determine your stamina level (between 0 and 100) – basically a gauge of your overall fitness.

The stamina gauge is also used to determine how much recovery time you’ll need before being fully recovered. This can be viewed on the AI Trainer menu option on the APEX.

One cool thing about the stamina data is that the APEX learns your fitness level over time, and gets better and better at estimating your fitness.

Extras

Fitness Tracker

Like a lot of GPS watches on the market today, the APEX doubles as a fitness tracker. 

It counts steps, tracks flights of stairs climbed, monitors heart rate throughout the day, and tracks sleep. 

Phone notifications

When paired with a nearby phone, messages, phone calls, emails, social media, and other alerts show up on the watch along with a beep and vibration. Pretty much any app that has notifications on your phone will appear on the APEX.

Hands-on Review

I was fortunate to be able to test out an APEX for a few weeks and take it for some runs. I found it easy to use. The battery was phenomenal. And compared to my trusty Garmin Forerunner 35 – which has been the most accurate Garmin I’ve used – the GPS tracking was spot on.

Initial set-up

Setting the APEX up was a breeze. After downloading the COROS app to my phone, it was simple to add some basic info such as height, weight, age, etc.

Syncing the APEX to my phone was also easy. A QR appeared on the watch face. Once I scanned the QR code on the COROS app, the watch and phone were synced.

Setting up Strava on the app was also easy.

Fast GPS lock

When I tested the APEX on my first run, I found it locked on GPS right away. 

Once you select your activity on the watch, it immediately begins looking for a GPS signal. So if you are playing around with the workout mode, it continues to look for GPS. You track its progress with the small bars next to the GPS icon at the bottom of the watch.

The APEX beeps when it’s found GPS and is ready to go.

You can also start your run before it’s locked in on a signal, but tracking obviously won’t be as accurate.

GPS accuracy compared to Garmin Forerunner 35

For about a week, I wore the APEX on my left hand and my trusty Garmin Forerunner 35 on my right. I’ve found the Forerunner 35 to be the most accurate watch I’ve used, so I figured it would be a good test compared to the APEX.

Even though I do the majority of my running on trail – where twisting trails and tree cover can confuse GPS – I found the APEX and Forerunner 35 to be virtually the same. Distance was always within 1/10 or 2/10s of mile of each other.

Here are a few of my runs, side by side. The Garmin Forerunner 35 is on the left. APEX on the right.

UltraMax

I also tested the UltraMax GPS mode.

For my first run – also on trail – it did a good job at staying close to what my GPS-assisted Forerunner 35 said I ran.

The second run in UltraMax mode – this time on road – was less accurate. There was about a mile difference between the two watches on a 5 mile run.

I wish I could still drop a 6:34 mile but my 42-year-old body tells me those days are long over. My Garmin’s 9 min pace is much more realistic.

In discussing this with the COROS rep, we theorized this could have occurred from my tendency to run trail vs. road. The APEX takes past runs and uses that to predict your tendencies.

In this case, my cadence and stride length on trail are quite different from road. It could have been that the APEX used my trail cadence and pace data and applied that to the road. Again, just a theory but it kind of makes sense. Ultimately, more testing is needed.

Swimming

I don’t swim, but I asked a friend to test out the APEX in a pool.

Results were positive. It worked fine and was nearly identical to the swimming stats of the Garmin fenix 2 my friend wore on his other hand.

After the workout: Syncing the APEX 

One of the things I really liked about the APEX is its fast sync and activity upload. After you’ve finished an activity, it uploads to the app as soon as the APEX and phone are near each other. Since I carry my phone with me when I run, this happens almost the instant I save the run.

If you are connected to Strava, this also happens immediately. In fact, I was playing around with the watch inside and inadvertently uploaded some 5-second runs and bike rides to Strava. I couldn’t delete them fast enough to prevent them from syncing to Strava.

Granted, my Forerunner 35 is over a year old now, but its buggy-ness in wireless syncing sometimes drives me mad. It was better when the Forerunner was new, but now it fails to sync maybe half the time I finish an activity. Then, it’s a matter of playing around with Bluetooth on my phone, restarting my phone, or going into Garmin’s app and manually syncing.

I haven’t had any issues with the APEX. It uploads immediately, and hasn’t required any finagling or playing around.

Customizable screens & watch faces

Changing screens is also easy. You update the watch face either directly on the APEX, or via the app.

Customizing the activity screens is also easy, although it does have to be done on the app. But the sync is so fast, it’s updated almost instantly.

Awesome battery

As advertised, I found the best thing about the APEX was the battery life. I could go a week or longer without recharging it. And while I’m not racking up tons of miles, I do my fair share of miles most days of the week.

Not worrying about the charge running out mid-run was refreshing, and a big plus in my book.

Unlike my Forerunner 35, the APEX won’t turn on for an activity if the battery gets below a 10% charge. This is a bit annoying if you’ve forgotten to the charge the APEX. But on the other hand, the APEX never died mid-run like my Forerunner 35.

Summary

Overall, I was very impressed with the APEX. It tracks my activities really well, has phenomenal battery life, and is easy to use. Those tick off the major boxes in what I look for with a GPS watch.

The COROS app was simple to use. Uploading was a breeze. The APEX looks great and is easy to read. 

I’ve had a chance to use it for a couple months now, and my first impressions haven’t changed. The watch has continued to work just as well as when I first took it out of the box.

If you want a watch with epic battery life at a reasonable price, the APEX should be your go-to watch.

Check Price on Amazon

PROS:

  • Super-long battery life
  • Great price, especially compared to other GPS watches on the market
  • Wrist heart rate, and unique ways to use HR during runs and to monitor fitness
  • Clear, color display
  • Simple and easy to use

CONS:

  • Nothing major sticks out
  • I found the band hard to comfortably tighten
  • No COROS software to view activities on a computer – need a 3rd party app like Stava. Not a big deal

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS WATCH
Runners

Runners looking for advanced features and a long battery life will appreciate the APEX. It has comparable features to the Garmin Forerunner 645 with a better battery and price.

Cyclists

This is a nice option for cyclists who also want an everyday watch. It’s compatible with ANT+ bike accessories.

Swimmers

The APEX tracks pool and open water swims, making it ideal for swimmers.

Triathletes

The APEX has multisport for use during a tri. And with it’s strong running, biking, and swimming features, it will get you through long training days.

The Wired Runner