Hands-on: track detection on the Apple Watch Ultra

When the Apple Watch Ultra arrived final 12 months, multiband GPS was one among its standout options, meant to entice outside athletes who love poring over route maps. And whereas I really like hyper-accurate maps as a lot as the following runner, I’ve been most impressed by how Apple makes use of GPS for its monitor detection characteristic.

Track detection makes use of a mix of Apple Maps information and GPS to robotically acknowledge whenever you’re at a typical 400m IAAF operating monitor. You might be then prompted to enter which lane you’re in. Later, in your exercise abstract, you’ll get a route map with what Apple says is lane-level precision. (Whereas I examined monitor detection with the Extremely, it really works on any Apple Watch operating watchOS 9.2 or later.)

I wasn’t all that wowed by the entire “lane-level precision” bit. When you’re telling the watch which lane you’re in, you’d count on it to be exact, particularly in the event you begin your exercise on the monitor. The spectacular half is getting that accuracy with out any calibration. Different operating watches require you to create a profile particular to every monitor you run in, often by beginning a monitor run exercise, then operating between one and 4 laps in a selected lane to calibrate the watch’s GPS. Garmin’s watches, for instance, can store profiles for up to 10 tracks. After which you need to begin a Monitor Run exercise for the portion of your run that’s on the monitor.

I ain’t doing all that.

I examined monitor detection by popping over to Astoria Park Working Monitor throughout three of my lengthy runs.
Picture by Victoria Track / The Verge

You’ll be prompted to choose a lane after confirming that you simply’ve arrived at a monitor.
Picture by Victoria Track / The Verge

The Apple Watch can change to trace mode in the course of an everyday run as soon as it acknowledges you’ve arrived at a monitor. It might additionally inform whenever you’ve left (type of). Since I’ve been that means to go for a spin on the Astoria Park Working Monitor, I figured my Sunday lengthy runs have been the right alternative to check this characteristic. Whereas I used to be at it, I additionally determined to see how the Apple Watch Extremely stacked up in opposition to the brand new Garmin Forerunner 265S (which additionally has multiband GPS), Garmin Vivomove Trend, and the Runkeeper app on my iPhone 14 Pro Max over three lengthy runs measuring eight, 10, and 12 miles.

For the primary run, the 8-miler, I wore the Extremely on one wrist and the Vivomove Development on the opposite. To my shock, the Extremely buzzed as quickly as I entered the monitor’s gate. I used to be prompted to decide on unit measurements (meters or miles), and I informed the Extremely I used to be operating in lane 2. I didn’t get any track-specific information, nevertheless, as I forgot to arrange lap alerts beforehand. Plus, it took roughly two to 3 minutes after leaving Astoria Park for the Watch to inform me that I’d left the monitor.

My outcomes have been related for the 10-mile run, with the Extremely notifying me as quickly as I arrived on the monitor. This time, I opted to run in lane 4 as a result of I wished to see about this “lane-level precision.” Once I in contrast my 8-mile and 10-mile runs afterward, the maps appeared similar when zoomed out. However as you’ll be able to see in these screenshots beneath, you’ll be able to undoubtedly see a distinction when zoomed in. I didn’t get any notification after I left the monitor — or if I did, I fully missed it. In any case, it didn’t appear to have any affect on the info itself.

I ran in lane 2 for a lap throughout my 8-mile long term.
Screenshot: Victoria Track / The Verge

For my 10-mile run, I picked lane 4.
Screenshot: Victoria Track / The Verge

On the 12-mile run, I ran in lane 6 and swapped out the Development for the Forerunner 265S with multiband GPS enabled. And this time, I remembered to allow Lap alerts. There was a slight lag as to when these alerts arrived, although I’ve discovered that typically true for any Monitor Run exercise on operating watches. (Although, admittedly, it’s been some time.) The opposite factor to learn about Lap alerts is that they’ll suppress your common break up alerts whenever you’re on the monitor. Additionally, in the event you don’t allow lap alerts, you gained’t discover track-specific information in your exercise abstract. Once more, the Extremely didn’t inform me I’d left the monitor till I used to be outdoors Astoria Park.

As for the maps, The Extremely was extra exact than the Runkeeper app on my telephone, and I absolutely anticipated it to win out over the Development on my 8-mile run. The latter is a way of life watch that depends in your telephone’s GPS, and as you’ll be able to see from my screenshots within the gallery beneath, the Development fully botched my jaunt into the monitor. This isn’t actually a good comparability. It’s simply illustrative of the distinction between tethered GPS and probably the most superior built-in GPS potential.


My route together with Astoria Park Working monitor on an 8-mile run with the Apple Watch Extremely
Screenshot: Victoria Track / The Verge

The Forerunner 265S fared higher however nonetheless wasn’t fairly as correct, even with multiband enabled. However that’s as a result of I didn’t calibrate the 265S since I used to be solely making a pit cease on the monitor in the course of an extended run. Previously, I’ve discovered Garmin’s monitor accuracy to be fairly good, and it will’ve in all probability been a more in-depth contest if I had stopped my outside run, switched to a monitor run, after which switched again to an outside run exercise after I was accomplished. However that’d be an enormous problem, particularly since I’d must calibrate the 265S to the monitor first, and I nearly by no means do track-only runs. Most individuals, myself included, would in all probability slightly document the entire thing as an outside run and reside with barely wonky maps.

That mentioned, having examined a number of operating watches over time, I used to be reminded simply how good the Extremely’s GPS is. And I don’t imply solely when it comes to metrics or maps. I spent numerous time after these three runs evaluating information, and whereas the Extremely did finest total, the Forerunner 265S was a really shut second. Quite, I saved fascinated by how I’ve averted operating at tracks as a result of calibrating is a ache and the way the Extremely made this complete expertise painless. Other than toggling on lap alerts, I actually didn’t must do something. All I needed to do was present up and go away at any time when I felt prefer it.

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