Today we welcome back one of our resident reviewers, Caine Warburton to the pages of Ultra168. Having reviewed a previous Soleus watch, here Caine reviews the latest model from the company that’s aiming to compete directly with Garmin and Suunto. Take it away Caine…
US based Soleus have been producing running watches for a few years now and know their way around the market. Their motto is “made by runners for runners” and this is something they have really stuck to in the design of their new range which includes the new Tour GPS.
The Tour is Soleus’s first shot at a fully functioned GPS, thinking along the same lines as the Garmin 910 and Sunto Ambit but producing it at a fraction of the cost. The Tour has a number of key features including, chronometer, altimeter, GPS, compass, route navigation and a 20hr battery life to name just a few. They have also gone one step further and fully integrated the watch with the hit online software Strava to complete the package.
One of the major problems with current GPS watches is their size and bulk on the wrist which is a problem that has plagued other manufactures such as Garmin. However Soleus have listened to the market and done a brilliant job in reducing the size and weight of the Tour. The Tour is 59g compared to that 72g of the Garmin 310xt and sports a much lower profile on the wrist. To achieve this some compromises have been made and the most obvious is the screen size. The Tour’s screen is smaller than that of its competitors, however an effective screen layout has helped in ensuring important data can still be read with ease.
The Tour also sports a rubber ventilated strap with 11 adjustment positions to fit most wrist sizes. For runners out there with smaller wrists, especially women, my wife who is 160cm/50kg found the watch allowed enough adjustment to achieve a good fit on her smaller wrist.
There are no colour options on the Tour, with the unit only being released in Black/Grey for the time being. The finish of the watch is a no fuss matt black with grey face which I am sure helps keep the cost down. Personally I approve of the no fuss finish because as a trail runner my watches tend to take a good beating and I have already taken a number of falls with the Tour and it still looks brand new. This watch is designed to get the job done, not accessorise my running outfit!
The Tour sports a high sensitivity GPS and during testing I compared it to my other GPS units which where a Garmin 310xt and 910xt. I noticed that there was very little difference in final distance, pace and altitude readings between the Tour and the Garmin’s however I did notice that the Tour tended not to drop satellite signal as easily as the Garmin’s and this generally led to a more consistent instant readout of pace, speed and altitude on the Tour in comparison to the Garmin. Throughout my 4 month testing phase I have used this watch in a number of different area’s around Australia and noted that the time taken to acquire the GPS signal did not vary much despite moving 100’s of kilometres from its last use. Like almost all GPS watches the Tour does have some issues with acquiring signal when in deep valleys or at the bottom of high cliffs.
The Tour is really set up for getting off the beaten track, one handy feature is the “Go Back” function. Activated mid-activity this function allows the watch to display a movable pointer to indicate the direction to take to return to the start location of the activity and final prompt when you have arrived. The Route screen also allows the user to view a topographic representation of the route taken during the activity and lastly the compass function allows the user to always know which way is north. However we noticed that there is no ability for maps or routes to be loaded onto the Tour to follow/use during activity.
The Tour also has a number of other features that bolster its standing in the crowded GPS market. A 20hr rechargeable battery life and memory capacity coupled with low light backlight that can be set permanently on or to correspond with button activation/Auto laps means training or events that run into the night are well catered for. The Tour also has a 30m water resistance but the manual clearly states it is not intended for water sports, I only assume this means that button activation while under water may compromise the water resistance of the unit.
The Tour is fully integrated with Strava (the online activity review community). Uploading and reviewing data was very easy , simply plug in the Tour with the supplied cable to your PC and the Soleus software launches. You then download the data into the soleus software portal, choose the activities you wish to up load to Strava and click upload. I noticed that the time taken to complete the download did vary on how many activities were stored on the Tour. When the Tour was close to full memory capacity the download could take up to 6-7min with the quickest download I experienced being 30sec.
The Tour has 9 activity display screens to choose from and each one is customisable.
TIME: This is the most basic screen and provides the time of day and date only. There are two time zones which a user can pre-set and choose from, these can be accessed from this screen.
RUN: As the first activity screen this is the most functional. Here the user has 3 display lines 1 smaller pre-set line at the top and bottom of the screen and the largest in the middle able to be toggled between chronometer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, calories burned, altitude, compass and clock. This is the screen I found I used most.
CHRONOMETER: In this screen the top and middle lines are fixed as Lap time and overall activity time respectively. The bottom display line is then able to be toggled between distance, pace, speed, heart rate, calories burned, altitude, compass and clock. This Screen is the best for any type of intervals or speed work where regular lap times are being taken.
TIMER: Here an alarmed pre-set interval timer can be accessed and is fixed to the middle display line with pace/distance in the top and the adjustable third line as per the above chronometer. This function is best for pre-set interval and recovery sessions.
HEART RATE: The Tour comes standard with a heart rate monitor in which the user can also set HR Zones and vibrating alerts for use in training. In this screen the Top line is dedicated to Chronometer, the middle line to current HR and the bottom line can be toggled between time in HR zone, calories burned, altitude, compass, clock, pace, speed and distance. The HR strap is a much similar to that provided by other manufactures and I found it comfortable and reliable for the most part.
ROUTE: Displays a topographical representation of the current path taken during the activity.
ALTITUDE: This screen allows the user to view a various combination of data relating to accent and decent during activity. As like previous screens all other information can be toggled through one of the 3 lines of display.
COMPASS: A basic layout of the traditional compass needle indicating the direction of magnetic north.
DATA: This screen allows the user to review all saved activities on the watch. Information available in review is quite detailed and includes: time start/stop, overall activity time, average/max heart rate, average/max pace, average/max speed, HR zones, calories burned, accent, descent, route taken and lap splits.
I have had the Tour for about four months and found that once I was accustomed to layout of the Tour its use became straight forward and very easy. One of the most valuable items in my opinion was the Auto Lap function. I set mine to 1km and would receive a vibrating and beeping notification every time I had completed 1km with the average pace of that km displayed full screen in large easy to read digits along with distance and duration of the lap below. Once set up correctly, prior to use ,the Tour performed well during activities and its vast number of display screens meant there was no shortage of information available during my runs.
During testing on some occasions however I noticed button sensitivity (especially of the start/stop button) could be fickle which meant slightly more attention needed to be paid when starting/stopping an activity to ensure the button responded correctly. I also did find some initial difficulty understanding the Data review screen on the watch as activities are grouped under date and the date layout in as per the American Month/Day/Year. The Durability of the watch appears to be pretty good at this stage as I have taken a number of falls on the trail with no damage done to the unit and it continues to perform well.
The Heart rate function of the watch performed well throughout testing. The strap is fully adjustable and similar to that provided by other manufactures and can be coded to ensure there is no signal crossover with other units. The Tour also has the ability to set HR Zones which are a handy feature when coupled with the vibrating feedback for those who train by HR daily.
It’s clear that Soleus have designed the Tour to compete at the top end of the GPS market. It’s packed full of features and functions while being wrapped in no fuss package. The Tour’s features tick all the boxes of a GPS at this price point but its the 20hr rechargeable battery coupled with detailed activity screens that will make this watch the go to unit for data freaks who like to train long! I also really love the Soleus obligatory motivational inscription on the backing plate “There are no short cuts on race day.”
The lack of loadable maps holds the Tour back slightly but with a RRP of $350 including Heart rate strap I definitely think this watch is worth the buy.
Caine Warburton – Kokoda Spirit Racing