Hands on with the Magellan Echo
I was really curious to try out the Magellan Echo sports watch since it relies on a smartphone (in my case an iPhone 5s) and app to capture running workouts. After two months of usage during December and January, it’s time to look at how it performed.
Magellan Echo hardware
There are three things you need to know about this sports watch:
- There is no GPS chip
- It takes a regular CR2032 battery
- It uses Bluetooth Smart (4.0) to communicate with your smartphone.
These design choices make the watch small & light. The one inch customizable display makes it a nice day-to-day watch. The battery type (the same used in heart rate straps and regular watches) allows you to use the watch for longer periods without having to swap batteries.
You’ll find four buttons on the device (backlight, laps, next track & start/pause by default) and overall the construction of the watch looks & feels good. The wrist strap is a bit short as compared to other watches. This is noticeable when I’m layering up for a winter run.
The first time you will turn on the watch, you will see a QR code that you can scan with your smartphone which will bring up the support site for the Echo.
Applications make difference
Compatible applications will determine how pleasant the experience of using the Echo will be. As of January 2014, there are four compatible apps (Wahoo Fitness, Strava, MapMyRun & iSmoothrun). I found that Wahoo offered me the options that I needed to setup my triggers and heart rate zones. Configuring heart rate training and sharing to sites such as Garmin Connect or Training Peaks was not possible with the other apps (iSmoothRun was the only app I didn’t try since it wasn’t free).
Another application that you will need is the Echo Utility app (you’ll be prompted to download it when a new device update is ready for download). The utility app gives you all the time & date preferences and anything else under the watch settings. The display can be switch between black or white background and you can customize the watch time face when not in a running activity. Settings once applied in either app, will get synced on the watch.
Expect to spend a lot of time using the supported apps and the utility app as you tweak the watch based on your preferences for auto lap, auto pause, interval training & heart rate zones. The only downside was that the option to display iPhone notifications (email, SMS) has not been implemented yet. A killer feature that I’d to see is the ability to use canned replies to incoming email & SMS and program the device and app accordingly.
May Not Be Winter Ready
The projected battery life (6+ months) is a big selling feature. I like the idea of not having to charge the watch, but if you are in areas where winter running season is done outside; then you’ll be doing a lot of runs after work (i.e. night running) and dealing with cold temperatures.
One problem is the shorter wrist strap. After a few layers, I was only able to get 3 notches in. Anybody who usually gets a larger wrist strap, the Echo will be too short and there is no extender kit.
Second problem is the effect the cold has on the battery. Running in December & January meant that the majority of my runs were after work and the average temperature was between -10C to 0C. As a result of using the backlight, I got 1.5 months of usage before seeing the low battery indicator. My routes are not well lit and I usually set the backlight ON during an activity within the Wahoo app. Hopefully more flexible backlight options can be found in future versions of the app.
Get rid of those iPhone armbands
The best innovation that the Magellan Echo has to offer is allowing runners to tuck away the iPhone into a pouch or sleeve and still get the feedback, listen to & control the music. While the GPS chip in an iPhone is good, the track won’t be the same as a traditional wrist GPS watch. This won’t be an issue if you are not hung up if your 5k run was really 4.7k.
Runners who follow a heart rate training program now have a better tool for indoors and doing different cardio activities since you are relying on the app to do the work and the Echo just relays the numbers.
Magellan Echo Pros
- Slim design
- Long Battery life for daytime running
- API allows for future enhancements via supported apps
- Great remote control for your iPhone
Magellan Echo Cons
- Relies on smartphone for everything
- No wrist strap extension
- Limited by available apps
- No iPhone notification
- No Android support (coming soon)
Magellan Echo Recommendations
The Magellan Echo will appeal to many casual runners out there who use their iPhone (Android support coming soon) during their workout indoors or outdoors. It’s a viable remote control to access your music and gives you the feedback your need either from the GPS or Heart Rate Monitor. The supported apps will be the deal breaker as to how much customization you’ll be able to apply.
I can see myself using the Magellan Echo on Sunday runs during half-marathon training this spring where I rely more on my phone to provide me with music, notifications and for my wife to keep tabs on me via the Find Friends app. Wahoo Fitness provides the social sharing & upload to the sites I need to save my activity to.
Magellan will be adding hiking, golfing and skiing activities along with new watch faces and wrist band colors. As the supported apps continue to mature and add functionality, expect to see more people consider them as extensions to their smartphones for outdoor or indoor activities.