Having worked in a running store for a couple of years in the recent past, I thought I had an accurate sense of the major actors on the market for GPS watch. However, I was surprised when I was contacted by Epson to review their newish Runsense SF-810 watch. I was even more surprised, then, when I actually liked the watch. That isn't to say that it is without flaws, because, as a product only in its second generation, there certainly are some, but, overall, this is a product with solid tech.
Before I begin, I should note that, although I received this watch from Epson to review free of charge, I will be returning it to them upon the publication of this review and return to using products I actually paid for.
Appearance and Set-up
The watch comes in two color-ways: all black and mostly black with some purple. I received the all-black variety and was happy to find that it was the first GPS watch I've ever put on my wrist that I might consider wearing out to moderately-formal events.
For the record, I have not worn it to any formal functions, but that might be more a result of not being invited to any formal functions than of the Epson SF-810's suitability for such occasions.
The charger is a bit unconventional in that instead of being a simple clip like most watches, it is more of a stand:
While it's not as sleek and compact as, say, the Garmin chargers, I actually liked it. The watch clips in there securely and I have never had to play around with it to get the the charging clip to read the watch. If you travel a lot, I can see the extra bulk being a bit of a detriment, but for most people who primarily use the same computer in the same location, this works just as well, if not better, than any of the other chargers I've used.
Besides looking nice, the setup of the watch is a bit clunky. It is not exactly designed to go for a run straight from the box. You have to navigate a couple of set-up screens that ask for standard information like height, weight, age, and date. The watch is set by default to do kilometers and kilograms for time and weight which is a reflection of the fact that this watch was manufactured and primarily marketed in Japan, but an Americanized version would have made the process of setting it up a little smoother.
Once those questions are completed, it bumps into a time-sync mode. I needed to get immediately out the door for a run, so I cut that process short and the result was that the watch is now displays a time one hour behind the real time.
The manual suggests that this time will be updated when I connect to a GPS signal, but over the course of tens of runs with it, that has not happened. This doesn't really matter to me as I never really use the watch to get the time of day, but it was a slightly inconvenient quirk nonetheless.
On the Run
To go on a run, this watch is very easy to use. You simply hit the to right button and wait for the GPS to sync up. Compared to the Garmin 620 I have, which, in my experience, has the fastest syncing speed on the market, the Epson is a bit slower especially on the first couple runs from a location. After a couple days of use though, the sync time rivals, and occasionally out-performed, that same Garmin.
I was up in New Hampshire this past weekend for the Reach the Beach relay and on all three of my legs, the watch synced within 30 seconds, if not substantially faster. I've done this same race in previous years with the Nike GPS Sportwatch and the Garmin 620 and the Epson linked up faster than those others.
One downside to the watch is that, if you want to set auto laps, pace alerts, and the such, you can't do so until after the watch is linked up to GPS. For the most part this is fine since those settings will carry over to subsequent runs unless changed. I'm going to keep 1 mile auto-laps forever, so the one time set-up isn't bad. For the pace notifications, however, I might change them more frequently. Most of my easy runs I'll keep in the 7:30 +/- :30 range, but on tempo, workout, or super-easy recovery days, I'll have to either change them or turn that feature off. This could be inconvenient/uncomfortable in the middle of the winter to add the minute or so it takes to do that that I'm standing still outside before I start running.
While we're on this topic, the 810 allows you to customize your target pace range. As I mentioned, I have it set to only let me know if I fall outside of 7:00-8:00 pace, but I could make that range narrower or wider if I so choose. This is a handy feature that I haven't seen on other GPS watches. The result is a calmer run as the watch won't freak out over every tiny fluctuation in pace. Kudos to Epson for thinking of this small but important improvement that has eluded all other watch makers.
The other key feature on this watch is the built-in optical heart rate monitor. I'll admit that I was skeptical that the wrist-based heart rate would be accurate and consistent, but I found it to be just that. I've heard issues with it not picking up other people's heart rates very well when the watch isn't tight enough, but I usually wear my watches tight anyway and I experienced no issues. I haven't noticed any wonky readings and the numbers it spits out at me align with what I've gotten out of chest straps.
The last thing I want to mention here, and the first thing I noticed about the watch is the accuracy of the GPS. Most watches display distances only to the 1/100th of a mile. The Epson SF-810 displays down to the 1/1000th of a mile. Now, is this really important? Do I gain any useful information from this that will affect my training? The answer to these is "no," but that level of granularity speaks to the confidence Epson has in its GPS sensors. Based on what I've seen from maps of my runs in wooded, trail areas, I have no reason to doubt the reasonableness of that confidence.
Here's a zoomed in map of a ~.5 mile segment of a run I did in forested, rural area of NH:
That's pretty much spot on. I was on the shoulder of that road on the side it says I was on. If you're going to display down to the 1/1000th mile, you better back it up with good accuracy and this did.
This is a ~1/4 mile segment of a leg at the Bretton Woods Ski Resort and it holds to that first turn pretty well (the second turn is actually accurate as I went off the road a bit):
The website app is where I have the biggest issues with the execution of the Epson GPS Sportwatch project. The Runsense platform they use feels and looks like something out of the 1990s. Here are some screen grabs of it:
In addition to looking cheap, it was hard to find certain things on the website that I wanted. The map doesn't display automatically.
Fortunately, you can sync Runsense to Strava very easily. Under "Settings" there is a large list of all the third-party apps you might use (Strava, RunKeeper, MapMyFitness) that you can, with a click and log-in, set to auto-sync with Runsense. I did that with Strava and haven't really looked back at Runsense since.
Originally listed at $350, the Epson SF-810 was little pricy for what it did. It was effectively near the top of the price range of the watches it was competing against, which is never where you want to be when entering a market without much name-recognition or consumer loyalty. Fortunately, it seems that they have realized this. When speaking to a Epson rep a week or so back, he informed me that they were planning to reprice it at $299, which will make it more competitive in the market.
Even so, I'm not sure I would go out and buy this watch over the others on the market , especially with the recent arrival of the Garmin 225 at the same $299 price point.
So, why should you buy this watch? Despite the last two paragraphs, I think there are some good reasons to go out and get the SF-810. First, it really is accurate. I would say that the GPS is a hair more accurate than the Garmin and, from what I can tell from others' testimony, the wrist HR is at least as accurate as the Garmin 225. The customizable target pace range is a nifty feature that I don't believe exists on any other watch on the market.
If you're going to buy it, you'll need to ditch the Runsense app and use Strava or some other third-party app unless, of course, you prefer the web functionality and usability of the 1990s. On the actual watch, once you get a hang of the settings and how to navigate the menus, it is very easy to use. I taught my friend how to use it this weekend in one minute and he had never used a GPS watch of any kind before. That's really good.
At the end of the day, it probably lags a little behind its competitors, but if Epson improves the RunSense interface and user experience, that simple tweak could vault it at least into direct competition with the other major brands out there. As I noted, the tech in the watch with GPS and wrist-based heart-rate accuracy is perhaps the best out there. Epson just needs to get everything else out of the way to allow the user to experience that to its fullest.
Have you used the FS-810 or another watch in the Epson lineup? Please share your experience in the comments.