I first saw a Coros watch on TikTok. In the video, an ultramarathoner strapped on a bunch of multisport watches for an absurdly long run to test which had the best battery. I’d expected Garmin to take the cake, but to my surprise, it was a Coros watch — by a respectable margin, too. Curious, I dug around on the internet and found Coros watches had a reputation for extra long battery life, reasonable prices, and some quirks you’d expect from a relatively new brand finding its footing. That’s largely been my experience with the $399 Coros Apex 2 and the $499 Coros Apex 2 Pro.
While this isn’t the flashiest update, there are some significant improvements over the first-gen Apex and Apex Pro, including longer battery life and more accurate GPS and heart rate tracking. Coros added a dedicated backlight button, and the straps now resemble Apple’s nylon Sport Loop. Those are all good updates, but several issues I had with the Coros Vertix 2 are still present. There’s still no turn-by-turn navigation or music streaming, and the digital crown is annoying to scroll with. For some athletes, those kinds of tiny inconveniences might be a dealbreaker.
The Apex 2 and Pro are basically the same watch. I’ve been testing both for the past few weeks, and I rely on the different colors of my review units to tell them apart. The experience and software are identical. The Pro is bigger and has slightly better specs — but not by much.
The Apex 2 has a 43mm case and a 1.2-inch always-on LCD display, which is common for fitness watches, as it maximizes battery life and is visible in direct sunlight. (Though that does mean it’s less vibrant.) The Pro has a 46mm case and a 1.3-inch display. The Apex 2 is 12.8mm thick, uses 20mm straps, and weighs 42g with the nylon band, while the Pro is 14mm thick, uses 22mm straps, and weighs 53 grams. The Apex 2 has 8GB of onboard music storage to the Pro’s 32GB. The Pro is clearly bigger, but you can see from the notification text in this photo that it doesn’t make a huge difference in readability. The button controls are identical and easy to learn: the top button is to turn on the backlight, the bottom is the back button, and the middle crown is for scrolling and accessing the main menu. The only gripe is I keep forgetting to long-press the dial to unlock the screen.
It’s the same story for wearability. Both were lightweight and didn’t snag on my winter coat sleeves. I could wear both for sleep tracking with no problems. I preferred the smaller Apex 2, but only because I forced myself to think about it for this review. The Pro is bigger and thicker, but it’s barely noticeable.
Here’s what else they have in common: sapphire glass displays, touchscreen support, titanium bezels, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, 5ATM of water resistance, the ability to simultaneously connect with five satellite positioning systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, and QZSS), the optical heart rate sensor, “EKG” sensor (more on this below), SpO2 sensors, 3D compass, thermometer, barometric altimeter, gyroscope, and altimeter. They also have the same training features and smart features. Both support the same third-party apps, like Strava, Komoot, and Adidas Running. You can see where I’m going with this.
Compared to that long list, here are the notable differences aside from size:
- The Pro has multiband GPS support for more accurate distance tracking in challenging environments
- The Pro has preloaded global offline maps. On the Apex 2, you have to download them.
- The Pro has one extra sport profile: multi-pitch climbing.
- The Pro has longer battery life.
Even so, most of the Pro’s extra features aren’t that much of a step up. Multiband GPS is great, but I don’t consider it absolutely necessary unless you frequent areas where you struggle to get a reliable GPS signal — urban centers, for example. It’s not a huge hassle to download an offline global map if you want to save an extra $100. (If you want topographical maps, you’re going to have to download them anyway.) If you don’t already know what multi-pitch climbing is, I doubt you’ll use that sport profile anytime soon.
The most significant difference is battery life. The Apex 2 has an estimated 17 days of normal use to the Pro’s 30 days. It gets 45 hours of standard GPS compared to the Pro’s 75 hours. That tracks with what I got in testing. It’s been more than two weeks since I first fired up the Apex 2 and Pro. My Apex 2 died on day 16, while my Pro is still kicking at 52 percent. No matter how you look at it, either watch will likely outlast the competition. Garmin and Polar watches, for example, get somewhere between seven to 14 days, while Fitbits get five to 10 days.
This isn’t a standalone watch
To get that excellent battery life, Coros made several tradeoffs. The most obvious example is the display. Multisport watches often opt for memory-in-pixel LCDs because they require much less energy, but it means you don’t get a snazzy OLED screen. Although they’re very readable in direct sunlight, the dimmer screens can be a challenge indoors. Thankfully, both watches now have dedicated backlight buttons, so that’s less of a problem.
When you stuff a larger battery into a watch, you’re sacrificing room for other components. Neither watch has a cellular radio or an NFC chip for contactless payments — two important factors if you’d rather leave your phone at home. They also lack emergency SOS features, meaning you’ll have to keep your phone on you if that’s a concern.
But the real kicker for me is music. I don’t know any runner who doesn’t listen to some kind of audio to get in the zone. (Runners who can go for hours without any podcast, music, or audiobook are to be feared.) Both watches have onboard storage for MP3 files, but that’s not helpful in 2022, soon to be 2023.
I don’t remember the last time I curated an MP3 library, though if I had to guess, it’s been about 13 years. These days most people stream their music or download offline playlists from Spotify or Apple Music. Most major smartwatches — including Garmins — have followed suit. Coros doesn’t support any music service. Unless you actively maintain an MP3 library — or are really attached to whatever you were listening to in 2004 — that’s the same as not having onboard music. Coros says the hardware in the Apex 2 and Pro could one day support streaming via an over-the-air update. That might happen, but I wouldn’t bank on a feature that might not come for months or years, if ever.
A great training tool, but it’s not “smart”
Like many fitness-first watches, the Apex 2 and Pro are light on smart features. You get the basics like notifications, alarms, timers, and smartwatches. You can also find your phone via the watch and vice versa. That’s it. You can see calls, but you can’t take them from the wrist, and there are no quick replies. Forget about digital assistants, third-party apps, or the aforementioned contactless payments or music streaming. It’s not necessarily a con for the Apex 2 and Pro’s intended audience. Some might even view it as a pro. But if you want a watch that’s equally good as a productivity tool, these watches ain’t it.
On the flip side, the Coros app has plenty of training metrics to ooh and ahh over. That includes staples like elevation, average heart rate, time spent in heart rate zones, pace, calories burned, and temperature. For runners, Coros includes stride length, running power, and cadence. The Coros EvoLab tab in the app provides training-specific metrics like your VO2 max, threshold pace and heart rate, and running performance. The Apex 2 and Pro also add a “new” metric called effort pace, which is effectively grade-adjusted pace. That’s also where you’ll find your fatigue, base fitness, and training load data to help gauge whether you need to take some recovery time. If you really want to get into it, the EvoLab tab has a muscle heatmap, stores your personal records, and provides race prediction times.
Most fitness watches have these metrics or variations on them, but there are two areas where the Coros app stands out. First, it’s less chaotic than the Garmin Connect and Polar Flow apps. Those apps are great but can be difficult to navigate for newcomers. The Coros app gives a much gentler introduction to training metrics with a much more streamlined design. Second, Coros allows you to create custom strength training workouts. (You can program your own running, cycling, and swimming workouts, too.) Lots of multisport watch apps gloss over strength training or are clunky at recording reps. This lets you specify your goals for each move, the weight used, and the length of your rest period. Plus, you can keep track of which muscles you worked out with the muscle heatmap I mentioned earlier. The preloaded exercise selection has a lot of common exercises, but you can add your own if they’re absent. I did it for the yoga-inspired strength and mobility training plan I’m on, and it worked well.
Still, Coros’ platform is best for runners. Not only is there an emphasis on running metrics in EvoLabs, Coros’ training platform, but you have to complete a few road runs to get your initial metrics. Other activities won’t count, even though you can use EvoLabs data for other activities once it’s unlocked. Both these watches have removed support for ANT Plus. Many accessories support both Bluetooth and ANT Plus, but some cyclists might be annoyed since a ton of cycling accessories are optimized for ANT Plus. Another thing I was surprised by: I couldn’t track my yoga flows. Yoga isn’t an “outdoorsy” activity, but it’s a popular active recovery exercise. (I don’t want to be a runner with hamstrings so tight I can’t touch my toes.) I can track it on every other multisport watch I’ve recently tested. This isn’t to say the Apex 2 and Pro are terrible for other activities. It’s not! It’s just best for runners.
Let’s talk about GPS and heart rate
One of the main complaints with the first-gen Apex and Apex Pro was wonky heart rate data. This time around, Coros addressed that by adding a beefed-up optical sensor. They also have a second EKG sensor, but it’s not used for detecting atrial fibrillation. It’s there to record heart rate variation — the time between heartbeats — with greater precision.
I tested both watches against the Apple Watch Ultra and Polar H10 chest strap. All my heart rate data was consistent across platforms, regardless of whether it was a steady state or interval run. Zero wonkiness detected. (Though, if you want the most accurate heart rate data, nothing beats a chest strap.)
GPS was more of a mixed bag. Quick refresher: both watches have an improved GPS antenna, but only the Pro has multiband GPS. I tested both on multiple runs against the Apple Watch Ultra, which also has multiband GPS. The Ultra was the most accurate, followed by the Pro and then the Apex 2. In my screenshots, you’ll see the Coros watches struggled whenever I ran around the neighborhood lighthouse, while the Ultra had no problem. Both watches also botched the start of my runs, but the Apex 2 really had me going on a hilariously twisted journey.
It’s funny because, for these runs, I had the $99 Coros Pod 2 paired with both watches. The Pod 2 is a tiny Bluetooth sensor that you strap onto your shoe (or waist) to get you more instantaneous running metrics, such as pace, gait, ambient temperature, ground time, balance, and stride. Foot pod sensors also supposedly enhance GPS accuracy, which Coros claims the Pod 2 does in cities.
It clearly didn’t. Or at least I didn’t notice any difference between runs with or without the pod. The Pod 2 is probably more helpful to treadmill runners, but otherwise, it didn’t add much to my experience. At least it was easy to set up with both watches, especially since it only works with Coros devices.
Even if my GPS maps were wonky, overall distance tracking was good. My phone, both Coros watches, and the Ultra were generally within a few hundredths of a mile. The most notable exception was a 3.7-mile run recorded by my phone. The Ultra logged that as 3.76 miles, while the Apex 2 logged 3.88 miles. This happened to be the run where the Apex 2 started me off on a wild goose chase, which probably explains why. If GPS accuracy is a priority, the Pro is the better choice.
What I missed most was turn-by-turn navigation. As a directionally challenged person, I feel more comfortable exploring new areas with turn-by-turn navigation than without. But if you’re good with maps, it’s not the worst thing since the Coros watches have back-to-start guidance, deviation alerts for when you veer off route, and the ability to mark checkpoints. It’s better than no offline maps — cough Apple Watch Ultra cough — but it’s something to ponder when comparison shopping.
Coros vs. Garmin
At $400 for the Apex 2 and $500 for the Pro, these watches are on the more expensive end for midrange GPS watches. It’s a weird spot to be in, given the competition. Garmin’s Forerunner 255 costs $50 less than the Apex 2 and has multiband GPS, long battery life, great training metrics, and contactless payments. The Forerunner 955 is the same price as the Pro and has more robust navigation, great training metrics, multiband GPS, long battery life, contactless payments, and emergency safety features. Both Forerunner watches support offline Spotify playlists, too. They basically fill in the Apex 2 and Pro’s gaps for the same price.
For me, I’d go with Garmin because you’re getting more for the same price. But maybe you’re sick of Garmin’s platform and want something a bit different. Coros watches benefit from a simplified app, better strength training tracking, and longer battery life. Whatever the reason, I’d pick the Apex 2 if you value comfort and savings. The Pro is better if you want the best possible accuracy and battery life.
These are good fitness watches, and it’s easy to see why Coros has its fans. But they fall slightly short of great. Hopefully, future updates will get them all the way. It’s especially impressive when you remember that Coros has only been in the biz for four years. These are second-gen devices, and yet they’re discussed in the same breath as products from companies that have been around for decades. You just have to be the sort of athlete who’s willing to overlook growing pains.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge