The resurgence within the sports and fitness watch market continues unabated, and as another day passes, another company enter the fray. Today we’re taking a look at the Magellan Echo smartwatch. Magellan are better known as a GPS manufacturer, but such is the popularity of the sports watch space, the company have launched a competitor to the raft of offerings coming out from the big sports apparel companies as well as a host of start-up tech companies.
The challenge in this sector lies in the huge array of offerings, many of which lack true differentiation. The larger tech companies like Samsung have focussed on the smartwatch element, but the app based nature of these products mean that they easily be transformed into sports watches. Other players from a GPS background, notably TomTom, have already gotten in the space. Their TomTom Runner is a notable competitor to the Magellan Echo, as is the Adidas MiCoach and the upcoming
Nike release. In this environment, making a truly standout watch is increasingly a challenge.
Using the Echo as a watch
Interestingly, Magellan have opted to use a physical battery rather than a rechargeable battery. Whilst this is a common enough for sports watches but the recent rafts of sports smartwatches have all focussed on using recharging batteries. The immediate upside is that you will not be constantly recharging your watch every couple of days. According to Magellan, you can expect between 6 and 11 months of usage per battery.
This battery life is aided by some clever design features, including the way that the watch deactivates the screen when it’s not in use. Therefore, the battery wastage in ‘standby’ is minimised markedly.
Unlike say the Samsung Galaxy smartwatch, you will not get the same ‘all singing all dancing’ app like features that you may have come to expect from a smartwatch. This one is very much focussed on your time spent working out. As such, we’re talking basic functionality and limited usage cases, but you do get the KM that you have walked so far this week as well as the time and date. There’s no alarm, but that’s increasingly common with smartwatches.
The time can be displayed in either analogue or digital form. You can also flip the clockface between being white on black or white on black. The overall look and feel is in keeping with the basic functionality outlined above, and in truth the watch face is quite dated in its presentation and clarity.
The Echo’s Design
Not wanting to jump on to a bandwagon around the watches design flaws, it is slightly too bright and colourful for my tastes, but that is something that we have commented on many times before on other reviews of products in this space, here at BurnTech.TV. You can buy the Echo smartwatch in a range of bright colours, including baby blue, orange and black.
The actual construction of the watch is impressive. Weighing just 44G, it is sturdy and well made. The clasp feels strong, and I never doubted that it would get through even a rigorous weights based workout. In this respect, it is both functional and very comfortable to wear, even for those with smaller wrists.
The watch face is circular and sports a 1 inch monochrome display. It sports four buttons, which frankly is far more than what’s required. The four buttons imply that there are plenty of menus and functions to scroll through, and that simply is not the case. In truth, the majority of the time the buttons serve no function other than lighting up the screen.
The Echo’s Apps
The Echo works with iOS devices and at the time of writing, the Android offering is ‘coming soon’. For iPhone users, its straightforward to pair the device and from there you can access the dedicated Echo app.
The app is the devices settings control panel. This goes a long way towards explaining the lack of functionality behind the devices four buttons. Perhaps it was a later decision to utilise an app as the control panel, after the original four button design and been green-lighted? Either way, it’s not a bad way to setup the watch and is infinitely quicker and easier than painfully scrolling through screen and screens on a 1 inch watch face.
The watch is also able to hook up with a limited – but growing – number of third party apps, including MapMyRun and Strava. At some point a Bluetooth heart rate monitor is likely – the support is already there for it – and it’s fair to say that the watch will need some software updates and additional third party app provider buy in to really excel on this front.
The Echo as a Running watch
The purpose of this watch is to act as a sports data gatherer, and in that sense it does a good job. You’ll require your smartphone, which for time being means you’ll require an iPhone, and you’ll want to get a solid third party app like Strava on to your phone.
The Echo will then gather the data and will parse it through Strava. This then provides data like elapsed time and total distance. The inclusion of a lap button – a rare instance where one of the four buttons comes in useful – is a nice to have, helping you to carve up your training data.
The data presentation in running mode far outstrips the data presentation in watch mode. Here, it’s clean and neatly shown and lacks the slightly pixelated monochrome flavour. The stats are easily gathered but the basic functionality means that you wont be seeing too much in the way of raw data.
Big data fans will be disappointed but we actually think that simple is better with the Echo. We’re all for data but mid-workout? Often its overkill.
The Echo Verdict
The Echo has not blown us away, and in that sense the search for the perfect sports smartwatch continues. However there are huge amounts of potential in the Echo.
Echo are trying to create plumbing and an open ecosystem, and now they need the rest of the third parties to come to the table.
At £130, its no bargain but I sense that it’s not £130 that you would regret spending.