A few months ago my friend Sam stopped by the clinic for a run. Sam and I share a love for experimenting with running shoes, but I discovered that day that we also share a fascination with tech gadgets and iPhone apps. Sam had brought along a new watch that he was playing with, the Magellan Echo, and by the time he left I knew I had to have one (read Sam’s Echo review here).
Given that I review running gear for a living, I can justify such an extravagance even though I already own a GPS watch (Garmin 620). I figured that if I liked it a lot I’d hang onto it, and if I didn’t like it I’d write a review saying as much then sell it on Ebay. After over a month of consistent use I can now say that this watch isn’t going anywhere. I absolutely love the Echo.
First off, the Magellan Echo is not a GPS watch, let’s be clear about that at the outset. It’s actually a pretty useless piece of tech on its own. It doesn’t even have a stopwatch or alarm as far as I can tell. All it does is display time and date. But, pair the Echo with an iPhone and you have one of the coolest toys I’ve played with in awhile. The Echo functions by syncing with an app on your phone. It displays data recorded by the phone via the app directly on your wrist. The buttons on the Echo also become controls for your phone. You can start and stop your workout, pause music, skip songs, etc. all from your wrist without having to touch your phone.
If you don’t run with an iPhone and have no interest in doing so (Magellan claims android support is coming soon), then you can stop reading this review as the watch is not for you. Without a paired phone the watch is dumber than a basic stopwatch. Personally, I used to never run with my iPhone, in part because I’ve always hated running with a phone attached to my arm. I’ve found though that if I can put it in my jacket’s chest pocket in winter, or hand-hold it in summer (using either a Go-Strap or HB Tune hand-held case), I can take it along with minimal interference.
My workout kit for the last month or two has pretty much been my iPhone stashed in a jacket pocket, the Magellan watch on my wrist, and a pair of bluetooth headphones under my winter hat. The phone plays music and feeds run split summaries through the headphones, and sends the real-time run data to the watch. The watch controls the phone and the music coming through the headphones. The three devices work together beautifully, there are no wires to mess with, and I don’t have to carry my phone on my arm or mess with it on the run.
To use the Echo you need to pair it with a supported App. Currently the list includes Strava, MapMyRun, Wahoo Fitness, and iSmoothRun (more apparently in the works). I started playing with iSmoothRun last Fall when a client told me it could measure cadence (it does so pretty accurately). It’s a simple yet very functional app, and I’ve fallen in love with it. To continue with this review I’m kind of also going to be reviewing iSmoothRun since the watch needs an app to work (some of the other apps offer greater functionality, DC Rainmaker reviewed the Echo as it functions with the Wahoo Fitness app for one example. I like iSmoothRun since it is simple and intuitive, and tracking has been rock solid relative to my Garmin)
To begin a run with the Echo + iSmoothRun combo you first need to pair the watch to the app on your phone. The watch communicates via Bluetooth, so that needs to be turned on in your phone settings [but you don’t pair there, you pair in the app – full instructions here (Magellan) and here (iSmoothRun)].
After opening up iSmoothRun you press the upper left button on the watch to start searching for a connection, then in iSmoothRun you initiate pairing in the app Settings—>Displays—>Choose Magellan Echo:
Once you’re synced you can start setting up how the watch will interface with the app.
In the above image, Inverted lets you change from black text on a gray background to gray text on a black background. Pressing setup allows you to customize screen templates that will display your choice of metrics during a workout (all measured by your phone, not the watch itself). I usually have 3-4 screens set up, but most of the time I just use the screen display in the 1st image below (distance, pace, avg. pace):
Available metrics include: “Lap Calories”, “Calories”, “Lap Count”, “Lap Time”, “Time”, “Total time”, “Time Of Day”, “Time Ahead/Behind Target”, “Distance”, “Lap Distance”, “Average Pace”, “Lap Average Pace”, “Split Average Pace”, “Pace”, “Average Speed”, “Speed”, “Lap Average Speed”, “Max Speed”, “Cadence”, “Average Cadence”, “Lap Average Cadence”, “Steps”, “HeartRate”, “Heart Rate Zone”, “Lap Average HR”, “Average HR”, “Lap Max HR”, “Max HR”, “Lap Min HR”, “Min HR”, “Power”, “Altitude”, “Ascend”, “Lap Ascend”, “GPS Signal”.
Once you have things set up the way you want, you can start a workout by going to the “New Run” screen. You can choose your workout type (usually a Free workout for me, but in the case below I had created an interval workout using the app’s workout builder – very cool!). Here are a few images showing the workout builder interface:
You can choose your shoes to track mileage (another huge plus for me and partly why I have been using this app so much lately), and also choose a music playlist from those available on your phone.
To start the workout I usually hit the play button and then immediately pause the phone, turn the screen off, and stick it in my jacket chest pocket. Then once outside I control everything and view my data via the Echo. Press the bottom right button on the watch to start/stop the workout, top right button to control your music (one press to pause, double press to skip ahead one song). When your workout is done you pause it using the bottom right button, take out the phone, and hit the stop button.
When the run is over, iSmoothRun provides a nice data summary of run stats (interval split image foiled by a ringer adjustment!):
You can also set the app up to export your data to your favorite social media and workout tracking sites (Strava, Dailymile, Garmin Connect, etc.). All very easy and saves me a bunch of steps compared to when I use a GPS watch.
Another cool feature of the iSmoothRun app is the audio feedback it provides. I set it up to give me audible summaries after each mile (avg. pace, avg. cadence, total workout pace, etc.). It will also cue you when to start and stop intervals if you are doing and interval workout, which is handy when doing such workouts away from a track.
Pros of the Echo + iPhone vs. a GPS Watch
- If you typically run with an iPhone, Echo allows you to view stats and control it without touching or looking at the phone. In winter you can stick the phone in a jacket pocket. In summer you can stash it in a hydration vest. No need to mess with the phone or carry it on your arm.
- Price – you get all the data power of high-end GPS watches since the iPhone powers the tracking, but the watch costs half of what a top-line GPS watch costs ($149.99 MSRP)
- Small form factor – since the Echo doesn’t have to pack in a GPS chip it is small enough to wear as an everyday watch.
- Battery power – since the Echo doesn’t power the GPS it uses very little power. It doesn’t need to be recharged. When the coin cell battery dies you simply replace it as you would the battery in a stopwatch.
Cons of the Echo + iPhone vs. a GPS Watch
- It’s useless without a paired iPhone. If you don’t like carrying a phone when you run, this watch won’t do you any good. I expect that in summer I will trend back more toward using my Garmin, and I generally don’t carry a phone in races, but in winter when I’m bundled up and pockets are easy to come by the combo works great.
- Minimal function as an everyday watch. Time and date is all you get unless a firmware update adds in an alarms, stopwatch, etc.
- If you’re content just using your iPhone on your arm or in hand, the watch is redundant. I often hand hold my iPhone, but since the screen shuts off it’s still easier to operate via the buttons on the watch than it is to wake the phone up and navigate screens to pause a workout or change a song.
Wishes for the Magellan Echo
- Allow it to pair with Spotify or control the music functions of the iPhone! For example, I’d love to be able to control music via the watch while driving so that I don’t ever have to touch my phone in the car.
- Add in a stopwatch for when the watch is not paired. Timer and alarm would be great as well.
If you routinely run with an iPhone and don’t intend to change this habit, this might be the only watch you ever need. I’ve had an absolute blast with it, easily one of the cooler gadgets I’ve played with in a long time.
Big thumbs up for the Magellan Echo!
The Magellan Echo is available for purchase at Clever Training in the colors seen below (price without HRM = $149.99, price with HRM = $199.99. Clever Training specializes in fitness electronics, and has agreed to provide a 10% off discount to Runblogger readers on most products that they carry – just enter the code RunBlogXJT at checkout. Purchases support this site and help me to write reviews like this one. Your support is very much appreciated!