COROS APEX Review: Best Value for Runners + Triathletes?

January 8, 2021

COROS APEX watch face after a run

COROS is a newcomer on the GPS watch scene, having been founded in 2018. Since then, they’ve become an impressive competitor to established brands, with COROS’ main draws being their unbeatable battery life and multisport features. They’ve even scored the endorsements of 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden and marathon world record holder Eluid Kipchoge.

I’ve wanted to try the COROS APEX ever since I heard about it in 2019, and finally got my hands on a loaner last summer. The APEX is a step up from COROS’ least expensive model (the PACE 2), but is more affordable than the APEX PRO and VERTIX (the higher-tier, very fancy watches in the COROS lineup). At $300-350, the APEX is a mid-tier watch, but it offers more training features than competitor watches in that price range.

As some context, I’m a GPS watch nerd who’s tested 11 popular models over the past 2 years. I’m mainly a road runner (marathons and half marathons), but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons and trail running. I like to wear my watch all the time, and also look at the fitness tracking data. So, I’ll be looking at the APEX from not only a running perspective, but also a multisport and everyday fitness wearable perspective.

For full disclosure, I don’t own the COROS APEX, but had the chance to test it out for a couple weeks. I personally own only the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, and will keep it until it dies, or until I actually need more features (better for my wallet and the planet :)). When that does happen, I have my eye on the APEX—that’s how much I like this watch. UPDATE (May 2021): I have since purchased the APEX after my Garmin died.

This post is not sponsored, but it does contain affiliate links (and a free watch band code), meaning that I earn a small commission on any purchases through those links, at no extra cost to you. Your support allows me to keep writing reviews like this one 🙂

Features of the COROS APEX

Appearance and Comfort

There are two size options for the APEX—42mm and 46mm. I got the smaller 42mm since I have baby wrists and hands haha. It’s also worth noting that the 42mm is $50 cheaper than the 46mm ($300 vs. $350). The watch is a pretty standard weight, and I found it comfortable to wear.

I like how the watch feels “nicer” than the typical plastic-y workout watch, and how it can easily go with everyday outfits. There are also tons of watch face options in the app, so there should be something you like.

One distinct feature of the APEX is the knob/dial navigation. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. If you’re worried about accidentally activating the dial, there are autolock features to avoid this.

You’re also able to customize the:

  • Orientation of the watch face (great for lefties)
  • Kind of screen lock for the dial (long hold or scroll)
  • Autolock options (during regular use or during workouts—I recommend turning it off for workouts)
  • Direction of the scroll (whether turning the knob up would scroll down or up and vice versa)

This makes it easy to set the watch up exactly how you want.

coros apex white 42mm mountain watch face

Battery Life

One of the standout features of the COROS APEX is its amazing battery life. Here’s the breakdown in terms of different modes:

  • UltraMax GPS mode: 100 hours (46mm), 80 hours (42mm)
  • Full GPS mode: 35 hours (46mm), 25 hours (42mm)
  • Regular use: 30 days (46mm), 24 days (42mm)

While I was testing the watch, I got 2 full weeks of battery life with 7 runs (usually 40-60 mins), 4 bike rides (30-60mins), 1 hour of yoga, and less than 500m of open water swimming. I had just under 20% battery left. I was amazed how I’d go out for a 45-minute run and only lose 1-2% charge.

This is an area where COROS really blows its competitors out of the water. To get similar battery life, you have to pay hundreds more (at least for Garmin).

Activity Profiles

Here’s a list of the activities that the APEX tracks:

Run Indoor Bike XC Ski
Indoor Run Pool Swim Ski Touring
Trail Run Open Water Multisport
Track Run Triathlon Strength
Mountain Climb Gym Cardio Flatwater*
Hike GPS Cardio Indoor Rowing*
Bike Snowboard Outdoor Rowing*

*Added in November 2020

I found the GPS consistently fast, and I got signal within 10 seconds. I also had no problems with GPS accuracy or elevation accuracy (the APEX has a barometric altimeter, which helps you measure elevation and air pressure changes).

If you’re a trail runner or hiker, you’ll also appreciate the breadcrumb navigation feature, which allows you to follow a pre-loaded route and get real-time info on elevation, direction, and deviation.

Many people flock to COROS for its open water swimming, triathlon, and multisport tracking features. This is because you often have to pay much more to get these options with competitors (the cheapest COROS watch—the PACE 2 ($200)—even has these features).

From my experience, the open water tracking was 8% less than the actual distance (I put my other GPS watch in run mode and pulled it along in a swim buoy to compare). Open water swimming will never be fully accurate because the watch loses GPS signal each time your arm is under the water, and algorithms have to smooth out the curves (they usually overcorrect). Anything within 10% of the actual distance is generally considered accurate for open water swimming. So, I was overall happy with the open water tracking.

I wasn’t able to test the pool swimming feature on the APEX specifically, but I have tested pool swimming on other COROS devices. I was impressed with the accuracy, as my Garmin swim tracking is always off. COROS was spot on, and it will even recognize your stroke type.


The barometric data on the COROS APEX (helps you predict short-term changes in weather)

Fitness Data

The APEX tracks everyday fitness data like steps, floors climbed, heart rate, VO2 max, and sleep. (It doesn’t have a pulse oximeter, and it doesn’t track stress though).

It also provides more in-depth fitness data like stamina remaining, running power, and training effect (anaerobic and aerobic). Stamina remaining lets you know how much energy you have left after a workout, and how long you should wait before a hard workout. Running power tells you how efficient your running is. Training effect shows how effective your workout was.

One handy feature I appreciated was how the workout screen showed time paused, if you stopped your watch in the middle of a workout (along with heart rate and time of day). This might sound like a small detail, but it really helps if you’re doing intervals with a certain amount of rest. Garmin watches don’t have this functionality, and you have to program a workout if you want to time your rest.

coros apex white 42mm

Smartwatch Functions

As with basically all modern GPS watches, you can receive texts and notifications from your phone. I personally don’t use this feature, but it can be helpful for others.

You’ll also get other features like a timer, stopwatch, alarm, metronome (for running cadence), and compass.

Longevity

Since I don’t own the APEX myself, I don’t really know how long people have been able to keep theirs in good shape (keep in mind that COROS is also a relatively new company that was founded in 2018!). There is, however, a 2-year warranty, which is twice as long as most competitor warranties.

What the COROS APEX Lacks

Peculiarities

There are a couple peculiarities of the COROS APEX. For one, you can’t adjust the brightness of the watch, and there’s no way to keep the backlight on all the time. The watch face is always on, but the extra backlight is only activated for notifications, workout alerts, gesture, and button operations. You can keep gesture mode off, keep it on all the time, or have it on only from sunset to sunrise (it will be disabled during your set sleep hours in the app). I personally didn’t have a problem with screen visibility, but I would’ve liked to have an “always on” mode for the backlight at night, rather than gesture mode only.

Another unusual aspect of the APEX was that the Bluetooth can’t be turned on and off. The Bluetooth just enters a less active mode when you’re not tracking a workout or syncing. I didn’t mind this, as I didn’t have to remember to turn Bluetooth on and off to save battery.

coros apex heart rate monitor
coros apex side view

Areas of Improvement

While I didn’t have any real complaints about the APEX, there were a couple areas of improvement:

1. The knob/dial navigation was sometimes difficult. It actually wasn’t too sensitive, as you need to unlock the screen for the knob to work. My problem was that it would sometimes not be sensitive enough—I’d sometimes turn it, and it wouldn’t respond on the first try. This wasn’t a huge issue at all, but it was noticeable.

2. Some runners have been unhappy with the heart rate accuracy, which can impact stats like VO2 max and stamina remaining. There are several factors that can affect HR readings, which COROS outlines in their post on improving HR accuracy. Some factors include poor circulation/cold weather and rapid changes in HR due to interval training (you should select interval training mode if you want better HR tracking sensitivity). I didn’t have any noticeable issues with the HR, but I bring this up to keep my review as thorough as possible. Keep in mind that most optical HR sensors aren’t entirely accurate, so you’ll want a chest strap if you need especially accurate data.

If you’re coming from Garmin, there are some other things you may miss:

  • Your VO2 max and training stats (besides stamina remaining and recovery time) are accessible in the COROS app only, and not from your watch.
  • There’s no music feature, pulse ox, stress, or find your phone/watch.
  • You can’t track mileage on your shoes and your menstrual cycle on the COROS app. As a workaround, Strava has the shoe mileage feature, and there are 3rd-party period trackers like Kindara.
  • There’s no LiveTrack or Incident Detection. For LiveTrack on Garmin, you need to carry your phone anyways, so you could always just use a third-party app for this if you go with COROS.

These aren’t dealbreakers for me at all, but they may be for some people. If they are for you, you may instead want to look at the Garmin Forerunner 245, 745, or 945.

coros apex white 42mm

The Bottom Line

The COROS APEX is an all-round fantastic watch for runners that are looking to improve their performance. With training stats like stamina remaining, running power, and training effect, you’ll have plenty of data to work with. The watch is also well-suited for triathletes with and trail/ultrarunners. You’d be hard-pressed to find a watch at a similar price point that has open water swimming, triathlon mode, extended battery life, navigation, and advanced training stats.

Of course, keep in mind that the knob/dial navigation can take some getting used to, and that you won’t have the same exact features if you’re coming from Garmin (especially the music capability). It’s ultimately up to you to weigh what’s more important.

Where to Buy the COROS APEX

If this review helped you, it would mean a ton if you purchased through my affiliate links (or used my affiliate code). I also want to encourage you to buy secondhand or from small, local running stores if you can. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you still want to show your appreciation financially, you’re welcome to buy me a ko-fi.

You should also know that COROS has a trade-in program. You can trade in a GPS watch of any brand for up to $100 off the purchase of a new COROS watch. I’m not sure how much money people generally get, but it’s a good option if you have a watch that might not be worth reselling. You’ll get a discount on a new watch, and hopefully your old watch parts will be recycled 🙂 According to COROS, if you trade in a COROS watch, it’s repurposed as a demo unit or sales sample. If you trade in another brand, the watches are recycled to the fullest extent possible.

Here are some places to buy the APEX:

Directly from COROS:

COROS APEX

Psst, here’s a free watch band code! For the COROS APEX on the COROS site (or any other watch), use my code CAP-Fang. You’ll be able to get a free, extra watch band or any other accessory (minus gift cards and the explorer pack). Just add both the accessory and the watch to your cart before applying the code at checkout.

Amazon:

COROS APEX

Other retailers:

Swappa (used electronics)
REI
eBay


 

I hope this review of the COROS Apex was helpful—as always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments. Best of luck choosing a watch, and happy training!

Other posts you may find helpful:

COROS APEX vs. PACE 2
COROS APEX vs. APEX Pro
COROS APEX vs. Garmin Forerunner 245

2 Comments

  • Libby Garza June 13, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Oooo thank you so much for your review!
    1) some garmin watches say they can calculate your lactate thresholds. How accurately do you think they do this and does the Coros offer those same features ?

    2) does the Coros have a pacer app or function, so that it lets you know if you are on time or behind for a goal run?

    3 ) how good are the apps compared to garmin?

    • Lily June 14, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Libby! Nice to see you here:)

      1. I have never really paid much attention to lactate thresholds. I believe Garmin has a set protocol for getting yours that involved a HR strap. COROS gives you this info in the app after enough outdoor runs of enough intensity. I think the accuracy of the data really depends on getting accurate HR data, so I’d recommend using a strap if you decide to go with COROS.

      2. No, COROS doesn’t have Garmin’s PacePro. They are always updating, so it’s possible they could add it in.

      3. The COROS app is not as replete as Garmin’s app, but it has the info I personally need (weekly, monthly, yearly stats + performance metrics). Unless you mean apps to add to your watch? I haven’t really added apps to my old Garmin, and I don’t believe there are downloadable apps for COROS.

      Hope this helps!

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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