Coros APEX review: A smartwatch for getting off the grid

With Apple just launching the Series 5 Apple Watch, they've addressed one of the biggest issues I've had with it: it now sports an always-on display. Another big complaint I have, however, is battery life when you're in the backcountry for days at a time. The Coros Apex GPS Multisport watch fulfills my smartwatch needs and my extended isolation needs.

Before Coros launched their newest model, the Vertix, (full review here) they turned heads with the Apex, the first GPS watch by Coros. It made trail runners take note of the new company out of California.

The Apex comes in two sizes, 46mm and 42mm, which is rare in the outdoor watch world, and a great bonus for small-wristed folks.

At a starting price of $300 the watch offers way more features than it should and thus needs to be taken serious for anyone looking to get themselves a GPS watch for activity tracking, daily workouts and long runs in the woods.

The hardware

Coros Apex

I like the look of the Apex. Compared to the Vertix, the bezel on the Apex looks much cleaner and more refined. The silicone straps are easily replaceable and allow you to add a pop of color. The Apex feels like a watch you want to wear all day. The watch sits about has high off your wrist as an Apple Watch and it is light. Even lighter than an Apple Watch (Apple's silicone bands are crazy heavy). Compare that to the Suunto 9 and it feels like you're wearing a tank on your wrist. The Apex navigates the watch's interface with just two buttons, which I find easier to learn and understand than the Vertix' 3 button interface. One of the buttons is a rotating knob, similar to the Digital Crown.

The battery charges the same way as the Vertix, and while that allows for interchanging charging cables, the way the cable connects to the watch is pretty crummy. The cable never feels like it's properly connected and, although you get a buzz from the watch when it's connected, you worry that it disconnects by the time you put it back on your nightstand. The connector on both the Suunto and Apple watches give you more confidence that you're successfully charging the device. This connector is one of Coros's weakest parts. Maybe I've received a faulty cable with my review units, but both watches I tried had that issue.

Speaking of the nightstand, the buzzing, which is meant to alert you of a notification while wearing the watch, continues even when you're not wearing the watch. You can customize what notifications are being displayed, but the buzzing the device makes even if you don't wear the device, like when it's charging on your nightstand or at your desk, is quite unpleasant. I wish the watch would "KNOW" when it's not on my wrist and not buzz.

The app for syncing and customizing

Coros Apex watch faces

The Apex uses the same iPhone app to sync activities and allow you to track and measure your workouts. The app is really well designed, allows over-the-air firmware updates, and gives you a great interface to change watch faces and customize your workout interface.

While adventuring

Adventuring in the woods

During your workout, the watch works reliably and due to the small size feels great on your wrist. As with all dedicated GPS devices, at the start of your activity, it takes a moment to receive a GPS signal and another moment to read your heart rate, then you're off and (pun intended) running. The rotating knob allows you to scroll through a ton of different screens, giving you access to all the data you'd want during your run. If you want to follow a pre-recorded route, you can upload a GPS file to the watch via the app. At the beginning of your run select the route in the navigation settings of the activity screen. A breadcrumb map will guide you. You can easily follow the course and check mid-run to see if you're off course. This is a great safety feature to have on your watch, although I usually use my phone for this. The larger screen makes it easier to find myself on a map and help me navigate.

The battery

Coros Apex backside

Outdoor enthusiasts' biggest and most desperate call was for better battery life for their devices. Many ultra races require easily 10-30 hrs of continues GPS tracking. You might hike the backcountry for several days with minimal ability to recharge your watch. Serious players in the market place were listening. We now have several devices promising 30-150hrs of battery life, and delivering on that promise. The Apex promises 100 hrs for the 46mm model on UltraMax GPS mode, which I didn't get to test, but giving that I barely had to charge this watch during the week, I trust that claim.

iPhone users made a similar call a while back. The phones used to barely made it through a single day. Starting with the iPhone XR and now with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, those calls were answered. For the Apple Watch to be taken seriously by adventurers it has to double its battery life. Until then, we'll take the Coros Apex into the backcountry.

The verdict

For a watch at this price point, it comes with almost more bells and whistles that one could hope for. A clean look and low profile make the Apex almost a watch to wear all day. Great battery life and consistent GPS performance when it matters are key. Over-the-air software updates and fast activity syncing are delightful. The charging is wonky and the notification buzz annoying, but overall this is a great watch for the athlete looking for a dependable GPS device for their daily runs in the woods.

Mathias Eichler

Mathias creates beautiful many things. Co-founder of the Outdoor Society, publisher of outdoor inspiration including guidebooks, calendars and the weekly trail running podcast Singletrack. In his spare time he runs trails and climbs the mountains around his base camp Olympia, WA. Find him at The Outdoor Society or @mathiaseichler.