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Review: Magellan Echo Smart Running Watch

There is a lot of activity in Smart Watches these days. There's the Pebble, another from Martian, the Galaxy Gear and a host of others. There is also a great deal of buzz around lifestyle or fitness watches, like the Fitbit, and the Garmin Forerunner.

Magellan, maker of GPS navigation software and hardware, has jumped into the pool with the Magellan Echo Smart running Watch. It's US$149.95

Design

The Echo is a pretty basic-looking, rubberized watch. In normal mode it displays the time and date, and the display is visible in sunlight. There is also a handy backlight. The watch runs on a CR2032 battery, which is claimed to last for about 6 months.

The watch is water resistant, and should survive rain or a shower. It is not a diving watch, and should not be used while swimming.

Think of the Echo as a display for information from your iPhone. What you see will depend on the apps you are running. More about that later.

Getting Started

When you first open the packaging you'll see a card that directs you to the Magellan Echo website, and that will walk you through setting the watch up.

From there you pick a fitness app. Magellan has been smart here, and made the watch an open platform, so any developer who chooses to link with the Echo can. As of today Magellan says that Wahoo Fitness, Strava, MapMyRun and iSmoothRun talk to the watch.

Using the Echo

I took my usual morning run after pairing the watch to one of the suggested apps. I tried the Wahoo Fitness app, which is free. Pairing worked fine. I entered my height, weight, age and was ready to start. I started the timers and GPS functions from the app itself and put it away. The distance and time displays were on the watch and were easy to read. One problem was I could not figure out how to switch back to the current time of day. My review copy of the watch had only a sheet to link me to the Echo website.

There's no diagram of what the 4 buttons do, and I couldn't easily find that information on the Echo site, even in the FAQs. One button started the music playing on my iPhone, which I knew was a function the watch had. You can also pause and skip tracks. But overall I found documentation lacking. There are some recessed, hard-to-see icons on watch's buttons, but they don't clearly convey each button's function.



Conclusions

The Magellan Echo's features are largely determined by the app you want to use with it. There are settings for cycling and running and calories burned. Some of the apps present a map of where you ran on the iPhone screen. There is also the ability to set up communications with others wearing an Echo, but I did not test those features.

As a watch, the Echo is OK. No alarms for wake up, and it doesn't vibrate for incoming mail or texts. That's not its purpose, but it will be interesting to see if the Apple watch, if it ever appears, will be more complete.

As a fitness watch, the Magellan Echo is quite competent. The open architecture of the watch means it will continue to grow and add features.

The Echo requires an iPhone 4S or above because it needs Bluetooth 4.0. The app also works with the 5th generation iPod touch and the iPad mini, iPad (3rd and 4th generation). I don't think the iPad is a very practical thing to carry on a run, however.

The app/watch combo has many other features, like getting notifications from your fitness app, and saving data for later analysis and comparison. You can get details on the Echo website.

The Magellan Echo will please many fitness buffs, and is certainly competitive in the field. Unlike the Fitbit, it doesn't require recharging several times a week, and the display is large and readable. On the other hand, the FitBit includes options like sleep monitoring which are absent in the Echo.

The watch comes in black, blue or orange. Magellan can also provide a heart rate monitor that works with the watch for an extra charge.

Better documentation is the only real missing item from this watch, and that's pretty easy for Magellan to fix.

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