We've told you once and we'll tell you again, fitness technology is exploding. From smart garments and fitness bands, to clever tracking insoles for your running shoes, and even headphones that log your heart rate, it seems that every man, dog and now printer manufacturer wants to help you be a better you.
Essential reading: Best running watch for 2015
With so much of the tech industry's future money pegged for this space, it's understandable that all the tech brands want a piece of the pie but can a company like Epson, with its heritage of firing ink onto sheets of A4, really produce a running watch to beat the likes of Garmin, Polar, Suunto, Magellan, TomTom and co?
Epson Runsense: Design and build
Not unlike the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, the Runsense has an all-plastic design that'll definitely leave some people unimpressed. The only nod to the high-end design is the alloy bezel that does improve the looks but won't go far enough if you're looking for a sport watch that looks expensive.
That said, what you forego in a premium look, you do gain with a compact and lightweight feel. At 52g the Runsense is barely noticeable on the wrist, which makes it ideal for running.
Looks-wise it's more reminiscent of an everyday Casio than it is than something like the sporty TomTom Runner, and the overall build quality isn't brilliant considering how much you're paying - £299 in the UK. The silver-painted plastic buttons, for example, look they'll lose their paint over time and the strap is a little flimsy.
Flip the Runsense over and you start to see it's not your everyday Casio though. There's a built-in optical heart rate sensor that allows for real-time heart rate monitoring without the need for a chest strap.
The round screen with its low-res dot-matrix design can be hard to read in low light and bright sunlight, and the we often found the amount of data packed into the display didn't help, particularly when you're on the move.
Then there's the Epson's charging and syncing dock. Like a camera battery charger from the 80s, it's huge, cumbersome and really a bit of an embarrassment.
The idea that you'll have to lug this chunk of plastic around whenever you want to charge or upload your stats isn't in the least enticing and does suggest a company entering a new market. The only upside to this is that the watch does clip firmly in place, ensuring you're getting a charge.
On the plus side, the Runsense is water proof to 5ATM (40m). We gave it a few outings under the shower; it held up fine and should cope well if you're out running in the rain.
Epson Runsense: Features
The Runsense tracks three types of exercise: running (default), walking, and cycling using built-in GPS.
The speed of GPS connection was the first thing about this watch that really impressed us. Getting a satellite lock was lightning fast. We never waited more than 10 seconds.
The accuracy of the built-in heart rate monitor was initially less impressive. We tested alongside a Polar V800 with a chest strap, and found the Epson was often out with a variation of up to 10bpm. However, adjusting the tightness of the strap did help with this and once we'd learned how tight it needed to be, it was more or less in tune with the Polar.
To be fair to Epson, other watches with optical heart rate sensors also need adjusting but the whole process is more fiddly than using a chest strap.
Essential reading: How to use heart rate training zones
One feature that really stood out was the Smart Stride Sensor that delivers stride length and pitch readings in real-time. Not everyone will require this level of detail but for people looking to improve forma and efficiency this can be a really valuable stat to see on the move.
On top of that the SF-810 uses this information to learn your individual technique, helping to fill in the gaps and keep your pace and distance stats flowing if GPS signal is lost.
We'd love to have been able to lock in some pre-set values ahead of a run so we could get alerts if stride length dropped below our target but sadly that's not an option, forcing you to keep that information in your head which is less than ideal over long distances where runner's jelly brain can kick in.
In cycling mode, the watch emphasises the GPS readings rather than watch sensors to factor in the lack of arm movement.
Epson Runsense: Web tools and app
If we were being nice about the Runsense web tools and smartphone app we'd say that they lack sophistication. The Runsense Neorun Android platform is actually a web app and requires a login every time you open it and not all the pages are made responsive so the experience can be a little frustrating.
The data sync of each training session is also manual and if you forget to sync a backlog builds up. This wouldn't be terrible except for that fact that each sync takes several minutes as you make a manual selection, sync Bluetooth on your smartphone and the watch, and then wait a couple of minutes for the data to transfer. It's an experience you would have had with a Garmin or Polar three or four years ago.
In return for wrestling with the upload, you get a GPS map of your route, along with stats for distance and time, a heart rate graph and info of your heart rate zone effort. There's also a lap counter.
From within the app you can change HR zones and personal info, set interval training goals and recovery times, as well as create target pace alerts. All of which do bring extra usefulness to the Runsense platform.
Another nice touch is the ability to create waypoints along your routes. These can trigger an alarm and a performance readout once you hit them.
In essence the whole thing feels a bit like you're using beta software and the lack of coaching or training plans leaves Epson a distance behind the competition.
Epson Runsense: Battery life
Running guide: Using your running watch for interval training
The inclusion of an accelerometer-powered sleep mode that shuts the screen down if the watch is left stationary, and wakes when picked up, is a really nice touch.
- Portability due to size and weight
- Sensor variety and accuracy
- 20 hour battery life
- Charger is bloody massive
- Complex old-school UI makes it a struggle
- No coaching or insight into data