Accuracy of Distance Recordings in Eight Positioning-Enabled Sport Watches: Instrument Validation Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 Jun 24;8(6):e17118. doi: 10.2196/17118.


Background: Elite athletes and recreational runners rely on the accuracy of global navigation satellite system (GNSS)-enabled sport watches to monitor and regulate training activities. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the accuracy of such sport watches.

Objective: The aim was to investigate the accuracy of the recorded distances obtained by eight commercially available sport watches by Apple, Coros, Garmin, Polar, and Suunto when assessed in different areas and at different speeds. Furthermore, potential parameters that affect the measurement quality were evaluated.

Methods: Altogether, 3 × 12 measurements in urban, forest, and track and field areas were obtained while walking, running, and cycling under various outdoor conditions.

Results: The selected reference distances ranged from 404.0 m to 4296.9 m. For all the measurement areas combined, the recorded systematic errors (±limits of agreements) ranged between 3.7 (±195.6) m and -101.0 (±231.3) m, and the mean absolute percentage errors ranged from 3.2% to 6.1%. Only the GNSS receivers from Polar showed overall errors <5%. Generally, the recorded distances were significantly underestimated (all P values <.04) and less accurate in the urban and forest areas, whereas they were overestimated but with good accuracy in 75% (6/8) of the sport watches in the track and field area. Furthermore, the data assessed during running showed significantly higher error rates in most devices compared with the walking and cycling activities.

Conclusions: The recorded distances might be underestimated by up to 9%. However, the use of all investigated sport watches can be recommended, especially for distance recordings in open areas.

Keywords: GPS measurement error; geographic information systems; geographic locations; monitoring physical training; movement analysis; sports.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Humans
  • Running
  • Walking