Runtopia S1 review: A cheap but functional running watch – Expert Reviews

Running watches, traditionally, cost quite a bit of money. Watches costing a lot of money is hardly new, as anybody who has ever idly browsed for Rolexes will know, but in running trackers’ case, it has nothing to do with looks, which are something of an ‘acquired taste’. Rather, it’s down to the tech inside: GPS, heart-rate sensors and the like just aren’t cheap, especially in a package so small.
 

The Runtopia S1 hopes to change that. Well, the pricing anyway. Runtopia’s curious new watch may not be anything to write home about in terms of its looks, but at just £63, it’s certainly going to put the discount cat amongst the pricing pigeons. To stretch that metaphor to breaking point.
 
Buy now from Runtopia[1]  

Runtopia S1 review: What you need to know

The Runtopia S1 aims to cut things back to the three things serious runners care about: tracking distance, tracking heart-rate and solid battery life. Anything else is omitted, unless it happens as a side effect of the others. That means that step counting is there (though not front and centre), but sleep tracking is not, for example.

 
That means it’s not much to write home about in terms of looks, with a 1.3in monochrome LCD touchscreen providing all your information at a glance. This looks trade off should equal 25 days on a single charge, or eight hours of GPS use.  

Runtopia S1 review: Price and competition

Once upon a time, these kind of specifications in a watch for £63 would have been unheard of. In 2019, it’s certainly unusual, but no longer unique.
 
The main competitors come from outside of Europe and America. The Amazfit Bip[2], for example, astonished us by packing GPS, heart-rate monitoring and a 45-day battery life. It also manages to include sleep tracking, unlike the Runtopia S1.

 
Then there’s the Huawei Band 3 ProGarmin Forerunner 35Polar M430[5] now hovers around the same price too. These are compatible with external sensors and different workouts, as an added bonus.  

Runtopia S1 review: Design

For £63, you’re not going to get something too sleek, and the Runtopia S1 isn’t what anyone in their right mind would call stylish. But at the same time, I do quite like the way Runtopia has leaned into this and made it a virtue: it’s unapologetically bulky, and has an almost industrial look to it, with four screws on the face, presumably entirely for aesthetic reasons. 
 
The straps it comes with are rubber, although they’re replaceable via a spring bar mechanism. That means you can smarten it up a little, but there’s only so much you can do with a watch that’s this in-your-face. 

 
Despite the bulk, with its default strap the Runtopia S1 is comfortable for extended wear – though, with no sleep tracking, there’s literally no reason to wear it in bed if you don’t want to. It has 3ATM (30m) water resistance, which means it’ll survive splashing, hand washing and the like, but you might not risk swimming with it.
 
It’s an always-on screen, but its touch functionality only works when woken up by one of its two buttons, both of which can be found on the right-hand side. One of these cycles through menus and lets you start/stop exercises, the other is a back button. Personally, I’d rather there was a third button for ‘go’, because the touchscreen is pretty basic, and I’ve always thought that having touchscreens on devices designed to be sweated on is a terrible idea.

Runtopia S1 review: Performance and features

First of all, that battery life promise – up to 25 hours without a charge, or eight with GPS enabled – feels about right. And that really is something worth celebrating, when you consider the watch offers optional notifications and heart-rate information on demand.

   
Before I get into how it performs on the running trail, here’s a tip for something that took me a while to figure out. If you can’t get rid of the “Update AGPS on Runtopia to prevent inaccurate route record” message as I did, you need to make sure storage permission is enabled on your phone, and then force the update on the app. Go to Devices & Gadgets, Runtopia S1, and then Update AGPS.
 
That little hiccup aside, the Runtopia S1 broadly lives up to its promise. GPS perhaps takes a little longer to lock on than some of its rivals, and it’s not the most accurate I’ve seen, but neither is it the worst offender. At Brockwell Parkrun, it measured the 5km distance as 4.91km – exactly the same distance the Polar Ignite on my other wrist reckoned.
 

 
More pleasingly, the Runtopia S1 seems to offer what I’d consider to be a more accurate stab at heart-rate than some of its more expensive rivals. Fitbits, for example, rarely claim my heart goes above 145bpm even when running 5-10km. Here, the Runtopia S1 gives a far more plausible average of 169bpm, with a high of 176bpm. In my sedentary typing position right now, it gives a very plausible reading of 54bpm.

Runtopia S1 review: A cheap but functional running watch - Expert Reviews

So it’s good at capturing the data, but what you can do with this data is a touch more limited. When you’re running, four fields appear on screen: distance, average pace, heart rate and time. These aren’t customisable in any way, though swiping across gives you an etch-a-sketch-style breadcrumb map of the route you’ve taken, meaning you can retrace your steps if you get lost, which is a nice touch.
 
On top of that, while the overall results were reasonable when presented in the app, the on-the-fly data was considerably more dubious. My average pace whenever I checked it on my parkrun was nearly six minutes per kilometre, but as you can see the final reading was 5:24/km. 
 
The problem with that should be obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway: if your watch is incorrectly telling you that you’re going too slowly to hit your normal average, you’re likely to speed up to levels that simply aren’t sustainable for you. Whether that’s an issue for you depends on how you treat a running watch: if you just wear it for ‘post-match analysis’ and trust your body for speed guidance, it’s not a problem. If you follow the watch’s lead, it certainly is.

 
And you can’t improve this accuracy by connecting footpods or the like: the Runtopia S1 doesn’t support ANT+ or seem to have any additional Bluetooth connectivity. Hardly surprising: if it doesn’t do common things like sleep tracking, extra connectivity feels like a long shot.

Runtopia S1 review: Mobile app

When it comes to the aforementioned post-match analysis, the Runtopia app is rather good, providing a breakdown of the stuff you actually need, without overloading you with data. There’s information on pace per kilometre, calories burned, cadence, pace, heart rate, elevation and speed. 
 

Runtopia S1 review: A cheap but functional running watch - Expert Reviews

 
Some of this stuff is graphed, but deeper “analysis” is hidden behind Runtopia’s “Premium” subscription. Things like PB history, custom training plans, pace analysis and heart-rate zones, along with a cadence metronome are hidden behind this paywall. It’s not hugely expensive – $3.99 (£3.25) per month, or $1.99 (£1.60) per month if you pay for a full year – but it still leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

That said, Runtopia is unique in offering rewards for staying healthy. Said rewards can be put towards your premium membership, as well as for discounts on apparel on Amazon.com (crucially, not Amazon.co.uk) amongst other things such as sports towels (just pay $3.99 postage, once you’ve got the coins).

Runtopia S1 review: A cheap but functional running watch - Expert Reviews

 
It’s not clear how applicable this will ever be to UK audiences, but you’re likely not missing out on much. You get one Sports Coin for (SPC) for liking and commenting on friends’ posts, and between five and ten SPC for running or walking certain distances. Not bad, except a month’s worth of Runtopia Premium will set you back 399SPC – in other words, each sports coin is worth exactly one cent, or about four fifths of a penny. While it’s possible to get $300 of PayPal credit if you save enough coins, you’re going to be there for a while. 

 
Don’t get me wrong: this kind of incentivising healthy behaviour is wonderful to see – but you’re never going to get rich off it, let’s just say that.

 
It’s pretty clear that Runtopia wants to be your sole running destination, and as such it offers an Instagram-like experience where you can post pictures of your runs and scroll through a feed of like-minded athletes. Rather neatly, it comes complete with pre-made posters showing your stats, just perfect for boring the pants off of your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with.
 

Runtopia S1 review: A cheap but functional running watch - Expert Reviews

 
But this does have its drawbacks: Runtopia doesn’t seem compatible with any other running apps, meaning you can’t share your runs with Strava, or your data with MyFitnessPal. That, for me, is a kiss of death, and hopefully something Runtopia will tackle at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

Runtopia S1 review: Verdict

Buy now from Runtopia[6]  

In all, I quite like the Runtopia S1, but it’s not a running watch I can personally recommend at this point. While it mostly does the job, you’re currently better off just buying a Huawei Band 3 Pro[7] for a similar price, and enjoying the added bonus of sleep tracking. 
 
Better still, I would personally spend a bit extra for a Garmin Forerunner 35[8]. It’s more customisable for runners and crucially plays nicely with Strava, Runkeeper and the like.

References

  1. ^ Buy now from Runtopia (www.runtopia.net)
  2. Amazfit Bip (www.amazon.co.uk)
  3. Huawei Band 3 Pro (www.amazon.co.uk)
  4. Garmin Forerunner 35 (www.amazon.co.uk)
  5. Polar M430 (www.amazon.co.uk)
  6. ^ Buy now from Runtopia (www.runtopia.net)
  7. ^ Huawei Band 3 Pro (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  8. ^ Garmin Forerunner 35 (www.expertreviews.co.uk)

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