Reviews - February 4, 2024

I climbed to the top of Mount Diablo wearing five smartwatches. This brand had the highest altitude accuracy.

Last weekend, I strapped on five fitness smartwatches, drove to Mount Diablo State Park in California, and hiked about 2,100 feet to the summit. why? Determine which smartwatch brand is the most accurate for altitude tracking: Apple, COROS, Garmin, Polar, or Samsung.

Most high-end smartwatches come equipped with a barometric altimeter to determine altitude gain during outdoor exercise. The altimeter uses barometric pressure changes to calculate altitude changes based on GPS data. However, some are more accurate than others, and most brands do not allow you to manually calibrate the starting position.

I’ve been wanting to test this for a while, after an experiment last year where I wore six smartwatches and tried to see which one came closest to my actual number over 6,000 steps. Since then I’ve also done several multi-clock GPS accuracy tests for reviews, but they’ve all been two-dimensional. I couldn’t tell how accurate the watch was when I climbed X feet or Y. Flight of stairs.

Polar Vantage V3 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic worn near the summit of Mount Diablo.

(Image source: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

For testing, I chose three watches I’ve already reviewed (COROS PACE 3, Garmin Forerunner 965, and Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic) and two watches currently under review: the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Polar Vantage V3.

I apologize to hikers whose favorite brands I did not bring. My arms are thin but they have so much space. Charging and mounting five watches was enough to manage it, and I was able to take several side glances at the trail as it was.

Plus, some of my favorite wearables (e.g. Fitbit Charge 6) don’t have an altimeter at all. This means that elevation data cannot be trusted beyond GPS estimates.

Luckily, you can easily test the accuracy of your smartwatch if you want!

Choose a hike from a site like Alltrails, such as the Mount Diablo by Summit Trail hike, and note the minimum and maximum elevation along with the total elevation gain. Then take a hike yourself and compare the results on your watch with reality.

The table below shows the smartwatch altitude accuracy test results.

Swipe to scroll horizontallyDevice NameStart ElevationMaximum ElevationTotal Elevation IncreaseAccurate GPS Data (AllTrails)1,770 feet3,849 feet2,139 feetApple Watch Ultra 21,779 feet3,873 feet2,147 feetCOROS PACE 31,736 feet3,825 feet2,231 feetGarmin Forerunner 9651,761 feet 3,841 feet2, 231 feetSamsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic1,509 feet3,606 feet2,026 feet

memo: You have most likely found a row of missing data. That’s because my Polar Vantage V3 crashed while going down Mount Diablo, showing the Polar logo in an endless loop, and did a factory reset after returning home. The Polar subreddit shows that other people have encountered similar problems in the past.

Luckily, I took a photo near the summit showing my elevation at the time (3,729 feet) and my total gain (2,018 feet). Climb another 100 feet or so and the Vantage V3 will probably be pretty close to what my other watches showed. In particular, it cannot provide accurate data without a starting altitude. This glitch ruined my testing and I’m really disappointed!

Determining the ‘best’ smartwatch altimeter

An Apple Watch Ultra 2, Garmin Forerunner 965, and COROS PACE 3 were all worn on one wrist at the base of the Mount Diablo Summit Trail.

(Image source: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

There are three metrics that can help you determine which smartwatch is best for altitude accuracy. Let’s start with Minimum Altitude, which is the initial auto-calibration result your smartwatch generates when you start your workout.

Garmin and Apple miraculously tied at 9 feet apart. COROS was 25 feet worse than the Garmin, at 34 feet short, but that was nothing compared to Samsung’s result, which was 261 feet short.

Next, looking at maximum altitude, the Garmin was 8 feet short of the official normal number. Basically, the difference between the minimum and maximum (2,080 feet) was only 2,080 feet, even though the Garmin was off by a few yards each time. one shot This differs from official data (2,079 feet).

COROS’ maximum result of 3,825 feet was 24 feet short. But again, looking at the overall difference (2,089 feet), that’s just 10 feet off the satellite data that most hikers would be willing to accept.

According to Apple’s maximum altitude data, I hovered about 24 feet above Mount Diablo, and the total difference (2,094) is 15 feet above. Considering all the smarts you get with the Apple Watch Ultra 2 compared to most fitness smartwatches, it’s probably a minor difference that watchOS fans won’t mind.

The Galaxy Watch 6 Classic’s total elevation difference (2,097 feet) could also be considered perfectly respectable, but its maximum altitude was just as absurdly short as its minimum altitude. samsung had You can use the Alti-Barometer app from the Galaxy Store to fix this, but it’s designed for Tizen OS and won’t work properly on Wear OS.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2, Garmin Forerunner 965, and COROS PACE 3 were all worn on one wrist and I ran the Mount Diablo Summit Trail overlooking the valley below.

(Image source: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Lastly, since you gain additional elevation each time the trail goes up and down (to clarify), you may see your total elevation gain different from the subtracted total above.

At first glance, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 only exceeds this figure by 8 feet. The problem was that I climbed up and down the stairs at the top a few times and also took a few side trails that had small hills that added unnecessary ups and downs.

So, even though both the Garmin Forerunner 965 and COROS PACE 3 measured an additional 92 feet of climbing, I wonder if my actual results lie somewhere between those two and the Ultra 2. Another surprise was that both got exactly the same results. .

The great thing about the newer Garmin Forerunner watches, the PACE 3 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, is that they all have dual-band GPS tracking. If the mountain you are climbing blocks the view of the nearest GPS satellite, you can use other satellites to correct your position. And since the watch uses GPS to boost its altimeter results, this means there’s a very good chance you’ll get something out of it. close For accurate results.

If you’re using a GPS-only watch like the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic, your altitude results may be messier, despite the built-in altimeter. The incorrect starting altitude may not be a problem from a practical standpoint, but the fact that it underreported my altitude get At least 100 feet is unforgiving.

Here’s hoping that in 2024, Samsung will solve the fitness problem and the Galaxy Watch 7 Pro will be more reliable. But so far, I’ve been really pleased with the results of my testing with Garmin, COROS, and Apple. Garmin won on specific altitude numbers, Apple won on elevation gain, and COROS came close on both.

Rather than rooting for one clear winner, we want as many brands as possible to provide accurate results so hikers and cyclists have a variety of choices.

If the If you’re currently looking for a new smartwatch, bike computer, or portable GPS, you’d better not take for granted that the altimeter on the spec sheet is a sure sign of reliability. Keep your receipts and get your new watch out on the trail as soon as possible to get reasonably accurate results.