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HTG Reviews the Echo: A Solid Smart Watch for Runners, Cyclists, and Sports Enthusiasts

If you’re in the market for a sport-oriented smartwatch to help you mind your heartbeat, laps, distance traveled, and more, the Magellan Echo is a solid budget-friendly entry into the smartwatch/fitness market. Read on as we explore the numerous features, long battery life, and a few limitations to be aware of.

What is the Echo?

The Echo is a sports-oriented smartwatch from the Magellan company (well known for decades of outdoor gear like ruggedized GPS units for backpackers, runners, and the like. The watch is heavily tuned and geared toward sports enthusiasts with a long lasting battery (their design uses ultra-low power components and aggressive power management to eschew a bulky lithium ion setup that needs frequent recharging for a simple coin cell battery).

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The case is ruggedized and water resistant, the buttons are large and easy to handle even when winded from a long run, and it features a rather innovative and sport-friendly tap-to-swap display feature wherein you can just slap/tap the face of the watch to cycle through available displays (such as lap time, distance traveled, and heart rate while using a running app). The design aesthetic is definitely sporty, but the watch isn’t overly bulky or unusual looking so you could easily wear the watch anywhere you’d normally wear a sport-style watch without standing out.

The watch comes in five color combinations (black on black, as well as blue, orange, pink, and gray bands with white faces) and in two packages. You can pick up just the watch for $126 or the watch + heart monitor for $199.

Currently the watch is iOS only, although Magellan has a note on their website and product packaging indicating Android support is coming soon.

How Do I Set It Up?

Setup is really straight forward as long as you’re clear on the one point that could cause a little frustration. In order to setup and configure the watch you need the Magellan Echo Utility from the AppStore. This is where you can run into a minor point of confusion: the Echo Utility is used only to connect, test, and configure the watch and/or heart rate monitor band. You don’t use it to push notifications, control, or otherwise interact with the watch. It’s simple a connect-and-test tool.

Download the app and run it with your watch (and heart band handy, if applicable) and then simply tap the corresponding entry for each device on the Echo Utility main screen. The heart monitor connects as soon as you wet the band and put it on (the mild electrical response from your skin serves as an on switch). If the watch doesn’t automatically connect hold down either of the upper buttons for three seconds to switch from the standard time watch face to the syncing interface. There’s no pins or other pairing tricks required.

Remember, the Utility doesn’t do anything but make sure your devices can connect and allow you to, as seen in the last panel above, set some very basic settings on the device like whether the time readout is analog or digital, whether the readout is black on white or white on black, and what language the watch uses. In order to actually get some use out of the watch, you’ll need to pair it with one of the supported applications.

How Do I Use The Echo?

Once you’ve paired the watch with your iPhone or iPod Touch, it’s time to hit up the list of compatible apps. As of this review the list includes Wahoo Fitness, iSmoothRun, Map My Run (and related apps like Map My Fitness, Ride, Hike, and Walk) as well as Golf Pad, Strava, AllTrails, and iMobileIntervals. The API for the Echo is wide open so any app can integrate the watch (but, as you’ll note from the short list above, the apps that have jumped on the band wagon are serious fitness apps).

Linking the watch and heart monitor to the app is handled on an app-by-app basis. Unfortunately, there’s no one-stop setup for all apps. This isn’t a huge deal, however, as most people don’t use five different fitness apps; they use one app consistently. Setup in-app is just as simple as setup in the test app. In Wahoo Fitness, for example, and seen in the photo above, you simply add the sensors during the initial app setup (or by tapping the sensor icon anytime thereafter). The linking process in the fitness apps is different only in wording and icons from the utility app.

The interface options and button configuration is also app dependent. Some apps offer very simple fixed features (e.g. button X does Y function with no option for customization). Other apps, like Wahoo Fitness offered a staggering number of customization options. We were quite impressed with how the Wahoo folks handled watch integration. There were literally dozens of options for customizing all four watch buttons to do various tasks; you could even customize the tap-watch-face-function.

There might be a limited number of apps that work with the Echo at the moment, but the ones that do are very tightly integrated and provide a seamless user experience. We had no problem using the Echo paired with Wahoo Fitness to monitor our distance traveled, heart rate, start and stop our music (as well as skip tracks) and otherwise manage our experience without having to resort to stopping and fiddling with our iOS device. Once you take the time to configure the watch with your chosen app, the buttons and tap interface make it completely unnecessary to fiddle with your iPhone.

The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict

After taking the Echo for a spin, what do we have to say about it?

The Good

  • The ultra-lower-power display and communication configuration means the Echo uses a regular old coin-cell battery and doesn’t require daily or weekly recharging. One less device to plug in at the end of the day is always nice.
  • The Echo interfaces with just about every popular sports/outdoor app on the market including MapMyRun (and its variants), Strava, Wahoo Fitness, etc.
  • Looks like your average casual (albeit chunky) sports/outdoor watch and will blend in with any outfit you’d normally wear such a watch with.
  • Buttons are big, easy to access, and response; the tap-to-change function of the watch face is fantastic especially when hard exercise leaves your fine motor skills a little impaired.
  • User interface on the watch makes it readily apparent which of the aforementioned easy-access buttons you need to press; very intuitive.
  • Reasonably priced compared to other smart watches. The stand alone watch is $126 and the watch + heart rate monitor is $199.

The Bad

  • Although Magellan indicates Android support is forthcoming, the device is currently iOS only.
  • The Echo has an open developer-friendly API, but as of now there’s little evidence of any developers save for those working for major running/outdoor apps investing any time in the Echo platform.
  • The Echo is a great watch (and watch/monitor combination) for runners and athletes on the move, but is otherwise a smartwatch lightweight with fairly limited functionality.
  • The watch has very limited functionality without a paired smartphone. You can do lap timing with the watch, for example, but bafflingly there is no way to monitor your heart rate without using a smartphone. There’s really no excuse for not setting up the device so that the included heart-rate monitor and watch can talk to each other directly without a smartphone.

The Verdict

If you’re an avid sports enthusiast who would benefit from a device that gives you on-the-fly biofeedback, helps you track and monitor your activities, and you want to do it all with a hassle-free package, the Echo is a solid buy. The interface is simple and easy to use, the buttons are over-sized and easy to press when you’re huffing and puffing, and the fact that you don’t need to plug it in all the time to charge it up is a huge perk.

If you’re not the super sporty type, however, and just dabble with a little recreational exercise here or there but are in the market for a smart watch, we’d recommend either picking up a Pebble (more money but more functionality) or waiting out the year to see where the emerging and rapidly development smartwatch market takes us.

Erik Wang writes hardware review articles when he's not busy playing Clash of Clans on his iPad.

  • Published 07/14/14