In my latest product trial, I tested the Timex Ironman Global Trainer, a product designed for endurance sport training. I thought it would be a good tool for search and rescue, and I was right. In fact, it turned out to be an outstanding general law enforcement product. I hardly use superlatives, but this was one of the best wrist computers I have ever used. I should know; I am an experienced equipment destroyer.
A watch for rescue and beyond
The Timex Global Trainer is a durable wrist computer which calculates speed, distance, time lapse and time. It easily interfaces with mapping and recording portals, allowing the user to see where they’ve been. It is a wristwatch, on a slightly larger scale. It is 2.5 inches wide and about the same weight as my stainless steel chronograph.
The purpose of this type of product is to make data collection for endurance athletes simple. It has a very readable display with easily accessed operational buttons and high contrast numbers. It was designed to accurately record a workout on a map, along with other data like pace, cadence and heart rate. It collects the non-GPS data using external devices, which connect wirelessly using ANT technology.
When GPS devices first became “portable” in the military, we were using the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR), which we called the “plugger”. It was the “bag phone” version of the GPS, slightly smaller than a breadbox. It took a while to start up and even longer to locate our position. I cannot describe to the reader trying to hold the thing steady while bouncing along in an M113 and trying to read the display. Thanks to the advanced technology, I now have a dozen more features and can run circles around that old brick. The Global Trainer has a 20-workout memory and a hands-free data capture. It uses SiRFstarIII GPS technology, a chipset that has an improved startup and fringe reception. It can store 50 routes and 100 waypoints.
Other features include simple button functions and menu prompts, appropriate for those who dive in without reading the manual. One can do the setup on the watch or on the computer. I used both and they were both easily navigated. This wrist computer has a “compass” function, which I found to be easily read, even when pounding off-road on my mountain bike. This will be especially handy for wilderness searchers who need to maintain an axis of travel.
One of the things that the SiRFstarIII GPS chipset does is maintain a memory of recent triangulations. To put it simply, if the Timex Global Trainer is in approximately the same zip code on startup as it was during shutdown, it will “find itself” faster. It will even ask if the user wants a GPS reset if it takes more time than usual to find itself. This is a “warm start” for a GPS, and this product does it well. I did a couple of “cold starts” indoors and the time to location averaged 70 seconds. My two other GPS devices won’t even work in the same test location.
Against several other GPS devices, the Timex Global Trainer was the obvious winner in gaining and maintaining signals. This is paramount for the search and rescue team member. Granted, it is a very simple “I am here” and “Go to LAT/LON” system, but for the user given a map and a mission, it is perfect. It does have a simple graphic map screen, but it looks like a firmware update will load a map onto this screen.
After turning the device on, the navigation screen can be accessed with a single button push. Using the “Mode” button, the user selects the “navigation mode”. The display will provide a simple LAT/LON and altitude interface. Waypoints can be dropped on the fly. However, waypoint dropping is a three button process. This is the only feature of this wrist computer that I believe should be streamlined.
I created a custom screen on the watch and titled it “SAR”. One can choose the number of items displayed, and I designed this screen to display altitude and time of day. It is a clean looking display for search and rescue. Perhaps I can convince Timex to include the GPS location option on one of the custom screens in a firmware update. I really can’t complain because it is very simple to go from my custom screen to my current location, including dropping waypoints along the way.
The bike mount fits several different handlebar styles, including my steel cyclocross bike (YES!!). It also allowed clearance for cables and different mounting positions. The heart rate strap, which is available for separate purchase or supplied with the HRM version, is more comfortable and accurate than the one I use right now. The Timex Global Trainer will communicate with most ANT products, for those into fitness gadgets.
I own several devices which measure my fitness progress. The Timex Global Trainer takes the least amount of time to connect with the heart rate strap and has a better refresh rate, which translates into better reports. Using a treadmill with this product confuses it, say if one is in a basement and cannot get a good satellite signal. My Timex Ironman Global Trainer kept asking periodically if it should ignore the satellite signal strength and continue the workout. I did, and it did. The result was an accurate record of the workout, complete with the usual charts.
Even if there isn’t a satellite signal, the Timex Ironman Global Trainer continues to log data. Really, I panicked when the question popped up on the screen a couple of times during my treadmill run inside a steel building. It logs as long as the user pressed the Start/Split button.
Most of the people I know that belong to search and rescue teams, especially those who train for Wilderness Ops, look like they already know about fitness, especially the volunteers. This product is appropriate for them because it can be used for fitness measurement, goal setting, route recording and even telling time. It was reliable and rugged in the field, capable of extended operations.
The Global Trainer was stable during shock and water ingress tests, and I also managed to dump my bike while it was mounted. It wasn’t designed for diving, but for those who wish to interrupt a perfectly good run and bike ride, it is triathlon friendly.
Customer service and upkeep
There are other bêtes noires in the wrist mounted computer business. I purchased a competitive wrist computer a couple of years ago. It worked fine and still does. However, when the wrist strap broke and I contacted the company they did not sell a replacement part. Their guidance was for me to send it back under warranty, along with an exorbitant amount of money, in order to replace a broken wrist strap. (The strap was unique and couldn’t be replaced with a universal product.) I later found that this was a common problem and a common response to the problem for this product. Timex products are known for platform stability, and I anticipate that replacement bands will always be in the inventory.
The rule of search and rescue is to keep an “old-school” compass and rely on it, rather than use the GPS compass. This is, and always will be, good counsel because the GPS compass relies on motion, not orientation. That is, a GPS compass does not calculate cardinal direction, except by the direction of travel of the user. If the GPS compass is stationary for a while, the compass will not work.
There are other obvious factors, including the fact that the GPS compass relies on batteries and the power could be ostensibly be used for other essential functions.
I really can’t say that power was an issue with the The Timex Ironman Global Trainer. It boasts a 15-hour battery life. I confirmed that it would run for 15 hours on a charge, and subsequently never went beyond a few hours use. It was too easy to find a place to charge it. It charged on my laptop, while I was uploading my workouts and routes. It charged by plugging it into the wall, using the supplied adapter. I have a small solar USB charger that didn’t come with the Timex Global Trainer. It works there, too. Since every power supply imaginable is USB compatible these days, it was a simple thing to carry the USB sync cord. It didn’t use much power and didn’t take long to charge, a little over 2 hours. A SiRFstarIII chipset design goal was also low power consumption, and I believe the goal was met here.
Powered down, the Timex Global Trainer will go 12 days. I found that I could power up to get a “Where am I”, then power down again to save power. I did this for a week with power to spare.
I used the free version of Training Peaks, the web based recording system for workouts. This was an uncomplicated way to share and store data. Users can enter their data, like age, height and weight and the watch does the rest.
Finally, one click converted my workouts to Google Maps or any other mapping method I chose, which could be appended to Facebook. Viola, I social networked my workout!
What does my social networking play mean to the Search and Rescue industry? This wrist computer accurately captures the user’s route and waypoints and overlays them on a map. It seamlessly answers the question “Where have you been?”. It also accurately answers the question “Where am I now?”.
The Timex Global Trainer has an unexpected bonus; the fitness product can be used for everyday law enforcement and called upon for critical data. This has to be one of the most feature rich wrist computers on the market today. It operates simply and has an uncluttered display that delivers meaningful information. If anyone was searching for the right product, I’ve found it.