Is New Balance's RunIQ fitness smartwatch a rival to Apple Watch Series 2?

The answer: Yes, and no. Here's how the two fitness-focused smartwatches compare.

New Balance runiq promo
Credit: New Balance

New Balance is looking to win the fitness smartwatch marathon with its recently introduced Android Wear-based RunIQ. But how does it compare to Apple Watch Series 2, which is also fitness focused and shares some core features such as built-in GPS and heart-rate monitoring? I wore both for more than a week to find out.

Cost: RunIQ beats Apple Watch

RunIQ is $300, while the least expensive Apple Watch Series 2 is $369.

Comfort: Apple Watch

RunIQ has a similar perforated band comparable to Apple Watch Nike+ (also $369 and up), the Nike-branded version of Apple’s Series 2 smartwatch. Both bands are comfortable to wear. But RunIQ feels heavier and bulkier on the wrist.

Screen: Apple Watch

No wearable I’ve tested — and I’ve tested quite a few — has a better screen than Apple Watch Series 2. It’s bright and easy-to-read in any circumstance, including outside on a day with bright sunshine.

With RunIQ, I needed to crank the brightness level up to 4 or 5 (the latter is the highest setting) to easily read the screen under sunny skies. Unfortunately, the brightness bump can be a serious battery drain.

Example: I went for a 30-minute run using GPS and heart rate tracking with RunIQ fully charged. After the run, the battery was at 76 percent; the brightness level was 5.

New Balance says the 410mAh battery should last 24 hours, or up to five hours when using GPS and heart-rate tracking.

Starting a run: Apple Watch

Imagine that you’re ready to run. You step outside, tap the running icon on the RunIQ’s home screen, and wait for the watch to fix on a GPS signal. In my tests, the wait was typically between one and three minutes. When you’re running in inclement weather, three minutes feels like 30.

Now imagine you’re wearing an Apple Watch. You step outside, say “Hey Siri, start a run,” and within a few seconds, you’re ready to go, and so is the GPS. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

It’s worth mentioning that RunIQ has three buttons: one to start/stop a run or cycling workout; one serves as a home button; the third controls laps or music. Apple Watch has two. 

apple watch nike REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Trevor Edwards, president of Nike Brand, discusses the Apple Watch with Nike+ during a media event in San Francisco.

Heart-rate tracking: It’s a draw

In my tests, RunIQ’s heart-rate monitoring was on par with Apple Watch Series 2 in terms of heart-rate accuracy. Both looked pretty on-target, but chest straps like Polar's H7 usually offer the most accurate consumer-grade heart-rate sensor. 

Music playback: A slight edge to RunIQ

RunIQ enables you to download and play music on the watch and listen to tunes via Bluetooth connected headphones/earbuds (Android only). You can do the same with Apple Watch.

One possible advantage for RunIQ: Jabra’s NB PaceIQ Earbuds ($110). The wireless earbuds include a dedicated button that, when pressed, gives you on-demand workout stats, when paired with RunIQ. (I wasn’t able to test this feature.)

Looks: It depends on your taste

The round RunIQ has an attractive, black case/black band masculine look. More band color options will be available in mid March. I prefer all the case color and band choices you get with Apple Watch, but it’s a matter of personal taste.

iPhone users: Put RunIQ on hold for now

At least for now, any iPhone user looking for an Apple Watch alternative should hold off on buying RunIQ. There are simply too many features Apple Watch offers that RunIQ currently doesn’t. For example, you can’t add apps to RunIQ via your iPhone. And only Android users can take advantage of the watch’s built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.

Android Wear 2.0 will bring additional features to iOS and Android users. RunIQ doesn’t support Android Wear 2.0 at the moment, though an Intel spokesman said the New Balance watch will support Android Wear 2.0 this spring. (Intel developed RunIQ in partnership with New Balance.)

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At a Glance
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  • Apple Watch Sport 42mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Band (Certified Refurbished)

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