Review: onTracks GuideWatch GPS Fitness Band

I have reviewed hundreds if not thousands of gadgets over the past ten years, writing for iPhone Life magazine, so it's rare that I run into something dramatically different. But it took a French firm, onTracks, to surprise me. The company sent me a review unit of its onTracks GuideWatch (starting at €179) and I'll never look at smart watches the same way again.

Related: The Ultimate Fitness-Tracking Guide: 16 Best Apple Watch Workout Tips

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In fact, onTracks doesn't treat it like a watch at all. Yes, the GuideWatch tells time, but you won't see screenshots of that feature. In fact, on-screen details are quite sparse, showing just arrows indicating which direction the user should go, to follow a map set in advance on a smartphone. When I first saw the photos of the device, I thought it might be a low-feature "turn signal" type of device but that was deceptive. The device is quite smart and can display details like heart rate, distance, steps and time from your current workout. But the main distinction is the turn signal feature. 

onTracks

You use the free companion app to set a destination, and then strap on not one, but two GuideWatches. You get two with your purchase and, depending on the package, either a pair of traditional wrist straps or an interesting strap that positions the onTracks device just behind your thumb. This aligns the screen just right for cyclists including motorcyclists such as myself, so I found that I didn't have to lift my arm or twist my wrist to see the directions. But that's not all. The real genius behind having two distinct devices, one for each wrist, is so I didn't even have to look at the screen. The left and right devices each vibrate independently, alerting the user when to turn left or right. The usefulness is apparent. Users can focus on the road or hiking path ahead without even glancing at your phone or watch. I can imagine this proving useful for blind and low vision individuals as well, perhaps once the device is opened up for more apps as is promised.

The watches themselves sport an elegant interface and the app is pretty straightforward, although somewhat European-centric. I still have been unable to switch from miles to kilometers, even though the app says I should be able to. Fortunately, software can be fixed easily. While the price is close to an Apple Watch, keep in mind that you actually get two gadgets. The GuideWatches also charge using a proprietary dock and, unlike an Apple Watch, they have to be precisely lined up. It can be challenging to keep them aligned, especially if the device is in the wrist strap. They can pop in and out of the bands as needed with minimal but deliberate effort, but you are limited to onTracks' watch bands whereas Apple has dozens to choose from. 

Pros

  • Elegant, simple, bright wrist-based interface
  • Clever vibration guidance
  • Alternatives for wearing/mounting
  • Reduces screen time
  • European styling
  • Draw path using app
  • SOS alert feature

Cons

  • App and website is very Eurocentric
  • Pricey, but you do get two gadgets
  • Proprietary cradle can be tricky to keep charging ports aligned

Final ​Verdict

If you hike or cycle and want safer navigation, the onTracks GuideWatch is a novel way to stay on track!

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Todd Bernhard's picture

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.