If you are a dedicated runner, there is no shortage of GPS running watches to choose from. They track everything from calorie burn to VO2 max. The feature packed devices are on the expensive side, while others are more affordable.
Essential reading: Compare sports watches with our interactive tool
Built-in GPS is important as it provides for more accurate location and distance information. It also renders you free from your phone. Such devices cost a bit more but are a real step up from most ordinary fitness trackers. These watches have built-in heart rate monitors and some will assist you with your swimming and cycling needs, too.
Below you’ll find our pick of the top GPS running watches. We’ve also included quick descriptions of some of the many features they offer.
Garmin Forerunner 235 | Garmin Fenix 5 | Garmin Forerunner 935 | Apple Watch Series 4 | TomTom Spark 3 Cardio | Garmin Forerunner 645 Music | Amazfit Stratos | Polar M600 | Fitbit Ionic Adidas edition | Garmin Vivoactive 3
Best for runners
Despite being a few years old, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a great option if you are looking for a value for money GPS running watch. In addition to keeping tabs on your runs, the device provides you with some more advanced features such as a recovery advisor and VO2 Max.
Forerunner 235 features Garmin’s Elevate wrist heart rate technology. This will help you to heart-rate zone train, and like most Garmin devices, it will keep tabs on the all-important resting heart rate.
The timepiece can also be used for 24/7 activity tracking and will count steps, calories and distance throughout the day. The move bar with vibration alerts motivates you to get up from the sofa when you’ve been chilling for too long.
You’ll also find some smartwatch features such as smart notifications and audio prompts, as well as customization options and excellent battery life.
All in all, this is a well rounded device for the price that will easily meet the needs of most runners. There are rumours, though, that 245 will come soon with bumped up specs. So watch this space as they say.
The Fenix 5 is a beast of a watch and features everything you would ever want for fitness training and outdoor navigation. The device is perfect for those who are into multi sports and want to be able to track everything. The new Fenix line is lighter and sleeker than previous models and more feature-packed.
The Fenix 5, Fenix 5S and Fenix 5X come with an optical heart rate sensor, GPS and GLONASS, a bunch of multi-sport activity modes, daily activity tracking, and smartphone notifications. The 5X is the daddy of the bunch and also offers mapping features.
In terms of sizes, the 5S is down from a diameter of 51.5mm on Fenix 3 to 47mm. The 5S is Garmin’s first Fenix watch designed with the female sports enthusiast in mind. It sports a smaller footprint for smaller wrists – 42mm diameter. The Fenix 5X has a 51mm diameter to accomodate the additional functionality.
You can use it for cycling, open water swimming, cross country skiing, climbing, indoor run/bike/swim, hiking and much more. In addition to heart rate tracking from the wrist, the watch provides advanced running metrics including vertical oscillation and vertical ratio, VO2 max and a recovery advisor. Outdoor navigation includes things like 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer and TracBack feature.
And finally, while not the easiest to navigate, the Garmin Connect software is top notch whether you are utilising the smartphone app or the even more comprehensive web dashboard.
This GPS multisport watch is for athletes who want in-depth data as they train and compete. It features new performance monitoring tools and a host of sensors. The timepiece is able to track a number of cardio activities such as running, swimming and cycling automatically. Or you can opt to transition between sports by pressing a button.
Where the device stands out most, though, is in its detailed analysis of performance. The Forerunner 935 aggregates past training results and then uses that data to evaluate the amount of effort users exert during fitness sessions, i.e. if you are slacking off or overdoing it. It does this through training load and training status.
Training load looks at users’ exercise activity over the last seven days and compares it to the optimal range for your fitness and recent training history. Training status does the same thing with a more short-term view, and lets you know if you’re training productively, peaking or overreaching. Additionally, the training effect metric tracks and reviews the aerobic and anaerobic benefit of a training session.
There are also other advanced dynamics for running, cycling and swimming, including FTP, VO2 max, cadence, stride length, ground contact time and balance, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio. Some of these metrics are, however, only available when the watch is paired with Garmin’s new Running Dynamics Pod, which clips right onto your waistband.
All things considered, Garmin’s latest wearable is a nice marriage of style and functionality. It offers a slightly lower price and smaller form-factor than the Fenix 5 series, while not compromising on features.
The Apple Watch Series 4 delivers solid improvements over its predecessor, including a bigger display, ECG sensor, fall detection, performance upgrades and more.
Apple says the screen real estate is larger by 30% on both the 40mm and 44mm version. This allows for additional complications and more info on the screen. Other hardware improvements include a revamped digital crown, 50% louder speakers, and a back that is made of black ceramic and sapphire crystal for better cellular reception.
In terms of fitness, the device features a next generation accelerometer and gyroscope which can sample motion data 8 times faster. In addition to dishing out more accurate fitness tracking stats, this allows the watch to identify and send out alerts if you fall or trip.
The previous generation introduced a number of heart rate sensing functions such as high heart rate alerts. This has been expanded now to detect low heart rates. Series 4 also intermittently analyzes heart rhythms and sends alerts for atrial fibrillation. There is also an FDA-approved ECG sensor that lets you know if your heart rhythm is normal or there are issues.
For runners who like listening to music
The Spark 3 builds on the comprehensive features of the original device and is a GPS running watch that lets you stream music without your phone.
In addition to GPS and on-board storage for 500 songs, you also get multiple sport tracking, 24/7 activity and sleep tracking and a heart rate sensor.
It terms of added sensors, the watch now includes a compass in case you get lost when running on a new trail. You can also use TomTom fitness watch to see where the path has taken you, and upload new routes to explore different places.
This water-resistant device excels in ease of use and the metrics that it churns out are excellent. If you are after a no-nonsense featured packed running watch and activity tracker, you won’t go wrong with Spark 3.
The Forerunner 645 Music is was made official at CES 2018 earlier this year. It comes with a plethora of features, including built-in storage for music and NFC for payments on the go.
When it comes to design, the successor to the 630 has seen a significant revamp. Resembling a blend between Vivoactive 3 and Forerunner 935, the lightweight timepiece comes with a round screen and discreet crown.
You get water-resistance, all the advanced performance metrics we’ve come to expect from Garmin and most importantly the integration of a music player, a first for the company. There is enough on-device music storage for up to 500 songs, and you can connect Bluetooth headphones and sync music from select streaming services for offline listening.
For runners on a budget
Amazfit Stratos comes with built-in GPS, advanced performance metrics and support for over a dozen different sports. This includes swimming, cycling, running, tennis, soccer, mountaineering, trail running, triathlon and skiing. Best of all, it does all this at a budget price. And it does it well.
The advanced performance analytics include Vo2Max, Training Effect, Recovery Time, Training Load and more. The company has teamed up with Firstbeat to bring these to the watch and with Zepp Labs for real-time sports analytics. You can also use the timepiece as a 24/7 fitness device.
The looks are not too shabby either. The watch is round and comes with a 316L stainless steel finish combined with other water-resistant materials such as carbon fiber to provide the lightest weight possible. Battery life is a perfectly respectable 5 days. All in all, this is a great value for money device.
Best Android wear
The Polar M600 is an Android Wear smartwatch designed to suit an active lifestyle. The watch retains the signature look and feel of other Polar products. Inside the thin and attractive casing is a built-in GPS, and underneath the module is an optical heart rate monitor.
The M600 will keep tabs on your activity 24/7 and provide you with practical support to help you achieve your individual daily activity goal. The watch can measure pace, distance, speed and other metrics when running and cycling. Its also swim-proof and can withstand even the roughest of weather.
The onboard GPS, heart rate tracking via six LED lights, built in music (4GB of storage is on-board), third party apps and other smartwatch abilities make this an attractive option.
Its worth noting, Polar has recently announced two new sports-watches. Featuring an improved heart rate monitor, advanced performance metrics and smart coaching, the more high-spec Vantage V is geared towards the serious fitness enthusiast. The Vantage M is a slightly stripped back version that also comes with a much lower price-tag. Both will be available in November. The company says the watches are the most advanced in its history.
For 24/7 activity tracking
With its blocky, retro design, Ionic is not exactly a looker. But it does pack some decent specs under the hood. You’ll find 8 different sensors inside. This includes an altimeter, 3-axis accelerometer, digital compass, GPS, optical heart rate monitor, ambient light sensor, vibration motor and a new relative SpO2 sensor for measuring blood oxygen levels.
When it comes to features, this is a smartwatch that puts fitness first. It offers everything you would expect from a Fitbit device, along with capturing real-time stats on 20 different types of activities including swimming. There is on-board storage for music too, smartphone notifications and Fitbit pay.
Vivoactive 3 is the successor to the Vivoactive HR, a Swiss knife of activity trackers. Garmin has realised that it needs to introduce a less bulky form factor if it is to appeal to a larger demographic. And on that count, the Vivoactive 3 does not dissapoint. With a classy new design, it closely resembles Garmin’s Fenix and Forerunner line.
Apart from the design, the main news here is the inclusion of Garmin Pay. Which means Garmin customers can finally pay for purchases with their timepiece. The functionality is enabled by FitPay and supports Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards from major issuing banks.
There are 15 built-in sports profiles, including new ones for snowboarding, cardio, yoga, eliptical and stair stepper. Vivoactive 3 will also let you mix it up by creating customized workouts. Other new features include VO2Max and stress/workout tracking.
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