Sure smartphones are useful, but you want to be as light as possible on your feet when heading out for a run. After all, in an effort to achieve your personal best every little bit helps.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Watches with GPS are becoming more common these days. These are devices that tap into satellite signals for precise location and distance tracking. They cost a bit more but are a real step up from most ordinary fitness trackers.
But while built-in GPS is useful, those of us that like to listen to tunes while running are still tied to their smartphones. This is where devices with built-in music storage step in. The combination of built-in GPS and music is the only thing that allows for true phone-free running.
Garmin Forerunner 645 | Garmin Fenix 5 Plus | Garmin Vívoactive 3 Music | Fitbit Ionic | TomTom Spark 3 | Amazfit Stratos | Samsung Galaxy Watch Active | LG Watch Sport | Garmin Forerunner 245 Music | Garmin Forerunner 945
The Forerunner 645 is Garmin’s first device with built in storage for music. There is enough on-device memory for up to 500 songs, and you can connect Bluetooth headphones and sync music from select streaming services for offline listening.
The watch is water-resistant and includes built-in GPS, a heart rate sensor and barometer, the latter two being obvious omissions from the previous version. The company has also slapped on Garmin Pay so you can make payments phone-free.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is the same feature packed device as its predecessor, with some added on goodies. This includes built-in music storage, Garmin Pay, Galileo, pre-loaded topographical maps and oxygen saturation. There are three iterations of the device, the Fenix 5, 5S and 5X, and they’ll all benefit from the upgrades.
Music storage has been ported over from the Forerunner 645 Music, so you’re getting the same 4GB of memory. You can also download offline playlists from music streaming services such as iHeartradio and Deezer.
Another interesting feature is the wrist-based Pulse Oximeter for altitude acclimation awareness. Unfortunately this is reserved only for the 5X version. A first for Garmin, pulse oximeters let you know your blood oxygen levels.
A bumped up version of Garmin’s popular Vivoactive 3 fitness watch, this is a Swiss knife of activity trackers. The gizmo comes GPS, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer and heart rate sensor.
In our review we note that Vivoactive 3 is a pretty solid fitness-focused timepiece which dishes out fairly accurate data and provides a cohesive fitness tracking experience. And all this functionality is packaged in a device that looks great and is comfortable. Something that resembles a regular watch.
Well, now its even better.
As its name implies, the Vivoactive 3 Music comes with audio features of the Forerunner 645. The only difference is in the controls. As the Vivoactive 3 Music only has one physical button, music is controlled via the high-res touchscreen chroma display. This means you need to use the Side Swipe interface to scroll through song lists and more.
The first ever smartwatch from Fitbit is essentially a fitness watch. If you are after a something that will keeps tabs on your activity around the clock, the device will do the trick. It comes with everything we have come to love about Fitbits, and throws water resistance and built-in GPS into the mix.
Fitbit has, however, Ionic beyond the fitness tracking environment. You get 2.5GB of internal storage for music, notifications and a built in NFC chip for payments. There is also an App store with Strava, Accuweather, Flipboard, Starbucks and more.
The Spark 3 Cardio+Music builds on the comprehensive features of the original device. In addition to GPS and on-board storage for 500 songs, you also get multiple sport tracking, 24/7 activity and sleep tracking, as well as 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 the gizmo to see where the path has taken you, and upload new routes to explore different places.
This water-resistant timepiece 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.
Sports-watches don’t come much more feature-packed than Amazfit Stratos. In addition to tracking your activity around the clock, this aesthetically appealing GPS watch keeps tabs on a dozen different sports – all with their own performance metrics. It offers water-proofing, allows you to listen to locally stored music and more.
The company has definitely stepped up its game and now has a solid offering that might lure some customers from its better known counterparts. Admittedly, there are a few negatives such as menu navigation which takes some getting used to, and screen visibility which deteriorates at some angles.
Nevertheless, this timepiece offers excellent value for money. You’ll struggle to find a sports-watch that provides so much for the price. Put simply, the device packs a punch, but without breaking the bank.
Samsung launched the stylish Galaxy Watch Active late last year. The device is a sportier take on Galaxy Watch. In fact, they pretty much have the same specs – the main differences are in design.
For listening to tunes on the go, there is 4GB of music storage with offline Spotify playlist support. The device also comes with slew of activity tracking sensors includes GPS, an accelerometer, heart rate, gyro and barometer. So expect the usual steps, distance, floors, calories, sleep, stress and activity stats. This includes keeping tabs on up to 40 different exercises – and swimming thanks to 5 ATM water-resistance.
The other fitness benefit is that the watches use the built-in heart rate monitor to keep an eye on stress levels. They will give you an alert to rest there is a spike in your heart rate which cannot be attributed to exercise. Finally, Active has the ability to take blood pressure measurements. However, the feature is not something that is built into the watch. Rather it will come from an optional research app users can install.
The 14.2mm thick and 51 millimeters LG Watch Sport is one of the most feature packed Wear OS devices around. Weighing 89 grams, the fairly chunky timepiece flaunts built in GPS and NFC, the latter of which makes Android Pay mobile payments possible. There is also 4G LTE connectivity, which means you can make calls, send texts and browse without a smartphone.
Under the hood you will find a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor, 768MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a 430 mAh battery. In terms of sensors, the watch sports a heart rate sensor (PPG), gyroscope, accelerometer and barometer. Naturally, you can also play music while on your runs using just a headset thanks to offline music storage.
This is a great option for those looking for a runners watch. The device comes with Garmin’s Elevate wrist-based heart rate technology, built-in GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO, accelerometer, compass, Pulse Ox sensor and built-in storage for music. The thing also doubles-up as a 24/7 activity tracker delivering steps, calories, distance, intensity minutes, stress and sleep.
Garmin has thrown in a few advanced performance stats, too. This includes VO2 max, Fitness Age, the new Body Battery function, heart rate zones, cadence and more.
An interesting addition is incident detection. When an incident is detected the app will send an automated text message and email with your name and GPS location to your emergency contacts. The watch uses your paired compatible smartphone to do this.
An updated version of the Forerunner 935, the 945 tracks pretty much everything under the sun. There’s a plethora of fitness tracking sensors under the hood in addition to NFC for Garmin Pay and music memory for up to 1,000 songs.
Built for those serious about training, the watch comes with advanced physiological features. Training status now has adjustments for heat and altitude acclimation status. There is training load focus which separates your training load into different categories based on the intensity and structure of each activity recorded. Other new Firstbeat features include recovery time, and more detailed aerobic and anaerobic training effects.
The other important upgrade are full-color, onboard maps that guide you on your run so you never get lost. This is similar to what you get on the most recent Fenix line.
*Disclosure: We are a review site that receives a small commission from sales of certain items, but the price is the same for you. We are independently owned and all opinions expressed here are our own. See our affiliate disclosure page for more details.
Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!