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.
Apple Watch Series 5 | Garmin Forerunner 645 | Garmin Fenix 6 | Garmin Vívoactive 4 | Fitbit Ionic | Amazfit Stratos | Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 | Garmin Forerunner 245 Music | Garmin Forerunner 945 | Fossil Sport
No big surprise to see Apple’s smartwatch on this list. The latest iteration doesn’t come with too many upgrades, but it does come with some important ones. This includes an always-on retina display. Yes, your Apple Watch will finally never go dark!
The Cupertino outfit has opted to leave out the sleep tracking functionality for another year. It would be kind of pointless introducing it considering most people will still opt to recharge their device during the night.
Other than that, what is probably the best all purpose smartwatch in the world comes with the addition of a compass and a better processor. Which means you get the ECG sensor, a next generation accelerometer and gyroscope which can sample motion data 8 times faster, GPS and more.
As you’d expect, built-in storage for music is part of the package. You can stream Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, or audiobooks that you purchased from Apple Books. Or sync content to your watch.
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 6 is the same feature packed device as its predecessor, but with some added on goodies. This includes a better look, more features and some interesting options such as solar charging.
The heart rate sensor has been upgraded to feature the latest Garmin ELEVATE heart rate module. Other built-in sensors include a 3-axis compass, gyroscope, barometric altimeter and PulseOx (for all models) and GPS/GLONASS/Galileo. Advanced training features now include something called Dynamic PacePro. This is “grade-adjusted pace guidance throughout your activity”.
Smart features consist of support for notifications, Garmin Pay and music storage with streaming support (for Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer and iHeartRadio). You can store up to 2,000 songs (storage has been doubled to 32GB) and sync playlists for offline listening.
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. There’s storage for listening to tunes on the go, as well.
This 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.
The predecessor came only in one size but Garmin has now introduced two. This includes a 45mm stainless steel model and a 40mm model for small wrists (4S).
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.
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.
It’s worth noting, Stratos 3 has launched recently in Asia. It is, however, not yet available for purchase in the US.
Samsung launched the Galaxy Watch Active 2 last summer only six months after the original. It comes with a fresh new look, design and size options, ECG sensors, an LTE variant and more. The company has added size choices this time around. The original Galaxy Watch Active only come in a 40mm variant. The second generation comes in an additional 44mm option.
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. Samsung says the full eight photodiodes on the rear side improve on the heart rate monitoring capability. The better precision is coupled with alerts when their heart beat goes above or below normal levels.
Swimming has been added to the list of exercises automatically tracked. This brings the total up to seven (walking, running, cycling, rowing, eliptical training, “other workout”). For other types of workouts you will need to choose the manual option.
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.
Launched about a year ago, Fossil Sport is the brand’s first device with Snapdragon’s latest chipset. The thing comes in a cheerful, bright design and a choice between six different colorways. The Wear OS device has a full touchscreen and two different sizes to choose from.
Under the hood you’ll find the usual gamut of fitness tracking sensors including a heart rate monitor. There’s also built-in GPS for phone free exercising and NFC for contactless payments. Battery life is only about a day, but you can switch to battery saver mode to extend this by an additional two days.
Finally, the watch is water resistant down to 50 meters depth. It also comes with 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory which can be used for offline storage of music.
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