Image source: Garmin

Phone free running: Ten watches with built-in GPS and music

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 readingTop 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.

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Apple Watch Series 6 | Garmin Forerunner 745Garmin Fenix 6Garmin Vívoactive 4Fitbit Ionic | Amazfit Stratos 3Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 | Garmin Forerunner 245 Music | Garmin Forerunner 945 | Fossil Sport

Apple Watch Series 6

No big surprise to see Apple’s smartwatch on this list. The latest iteration comes with a few handy upgrades. This includes blood oxygen readings, an improved S6 chip, a brighter always-on Retina display and more.

Plus let’s not forget everything that comes as part of watchOS 7. Most notably, this includes sleep statistics for the first time, a hand-washing app and cycling directions. But earlier versions of  the Apple Watch also benefit from the software update.

Garmin Venu 2 vs Apple Watch Series 6: which is better?

Other than that, what is probably the best all purpose smartwatch in the world comes with everything from Series 5. 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.

If you want to save some cash, earlier versions of the Apple Watch can also store music. Pretty much anything that is sold, which includes the Series 3, Series SE, Series 4 and 5 will suffice just fine on this count.

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Garmin Forerunner 745

Leave your phone behind: best running watches with built-in GPS & music
Image source: Garmin

The Forerunner 745 is Garmin’s mid-range GPS (GLONASS and Galileo) watch for runners and triathletes. It has a variety of modes such as biking, running, swimming, multi-sport and brick workouts.

Not surprisingly, the device is full to the bring with activity, health and performance metrics. The Elevate optical heart rate monitor has a red LED for Pulse Ox data that works even while swimming.

What the watch lacks as compared to the Forerunner 945 are maps. Instead you get basic GPS 

As far as music, there is on-board storage for up to 500 songs. You can connect Bluetooth headphones and sync music from select streaming services for offline listening.

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Amazon | Garmin*

Garmin Fenix 6

Garmin Fenix 7: tech specs, design, features we’d like to see, release date
Image source: Garmin

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.

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Amazon | Garmin*

Garmin Vívoactive 4

Leave your phone behind: best running watches with built-in GPS & music
Image source: Garmin

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).

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Amazon | Garmin*

Fitbit Ionic

Leave your phone behind: best running watches with built-in GPS & music
Image source: Fitbit

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.

Ok, its not exactly a looker, but Ionic comes with a great screen, its comfortable to wear 24/7 and has solid battery life. And lets not forget the company’s software ecosystem which is as good as it gets in terms of user friendliness and simplicity.

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.

Versa 2 can also store music. But interestingly, the new devices, Versa 3 and Sense do not have that ability. There’s a way around it, though, but it is not ideal. Deezer allows you to upload your MP3s to the platform so you then have access through the service.

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Amazfit Stratos 3

Leave your phone behind: best running watches with built-in GPS & music
Image source: Amazfit

Sports-watches don’t come much more feature-packed than the Amazfit Stratos 3. In addition to tracking your activity around the clock, this aesthetically appealing GPS watch has 80 sports modes – all with their own performance metrics. It offers water-proofing, allows you to listen to locally stored music and more.

There is 2 GB of space available in the watch, which is enough to store approximately 400 songs of 5 MB each. Simply connect Bluetooth headphones and you are good to go.

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.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

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.

Samsung finally makes Galaxy Watch Active 2 official
Image source: Samsung

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.

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Amazon | Samsung*

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Phone free running: watches with built-in GPS and music
Image source: Garmin

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.

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Amazon | Garmin*

Garmin Forerunner 945

Phone free running: watches with built-in GPS and music
Image source: Garmin

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.

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Amazon | Garmin*

Fossil Sport

Fossil Sport announced with Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip
Image source: Fossil

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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Amazon | Fossil*

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One thought on “Phone free running: Ten watches with built-in GPS and music

  • Grest article. Is there a watch with GPS and that can have a podcast app and Map my run app on it without carrying a phone on my runs. Thanks.


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