Best GPS Running Watch Review – Top 5 Fittest List for Dec. 2018
Runners with enormous watches on their arms have been a common sight since the debut of the GPS running watch, which was a phenomenal tool for serious athletes – even though it usually was bulky and unwieldy.
Running watches have come a long way in the last year or two, though. Today’s models are slimmer than they used to be, but still instantly supply you with almost all of the statistics and metrics you could imagine, while also pinpointing your location and mapping your route for later use.
All of that functionality continues to require more heft than an old-school accelerometer watch, but most serious runners think the trade-off is definitely worth it. Here’s a look at the top 5 best GPS running watches currently on the market.
Note: If you are after something a little less fancy and expensive you could always just opt for a fitness tracker.
1. Garmin Vivoactive
This model gives you a lot of bang for the buck, costing less than many comparable models while also having the extra advantage of being extremely slim and lightweight – unlike earlier monsters like its big brother, the Garmin Forerunner 620 (which is costlier, prettier and has more functions useful for serious athletes, but doesn’t let you track daily activity or receive notifications from your smartphone).
The Vivoactive has an easy-to-master color, high-res touchscreen, and it gives you a choice of either checking your stats on the watch itself (or using the history widget to easily check daily summaries and history), sync via Bluetooth to any mobile device, or transfer data to your computer for later viewing and analysis.
All of the metrics you’d expect are available through the Vivoactive, including time, distance, pace, elevation, and cadence (and heart rate if you purchase the monitor accessory), as well as other useful information like calories burned.
You can get similar stats if you use this Garmin when cycling or swimming (in which case you can see laps, strokes per lap and SWOLF). Battery life is strong, coming in at about three weeks in normal mode and ten hours if you’re using GPS. And you can customize the watch face or add extra apps or data fields easily through the Garmin Connect IOQ platform. It even notifies you to get moving, if you’ve been inactive for more than an hour.
This is a lot of power in a package that’s pleasingly small for a GPS running watch, and at a price that’s about much less than many competitors. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat. Here are the specs for the Garmin Vivoactive:
• Weight: 1.3 ounces
2. Polar V800
If you’re willing to spend more money, it’s worth taking a look at the Polar V800 and its extra features. Not only does it track the metrics and data you expect, but if you pair it with the optional heart rate monitor, this baby also acts as a “smart coach” by taking your stats and displaying both your training load (allowing you to compare the effectiveness of various workouts) and your recovery status (letting you know when your body is ready to get back at it). It can also perform an orthostatic test to measure your heart’s response to different training factors, and a fitness test to check your aerobic status. It can even monitor your regular daily activity levels as well as sleep duration and quality.
The Polar V800 provides the functions necessary for a high-end running watch, including built-in GPS, complete Bluetooth and USB support, and sync to the Polar Flow app. It’s durable as well, with a scratch-resistant Gorilla glass face and large black-and-white display, and it is waterproof to 100 feet (it can be used by divers, as well as by runners or triathletes). The battery lasts a long time, 14 hours in GPS mode and 50 hours in normal mode.
The only things the Polar V800 is really missing are live tracking and full connection to smartphones for call/text notification. That’s why this model is second in our rankings, but it’s still a terrific product. Looking at the Polar V800’s specifications:
• Weight: 2.9 ounces
3. Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS, Black
Ready to pull out your wallet? This latest iteration of Suunto’s Ambit series retails at a very high price – and although Suunto has always set the standard in many people’s minds, we don’t feel this one is worth the top spot on our list.
The Ambit was always a luxury product, and they’ve added even more features which most people might not find overly useful, like letting you track your heart rate when swimming underwater.
However, there have been new, two important modifications (made in an attempt to stay with the times) which have proved problematic: the ability to sync to mobile phones via Bluetooth, and a change from ANT+ sensors to Bluetooth smart sensors.
The switch away from ANT+ may be an inconvenience for those trading up and with no onboard sensors for things like speed and cadence you are really dependent on new-generation third-party Bluetooth sensors. The other big problem: as of this writing, there’s still no Android support for the Movecount app required to make use of all the tracking functions.
As for actual performance, though, the Ambit3 is simply terrific. Once you’ve added the sensors, you get all the metrics you need to train, track and even upload your movements to Google maps after your run. It runs for 20 hours with GPS enabled, and up to a month on “lifestyle” mode.
We won’t bother to run down all of the functions of the Ambit3 because they would take up the entire page; suffice to say that serious runners, bikers, and swimmers have made Ambit their go-to watch for quite some time, and once the sensor and Android issues are resolved, we can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t love this on their wrist.
A quick check on the specs of the Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS:
• Weight: 3.25 ounces
4. Timex Ironman Run Trainer 2.0 GPS Watch
A Timex? Really? Really. This is no drugstore cheapie – Timex has been working on improving their line of sports watches, and they’ve done a nice job with the Run Trainer 2.0, a true GPS running watch.
It’s smaller than their previous efforts, provides real-time speed, pace, distance, heart rate and other metrics, and works with the Training Peaks Device Agent app. This app will not only can save your workout information but help you program the Run Trainer without having to use the small viewscreen on the watch itself. One caveat – you can’t save more than 15 workouts on the watch without downloading or losing them.
Other nice features include the ability to set time or distance “intervals” for your workouts (for example, recovery time between each lap or distance) and have the watch sound different alarms to let you know when each interval is up; you can also specify target speed, pace or heart rate for each interval and the Ironman will alert you if you’re above or below your target, and there are also nutrition alarms you can set to remind you to eat or drink. It also supports all ANT+ straps and footpods.
This is primarily a runner’s watch, but it’s also water-resistant to 165 feet. The battery time (when using GPS) is a rather low eight hours, but that’s nit-picking because this is a surprisingly good running watch and a good buy.
Specifications for the Timex Ironman Run Trainer 2.0 GPS Watch:
• Weight: 2.29 ounces
5. TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio (Black)
One of the first names that come to mind when you think of GPS is TomTom, and when you combine their GPS knowhow with a comfortable sports watch, you should get a good product.
The previous TomTom MultiSport version didn’t live up to expectations because its construction wasn’t up to par. This new product has been redesigned and is definitely a pretty good GPS running watch for an attractive price, but still lacks some important features.
First, the good news: there’s a new, optical heart rate sensor which checks blood flow right through your skin without needing a chest strap. Now, for the not-so-good: the Multi-Sport Cardio tracks time and distance, pace and burned calories, but that’s about it – no lap time option if you’re running on a track, no stopwatch, and not a lot of saved data for later analysis. In fact, the watch seems to have many more tracking options for biking or swimming than it does for running.
Finally, the TomTom has the same issue as the Ambit3 when it comes to syncing; you can connect via Bluetooth to iOS via the TomTom MySports app, but not to Android. Closing out the evaluation: battery life while in GPS mode was eight hours, lower than most of our other reviewed models.
Having said all of that, the Multi-Sport Cardio is still a very good buy if you’re looking for a cheaper and quite useful running watch; just don’t expect it to measure up to the more expensive choices on our list. Specs for the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio:
• Weight: 12.6 ounces
The team at Groom+Style hopes you found a device that meets your needs. These watches are a great little toy to help you stay motivated and enjoy your running even more. Either way, don’t lose sight of the fact that the real goal is to keep moving to stay healthy and happy!