After eating all those heavy foods during the holidays, your New Year’s resolution is to get active and trim the fat. A running watch can help you monitor your progress towards your fitness goals in 2016. But with so many different running watches and fitness watches on the market, it can be hard to find something that’s just right for your run style. In addition, many running watches and fitness trackers have overlapping features, which can make it hard to quickly determine which type of device is best for you.
Our list below includes “traditional” running watches, as well as fitness trackers that have solid run tracking features. The right choice for your unique run style will depend on your budget, and on the special features that are most important to you. Some people want GPS. Some want audio prompts. Others only want a streamlined display with time and heart rate on the same screen. Still others want a “running watch” that does more than just track your runs, and can track other activities as well.
Training for a 10k, marathon, or other running event? These running watches and fitness watches are designed to help men and women track their runs, gain insights, and train smarter. Read on to see five watches that we think will help you become a smarter runner. You can also browse more running watches on sale here.
1. Garmin Forerunner 230 GPS Running Watch
There are lots of different running watches from Garmin, but this one stands out for its design, fairly reasonable price, and deep bench of features that are more substance than flash. This watch will help you keep tabs on your speed, distance, pace, heart rate, and calorie burn. It also monitors elevation, and even tracks daily activity and sleep.
This device is compatible with ANT+, which lets your tracking devices sync and share data. It’s also water-resistant to 50 meters, which is nice for runners who routinely run in wet climates, or runners who are training for a triathlon.
The main drawback for some users will be the price. Need a cheaper alternative? The Polar A300 tracker comes with HR monitoring for less than half the price of the Forerunner 230 bundle, and it’s waterproof, tracks daily activity, monitors calorie burn, and tracks steps and distance covered.
Price: $299.99 (Bundle includes chest strap HR monitor)
Learn more about the features of this watch in the video above.
- Solid battery life
- Smart notifications, including audio alerts for laps
- Colorful, easy-to-read display
- Bundled with heart rate monitor
- Some people find chest strap HR monitors uncomfortable during longer runs
- Fairly expensive
- Some users have reported buttons feel less solid than on older Forerunner models
- Less tech-savvy runners may find multiple modes confusing and hard to navigate
2. Fitbit Surge ‘Superwatch’
The Fitbit Surge is the most expensive Fitbit model currently available, and the only Fitbit to have GPS on board. GPS is hotly desired by runners because it allows you to pinpoint your location, providing more accurate fitness data. However, since GPS relies on satellite signals, it may not work perfectly for those running indoors, during storms, or in areas where trees or buildings cause signal interference. In addition to GPS, the Surge also monitors your heart rate, tells the time, tracks sleep, and gives you call and text notifications. It will also offer split times and elevation info.
Because this wearable has a HR monitor built into the band, this may be a nice option for those who dislike running watches that pair with uncomfortable chest strap HR monitors. Runners will also appreciate this wearable’s ability to track multiple sports, as well as “Run Cues,” which automatically track run progress in real-time with pop-up notices on the display. But again, price may be a barrier for some runners. If you’re thinking a Fitbit might be a better option for your run style than a dedicated running watch, our Fitbit comparison post might be worth a read. But as a reminder, only the Fitbit Surge has a built-in HR monitor…none of the other Fitbits offer that particular perk.
Check out the video above to see how the Surge stacks up against the Apple Watch.
- Available in three sizes to ensure best fit
- Touchscreen display
- Works with over 150 leading smartphones
- Large band and screen may not be comfortable for those with smaller wrists
- Some users may prefer wearables with a replaceable battery
- Some users find battery depletes rapidly when using GPS
3. TomTom Runner Cardio
TomTom running watches can be a nice alternative to Garmin watches, which can be more expensive. This running watch lets you choose a specific heart rate zone you wish to train in prior to starting your run. During the run, you will get alerts to help you stay in the right zone. A full screen graphic shows you what percentage of your run you spent in each heart rate zone.
One of the coolest features here is the ability to race yourself, and try to beat your past performances. The interface also lets you choose between a variety of running metrics to display, and you can easily switch between different metrics during the run. This wearable can be used indoors on a treadmill, or outdoors. It’s waterproof to 50 meters, but has slightly less impressive battery life than the other items we’re featured so far on this list. A few users have indicated that there are issues with the HR monitor, so keep than in mind before you pull the trigger.
Price: $119 (48 percent off MSRP)
Runner’s World editor Lisa Holmes and running coach Tim Crosbie review the TomTom Runner Cardio GPS Watch in the video above.
- Large, easy-to-read display
- Graphical Training Partner helps you train more effectively
- Designed to acquire GPS position quickly
- On-wrist HR monitoring
- Other devices have longer battery life
- Only offers vibration alerts, not audio alerts
- Some users find TomTom website lacking in robust features and clean syncing, especially compared to competitors like Garmin
- Some users dislike form factor, particularly those with dainty wrists
4. Microsoft Band 2
For those who want a really different form factor, perhaps a slender band-style tracker would be more comfortable. Ideal for those who prefer slim lines, the new Microsoft Band 2 is packed with features that help people balance their fitness goals with their professional lives. The Band’s continuous heart rate monitor tracks your heart rate, calorie burn, and sleep quality. Even though it is a Microsoft product, it will work with Windows Phones, Android devices and the iPhone.
The Band 2 has eleven sensors, including GPS, a UV monitor, and a barometer. In addition to helping with fitness, the band provides email, text, calendar, and call alerts. It’s also a nice option for those who enjoy cycling or golf. However, some users have experienced issues with defective units, so keep that in mind before you commit to buying one of these trackers. That being said, Microsoft does offer a warranty for this device, so this should give you some peace of mind.
Price: $199.99 (20 percent off MSRP)
Check out the Verge’s review of this wearable in the video above.
- Available in multiple sizes, with a slim form factor
- Guided Workouts designed by pros like Gold’s Gym, Shape, and Men’s Fitness
- Set reminders with your voice using Cortana
- Slightly less expensive than Fitbit Surge or Garmin Forerunner bundle
- May lack run-specific features craved by some
- VO2 Max only available after completing several high intensity exercises
- Integrated battery
- Some users report receiving flawed units, with issues with HR monitor or battery life being top complaints
5. Basis Peak Fitness Tracker
What if running isn’t all you do? You may find that a more general fitness tracker is a better fit for your exercise tracking needs. If you also like to take long walks or bike rides for your health, the Basis Peak may be the low cost fitness tracker you need. Far cheaper than some of the other running watches and fitness watches on our list, this fitness tracker does lack some of the more expensive features you’ll find on high end running watches, such as GPS and audio feedback. The lack of bells and whistles on this watch also makes it ideal for those who prefer a running watch with a very simple interface.
We talked a bit about some of the best features of this tracker in our Fitbit vs. Basis post. The wearable tracks caloric burn, steps and total activity, and automatically picks up tracking when you start a walk, run, or bike ride. It also monitors sleep, and provides notifications for texts, calls, emails, calendar events and “habit alerts” right on your wrist. The Peak integrates with both Apple Health and Google Fit, and is water-resistant enough to be used while swimming. If you like this form factor and feature set, but want a wearable with a more durable body, you could also consider the Peak Titanium edition.
Price: $149.99 (25 percent off MSRP)
Learn more about this wearable in the video review above.
- Built in HR monitor
- Intuitive touchscreen display
- Robust goal-setting and motivational tools in app help to set regular activity goals
- Breathable, colorful SportVent straps make it easy to stay cool and personalize your look
- Not ideal for runners who want to track elevation
- No support for Windows Phone
- Somewhat short battery life compared to other fitness wearables on the market today
- Needs to be worn somewhat tightly for accurate readings, can be uncomfortable to wear overnight
Can’t decide between a running watch or a fitness tracker? We’ve compared Fitbit, the leading fitness tracker brand, against a huge array of competitors. Check out our posts comparing Fitbit vs. Jawbone, Fitbit vs. Basis, Fitbit vs. Garmin, Fitbit vs. Misfit, Fitbit vs. Mira, Fitbit vs. Microsoft Band, Fitbit vs. Sony SmartBand and Fitbit vs. Withings. You might also want to check out our guide to the best heart rate monitor watches.
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