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12 Advanced GPS Watches for Runners

12 Advanced GPS Watches for Runners

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Today’s powerful GPS watches have all the sport-specific features to track every stride on the roads, but they’re also packed with other sensors and technology to keep you connected the rest of the day, too. But they’re also a pretty sizable investment that you’ll want to last for years and miles to come. Whether this is your first time buying an advanced watch, or you’re poking around for an updated model, we have some tips and suggestions for making sure the right one lands on your wrist.

Made for Running… and So Much More

In most cases, more features mean more dollars when you’re shopping for a new GPS watch. While there are ways to cut down on price—like buying a refurbished version or opting for an older model of a recently released watch—narrowing down the features you need is key. And that doesn’t just include fitness features. These high-tech timepieces come with a slew of lifestyle functions and perks that you may—or might not—use long after you kick off your running shoes. Here are a few of the hottest features, for both working out and just hanging out, that you’ll want to consider.

Fitness Features

Altimeters, barometers, and gyroscopes show up in GPS watches geared to hikers and trail runners who want to keep tabs on altitude, air pressure, and navigate new routes in the wilderness. But they do come at a bit of a price bump, so decide where you’ll be doing most of your training. If the answer is on the roads, check out watches with built-in visual maps to guide you through new neighborhoods, or ones that track your in-depth running metrics and design personalized workouts for you. Think you’ll be spending a lot of time cross training? Some high-end picks can offer you up to 80 different sport modes ranging from surfing to snowboarding and biking to badminton. Some watches will even let your friends live track your runs.

Lifestyle Features

GPS watches with cellular service mean you can call and text right from your wrist, and give you access to your favorite smartphone apps. For example, you might order your Starbucks latte on the go, stream music wirelessly through Spotify, track your Uber ride, switch off your house lights—and then brag all about it on Facebook. Wi-Fi compatibility can also make it easier to sync a full music library, check the weather, or scroll through your e-mail. And no worries if you leave you wallet at home. NFC payment features mean you can pay right from your wrist.

Coros Apex Multisport Watch

Quick Take: An elite GPS watch for running and triathlons that has a long battery life and an intermediate price.
Price: From $300

Why We Like It: Packing precise GPS tracking and insane battery life into a compact package, the Coros Apex is a top-tier multisport watch for beginners and elites alike. The Apex keeps the countless metric combinations found in the Pace, the brand’s previous sports watch, while integrating some exciting new features that runners will embrace. Notably, battery life is up to 35 hours in regular GPS tracking mode, but can be extended to last up to 100 hours if you require. It also gives you a slew of metrics you can view over five screens during your workout, including a new metric called stamina—an estimate of how much energy you have left in your own tank.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+
Battery Life: 35 hours

Read full review.

Apple Watch Series 4

Quick Take: The best smartwatch gets even better, with great new features for runners
Price: From $399

Why We Like It: Just like the previous generation Apple Watch, Series 4 lets you leave your phone at home but still be connected to the outside world (if you opt for the GPS+Cellular version). While the watch looks almost identical to AW3, the new model boasts 30 percent more space on the screen, so everything is easier to see—and easier to tap, like when you’re launching an app. Apple also increased battery life by an hour, extending up to six hours when doing an outdoor run. Exciting new health features include the ability to detect falls—and call emergency services if you’re unresponsive—as well as run your own ECG test to detect potential heart irregularities.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi
Battery Life: Up to 18 hours

Read full review.

Polar Vantage V

Quick Take: A watch that helps you train like a pro, using a meter to gauge your effort on runs

Why We Like It: The Polar Vantage V is everything you need in a multi-sport watch if you’re a runner; GPS, heart rate monitor, pace, distance, etc. But it also has a bonus feature runners should be excited about: running power. Using Bluetooth Smart, you can find your data on the Polar Flow smartphone app and replay your run as well as study your stats. Running power is based on your maximum effort and is shown in percentages throughout your run (for example, on a recent 3-miler my maximum effort—shown in red in my app diary—was 21 percent). You can use this tool to enhance your training and motivate yourself to increase your speed at key points during your run.

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB
Battery Life:
 40 hours

Suunto 9

Quick Take: A multi-sport GPS watch that ultrarunners will love because the battery lasts for days at a time
Price: $599

Why We Like It: Everything about this watch is big—even the face. But that allows it to pack in a massive battery that will outlast any run you can do. Suunto claims a mind-blowing 120 hours with GPS active using the “Ultra” setting, which records your geolocation only every two minutes. Bonus: If the watch senses that your battery is running low, it will give you a reminder to switch to a different power mode so it will last longer.

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB
Battery Life: GPS battery life up to 120 hours

Read full review.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Quick Take: Leave your phone at home, but still get music and turn-by-turn directions
Price: From $699

Why We Like It: The latest line of Fenix watches looks, feels, and functions much like the previous generation, with a just few exciting updates—routes and music. For runners exploring unfamiliar places, you can tell the watch how far you’d like to run and it will spit out a loop route, complete with prompts when you need to turn. It’s a neat trick to be able to do this right on the watch, without ever having to pinch and zoom on a Google map to see the roads around you. The highlight for many runners, though, will be music integration—especially the ability to play from Spotify. If you have a premium subscription to the music service, you can download playlists to the watch for offline playback, and stream the tunes to your earbuds via Bluetooth wireless.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Battery Life: 18 hours

Read full review.

Samsung Galaxy

Quick Take: Jam-packed with all the bells and whistles for health and fitness fanatics
Price: Starting at $280

Why We Like It: This advanced smartwatch does it all, and looks good while doing it. It keeps you connected on and off the run with the LTE-connected option so you can answer calls, respond to text messages, use GPS, and stream music from your wrist without having to lug around your phone. And feel free to forget your wallet, because Samsung Pay allows you to pay for purchases with a tap of your wrist. We loved that the watch tracks a whopping 39 different exercises, and even auto-tracks if you and forget to hit “Start.” In addition to keeping tabs on how much you move, the watch also boasts a sleep tracker, stress tracker, breathing guidance, and calorie management via the Samsung Health app. The only drawback? It felt a bit bulky on petite wrists during testing.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi
Battery Life:
 Up to 120 hours

Read full review.

Fitbit Ionic

Quick Take: A multi-sport tracking watch that also incorporates top-shelf lifestyle features
Price: $227

Why We Like It: Fitbit’s first foray into the world of advanced smartwatches, the Ionic incorporates a range of features, including an optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope, and NFC payments, all packed into a rich and intuitive user interface. Fitbit built its own operating system for this watch, which means third party apps are limited (Strava, Pandora, and Starbucks are available now), although more will likely be added in the future. On the fitness side, the Ionic tracks several different activities, including running, swimming, and cycling, and we particularly liked its “Coach” feature, which will lead you through bodyweight workouts—a simple way to spice up your gym routine.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, USB, NFC
Battery Life: GPS battery life up to 10 hours

Samsung Gear Sport

Quick Take: A powerful watch for fitness tracking and managing just about everything else
Price: From $192

Why We Like It: Stylish and functional, the Gear Sport was easy to set up and pleasant to live with, thanks to a whole range of lifestyle and fitness features. The watch provides passive activity tracking (step count, elevation gain, heart rate), and presents data in clear, easy to read graphics. On runs, we really liked the auto-pause feature when we got stuck at red lights, and post-run, the Gear Sport provided clear and detailed feedback on heart rate, pace, and more. The movable bezel eliminates some of the awkward poking you have to do with other touchscreen watches, and it includes perks like NFC payments and access to Spotify, among other apps.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery Life: Up to three days of mixed use with GPS

Apple Watch Series 3

Quick Take: A great option for iOS users looking for a watch that can do it all
Price: From $279

Why We Like It: If you dream of a world where you can leave your phone behind and still track all your activity and your email, the Apple Watch Series 3 might be the device to take you there. Apple made several upgrades under the hood in this version, including a new barometric sensor for altitude tracking and more in-depth pulse monitoring to record your resting, walking, and recovery heart rates. It’s also a robust activity tracker, with modes for everything from running to HIIT workouts and more. But the big sell is the addition of LTE cellular service in the watch itself (a feature also available on the Samsung Gear S3). That means you can take calls and receive texts pretty much anywhere, no phone required.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi
Battery Life: Up to 18 hours

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

Quick Take: A rugged precision tool for competitive runners
Price: From $330

Why We Like It: The Spartan series features big, durable watches with long-run battery life and an impressive array of features, including customized sport modes (80 are preloaded), mapping, training insights, and charts. The Spartan Sport Wrist HR keeps the sturdy construction, but gets an optical heart rate monitor and 24/7 activity tracking to give you a complete picture of you daily movements. The new HR sensor was built in partnership with Valencell, a leader in biometric sensors, and we found it routinely delivers accurate measurements. Plus, the watch consistently dialed in a GPS signal even when faced with challenging conditions. The Sport model gets just 12 hours of battery with GPS active (compared with 26 hours for the Ultra), but that’s plenty for your everyday training runs and marathons—ultramarathoners may need the higher-tier option. The watch syncs with Suunto’s smartphone app to quickly transfer your workouts to its online platform for deeper analysis of your run.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
Battery Life: 12 hours

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Quick Take: A powerful multi-sport watch that pairs as well with a wetsuit as it does with a business suit.
Price: $350

Why We Like It: Many of Garmin’s triathlon-worthy watches have been tanks—big square units that can keep water out and keep ticking long into a 70.3 race. The 735XT is smaller, but it still delivers all the multi-sport functionality a triathlete could ask for. In addition to GPS, the 735XT looks for Russian GLONASS satellites for a quicker, more accurate fix (this feature is also available on watches like the Suunto Spartan Ultra and Garmin Fenix 3 HR). We’ve found rock-steady tracking with the watch in cities and suburbs, and the optical HR sensor continues to amaze us with how accurately it reads when compared to a chest strap. The battery truly does measure up to the 14-hours reported life—long enough for any marathon, though it may fall short for 100-milers or full Ironman races.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, USB
Battery Life: 14 hours

Garmin Forerunner 235

Quick take: Easy to use, but powerful enough for almost any competitive runner, the Forerunner 235 delivers great value.
Price: $250

Why We Like It: The Forerunner 235 is kind of like the Nike Pegasus of GPS watches. When asked for a watch recommendation, we almost always include it in our short list. It’s not cheap, but it won’t break the bank either. It’s not so jam packed with a dizzying array of features, yet has enough to satisfy the vast majority of runners. And, it’s as accurate as anything else we’ve tested. Whether deep on singletrack or in the urban canyons of New York City, we got a satellite lock quickly. It pings both GPS and GLONASS satellites, strengthening its signal in challenging situations, and we found its optical heart-rate sensor to work well on a range of testers—regardless of skin tone, hair, or body shape. Plus, algorithms in the watch suggested how long we should rest before our next hard workout. Testers raved about the ease of wirelessly uploading runs and all-day activity stats to iOS and Android phones, and syncing with Strava, MapMyFitness, and Endomondo. Dollars for data, this is one of the best deals for a GPS watch.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
Battery Life: 16 hours