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8 best running watches for GPS, fitness tracking, music and more

For feature-packed tech that’ll keep up, look to Garmin, Fitbit and more

Jacob Little
Wednesday 23 March 2022 09:22
<p>Winning wearables should lightweight, comfortable to wear and boast a long battery life</p>

Winning wearables should lightweight, comfortable to wear and boast a long battery life

By its very nature, running is about progressive, incremental improvements, and there aren’t many better ways to track your outdoor activity than a good smartwatch.

There are a few ways running watches differ, however, from what you may understand to be smartwatches.

Firstly, they are focussed on health and activity tracking more than they are on productivity, messaging and calls.

They also tend to have their own specific apps, and aside from the Apple watch and the Oppo watch we’ve featured, largely concentrate on keeping physically fit, with heart rate monitors, oxygen level sensors and GPS tracking as their primary features.

They also tend to concentrate on features such as long battery life and wearability whilst running, so are quite lightweight as well as well designed to be comfortable during physical activity.

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How we tested

We tested these watches over a period of two weeks running our normal road routes, with perhaps a weekend of trail running thrown in for good measure. We also tested in general use on days we weren’t running or doing another sport like hiking, for example, to see how they fared away from exercise.

GPS tracking, physical measuring and battery life were all taken into consideration, as well as how comfortable the watches were to wear over long periods of time. Here are our favourites.

The best running watches for 2022 are:

  • Best lightweight watch – Coros pace 2: £179.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for trail running – Garmin fenix 7: £779.99, Garmin.com
  • Best smartwatch capability – Apple watch 7: £369, Currys.co.uk
  • Best comfort – Suunto 9 peak: £489, Suunto.com
  • Best value for money – Fitbit charge 5 fitness tracker: £135, Currys.co.uk
  • Best for overall wellness and fitness – Garmin venu 2 plus: £399.99, Garmin.com
  • Best for adventures – Coros vertix 2.0: £587.87, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for Android users – Oppo watch: £279, Amazon.co.uk

Coros pace 2

Best: Lightweight watch

Rating: 9/10

  • Battery life: 20 days of battery life for daily use and 30 hrs in GPS mode
  • Touch screen: No
  • Additional features: 29g with the COROS nylon band, strength training programme, Night Mode is always-on mode for nighttime activities
  • Music storage: N/A
  • Display resolution: 240 x 240
  • Water rating: Up to 5ATM

At only 29g, we found the Coros pace 2 to be one of the lightest options on the list and certainly one that packs features into a relatively small package. As we found with all Coros devices, GPS performance and positioning is excellent, and we had no problems quickly attaching to satellite signals before our run. The device’s weight also belies its incredibly impressive battery life which is preserved by not using a backlight behind the screen in normal operation. We found this to be a little dark in bright, direct sunlight, but found it didn’t really affect our enjoyment or usage of the watch.

Garmin fenix 7

Best: For trail running

Rating: 8/10

  • Battery life smartwatch: Up to 18 days/22 days with solar
  • Battery saver watch mode: Up to 57 days/173 days with solar
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: Fibre-reinforced polymer with metal rear cover run profiles, training planning, gym activity profiles
  • Music storage: Yes, up to 2000 songs
  • Display resolution: 260 x 260
  • Water rating: Up to 10ATM

One of the more premium options available, the Garmin fenix 7 has multi-band frequency for accurate GPS measuring and a scratch-resistant power sapphire solar charging lens uses the sun’s energy to extend battery life. All pretty impressive stuff, which you’d expect from a watch that costs this much, but Garmin know a thing or two about making tracking devices, so this is a highly accomplished and technical piece of kit. The maps, again, as you would expect from Garmin, are second to none, so we’d highly recommend this device if you’re serious about getting out into the mountains and carving new trail running routes for yourself.

Apple watch 7

Best: Smartwatch capability

Rating: 9/10

  • Battery life: Up to 18 hours
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: Apple apps, smartwatch features such as payment, calendar and messaging
  • Music storage: Yes, approx 25 per cent of available storage on device
  • Display resolution: 430 x 352 on 41mm version
  • Water rating: WR50 - 50 Metres

Although many people will be well-acquainted with the Apple watch and its diverse and inclusive smartwatch features, which includes some of the best and most useful apps from the Apple Store, we also found it to be a very capable running, fitness and health tracker. If you’re using it to track general running and healthcare, it’s one of the best devices we’ve used. But if you’re looking for serious adventure and competition on time-trial measuring, then you might want to look at some of the more niche, specialist devices on this list. That being said, as a device that matches convenience, general everyday usability and some of the best smartwatch features on the market, there’s not much better out there.

Suunto 9 peak

Best: Comfort

Rating: 8/10

  • Battery life: Up to 7 days
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: GPS tracking and navigation, weather, interval training, training recovery and load, SuuntoPlus Ghost Runner tracking
  • Music storage: Yes
  • Display resolution: 240 x 240
  • Water rating: Waterproof up to 100m

The new Suunto 9 peak follows in a fairly well-respected line of outdoor, running and fitness watches, and this one is perhaps the best yet. It is also probably the most comfortable, and we found that its thin design and grade 5 titanium build ensures it sits nicely on your wrist to the point of almost not being able to be detected.

We also liked the fact that the titanium metal used for the casing has a premium feel and won’t irritate sensitive skin in the same way other metals do. Feature wise, the watch has all the usual elements you’d expect at this price point, but one thing we especially liked is the Suunto app’s 3D map feature, allowing you to see the terrain you’ve run past in high detail and clarity.

Fitbit charge 5 fitness tracker

Best: Value for money

Rating: 9/10

  • Battery life: Up to 7 days
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: 20 exercise modes, SmartTrack workout intensity map, cardio fitness level
  • Music storage: N/A
  • Display resolution: 0.86 X 0.58 inches in size at 328ppi
  • Water rating: Water resistance

The name Fitbit is synonymous with fitness and health tracking, and its affordable tracker watch range is a great option for those not looking for ultra-premium quality but still wanting something that’ll measure the basics of their exercise routines.

Enter the charge 5, which sits as one of the most affordable watches we tested that still has accurate measuring, GPS and heart-rate monitors and SpO2 measurement, which tracks the amount of oxygen in your blood. The seven day battery life is impressive too and it’s a small package that won’t make too much of a statement. Well worth it for day-to-day running and casual recreational exercise.

Garmin venu 2 plus

Best: For overall fitness and wellness

Rating: 8/10

  • Battery life: Up to 24 hours
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: Corning Gorilla Glass 3, incident detection during certain activities, multiple run profiles, wellness features
  • Music storage: Yes, up to 650 songs
  • Display resolution: 416 x 416
  • Water rating: Up to 5ATM

As well as being a great overall fitness and running watch, the new Garmin venu 2 plus manages to capture a niche element of the market by providing wellness features, such as a “body battery” mode to ensure you’re well rested, a health snapshot feature, hydration, stress and respiration. Because of all these features, we thought it was one of the best and most well-rounded smartwatches on the market at the moment, and gives you the power and ability to learn more about your body, what it needs and when.

Coros vertix 2.0

Best: For adventures

Rating: 8/10

  • Battery life: 45 days of regular use
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: COROS training mode, GPS adventure capability, cold weather and dive proof
  • Music storage: Yes
  • Display resolution: 1.2 in. 240 x 240 (64 colors)
  • Water rating: Up to 15ATM

Designed and built as a GPS adventure watch with superlative battery life, we found that the Coros vertix 2.0 can still be a fantastic companion when it comes to running, especially if off the beaten track or in a trail scenario. It features an excellent design and a virtually scratch-proof screen, which we found to be a real bonus if using this watch when out and about and taking it on and off multiple times. The device claims to be the only GPS watch with a 150-metre waterproof rating, and with Coros training mode, we really liked the ability to download and track specific workouts from experts or professional athletes for best performance.

Oppo watch

Best: For Android users

Rating: 9/10

  • Battery life: Up to 21-day battery life
  • Touch screen: Yes
  • Additional features: Curved back design, wear OS by Google, mobile payment, message notification
  • Music storage: No
  • Display resolution: 1.91in 402 x 476
  • Water rating: 5ATM

The Oppo watch is one of the best watches within Android and Google’s wear OS ecosystem. Its ultra high-res display resolution produces crisp visuals on the move, and the interface syncs nicely with your phone and the wear OS app. As it’s a more traditional smartphone, you get all the call, notification, message and payment options you get on the likes of the Apple Watch (£369, Currys.co.uk) too. But don’t underestimate its exercise tracking ability – running with it is comfortable and its monitoring and heart rate system works well.

Running watches FAQs

How to choose the best running watch for you

Size is one of the factors to consider first. Some of the bigger GPS adventure watches that also track running can be quite large, so we’ve included some smaller options in our round-up list here.

Also, consider the type of running you’ll be doing. If it’s road running or casual running around the park, most of the affordable options will be perfectly adequate for you. But if you want to get into trail running or venture into the world of competitive running, we suggest going for a running watch that provides you with a few more statistics on which to measure yourself against.

What is the best watch for running?

Overall, we found that it largely comes down to personal preference in terms of size, weight and wearability, but our favourite and the best in test was the Coros pace 2 (£179.99, Decathlon.co.uk).

There are two main reasons for this – firstly the low weight means it’s comfortable to wear for long periods, and secondly the price is very affordable for something that provides excellent accurate tracking (as good as some of the more premium watches).

It’s a shame it doesn’t really feature any navigation, but it doubles up as an excellent triathlon watch too, should you need it, which again is a great feature for the money.

Are running watches worth it?

Although some of the better running watches out there are a considerable investment, there are some excellent budget and value for money options that do most of the basic things the premium models do.

If you’re dedicated to running as your primary mode of exercise, we would strongly recommend a running watch. They allow you not only to track your progress, but often give you considerable insight into your overall health, how you can improve your cadence, for example, and how fast you’re likely to run a certain distance so you can see how you’re improving over time. For fitness fans, we think it’s one of the first purchases to make.

What is the most accurate GPS running watch?

In our testing we found that the most accurate running watches tended to be the models that were marketed more towards adventure and travel. They had pinpoint accuracy, no latency when it came to updating your position and found accurate GPS satellite signals quickly. That being said, these devices do also tend to be bigger and more expensive, so it’s worth trying a few to see what kind of compromise you’re happy to accept.

What do running watches do?

As we’ve already mentioned, running watches measure physical performance and activity primarily. They include features like heart rate monitoring, stride length, GPS tracking and oxygen level sensors to ensure you’re tracking your running progress. Where they differ from smartwatches is that they are less inclined to be focused on taking calls, messaging and social media, and instead look at providing updates on running performance to help you get the most out of your exercise sessions.

Can I leave my phone at home and use my running watch?

Yes – you can absolutely leave your phone at home, and when you’re back from your run, the Bluetooth on the watch will connect itself back up again and sync your data to the watch’s app on your phone. This tends to happen on most devices pretty automatically, and on many watches, you can also sync up music and wire-free headphones, which means you’ve got a pre-made running playlist stored in the memory of your running watch. Very useful!

The verdict: Running watches

For the balance of price, weight, comfort and its ability to successfully track runs with accuracy, our best in test was the Coros pace 2. It may not appeal to everyone, but we particularly liked the dimming of the backlight to extend battery life, and Coros’s trademark GPS ability, which we found was incredibly accurate on this model and the vertix 2.0 also included in this list.

For pure value for money, we rated the Fitbit charge 5 fitness tracker for running. While for more premium, adventure or competition-style trail running, climbing or off-the-beaten track activity our money would probably be on the Garmin fenix 7 for the brand’s history and attention to detail.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on smartwatches and fitness tech, try the links below:

To keep your running gear in tip-top shape check out our choice of the best running shoes for women

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