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The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is technically a multisport watch, meaning it supports running, cycling, swimming, and other sports, however, it is a tremendous running watch. It’s small, compact, and lightweight, not to mention it has a wrist HRM and works with plenty of other sensors. It even works with the HRM-Tri to get advanced running dynamics such as ground contact time and vertical oscillation. Here’s a video explaining the advanced running dynamics stats.
None of the other devices on this list support the advanced runny dynamics stats of the FR735XT. Now, to be fair, only really serious runners will care about these stats, but if you are in fact a serious runner, the 735XT is the best overall device for you, currently. So, while the Garmin FR630 will relay those same stats, it does not have a wrist HRM and it’s only marginally more affordable than the 735XT.
On top of being a killer running watch, the 735XT is an activity and sleep tracker with a few smartwatch elements as well. It will track your steps, calories, distance, sleep, and all-day heart rate, alongside giving you a daily activity goal. The 735XT even relays incoming notifications from your phone and can display the weather, your calendar, and more.
The Fitbit Ionic is half fitness watch and half smart watch. It’s one of our favorite devices. Not only can it track running thanks to built-in GPS, but it has a wrist HRM to better estimate your effort level and calories burned. On top of that, the Fitbit Ionic supports cycling, swimming, hiking, and a host of other sports if you plan to venture outside of running.
We found the GPS and heart rate data to be accurate, however, at this point Fitbit does not show you your real-time cadence. This is unfortunate since cadence is a foundational stat that can help you to learn more and improve your runs. You can find this feature on plenty of other GPS watches from Garmin, Suunto, and others.
The ability to track workouts is great, but the premier feature of the Fitbit Ionic music storage for phone-free listening. You have two options here. You can store your personal music directly on the device or you can download select playlists and stations from Pandora (if you pay $5 per month for Pandora Plus). Once you’ve synced your music you just need bluetooth earphones and you can leave your phone behind when you go out on a run. Pretty neat stuff!
Even more, the Ionic is an activity and sleep tracker. Fitbit is good at this stuff. It also is a smartwatch with its own app store where companies like STRAVA and Starbucks have created apps specifically for the Ionic. And just in case you’re wondering, here’s our Fitbit Ionic vs Apple Watch 3 comparison.
If you want to learn more, check out our Fitbit Ionic Review. Also, here’s Fitbit’s official announcement video for the Ionic.
While this admittedly is one of the ugliest watches we’ve seen, the Polar M200 is one of the most affordable running watches that has both a wrist heart rate monitor and built-in GPS. That means if you want to go on a run or bike ride you can map your route, get all of the related stats such as distance, pace, etc., and measure you heart rate throughout the entire event.
As you’ll see below, there are plenty of other, cheaper GPS watches, but few that have the wrist heart rate monitor. Polar allows you to do heart rate training and keep track of your pulse throughout your workout. This is a great way to gauge your output and fatigue level and extend your run. Seeing speed and pace is one thing, but it doesn’t really show you how hard you’re working. Your heart rate does.
Also, here’s a helpful video from Polar about the M200’s training features.
The Garmin Forerunner 15 is about the lowest you’ll want to go on the GPS totem pole. This is a bare bones GPS watch for people that want to map their route, check their distance and pace, and just run. It doesn’t even connect with your phone. You have to plug the FR15 into a computer to offload your running stats.
While I personally would go crazy with the minimalism of this device, there is something nice about tracking a run, but then forgetting about it afterwards. Put differently, I want to know my distance and pace, but beyond that I just like to just let go and run. If you’re only running a few times per week and you don’t want to spend up for a fancy device, the FR15 will get the job done.
This is a complete copout, but there are a number of smartwatches that are great running watches as well. Here’s a short list of some of our favorites.
Apple Watch Series 3 & 2
For running, it doesn’t really matter which one you go with. Both have GPS & GLONASS and a wrist heart rate monitor. That’s really all that you need. The reason we’d steer you away from the Apple Watch Series 1 is that it does not have GPS. The Apple Watch Series 2 and Apple Watch 3 both also support various 3rd party running apps such as STRAVA and MapMyRun. Bottom line, if you’re an iOS user and you want a running smartwatch, the Apple Watch is the way to go.
Samsung Gear S3
Think of the S3 as basically the Apple Watch Series 3, but from Samsung. It does most of the same things. It has GPS, it supports running within it’s native workout app, and it’s compatible with plenty of other running apps. You get the Gear S3 if you’re a Samsung user.
Huawei Watch 2
This is likely the most advanced running smartwatch. It has the WHRM and GPS, but it also has training features that you’d more commonly see on a high-end Garmin watch. Huawei also teamed up with Firstbeat Technologies to bring users VO2 Max estimates, Training Effect calculations, and more. You get this watch if you’re 100% sold on an Android Wear watch, but you want some of the premium GPS watch features.