The Best Running Watches of 2019By Kate McCarthy, Updated May 03, 2019
Just as we were finishing this guide, Garmin launched all new running watches, so we're doing some additional testing and will update this story with new products in the upcoming weeks.
Whether you’re an experienced runner or just starting out, all you need to conquer a run is a pair of shoes and enough open space to put one foot in front of the other. Sure, it's nice to have the best foam rollers and best yoga mats to stretch out on after, but when it comes down to it, the only extra accessory that your workouts can truly benefit from is a running watch.
We spent months testing the most popular running watches on the market. Our favorite ended up being the Garmin Forerunner 645 (available at Amazon for $449.99) because of the ease of use during long runs and extra bonus features like being able to download music. If our top pick isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of other options.
Here are the best running watches we tested ranked, in order:
- Garmin Forerunner 645
- Garmin Forerunner 35
- Garmin Forerunner 235
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Suunto 9 Baro
- Polar Vantage M
- Garmin Vivoactive 3
- Coros Apex
- Fitbit Ionic
- Polar M 430
- Timex Ironman
- Polar M200
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Garmin Forerunner 645 MusicBest Overall
Who it’s for: For the serious runner who's looking to get data and feedback both during and after their run.
Ease of use: Setup only takes a few minutes and then you’re ready to go. The battery reaches a full charge in approximately two hours and lasts for a few days, so you don’t have to worry about plugging the watch every night before you go to bed. It also presents running data in a linear way and syncing it to the Garmin app is really easy.
Comfort: This watch is a perfect size. It never got caught up in sweatshirt or sweater sleeves, which made it easy to check the pace and time during a bundled up winter run. The water resistance is also great for tracking laps in the pool or running in the rain. Did we mention that it comes in either rose gold or stainless steel? Not only is it functional, but it's also a head-turner.
Pros: The buttons on the side of the watch make it abundantly clear what the purpose of each is for, so you're never left guessing which one does what. Distance, time, and pace are easy to read when quickly glancing down in the middle of a tough workout. You can also set the lap pace to different distances, the standard being a mile. When you hit a mile, it’s impossible not to know. Between the beeping and vibrations, this watch ensures you won’t miss out on what your lap pace was.
Cons: The one drawback is the overwhelming amount of features. While it’s relatively simple to use, to discover more in-depth data, you have to do some digging around on the watch. Stats that feature your weekly averages of things like steps and heart rate are hidden pretty well, and you could easily miss them when scrolling through the main screens.
Bonus perk: With the Forerunner 645’s music feature, you can download songs and listen via Bluetooth. This is great because it gives you the option to leave your phone at home. However, if you prefer to be connected during your run and can’t miss an important call or text, the watch also sends text and incoming call alerts. You can also track activities like swimming, biking, skiing, rowing, and yoga. If you're not up to running the same route, you can program your own workout and then download it to the watch, which helps change up your workout routine.
Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35Best Value
Who’s it for: The runner that wants a fashionable fitness tracker. Not only does it come in stylish bands, but it also gives you step reminders and notifications from your phone, which is ideal for daily use. It’s pretty easy to use and reliable as well, so it’s great as a basic watch.
Ease of use: The watch itself is easy to flip through and see different stats using the side buttons. It took a while to connect to the GPS, but once it did it was easy to start the run with a press of a button.
Comfort: The watch is very comfortable to wear. The screen, which isn't too heavy, is still big enough to see stats during your run. My one complaint is that the band is very long, so I'd trim it down so it isn’t as bothersome.
Pros: The data is presented in large numbers and clear font, and pausing the watch just takes a quick press of the button (ideal for sweaty hands). The watch vibrates and beeps after every mile, meaning you won’t miss updates on your current mileage and pace.
Cons: When you pause the run, your stats are presented in a slideshow format that you have to wait for it to flip through (instead of doing it yourself). And, since it gives you notifications for everything, the near-constant buzzing is pretty annoying.
How We Tested
Hi, I’m Kate, the social media manager at Reviewed and resident fitness fanatic. As a marathoner, triathlete, and someone who gets way too excited for local 5ks, I’m always on the lookout for the best way to track my workouts. On most weekends, you can find me lining up on a starting line somewhere or out on a long run in Boston.
While researching watches to test, I looked at the most popular watches on the market in a variety of price ranges and consulted other publications that are fitness specific (like Runner’s World) to see what their editors thought were the best of the best. I was able to narrow it down to 12 watches, ranging in price from $99 to $599, that fit the lifestyle of everyone from running beginner to someone who qualifies for the Boston Marathon every year.
When testing, I looked at basic setup factors at first, seeing how easy it was to set up the watch, sync with my phone and corresponding app, and the length of battery life. I took every watch out on the same 5-mile loop twice and did a track workout with each one. I also ended up using them during my other workouts too and they made appearances in treadmill classes, yoga, spin class, swimming laps and four different races I ran. During all of this, I was always considering factors like comfort, aesthetic, water resistance and durability.
During my runs, I looked at how easy it was to see my stats in the middle of a run, how quickly the watch acquired GPS signal, how accurate the GPS tracking was, and how easy it was to navigate the watch for data before, during and after my run. After every workout, I checked the data on both the watch and on the app, to check for accuracy and to see what it was like navigating information on each of them.
What’s the difference between running watches and fitness trackers?
GPS running watches are the next level up from a fitness tracker. While fitness trackers record things such as steps taken, calories burned, stairs climbed, and heart rate, a GPS watch does all that and more. During a workout with this type of running watch, you get even more data instantly. You can watch your running pace change as you make real-time adjustments on your run and these watches also offer more sophisticated stats like cadence, ascent, descent, training status, and heart rate zones. You can also see how your stats perform over the course of a week or even months.
What should you look for in a running watch?
When looking for a running watch, you should ask yourself what type of runner you are. If you're a serious runner who loves data, you should look for a watch that offers ample statistics on not only running workouts but cross training too. That said, these watches are more expensive. You should also take style and comfort into account, so you can wear this watch even when you aren’t pounding the pavement.
If you're a beginner that just wants to hold a steady pace, you should invest in a watch that offers a straightforward presentation of the basics (pace, distance, and time). These watches also tend to be less expensive, so while you want them to be comfortable, you don’t have to worry about them being super stylish for everyday wear.
Other Running Watches We Tested
Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 235
Who it’s for: If you're looking for a more stripped-down experience, the Forerunner 35 is a great option. As an avid runner myself, I’ve seen people wearing this watch both in treadmill classes and at marathon start lines. This is the perfect watch for someone who wants an affordable, reliable running watch that offers tons of useful information.
Ease of use: It’s very easy to figure out and explore what this watch has to offer. You won’t find yourself confused or having to think twice about where you found information beforehand.
Comfort: While the Forerunner 35 is the bulkiest out of all the Garmin watches we tested, it's still pretty comfortable to wear. It has more of a sporty look, so this wouldn’t be a top choice to wear outside of a workout.
Pros: It’s tough to glance down and take in a plethora of information while you’re running, but this watch makes it simple. You can clearly see your distance, time, and pace on the main home screen thanks to the large numbers and clear font. It quickly picks up on changes in pace, too, giving you accurate reads throughout your entire workout. The watch also vibrates after every mile, so you won't miss what pace your last mile was.
Cons: When you pause this watch mid-run, you can’t scroll through to see your stats. This is frustrating because you can't really check in to see how far you’ve gone. The race predictor feature also seemed to be giving me more credit than I deserved, as it claimed I could run a marathon 45 minutes faster than my current PR. This feature might ring true for some people, but I’d take it with a grain of salt.
Apple Watch Series 4 (40mm)
Apple Watch Series 4 (40mm)
Who’s it for: If you’re a runner that wants a watch that can “do it all” (play music and send texts), then this is for you.
Ease of use: The hardest part about setting up the Apple watch was opening the box it came in. Seriously. This watch was so incredibly simple and easy to set up it was almost scary how smooth it went. With just a few taps of my iPhone, I was ready to go.
Comfort: This was one of the smallest watches we tested and also one of the most comfortable. The sleek design allows it to look good no matter if you’re out for a run or at the office. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they are wildly popular, so regardless of where you are wearing it, you won’t look out of place
Pros: Out of all the watches we tested, this one had the most responsive touchscreen. In addition to the great touchscreen, the app provides enough data to satisfy an athlete but it's laid out in a way that isn't visually overwhelming. Thanks to the turnstile button on the side, it's really easy to scroll through your data too. Even when you're not exercising, it tracks your steps and how many stairs you climb.
Cons: When you run with this watch, you have to flick your wrist to see your stats, as the screen stays black. It's not the kind of watch you can quickly look down at to check your pace and distance. The numbers on the watch face are also a little too small and you have to charge it every night.
Bonus Perk: It’s basically a phone on your wrist. You can play music, text while you run, and have access to all your apps. Plus, if you have running apps like Nike Run Club, you can use those with the watch as well.
Suunto 9 Baro
Suunto 9 Baro
Who’s it for: For the serious runner who's also a triathlete and loves getting an influx of data about all of their workouts.
Ease of use: While the look of this watch is militant and almost intimidating, it's very easy to set up. The buttons on the side of the watch and touchscreen allow you to easily scroll through data whether you’re sitting at home or out on a tough run.
Comfort: This watch is absolutely gigantic. It’s built like a tank and feels indestructible, which is great when you’re working out. That said, it's uncomfortable to wear for everyday use.
Pros: Thanks to the huge watch face, it's easy to glance down and check your stats mid-run. The large numbers are very readable and it tracks different workouts like cross-training.
Cons: This is not the best watch for someone with a small build. Both men and women tried this on during testing and all of them had the same reaction (it's very big). If you’re looking for something sleek and discreet, then this is not the watch for you.
Bonus Perk: You can individually track a swim, bike, or run. However, if you’re a triathlete, you can also switch to the triathlon setting to track all three at once.
Polar Vantage M
Polar Vantage M
Who’s it for: For the serious runner who wants an intuitive watch that will present data in a readable way.
Ease of use: When it comes to the setup process, Polar products always had us jumping through an extra hoop or two. However, once set up, this watch face ended up being my favorite, as numbers are displayed in a clear manner.
Comfort: This watch is bulky, especially underneath long sleeves and gloves. While it has a sleek look, the watch face is just large enough that it might overwhelm someone with a smaller bone structure. You probably wouldn’t want to wear it as an everyday watch.
Pros: The stopwatch and countdown setting makes it easy to use for a track workout. The way the watch buzzes on your wrist after your preferred distance setting means you’ll never miss your mile splits, either.
Cons: You have to hit two different buttons to stop and start the tracking process. I kept getting confused and hitting the wrong one. The buttons were also difficult to press because they sit flush with the watch.
Bonus Perk: We really like the wide variety of sport profiles. From spinning to ballet, there are settings for all different kinds of workouts. There's also a countdown timer you can set if you are focused on running for time and not distance.
Garmin Vívoactive 3 Music
Where To Buy$234.78 Amazon Buy
Garmin Vívoactive 3 Music
Who’s it for: For the runner who loves taking their music with them.
Ease of use: The initial setup wasn't very intuitive. I had to closely follow the guide to understand how to get started with this watch. Once it’s set, it’s easy to scroll through and see all of your information, although it does take a lot of digging around to figure out where everything is.
Comfort: This watch could easily be worn as an everyday watch, as it's really comfortable and stylish.
Pros: The touchscreen allows you to easily scroll through all of your stats even while you’re on the go. Plus, the main screen that you look at while you run is set up so you can quickly glance down and know your heart rate, time, pace, and distance immediately.
Cons: The touchscreen might actually be a bit too sensitive, as it paused a few times when my sleeves brushed up against it. It was also one of the slowest watches we tested when it came to acquiring the GPS and it was difficult to find the data from your previous runs.
Bonus Perk: You can download music to the watch and listen via Bluetooth headphones. That means you don’t have to carry your phone with you. It's perfect for someone who loves their phone, but hates carrying it around while running.
Coros Apex (42mm)
Coros Apex (42mm)
Who’s it for: For the serious runner who loves getting tons of data about every aspect of their run.
Ease of use: This was one of the easiest watches to set up. All you have to do is download the app and scan the code that pops up on the watch. However, you have to use a digital knob and button to scroll through your data. While it's similar to the Apple watch in that aspect, this knob is more sensitive and takes some getting used to.
Comfort: Neither comfortable or uncomfortable, it errs on the larger size, depending on your bone structure. Most people could probably get away with wearing it as an everyday watch.
Pros: This watch lets you set your own intervals and rest time, which is pretty cool. You can also hit pause and scroll through your current stats while waiting for the crosswalk or taking a break. There's even a number of different watch faces available to download, so you can display your information exactly how you like it.
Cons: I had a tough time accessing the GPS. Halfway through my runs, I noticed the watch would beep and auto-connect to the GPS, which made me question whether or not the data was being recorded in full. There's also a lot of information to take in and I kept slowing down to stare at my watch and read the data it was trying to relay.
Who’s it for: This watch is perfect for someone who wants something more than a fitness tracker, but doesn't want to spend a lot on a device that's specifically designed for running.
Ease of use: The Fitbit app is incredibly user-friendly (albeit basic). However, the layout of information on the watch face is a bit confusing, so you really have to hunt down what you’re looking for.
Comfort: The screen is wide and square. If you're a smaller person, it may look a bit bulky. If the Apple watch had a less sleek-looking counterpart, then this would be it.
Pros: There are a few preinstalled workouts for your entire body, which is great to use for a warm up or cool down. You can also track other workouts like swimming and biking. It's easy to read the information on the watch face, too, so you never have to do a double take of your stats while you’re out on a run.
Cons: The screen is very finicky, as you have to flick your wrist just so to get it to light up to show your stats. More often than not, the screen would not light up for me, so I had to press the side button to illuminate my stats pretty much every time I wanted to look at them. This was particularly frustrating during long runs.
Bonus Perk: The cool thing about this watch is that it can connect to almost every part of your life. Whether you're looking to log your workouts on Strava or access your Pandora stations, you can connect to all different kinds of apps. The app is awesome for women too, as it can help you keep track of your menstrual cycle.
Who’s it for: For the runner who wants a simple watch that tracks runs and other workouts.
Ease of use: Polar products are pretty intuitive to set up, but unlike the other watches we tested, there was always one or two stumbling blocks that tripped us up momentarily. However, once the watch is synced with the app, it was one of the easiest and most straightforward interfaces to navigate.
Comfort: This watch is incredibly bulky and not something you'd want to wear for everyday use. It was particularly uncomfortable to wear with long sleeves and gloves. It's also highly noticeable, so it wouldn't be great for someone with a smaller wrist.
Pros: The interface is straightforward and easy to navigate when scrolling through the watch. Since the screen is so big, there's a plethora of information on display. You can even customize the watch face to display specific stats.
Cons: I struggled with the four buttons on the side of the watch. Those buttons are the only way to control the watch and the sit flush with the device, making it tough to navigate.
Timex Ironman GPS
Timex Ironman GPS
Who’s it for: This no-nonsense running watch is great for anyone who wants to track their runs with zero frills.
Ease of use: Setup was easy and done entirely on the watch. Since it doesn't connect to your smartphone, you have to set up the date and time yourself, which is a bit tedious. Aside from that minor nitpick, it's super easy to flip through everything using the side buttons.
Comfort: Now, this isn't the most attractive watch on the list, but it doesn't have to be pretty to work. It looks somewhat large on your wrist, but it's not heavy at all.
Pros: It’s very easy to start and pause the run thanks to the protruding side buttons. Battery life is also insanely long—even longer if you plan to solely use this as a running watch over a daily watch.
Cons: It took a very long time to connect to GPS—sometimes over 5 minutes. This watch beeps instead of vibrates, so it can be hard to know when you've hit your mile mark, especially if you’re listening to music. When you pause the run, the only stat you’re able to see is the time, which is annoying, especially if you only want to see the distance. During one of my runs, the run recording cut out on after attempting to resume the run. This only happened once.
Who’s it for: For the runner who wants a watch that tracks runs and other workouts without receiving too much data.
Ease of use: I found the setup difficult. To charge the device you need to pull it out of the watch sleeve and plug it directly into a USB port. The directions weren’t clear and it comes with a cord that looks like it’s used for charging, but it does nothing when you plug it in. There were also issues with syncing and updating the watch, as it kept disconnecting.
Comfort: This watch isn't the prettiest, but it’s also not the ugliest. It’s large and bulky, which allows you to easily see the stats on the screen, but I wouldn’t want to wear this watch other than running.
Pros: The screen size makes it easy to see the stats on the chosen screen.
Cons: The GPS doesn’t kick in until the middle of your run, which stinks because that means you won't get accurate distance readings until a mile into your run. You also have to switch screens to see the heart rate or distance, which makes it harder to take the information in at a quick glance.