Runners going watch shopping have an ever-widening range of options and capabilities to choose from: starting from the basics of time, pace and distance to wrist heart rate, activity and sleep tracking, phone connectivity and sophisticated training systems. Here’s what you get for your money at different price points.
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$80-$130 Range: Soleus GPS Turbo
ENTRY-LEVEL WATCHES: THE BASICS OF TIME, DISTANCE AND PACE
Entry-level GPS watches in the $80 to $130 range such as the Garmin Forerunner 10 and Soleus GPS Turbo will track your distance, pace and time. Generally, watches in this category only let you upload your workouts with a cable, if at all, and not via wireless Bluetooth to your phone, but exceptions (like the Epson SF 110) exist. GPS accuracy is generally comparable to pricier options, but satellite acquisition can be slower, and customization is limited. While battery life is generally more than adequate, the displays in this price range are lower resolution and not as easy to see as pricier options.
$130–$330 Range: TomTom Spark 3 series
MID-RANGE GPS, HR, TRAINING, ACTIVITY TRACKING AND WIRELESS PHONE CONNECTION
Watches in this range frequently add the option of wrist-based heart rate sensing. This class includes the Garmin Forerunner 25, 35 and Vivoactive HR, Polar M200 and M400, and TomTom Spark 3 series. Unlike with basic watches, Bluetooth wirelessly transmits your workouts to a companion phone app for storage and sharing. The watch can be configured to your preferences via its app, and can be used as a second screen for phone notifications and music control. Most have vibration alerts to remind you of heart rate and pace zones. Displays tend to be higher resolution and are more visible than those on the basic watches. Bluetooth and motion sensors allow most in this class to also serve as an activity and sleep tracker.
$300–$400 Range: Polar M600
ANDROID WEAR AND APPLE WATCH GPS HR WATCHES AND WATCH APPS Android Wear watches such as the New Balance RunIQ and Polar M600, along with all Apple Watch Series 2 models, now have GPS and heart rate sensing on board so you can run phone free and even wirelessly listen to music. They have color touch screens, activity tracking, thousands of available apps and richer phone connectivity features than standalone GPS watches. The downside: Battery life in workout mode is generally five hours (1.5 days in all-day use). Phone-free GPS run apps from big names such as Nike+, Runkeeper and Strava are available or soon will be. Check for Android Wear compatibility.
$350–$700 Range: Garmin fenix 5
TRAINING SYSTEM GPS WATCHES FOR RUNNING, MULTISPORT AND VERTICAL
Full-featured GPS watches in this group can play many roles. They have more sensitive GPS antennas, often somewhat longer battery life, multisport capabilities and sophisticated training, physiology, run mechanics and recovery features. The multisport options such as the Suunto Spartan Sport are generally lighter than their mountain cousins, have somewhat less rugged cases and leave out the barometric altimeter. Their mountain cousins such as the new Garmin fenix 5 generally have all the run, cycle and swim capabilities of multisport and add rugged bezels, strap options, altimeter and even on-the-wrist maps.