Once upon a jog the wonder of running watches, with their new-fangled GPS smarts, was reserved for the rich. Now advances in tech mean running watches are smaller, more advanced and - crucially - more affordable than ever before.
Now you can now run with goals and actually see progress thanks to data analysis offered by even the most basic and cheap of running watches. With metrics like heart rate and GPS location anyone can train like a pro.
There are plenty of running watches out there, including offerings for beginners to start out, regulars to push themselves and athletes to redefine the limits of running possibilities (but on a budget), with the following the best of the affordable bunch.
Note: we've ranked these from cheapest to most expensive according to prices at time of writing.
1. Sony SmartWatch 3
Smart and sporty all in one
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 2 days | Waterproof: Yes
Despite being around for some time now, the Sony SmartWatch 3 is still a serious competitor in the world of affordable GPS running watches. In fact, it’s the age of this watch that makes all its tech affordable.
This slim smartwatch runs on Android Wear, meaning Google-powered smartwatch notifications and loads of interactive apps and functionality.
What’s special about the SmartWatch 3 is that it also has GPS built-in and onboard storage for music, so you can head out for a run minus your phone.
Sure, you’ll need smartphone connectivity for Google Maps guidance or message notifications, but otherwise this is almost as complete a wearable as you can get, packing a smart and running watch into one device.
As it's water-resistant, you can also use it with swim tracking apps, further enhancing its budget credentials when you see what it can do.
The only issue is that it's a smartwatch first (and an older one at that), so you'll need to get used to charging it fairly regularly - but if you want an 'all the time' watch, this is actually a positive.
2. Garmin Forerunner 25
A lot of features for a low price
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 10 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant to 50m
The Garmin Forerunner 25 straddles the line between affordability and functionality perfectly.
As you’d expect from Garmin, this running watch packs in premium GPS accuracy for data like running distance, speed, pace and calories burned. If you have a compatible heart rate chest strap this watch will also use that data to let you train in zones, making pushing yourself to progress more efficient.
The watch comes in small and large sizes with battery life varying for each, where you can get up to ten hours of GPS run tracking or ten weeks in activity tracking mode.
This watch will also track your daily walking steps and calories burned too, with alerts to keep you moving if you’re stagnant for too long.
All of that works with Garmin Connect, so you can view your activities or plan new ones using the free app, or sync automatically to Strava and have your calories added into MyFitnessPal.
3. TomTom Runner 3
Never get lost again with this GPS watch
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 11 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant to 40m
TomTom has been in the GPS game for a long time and while its entrance to the world of running watches was more recent, it’s come on leaps and bounds quickly.
The TomTom Runner 3 offers GPS tracking, built-in heart rate monitoring and even onboard music, so your phone can stay at home while you head out for a run.
The Runner 3 also sports tracking functionality that lets you plot a route and have the watch guide you, or track back to where you started if you get lost (although it can be a touch tricky to follow the route on screen).
All that should mean a true phone-free run even when exploring new places.
Pair up a set of Bluetooth headphones, load the watch’s 3GB of storage with songs and head out, tracking real time data like pace, distance and heart rate as you go while listening to your motivational tunes or podcasts.
Once back, you can analyze it all using the dedicated app on your phone or computer.
4. Polar M200
A watch that tracks almost everything
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: One week | Waterproof: Water resistant
For Polar, this is a super affordable option, especially when you consider everything that’s crammed into this running watch.
You get - deep breath - wrist-based heart rate tracking, built-in GPS, smartphone notifications, all day activity tracking, personalized training programs via the app, varying color options and battery life for a week of use with an hour's run per day - and breathe.
The round face is designed to be attractive enough for daily wear, while the water-resistant build should mean you don’t need to take it off much. The Polar Flow app plays nice with other fitness services, so you should be able to transition across painlessly – well, apart from the pain of running, of course.
5. Fitbit Charge 2
Slim, attractive and easy to use
GPS: No | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 5 days | Waterproof: Splash-proof
Fitbit has come a long way from its activity tracking routes and now offers GPS-level tracking accuracy (in this case using the connected phone’s GPS) and heart rate monitoring.
The Fitbit Charge 2 is a slim, attractive and simplistic wearable that can be worn daily for activity and sleep tracking, but will also measure runs with data like pace, distance and heart rate zones all displayed on its OLED screen.
The Charge 2 automatically tracks runs, sleep and more as it recognizes the variation between activities. Since it can be connected to a smartphone it will also offers notifications for calls, messages and more with vibrating alerts.
Plus, that smart sleep tracking can offer a subtle vibrating alarm to wake you at peak sleep cycle for a more refreshed start - ideal for those early runs.
6. Garmin Vivosmart HR+
More than meets the eye
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 5 days | Waterproof: 5 meters
While this comes in the guise of a slim and attractive activity tracker, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is actually a full-on GPS-toting running wearable. As the name suggests, you get wrist-based heart rate tracking plus all that Vivosmart connectivity for smartphone notifications.
The screen is always-on and offers clear readouts even in daylight. That includes heart rate, distance and pace, as well as full on smartphone messages you can read plus call notifications and more.
The Vivosmart HR+ works with Garmin Connect for auto syncing of data to various fitness services and should last for a good five days of activity tracking with eight hours of continuous GPS running. Plus, it’s waterproof to five meters deep, so you only need to remove it for charging.
7. Epson Runsense SF-810
A watch that puts substance ahead of style
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 20 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant
When you hear the name Epson you might think of a printer or projector, but the Japanese company has branched out into running watches and has done surprisingly well.
The Epson Runsense line, headed by the SF-810, offers a lot for your money. While prices start at around $100/£100 for a basic GPS watch, this model features heart rate built-in, stride measurements for more accurate running feedback and a hefty 20-hour battery life.
The SF-810 comes waterproofed to five meters deep, features a comfy rubberized strap and finds GPS location very quickly. It might look a bit basic, but for the price and that above average battery life it’s worth pretending you wanted that retro look all along.
- More into all-round fitness? These are the best trackers.