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The best running watches 2020: GPS watches for every budget

The best running watch
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best running watch will provide you with a wealth of information both during your run and afterwards, helping you track your progress and plan your training.

The problem is, running watches are plentiful and it’s hard to pick which is best for you. They come in a range of shapes and sizes but more importantly, price. That’s why in this list of the best running watches we’ve selected a variety from a range of prices to help you pick which one is best for your needs and budget.

High on your priority list should be highly accurate GPS, idiot-grade usability for when your running brain gets tired, and top-notch partner apps to help you learn from your stats and stay motivated.

More traditional smartwatches like the Apple Watch 5 will suffice for the more casual runner but if you’re looking to train for a marathon or similar event then you’ll want to consider a dedicated running watch from the likes of Polar, Suunto or Garmin - companies whose watches focus solely on running and don’t have many other functions.

While we’ve picked the best of the best, it’s also worth bearing in mind when you want to wear the watch - some are pretty vibrant in colour and might not cut it in an office environment. 

New running watches are being released all the time and we review a load of them here at TechRadar, so check back soon for updates to this list. For now, these are the ten best running watches in the world. 

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Best running watches

Image Credit: Polar

1. Polar M430

Polar’s best-selling tracker with a HR upgrade

Good battery life
Easy to use
Annoying charging lead
Not the best looking

Polar’s fuss-free M400 was Europe’s best selling running watch for a reason. Simple, effective and at a good price, the company was clearly onto a winner.

Thankfully with the new Polar M430 it's heeded the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke’ and kept most of what made the M400 a favorite running watch but added some useful new skills.

Still easy to use, with a durable, if unremarkable design, the biggest upgrade is that the M430 now comes with built-in heart rate (HR) monitoring for zone training and continuous HR tracking off the wrist, so you can monitor your resting heart rate and your fitness progress.

There’s also sleep tracking and smart notifications and the benefit of the ever-improving Polar Flow app, which allows you to add smart coaching to your wrist for training that’s tailored to your abilities and goals, as well as providing one of the best 'see your day' views of everything you've done.

Somehow the wizards at Polar have squeezed in these extra smarts while still offering a decent battery life of up to 30 hours of training tracking. While it lacks some of the deeper running dynamics you’ll find on the Polar V800 or Garmin Forerunner 935, this is a very accomplished running watch at a very reasonable price.

If you're particularly into trail running and multi-day events, it's worth taking a look at the recently released Polar Grit X as well, which offers additional features like the ability to manage hydration and fuelling, plus guidance on recovery.

Read the full Polar M430 review

best Garmin deals sales Forerunner 245 music

(Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin Forerunner 245

Brilliant for serious runners on a budget

Super comfortable, even at night
Impressive battery life
Sleep tracking could be more accurate
Plastic case looks a little cheap

The Garmin Forerunner 245 (and its sibling, the Forerunner 245 Music) are compact and lightweight, but packed with some of the company's best features and tools for runners.

This is a fitness watch aimed at runners who take their hobby pretty seriously, but probably aren't aiming to set new records at their local half marathon. There's also activity tracking for cycling, swimming, and a host of indoor gym work. Pool swimming and strength training are two new modes added since the release of the Forerunner 235, and and we were particularly impressed by the yoga mode. Our session was further improved by the soft silicone strap that never digs in during poses.

Another addition to the 245 is a pulse oximeter for tracking changes to blood oxygen saturation. Together with heart rate variability, this helps the watch (together with the Garmin Connect app) estimate your stress levels throughout the day so you can take action to manage them.

Its plastic shell means the Forerunner 245 isn't the best looking Garmin watch, but it's got everything a keen amateur needs in a surprisingly affordable package.

Read the full Garmin Forerunner 245 review

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Image Credit: Garmin  (Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Vivoactive 4

Garmin’s most stylish smart running watch activity tracker yet

Great workout tracking with full GPS
On-watch music streaming
No training load monitoring
ANT+ HR broadcast mode doesn't work well yet

Is it a smartwatch, is it a GPS running watch, is it a fashion watch? It’s all three in one. This is the first Garmin watch that’s really clearly gone for the design-loving runner, going up against the likes of Apple Watch and Android Wear devices.

As you can probably imagine it’s got all the Garmin smarts, meaning full GPS and heart rate tracking, multi-sport support and even on-watch music streaming for Deezer and Spotify (though the interface here could stand some improvement).

All that and battery life lasts a hefty four or five days of normal use or 18 hours of GPS training (six if you're also playing music). On the design side of things this running watch features a stainless steel bezel and comfy rubberized strap that can be swapped out to suit the occasion. 

A huge selection of watch faces and app options are available on Garmin Connect, which is open to developers, meaning more cool new additions all the time.

Read the full Garmin Vivoactive 4 review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Fitbit

4. Fitbit Ionic

The first ever Fitbit smartwatch with fitness at its heart

Multi-day battery life
Phone-free music
Shortage of apps
Aged design

A fitness-focused smartwatch without most of the auxiliary digital distractions you get from an Apple Watch, the Fitbit Ionic is the company's first smartwatch and is an accessible choice for runners. 

There's multi-day battery life, continuous heart-rate tracking, GPS, personalised voice coaching, sleep stage tracking and the ability to store music for offline listening via Bluetooth headphones. And for those who like it, there's auto pause to automatically spot when you've come to a stop at traffic lights.

With the Fitbit Coach App you can access a range of expert-led running audio workouts for the treadmill and outdoor runs, designed to improve endurance, speed, and form when used in tandem with the running watch. 

While it doesn’t have the range of third party apps you'll find on the App Store or Google Play Store, you can access a smaller range of popular apps through the Fitbit OS, while all of your stats are synced back to the all-conquering Fitbit app. 

There are cheaper Fitbits out there but if you run and visit the gym regularly, or like to run on a treadmill, the Ionic is the best all-rounder option.

Read the full Fitbit Ionic review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Suunto

5. Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

Rugged running watch idea for hitting the trails

Excellent suite of off-road sensors
Good battery life
No optical heart rate
Quite bulky

Another great running watch for athletes who care about the literal highs and lows of running. The Suunto Ambit3 Vertical includes an altimeter, barometer, compass, GPS and a thermometer to track all of your outdoor exploits in exhaustive detail. 

With its rugged off-road looks, excellent navigation and huge wealth of features, the Suunto Ambit 3 Run is a great trail-running watch for athletes who care about the literal highs and lows of running.

On board, there's an altimeter, barometer, compass, GPS and a thermometer to track all of your outdoor exploits in exhaustive detail. It is also suitable for the city, but there are probably better road-running options out there.

This running watch also features limited smartphone notifications (including caller ID and email support) thanks to Bluetooth pairing. It may only have a monochrome display, but that pays dividends in battery life, which will last multiple days even with regular GPS usage. One downside, if you want heart rate readings you’ll need an additional strap.

Read the full Suunto Ambit 3 review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Polar

6. Polar Vantage V

Almost like having a coach on your wrist

Lightweight and stylish
Tracking running power
No music
Strap can be uncomfortable

Perhaps our favorite Polar watch ever is here, and it's called the Vantage V. It's a far more lightweight and stylish design than you'll get from a lot of other products the brand has created.

It's one of the best for tracking lots of stats including recovery and training insights that not every running watch allows you to see. It's also particularly unique for its insight into a running metric called Power.

Power is a way to monitor the amount of effort you're putting into your run, and that can be particularly useful for anyone training that doesn't want to overdo it and run the risk of an injury.

Most athletes will find something useful on the Vantage V, and with a battery life that can cope with 40 hours straight of continuous workout training you will likely be happy with what this watch provides for the price.

Read the full Polar Vantage V review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Apple

7. Apple Watch 5

For casual runners who like to jog in style

Run without your phone or your wallet
Always-on display
Lightweight
Workout app lacks detail
Battery life impacted in new model

The Watch 5 looks identical to last year's discontinued Watch 4, but adds an always on display that’s perfect for fitness. There's also additional health features, as well as better battery life. 

It’s our favorite all-rounder smartwatch and a great running companion to boot, especially if you get the cellular version that lets you stream Apple Music to wireless headphones on runs without your phone. 

It has automatic exercise detection, which is great for keeping up with you when you forget to start something and you'll get an alert telling you that there's an exercise in progress and asking if you want to track it.

This has constantly worked in our testing (apart from the very first run), allowing us to save the activity up to that point - that's useful and picks it up nicely, although won't stop until you've stopped for a few minutes.

Although it's worth mentioning that the data it collects before it notices the run isn't that accurate - we often came up shorter on distance with the Apple Watch, which makes sense given it doesn't wait for true GPS lock at the start.

A downside is that compared to some of the other running watches on this list, over the course of the day the battery diminishes quicker - so it's not the upgrade from the Apple Watch 4 we hoped it might be in that respect.

Read the full Apple Watch 5 review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Garmin 

8. Garmin Forerunner 935

Advanced tracking tool for goal-chasing amateurs and serious athletes

Detailed running stats
Long battery life
No music playback
Pricey

A bit like having a Fenix 5X crammed into a slimmer body, with the Forerunner 935 Garmin has taken everything it learned from years of making GPS running watches and applied it all to this one do-it-all device, producing what we’d suggest is the most complete running watch we’ve seen to date. 

This is a running watch for serious runners and triathletes.

In addition to the reliable GPS you’d expect, there’s a huge range of advanced running metrics including cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, VO2 max, recovery time guidance and more.

The emphasis here is on using your run data to adapt your training, make alterations to your form like shortening your stride, and keep an eye on your overall training load in the build-up to your next big challenge.

You also get up to 50 hours of UltraTrac GPS training on a full charge, smart notifications from a connected phone, plus the option to customize your watch’s features by adding to it from the many apps on Garmin’s IQ Connect software.

Read the full Garmin Forerunner 935 review

Best running watches

Image Credit: Garmin 

9. Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Range-topping multisport Fenix gets an impressive upgrade

Really durable
Rugged, good-looking design
Lots of multi-sport features
Expensive
Reduced battery life

If you're looking for a top-performing multi-sports and adventure watch, this latest, refreshed version of Garmin's Fenix line is as good as it gets. It's packed full of new features, including built-in music, contactless payments and fully routable color topo maps.

One of the major downsides of this running watch is that it's lacking in a long-lasting battery. We'd have liked to see both more battery and power and running dynamics baked in. 

But in our eyes, this is still the running watch to beat. But then again what did you expect for that super high price tag? With that in mind, you need to be really serious about performance and really into your swims, bikes, runs and hikes to even consider such a premium option - if you’re just running around your city this would be a waste of your money and this watch’s skills.

Read the full Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Review

Image Credit: Samsung

Image Credit: Samsung (Image credit: Samsung)

10. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Cheaper than an Apple Watch, and firm competition for runners

LTE availability
Impressive battery life
Few third-party apps
ECG feature currently locked

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a great looking running watch, and now features a digital rotating dial that makes controlling it on the move much simpler and less frustrating than tapping at a touchscreen. 

There's a 'virtual trainer' to help with your pacing, automatic activity detection, and accurate heart rate monitoring is accurate (with warnings of abnormal changes). There's even hardware for an ECG monitor, but so far it's not been cleared for use outside South Korea, so you'll have to wait for a firmware update to use it.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 lasted us a full two days between charges, which might not seem like much compared to the likes of a Garmin Forerunner, but is pretty impressive for a fully-fledged smartwatch.

The price is impressive, too; although the Galaxy Watch Active 2 was expensive when it launched in 2019, subsequent price drops have made it a much more affordable option for runners in the market for a watch that's also smart enough for work.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review

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