This is the one feature that the perfect running watch really needs

Man using running watch at sunset
(Image credit: AstroStar / Shutterstock)

We're only a few months into 2022, and it's already shaping up to be a fantastic year for running watches for beginner, intermediate, and seriously advanced athletes. The Garmin Venu 2 Plus landed in early January, closely followed by the Fenix 7 and Epix, and then the excellent Instinct 2. Meanwhile Suunto treated us to the lightweight Suunto 5 Peak, Huawei brought us the Huawei Watch Runner GT, and now Polar has unveiled the lightweight Polar Pacer and Pacer Pro.

We're absolutely spoilt for choice, but there's one feature that all these watches are missing, which could be a real game-changer: a camera. When I mentioned this in the office, most of my colleagues looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head. Didn't I know about the Samsung Gear, and how terrible it was in practice?

It's true, I didn't get my hands on a Gear, but I believe my coworkers when they say the execution of its camera was... perhaps a little lacking. With a mere 1.9MP sensor and 320 x 320 pixel resolution it certainly wouldn't rival your phone's camera, but it wasn't too shabby either, as these shots taken by TechRadar's global editor-in-chief Gareth Beavis show:

The Gear also offered a macro mode for close-ups, could capture Sound and Shot images (pictures accompanied by a snippet of audio), and could even shoot 15-second snippets of video.

Sure. trying to aim a camera mounted on your arm isn't easy, but just think of it as a bonus mobility exercise. 

Snap happy

Running and photography are a natural fit – in fact, most running apps are set up for sharing photos from your route. Strava lets you upload snaps to accompany your stats, Garmin Connect can superimpose your time and pace over a square picture ready for uploading to Instagram, and Komoot allows you to add photos when you've completed a Tour.

It's a great social feature that can really bring a route to life, and I always appreciate seeing other runners' snaps, but it's not something I often use myself. Digging my phone out of my pocket or running pack is a hassle, and those camera-worthy moments don't always coincide with times when I want to take a pause.

One of the joys of running is the ability to get outdoors and soak up the sights of nature, as shown in the photos below taken on runs around my home town. Even on a well-worn training route, I'll sometimes see something special like the electric blue flash of a kingfisher by the river, or a particularly stunning sunset, but by the time I've finished rummaging for and unlocking my handset, the moment has passed.

Smartwatches with cameras never went mainstream, but they do still exist – like the bizarre Sunsune 4G Smart Watch, which looks like a miniature widescreen TV strapped to your wrist. I'm certainly not expecting to see one integrated into a sports watch in the near future, but perhaps in a few years' time, a miniature camera might be the killer feature of the Garmin Fenix 9 or Epix 4. 

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)