GPS running watches - tried and tested
You put a lot of hard work into your running, so it makes sense that you'd want to track each stride, record every metric and analyse your insights to keep an eye on your progress. The obvious solution? A GPS running watch.
We've shouldered some of the burden and tested and reviewed the leading GPS-running watches on the market. We've tested them at parkruns and ultra races, and in all conditions. They have been used as coaches and as stopwatches, the many features explored to see if they are useful or not really worth the bother. Plus, now is a great time to invest in one of these smartwatches, with big savings in the Amazon Spring Sale. For trail runners, the Polar Grit X Pro is now 20% off at Amazon, while you can save a massive £160 on the Suunto 9.
The best GPS running watches to buy in 2023
Ready to record every metric and smash those PBs? Here's our edit of the best GPS running watches available to shop now.
Garmin Forerunner 55
If you’re just starting out and want to make the step up from smartphone tracking apps to a running watch, or you’re on a tighter budget or simply want a simple option to keep tabs on your runs, the Forerunner 55 fits the bill.
It comes with all the basics including built-in GPS and optical heart rate monitoring plus 20 hours’ GPS run time on a single charge and a general usage battery life that’ll get most runners through at least a week’s training.
It’s small, light and comfortable and though the small screen isn’t as easy to read or as luxe as pricier watches, the transflective display does a good-enough job in most light conditions.
Unsurprisingly you don’t get a full suite of training features here but the Forerunner 55 still has enough tools to cater for a wide range of running needs, with plenty of features geared towards the less experienced. That includes five running modes with track running and a virtual running mode for use with platforms like Zwift, plus Garmin Coach adaptive training plans, daily suggested workouts based on your recovery, handy GPS-based pace guidance for a selected course, cadence alerts to help with improvements in form and recovery advisor for advice on managing your rest between training efforts.
Beyond the run, you also get fitness, stress and body battery energy level tracking. The 55 will also estimate your fitness age. If you dare to look. And there’s women’s health tracking covering menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
The safety features are impressive too with live tracking and incident alerts. Music controls but no offline music. You’ll need to higher up the Garmin food chain for that and for things like Garmin Pay and other smart features which are missing here too.
Polar Grit X Pro
The successor to Polar’s ruggedised, trail-friendly Grit X, the good-looking Grit X Pro offers all of the running, training and recovery features you find on its top-end watches like the Vantage V2, just in a more hench frame.
It also adds a suite of extra navigation tools for tackling more adventurous runs. You get reliable turn-by-turn navigation, with route planning powered by the excellent Komoot. Elevation profiles show you what awaits on the road and trails ahead. Great if you’re racing trail ultras. There’s also TrackBack to guide you back home safely following the route you’ve just run.
You get 40 hours of run time using full GPS and built-in optical heart rate. That extends to 100 hours in low-power mode. On paper that battery life is good but not quite Garmin Enduro or COROS Vertix 2 top-class. And in practice, the Grit X Pro drains a little faster than we’d like.
Polar’s sleep and recovery tools are still the best in business and the Grit X Pro offers everything here including sleep stages, Recovery Pro and workout recommendations based on overnight recovery. It also offers the newer performance and muscle recovery tests, to help you chart trends in your progress and manage your training.
Durability is ramped up too, with a military-grade rating, a scratch-resistant sapphire display and water resistance to 100m. Though at 79g it’s one of the heavier watches and daintier wrists might find it a little chunky.
The GPS link-up was impressively rapid and with support for all the major satellite systems, we found it reliable in our tests. It also packs a barometric altimeter and compass to power those off-beat navigation features.
Throw in FuelWise fuelling recommendations, Hill Splitter automatic climb detection and music controls for Spotify and other music apps, and you’ve got arguably Polar’s best watch right now.
Basically a Fenix 6 with a beefed-up battery life, this hard-wearing hulk of a multisport watch is built to handle offroad and ultrarunning adventures. It’s a hefty investment and is probably more watch than most runners really need. But if you’ve got the means, the Garmin Enduro’s game-changing battery life is mind-blowing.
On paper it claims an unrivalled 80-hour GPS run time – extendable up to 300 hours in endurance mode. That’s boosted by solar charging skills that harness the sun’s rays to boost the Enduro’s endurance. In our tests, the watch lasted an astonishing 30 days on a single charge, with 30 hours of indoor and outdoor GPS-tracked workouts. An eight-hour ultra, using full GPS, burned just 10%. That means, it’ll happily eat a run streak (like a full-month of hour-long efforts) between charges and survive multi-day ultras with ease. It’s not all battery, though.
The Enduro offers Garmin’s complete suite of training tools and insights. That includes reliable heart rate and accurate GPS plus training effect, training load, recovery recommendations and training-session suggestions. Running modes include road, trail, ultra and indoor with trail-adjusted VO2-max estimates and a nifty ultra feature that splits out the time you spend dawdling at aid-station buffets.
There are a couple of notable omissions, eg no maps – just breadcrumb navigation – and there’s no offline music. Playback skills are limited to smartphone music controls only. But once you realise this watch might only need to be charged 12 times a year, these feel like small sacrifices to make.
Polar Pacer Pro
Polar’s newest watch off the block might also be its best value. This sub-£300 GPS and optical heart-rate running watch packs many features you find on Polar’s pricier watches, into its lightweight 41g frame. And while you don’t get premium materials like titanium bezels, it still looks stylish with interchangeable straps and a sleek-looking frame.
With 35 hours of full GPS run time – extendable up to 100 hours in low-power modes – the battery life is pretty much unrivalled at this price. Only the slightly pricier COROS Apex gets near it. Though in our tests, we got slightly less than the billed 35 hours.
There’s also no touchscreen but the button controls are easy to use and nicely responsive. The display is noticeably brighter than previous Polar watches too, though not quite sharp and vibrant as an Apple Watch or a Garmin Epix.
But what makes the Pacer Pro really stand out is its comprehensive suite of running, training, racing and recovery features. It’s an impressive line-up with the newish running performance test and VO2 Max estimates, running index score that lets you see how you compare to other runners, race time predictor, running power on the wrist and Polar’s Training Load Pro training guidance tools. You also get all-systems satellite support, super-fast GPS link-up, a built-in barometer, turn-by-turn routes powered by Komoot, route elevation profiles and automatic climb detection.
Outside of training, the sleep stages and Nightly Recharge recovery tools are still some of the best you’ll find on any running watch. The only thing missing is Recovery Pro – the more advanced (and more reliable) chest strap-based orthostatic testing for monitoring your body’s response to training and daily stresses.
But for most runners, there’s enough here to make this a real contender and a big rival to the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 245 and COROS Pace.
Suunto’s answer to the Fenix 6, this 81g chunky beast of a watch has a rugged build, adventure-proof durability and a suite of tools geared towards longer, wilder runs. There’s a large, knock-proof, sapphire crystal touchscreen display and 100m water resistance but the real headline is the battery life, which eats ultras for fun. You get 120 hours in ultra power save mode, 25 hours in performance mode and pre-run recommendations of which battery mode to use to ensure the watch goes the distance.
Other standout features include fused GPS and motion-sensor distance tracking for added pace/distance accuracy, plus barometric and GPS altitude for additional trail run-specific stats. There’s plenty for the regular runner too, such as guided interval sessions and heart rate zone training.
Beyond all that lurk a number of potential nasties. The screen needs to be brighter and sharper, and Suunto’s watch menus and controls are often baffling. You need to spend time learning the watch rather than being able to use it straight out of the box, and the partner app lacks the depth of stats, tools and analytics you get from those of other brands.
Garmin Instinct Solar 2
The Instinct often gets overlooked in ‘regular’ running watch line-ups because of its hardcore adventure credentials, but if you need a run tracker that can handle more extreme excursions than your local parkrun, the Instinct Solar 2 is worth considering.
This military-grade tracking tool is built for serious battles with the outdoors. It’s waterproof to 100m, thermal and shock resistant and has a scratch-resistant display and polymer-toughened case.
But beyond that rugged build, it’s also a capable all-around running tool on and off the road. Its excellent safety features, including incident detection and live location sharing, also make it well-suited to off-road ultras and exploration.
At 53g, it’s lighter and less bulky than a Fenix – almost a Garmin Fenix Lite with a similar styling – and ideal if you’ve got smaller wrists. Despite the smaller screen, stats are still perfectly legible on the move.
It’s also currently the cheapest watch to feature Garmin’s breakthrough solar-charging skills. In the right conditions, that ray-converting solar display can boost an already-competitive 30-hour GPS battery to 48 hours, and stretch the low-power mode from 70 up to 370 hours. We didn’t quite test the 370 hours but on full GPS, those numbers held up.
You also now get access to Garmin’s run-specific tracking, training and recovery tools including VO2 Max estimates, training status, training load, post-run training effect readings and recovery time recommendations. Plus suggested workouts, too.
The lack of maps is surprising on a watch like this but the navigation skills are still strong. You get turn-by-turn breadcrumb and back-to-start navigation, along with distance to destination and future elevation for routes you load onto the watch. That’s particularly useful for trail runs and races.
Music is limited to controls rather than offline playback but there is a ‘kill switch’ feature that instantly wipes the watch of all user data. You know, if things go really badly at your next city marathon.
Polar Vantage V2
The second-generation Vantage V2 is Polar’s most fully-featured watch, aimed squarely at serious performance chasers. Everything we liked in the popular original is still here and some things we didn’t have been fixed. That includes a more responsive touchscreen and button controls; a 14g lighter, almost one-piece sleek casing and softer, more comfortable silicone straps.
Staying power has improved too. On paper, the V2’s battery life is virtually unrivalled on watches under £500. Only the Coros Apex Pro and Polar’s own Grit X get near its 40-hour GPS run time – extendable up to 100 hours in low-power mode. And though it didn’t quite live up to that billing in our tests, it still packs more than enough endurance to suit most runners – even ultra fans.
The Vantage V2 tracks everything any sane runner could want. You get running power on the wrist, a Hill Splitter feature that breaks down your climb and descents stats and a heart-rate-intensity-based bonk-avoidance fuelling tool that tells you when to scoff carbs during longer runs.
It also comes with two unique new tests. A Running Performance Test recreates a lab-style, lung-busting maximal-effort fitness test and reveals your estimated VO2 max, your maximum heart rate and your important training threshold zones.
A watch-guided, jump Leg Recovery Test also reveals if your muscles are recovered, handy for helping you decide when to run again after heavier workouts.
Garmin Forerunner 745
The 745 is Garmin’s smallest and lightest (47g) triathlon-focused watch. It comes with all the swim, bike and run-training tools we’ve come to expect on a higher-end watch, including training effect, training load, VO2 max for runs and rides and recovery- time recommendations. Plus a performance condition tool that compares your current run performance, in real-time, to other recent efforts. However, many of these features rely on optical heart-rate readings that aren’t always on point.
Garmin has also added daily workout suggestions, based on your recent training history – useful if you’re not sure how to stitch together an effective training schedule. There are also goal-based adaptive training plans and familiar tools such as the running race predictor, though we’ve come to take its optimistic estimates with a big pinch of salt.
The 1.2-inch colour screen is bright and crisp and Garmin’s standard five-button controls – and shortcut menus – make it easy to control on the move and sift through your post-run data.
Overall, this is a well-built, highly capable watch with a surprisingly comprehensive mix of training, racing, navigation and smartwatch skills.
However, there’s a big caveat: the 16-hour GPS battery now seems poor compared with rivals at the same price, even though that extends up to 21 hours in UltraTrac mode. And that makes this a hard one to recommend, particularly if you’re training two or three hours a day.
Apple Watch Series 7
The Apple Watch Series 7 remains a smartwatch first and running watch second. With calls, contactless payments, music and a gazillion other conveniences that work off its 4G connection, you’re getting a best-in-class selection of run-supporting tools that help with the stuff that happens beyond your daily plod.
But the Series 7 is also easily Apple’s best running tool to date, carrying forward everything we like from the Series 6. And if you’ve been wondering if a smartwatch can ever replace a ‘proper’ running watch, this is the closest we’ve come.
That’s in part thanks to reliable heart rate reliability and better GPS performance (with full systems satellite support) but you’re also getting a larger always-on screen that makes your stats easier to read at a glance – say through the pain of an interval session. Crucially without leeching battery life.
The single charge six-hour run time battery life is still a long way off your COROS and Garmin endurance watches but it’ll happily see most runners through a marathon. And the fact this generation fast charges to 80% in just 45 minutes means you can quickly juice it up, if you’re low when it’s time to run.
There are features here that your classic run watches don’t offer, too. Including automatic run tracking and the ability to send and receive data from treadmills. The Activity app also now makes it easier to chart your basic running progress with a 365-day view of your pace, distance and VO2 Max to reveal if you’re getting faster, going longer, and becoming fitter.
Gaps in Apple’s own Workout app can also be plugged via the huge selection of third-party apps. That brings other benefits like audio-coached runs via Nike Running and for the serious stats obsessed, the WorkOutDoors app essentially transforms your Apple Watch into a comprehensive running partner.
Polar Grit X
The Polar Grit X is almost a watch in a bracket of its own: a tool for the less experienced trail runner. If you’re thinking about taking to the trails, you’re an occasional offroader or you sometimes swap city marathons for wilder running challenges then, price aside, it’s worth a serious look.
A sort of outdoorsy Vantage V2 Lite, you get many of the same run tracking and training insights as the V2, and the same claimed 40-hour battery life in full GPS mode (though our tests suggest 30-35 hours in reality). Polar’s FuelWise fuelling-suggestion tool launched on this watch. Nightly Recharge sleep and recovery insights and FitSpark (workout recommendations tied to your recovery) also feature among what is a competitive toolset at this price. GPS accuracy is reliable, though heart-rate readings aren’t perfect.
During interval sessions, the Grit X can struggle to keep up with shifts of pace and changes in intensity and surge higher and drop faster during recovery than chest straps. You can use route-planning app Komoot to plan and load routes to follow on the watch but despite the Grit’s offroad leanings, there’s no mapping.
If you’re a seasoned mountain ultrarunner, some of the features are likely to come up short against the likes of the Fenix 6 Pro, but you’re paying £200 less than even the cheapest watch in that line-up, so perhaps that’s not even a fair comparison.
Garmin Instinct Solar
The Instinct often gets overlooked in the ‘regular’ running mix because of its adventure skew. But while this military-grade tracking tool is built for serious battles with the outdoors, it’s actually a capable all-round running tool on and off the road, if you don’t mind sacrificing some training and recovery insights.
At 53g, it’s lighter and less bulky than other adventure watches and ideal if you have smaller wrists. Despite the smaller screen, stats are still perfectly legible on the move. It’s also the cheapest watch to feature Garmin’s breakthrough solar-charging feature.
In the right conditions, the Instinct’s ray-converting display can boost an already-competitive 30-hour GPS battery to 38 hours, and stretch the low-power mode from 70 up to 145 hours. However, run-specific tracking, training and recovery skills aren’t as comprehensive. There’s no VO2-max estimates, training status, training load, postrun training effect readings or recovery recommendations.
Music is limited to controls rather than offline playback and maps are missing from the navigation tools, though you do get turn-by-turn breadcrumb and back-to-start navigation, along with distance to destination and future elevation for routes you load onto the watch. That’s particularly useful for trail runs and races.
If you don’t mind missing out on training and recovery insights, this is a great option for big battery life in a smaller-shelled adventure running watch with offroad styling.
Garmin Fenix 7
The Fenix 7 is the total running tool. It packs Garmin’s most comprehensive suite of training, racing, fitness, wellness, navigation and smartwatch features. It now also boasts a bigger battery life, improved solar charging, a colour touchscreen and colour TOPO maps. Alongside existing features like suggested workouts, training effect and load feedback, recovery time recommendations, sleep tracking, phone-free music playback and contactless payments.
There’s new military-style multi-band GPS, designed to improve GPS accuracy in areas where regular signals can struggle. Though we didn’t find the all-systems multi-GNSS mode made that much difference.
You also get Stamina – which uses your training history and metrics like max HR and VO2 Max to provide a dynamic read on how much gas you’ve got left in the tank at different paces. All in a watch that’s built big, rugged and durable and eats up urban marathon training and wilder endurance adventures for fun.
You’ll get between 37-89 hours of GPS run time which extends up to an impressive 122 hours with the right power save modes on and good solar conditions. In our tests, an hour’s full GPS run burned just 2% and we’d used just 50% after 15 days wear with 10 hours of training. That’s not the best battery in the business, the COROS Vertix 2 goes longer, but it’s more than enough even for most multi-day ultras.
Speaking of which, the maps and route-following navigation skills will appeal to runners who explore unknown tracks and trails.
With three different case sizes 7S, 7 and 7X, plus standard, solar and solar sapphire editions, the Fenix 7 range features a huge range of designs and specs. And a wide price range. But for our money, the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar offers the best bang-for-buck balance of size, features and staying power.
Coros Apex Pro
If you regularly swap pavements for trails, the Apex Pro is another watch that’s built for long-haul off-road mileage but packs plenty for regular road runners too. Not least, the standout feature here: Coros’s trademark staying power, with up to 40 hours full GPS battery life, extendable to 100 hours in UltraMax mode.
The Apex Pro comes ready to rumble with the mixed terrain, but tools like track mode – where you set your lane to tune up the GPS accuracy – interval session builder, pre-loaded training sessions and running power on the wrist, make this more than just a trail runner’s tool.
The 59g Pro is sleeker than some adventure running watches. But despite being thinner and noticeably lighter than a Garmin Fenix 6, it’s still a chunk of a watch that can swamp smaller wrists.
That’s partly thanks to a tough, 1.2-inch sapphire glass, colour touchscreen that’s happy to take knocks and offers ample real estate for your stats. Under its rugged exterior, the Apex Pro’s suite of sensors includes a barometric altimeter for real-time acclimatisation readouts and a compass to power turn-by-turn and back to start navigation but sadly no maps. GPS performance is strong, and the optical heart rate performs well on steady runs – though it can struggle to track higher intensity bursts during interval sessions or steep hill climbs, so training-insights data may be skewed.
The Suunto 7 isn’t your average Suunto. And if you’re looking for the Finnish brand’s traditionally big battery life, you’re going to be disappointed. This is essentially a Google WearOS smartwatch with running skills, aimed at people who don’t want an Apple Watch. And, just like the Apple Watch, it needs charging daily.
When it comes to GPS battery life, you get a maximum 12 hours runtime on a single charge, though that drops if you use the always-on screen and the music features. Offsetting some of this battery anxiety is the ability to juice up enough for 2-hours training in just 20 minutes on the plug. Despite being slimmer and lighter than a Suunto 9, and arguably Suunto’s best-looking watch, the 7’s big build certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Although its large, 1.97-inch vivid bright, hi-res colour touchscreen makes for good legibility and space for midrun metrics.
Sports tracking is done via a Suunto app that undoubtedly beats the sports performance on any WearOS watch we’ve seen so far. And the addition of offline maps and way-point navigation is a nice touch. However, there’s no option to pair heart rate chest straps and like other wrist monitors, it can struggle to keep up with shifts in intensity.
Smartwatch tools include Google Pay contactless payments, built-in music player, Google Assistant plus a myriad of apps from Google Play, including various music streaming services.
Coros Vertix 2
The Vertix 2 is COROS’ flagship running watch and a firm rival to the Garmin Fenix. Its stand-out feature is a mind-boggling 140-hour GPS battery life. But there’s more to this 91g rugged beast than endurance. It packs an altimeter, barometer and compass, all-systems dual frequency GPS for improved accuracy, offline TOPO maps, 32GB music storage and offline playback. Plus the brand new EvoLab suite of performance insights and training tools that puts COROS on a par with its rivals.
That includes real-time training load, VO2 Max, pace and intensity guidance, base fitness level, fatigue level, load impact and recovery time recommendations. It’ll also assess your running performance level, give you a marathon-level benchmark and predicted race times.
On paper, the Vertix 2’s 140 hours full GPS can be extended to 240 hours in UltraMax lower power mode. But drops to 50 h0urs when you turn on the All Systems GPS with Dual Frequency to squeeze out extra accuracy. And just 30 hours if you’re using music.
In our tests, where we ran a marathon a day for 7 days, the Vertix 2 lasted 2 weeks and 5 hours, including those seven marathons. That’s 189 miles and 30.5 hours of GPS running with some runs in the most draining All Systems + Dual Frequency Mode, all using optical HR and one also using music for 3 hours.
The Vertix 2’s large sapphire 280 x 280 pixel LCD 64-colour touchscreen display sits in a slick titanium alloy bezel and casing and there’s also an Electrocardiogram (ECG) Sensor built into the outer bezel for accurate Heart Rate Variability readings. Something you won’t find on any Garmin.
Kiprun GPS 500
The Kiprun GPS 500 by Coros is sports retailer Decathlon’s first own-brand sportswatch. It is designed and made by Coros and is based on the brand's pace model, so it has good GPS watch lineage behind it, but like most things Decathlon it's the price point that is the biggest draw.
The range of run tracking features, strong GPS signal, excellent battery life, reliability and the price make this a strong contender for the best value GPS watch on the market right now. Not only does it measure running metrics like distance, pace, speed, cadence, stride length, VO2 max and training load, it can also be used as an everyday activity tracker, recording your steps, distance, activity time, calories and measure the quality of your sleep.
It features a wrist-based heart rate sensor and also boasts indoor and track run modes, as well as multisport options including indoor and outdoor swimming (it’s waterproof), cycling, triathlon and hiking.
Read the full review here
Coros Pace 2
The Coros Pace 2 sets the benchmark for sub-£200 running watches. Its huge 30-hour GPS battery life – extendable to 60 hours in low-power mode – is miles ahead of its rivals. Its nearest competition, the Polar Ignite 2 (£199.50) musters just 20 hours.
It features customisable sport profiles for road, trail and treadmill running, plus a track mode that lets you select your lane to improve the accuracy for those 16 x 400m intervals. During runs, a unique stamina tracker uses your heart rate to estimate how quickly you’re burning reserves. The percentage replenishes when you’re not running so you can see when you’re ready to go again.
The range of advanced running analytics also sets it apart at this price. On top of your regular real-time pace, distance and intensity stats, you get running power on the wrist, training effect, recovery-time recommendations and longer term training-load monitoring.
The hardware is impressive too. Garmin Forerunner 45 aside, the Pace 2 is the only watch under £200 to feature a barometric altimeter and a magnetic compass. That means better elevation stats, though mapping or route guidance are missing.
There’s no automatic wifi syncing either, but lightning-fast data uploads start instantly when you open the Coros app. Smartwatch skills are limited to notifications – there’s no music or contactless payments – and although it’s light, it’s a bit plastic too. But, overall, the Pace 2’s suite of comprehensive training insights and an ever-improving app make it the best bang-for-buck budget watch you can buy right now.
Oldies but goodies...
They're still on sale and worth considering.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
With the 6S, the 6X and the Pro, the Garmin Fenix 6 range actually spans a whopping 19 different models, sizes and editions that start from £500 and go right up to £900. You pay extra for bigger, more robust cases, premium features like offline music, a longer battery life and also the solar-charging skills you find in the Instinct and the Enduro. However, the sweet spot watch bang-for-back is really the Fenix 6 Pro and Sapphire. The latter not only packs those premium tools but has a diamond-like, carbon-coated bezel and case with a sapphire crystal display. It offers a 36-hour full GPS battery life, which extends to 72 hours in max-power mode. There’s no hiding the fact this is a chunky watch, but its large colour display can be customised on the watch to show up to six mid-run metrics at a time and brightens in direct sunlight, for easy reading. GPS tracking is reliable but the Fenix 6 falls down on heart rate accuracy compared to a chest strap. That can skew the huge array of running insights including heat - and altitude-adjusted VO2 max estimates, training effect and training load.
The Fenix’s navigation tools are also top notch with route planning, popular route mapping, back to start navigation and maps. If you’re racing in the mountains, ClimbPro also lets you know how much elevation awaits you and estimates your finish time based on your course and your current performance.
Garmin Forerunner 45
There's very little to quibble about with this watch. Sitting low on the GPS price scale, it does everything you need it to (and more) without setting you back the GDP of a medium-sized nation. It’s light and the display is big, bright and easy to read on the run. It’s simple to operate, with decent- sized buttons meaning no confused fumbling.
GPS lock was consistent, plus it detects movement without GPS lock and it will find satellites while you run. It has a wrist-based heart-rate sensor and the Garmin Coach tailored training plans are great; it's like having a mini-coach on your wrist.
It features the usual multisport functions as well as several wellness features, such as stress and body battery (energy) monitors.
To sum up, this is a hugely impressive piece of kit that offers runners incredible value for money.
We’ve been begging big sports watch brands to deliver us a fully-tooled up outdoors adventure running watch with a bright AMOLED, smartwatch-quality touchscreen display. But we wanted that sexy screen goodness without having to sacrifice battery life. Well now we have it.
The Epix is essentially a Garmin Fenix with a killer screen. It has the same robust and rugged design, carries virtually the same tech spec and a very similar comprehensive feature set. You will sacrifice maximum battery life for that pin-sharp window into your workouts and there’s no endurance-pushing solar charging. But with 42-hours full GPS run time and the option to tweak the power modes to extend that up to 75 hours, this is still a great endurance option.
In our tests we got around 8 days usage, including 10 hours training in the top GPS modes and the Epix will definitely give most runners at least a week’s mileage on a single charge.
It carries a Fenix-style comprehensive list of Garmin’s training, general activity and wellness and smartwatch features. You get the same optical heart rate tech that powers everything from training load, training effect and recovery time recommendations, to relatively reliable stress-based Body Battery reads, 24/7 heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking. There’s also breathing tracking and Pulse Oximetry for monitoring blood oxygen levels.
For those who want training guidance, there are suggested workouts based on recent activity, Garmin Coach adaptive training plans and animated workouts. You can chart fitness progress with VO2 Max estimates and helpful new trend charts that add useful context to the running race time predictions. Those predictions are still a tad pessimistic but seeing your trajectory is a welcome upgrade.
This brilliant tool is a do-it-all dynamo that comes close to being the perfect fitness and adventure package. Though you’d expect it for that big ‘ol price tag.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
A great middle-of-the-road watch, the Forerunner 645 has wrist-based heart-rate monitoring, multisport training modes, VO2 max, suggested recovery times, aerobic and anaerobic training effect, plus music and Garmin Pay.
Garmin’s main selling point with the 645 is its ability to load music and podcasts onto the watch. In theory this means runners can leave their phone at home. In reality, it can be fiddly and a little temperamental (manually adding using a computer feels like an extra step).
GPS lock was quick and reliable, even on the most remote trail. Design-wise, it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a sports watch – it is one of the more attractive models in the brand’s stable. The screen is easy to read when you’re running, especially in dark light, as the screen lights up whenever you raise your wrist – a nice touch.
The standout feature on this watch is the battery life – from a full charge, it was 24 days before the Apex needed its first recharge.
Navigating through menus both at rest and on the run is done by a ‘digital crown’, a scroll wheel/button positioned at the two o’clock position. This works well, although it’s a little oversensitive.
The mobile app is the hub of most set-up and data-storage activity and works fine, exporting quickly to Strava, too. However, there is currently no desktop site and the app doesn’t really let you track long-term training trends. There are multiple sports modes (including indoor and trail runs), as you would expect for the price.
As with other Coros watches we tested, the screen is not particularly readable on the run. We had to bring the watch close to our face to read data while on the move.
Setting up is time-consuming, the wrist-based heart-rate monitor readings weren’t accurate compared with a chest strap, and the auto-pause feature is slow to react – sometimes taking up to 10 seconds to stop when we halted at a road crossing.
This offers a lot of features for a very competitive price, but is let down by some rough-around-the-edges functionality. Competent rather than outstanding.
Apple Watch Series 6
It’s still a smartwatch first and running watch second, and with calls, contactless payments, music and a gazillion other conveniences that work off its 4G connection, there’s a lot of run-supporting tools here beyond the actual plod. But the Series 6 is also easily Apple’s best running tool to date. If you’ve been wondering if a smartwatch can ever replace a ‘proper’ running watch, this is the closest we’ve come.
That’s in part thanks to much-improved heart rate reliability and better GPS performance but you’re also getting an always-on screen that makes your stats visible at a glance – say through the pain of an interval session – without having to raise your arm to wake the display and crucially without leeching battery life.
The six-hour run time battery life is still a long way off your Coros and Garmin endurance watches but it’ll happily see most runners through a marathon and there are features here that those classic run watches don’t offer, including automatic run tracking and the ability to send and receive data from treadmills.
The Activity app also now makes it easier to chart your basic running progress with a 365-day view of your pace, distance and VO2 Max to reveal if you’re getting faster, going longer, and becoming fitter. While gaps in Apple’s own Workout app can be plugged via the huge selection of third-party apps. That brings other benefits like audio-coached runs via Nike Running and for the serious stats obsessed, the WorkOutDoors app essentially transforms your Apple Watch into a comprehensive running partner.
Polar Vantage V
If you chase peak performance more than you run for fun, this capable all-rounder has plenty to recommend it. It was the first watch to offer running power from the wrist – an alternative way of measuring the intensity of your runs. It also has a much-improved wrist-based heart-rate sensor that powers a suite of best-in-class training load, recovery and sleep tools. And it offers a whopping 40 hours of continuous run-tracking on a single charge.
You get all the running tools you’d expect from a top-end watch, and intervals and structured workouts are relatively easy to set up in the partner Polar Flow app, though it does take some learning.
Postrun, advanced training-load insights reveal the strain each workout puts on your body, while smart recovery recommendations tell you when you’re ready to go again. And though these are not infallible, Polar has made the recommendations more digestible than most. Your fitness progress can also be mapped with quick five-minute fitness tests and automatic postrun VO2 max estimates.
If you’re interested in the finer points of running form, the V’s running dynamics are limited to cadence readouts. Smartwatch smarts include notifications but there’s no music or contactless payments.
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