Best Running Watch with Music – Detailed Look
The Best Running Watch with Music will have great sound quality, great battery life and access to lots of your favourite tunes from your music library. Is that statement correct? And is that all? What about streaming music services? Headphone compatibility? An inbuilt speaker? Or, indeed, if music playback will work without your smartphone?
Let’s take a look at these factors and MANY more too.
This review looks at the limited number of sports-focused watches that support running with music and contains links to detailed the5krunner reviews of the main contenders. Specifically, here I am looking at RUNNING WATCHES and ONBOARD MUSIC. We’re going to be covering a lot of ground from basics to futures and from rumours to insights; sit back and enjoy a very, large coffee. Or just skip to the recommendations at the end 😉
To be clear: We are talking here about leaving your smartphone at home and running to music from a sports watch.
Use the jump list, below, to get straight to the info on specific watches. I’ve not reviewed all of the WearOS options by any means but they are listed to give you pointers.
Updated: 23 Aug 2019
Running With Music – General Watch Options
Whilst a few of us may have running buddies who sing whilst they run, I strongly suspect that most of us would only want to consider these options for providing the music whilst we run:
- Standalone music player – from a Sony Walkman of the 70s to an iPOD Shuffle of more recent times. There are LOTS of options to run with music this way.
- Smartphone – You can use wired headphones or Bluetooth headphones to listen to your favourite music on your smartphone. It’s a bit of a faff carrying and charging both your smartphone, headphones and running watch but at least with your smartphone you have the option to easily stream music over a mobile data connection.
- Running Watch to control your smartphone – Many running watches link to your smartphone by bluetooth and can be used to control the music player on the smartphone. Your watch is a simple remote control.
- Running Watch with onboard music – ah. This is the rare breed of watch that this article will look at in more detail. The onboard music could be COPIED to your watch from an online service or some form of computer music library or CD.
- Running watch with live/streamed music – We will cover this as well. But to stream music WITHOUT A SMARTPHONE PRESENT your watch needs to have a mobile internet connection built-in. The word ‘Apple’ springs to mind. Actually only the word ‘Apple’ springs to mind. We’ll talk about Apple too but there IS more than one option here.
- Running watch with an inbuilt speaker – some of the watches don’t need headphones and have an inbuilt speaker.
Music On The Watch – Background
My first encounter with a running watch that supported onboard music was in 2015 with the adidas miCoach Smart Run. This was a surprisingly competent watch in very many respects with a great app and online infrastructure to support its mid-range price tag of £200. The only slight problem was that very few of you bought it and now it is no longer sold.
I’m still not entirely sure why adidas failed, maybe it was the 8-hour battery life, with only 4 hours of battery life if the music was playing. That’s not great but I suspect it was one important reason for its ultimate failure coupled with the rise of the smartphone at the same time.
In more recent years we have seen the TomTom Runner 3 with Music. Like the adidas miCoach, it is a good sports watch and good overall solution. The GPS is perhaps even, more accurate than your average Garmin. Maybe the aesthetics appeal to a certain younger runner? It even has an onboard optical HRM which limits battery life to 5 hours for GPS+HR+Music, 9 for GPS/HR, 11 for GPS only. And the music version came in at over £200. In late 2017 TomTom withdrew from the market. #sigh or, as the Queen would say, Another One Bites The Dust.
Do you sense a trend? These £200 sports watches that play music are just too expensive. 😉
Skip forwards to late 2017 and the Apple Watch 3 LTE (Cellular) comes in at an eye-watering $500. It can stream music over its cellular/mobile data connection. You’ll be lucky to get a paltry 4 hours of sporting GPS activity with music playing as well. So 2-3 years on from TomTom/adidas and the headline music-cum-sporting specs have got worse and the price higher. Obviously this won’t sell either?
Clearly not. The Apple Watch is probably the best selling sports wearable…ever.
Music On The Watch – Future
Watches are going to become increasingly more capable. These capabilities will be developed and extended as, at least in part, the watch takes over some of the capabilities of smartphones.
- The integration of your online music service onto your phone and then into your watch is limited by the available number of music providers. Typically there is one online music provider for each watch brand (OS) plus links to your desktop library. Music service provision will become more widespread as existing services are offered more widely. Watch vendors will increasingly start to offer support from MORE than just one streaming service (Garmin Oct 2018).
- Computer-based or disk-based music primary storage has peaked and is being overtaken by cloud-based services and live-streaming services.
- Set against that is the limited space in the market for cloud- and streaming-services. Ultimately some providers attempting to serve all music will go out of business, perhaps some niche providers will remain eg for hi-definition music. This presents a challenge for some watch brands who may suddenly find that their main music provider has gone out of business.
- A watch model that is open to the addition of future music providers seems less risky and more likely to survive eg Garmin. Where companies like Apple and Google have a vested interest in making money out of the music service there seems to be more reluctance to let other music services compete.
- On-watch music storage is now generally 3-4Gb and this will increase ‘because it can’.
- Maybe the real end game is going to be music video, on-demand, on the watch? Probably from a company like YouTube. Sure you won’t need this when you run but you might ‘need’ music video when you commute.
- Current developments seem to be being driven by the smartphone/watchmakers wanting to increase the interactivity of their technology almost as a means to an end. Contrast that with Amazon who, to me, seems to be focussing more on a family and home provision for their Amazon Music service. Once Alexa plays our music at home most of the time, then it just makes sense that you’ll want to tell Alexa to stick certain tracks onto your running watch. And I’ll bet Alexa will do that better with Amazon Music than with other services – yet I couldn’t find any way to get Amazon Music onto my standalone smartwatch when I run. I suspect that situation will change and Amazon Music will become a MUCH more important player.
- Music playback from your running watch mostly goes to your earbuds. Some watches have speakers. Why not have playback mechanisms in your cycling helmet or in your sunglasses? More exotic tech could be imagined here too with ‘hearables’ but anything that gets around earbuds that fall out has my vote.
- Live streaming is going to become more widespread as we see more eSIMs finding their way into your watches. This will likely happen with general smartwtaches and smart sports watches but I am not so sure that ‘proper’ sports watches, like Garmin’s, will necessarily want to have such connectivity in their devices – at least not initially. I expect we will have to wait until 2020 for a Fenix 6 to have that.
Those are all great technological drivers for growth but does the market need exist to support the development of all these new sports watches that play music? Anecdotally we would all say ‘Yes!’ But maybe the market is not as big as you might at first think.
- As of October 2019 – there are now several more Garmin music watches…Vivoactive 3M/4/Venu, Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Series, Fenix 6 Series, Garmin 645 Music, Forerunner 245. Music support should be added to models throughout Garmin’s running/tri range as time passes.
- 2020 will see the introduction of a new processor for most (all?) WearOS watches.
- 2019 sees Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 Music offer LTE (over Verizon) and this will gradually be rolled out to Garmin’s other watches IN NEW model variants such as the Vivoactive 4 and Venu
Best Running Watch With Music – Who runs With Music?
In my experience in the Royal Parks in London and parkruns of SW London and banks of the River Thames, most women runners will run to music. Let’s say 80% of those running alone. For the men, I see running with music it is a much lower figure, maybe 20%. Despite there being more male runners than female, there are more female runners with music than male runners with music, in my opinion. The vast majority of whom seem to run to music with smartphones strapped to their upper arms.
Hey. Sample size of one. Me. I know. I know. I hear you. Don’t forget treadmill running to music and other indoor music+sport uses
I am specifically NOT making any concrete statement of fact but I reckon most of the runners I see running to music are probably into ‘fitness and health’ rather than athletic competition. That’s not in any way meant to be derogatory but perhaps the music-runner demographic doesn’t run quite as much as others. Thus, perhaps, battery life might not be so much of a concern to this demographic? Maybe. Maybe that partly explains the Apple Watch phenomenon?
But look at a smartphone. A smartphone’s battery will last more than long enough to play music on your run before its next charge. Most of us charge them daily so they will easily be good to run with every day for 30-90 minutes. Again maybe that’s enough for very many people who run ‘casually’. It’s also one less device to worry about keeping charged up (watch + BLE headphones).
Thus the market for running watches with music might actually be smaller than you think.The smartphone is simply ‘good enough’ for many of the people who run to music.
It must be possible to convert these smartphone users to run with watches that hold music BUT where is the advantage for the runner? Certainly it’s not with the music playback quality and probably not with the battery either in reality.
So maybe the market for a music-enabled smartwatch is for the more athletic minded runners and maybe also for those who want a gadgety running watch AND music…for the latter it just makes more sense to have one device rather than several to contend with and keep charged up. These demographics are probably relatively small in the grand scheme of things.
So the market for a music-enabled running watch could be relatively small and maybe that’s partly why adidas and TomTom didn’t do as well as we might have thought.
ONBOARD Music – Your Options
So far I’ve alluded to the choice between an Apple Watch Series 3, or Series 4 and a TomTom Runner 3 (with Music). If you are an Apple user you will certainly know about the former and, if you’re not an Apple user, I’m going to be careful about recommending you buy a watch from a vendor who will probably completely withdraw from the market (TomTom).
Fear not. You have some other choices too.
Your main Apple alternatives come from those who are offering close integration with your non-Apple smartphone. And Garmin. And Fitbit. And here is your choice:
- Your Android smartphone will work nicely with Wear OS watches, There are several Wear OS watches, and some of them are specifically geared towards sports. Most notably the Polar M600. I’ve also used the Mobvoi Ticwatch S and played with a few of the other competitors. Wear OS watches also work with reduced functionality with iPhones. Several Android smartphone makers also make Wear OS watches.
- Your Android- or Tizen-based Samsung smartphone could well be a great partner for a Samsung Gear S3 and Gear Sport which both run Tizen.
- Garmin has the Forerunner 645M (245/645 Music – + VA3/4 + Fenix 6/5 Plus) which will run music apps on Garmin’s CIQ platform.
- Fitbit has the Ionic and Versa/2 running on Fit OS.
- TomTom Runner 3/Spark 3 – music version. Note TomTom is withdrawing from sports watches but the Spark/Runner 3 remains supported.
Streaming/Music/Radio Services – Your Wish List
Hey. You can wish all you want to.
The only sports watches that support live streaming without a smartphone are the: Apple Watch Series 3 (LTE); Series 4 (LTE); LG Watch Sport; Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music LTE and Huawei Watch 2*. No other sports watch of any significance yet has a programmable eSim*.
Every other non-streaming service or library must either: copy the music onto your watch, via an app before you go for a run; OR play the music via a smartphone that you carry.
Streaming and digital downloads are big business. Streaming overtook digital downloads in 2016 (Source: Nielsen).
Consequently, you may well have one of these radio/music services, especially the ones in bold, take the number of subscribers in brackets with an indicative pinch of salt: Soundcloud (175m), Spotify Free (?m)/Premium (60m), Amazon Music Unlimited/Prime Music (16m), Apple Music (38m, 20m, 30m), Google Play Music, Pandora (74.7m, 81m, 5.2m), Deezer (7m)/Free (?m), Tidal, iHeartRadio (100m), TuneIn Radio, Slacker, Dash Radio, 8Tracks, MusixHub, Napster, Accuradio, Mixcloud, Incus Tunes and Jango. To name but a few.
At best you are probably only going to get one or two of the cloud-based services managing your music on your wrist-based device. But most will let you copy your computer-based music/audio library to some degree
- Garmin: Deezer, iHeartRadio, Spotify and other smaller players.
- Apple: Apple Music
- Wear OS: Google Play Music, iHeartRadio and Pandora.
- Samsung: Spotify (offline)
- Fitbit: Pandora (USA), maybe Deezer soon.
* Other watches that have eSim-type services include Scinex, Lemfo, Oumax, Burg & Neptune. Who?
Controlling The Music
Of all the watches that I have used with music, I prefer to control the music with the buttons of the Garmin Forerunner 645/Fenix 5 Plus. It’s a bit cumbersome and doesn’t look quite as pretty but it works with certainty…and that’s what I want when I’m doing sporty stuff. In some ways, I was surprised I came to that conclusion.
The touchscreen of the Polar M600 is a tad too small and I have to use my little finger to attempt to get the correct press. When my finger is cold and/or when I am sweaty being precise and getting the touchscreen to register are issues. But if you start out your run with a decent curated playlist then all is good.
The Apple Watch works well with the funny swivelly button thing and the Ionic is fine too.
The larger touchscreen of the Mobvoi Ticwatch works better as a general music controlling mechanism. Perhaps it’s not so great when exercising, though I found it perfectly fine.
The TomTom is just a little bit limited in what it can do. But, hey, it plays your music. Again if that playlist is just right, then you are good to run
Looking At the Music On the Screen
Some of the screen on these watches are pretty awesome and vastly superior to all of the SPORTS/RUNNING watches that have come before.
I prefer the visuals of Google’s WearOS over Apple’s WatchOS. The Ionic doesn’t trail too far behind on the looks front.
The Garmin and TomTom are somewhat utilitarian both in terms of the screen quality and user experience with the menu system. These devices’ screens do not look great but they are perfectly fine.
Pairing with headphones
There are no guarantees here at all. Caveat emptor (buyer beware)
I used one pair of Jabra earphones (SPORTROX) with the Garmin 645 and it was 100%. Then I used a similar, slightly newer and considerably more expensive model: the ROX SPORT. The ROX SPORT had drop-outs every 5 seconds. Eesh.
That story is anecdotal. The point is that you need to either buy the recommended BLE headphones or check carefully that yours are supported. Clearly watch manufacturers can’t check every headphone’s real compatibility over and above displaying a Bluetooth symbol. Most manufacturers will have a compatibility table that they keep up-to-date, like this one from Garmin: link to garmin.com.
Music Playback Quality
Ignoring dropouts, the quality of all these watches as a hardware source of music should be VERY similar.
The type of music compression of the audio file; the DAC; bitrate and the BLE headphones are where you will most likely lose further sound quality.
The inherent problem you have is that transmitting an audio signal over a Bluetooth Low Energy protocol requires compression. Sound quality is LOST in the encoding that digital audio signal and then lost in the quality of the physical analogue music playback on the earphone “driver” (speaker).
Typically one of the SBC codecs will be used. If the source AND your earbuds can, instead, communicate together using AAC, aptX or LDAC codecs, then better quality audio is possible. Unless you have REALLY done your research it’s unlikely that you will achieve this.
The best quality over SBC will be something like 320-bit MP3s. If your source mp3s have more bits than that then, simplistically, those bits will most likely be chopped off in the initial compression on the watch.
It is EASIER to achieve better quality audio to wired headphones from a smartphone. But just because there is a wire does not mean that the audio will be necessarily better. #ItsComplicated
WatchOS with inbuilt Speakers
The sound quality is really not great when played from a wrist-based speaker in your watch. I have used the Ticwatch like this a couple of times just because the headphone battery ran out. So this is a handy little backup feature for emergency tunes. I wouldn’t swim with any of these watches because of the speaker.
- LG Watch Sport
- Huawei Watch
- Mobvoi Ticwatch S
- Possibly others too, see the specification table at the end of this post and the sources of that information.
These are the less-sporty ones with a speaker:
- Asus Zenwatch 2 and Asus Zenwatch 3
- Fossil Q Founder Gen 2
- LG Watch Style
Some Detail: The Running Watches That Play Music
These are all music-playing watches that are at least designed for general sportiness and include some are ‘proper’ running watches. We will look at: Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Versa (special edition); Apple Watch 3 LTE/4/5; Garmin Forerunner 945/245/645 Music; Garmin Vivoactive 3/4/Venu Music; Garmin Fenix 6/5 Plus series; Samsung Gear Sport; Samsung Gear S3; Samsung Galaxy Watch Active; TomTom Runner 3 Music; Polar M600; LG Watch Sport; Huawei Watch 2 Sport; New Balance RunIQ Sports; Mobvoi TicWatch S; Motorola Moto 360 Sport; Misfit Vapor; Sony Smartwatch 3; and the Fossil Smartwatch 3.
I reviewed the Ionic in some detail at the end of 2017, as shown below.
Initially, the Ionic only supports the PANDORA online music service in the USA as well as music files you might already have locally. More online services will probably, eventually follow.
It’s capable of storing about 300 songs on the watch. Which I would call ‘adequate’ in 2018.
I had no notable problems pairing Bluetooth headphones.
HOWEVER, getting the music just from my PC (windows media player) to the Ionic was not easy. Fitbit will improve this over time I hope.
I like its quirky looks and indeed I quite liked the whole Fitbit Ionic experience. But I would find it hard to recommend to you for the music experience right now (Apr2018)
If you are an existing Fitbit devotee and want to upgrade; then go for it. I’d wait for a few months more until Fitbit have had a really good crack at sorting out the software. Perhaps in Summer 2018? When you might also be willing to consider the cheaper Fitbit Versa Special Edition which is based on the same software (FitOS).
Fitbit Versa / Versa 2
It looks like the special edition will be the one you need for music playback. Although mine recently arrived (the standard version) and the Fit Pay AND the Music seem to work? I need to clarify the situation on that with a European version of the watch.
It looks like a nice device with a cheap strap. It looks cool both in terms of its form and in terms of the screen. The link with Deezer Premium takes some sorting out and the rest of the personal music library synchronisation is really not great. Don’t buy this device until at least July 2018 when they may have sorted out the bugs. Though I said a similar thing about the Ionic last year that runs the same software.
When I looked at the Apple Watch I did so by mostly comparing the sporty features to the Ionic and to Garmin’s Vivoactive. I did play some music but not too much.
If you subscribe to Apple Music you will be happy. If you don’t, then whatever other services you currently use will most likely not work on the Apple Watch. You should be able to get songs that you have copied into Apple Music library to work from your watch as well. The same applies to podcasts, I believe.
You can stream over wifi or over a cellular connection either within the watch (LTE Versions only) or via your smartphone.
Within the battery-eating world of the Apple Watch and Apple Music, all is otherwise good. But you would already know that if you are an Apple user. If you are not an Apple user then you know that the costs of using Apple devices and related services can be high. And maybe that’s why you haven’t got one.
The Apple Watch has a deeper level of functionality. Sure, all the devices I review here play stuff but you can do many of those extra little things with the Apple Watch that doesn’t really make any difference other than giving you a generally warm glow.
For a non-competitive runner, the Apple Watch is perfectly fine for general sporty usage. Indeed I wanted to specifically dislike its sporty features but, in reality, they were pretty good.
Info: Running to music with the Apple watch (link to: theapplewatchtriathlete.com). Ian gives all the gory Apple details once again.
Google Wear OS
I’ve not used all the Wear OS watches (link to: wiki) by a long way. If the watchmaker has included the appropriate bits of hardware there is no reason why a Wear OS watch can’t play music, especially if it supports WearOS v2.1 or above.
And on that point the previous link lets you know what version all the various WatchOS devices currently operate on…there is quite a variety. Each different sub-version of WatchOS will have differences in functionality.
In practice, however, the reality of hardware limitations when running might mean that you lose your headphone connection with using a Moto 360 v2 or you might find it hard to sync the music from your phone to your Polar M600 without an internet connection. ie Even having the latest version of WearOS is no guarantee that your running-with-music experience will be consistent across watch brands.
Wear OS can be a bit of a faff when it comes to music. Your best bet is to rely on Google’s Play Music (strange that, isn’t it?). Indeed I found Play Music works well despite a few annoying extra button presses occasionally being required if you aren’t subscribed to the paid-for service.
The general ‘sporting quality’ of the Wear OS devices look is generally “not great”. I would place Polar’s M600 in a class above the rest when it comes to sporting ability. The oHR and GPS from Polar’s hardware are good – as is the Polar app. All the other sports apps work equally as well on other Wear OS devices.
However, my experience with the Ticwatch S and limited experiences with other Wear OS watches could be typical of some of the cheaper Wear OS devices. ie Wear OS itself is fine but the hardware side might lack: a decent battery; decent GPS; decent optical heart rate; robust headphone connectivity; and widespread headphone compatibility. Once you factor in all of those non-decent bits of hardware then you may well be left with a great looking watch that isn’t fit for your music-powered, sporty endeavours. So you need to research your Wear OS watch with particular care if you want to use it meaningfully for sport.
The other main contender on the sporty-front for Wear OS watches is the LG Watch Sport which has a great spec and which includes GPS for sport and NFC + LTE to help its overall smartwatch features. Additionally, support for FLAC, MP3, WAV, 3GP, MIDI, and OGG music formats certainly makes a half of my music collection usable on the watch. I’ve read generally good things about it but am yet to get one myself (I probably will…watch this space)
You won’t go far wrong with the Polar M600 for sport and for music playback via WearOS. The main downside for many people is that when compared to the other WearOS watches, the Polar looks more like a sports watch than a 24×7 smartwatch. Personally I like its looks but some of you like your thinner, round watches.
In terms of the quality of the oHR then only the Garmin is comparable to the M600. In terms of the GPS then the Garmin, TomTom and Apple are broadly comparable to this Polar. The Garmin has uber-sporty capabilities and the Apple watch is not as shabby there as you might think for sport.
Polar has a WearOS app that is great. But unusually, as far as I know, that app only works on the M600. Other WearOS running and sports apps are more limited than Polar’s eg STRAVA+Runtastic and generally work across all WearOS devices.
Garmin Forerunner 945/245/645 Music (645M)
These are Garmin’s top-of-the-range running watches at each price band that now all have music.
The 645M is bursting with sports features and will, pretty much, have vastly more running-specific features than any other single watch. Certainly more than any non-Garmin watch. It has great sporting functionality BUT it is not quite on the prime tier when it comes to GPS performance and oHR performance. The GPS is perfectly acceptable BUT just not as good as some other vendors’ offerings. Similarly, the oHR is fine for steady-state running and broadly ‘fine’ for most recreational runners. But serious runners wanting serious HR data will probably look beyond the oHR offered by Garmin…or, indeed, beyond the oHR offered by ANY vendor.
The 645M has offline music support. Meaning it can get stuff from your computer but it also supports the Deezer music service, Amazon Music, Spotify and iHeart Radio – both in ‘link and sync’ mode. However I’ve only been able to use tracks that I’ve copied from my hard drive as I am in the UK; that’s fine for me but, maybe not for you.
Garmin Vivoactive 4/Venu/3 Music (VA3M)
This is Garmin’s mid-tier, fully functioned smart sports watch. The MUSIC variants have onboard Music capabilities.
The Vivoactive is bursting with sports features AND smart features such as contactless payments. In terms of what it can do it will sit well against the Apple Watch, it just won’t look anywhere near as pretty!
Music functionality is identical to the Forerunner 645M in the previous section. Please read the 645M review for more details on that. The difference being that the VA3 only has one button+touchscreen and not the 5 buttons of the 645M. That might sound trivial but the 5-button interface of the 645M works really well; the touchscreen is not as good in sweaty, sporty usage.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, Fenix 5S Plus, Fenix 5X Plus, Fenix 6, Fenix 6S, Fenix 6X
The Fenix 6/5 Plus ranges cover 2×3 Fenix devices, each with identical Garmin music capability as the Forerunner 645 Music from the previous section.
However, in addition to the new music functionality, there are other new Fenix features including Garmin PAY and TOPO maps to make this the best all-round sports watch – but NOT necessarily the best for you for MUSIC.
Samsung Gear Sport, Gear S3 and Galaxy Watch Active
You will only really consider the Gear Sport if you have a Samsung smartphone as the Gear Sport runs the Tizen operating system and NOT Wear OS. If you are happy with UA and Pear as your sporty apps then you could be good to go. But even as of 8Mar2018 there is no STRAVA app on Tizen. You really have to doubt whether or not in the long term the Tizen app store will thrive and be full of sporty apps.
On the other hand Samsung can give you access to SPOTIFY (offline), which most people have heard of as a music service. And we are talking in this post about the ability to support music. So if you love Spotify and want to go for an occasional music-powered run or gym class then the Gear Sport may be a choice for a Spotify user, especially if you have a Samsung smartphone.
Both the Samsung Gear S3 and Gear Sport have access to Spotify (a Samsung exclusive at the time of writing – edit: now Garmin have access as per Oct2018), but they suffer from poor GPS and pacing accuracy.
TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 (Music Version)
If you just want a cheap device to run with and listen to music, potentially with no more software updates, then The TomTom Runner/Spark 3 Music is for you. It even comes bundled with Bluetooth headphones. The version I last used was v1.7.64 (6 March 2018, latest here: link to TomTom.com) and so, at least at the time of writing, TomTom are clearly maintaining the product.
Your 3Gb/500 songs worth of MP3 and AAC music are copied to the watch from playlists on your computer in Windows Media Player or iTunes. That’s good enough for me but if you want some degree of syncing with your streaming service then you may well be disappointed.
But the staggeringly low price list at around £/$140 will be low enough for people to treat this as a stop-gap consumable. If TomTom withdraw from the market then some people could just throw away a watch at this price.
LG Watch Sport
Sorry, I don’t know much about this one YET. It’s on my to-do list. The LG Watch Sport does LIVE stream music directly from Google Play Music to your watch with no phone required. You can still link and sync to your smartphone.
Look below at the basic hardware specs. This baby looks sweet albeit, apparently, bulky.
Huawei Watch 2 Sport
Other than looking at the specs, I’m not too knowledgeable about this one either – despite being the proud owner of a Huawei smartphone. It’s a live streaming device using Google Play Music just like the LG.
New Balance RunIQ Sports
Another WearOS ‘link and sync’ music watch. It has a claimed 4 hours of GPS+HR sports time compared to a battery that can normally last 24 hours between charges. I’ve not read too many positive and genuine comments about this one.
Mobvoi TicWatch S
Cheap as chips. And maybe as useful as chips for your music-enabled sporting endeavours.
Actually that is a little unfair, this is a nice implementation of WearOS and the link and sync music functionality is great. It’s pretty much the same link and sync functionality that all the WearOS watches use. Shame about the battery and sport-related onboard sensors.
Oh. I almost forgot. It also has an inbuilt speaker.
Motorola Moto 360 Sport
Motorolla have moved on from the first and second edition of the 360 to a generally improved 360 sport. Again, I’ve not reviewed this one but make sure you are looking at a review of the latest version. You would have hoped that Motorola’s 3rd iteration would be a good one.
Again, I’ve not tested this one. It has link and sync with WearOS but the spec seems unusual in that the GPS is required to be obtained whilst connected to your smartphone. That lack of an onboard GPS will make it much less of a runner’s watch.
Sony Smartwatch 3 SWR50
Another link and sync option I am yet to test supporting WearOS. It has a high price tag considering some of the reviews I’ve seen written by others which are generally not too complimentary about the Music features. It has 4Gb of musc storage which is a little more than the usual 3Gb. Well; 33% more.
The Amazfit STRATOS also supports phone-free running with music. Drag and drop your MP3s onto the watch….sorted. Playback?…sorted so far. Feature..it has GAZILLIONS OF FEATURES for under $/£200 and looks pretty good.
Fossil Smartwatch 3 – Q Venture FTW6009
The Fossil is not particularly marketed as a sports watch. But it runs WearOS like many of the other watches listed here. This Fossil has an inbuilt speaker for when your headphone battery runs out. Fossil generally have a loyal following and reviews tends to be generally good.
Casio WSD-F20, WSD-F30 & Nixon Mission
These seem a little too hiking-cum-navigation-cum- not really enough of a sports watch, to merit inclusion.
Running With Your Chosen Music Service
Let’s turn this around. I’ve been almost assuming you are placing a great deal of emphasis on your sports watch. But what if, instead, you really already have a MUSIC service that you love and are never going to change in a million years?
This list starts with the music service and then tells you which hardware you could buy that would support it for your music-powered sport. Beware, geographic coverage is limited.
- Spotify (*): Samsung, Garmin (Apple Watch, in 2019)
- Deezer (*): Garmin, Fitbit
- iHeartRadio (USA, CA, NZ, AU): Garmin, WearOS
- Apple Music (*): Apple
- Pandora (USA): Fitbit, WearOS
- Google Play Music (*): WearOS
- Amazon Music: Garmin
* Links to show geographic availability by country
Running With Music – Outside the USA
Like me, if you are outside the USA then really Apple Music and Google Play Music are the best options for any kind of LIVE streamed service. And that kinda excludes a lot of other potential options.
Running and syncing back later to an iPhone
If you have an iPhone for your watch to pair to, then WearOS devices will work with your iPhone but with slightly reduced functionality.
Android-friendly WearOS watches are worth considering as an option with your iPhone. Although LIVE streaming of music will not work with Google Play Music.
On the other hand, most of the online music services will have apps that work on your iPhone to let you link and sync (subject to Geo availability).
What about running headphones?
What about them! Hopefully, you already have some 🙂 If not hear (sic) are some pointers. If you want to see all the links (below) for your research, you’ll have to disable any adblocking.
I’m a bit of a Jabra fan and have 3 sets: Sports ROX; Elite SPORT (built-in HRM); and the Pulse Sport (Built-in HRM, not SE). Jabra is the only vendor who has a quality HRM alternative built-in to the earphones (with extensive Firstbeat support on their app). a headphone-based HRM can save you some battery by turning off the optical HR on your wristwatch.
Some of the earphones have great feature sets on their own including guidance, Alexa Support, smartphone connectivity; variable fit; and more.
Jabra seemed to mostly resolve the issue of dropouts (at least in my experience) a couple of years back once they introduced the SE version of the Pulse SPORT.
These are all top-notch (aka expensive) headphones with the exceptions of the Sennheiser & NuForce BE Sports3. If you get any one of these from Amazon and you have pairing issues or dropout issues…send them back within a month. Sorted. The following link ALL link to your local Amazon store in local currency.
- Jabra Elite Active 65t $170/£150 Sweet (high audio quality, true wireless also ACTIVE version)
- Jabra Elite Sport £125/£110 Inbuilt heart rate monitor #Clever
- Bose SoundSport FREE $199/£160 (high audio quality, true wireless)
- Sony WF-1000X $198/£149-199 (high audio quality)
- Jaybird X3 Wireless $120/£100
- Jaybird Run $159/£140
- Bose SoundSport Wireless $199/£180
- Sennheiser PMX 686G Sports $35/£30
- Optoma NuForce BE Sports3 $63/£/Eu54
- Aftershokz Trekz Air $180/£160 – Interesting option that plays through your jawbone not inside your ear. They sound remarkably good.
- JBL Under Armour Sport $120/£100
- LifeBEAM Vi $250/£210
- Apple AirPods $160/£140
Best Running Watch with Music – Music-Related Specs
|Huawei Watch 2||4Gb||Feb-17||Yes||Yes||Yes||420mAh||390x390px||*|
|Samsung Gear Sport||4Gb||Aug-17||No||No||Yes||300mAh||360x360px||*|
|Sony SmartWatch 3 SWR50||4Gb||2014||No||Yes||Yes||420mAh||320x320px||*|
|Apple Watch 3||16Gb||Sep-17||Yes (LTE)||Yes||Yes||279mAh||390x312px||*|
|TomTom Runner 3 Music||3Gb||Sep-16||No||No||Yes||300mAh||144x168px||*|
|Garmin Forerunner 645 Music||4Gb||Jan-18||No||No||Yes||GPS+Music 5 hours||240x240px||*|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music||4Gb||May-18||No||No||Yes||GPS+Music 5 hours||240x240px||TBC|
|New Balance Run IQ||4Gb||Feb-17||No||Yes?||?||410mAh||400x400px||*|
|Motorolla Moto 360 Sport||4Gb||Sep-15||No||No||Yes||300mAh||360x325px||*|
* Links to source of specs
Summary & Recommendations
Running with ONBOARD music in 2019-20 will have some great options available to you. However, this sector of sports technology is at a stage of relative infancy; meaning better options will continually emerge over the coming years.
The basic interfaces to playback your music are there and generally work well ie connectivity and decent headphones.
But the depth of music functionality on the watch will improve and must improve.
Other than with Garmin, battery life is not great and may well be an issue for those of you not sufficiently organised to keep your devices charged up.
The rather awesome online music services are likely to have very restricted availability for your country and your chosen watch vendor. Most of you will be either forced to synchronise from your computer-based music library or switch to either Apple Music or Google Play Music. Sad…but true; at least for now.
True over-the-air streaming is in its infancy. Again, on-watch technology will improve in this area up to and beyond 2020.
Let’s cut-to-the-chase with some straightforward recommendations:
- Cost: Go for the latest incarnation of the Amazfit STRATOS;
- Top Running & Sporting functions: Go for the Garmin Forerunner 945/245/645 Music but the Stratos is feature-packed too;
- Best for running on WearOS – Polar M600;
- Spotify: Garmin Fenix 6; and
- Streaming Music: I find it hard to make a recommendation here but consider the Apple Watch 5 LTE
Round up: I hope you found this interesting. If the post becomes popular and/or if you add info below I will update it.
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