Best Running Watch 2019 🥇 Top 10 | Guide Recommend & Compare

Best Running Watch – Recommendations For the Top GPS Sports Watches

The Best Running Watch for 2019 (updated 17 Nov 2019) is covered here for each category of runner and is supported by links to detailed, hands-on reviews. This guide will be updated periodically as new running watches are announced throughout 2020 and this is now a final version for 2019. Here are the winners with FULL details and links to DETAILED REVIEWS further below.

  • Winner - RUN SCIENTIST – Garmin Forerunner 945 - 95%
    95%
  • Winner ADVENTURE RUNNER - Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Sapphire - 90%
    90%
  • Winner ENTERTAINED RUNNER - Garmin Forerunner 245 - 90%
    90%
  • Winner ASPIRATIONAL RUNNER - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Winner ACCURATE RUNNER - Suunto 5 - 90%
    90%
  • Winner COOL RUNNER - Apple Watch 5 (Five) - 90%
    90%
  • Winner RUNNERS' RUNNER - Polar Vantage M - 95%
    95%
  • Winner STUDENT RUNNER - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Winner NAVIGATION for a RUNNER - Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar - 95%
    95%
  • WEAR OS WATCH for a RUNNER - No Overall Winner - 1%
    1%
  • Merit OPTICAL HR WATCH for a RUNNER - Garmin ELEVATE on the Garmin 245 - 85%
    85%
  • Winner SPORTS/FTNESS/SMART WATCH for a RUNNER - Apple Watch 4 (Four) - 95%
    95%
  • CONNECTED GPS on a WATCH for a RUNNER - No Overall Winner - 1%
    1%
  • Best Garmin Running Watch - Garmin 245 (or newer: 945, Fenix 6) - 90%
    90%
  • Best Polar Running Watch - Polar Vantage V Titan - 90%
    90%
  • Best Cheap Running Watch - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Best Mid-Priced Running Watch - Polar Vantage M - 95%
    95%
  • Best Premium-Priced Running Watch - Fenix 6/945 or Vantage V - 95%
    95%
  • Best Luxury Running Watch - Garmin Marq Athlete - 95%
    95%
81%

A Best Running Watch for which kind of runner?

These recommendations look at Best Running Watches from £/$100 upwards, not smartphone apps. The Runtastic, STRAVA or Nike apps are as good as any if you want to go down that route. I will also exclude some ‘smart’ watches that you could run with but which are a bit rubbish.

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

Garmin Vivoactive 3, Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch

 

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Features of the Best Running Watch

To train well you will probably consider distance, time speed/pace and heart rate and “effort”. The 2 key features you should look for are:

  • GPS-based pace & distance
  • Heart Rate support

Watches with those 2 features will USUALLY have most of the regular bells and whistle that you might also want such as ‘laps’ or alerts.

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

Forerunner 245

Other key features include

  • Footpod support (eg STRYD) or internal accelerometer-based speed eg for cadence or more accurate pace info when running indoors or outdoors
  • Durability for running in more extreme environments eg fells or getting wet
  • Optical heart rate for those unable or unwilling to wear a chest strap
  • Workouts and Intervals – ability to follow a structured workout plan of some sort
  • Aesthetics
  • Connectivity to apps, sensors and wifi
  • Running Power – probably for more serious runners.

The Best Running Watch for a RUN SCIENTIST – Garmin Forerunner 945

The Garmin Forerunner 945 (Review) can do pretty much everything a running watch needs to do. It works well and still looks cool.  It’s really a pro-tri-watch (FWIW: I use one).

It will give you all the racing, pacing and run training features you will likely ever need. You can use it to follow a certain pace or follow a previous race performance. No other, non-Garmin, running watch has as many features.

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

 

Naturally, all the ‘old hat’ stuff like advanced running dynamics are included as well as the latest Firstbeat physiological metrics…WAY more than just VO2max.

It’s got acceptable GPS and you can run with it on a treadmill without the need for an external footpod although you are advised to get one.

It will link and sync to your phone, it has an awesome battery life to take you right through even the slowest Ironman.

Garmin’s app and online ecosystem (Garmin Connect) are good but not the best.

Comments: The Forerunner 945 contains pretty much every Garmin running feature. It is expensive and only has a few additional features over and above those on the Garmin Forerunner 645. The 645 has questionable looks; questionable GPS; and a battery life that’s not as good as the 945. On the other hand, the smaller format of the 645 is IDEAL for thinner wrists and the optional MUSIC variant; super cool if you also want music or Payments on a high spec watch…but the 945 has that too.

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Garmin Forerunner 645 Review
ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Garmin Forerunner 945 Review

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The Best Running Watch for an ENTERTAINED RUNNER – Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

Polar M600, Mobvoi Ticwatch S, Garmin 645M, TomTom Runner 3 Music

This category looks at the ability to either play music ON the watch *or* play music that is streamed live an online service via an inbuilt cellular connection. There are more contenders than you might think including WearOS watches, Garmin 645M, Garmin 245M, Garmin Vivoactive 3M/4/Venu, Apple Watch 3/4/5, Samsung, Amazfit Stratos, TomTom’s Runner 3 and more. If you want to play your MP3 tracks then all the watches that support music will work fine BUT if you want to connect to your existing online music service such as SPOTIFY then your choices become VERY limited VERY quickly – that’s where Garmin wins big time and support your own MP3s, Spotify, Amazon Music & Deezer (with more services to come)

Running with Music is a complex subject so there is a long and separate link below on that topic. The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is probably the best entry-level option and the  Apple Watch 4/5 LTE would be for those who specifically want to stream over a cellular connection.

▷ Best Running Watch with Music 2019 | Top 10 Guide

The Best Running Watch for a RUNNERS’ RUNNER – Polar Vantage M

This is supposed to be an award for more of an old school watch. However, it’s morphed into an award for a watch that is not pretending to be anything other than what it is designed to be. The Vantage M is a running watch…for, ahem, runners. It just happens to be a PROPER triathlon watch as well (I used one for racing in 2019)

The Vantage M is cheaper than the Vantage V but has very similar components and software inside. However, the Vantage M seems to make the GPS and oHR work better than on the V model.

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Polar Vantage M

The only downside of the Vantage M is the lack of audible alerts, although can just about here the vibration alert instead.

The Best Running Watch for an ACCURATE RUNNER – Suunto 5

The Accurate Runner wants accuracy. You would have thought that this might cover many sports watches but in fact, you would be wrong. You might assume that more expensive watches are more accurate; again you would be wrong.

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation ComparisonsBy accuracy we mean the accuracy of the onboard sensors and this is mostly HEART RATE, GPS (GNSS) and CADENCE and, to a lesser extent. altimeters and temperature sensors.

Optical heart rate is mostly inaccurate, much of the time. Sometimes the odd device surfaces that bucks the trend.

As well as your training conditions, oHR accuracy depends on YOU and how you wear and use the watch

GPS/GNSS sensors provide information for how fast and how far you have run. When looking at how fast you are running at any given instant, surprisingly, ALL RUNNING WATCHES are inaccurate MUCH of the time.

Generally, Polar and Suunto have the most accurate GPS/GNSS. Polar’s best GPS-performer is the V800 but that’s an old tri watch and does not have oHR. This leaves us with the SUUNTO 5 which is well-priced and also has oHR. That’s the winner.

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The Best Running Watch for an ADVENTURE RUNNER – Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Sapphire

 

Garmin Fenix 5S Plus ReviewGarmin’s Fenix 5X Plus (Review here) or the Fenix 6X (reviewed here) are the clear winners in this category, both with reservations. They have the PROPER inbuilt maps that no other proper running watch has for this category. The Fenix 5+/6 series have oodles of extra functions but, as an adventurer, you will need very, very few of those features.

You will likely get better altimetry functionality and performance and better GPS functionality and performance in CHEAPER, more established watches that also have weather alerts – albeit marginally so.

For the adventure runner, the main problem with the Fenix 3, 5, 5s, 6s (not 5X, 6, 6X) and the Suuntos is that they don’t contain a ‘proper’ map. For a ‘proper’, map-based solution you might instead consider the paper version, an app on your mobile phone or a specialist outdoor navigational unit.

I can recommend the 5X Plus but I’ve just edged towards adding in the newer 6X Pro Sapphire (I’ve never looked at the Solar myself). I think you will still get a few minor bug until around March 2020. So if your adventurous life depends on your watch go for the 5X Plus but that Christmas present for 2019 has to now be the 6X Pro and if you are spending all that money a little extra on an extra hard lens is a sensible move too.

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Garmin Fenix 6 Review (6 series)

 

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The Best Running Watch for an ASPIRATIONAL RUNNER – Sigma iD.TRI

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

Sigma has taken over where TomTom left off at the budget end of the market. Sigma has a great offering in a square-face format. Either the iD.FREE or id.TRI will suffice, they are very similar.

Despite the CHEAP price ($110/£130ish) they are VERY WELL FUNCTIONED and easy to use. The aesthetics may not be to everyone’s liking but they will be great for a beginner runner and also will still be great for the same runner two or three or more years down the line.

The iD.TRI should do all the running-related stuff you need but it’s not going to have much of the smart functionality or stuff that looks properly at sleep patterns and the like.

Garmin’s budget offering is the Forerunner 45 and 45S (small version). But they are a bit over-priced. Although having said that each DOES give you a few more smart features over and above the core running stuff.

Polar’s budget offering is the Vantage M. This is a GREAT watch and HIGHLY competent. It has some smarts but focusses its extra clever stuff on things like sleep analysis and the AWESOME Polar FLOW ecosystem. Go for the Polar if you can afford it if you can’t justify the price tag (it’s not THAT expensive) then revert to the Sigma.

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Sigma iD.TRI

The Best Running Watch for a COOL RUNNER – Apple Watch 4/5

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons
Version 4 of the Apple Watch has new innards and they are pretty competent when it comes to sports – it has the same internals as the AW 5 but maybe it’s best to save yourself some money and stick with the Watch 4?

Couple decent sensors with a decent app, of which there are many, then the Apple Watch 4 is the obvious choice for those of you who want a degree of sporting competence but, above that, a cool watch that you can wear 24×7.

Naturally, if you want a SMART watch then this baby has SMARTs-galore.

The Apple Watch 3 is well-priced but the internal sensors are not as good.

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Apple Watch 4 Review

The Best Running Watch for a STUDENT RUNNER – Sigma iD.FREE

We’ve all been there even as memories of those heady days fade. Money is tight, we remember that too.

You want something that works, maybe last year’s model could well be in the sale. You know that a second-hand sports watch is a risky endeavour, so you have the insight to avoid that.

The obvious choice to me is the Sigma iD.FREE. It’s inexpensive and very well-functioned.

Best Running Watch Guide Review, Recommendation Comparisons

For a ‘known brand,’ you’d bee looking for a Polar M430 in the sale or a Garmin 235 in the sale. Make sure you don’t get second-hand/refurbished ones.

ESSENTIAL READING REVIEW: Sigma id.TRI

Check Sigma id.TRI / id.FREE prices HERE

The Best Running Watch for a POWER RUNNER – Suunto 5

Suunto 5 Review

The Power Runner just wants to be able to run with Power and that can be either from STRYD (which is compatible with MANY watches), or a high-end Garmin Baro watch plus HRM-TRI or natively on a Polar Vantage.

Using the native power of the Garmin (with Garmin Running Power) or Polar Vantage is cheaper but I’m not convinced at all by their accuracy.

So that only leaves something compatible with STRYD and my personal favourite there would be the cheaper Vantage M. But its lack of a wide range of power metrics means that I guess I’m going to have to go with the Suunto 5. Although its screen is not as good as the Vantage.

You could also go for STRYD plus a cheap Garmin like the 235 but I’m assuming you won’t buy a cheap watch and an expensive pod.

The Garmin 235 is a fine choice for the power runner but it is about to be replaced by the Forerunner 245. However, its CIQ/app systems are NOT going to be updated so Suunto 5 is the winner. The Suunto 5 is further supported in its win by its impressive range of features that the POWER RUNNER is likely to also be interested in.

HEADS UP: There is a STRYD app for Apple’s WatchOS. And it’s surprisingly cool.

The Best Running Watch for Navigation – Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar

Garmin fenix 6 review specifications

REVIEW: Garmin Fenix 6 Review

The problem is the maps. Sort-of important for navigation, I’ve heard. If you want navigation then it might be easier to use your car’s satnav, a paper map or a top-end cycling computer! But if you REALLY MUST squeeze a map onto a tiny watch that you can’t read then it has to be the Garmin Fenix 6. The 6/6X is bigger than the 5/5+/6s so get one of those.

You could get a WearOS watch but the battery life will be MASSIVELY impacted by navigating and navigating with a MAP on-screen. You could use a Wear OS watch for Geocaching but perhaps not for scaling Everest.

Casio Pro Trek Smart Review WSD-F30

The WearOS-based Casio WSD-F30 or WSD-F21 could be an interesting consideration but battery life will be a perennial issue with those two.

Check latest Garmin prices at a range of LOCAL retailers

 

 

 

The Best Running Watch for Wear OS

Wear OS watches have super-close links to Android smartphone, just like the Apple Watch meshes to the iPhone. They all have very similar AND IMPRESSIVE software functionalities but the quality of the hardware and the design of the watches varies considerably. As of November 2019, they all have battery-life ‘issues’.

As 2020 progresses, I might work my way through them all to see which I can recommend other than the Polar M600, although even that ‘recommendation’ is now somewhat jaded by time. The most likely contender seems to be the LG Watch or Huawei Watch GT. The Ticwatch S2 is super-cheap but its cheap for a reason

No recommendation as yet for WearOS (Dec 2019).

The BEST RUNNING WATCH with  Optical HR

I’ve never made an award in this category. For the first time though it looks like Garmin’s ELEVATE v3 sensor is the one that works best for me for running.

This is best found in the Garmin 245 Reviewed here but also in all of Garmin’s watches announced in 2019 including the Fenix 6 and Forerunner 945.

The BEST RUNNING WATCH that is a Smart Fitness/Sports Running Watch

Apple Watch 4 Review Nike 44mmThe ‘fitness watch’ or the ‘sports’ watch is not a pure running watch. Sure you can still run with them. Sure they are watches. And yes I know more people will buy those watches than the entirety of the other categories put together!

It’s just that running with them is not the primary purpose and you will most likely encounter several annoying sporting features of the ‘smart’ watch when running with it. Maybe it might lack a lap button or have too short a battery life or too inaccurate an optical HR.

The 3 main/best/well-known watches in this category are the Apple Watch 4/5, the Garmin Vivoactive 4/Venu and the Fitbit Ionic/Versa 2 (reviewed here). Looks and brand image will play a BIG part in your purchase of one of these. You can ‘just run’ with any of them…they WILL all be broadly ‘fine’

The Apple will be the one that you buy if you like Apple. The Fitbit will be the one you buy if you like Fitbit. The Garmin may be a bit of a hedge as it is the most sportingly-competent of the 3.

As much as I may have a degree of personal antipathy towards Apple’s monopolistic tendencies and unwillingness to pay morally-due taxes, their Watch is the best Smart Fitness/Sports running watch. It’s expensive and the battery life isn’t great BUT all the smart stuff on it generally works. Its apps are app-tastically large in numbers compared to the competition.

Hey. The winner is the Apple Watch 4…or 5

BEST RUNNING WATCH that has no GPS or has Connected GPS

Suunto Fitness 3 ReviewThis is an unusual category dating back to 2009ish. I suspect that few people specifically WANT a watch with no GPS or one that relies on the presence of your smartphone for GPS.

Maybe you want an indoor watch for gym, classes and treadmill work but still, want to monitor your heart rate? Fair enough.

Suunto recently announced their Suunto 3 Fitness watch with optical HR. That is worth a look. At a Eu/£/$160 (lower in sales), you might want to look very carefully. Its selling point is clever adaptive training from Firstbeat. It tells you which run you need to do every day.

Fitbit recently released the Versa 2. Again, no GPS on the watch. Both the Suunto 3 Fitness and the Fitbit Versa take connected GPS from your smartphone. The Versa looks a bit like the Apple Watch but, err, isn’t. By a long way. With the much cheaper Apple Watch 3 (three) now available at VERY GOOD prices maybe that’s worth a pop?

The Best Running Watch that’s CHEAP

If you want a price-based recommendation then the Sigma iD.FREE is the best, cheap running watch.

Check Sigma id.TRI / id.FREE prices HERE

The Best Mid-Priced Running Watch

Polar Vantage M is the best mid-priced running watch.

The Best Premium-Priced Running Watch

Either the Garmin Fenix 6 or Polar Vantage V is the best sensibly-expensive running watch

Check latest Garmin prices at a range of LOCAL retailers

 

 

 

The Best Luxury Running Watch

The Garmin MARQ ATHLETE is the best near-luxury running watch (BTW: I’ve never used one)

Check latest Garmin prices at a range of LOCAL retailers

 

 

 

THE BEST RUNNING WATCH OF THE FUTURE

The Best Running Watch, in the future, is likely to get smarter and be more Apple Watch-like

2020 will see yet more running watches from Garmin, Polar, Suunto, Apple, Samsung and just about everyone else…except maybe Fitbit who have been bought by Google.

DISCOUNTS FOR THE BEST RUNNING WATCH

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  • Winner - RUN SCIENTIST – Garmin Forerunner 945 - 95%
    95%
  • Winner ADVENTURE RUNNER - Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Sapphire - 90%
    90%
  • Winner ENTERTAINED RUNNER - Garmin Forerunner 245 - 90%
    90%
  • Winner ASPIRATIONAL RUNNER - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Winner ACCURATE RUNNER - Suunto 5 - 90%
    90%
  • Winner COOL RUNNER - Apple Watch 5 (Five) - 90%
    90%
  • Winner RUNNERS' RUNNER - Polar Vantage M - 95%
    95%
  • Winner STUDENT RUNNER - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Winner NAVIGATION for a RUNNER - Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar - 95%
    95%
  • WEAR OS WATCH for a RUNNER - No Overall Winner - 1%
    1%
  • Merit OPTICAL HR WATCH for a RUNNER - Garmin ELEVATE on the Garmin 245 - 85%
    85%
  • Winner SPORTS/FTNESS/SMART WATCH for a RUNNER - Apple Watch 4 (Four) - 95%
    95%
  • CONNECTED GPS on a WATCH for a RUNNER - No Overall Winner - 1%
    1%
  • Best Garmin Running Watch - Garmin 245 (or newer: 945, Fenix 6) - 90%
    90%
  • Best Polar Running Watch - Polar Vantage V Titan - 90%
    90%
  • Best Cheap Running Watch - Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
    85%
  • Best Mid-Priced Running Watch - Polar Vantage M - 95%
    95%
  • Best Premium-Priced Running Watch - Fenix 6/945 or Vantage V - 95%
    95%
  • Best Luxury Running Watch - Garmin Marq Athlete - 95%
    95%
81%

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7 thoughts on “Best Running Watch 2019 🥇 Top 10 | Guide Recommend & Compare

  1. It’s a little odd that the Forerunner 945 is your choice for “Run Scientist” but you feel that the Fenix 6 series is not ready for prime time. The features across those lines have converged now so there is not really any practical difference between a fenix 6 Pro and a Forerunner 945 other than the more rugged case and larger display of the f6 Pro.

    I get your argument about the stability of the fenix 6 series, but the new power management features cribbed from Suunto and just the baseline battery life of the fenix 6X is so massive that it is in its a whole different species. It’s nearly double usable GPS battery life of the 5X Plus. That means if you are contemplating a 100k adventure race or longer the clear choices are either the f6X or the Suunto 9. And as you described the fenix 6X has superior navigation.

    As a practical matter, I have had zero defects in the run recording and navigation capability of the f6X over the last 6 weeks or so. All of the bugs are related to less critical things like music service downloads over wifi, bluetooth sync, not-smooth altitude graph recording. Those things are buggy but they are being addressed systematically.

    I don’t have a problem trusting the f6X for an adventure race at this point. I’m going to use it for an unmarked technical SkyRun Ultra 56km race in December that requires navigating by GPS.

    • good luck on the race.
      let me know if you get around in one piece and I’ll change the recommendation 😉

      by coincidence, a comment has appeared against my fenix 6 review listing some current bugs including losing the workout

      • Will do.

        I don’t like to hear someone lost data completely. I’ve never had that happen on a Garmin watch even in a rare UI freeze or crash and restart. I wonder what the confluence of circumstances actually was?

        FWIW, race configuration:

        – custom power profile
        – music off
        – phone off
        – pulse oximeter off
        – accessories off

        Also in “Trail Race” (copy of Trail Run):

        – no ConnectIQ fields (trust me, I have tried it, Stryd is useless in this scenario anyway)
        – autoclimb off

        Less stuff enabled is less to go wrong. And, BTW, it projects 70 hours, even without disabling GLONAS. 🤯

        I will however carry a cell phone in flight mode with a backup GPS navigation app. And a personal inReach mini. The race puts a Spot transponder on every runner but last year mine stopped working.

      • 6X with 5.00 firmware performed flawlessly. It had about a 50% reserve power at the finish. Actual power consumption using mostly the TOPO map navigation screen was roughly half of the 64 hours it projected at the start.

        Friends with f5X and f5 plus had their batteries die before the finish. Those guys were not too pleased to have to finish the last few km navigating by GaiaGPS or Garmin Explore on their smartphones.

        A friend with a Coros also had 50% power reserve and was happy.

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