archive ❌ Best Running Watch 2020-21 Garmin, Apple, Fitbit, Polar

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I have to question your judgement a bit… SSU more pretty than the F3 or F3HR or coming 5 series?… come on. ? I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but fact is with changeable bands like Ti or SS or leather the Fenix looks like a “real” suit watch. SSU looks like a Ugly sportswatch…and I’m from Suuntos home country…I should be Polar and Suunto biased. But as long as they keep making ugly sports watches with ugly strap and exterior designs… I will rock my f3hr and maby f5x one day ?

…now a working Black Ti SSU with whr and changeable bands (leather and Ti …hex screws) might intrest me…if that day comes.


It’s all play and games bantering…until someon takes out the swords ?? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you for thinking the SSU is pretty…but saying it is prettier than the f3?…bold move ? I did rock the original TT multisport cardio for a year (only in the most business-business occasions did it come off). But that was and is still in my opinnion an ugly watch…also Had the Polar F70…also ugly. Before the f3hr came the 235…an improvement but looked way too much like a sports watch in my opinnion. I can kind of “get” that some get a kick of sporty-sporty design. But me, if I am paying the (lets be honest here) ridiculous sums asked for SSU or F3hr(when it came out) or the F5… I expect there to be choice. Choice for sporty-sporty or classic-elegant. I am sporty, but I am more of a conservative in the manner that I like a Bentley more than a Lamborghini. With the f3 and f5 series the user can choose Silicon, Titanium, Leather or Stainless Steel…to their taste. I just can not get my head around why Suunto (except for Traverse) and Polar simply refuse to give the… Read more »


Let me say a good word about the Epson SF810, doesn’t appear to have caught on but after 15 months use I can say that it ticks most of the boxes. It finds the GPS signal quickly, usually in less than 30 seconds, very occasionally it will take a minute. The signal has never dropped. My first experience of a GPS watch was a second-hand Forerunner and that was terrible in this respect, very often 5 minutes for a fix and dropping even 2 or 3 times during a run at least once a month. The GPS is usually very accurate, occasionally there is a slight discrepancy but we are talking about 1% in the worst case scenario and usually a lot less. The HRM seems to be fairly accurate provided the watch strap is worn tightly enough, this is my impression anyway. Working the settings and various functions is not the easiest thing or rather it needs a bit of practice before you get the hang of it although there are plenty of features. This is the only thing that lets the watch down a little bit, the software is not the best and the Run Connect site could… Read more »


wow. all these put together, i think its realy the best


You kinda didn’t mention battery life there. It’s nice to charge your device once every 2 weeks. That’s what I do with my 5x. I run 25 miles a week, 3 runs a week plus use it as my daily watch in the office and it lasts for 2 full weeks. From what you wrote in your SST preview it only last couple of days, that’s a huge difference.

Also 5X doesn’t have any connectivity issues of Fenix 5, it just works. It’s bulky, it’s expensive but it works.



My unit must be defective then 😉
GPS works fine, it tracks my run pretty accurately, i dont really use oHR but my short tests show that it’s better than 3HR I had before. Altimeter – not sure as I don’t really use it that much but elevation gain data for my runs seems on par with everyone else using different watches.

Maybe give it another go on a new firmware 😉


I check your google sheet file with GPS test results sometimes and I noticed that you have tested 5X in GPS only mode. When you were testing 935 you did both: just GPS and GPS+GLONASS and there was a big difference in favor of GPS+ GLONASS. Pretty sure it’s the same case with 5X plus there is a new software now also.

Just test it again on new software and in GPS+GLONASS mode and maybe you’ll like it 😉

Brian Reiter

I would use a fenix 5X with GPS-only. It uses less power and seems much more accurate in real life. The worst GPS fail of my life in a race was f5X GPS+GLONASS.

It was a XC race that looked like a crayon scribble after it was over. And two other mates with fenix 3/5 and GLONASS enabled had the same crazy malfunction that same day. There is clearly something less than optimal with Garmin’s implementation of the MediaTek chipset and GLONASS.

I tried Galileo and GLONASS in the fenix 5X and I never saw any advantages. Only increased power drain and equivalent or worse GNSS accuracy to plain GPS.

I think there is a reason that GPS-only is the default. The only scenario where you should try GLONASS or Galileo is if you live in a major city with tall building and have trouble with GPS reflections. You might have better luck using the alternative configurations in that scenario.


There’s a cracking good deal atm on the fenix 5x Sapphire where I live. I’m tempted but I keep reading about fenix 5 issues with the GPS and a cracking HR sensor. I’m wondering if I should wait for a sale on one fo the Fenix 6 models instead. I don’t mind old gen, I do mind hardware issues.

tfk, the5krunner

I don’t recommend the Fenix 5.
5 Plus is OK as is 6.


Given the August update to your recommendation list, what do you think is a better watch for a new but committed runner?

Polar M430 or Garmin FR235?

Given a new M430 and refurb 235 are a similar price, but one is new and one older. One is BLE, one ANT+.


Do you think the VA3 will have improvements in GPS accuracy? Will it be good fo hiking and gym work or is the Suunto Spartan Trainer better?


I just want a watch to track my daily activities, my hikes, and the work outs I do at the gym.

Laurence Everitt

I’ve just bought the Spartan Ultra and tested it against my Ambit3 Run, the gps track was terrible compared to my Ambit. This was with the latest update 1.9. Maybe I have a faulty unit, wish I could confirm that somehow.

Accuracy should be the main selling point of a gps watch, I know gps is only accurate +/- 5 meters, but a watch in 2017 should be better than and old watch like the Ambit.

Right now it seems to be, fill the watch with everything and forget about what it’s suppose to be.

tfk, the5krunner

make sure you have a correct satellite fix and have the a-gps (google it)
I found the ULTRA ok with the GPS but I found he SPORT and TRAINER as one of the best GPS.
gps should be +/- 5m as you say. same 5 years ago!!

Laurence Everitt

Thanks Duathlon. Do you mean, leave it on in training mode a while before running, never had a problem with the Ambit3 Run, so not sure what you mean.
May return it and get the Sport or Trainer.

Laurence Everitt

Quick update on gps track with my Spartan. Followed your instructions, but could only leave watch 15mins before starting run. Result: tracks were as good as my Ambit3, so I’m happy.

One thing i did notice though, the Spartan wouln’t sync my HR belt after it had started the move. Unlike the Ambit which will, I know this because I’ve had a few races when the belt couldn’t be found on the start line, then once into the run it picks it up.

Hope I don’t have to do that procedure all the time though, would be difficult at a trail event.


tfk, the5krunner

belt pick up.
that MIGHT be a known bug due to be fixedin next release. read something similar about ultra earlier today

Laurence Everitt

Must be a bug I suppose. Well… another run done, sync’d watch before run. This Spartan Ultra is very inconsistent with gps tracking, some parts excellent – other parts terrible. I think it’s a return job.


Hi, do you think the 645 will include the Galileo technology, or you know if there is future release that will use the three technologies (GPS+GLONASS+GALILEO)


tfk, the5krunner

yes i would expect that the chip will be galileo compatible.
quite a few previous garmin and other brand devices have compatability of the chip.
the issue comes in whether or not that capability is used.
i am pretty sure that, at least not for a while, the 645 will NOT use galileo for positioning. i suspect that will come first on the F5. *IF* there is an F5plus in the next few weeks/months then THAT will set the direction for galileo


For the Adventurer / Ultra-Runner / Navigation, I seriously recommend a handheld, and based on my experience, the etrex 30x (although I haven’t tried a variety of options).

+ Rugged (water resistant)
+ full support for offline maps with navigation
+ 25 hours on 2 AA batteries (replaceable for multi days adventures/ultramarathon)
+ Small enough to fit in a chest pocket
+ Connects to Ant+ devices
+ Costs just over a third of a Fenix 5x

– Not a watch

The biggest advantage over a Fenix 5x would be the replaceable batteries.

tfk, the5krunner

ty for that.
I have never looked at the foretrex/etrex products.

Brian Reiter

I disagree. It’s no fun to run with an eTrex. They are big and heavy and clunky. It’s a mission to manage a handheld and poles. And maybe the ones I have used are old but they didn’t get anything like that kind of battery life for continuous navigation — only a fraction of what you described in my experience. Adventure races I have been in require you to have a GPS with navigation (such as a Garmin or Suunto watch) and a backup GPS and a smart phone in flight mode (and sometimes a Spot beacon). The smart phone can serve as the backup navigation device with an app like GaiaGPS or Garmin Explore. I feel like carrying a smart phone and an eTrex is redundant gear to schlep. On the other hand, I’m not convinced the actual maps in the fenix 5X and later are a huge improvement over the ubiquitous “breadcrumb” system they replaced in actual wilderness trail running where there are few to nomarked trails and roads in the map data. The TOPO lines and rivers can be somewhat helpful to orient yourself, but not a huge deal. On the other hand, the map screen is… Read more »


I just want a watch to track my monthly activities, my hikes, and the work outs I do at the office

tfk, the5krunner

those criteria are easily met by very many sports watches.

tfk, the5krunner

This is the first post that is INITIALLY only available to SUPPORTERS of the blog. It will be publically available in a couple of days. It’s a looooong post.


I am not able to see the post.

John Kissane

I listen to podcasts running & was tempted by the 645m but getting stuff onto it seems like a pita whereas my ancient galaxy s3 syncs everything up nicely over wifi everytime I turn it on & is fairly compact unlike newer phones.
Think it was the right choice going with the non-music 645 as read about lots of hangs/reboots in the garmin forum from people with the fanicer version. What’s that they say about never buying the first generation of anything 🙂

tfk, the5krunner

ha! I spent 90 minutes on the phone yesterday to Garmin with a hung 645…managed to recvover it tho. I actually quite like the music playback I suppose.
anything in a windows folder ON YOUR PC (not network grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) can transfer easily enough.


I understand the recommendation of the Fenix 3, but an important downside for some people is that they are limited in the Garmin app store to datafields that support 16kB. While the newer Garmin watches support 32kB. Though that 32kB is in reality 28kB, it is still a big leap in functionality. Just compare my Datarun and Datarun-plus datafields for the Fenix 3 and Fenix 5/FR935/FR735xt. It isn’t even possible to release Datarun plus for the Fenix 3.

tfk, the5krunner

even the newer watches are limited to 2x datafields i beleive

Brian Reiter

The limit of 2 ConnectIQ data fields per activity is still there in the latest and greatest.

I would also point out that the proprietary C#-like MonkeyC language that ConnectIQ is based on seems to be an virtual machine interpreter and anything ConnectIQ causes a noticeable hit to battery performance that you do not find with the native code, built-in watch faces, widgets, data fields, and apps. ConnectIQ memory and batter efficiency problems relative to native become obvious with things like watch faces which struggle to fit anti-aliased hands and a second hand into the memory limits while drastically curtailing battery life. (As an aside, I’m sure this is a big part of why Apple doesn’t allow people to create watch faces.) And despite being a virtual machine ConnectIQ things can sometimes destabilize or crash your watch.

ConnectIQ: cool but flawed. Use sparingly.


I am using self made watchfaces and datafields on my fr935 with no impact in battery life – but you need to work hard to take care about memory footprint and speedness when creating IQ apps.
My approach was to create my own tools controlling the editor, compiler, simulator, editing fonts, check code speed,…


@Puffolino I used GearMin on my FR935 (and my old F3HR) for years and had zero issues. The Dev came back and enabled it for the 945, battery life was a disaster. I have moved on from Garmin to the Apex Pro and Gasp! I’m not using it as an Ultra Runner. I am also on day 10 since I’ve charged it and that includes: (2) hour-long runs with GPS+Glonass enabled with an H10 chest strap AND the Coros Running Pod used (6) 45 min to hour-long “Gym Cardio” (It’s the catch-all activity of gym work whether weights were used or if it was cardio or HIIT) Also with the H10 used. The backlight on all the time, 1s HR tracking for activity, basically I have everything the watch can run going at full-power And dare I say it, the Watch Faces Coros offers are better than anything I’ve seen on Garmin? There are things I’d like to see Coros do that Garmin offers (better internal control of activity options, A few more widgets, STRYD SUPPORT!!) but the biggest one is more connections to 3rd party apps. Other than that, I’ve used the watch for two months and have charged… Read more »


Need a device for sprinting, short sprints of 25/50/100m , during my hey days I do struggle with 800m ! So, definitely not a marathoner,. I mean really fast something like 35-40km/hr range in short sprints ! Any suggestions ?

tfk, the5krunner

You need a decent footpod to accurately display such speeds. You will still have several seconds delay with a footpod. Even stryd, from memory, has a 3 second smoothed average, so you would not know (or record) peak speed.

However I question whether or not you will be looking at your watch when you are sprinting. so instead are you trying to record accurate HR? if so, anything that uses a chest strap will be fine. but even then over less than 100m your HR will potentially not be going up by that much to make what is recorded of any subsequent use.
polar m430, garmin 645, suunto trainer

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Thorough and interesting article. You missed one other option for running with music — bluetooth earbuds with built in music storage. I currently use the Samsung IconX 2018 — they’re designed for sports, don’t fall out and I can have 4Gigs in each earbud. They don’t need to be tethered to watch, so I save the battery on my watch. I do run with a Polar M600, which was good for playing music from the watch (though I hated the Google Music app; did a workaround with WearMedia app to load music onto watch), but with my earbuds I no longer need to do this.

tfk, the5krunner

i had come across the iconx but you are right they are not for this article. Best Running **WATCH**

maybe i’ll do somthing with earbuds another time. as it happens i’m playing with some Jabra sport pulse earbuds right now (think i’ve broken them) they take HR readings in the ear which is cool (old pair, am trying to get them to work with the sTRATOS)

actually in seriousness i probably have missed some watches that do music….pls anyone else let me know. i’ll add them in and WILL do some more work on some of them. maybe this can become the Running Watch With Music Bible


I like the AW3 (LTE version) as secondary device on my other wrist – for music and optional emergency call as I don’t like to take my phone with me. Also not too bad (read: quite good) is the built-in map feature for navigation in unknown terrain.


all these are some of the good running watches available in the market


I own the TomTom Spark 2 and can tell you that the SW on the device was its achilles heel. As you say, the interface for music is utilitarian but passable. However, that was only AFTER they made FW upgrades in support of the Spark 3. Prior to that it was a hot mess, missing basic controls that had been available in MP3 players for more than a decade. Loading music was difficult and you couldn’t even control the watch music with the watch, you had to own headsets that could control the music. Plus, they had immense trouble with the BT pairing (to phones as well as headsets). IMO, it missed because for an “enthusiast” watch, you had to have a PhD to get it to work. It missed as a “competitive” watch because they dumbed down many elements to make it “easier” for the enthusiast. One example was manual splits, you had to use the touch screen (which was flaky when wet – due to rain or sweat) and then it showed you pace vs. the actual split time. You couldn’t see your actual split time on the phone app either, you had to go to the website.… Read more »


Very unbiased article indeed. Absolutely no mention whatsoever about a plethora of android 5/7 smartwatches with all the basic features (including wrist HR, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, whatever), some of which even IPX67, 16 GB internal storage (around 12 GB actually free and usable), SIM card (including LTE), 400x400px touchscreen, where you can run nearly any android (not android wear but a real android) app including all kinds of music playing or music streaming apps while at the same time having all kinds of your usual sport/navigation/tracking/maps/etc apps running simultaneously, all of which with the battery that supports all of this running at the same time for at least 4-5 hours (just internet music streaming 6-10 hours, just smartwatch 24-48 hours etc.). No mention of any of that at all, not a single word. Why is that? Is it because the author is really so incredibly ignorant that he has no clue whatever that any of hundreds of such watches exist? Or is the reason something else, maybe because he is paid to advertise some specific watches and suppress any information about anything else sacrificing his personal integrity (if he ever possessed such thing to begin with)?


Hello!For instant pace best polar m430 o suunto spartan trainer? for the same price which you recommend?.Thank you


Some great reading here that mentions the future of running watches and also watches without gps. Given foot pods are relatively cheap and arguably more accurate than GPS I often wonder why someone doesn’t make a cheaper watch made to only connect with additional sensors. If I want pace/distance I’ll add a pod, if I want HRM I’ll add a strap. Does such a thing exist at a cheaper price than the Apple watch?

makelaar bunde

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Brian Reiter

I’m unsure why Suunto FusedAlti is better than Garmin’s F6-series continuous DEM calibration. FusedAlti uses 3D GPS to recalibrate the altimeter and says it will take 4-12 minutes to find a reference value. It doesn’t say but I assume it only finds the reference values every few minutes to recalibrate the barometric altimeter and they must have some secret sauce for error correction on spurious readings. Garmin basically copies this feature along with the battery manager from Suunto. The Garmin implementation takes 2D GNSS coordinate — which is easier to get — and uses the onboard DEM survey data to look up altitude to calibrate the barometric altimeter. They don’t say but I assume this only happens every so often and there is some secret sauce for dealing with spurious readings or they would just use only use DEM and never bother with the barometer at all. Garmin has had terrible elevation drift issues on barometric models up until the F6 — if you enable continuous calibration during activities (off by default). It’s astonishingly repeatable on hilly roads for me to within 1 meter of elevation on the same course on subsequent weeks. My sense is the reason that Garmin… Read more »

Brian Reiter

I’d love to have someone actually test these two systems side-by-side in the unfavorable conditions you described. I would guess that they perform essentially the same IRL.

But, I would not put it past Garmin to malfunction in an entirely ridiculous way. To be fair, though, I have not had any significant problems with the activity functionality of the f6X at any stage in the past 8 months — only the “frivolous” stuff — and I have pressed my luck with beta firmware a few times.

These days I am doing a lot of treadmill running in my gazebo, so the altimeter is not doing a hellava lot for me.

However the continuous SpO2 monitoring does give me reassurance that I don’t have covid-19. Apparently you can have insanely low blood oxygenation without realizing it in early stages of covid pneumonia.



I see you prefer the vantage V for power based running (with Stryd)….

Can you use structured power based tainings exported from Trainingpeaks somehow on the Vantage?
(or get them into Polar Flow?)

Or how do you do this? 🙂


WizKidz Tech

All of one of the best sensible residence devices above are prime picks within respective classes.


Polar Vantage V or Garmin Forerunner 245?

tfk, the5krunner

Vantage V Titanium for me


too much money for titanium. polar vantage v (standard) has almost the same price as garmin forerunner 245. is there any difference between Polar VV and VV Titanium except titan case?

tfk, the5krunner

case/strap is the only difference


Why would *ANYONE* buy any of these things produced in China?

Suunto. Made in Finland. Buy.

tfk, the5krunner

‘cos they tend to be cheaper.
(not saying i agree or disagree with your statement, just one answer)


Up to you I guess.

If you’re happy recommending tech manufactured in a country which has caused so much pain in recent years – avian ‘flu, SARS, and now our present little virus, to say nothing of the working conditions in their factories – just so Garmin, Polar, et al., can add a few extra $’s to their profits, then knock yourself out.

Personally I’d prefer to read someone who raises his eyes from the glittery ‘features’ or price point on the latest running toy and looks at the wider issues when recommending tech.

And yes, I know that Suunto are just as guilty with certain products. But at least they retain some European manufacturing facilities.

tfk, the5krunner

I am aware of the re-education of minorities like the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, I am aware of issues around IP protection and the changing dominance of the prevailing economic and politicals blocs. I do have strong political views but a tech blog is not the place for them, although I admit to the occasional tweet or sentence slipping out from me on such matters. It’s dangerous ground though, one person’s patriotic views become someone else’s nationalistic views which then slip to Xenophobic views and then onto racism. It’s a slippery that I’d rather take the steps down to avoid.


I am pleased to hear you have a peripheral knowledge of some of the issues relating to the PRC.   

I don’t believe I suggested you should turn your blog into a soapbox for your political views.

I did suggest you give appropriate weight to the country of origin when making your recommendations, in the same way you allow your personal views and findings on the relevance, accuracy and ergonomics of HRM’s to affect your recommendations.

If this is a step too far for you, fine.  At least I know what value I – and others of a similar mind – may allocate to your recommendations.


And, for clarity, I’m a strong supporter of many of the programs currently implemented in the PRC.  But I also believe that when anyone – state or individual – gets things wrong there should be a price to pay. 

Runners / cyclists / triathletes do not exist in a bubble.  We’re part of a community.  And I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to expect those who influence that community take *everything* in the real world into account when making their recommendations.

You don’t have to adopt a political posture to consider recommending appropriate sanctions against the products of a state or organisation which has, for the third time in recent memory, released pathogens into the world.  Pathogens which screw up our training regimes, to say nothing of killing people.  It’s just common sense.

tfk, the5krunner

“You don’t have to adopt a political posture to consider recommending appropriate sanctions against the products of a state or organisation which has, for the third time in recent memory, released pathogens into the world. Pathogens which screw up our training regimes, to say nothing of killing people.” I think the PRC government would not agree with your statement. They would admit the outbreak of cv19 started in wuhan but not that it came from there.
what you are saying is absolutely political. (and I’m not saying that my politics agree or disagree with you, and i’m not saying i agree or disagree with yoru other comments)

I’m just not going to the place you are suggesting.

For sure I agree that the legal process says that proven damages deserve compensation for loss.

Having said that, perhaps someone could include the C.O.O. of these goods. that is a statement of fact (ish) and then the buyer can weight that factor themselves.
although even a product of Finnish COO might only mean that all the parts are made in China and assembled in Finland…globalisation has made things difficult in that regard.


I’ll go no further down the ‘source of pathogen’ rabbit hole.  I’m sure time will reveal all…

I’m confident you’re aware of the legal requirements which have to be met before a manufacturer can mark their product with the country of origin.  I’m happy that they represent a fair picture of the manufacturing input made by that country.

Finally, I wonder who would be in an *ideal* position to inform consumers of a products country of origin prior to them purchasing said product?  Perhaps it would be someone who has the opportunity to access and review these products before or upon general release?  And perhaps it would be as simple as adding a field noting the country of origin to their review?  

Nothing more. No need to get political or judgemental.  Leave that to the consumer.  But use your position to inform so your readers may make an educated choice prior to purchase.

tfk, the5krunner

yes time will tell and that will be after the american elections !
yes i am brodly aware of the requirements you talk about
dcrainmaker is in an ideal pre-eminent market position. good luck with getting him to do what you ask.

who decides WHAT ASPECTS I need to inform my readers on? these are highly complex products. I am pretty certain vastly more buyers of these watches care about cost and, for example, gps accuracy rather than COO. I have decided to exclude COO, I fully support your right to tell me I am wrong…you’ve done it in a nice way which is super-cool and your views here will stay for all to read sa I have ZERO PROBLEM with people commenting on COO if it is improtnat to them #Kudos to you

for what it’s worth, in my personal life I DO care about where my stuff comes from…more than most.


I strongly suspect that DC’s life and income are a little too closely allied to retaining ‘good’ relationships with product suppliers to waste my time asking him to consider something which most suppliers would rather not have a light shone upon. You, OTOH, seem a little less concerned about who you upset.

Anyway, this blog is your game, your rules. Thank you for the courtesy and understanding you’ve demonstrated in our exchange. I wish you and 5krunner blog continued success.

Barry Ward

Are there any running watches being made now that DO NOT have a pulse rate monitor built into the watch itself? I use an external pulse rate monitor that communicates with my old Garmin FR220 ( which will soon require replacement due to battery)

tfk, the5krunner

I’m struggling to think of any. great question.
only one i could think of would be the Lezyne Micro WATCH. It’s essentially a bike computer…but a watch.
edit:failing that i would go back to the suunto spartan (non-ohr versions, which i liked a few years back)


Some time ago, I really wanted a watch with many functions and as I already had it, it turned out that most of the functions are pointless and have no practical use. I bought it and I regret it as in the description these functions are one big linden, do not fall for them.


Would you be inclined to say that ultra runners don’t like the downsides with UltraTrac, or is it more a matter of most users not wanting to optimize settings in general?

John Kissane

Still getting to grips with a new 945 to replace a 645. I was interested to see if the WHR was any better but hadn’t realised I had tie it almost ligature tight to get a reasonable reading! My first easy run ended up with an average HR above my max meaning the watch wants me to rest for days on end & all recommended workouts just say rest. Hopefully it will ease back in a few days.

First thing I’ve noticed is that the barometer is behaving much better than the 645 which logged crazy amounts of elevation gain/loss on flat runs.

Btw I see the 745 is already being discounted, it’s available for €445 on an Irish site.


Would you buy a Suunto Ambit 3 Run in 2021 for its accuracy? I’m interested in a watch that is reliable for distance and pace. I’m not interested in other data or features
(I know that a footpod like Stryd would be the better choice…)

tfk, the5krunner

so buy a footpod…