Nowadays in 2017, there’s a lot of choice for runners to track their progress.
Then most people usually progress to buying a proper GPS running watch.
While this is probably the best option for serious training, having a running GPS watch mostly means it’s something that they use specifically only while running.
But lately smartwatches are everywhere, can be worn daily and on top of tracking your runs can do a lot of other things. Not all of them are suitable for running though. We went through the most common smartwatches out there and checked if they are a good option for runners. Check our selection here!
|Model||Weight||Strap||Built in GPS||Heart-Rate Monitor|
|Fitbit Surge||12 ounces||Rubber||Yes||Yes|
|Fitbit Blaze||7 ounces||Rubber||No||Yes|
|Samsung Gear S3 Frontier||2.2 ounces||Silicone||Yes||Yes|
|ASUS ZenWatch 3||11.2 ounces||leather||No||No|
|LG Watch Sport||1.2 pounds||Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)||Yes||Yes|
|Apple Watch Series 3||28.7g||Nylon||Yes||Yes|
If you are willing to ignore the unattractive, drab design which the Fitbit Surge has, it is a pretty good smartwatch for all things running.
In introducing Fitbit surge, I called it unattractive – a statement which won’t do justice to its outer appearance. In fact, UGLY is the right word when describing the exterior of this watch. Thankfully, the ugliness with which this watch welcomes us has no bearing on its features.
When asked, Fitbit were of the opinion that the huge design of this watch allowed them to provide it with a big battery life. Although I was a bit skeptical at first, having used this watch, I can testify that Fitbit were right in their assertion.
For, if you don’t activate the GPS signals, the watch will last for up to 7 days with a single charge. If you decide to use the GPS signals, the battery timing will come down to 10 hours, which is still great when you compare it with the battery timing other GPS-enabled smartwatches provide.
Till now, we looked at the not-so-good things about Fitbit surge – things which might dissuade you from buying it. From here, on, however, the real deal – which makes Fitbit Surge a darling of serious athletes – comes into play: its features.
Apart from offering the more basic 3-axis accelerometer – which every sports watch has these days – the Fitbit Surge has a gyroscope, GPS, heart rate sensor and a compass. A mere glance over these features should hammer home the variety and in-depth running functions they are capable of providing.
As for the advanced features, the Fitbit surge tracks your sleep automatically and has a SmartTrackTM feature. This feature will identify all the continuous movements you take throughout the day and will deposit them in an app for you to monitor. In this way, you’d be able to judge how active/inactive you were throughout the past day.
As stated above, the design of Fitbit Surge feels clunky and old. It isn’t waterproof as well, meaning you can’t wear it while in the shower or during swimming.
- Tracks your fitness and heart-rate all day long
- User-friendly Fitbit software
- Plethora of useful features
- Compass to find new routes
- Unimpressive design
- Not waterproof
Unlike most watches in this review, Fitbit surge doesn’t have much to attract serious athletes. Only casual runners could satiate their appetite with the list of features it is offering.
Unlike its compatriot Fitbit surge which is more a fitness tracker than a watch, Fitbit Blaze has the potential to be equally at home, both as a fitness tracker and a watch. Hence, while you can for sure wear it to gym, it won’t raise many eyebrows when you take it to work, either.
In terms of design, Fitbit Blaze oozes a more polished look and certainly looks less like a fitness band, and more like a smartwatch. It is slimmer, compact and is chicer than any other Fitbit you can get your hands on, and has a bolder metal finish, hence making sure you can blend it with your gym kit as well as your suit.
As for the screen, amp up the brightness and you’d become a fan of its slickness, just like us. More importantly, despite being a touchscreen – so that you can swipe through its menus, the screen has got three buttons attached to its right and left. These buttons are there to let you navigate through the menus when you have sweaty hands without using the touchscreen.
Turning our attention to its features, and this is where Fitbit Blaze makes the money you spend on it count. Be it steps, stairs climbed, active time, calories burned, quality of sleep or sleep stages, this watch won’t miss anything.
Although this feature wasn’t in the original version, Fitbit has sent some updates to improve the sleep tracking of this watch. Now it uses your heart rate variability and its own algorithms and accelerometer data to find when you are in deep, light, or REM sleep. And once it gets hold of such data, it would give you insights based on your sleeping patterns.
In the context of running, this watch has been provided with multiple running modes. Taking advantage of its built-in heart monitor, these running modes help turn Fitbit Blaze into a running watch, provided you can take your smartphone with you to lend the watch its GPS.
Post workout, Fitbit Blaze has borrowed the Relax Guided Breathing feature from its compatriot, the Fitbit Charge 2. You get two modes in this feature: five minute breathing and two minute breathing. Once you activate either, it will gauge your breathing and allows you to loosen up.
Finally, if you want to know how much increased exercise and the resulting weight loss will improve your fitness level, you can use the Cardio Fitness Level feature provided here. It does that by comparing your heart rate with other people of your age – via tracking the VO2 Max level.
It doesn’t matter how many paeans we sign of its design, most people will still look at Fitbit Blaze as a fitness watch. And when they’ll find that it has no built-in GPS, they might get disappointed.
- Brilliant all round stats
- Huge Battery Life
- Great Post-workout features
- Improved Sleep tracking
- No built-in GPS
If you are just beginning to take your fitness seriously, this watch would turn out to be a great buy. Not only that but since it has a chic design, you can also wear it on your formal gatherings. Lack of GPS though should be show-stopper.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
Combining an AMOLED color display with exceptional style and state-of-the-art innovation – one which people expect from Samsung Products, the Gear S3 Frontier deserves a place on your wrist. Though you can also connect it to Apple devices who have iOS 9 or above, I’d keep it for Android devices to get the best results.
Why should I forego the Gear S3 Classic for the S3 Frontier? Most people ask this question once they compare the prices of both (Frontier costs more).
Well, since we are talking about running watches, we want them to be rugged, and that is where Frontier takes the lead as it could handle much more abuse than the Classic. Second, it has a sportier design, a far cry from the Classic whose retro design makes it ill-suitable to blend in with your gym suit.
To differentiate the S3 Frontier from its predecessor, the Samsung Gear S2, Samsung has integrated this smartwatch with Spotify and Samsung Pay Features. Using MST (a magnetic technological innovation), you can use the S3 Frontier to pay your bills at any credit card machine. All you have to do is to double click on it.
As for Spotify – though the feature is pretty useful, it still has a few shortcomings. Apart from consuming the battery in less than an hour, the Spotify feature won’t let you download songs, meaning you’d have to stream them live on your data connection all the time.
Doing away with the Android Wear, Samsung decided to provide this watch with its homemade Tizen OS, a decision which looks better with each passing day. While it works as well with the Android Smartphones as Android wear, the Tizen OS is miles ahead when dealing with iPhones.
And though it doesn’t have the pull of either Android Wear or Apple iOS, Samsung was able to pack the S3 Frontier with sensors. In addition to a built-in GPS and heart rate monitor, it has a barometer and altimeter, meaning it can track a wide array of activities ranging from running, cycling, lunging to rowing and squats.
During the workout, you won’t have to navigate through the touchscreen with sweaty fingers, as the S3 frontier has a rotating bezel. Use it, and you can switch between calories, pace, heart rate, speed and even music controls.
That said, while it won’t require you to touch its display to switch between statistics, you’d still have to use the touchscreen to start and stop the exercises. It proved problematic for me as my fingers were anything but dry, meaning the screen took some time before it started recognizing my touches.
Finally, learning its lesson from the S2, Samsung decided to provide the S3 Frontier with the S Voice feature. Apart from listening to your commands, the built-in speaker would also respond to them. All you have to do is to say, “Hi, Gear,” and it would do things such as check the weather, call someone or even send an email.
While the adoption of Tizen OS has made this watch super-friendly to use, the loss of Android Wear means the app selection is very limited here. Also, for those liking sleek watches, this watch is anything but.
- User-friendly voice control
- Has Samsung Pay and Spotify
- Built-in LTE and GPS
- Rotating Bezel to switch between statistics
- Not many apps are on offer
By sacrificing the sleek design of Gear S2, Samsung has been able to pack the S3 Frontier with a huge battery life, beautiful screen and a plethora of useful features, hence making it a watch that would surely attract attention.
ASUS ZenWatch 3
For those of you who were left bitterly disappointed with the cheap, rectangular design of the ZenWatch 2, the circular face, premium materials and a far classier design of the ASUS ZenWatch 3 have everything in its arsenal to take you by surprise.
The reason most people don’t wear round watches is that of the “flat tire” screen shape. In fact, the same design was the reason why, despite everything going with it, MOTO 360 failed to make in impact in the market.
Luckily, there are no such issues with the ZenWatch 3, meaning it looks more elegant and far slicker by comparison. More importantly, ASUS turned to a diamond-cut bezel against a jewelry grade stainless steel to give this watch a premium feel and look, both of whom were absent in the ZenWatch 2. You can also choose between silver, rose-gold or gunmetal finishes to the bezel to give this watch a more personalized look.
Compare it with the abovementioned S3 Gear, and you’d sense that the ZenWatch 3 is extra sleek. This sleekness, however, has come at a cost. To make it thin, ASUS excised a lot of useful stuff from it: you won’t get any GPS with this watch, nor is there a heart rate monitor or a cellular modem.
Lack of GPS, however, doesn’t mean that this watch is no good for activity tracking. Instead, thanks to the accelerometer and six-axis gyroscope, it tracks essential activities such as running, walking, push-ups, and sit-ups.
Other activity-related features can be included in this watch through the ASUS apps, including a basic fitness manager and rudimentary sleep tracker, both of which we found to be exceptionally accurate. Then there is the app manager which would load any Android Wear App of your choice.
As for connectivity, tech bluffs would like to know that this watch has a built-in Wi-Fi and it supports Bluetooth 4.2, meaning faster file transfer. The built-in Wi-Fi meanwhile, means that you can get notifications when you are wandering in your home or office, even when your phone isn’t nearby.
Finally, there is an included speaker and a mic which not only listens but also talks. You can command the ZenWatch 3 to call a contact, add reminders, request directions and much more. That said, you might have trouble hearing the speaker because its quality isn’t that good.
Although runners could live – and have lived with smartwatches without a built-in GPS, the lack of heart-rate monitor is a serious challenge this watch needs to overcome to be accepted as a running smartwatch.
- Lack of GPS means it has an exceptional battery life
- Build quality is solid
- Sleek and elegant
- Has a built-in Wi-Fi
A basic watch for a basic price, that’s how I can best describe the ASUS ZenWatch 3. Though its design and style make it an attractive proposition for your wrist, the lack of GPS and heart-rate monitor reduces its chances to be your running companion.
LG Watch Sport
When Google announced that LG Watch Sport would be the first ever watch to be provided with the Android Wear 2.0, most of us were expecting a serious product in the making. Luckily, as the experience of using it has told us, LG Watch Sport is, indeed, a gem of a product.
To say that the LG Sport is a huge upgrade overs its predecessor, the LG Urbane, won’t be an understatement. To make matters clear, we decided to compare both.
Not only it has a bigger screen, better screen resolution, and more screen protection thanks to the corning Gorilla Glass, LG Watch Sport has more internal memory, resists dust and water better and is still lightweight. Hence, if you’re planning to switch from LG Watch Urbane, you won’t get a better product from LG than the Watch Sport.
Turning our attention to its design – and although it is everything but small – the LG Watch Sport has got a stylish, comfortable and form-fitting design. The comfort comes from the top and bottom lugs, both of whom are gracefully contoured and make the watch feel and look smaller.
To give make this watch deserving of its name (LG Watch “Sport”), both Google and LG combined their forces. While LG provided it with a good mix of sensors, Google revamped its much-maligned Google Fit for proper data recording.
The results, as you might guess, were nothing short of exceptional. Apart from having a heart-rate monitor and built-in GPS, you can log all sorts of free weight and machine exercises automatically on the Android Wear 2.0.
As for runners, Google Fit steps ahead to let them setup customizable goals. You can set these goals based on factors such as calories burned, active time, distance covered, steps taken, and floors climbed, biking, running and biking.
However, if you feel lazy to set goals, three pre-set goals will already be there: be active for 30minutes, run three times a week or take 10,000steps/day. What’s more, you can set daily, weekly or monthly goals – and also those based on minutes and miles trekked. The options are numerous.
On the flip side, this watch took ages to charge. Even when we put it up on a wireless charging stand, it took more than 2hours to get fully charged. Also, if you have got an iPhone, I won’t recommend this watch as the integration is way too buggy.
- Tracks a large number of exercises, including strength training
- Has a built-in heart-rate monitor, GPS, LTE, and NFC
- Large display works brilliantly
- IP68 rating makes it resistant to depth
- Not as good with iPhones
- Takes a long time to get fully charged
If you’re into running, but think that the current trackers you may have won’t just record the data you won’t, the LG Watch Sport is a must-have for you.
Apple Watch Series 3
Despite not looking like a profoundly different model than its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a completely different smartwatch. For, it can connect to the Internet on its own – without needing a Wi-Fi connection or even your phone, has a built-in LTE, and gives you the same touchscreen experience as your iPhone.
For iPhone users who spend the better part of their day staring at their phone, the Apple Watch Series can unshackle them. It offers built-in cellular connectivity and would act like a micro iPhone on your wrist. One less gadget to deal with.
That means whether you want to use it as your fitness tracker, phone, Apple Pay Wallet and even iPod, the Apple Watch Series 3 won’t let you down. That said, it isn’t a complete substitute of your iPhone since you cannot tweet, take photos or easily respond to message and emails with it.
Since Apple emphasized the importance of cellular connectivity so much in its launch, it seems poignant to note how the function will help you. Simply speaking, cellular connectivity helps the watch connecting to the outside world in three steps.
First, it will search your iPhone via Bluetooth. If it isn’t there, a search for Wi-Fi connection will ensue. If both these options are unavailable, the watch will then turn to its built-in LTE, which would otherwise be sleeping to conserve battery.
Thanks to cellular connectivity, you can dial calls directly from the watch, write messages, get Siri to talk, and even check Emails on more than one accounts. But, when using LTE, neither can you install apps directly on your watch nor will you receive notifications from third party apps. To do both, your watch would require your iPhone to be nearby.
Moving on, while all Apple Apps were known for storing music, it was their inability to sync music from Apple’s Cloud based music account which let them down. Thankfully, the Apple Watch Series 3 suffers from no such problems.
Once you leave this watch on charging, it would automatically sync music from your Apple music account. Thus you may find a couple of new playlists on the watch after an overnight charge. And while this feature isn’t available for a few more weeks, Apple has ensured that the Watch Series 3 will let you stream music in real-time.
As for its fitness tracking capabilities – a major reason why most people would buy this watch, Apple has done really well to challenge the dominance of fitness trackers like Fitbit, by giving this watch a few extra sensors.
In addition to having a built in heart-rate monitor – which displays more graphs than you can comprehend, this watch tells you everything from steps taken to calories burned. With every workout, you’d get a graph, a pretty useful feature if you want to know your baseline health level.
That’s before this watch will give you reminders to get up and move – or to sit straight and breathe deeply. All your activity patterns throughout the day will be collated in a single “Activity App” on your iPhone, meaning everything is literally available in one menu.
If you were thinking this watch would let you say goodbye to your iPhone during workouts, it won’t. And battery life would be a huge concern for people who would like to use its GPS while exercising.
- Allows Music Syncing
- Has increased watch faces
- Cellular connection works brilliantly
- Sets daily goals for standing, walking and moving
- Has a GPS, heart-rate monitor, barometer and is swim proof
- Adds on will cost extra, hence increasing the already expensive cost of this watch.
There was a time when only fitness enthusiasts went on to buy Apple watches. That time has now changed with the introduction of Apple Watch Series 3. Apart from serving as a fitness tracker, it has everything to make it the best overall smartwatch money can buy.
Best Smartwatch for Runners – Buying Guide
How do you decide which smartwatch will fit your needs and fall within your budget? Yes, with this buying guide.
It should be Compatible
As an Android user, I’d inevitably choose a smartwatch which is compatible with all Android phones. Even if given the option, I would not like to spend extra money on a smartwatch which is compatible with BOTH Android and iOS, as I’m not using the latter. Is my approach correct, tell me? Nope, it isn’t.
For, average American changes his/her phone only two years, ditching it for “another” state of the art phone. And nobody – not even you – might tell what the operating system of your next phone will be.
Therefore, just to make sure you don’t have to replace your smartwatch every time you replace your smartphone, invest in one which is compatible with a wide range of operating systems.
Water resistant or waterproof?
One thing smartwatch manufacturers don’t want you to is that that there is a huge difference between a water resistant and a waterproof product. While the former could repel as much as only a few splashes of water, you can take the latter in the shower.
So how do you tell whether a product is water resistant or waterproof? To do that, check the IPX rating of the product: a rating which tells how a product will behave against water infiltration.
Integrated Running Application
Whether you believe it or not, there are smartwatches out there which DO NOT have integrated apps. Despite being expensive – the major reason why runners choose them – they force you to look at that tiny screen resting on your wrist. You should never buy such a smartwatch.
The mobile app which accompanies the smartwatch is an important part of the equation. It lets you navigate through your data, monitor your daily activities, challenge your friends, set your goals and so on. Another thing you may want to notice is the user interface of the app. For this, you may have to check the comments of the previous users of the application.
Buttons or Touchscreen?
On first thought, opting for a smartwatch which has a touchscreen seems to be a no brainer. After all, aren’t our smartphones and even our laptops come with a touchscreen these days? While there is no harm in choosing a touchscreen, there are still things you need to consider.
For instance, for a touch-display interface to be easy to navigate, its size should be considerable. You don’t want tiny menu bars on a tinier screen which you cannot see without an optical glass.
To overcome this shortcoming, smartwatch manufacturers have opted for gesture-based user interfaces. Android Wear is a very good example as it lets you dismiss notifications with just a swipe. Still, if you ask me, I’d go for a combo approach: one involving both buttons and touchscreen.
As you might guess, the idea of a button-cum-touchscreen combo didn’t originate in my brain. Instead, it was the Apple watch which showed me that the design was possible. This watch lets you use the buttons to zoom in, after which the touchscreen comes into play.
Unlike your smartphones, not every smartwatch has a similar charging mechanism. While you can wireless charge a small minority, there is a large number of watches which require you to plug in cables. There is still another category with snap-on docks for charging purposes.
None of these charging mechanisms is good or bad, as selecting one and ignoring the others is a matter of personal preference. Therefore, when looking at its charging mechanism, do make sure that it resonates with you.
Runner Specific Features
Built-in heart rate monitor
Even with the advent of exercise-oriented smartwatches, consumers are still glued to the idea of fitness trackers. They think that when it comes to heart rate monitors, fitness trackers are inaccurate, a myth that has since been busted via a study which finds the heart rate monitoring of most fitness trackers accurate for the majority.
Having a heart rate monitor in your smartwatch has numerous advantages. For example, it tells you under what circumstances (i.e. weather, humidity etc.) and on what effort level are you able to accomplish a task you set for yourself. Put simply, it tells what your body has to do to accomplish any personal feat you set for yourself.
Also, a heart rate monitor will give you daily indicators of the health of your cardiovascular system. In this way, you’d know in advance when it is time to go see your doctor and have a medical checkup. Similarly, as your heart rate increases when you become dehydrated, having a dedicated heart rate monitor will tell you when it is time to stop and have a drink.
Whether you believe it or not, not all smartwatches have built-in GPS. Instead, they rely on your smartphone via their app to track the location of your physical activity.
However, if you want to have a dedicated smartwatch for running, you might want it to have a built-in GPS. For, by carrying GPS signals, your smartwatch will release you from carrying your phone with you everywhere you go.
That said, smartwatches with built-in GPS consume more batter than those which rely on smartphones to track your physical location. As a result, you might have to charge them more than a normal, non-GPS bearing smartwatch.
Do you want your running smartwatch to track your distance? I assume your answer is a big yes. There are a few watches which fall into this category. One of them we already discussed above i.e. the GPS smartwatch which uses the accelerometer to track the distance you cover.
Some people are satisfied not only with distance but also with step-tracking. They want to know how many steps they took in the last run. If you consider yourself to be a part of this category, look for a pedometer in your next watch.
Nearly every smartwatch worth its salt has a pedometer, the instrument which measures the distance you’ve covered in a horizontal plane. Only a few of them can tell how many feet in the vertical direction you’ve climbed.
Hence, if you like running on slopes and want your smartwatch to not go missing when you do so, look for an altimeter. Apart from telling the vertical gain/loss, altimeter tells the speed per feet/hour at which you are descending or climbing, making it a very useful feature to have.
Still, if you live in a plain area where the only hills you see are on the television, there’s no point spending extra money on this feature.
Setting goals is very easy, it is meeting those goals which takes the best out of you. If you want to meet your running goals, invest in a smartwatch which gives training plans. Such smartwatches have different training plans for say, 3k 5k, 10k, half and full marathons.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can buy a smartwatch which gives you a virtual personal trainer. However, as you might guess, both these features don’t come for free. Depending on the intensity of your training plans and the height of your goals, both these plans will cost you more.
Running Form Improvement
Some people just use their running watch to track their pace and distance, hence missing out on a big opportunity to improve their running. Sports watches come packed with features, some of which might help you in improving your running form.
If you can afford to pay a little extra, you might buy a watch that can measure your cadence – or the number of steps you take per minute. It is a no brainer that this is a useful stat as it tells you whether you’re making the most of your running time or not.
Next, if getting lean is your goal and you want to know how much food you can take with the exercise you daily do, go for the Basal Metabolic Rate feature in your next watch. By demanding your age, height, and weight, this feature helps you in burning away belly fat.
Lastly, when we are running in full throttle, we might ignore that our upper body undergoes very little movement, with our legs doing all the work. As a result, our chest fat isn’t burning as fast as they should. To burn chest fat, look for Vertical Oscillation Feature in your next watch.
How to beat boredom and keep your mind away from wandering while running? This is the question most runners have, despite the fact that we already know the answer: music.
Up until a few years ago, most smartwatches required you to take your smartphone along if you want to listen to music. It goes without saying that this restriction wasn’t received well by the runners.
Luckily, some smartwatch manufacturers heard the plea of runners and came up with products designed for music lovers. Examples include Tom Tom Spark 3 watch which lets you hear music on the go without needing any smartphone and also creating playlists.
Indoor Running Options
Do you run a lot on treadmills, either in your home or in the gym? If so, you may not be able to track your activity with a GPS smartwatch, since they only measure distance covered.
What you need, instead, is a smartwatch with a built-in accelerometer or an indoor running option. Both these options will measure the steps you take and NOT the distance you cover to make sure you’ve data available on all your Indoor and Outdoor runs.
How to Set Up Your Smartwatch?
Now that you’re here, it means that you’ve probably already selected a smartwatch that fulfils your requirements. It means the time is right for you to know how you can set it up to get it up and running.
Setting up Apple Smartwatch
Before setting up your Apple Smartwatch, make sure you have an iPhone 5 or latest model, as earlier models won’t be pared with the smartwatch. Connect your iPhone to a data network, enable the Bluetooth and juxtapose it alongside the smartwatch.
Now, follow these steps:
- Turn your Apple Smartwatch on
- From the Apple Store, Download the smartwatch’s app
- After opening the watch on your iPhone, pair your iPhone with your new watch
- Here, you’ll see an option “Set Up As New Apple Watch”. Tap it.
- Enter your Apple ID demanded for pairing
- Activate both route and Siri tracking.
- Log in and create a passkey for your new Apple Watch.
Setting up Android Smartwatch
Unlike iPhones, Apple smartphones come from various brands, making it impossible for anybody to explain the smartwatch setting up procedure for each. What we are going to do is to give you a general picture.
Take a look
- From Android Play, download your smartwatch’s app
- Turn on the Bluetooth of both your smartphone and Android Watch
- Open the app you’ve just downloaded on your phone
- There will be a list inside the app of all the watches the manufacturer has made. Search and select yours from the list.
- Two matching codes will appear on the smartwatch and smartphone’s screen. Once you have made sure they are matching – every word/number should be same, click “Confirm”
Choosing the best smartwatch for runners isn’t difficult. Yes, you read it right, the options are so numerous that choosing a running smartwatch is easy. However, choosing one that meets the needs of a specific individual isn’t easy, and this is where this article will help you.
This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.