Becoming a first-class runner requires multiple hours of practice and gaining stamina. A GPS running watch is one of the most important accessories every serious athlete must acquire. It is primarily designed to record running data and is a crucial tool for every athlete in tracking their progress.
Like every market, GPS running watches come in different models and sell at different prices. There are premium models and those that are budget friendly. A simple GPS running watch must at least track the distance you have covered, inform you of the distance remaining to reach your destination, and show your speed for every stretch. This enables you to monitor your performance closely.
This article focuses on 5 top GPS running watches that sell below $200 and then it later digs deeper into the factors that you should consider when buying one of these watches. Budget running watches are more inclined to basic features like distance and speed tracking. Their provision for training load, recovery, heart rate, and other metrics does not match that of their premium counterparts.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to see what each of the models below has in store. Whether you are a staunch secret admirer of Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner of the time, or you are a casual runner who logs 20 miles a week, any of the five models can seamlessly fit your running needs.
1. Garmin Forerunner 45
Garmin’s extension of its core GPS technology to wearables has placed it in stiff competition with activity trackers and smartwatch industry leaders like Apple and Fitbit. But Garmin is more focused on the sports niche, which makes it outstand the competitors. Most manufacturers want to produce all-in-one handsets in order to increase their chances. But the running world highly regards the company for its dedication to improve athletes’ experience and performance through resourceful wearables.
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Garmin Forerunner 45 launched in May as a successor to the Forerunner 35. The latter had earlier on taken the GPS running watch market by the storm. Especially for its affordable price. However, with the Forerunner 45 launching at an almost the same price but with more premium features 35’s prominence has sharply declined in the past month.
Newbies feel lost when it comes to Garmin Forerunner series of wearables. Maybe to clarify there are three main categories for these devices; the entry level, mid, and advanced Forerunners. The latest models in these classes include Forerunner 45, 245, 645 and 945 respectively. Their prices rise in that order. FR 245, FR 645 and FR 945 are more premia and include extras like contactless payments and built-in music.
The New Stuff
There is so much to explore with Forerunner 45 as compared to its predecessor. The comparison is made with reference to FR 35 since this is an upgrade from the device. But generally Garmin 45 comes as a total game changer to the low-end GPS watch market. Clearly a platform that would support downloads for multiple structured workout programs is not something you would expect of a $200 GPS watch. Find a runner who is diligent in what they do and they will tell you the importance of sticking to a specific schedule in boosting your athletic stamina.
Aside from supporting the download of structured workout programs Garmin 45 offers plenty more added features that the predecessor didn’t have. Firstly this new model comes in two variants; a 42mm and 39mm strap sizes that represent both male and female versions respectively. The female version even supports menstrual cycle-tracking to help women stay comfortable during that time of the month.
A shift from FR 35’s old-fashioned square face to a round watch face is one of the first noticeable things that has earned FR 45 a good reputation in the marketplace. The device’s compatibility with Garmin Connect IQ allows you to customize your watch faces from hundreds of options in the store. You can also personalize it by uploading one of your photos from the gallery. Limits, however, begin where you want to download Garmin Connect IQ Widgets which is only possible with more advanced Garmin models.
Other major changes brought by FR 45 to low-budget Forerunners family include incident detection, 24/7 HR monitor, stress tracking, 5 buttons from 4, increased number of sports modes, added color display, and much more. Incident detection allows you to notify family and friends in case you find yourself in danger so they can pick you from your pinned location.
Design & Display
The round watch face coupled with a vibrant display and thick bezels on the circumference give the Forerunner 45 an exotic feel and look that would complement any decent sporting outfit. There are five buttons; three on the left side and two on right to help ease navigation and avoid slowing you down when you need to adjust the settings. And then the multiple color options available allows you to choose your favorite. Red, white, black, and purple colors.
Operating using the five key buttons is simple. They are distinctly positioned apart to guide you to press the right button while on the go. The top right key acts as a start/pause/stop button for every training session. Its top left counterpart is a power button that switches on the screen’s backlight when it’s early dark or late in the evening. The two lower buttons below it are for scrolling up and down the menus while running.
When it comes down to straps, the two available options are the 42mm and 39mm length sizes as earlier aforementioned in this article. Both sizes are made of textured silicone material that feels gentle on the skin and comfortable to wear. You however have to fit it gently to avoid blocking the skin pores that consequentially lead to irritations on the wrist area of the skin. The only downer about the straps is that they are undetachable from the body’s device. It would have been nicer if Garmin allowed its customers to opt for any classier strap options if they like.
Sizewise the Garmin Forerunner 45 has a compact design that measures 42mmx42mmx11.4mm in overall dimensions. And with the larger model weighing only 36g you can hardly feel the device on your wrist. The screen display features a resolution of 208×208 pixels, which is pretty much a figure that most GPS watches range at. Its colorful display enhances the visibility of screen contents outdoors especially since the watch diameter is 26.3mm small.
The top glass cover is chemically strengthened as opposed to Corning Gorilla Glass which is used in more advanced Forerunner series. It may not have the best strength to handle every screen-detrimental factor thrown at it but that’s not really a functional problem. If anything the device is bound to catch scratches on its front surface. A screen protector would surely do an amazing job if decency is what you preach and drink.
Garmin Forerunner 45 has a friendly user interface mainly optimized for running. You can even tell this by the safety and tracking features pre-installed in it to help you notify family and friends of your real-time location in case you fall in trouble in the woods. And a number of other features that purely improve running performance.
The Garmin Coach, for instance, works magic when planning for your next 5K, 10K or any other future races in advance. The feature is a new concept to entry-level Forerunner series of GPS watches, and FR 45 is the first model to pick it. You don’t need to break the bank to acquire the services of an expert coach when you own this handset. Garmin Coach adaptive training plans help you finish all your planned races, as per your plans. Because the feature observes your running stats and adapts to it over time. It even informs you when you have ‘low battery'(low energy) and advise you to take a rest so as to ‘recharge’.
Forerunner 45’s inbuilt GPS is super ready and connects within seconds. This provides a high level of precision and accuracy in tracking pace, distance, and intervals. Those are the three parameters that every GPS watch has to be reliable at.
The Heart Rate features available include HR calories, HR zones, HR broadcast, and HR alerts. The Heart Rate monitor is especially super important for the runner to determine their threshold pace. And that loosely translates to your optimal training intensity for endurance without straining. Not too hard, not too slow. This prevents both fatigues and underachieving in equal measures.
The other sporting activities supported by the device apart from running include cardio, treadmill, cycling, yoga, indoor track, and many more. All the apps can be downloaded from the Garmin Connect IQ store.
Connectivity & Battery Life
FR 45 is compatible with both Android and iPhone smartphones. When paired with your phone you can use it to receive/reject incoming calls, control the playlist on your smartphone, find your phone, check the weather, among other functions. And being compatible with Garmin Connect IQ means you can choose to enable live tracking for your scheduled activities every time by selecting Auto-start. You can then invite your friends and family over social media with a link that allows them to track your distance, elevation, time and speed.
As for the battery, the device can last for 7 days straight on a single charge when on smartphone mode. But when you turn on the GPS tracker the device will empty the battery juice only after 13 hours.
You can check our full review of the Garmin Forerunner 45 here.
2. Runtopia S1- App’s First Running Watch
If you ever used Runtopia audio coaching app in your runs before then you already know how resourceful it is when it comes to improving your running performance. From personalized training plans to accurate tracking for distance, pace, calories burned, and to the social running community with a huge following of more than 2 million subscribers.
This year the app’s parent company opted to diversify its production to include GPS watches. And the first model in its line of products is the Runtopia S1 GPS running watch, very affordable and well equipped with the features that are essential for runners.
Design & Display
For a device that costs less than $100, it’s not expected to be the best looking in the market. But Runtopia S1’s rugged design and an easy to read watch interface surely earns it points in the world of GPS running watches. Rugged combined with 3 ATM water resistance enables its survival outdoors especially in extremely cold temperatures and rains.
Runtopia S1 features a round watch face with a diameter of 47mm encased in Zinc alloy material all round. The screen resolution is 128×128 pixels, which may sound low but displays nicely. User Interface is friendly with a hypersensitive touchscreen and the watch face is customizable. The two buttons on the right-hand side aid in navigating device settings while you’re running. Build quality is okay and impressive.
The handset comes with a single non-replaceable strap that is detachable. But that’s not all. Strap material is medical-grade rubber, which is gentle, lightweight, and easily washable. There are perforations uniformly punctuated on its surface to avoid suffocating the skin around wrist area from sweats when the going gets tough.
The Runtopia S1 handset is basically designed around running. So if you are hoping to track other sporting activities like swimming and cycling then honestly there are other models which can do a better job than this one. There’s just so much about running with this watch. All of which sufficiently serves both beginners and well-established runners alike.
Firstly, the sports watch combines the efforts of GPS and GLONASS satellite networks positioning to improve the accuracy of tracking your movements, especially in complicated environments. This makes it easier to come up with accurate data and details relating to speed, trajectory, mileage, and other important aspects of your running.
Runtopia App is the lifeblood of this particular device. S1 primarily works with the app to help you boost your running metrics. You are missing out if you are not subscribed to the app yet. Imagine getting a reward for improving your own running performance without getting to pay for anything. There’s a real bonus that you earn from the platform. It’s simple to attract coins from the number of your steps and trade it with sports equipment you may need on the app.
The device features a 9-axis motion sensor that monitors and corrects your running workout movements by way of audio. Working out with S1 feels like doing it alongside a professional coach who already understands your body and abilities. Similarly, the Runtopia app provides a platform where you can stream videos/courses offered by reputable coaches to enlighten yourself from anywhere. You can also find friends and peers with the same interests and cheer each other up from there. Sharing your running experiences with different individuals can supercharge your performance real quick.
The other important aspects of your health that the Runtopia S1 GPS watch quantifies strictly include heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and blood pressure. Data is timely displayed on the screen to keep you updated in real time so you know what to do. For instance, if your heart rate is higher than the threshold pace the next right thing to do is to reduce your pace in order to minimize the strain on your muscles. And if you have been sitting on the couch for so long the sedentary reminder will come at your neck to remind you to stand up and stretch.
Connectivity & Battery Life
Although Runtopia S1 is not designed primarily as a communication tool to connect you with your phone for convenience, it does not perform poorly altogether. You can connect it to your phone via Bluetooth and be able to receive smart notifications from social media feeds, emails, and even receive/reject incoming calls. The GPS watch is compatible with smartphone models later than iOS 9.0 and Android 4.4.
The other top-notch spec held by S1 is long battery life. When fully charged, the device features a standby time of 25 days. And with the GPS tracker turned on it would last for 13 hours. It sports a magnetic charging formula the enhances the durability of both the cable and battery.
3. Amazfit Verge 2
Huami’s Amazfit Verge 2 is one of the latest GPS running watches launched early this month. The device is a successor of the original Amazfit Verge and comes with a number of remarkable upgrades. The first notable addition about the handset is its support for eSIM which makes it functional as a standalone device. That means you don’t need to carry along your phone if there are important phone calls to make during your run.
Design & Display
Housing the device is a microcrystalline zirconium ceramic material that gives it a high-end taste. Huami reports that the processing of this material takes more than a month. Verge 2’s round watch face matches uniformly with the decent rubber strap of the handset to form a beautiful design that’s rare in its price segment.
Its display does not disappoint either. The GPS watch sports a 1.39″ AMOLED display that has a high resolution of 454×454 pixels. The glass cover type is Corning Gorilla 3 with a thickness of 2.5D. This gives it maximum protection against extreme weather elements and scratches. Additionally, the IP68 rating for water and dust resistance gives a boost to its protection.
Since Amazfit Verge 2 is new in the market it is too early to tell its performance with running metrics. But its inbuilt GPS & GLONASS satellite system networks guarantee accurate tracking of the basic parameters for running; distance, pace, and time.
Among the new features that the device brings along is electrocardiogram(ECG). And that essentially is a feature that observes heart rate abnormalities like atrial fibrillation. This it does by evaluating the electrical activity produced by the heart when it contracts to pump blood. ECG AI chip incorporated in Verge 2 improves the accuracy of heart rate monitoring so the runner can make wiser informed decisions when it comes to their current pace.
You can connect Verge 2 to your phone either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and sync your running data in any favorite apps of your choice. Other activities you can track using this device include mountaineering, walking, football, riding, among others.
Battery & Other Features
With a large battery capacity of 420mAh, Verge 2 can last on a single charge for a whole day with the GPS turned on. When charged it works for 28 hours to be exact, even with an active 4G connection.
Other features include 4GB internal memory, 512 MB RAM, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2500 processor. Verge 2 also supports NFC contactless payments.
4. Amazfit Bip 2
At the beginning of this year, Huami announced a series of 10 GPS sports watches lined up for production. The products whose reality has seen the light of day so far include the Amazfit Verge 2 discussed above, Amazfit Cor 2, and now the Amazfit Bip 2. By going on separate ways with Xiaomi, Huami has continued to improve its potential for massive success especially since its focus is only on sports watches.
Amazfit Bip 2 is the successor to the original Amazfit Bip. And if the photos currently available in the few Chinese e-commerce stores already listing the product are anything to go by, then there is a very sketchy difference between the two products.
Design & Display
Bip 2 maintains the similar design of a square watch face as its predecessor, with the housing made of plastic(polycarbonate) material that may feel cheap but decorative to your wrist. The device features a touchscreen that is 1.2-inch in thickness and reacts super-fast. On the right-hand edge is a single power button that is used to turn it on/off, and wakes the screen from sleep mode.
It has a resolution of 176×176 pixels and the screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Worth mentioning too is that so far these features were all present in Amazfit Bip, but now is not the right time to pass full judgment on the brand new product. The only evident difference so far shows in the colors. Bip 2 comes in Beige, Black, and Blue colors.
The Amazfit Bip 2 watch sports a silicone wristband that measures 20mm in width and stretches 11cm lengthwise on one side. The other side of the length measure 8.5cm. When collected around the wrist it fits just about any size, as there are many eyelets to pick your fit from.
Just like its predecessor, the device combines GLONASS and GPS satellite networks for accurate tracking of your running exercise. It is compatible with the MiFit APP, to let you have access to a wider view and analysis of your running data. You only need to have a phone that is later than Android 4.4 or iOS 8.0 to establish a sound Bluetooth connection in order to work with both platforms to improve your lifestyle.
Other features the handset includes and are important for running are the heart rate monitor, pedometer, and time functions of the stopwatch and a timer. There are other sports modes supported by Bip 2, including cycling. Finer details of the workability of these features will emerge thick and fast in the next few weeks.
Amazfit Bip features a standby time of 45 days for the battery. And that’s without the GPS turned on. Well, Bip improved its battery capacity by 10mAh, from 190mAh to 200mAh. It is expected to take utmost two-and-half hours to fully charge the new device. But that’s fair considering good battery life as a selling feature on Huami’s part.
5. Polar Ignite
Polar Ignite just launched and the talk about it is picking like Tsunami. The handset comes with a handful features that many Polar loyal fans didn’t anticipate within its price category. In fact, it puts the likes of Vantage M and Vantage V in an awkward position. Because the two latter products belong to a more expensive category of the Polar series of watches but lack some of the specs brought in by Ignite.
Some of the new features the Polar Ignite introduces to the low-end category of Polar products are; FitSpark, Nightly Recharge, Sleep Plus Stages, and Serene. You may wonder what these concepts are because they are all totally new to Polar. It shows how the company’s ambition to provide affordable material for fitness and training just hit a whole new level.
Design & Display
The Polar Ignite handset features a round watch face that blends uniformly with any fitting strap of your choice to form a sleek, lightweight product that will perfectly complement your running gear.
As for the side buttons, Polar decided to go by reducing the number to only one. Usually most of its GPS watches feature up to 5 buttons to help with the navigation. Especially when your hands get sweaty while on the go. But the operations of Ignite mostly rely on the touchscreen.
The screen works quite fine in terms of reaction to touch but does not support an always-on display. And that’s both good and bad in the context of running. The good side of it is that a display that’s not always on madly saves on the battery.
But on the flip side, you are running and do not always have time to keep pressing the side button and wait for the screen to light up. The brightness of the colored display is perfect and even more vibrant than the more pricey Vantage M and V.
The straps are swappable so you can choose to buy any other models you are comfortable with.
This is an area where the new Polar Ignite model has much of its energy invested. In fact, its the combination of the functions of these new features that shout the uniqueness of this GPS running watch.
The product is obviously too young in the market for one to tell the accuracy of the GPS system integrated into it. That would require a substantial amount of time for tests and trials to gauge its performance in different routes, places and so forth.
There so many intelligent features earlier mentioned that will help you boost your running ability. Like the Sleep Plus Stages which records and performs deep analysis of your sleep data. The intensity of your runs and how much strain it does to your body has a direct impact on the quality of your sleep at night. Through a detailed breakdown of the light, deep, and REM stages of your sleep the Power Ignite awards you a sleep score. This information is very important as it informs you if you are doing the right amount of exercise for your body.
The Nightly Recharge feature measures your overnight recovery which is useful in telling the level of readiness of your body for the day’s training. If say you didn’t recover well enough then it becomes easier to make the decision to abstain for a while. The body needs to be in good shape to perform.
Main back up for Ignite in handling running so well is the FitSpark daily training guide. Based on the level of your recovery, fitness and training history, this feature decides for you the right workout for the day. Again this works in conjunction with the other aforementioned features like Sleep Plus Stages to give you the accurate dosage of your training for a particular day. This prevents burnout, which is the main demotivating factor among many runners especially the beginners.
There’s also the Serene feature which guides you through a breathing exercise. When you are tired after an intense run you can coil back, relax and breathe slowly to freshen up. Serene takes you through an exercise where you breathe six times per minute in a consistent slow rhythmic manner. This also goes a long way in managing the stress levels in your body.
You may have noticed that many features of Polar Ignite are geared towards sports and improving athletes’ performance in the field. Oh, GPS tracking for both indoor and open-water swimming is also very possible with Ignite device, something that is unheard of among low-budget GPS watches. Other crucial features include training load pro, running index, smart notifications, fitness test, and much more.
Factors to Consider when Buying a GPS Running Watch
Our list above is based on budget, that is, the GPS models that you can easily score for less than $200 but still uplift your running game bigtime. There are so many other factors that you may need to double-check whenever you go shopping for a new GPS running watch. These include:
Water Resistance: Most runs happen outdoors. So the chances of coming in contact with bad weather are high. Like the rains, drizzles, and extremely cold temperatures. It is therefore important to buy a GPS running watch that can easily protect itself against these detrimental factors. Or else you will keep bricking your device. Always check the water resistance rating to ascertain the quality you want.
Data Tracking: Equally important is the ability of the handset you want to buy in tracking various running data. There are so many aspects of running to be tracked and definitely different models vary in the way they handle different data. For instance, the newly introduced Polar Ignite tracks more swimming metrics as compared to any other model that plays its league price-wise.
Heart Rate Monitor: There are those GPS running models that come with an inbuilt HR monitor whereas there are those that do not include it and may force you to seek an alternative external chest strap. Tracking the heart rate is the way to go if you want to improve your performance gradually. Otherwise it is difficult to find an accurate estimate of the required intensity of your runs. So you choose what works best for you. Whether chest or wrist-based HR monitor but I would suggest the latter for convenience and cost-saving.
Design/Aesthetics: Everyone is unique in their own individual styles. What appeals to one may not necessarily seem perfect to another person. But as a runner style should not be a top priority. You have to look past that deeper into other factors like a strong build, durable strap, and splash-proof, since those directly affect the endurance of your watch through time.
Training Modes: With the multiple adaptive training programs and workouts available in various GPS watches you have to check one that works for you. Whether it’s a device that includes a virtual audio coach or any other platform that is geared towards helping the customer runner to improve their performance. Just look to see, because they are thousands and varied.
Battery Life: There are two ways to look at the battery performance of a GPS watch; when on normal mode and when GPS is turned on. Most of these watches barely last for 10 hours with the GPS on. Because communications with satellites is a highly engaging adventure that eats up battery juice real fast. You however have to look at the little disparities and pick your model from there. Standby Time is of no essence for a runner because that would limit tracking the very basic metrics of running.
Choosing the right GPS running watch for yourself is a no-brainer if you fully understand your running needs. The discussion above has clearly highlighted the important concepts that you need to have at your fingertips in your next GPS watch purchase decision. Like all the markets, it’s a game of diversification, inclusion, and elimination of various features by different manufacturers in a move to stay ahead of the competition. As a valuable client, your job is to be informed to avoid getting duped into buying something that will serve no purpose in uplifting your training and performance.