A Review of the Best GPS Running Watches: Which Gadgets Will Turn You Into Usain Bolt?Reveiwed by: Adel Harris
What should the real sports watch be like? Different athletes will give you a different answer to this question. A swimmer will tell you that water resistance is the most essential feature of a watch and will pick a special swimming fitness tracker. Extreme sports fans will pay attention to whether the device is shockproof and dirt resistant. As for the runners, whatever their level of training is, they will claim that the watch should have a GPS sensor. It surely should!
Today we’ll look at the best GPS watches of the past few years, our main criteria to pay attention to will be the users’ rating and sales. We’ll start with the simplest watches, and then we’ll tell you about the ones that will criticize you right in the gym if you don’t train properly. Finally, we’ll end our review with the forecasting watches, which can predict the results you’ll achieve this day or the following one, measure the time of contact with the ground and will detect how often you hop off the ground and whether you do it right. Are you intrigued yet?
If you’re going to run a marathon and become a local “Lightning Bolt”, then let’s figure out how such gadgets can help you beat a record?
Why Do You Need a GPS-Watch?
A GPS-sensor in a watch is installed on purpose. It is installed in kids’ watches, for instance, to let the parents watch their naughty kids. Some of the tuned men’s and women’s business watches use GPS sensor for comfortable personal navigation. Running watches are a whole different story, though. There are three types of such devices:
- Regular electronic watches with a GPS sensor;
- Smart watches (which can be synched with a smart phone or a tablet;
- Fitness tracker with a time screen.
Why are GPS Watches Adored by Runners?
1. Speed detection. It is the GPS system that lets the runners detect their speed of movement: the gadget’s statistics are constant and accurate. This is as crucial as air for professional athletes. Speed index also serves as good motivation for amateurs (as in “Tomorrow I have to do even better”) and as an excuse for showing off. In addition, the GPS tracker helps you count the laps and the distance you’ve covered. The error will be minimal, especially when compared to a regular step counter.
2. A heart rate monitor. Half of today’s GPS watches have a built-in heart rate monitor, which gives you crucial knowledge whether your heart can take a marathon, or is better off running a moderate distance. Heart rate analysis protects the athlete from health problems, the monitor gives a signal when the workout has to be over and when you can jog a bit more.
3. Navigation. This is the main perk of any satellite system. FEW running watches have built-in maps for navigation, though. Why would a runner need them? Only in case they get lost in their favorite park or on the city stadium. Triathlon and orienteering fans, on the other hand, need navigation in their GPS watches like air. This is taken in as an “own area” service. You’re supposed to input the coordinates of your training area, and the moment you leave it, the watch will give you an alarm signal.
4. Running watches are equipped with other useful features, such as sharing your results with friends, or getting access to all-runners’ rating. The best watches even have a heel-and-toe walking, cycling or swimming modes besides the jogging one, hence the upsurge in popularity of GPS watches among fans of other sports.
How much do such devices cost? It depends. Once, GPS watches used to be a luxury, but today they are quite accessible. The price range for these watches is from $70 to $700.
5 Best GPS Watches for Runners
Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS Watch
Our rating begins with the cut-rate but very popular Garmin Forerunner 10 watch. Actually, Garmin have lots of cool watches for every taste and budget. Being a GPS market leader, this company has launched lots of various high-quality devices of this kind.
Garmin Forerunner 10 is a standard and nice device. This is a light watch with a huge and contrast screen. There are only 2 large buttons on its case.
- It can detect and memorize your coordinates
- It can count burnt calories
- It can detect your speed of movement
- It compares your results (speed, distance, burnt calories) with the goals you set beforehand. You will be scolded right during the run if you run less or slower than you aimed for.
The battery life is 10 days if the GPS is used up to 30 minutes a day. If it’s used continuously, the battery will only last for 5 hours. Will you survive a 5 hour run though? As for the pleasant perks, Garmin Forerunner 10 can also be used by the cyclists.
The simple and stylish Garmin Forerunner 10 is very popular, but we were still able to find some criticism of the GPS navigation in cities: “I had trouble receiving the signal near the skyscrapers and even when I was jogging in Central Park, I lost the signal occasionally. Though, maybe this is the flop of my particular gadget…”
Such minor faults can be forgiven, for the price of this GPS watch is minimal.
Garmin Forerunner 310XT Waterproof USB Stick and Heart Rate Monitor
Our next product is made by Garmin again. In general, we could only list Garmin watches today in our review, since they have watches for every taste and budget. But nevertheless, we are up for diversity of models, designs and manufacturers!
At a first glance, you’ll think that Forerunner 310XT is a miniature on-board computer or at least a space shuttle mission controller. First of all, this is the rare case of a watch with a split screen (the screen is split into three parts, each of which outputs different information). Second of all, this split screen is literally filled up with digital information, as it shows everything it can online. This is a bold decision, as the rival watches only show up to 2 indices at a time if you request them.
However, a large screen and abundance of information are secondary. The most important thing for us is the price and the features of the gadget. Forerunner 310XT. This is twice as expensive as Forerunner 10, but many of its disadvantages have been improved now.
Thus, the product now has a heart rate model and it is waterproof at 50 meters’ depth. It can be truly called a watch for swimmers and triathlon athletes! The battery life is also extended as it can last for up to 20 hours with the GPS tracker on. Forerunner 310XT can easily track cycling (you can additionally purchase handlebar mounts), wirelessly transmit the data and post them on social networks. This model has inherited a calories counter, accelerometer and a number of other perks from its predecessor.
Here’s what the customers have got to say: “I really like this watch. It’s very durable which is essential for sports. I would drop it, hit it and drench it, and it still works. Its precision is unquestionable. The only upsetting problem is the sync and speed of data transmission, but it doesn’t spoil the overall impression.”
TomTom Runner GPS Watch
This watch has neither a heart rate monitor nor Garmin brand fame, but it’s got a number of cool perks which turned it into a bestselling model. The manufacturers of Runner watch tried hard to make this watch as comfortable as possible… and made it! The beauty of this watch is in the small discoveries and ideas implemented there.
First of all, they have the best screen of all the watches we’re covering today. It is shockproof, scratch resistant; it barely glares in the sun and only outputs the necessary information. The main advantage of this screen is its size (almost 1.5 inches!) and high contrast!
Then comes the control. This is the first GPS watch with a “smart button” which is located not on the actual case, but on the upper part of the strap. Not only can it be clicked, but also moved around, like a joystick. You can navigate the rich TomTom menu by moving it up and down, left and right.
This watch is half as wide and heavy as all Garmin models. Is its exterior and functionality better though? Let’s see. The basics are all the same: there is speed detection, step, movement and burnt calories counter. In addition to that there are other features, such as:
- Detection of all the parameters when working out in the gym (for example, when running on a treadmill).
- Accelerated start of GPS sensor (you don’t have to wait for it to “find” you, it’s enough to turn it on and start running).
- Vibro-metron which will help you maintain the rhythm and breathe properly when running.
- The extended battery life can last up to 10 hours with GPS on.
TomTom Runner is also water resistant at the depth of 50 meters, just like Garmin 310! Let’s turn to the customers’ opinion. They only find a single flop of this model: “Its great advantages are a large screen, good infographics, which shows your personal statistics, a convenient button and gym tracking. I’m more of a fan of running on a treadmill, and other GPS watches often lag there. The only issue is the website and network connection. The manufacturers have promised to improve the web portal, though, and I believe them”. Read other feedback to decide whether it is worth buying this watch for running.
Polar RCX5 Heart Rate Monitor(Running and Triathlon)
There are two modifications of Polar RCX5: the actual GPS watch and a more tuned Polar RCX5 Heart Rate Monitor, which we’re going to describe to you today.
Initially this gadget was designed as a heart rate monitor with a GPS watch option. However, the society started perceiving at as a cool GPS-watch with an advanced heart rate monitor. The price of Polar RCX5 is considerable and varies from ~ $199 to $400. This is an upmarket price, but the device is considered to be a professional triathlon gadget. All of its features have something to do with the heart rate monitor.
Let us warn you that the sensor is attached to your chest without causing any major discomfort. It is really cool, as it can track your heart rate even underwater, which makes Polar any swimmer’s number one choice. Imagine, you enter a swimming pool, swim there for a couple of hours and the gadget gives you details on your best lap, on the speed of your swimming and on the reaction of your heart to working out in water. Isn’t this cool!
Moreover, you can have a dozen of sports profiles there. They can be used either as shared family or friends’ profiles or personally in order not to mix up the results of different workouts. What we mean is, you can have different profiles for the gym, jogging in the park and for swimming. It’s very convenient.
Finally, this is the first gadget in our review which has a full coaching app. This app tracks the intensity and the nature of your workouts, trains your stamina and does lots of other things. This brings Polar RCX5 closer to the best fitness trackers and smart watches, as their main idea is not only to track, but also to coach.
The biggest drawback of this model is that the basic version is sold without the GPS sensor; you have to buy it separately. The fans are looking forward to the corresponding update, but the manufacturers don’t comment on these complaints.
Another “fly in the ointment” is the abundance of negative customer feedback. The swimmers praise the device, while the fans of running do quite the opposite: “I had this watch for 1.5 years. I admired it in the swimming pool. The screen could’ve been larger, since the water distorts image, but the rest was satisfactory to my mind. The nightmare began the moment I would leave the pool and do sports on the ground. The watch doesn’t consider elevation differences; it poorly tracks the activity, makes lots of errors. The website and the services are ancient too. The only good things about it are the heart rate monitor and swimming pool mode”.
We are going to agree with this comment, as you’ll want much more than an advanced heart rate monitor (even a waterproof one).
Garmin Forerunner 920XT Black/Blue Watch with HRM-Run
We started with a Garmin watch, and so we’ll end with another Garmin. We couldn’t ignore this model. First thing which drew our attention was its price tag. You’d think you’re buying a golden watch. The users’ rating of this device is also extremely high, it is 5 stars. Perhaps, there is something really interesting about the plain watch.
The fanciest Garmin model can evaluate the efficiency of your workout and even does some magic. It can really predict the results you’ll achieve today and tomorrow. This is a kind of motivation as it always feels good to outdo the prediction and achieve a tad more than expected.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT Watch with HRM-Run is the first device in our review which can measure the “vertical vibration angle”. This means that the watch tracks whether you run properly, and report to you when your running technique affects your health. Another innovation is its ability to measure the time of contact with the ground, i.e. the watch will detect how often you hop off the ground and whether you do it right. To be honest, this is fantastic detailing.
The watch has the complete functionality of a smart watch as it can receive messages from a smart phone and via email, can view calendars and notifications of external devices and even can signal when your cell phone receives an incoming call. This is very convenient for busy individuals who want to stay in touch with others even when working out.
Social functions have also reached a new level here; Garmin Forerunner 920XT doesn’t simply share your results on social network. With the help of a special app your friends and family can track your activity online, just like on the “Eurosport” channel!
This watch is well-suited for swimming and cycling. It can even analyze the cadence (i.e. the frequency of pedal rotation). 920-XT can also track your rest. Based on the heart rate monitor statistics, it can “prescribe” several hours of relaxation and aerobics. What unexpected care.
Obviously, not every devoted reader of ours will have the courage to buy this device for regular workouts. But those who have spent so much money on this beauty don’t regret this, as a rule. Here is a typical customer’s comment: “I had many Garmin devices, and this one is the best. I bought it to prepare for a real marathon, and I don’t regret purchasing it. I’m pleased by everything: fantastic Bluetooth and Wi-Fi sync, fast data loading and neat smart notifications. The design is great and the functionality is unique. It is super cool!!” This kind of watch is a big purchase, so we strongly recommend you to read other customer reviews before buying it.
A GPS watch is not a mass market product. Obviously, the sales of such specialized devices will always be smaller than those of simple fitness trackers. If you consider yourself to be a serious running geek, then treat yourself to such a watch. All 5 products mentioned in our review have a high customer rating.
If you are a professional runner, you already know what model to buy. And if you’re only a beginner, then we recommend you to choose Garmin Forerunner 10 GPSWatch or TomTom Runner. They most of the customers are amazed by them, and such word-of-mouth advertising reveals its true quality.
We give approximate prices, because sales and discounts are common, or else the situation may occur when different sellers sell one and the same product. So, please, check the current price.