A quality fitness watch will track your exercise and log it. It can also provide data that will help you get in shape. To find the best fitness trackers and GPS watches, we tested them all.
Fitness can be defined as any activity, from running to walking to golfing. Each activity has its own metrics. A fitness watch or tracker that tracks your data and complements your exercise routine is the best.
Apart from my personal testing, I also reached out to clients and other athletes for their feedback and spent hours looking through online reviews. I compared spec sheets across models and brands.
Based on my testing, the following are the top fitness watches, GPS watches and fitness trackers. To help you make informed decisions and understand the fitness watch market, I have included a buyer’s guide as well as frequently requested questions.
Garmin is undisputed champion in running, swimming, biking and cycling. Garmin is second only to Apple as the most popular smartwatch and manufacturer of sport-specific watches. Garmin watches are highly recommended by more than 85% of triathletes and runners I polled.
Garmin Forerunner 745 ($500), Garmin’s latest running and triathlon watch is positioned between the Forerunner 945 (pricier) and Forerunner 245. The 745 is a great design in terms of size, weight and materials.
It is sleek and lightweight without feeling cheap. It is lighter than the Forerunner 945/fenix 6, and has a higher quality than the Forerunner 45/245. Its 1.2-inch, sunlight-visible, transflective display with memory-in-pixel is the best among all watches. You can also enjoy crisp button action, making navigation and viewing your workouts effortless.
The 745 comes standard with all the features you would expect from an advanced GPS watch: built-in sport profiles with easy-to-scroll-through, customizable data fields; 16-hour battery life in continuous GPS tracking mode; preprogrammable workouts with customizable training zones; a wrist-based heart-rate monitor; and health tracking.
You won’t find these advanced features on most watches: phone notifications, a pulse sensor to measure blood oxygen saturation levels and 500-song music store, automatic pool swim stroke detection and compatibility with Garmin cycle power meters.
Garmin coaching and training will also be available. This service uses Garmin’s health data and workout data to provide actionable insight into your recovery, training load and performance readiness.
Bottom line: The Garmin Forerunner745 is the best premium sports watch that can do it all, including swimming, biking, and running, with smartwatch capabilities.
- Size 43.8×43.8×13.3mm
- Weight 47g
- Battery Life: 7 days in smartwatch mode and 16 hours in GPS mode. Up to 21 hours GPS in battery-saver Mode
- Health Monitoring: Tracking your sleep, monitoring your heart rate 24/7 (active and asleep), training load (cardio-muscle perceived), blood oxygen saturation, stress recovery
- One-button customization allows you to see your health and fitness data.
- Programable workouts for running and cycling.
- It is easy to use during any activity thanks to its bright display and crisp button action
- Garmin Connect can be overwhelming and complex.
- Poor battery life at this price point
Best Fitness Watch: Apple Watch Series 7
Apple smartwatch is the most popular worldwide. It’s no surprise that it’s the number one (not GPS watch, I’ll get on that later). Every person I spoke to who owned one gave glowing recommendations. “After decades of not using a smartwatch, I finally bought an Apple Watch. One initial skeptic said, “I love it.”
Its greatest strengths are in smartwatch and health tracking. The new Series7 watch (399) has a pulse ox, which tracks blood oxygen levels. It’s not practical for everyone, but it is fun.
The watch’s ECG and heart rate monitor are probably the most useful and lifesaving features. They can detect irregular heart rhythms and track heart rates variability. This is an indicator that you have overtraining. The Series 7 watches can keep track of sleep, steps and calories, just like all other watches. It also makes it easy to understand.
The Apple Watch is the best in terms of simplifying everyday life, especially when you are far from your phone. The watch can display notifications and allow you to respond directly from the watch. App Store has more apps than any other brand.
As someone who has coached many runners wearing an Apple Watch, I can tell you two things: the GPS isn’t great and it lacks the depth of features that other watches are designed for runners. The ability to set up interval training and speed sessions is a major weakness.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a smartwatch that provides convenience and functionality for everyday use. It only works with iPhones. Garmin Venu Sq or Samsung Galaxy Watch 3. Both watches are focused on fitness tracking and offer a variety of smartwatch features.
- Size: 41 x 35 x 10.7 mm / 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm
- Weight 41mm: 42.3g / 45mm: 51.5g
- Battery Life: For up to 18 hours in smartwatch mode and for as long as 7 hours in GPS mode.
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), fall detection, blood oxygen saturation
- Deep understanding of smartwatch features, and downloadable apps
- It is easy to answer calls and send texts even without a phone line
- Advanced health monitoring
- Large, clear display
- Battery life is very poor
- Poor GPS accuracy
- Inadequacy of sport data and fields that can be customized
Best Outdoor Watch: Garmin fenix 6 Pro
Garmin fenix 6 Pro ($650). The tough design of the Garmin fenix 6 Pro includes a 1.3-inch LCD display with easy-to-read text. It’s also available in titanium- or stainless steel-coated bezels. These are tested to U.S. military standards for shock and thermal resistance.
It is equipped with more than 35 sport modes, including trail and track running, swimming and running, biking and hiking, skiing and rowing.
The navigation is intuitive and easy. The widget layout was very appealing to me. You can quickly scroll through key data like weather, downloaded music, past activities and training status.
The battery life is amazing. The standard specs show that the battery can last up to 14 days when it is in smartwatch mode. It can also be used in GPS mode for 36 hours and 48 days when it is in battery-saver. I was able net between 7 to 9 days with just one hour of GPS activity per week.
All the usual GPS features for running, swimming, cycling, and hiking can be expected. There are also a few smartwatch features such as downloadable music (up to 2,000 songs) and Garmin Pay.
PacePro (grade-adjusted running pace guidance), ClimbPro, which shows upcoming ascent info and places you are on the climb, and the warning of approaching storms via the barometric trend indicator.
Surfline Sessions records short videos of riders riding in front of Surfline cameras. Ski and golf resort maps can also be loaded (maps of more than 2,000 ski resorts, and 41,000 courses). Auto swim allows you to detect strokes while swimming in a pool.
- Size 47x47x14.7mm
- Weight: 83 g (steel), 72 g (titanium)
- Battery Life: 14 days in smartwatch mode and 36 hours in GPS mode. Up to 28 days when max battery-saver mode is used
- Health Monitoring: Tracking your sleep, monitoring your heart rate 24/7 (active and asleep), blood oxygen saturation, female health monitoring, hydration monitoring
- Amazing battery life
- Industry-leading sport reporting and depth
- PacePro and ClimbPro features available for runners
Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose The Perfect Fitness Watch
There is a huge market for fitness watches. It takes a little research and time to find the right product for you. This handy guide will help you make informed purchases. Our guide covers everything, from battery life to GPS accuracy.
GPS watches, smartwatches, and fitness trackers
There are three distinct types of watches. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Smartwatches can be described as small smartphones that fit on your wrist. They allow you to add apps and make calls without having to use your phone.
Samsung Galaxy and Apple watches are the most popular smartwatches. They are functionally designed to be convenient and track your health, but lack battery life, GPS accuracy and workout functionality.
GPS watches like Garmin, Coros and Suunto, Polar, as well as Wahoo, are specifically designed for running, cycling, hiking, swimming, and other activities that require GPS functionality. They have a greater battery life than smartwatches, and they are more powerful with tracking, metrics, and workout features.
Although most smartphones will allow you to send text messages and emails, these apps are limited in their capabilities and won’t replace your smartphone.
The fitness trackers are the simplest and most limited in functionality. They only track your health and fitness metrics like resting heart rate, variable heart rate, sleep patterns, steps, and calories burned. For features such as GPS tracking, most will need to be connected to their phones.
This is the main difference between smartwatches versus GPS watches. Smartwatches require a recharge every 24 to 48 hours on average, while GPS watches last between 5 and 15 days.
Most devices can be charged in less than 2 hours. A GPS watch is a good choice if you are like me and don’t want to have to charge another device constantly.
You can’t charge your device while you sleep if you are interested in keeping track of your sleep data. Garmin fenix 6 Pro has the best battery life, with roughly 14 days without GPS usage and around 36 hours in continuous GPS mode. Suunto 9 scored the worst, with less than 48 hours depending on usage.
The ecosystem’s strength and depth are just as important as the watch. An ecosystem includes the watch’s app, web portal and third-party apps like Strava and Spotify. You will need an app to view your data.
Garmin, the world’s largest fitness watch manufacturer, has the strongest and most comprehensive sport-specific ecosystem. Garmin Connect’s web portal and app, Garmin Connect, display almost all of the performance and health metrics that you require. Polar’s Flow web portal and app follow closely behind Garmin. Coros, Suunto and Wahoo are also following Polar.
These fitness watches can track almost any activity, from running to climbing indoors and surfing. Watches labeled “outdoor” and “multisport” tend to have more detail and granularity than watches that are labeled “multisport”. This increased functionality usually comes with a higher price.
All of the watches I tested tracked common activities like running, walking (outdoor, trail and treadmill), outdoor and inside cycling, yoga, elliptical and general strength as well as cardio sessions. To see if the watch covers a lesser-known sport, I recommend looking at the spec sheet.
Fitness watches come with an amazing array of features, from alarms to remind you to hydrate to notifications of irregular heartbeats to alarms to reminding you to exercise, Below are a few examples of the features I have listed.
My testing shows that budget watches and trackers below $100 have the most basic features, with a few exceptions. Watches between $150 and $250 will include the basic features as well as most of the more popular ones. Premium watches have advanced, standard, and basic features.
- Basic Distance, pace and heart rate.
- Standard: Sleep, calories, VO2 max, stress, elevation gain/loss, training zones, cadence, power, notifications (call, text, email)
- Advanced: Strava Live Segments and Music.
Coaching and training
Companies have been able use the data from fitness watches to provide guidance for training, as they have become more accurate in tracking fitness and health data. This is something I find particularly fascinating as a full-time running instructor.
Overtraining or not enough rest is the main reason runners fail. Polar and Garmin seem to have the best coaching and training insights, with Coros right beside them.
The price can be a good indicator of the features included in a watch. Entry-level watches are designed to be simple and affordable and can cost less than $200 retail. Two of my favourite entry-level watches are the Garmin35, and the Polar Unify.
For casual fitness, entry-level watches are ideal. For serious fitness enthusiasts, expect to spend more than $200.
Watches can feel and look different if they are priced above $250. Garmin fenix 6 Pro.
Accuracy of GPS
GPS devices typically have accuracy within 1-3%. All GPS-focused brands tested (Garmin Coros, Polar Polar, Suunto and Wahoo), performed equally well in terms of accuracy and connection. The connection time ranged from 10 seconds to several minutes while the distance was within the 1-3% margin.
It is important to remember that accuracy and GPS connection have a lot to do location. Accuracy is dependent on multiple satellites communicating freely with each other and reporting back to the watch.
Satellites can be distracted by buildings or clouds, which can impact their ability to locate the sensor in your watch. Ask other athletes to compare GPS performance in the same area.
Multisport and outdoor watches can be too large and heavy for small wrists due to their many features. Many brands, including Polar, Garmin, and Coros, offer smaller versions to their flagship models. Garmin fenix 6 Pro comes in 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm sizes.
What is a Fitness Tracker?
The primary function of a fitness tracker is to monitor your health data, such as heart rate and steps. The watch or band that it wears can be used to monitor the activity. To access data, most fitness trackers must be connected to your phone.
Apple Watch vs. Fitbit: Which is Better?
The Apple Watch is a great choice if you own an iPhone. This smartwatch is the most popular, and every person I have spoken to loves it. The Apple Watch won’t work if you don’t have an iPhone.
Fitbit is a great choice, but with Google’s recent acquisition in limbo, the future of Fitbit as we know it today is in question.
Which Fitness Watch is the Most Accurate
This is a difficult question to answer. It all depends on the features that you are referring to. My experience is that Apple watches have the best health monitoring, Garmin has the best GPS tracking and Polar has the most accurate heart rate monitor.