Today’s powerful GPS watches have all the sport-specific features to track every stride on the roads, but they’re also packed with other sensors and technology to keep you connected the rest of the day, too. But they’re also a pretty sizable investment that you’ll want to last for years and miles to come. Whether this is your first time buying an advanced watch, or you’re poking around for an updated model, we have some tips and suggestions for making sure the right one lands on your wrist.

Made for Running… and So Much More

In most cases, more features mean more dollars when you’re shopping for a new GPS watch. While there are ways to cut down on price—like buying a refurbished version or opting for an older model of a recently released watch—narrowing down the features you need is key. And that doesn’t just include fitness features. These high-tech timepieces come with a slew of lifestyle functions and perks that you may—or might not—use long after you kick off your running shoes. Here are a few of the hottest features, for both working out and just hanging out, that you’ll want to consider.

Fitness Features

Altimeters, barometers, and gyroscopes show up in GPS watches geared to hikers and trail runners who want to keep tabs on altitude, air pressure, and navigate new routes in the wilderness. But they do come at a bit of a price bump, so decide where you’ll be doing most of your training. If the answer is on the roads, check out watches with built-in visual maps to guide you through new neighborhoods, or ones that track your in-depth running metrics and design personalized workouts for you. Think you’ll be spending a lot of time cross training? Some high-end picks can offer you up to 80 different sport modes ranging from surfing to snowboarding and biking to badminton. Some watches will even let your friends live track your runs.

Lifestyle Features

GPS watches with cellular service mean you can call and text right from your wrist, and give you access to your favorite smartphone apps. For example, you might order your Starbucks latte on the go, stream music wirelessly through Spotify, track your Uber ride, switch off your house lights—and then brag all about it on Facebook. Wi-Fi compatibility can also make it easier to sync a full music library, check the weather, or scroll through your e-mail. And no worries if you leave you wallet at home. NFC payment features mean you can pay right from your wrist.

Here are some of the top of the line watches and how they stack up. Looking for something simpler or more affordable? Check out Basic Watches for Runners.

Garmin Forerunner 945

Quick Take: Every training tool a runner or triathlete could want

Forerunner 945


  • GPS
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Long battery
  • Virtual pay


  • Expensive
  • One color

Why We Like It: The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the most feature-packed Forerunner yet. It tracks your every step on the run and your heartbeat as you sleep to give you a complete profile of your life as an athlete. And the newest model supports music playback—it stores up to 1,000 songs, whether they’re your own MP3s or synced from a music service like Spotify. The color maps, previously exclusive to the Fenix watch series, are another handy feature. Displayed on the watch, they help you find your way around new cities without getting lost. You can even generate round-trip courses on the fly, no computer required.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+, Wi-Fi
Battery life: Up to 36 hours (10 hours with music)

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

Quick Take: The brand’s latest smartwatch is lightweight and loaded with wellness-oriented features.


Galaxy Watch Active


  • Small and comfortable
  • Auto-tracks running


  • Battery life doesn’t last an entire day actual use

Why We Like It: The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active takes a holistic approach to fitness and wellness tracking. With built-in GPS and an accelerometer, the device automatically detects walking, running, and cycling, and users can manually track 39 different activities. Although there are only two buttons, the touch screen works well enough with sweaty hands. Working with the Samsung Health app for Android and iOS, the Galaxy Watch Active notifies you on your sleep habits, stress levels, and overall activity level. Battery life is the main detractor: We got around 3 hours of GPS runtime during testing, but only 1.5 hours when we also listened to Spotify while running.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi
Battery life: ~3 hours (using GPS), 3 days (without GPS)

Garmin Forerunner 245

Quick Take: An update to a tried-and-true GPS watch, the 245 Music has enough new features to make you consider upgrading from the classic Garmin 235.

Forerunner 245 Music


  • Syncs with Spotify to store and play music from watch
  • Performance monitoring and adaptive training

Why We Like It: If you’ve been a devoted fan of the Garmin Forerunner 230/235 models for years, this is an upgrade that will surely entice if you’re also a music or podcast lover. As long as you have bluetooth headphones, the 245 let’s you leave one piece of technology at home when you run—your phone—and let’s you sync your favorite music from services like Spotify as you run. (If you don’t use Spotify, you’ll be able to manually add music and podcasts via Garmin Express.) Other advancements include performance monitoring and adaptive training plans, new safety features, and other upgraded health features—like menstrual cycle tracking and sleep monitoring. The few downfalls include a lack of battery life when you’re using GPS along with music streaming (only 6 hours, according to Garmin) and the multiple screens to dial through when scrolling through your playlists and advancing/rewinding a song or podcast.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Battery Life:
7 days in smartwatch mode; 6 hours in GPS with music.

Coros Apex Multisport Watch

Quick Take: An elite GPS watch for running and triathlons that has a long battery life and an intermediate price.




  • Impressive battery life
  • “Stamina” metric estimates energy left

Why We Like It: Packing precise GPS tracking and insane battery life into a compact package, the Coros Apex is a top-tier multisport watch for beginners and elites alike. The Apex keeps the countless metric combinations found in the Pace, the brand’s previous sports watch, while integrating some exciting new features that runners will embrace. Notably, battery life is up to 35 hours in regular GPS tracking mode, but can be extended to last up to 100 hours if you require. It also gives you a slew of metrics you can view over five screens during your workout, including a new metric called stamina—an estimate of how much energy you have left in your own tank.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+
Battery Life: 35 hours

Apple Watch Series 4

Quick Take: The best smartwatch gets even better, with great new features for runners.


Watch Series 4


  • LTE streaming
  • Beats Radio access through Siri
  • 16 GB of storage


  • Expensive

Why We Like It: Just like the previous generation Apple Watch, Series 4 lets you leave your phone at home but still be connected to the outside world (if you opt for the GPS+Cellular version). While the watch looks almost identical to AW3, the new model boasts 30 percent more space on the screen, so everything is easier to see—and easier to tap, like when you’re launching an app. Apple also increased battery life by an hour, extending up to six hours when doing an outdoor run. Exciting new health features include the ability to detect falls—and call emergency services if you’re unresponsive—as well as run your own ECG test to detect potential heart irregularities.

What Runners Need To Know About the Apple Watch Series 4
by Runner’s World US

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi
Battery Life: Up to 18 hours

Polar Vantage V

Quick Take: A watch that helps you train like a pro, using a meter to gauge your effort on runs

Vantage V


  • Estimates running power
  • Tracks training load

Why We Like It: The Polar Vantage V is everything you need in a multi-sport watch if you’re a runner; GPS, heart rate monitor, pace, distance, etc. But it also has a bonus feature runners should be excited about: running power. Using Bluetooth Smart, you can find your data on the Polar Flow smartphone app and replay your run as well as study your stats. Running power is based on your maximum effort and is shown in percentages throughout your run (for example, on a recent 3-miler my maximum effort—shown in red in my app diary—was 21 percent). You can use this tool to enhance your training and motivate yourself to increase your speed at key points during your run.

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB
Battery Life:
40 hours

Suunto 9

Quick Take: A multi-sport GPS watch that ultrarunners will love because the battery lasts for days at a time


9 Baro


  • Extreme GPS battery life
  • Weather data

Why We Like It: Everything about this watch is big—even the face. But that allows it to pack in a massive battery that will outlast any run you can do. Suunto claims a mind-blowing 120 hours with GPS active using the “Ultra” setting, which records your geolocation only every two minutes. Bonus: If the watch senses that your battery is running low, it will give you a reminder to switch to a different power mode so it will last longer.

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB
Battery Life: GPS battery life up to 120 hours

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Quick Take: Leave your phone at home, but still get music and turn-by-turn directions


Fenix 5 Plus


  • Map routes on the watch
  • Music integration


  • Pricier than similar Forerunner 945

Why We Like It: The latest line of Fenix watches looks, feels, and functions much like the previous generation, with a just few exciting updates—routes and music. For runners exploring unfamiliar places, you can tell the watch how far you’d like to run and it will spit out a loop route, complete with prompts when you need to turn. It’s a neat trick to be able to do this right on the watch, without ever having to pinch and zoom on a Google map to see the roads around you. The highlight for many runners, though, will be music integration—especially the ability to play from Spotify. If you have a premium subscription to the music service, you can download playlists to the watch for offline playback, and stream the tunes to your earbuds via Bluetooth wireless.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Battery Life: 18 hours

Fitbit Ionic

Quick Take: A multi-sport tracking watch that also incorporates top-shelf lifestyle features



  • 10-hour GPS battery life
  • Coach feature leads you through workouts


  • Limited third party apps

Why We Like It: Fitbit’s first foray into the world of advanced smartwatches, the Ionic incorporates a range of features, including an optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope, and NFC payments, all packed into a rich and intuitive user interface. Fitbit built its own operating system for this watch, which means third party apps are limited (Strava, Pandora, and Starbucks are available now), although more will likely be added in the future. On the fitness side, the Ionic tracks several different activities, including running, swimming, and cycling, and we particularly liked its “Coach” feature, which will lead you through bodyweight workouts—a simple way to spice up your gym routine.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, USB, NFC
Battery Life: GPS battery life up to 10 hours

Apple Watch Series 3

Quick Take: A great option for iOS users looking for a watch that can do it all

Watch Series 3 GPS


  • Apple Music compatibility
  • Holistic activity tracking


  • Sweaty hands will struggle to use touch screen

Why We Like It: If you dream of a world where you can leave your phone behind and still track all your activity and your email, the Apple Watch Series 3 might be the device to take you there. Apple made several upgrades under the hood in this version, including a new barometric sensor for altitude tracking and more in-depth pulse monitoring to record your resting, walking, and recovery heart rates. It’s also a robust activity tracker, with modes for everything from running to HIIT workouts and more. But the big sell is the addition of LTE cellular service in the watch itself (a feature also available on the Samsung Gear S3). That means you can take calls and receive texts pretty much anywhere, no phone required.

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi
Battery Life: Up to 18 hours

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

Quick Take: A rugged precision tool for competitive runners

Spartan Sport
$303.44 (39% off)


  • 80+ sport-specific training modes
  • 24/7 activity tracking

Why We Like It: The Spartan series features big, durable watches with long-run battery life and an impressive array of features, including customized sport modes (80 are preloaded), mapping, training insights, and charts. The Spartan Sport Wrist HR keeps the sturdy construction, but gets an optical heart rate monitor and 24/7 activity tracking to give you a complete picture of you daily movements. The new HR sensor was built in partnership with Valencell, a leader in biometric sensors, and we found it routinely delivers accurate measurements. Plus, the watch consistently dialed in a GPS signal even when faced with challenging conditions. The Sport model gets just 12 hours of battery with GPS active (compared with 26 hours for the Ultra), but that’s plenty for your everyday training runs and marathons—ultramarathoners may need the higher-tier option. The watch syncs with Suunto’s smartphone app to quickly transfer your workouts to its online platform for deeper analysis of your run.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
Battery Life: 12 hours

A true love for sports

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