Simple to operate and accurate in what they do measure, these running watches deliver for the everyday runner.
Modern running watches have extremely complex functionality and get expensive quickly. But there is great value to be had at lower prices, too, both from watches that simply tell you elapsed time and record lap splits to GPS trackers that are dead simple to use. Read quick reviews of five top options, or scroll deeper for longer reviews of more picks to help you keep tabs on the essentials of your run—plus helpful buying tips from our gear experts.
Choosing the Right Watch
Even if you’re opting for a more basic watch over an advanced model, there’s still a lot to consider. The most important thing to think about is what features you need, and how you plan to use it. Is GPS-functionality a must? Does a wrist-based heart rate monitor top your wish list? Do you plan to use the watch for running only, or would you prefer cross-training features as well? Nailing down what you want your watch to do for you will steer your search, and also help pinpoint an expected price range.
Advanced vs. Basic: What’s the Difference?
There’s no “Golden Rule” for what classifies a watch as basic or advanced, but generally you can expect simpler watches to have fewer added features, greater ease of use, and a much lower dollar sign attached. If you’re unsure whether to make a leap into a higher price range, ask yourself how often you’ll be using the watch and the extra add-ons it might have. For example, do you plan to use it twice a week for a quick run, or will you wear it daily for every workout? And when you’re done sweating, do you want to keep it on for the rest of your day to use its other non-running features? Many advanced watches deliver savvy services like contactless payments, barometric altimeters, gyroscopes, voice-activated controls, and LTE cellular service. Some even let you order Starbucks, sync your full music library, wirelessly upload run routes to Strava, or create a customized training program.
Still can’t decide? Taking a peek at our top picks for basic watches is a good place to start. If you know you want something more advanced, check out Advanced GPS Watches for Runners.
How We Selected
Every watch on this list costs under $200 and offers some form of GPS run tracking—either built-in to the watch’s functionality or available through a compatible smartphone-tethered app. In addition, each model has also been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience tracking and obsessing over runs as short as 100 meters or as long as 100 miles. We evaluated smart watches from more than ten popular and lesser-known brands based on accuracy, reliability, durability, features, style, and value to come up with this list.
[Related: The Best Smart Watches for Men]
FitBit Versa 2
The new Fitbit Versa 2 updates the popular Versa with greater overall health tracking, over 15 goal-guided exercise modes, built-in Amazon Alexa, NFC for touchless pay, and longer battery life.
Why We Like It: The Versa 2 uses a larger, brighter AMOLED touchscreen that makes mid-run metrics easier to read with an app-friendly OS that expands Fitbit’s robust activity tracking platform. A health monitoring dashboard allows users to register fitness goals, and, for women, female health tracking charts periods, symptoms, and ovulation. Now-standard Fitbit features carry over: continuous, zoned heart rate monitoring; automatic exercise recognition (we’ve all forgotten to press start at least once); seven days of stored minute-by-minute motion data; sleep tracking; notifications; and more. While our tester would have traded some of these features for a built-in GPS instead of the smartphone tether, she was pleased with the improved battery life. After six separate workouts between Saturday morning and Tuesday afternoon, the watch’s battery still had over a third of its juice remaining.
Battery Life: 2-hour charge gives 6 days