Many fitness trackers and smartwatches now incorporate location-tracking on the device itself, rather than relying on your smartphone. Still, serious athletes are investing in dedicated GPS watches. Even the most basic devices track and map your routes, and use the data to calculate your pace and speed. Extra features, such as heart rate monitors, altimeters, preloaded maps and Bluetooth capabilities can come at a premium.
Our favorite GPS watch is the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music, which features not only a built-in heart rate monitor, but it can store 3GB worth of music and comes bundled with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds. That means you no longer have to bring a second gadget with you if you want to listen to music while you run. It also syncs with Google Fit and Apple HealthKit now, too.
For those on a budget, we recommend the Garmin Forerunner 25, a no-frills watch that accurately tracks your runs.
Similar to fitness trackers, the line that separates GPS watches from smartwatches is blurring with the arrival of devices that incorporate smartphone notifications with GPS, step, distance and calories counts, plus heart rate measurements.
GPS watches can be general purpose, or they can be dedicated to specific activities. Golfers will want to opt for a device with preloaded course maps, while triathletes will want to get a multi-sport watch that can not only withstand more than a dip in the pool, but can also measure your strokes and your biking distance.
To help you choose which device is best for you, we've selected the top GPS watches in various categories, judging them based on performance, ease of use and design.
Latest News and Updates (Feb 2018)
- We're expecting the $450 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music to drop in March or April, according to the Garmin website's estimated delivery date. In our hands-on time with the new watch, we found the addition of music makes running more enjoyable. The new feature also makes Garmin more competitive with rivals Apple and Fitbit.
How We Test GPS Watches
For each GPS watch, we evaluate its hardware design and comfort. The device needs to be comfortable enough to wear during even the most rigorous and lengthy runs. We test for GPS speed and accuracy by grabbing location signals in different areas — in between tall buildings and skyscrapers, as well as in open spaces. We use each watch for an extended period of time to test the manufacturer's battery-life claims. Lastly, we evaluate the device's companion app and the experience of using the watch and app together.
If the GPS watch also happens to be a smartwatch, we evaluate the included software, app ecosystem and special features like mobile wallet capabilities.
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