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 Garmin's Forerunner 645 Music, which packs advanced workout-tracking features in a stylish, round, stainless steel watch frame and offers on-board song storage, which is a first for Garmin. Now that you can listen to music without a phone nearby, Garmin's latest GPS watch is a device that can truly stand on its own.
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 (November 2018)
- Fossil's new Wear OS smartwatch, Fossil Sport ($255), offers built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, NFC and on-board music storage with Spotify preinstalled. The new watch also features the next-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip, which should make the device more powerful and longer-lasting than other smartwatches. Fossil Sport, which comes in two sizes (41mm and 43mm), is available to buy now.
- Polar has launched two new GPS watches, the Vantage V ($499) and the Vantage M ($279); both watches have a new feature called Training Load Pro, which monitors the exertion level of each training session, and tailors the next session accordingly. Both also have new optical heart rate sensors that use both red and green LEDs to penetrate deeper, and help improve accuracy among wearers with darker skin pigmentation, as well as those training in colder weather. The Vantage V also has a Running Power meter, giving runners an at-a-glance number that shows the amount of power they produce with each stride. The Vantage V will last up to 40 hours when using GPS and its heart rate monitor, while the Vantage M will last up to 30 hours.
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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