1. TomTom Runner 3 Cardio + Music
TomTom’s Runner 3 is waterproof to 40m and comes in four versions with different features. I opted for the top-of-the-line Runner 3 Cardio + Music with GPS, heart rate and built-in music playback.
Sleep, steps, distance, calories, activity and heart rate are monitored during the day, while running, cycling and other activities can be tracked too. GPS routing was solid, as was the heart-rate data, but finding a GPS signal at the start wasn’t as fast as the Garmin (see No 5).
The Runner 3 Cardio + Music is a bit bulky, but comfortable all day once adjusted properly and has a battery life counted in weeks. It syncs with a smartphone via Bluetooth, or with a computer using the USB charging cable included, which is a bit fiddly to attach to the watch. It can store music on the 3GB of internal storage but not from streaming services.
The monochrome screen is clear for general wear but the face options are limited. At-a-glance running information, such as pace, distance and heart-rate zones, is clear too, but the one-button joystick beneath the screen is rather awkward to use.
Verdict: Feature-packed and capable, despite being a cheaper option.
2. Huawei Watch 2
The Huawei Watch 2 is an Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch with dedicated fitness features and third-party app support, with built-in GPS, heart-rate monitor and optional 4G.
You get all-day activity tracking through the Daily Tracking or Google Fit, including inactivity reminders. The Workout app tracks running and cycling, which is excellent but can only export data to a handful of services. Strava is available on the watch too, while Google Play Music takes care of music playback – no offline Spotify playback on Android Wear yet.
GPS accuracy is excellent, heart-rate data is pretty good and the battery lasts more than four hours on a run with both going. It has to be charged daily, so no sleep tracking, and it’s only water resistant to IP68 standards (over 1m for 30 minutes).
Optional 4G means updates, music streaming and calls without a phone. Built-in Android Pay means you can leave credit and travel cards at home too.
Verdict: Good balance between running and smartwatch for Android phone users.
3. New Balance RunIQ
One of a new breed of fitness-focused smartwatches from sports firms, the New Balance RunIQ is waterproof to 50m, has a fairly large, round screen, simple sports stylings, a comfortable standard rubber strap and now runs Android Wear 2.0.
The Strava-powered running and cycling app uses GPS and sensor to good effect, monitoring pace, distance and heart rate with dedicated pause and lap buttons and direct upload to Strava. Google Fit takes care of general activity tracking, with more apps available in the Play Store. A nightly charge means sleep tracking is a bit tricky.
Google Play Music takes care of music playback from the watch, but other services such as Spotify do not support caching music on Android Wear yet.
It needs either an Android or iOS device to work, but is much more feature-rich when used with Android smartphones.
Verdict: Big screen and comfortable, with direct upload to Strava (with a better app).
4. Apple Watch Series 2
Apple’s smartwatch now has GPS and is waterproof to 50m, making it a much better fitness tracker. The series 2 records the usual steps, calories and activity, and will remind you to get up from your seat and to breathe, but doesn’t track sleep.
The Workout app handles running and other activities, working well with good GPS accuracy once locked and reasonable heart-rate data for runs, but once recorded the data is locked in the Activity and Apple Health apps. Third-party running apps including Strava are available from the app store, however.
The battery lasts over four hours with the GPS and heart rate monitor going for a run, which will cover a marathon if you’re fast enough. There’s a Nike+ version, too with unique colours, straps and pre-loaded Nike+ integration.
Music from iTunes or Apple Music can be stored for playback via Bluetooth headphones, while built-in Apple Pay allows you to leave your cards at home.
Verdict: The best running-smartwatch hybrid for iPhone users.
5. Garmin Forerunner 235
The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a dedicated running watch with GPS, heart-rate sensor, colour backlit LCD screen, physical buttons and water resistance to 50m.
Steps, calories, distance covered, all-day heart rate and sleep are logged with a battery life that is counted in weeks not hours, even when connected to an Android or iOS smartphone for notification alerts. For running or cycling it’ll track your route via GPS, gaining a lock very quickly even indoors, and lasts about six hours with everything going, producing solid location and heart‑rate data.
Pace distance, time, laps and heart-rate zone are all nice and clear on the screen mid-run, even in direct sunlight, while the side buttons are easy to use without stopping. There’s no music playback from the wrist, or payments, however.
The Garmin Mobile Connect app is almost too rich with data, and can be quite confusing for those not looking to examine the minutiae of their performances, but exporting your data to Strava et al is a breeze.
Verdict: Very long battery life, excellent running and fitness, but no music playback built in.