We are looking for the best sports watches because choosing a suitable sports watch for your own sporting purposes is not always easy. Most sports watches today offer a multitude of (sometimes unnecessary) functions. The occasional athlete usually has enough of the basic functions, a professional athlete just wants all possible data.
We chose seven top brands within their category from dozens of sports watches. The differences between all models are sometimes minimal. During our research, we noticed that Garmin is the front-runner today. They are in the top 3 in all categories, usually together with Polar. Both offer many extras on top of the standard basic values such as time, distance, and pedometer. Other brands such as Suunto, Samsung or Wahoo also deliver the necessary quality, but they lose out when we look at the whole picture. In most cases, they offer less for a comparable price. Of course, everything depends on what exactly you are looking for in a sports watch.
Best Value: Garmin Forerunner 245
Whether you exercise recreationally or professionally, you want to measure your performance. Garmin Forerunner 245 stores just about all the data an athlete needs to improve his fitness at an affordable price. Your time, distance, heart rate, lap times and even your VO2 Max are no secret to this smartwatch. It also measures your cadence and the ground contact time of both feet to map your running style. Thanks to the built-in GPS (with options for GLONASS and Galileo) you know exactly where you exercised and in which terrain you achieved the best performance.
You send all data via Bluetooth to your smartphone with the Garmin Connect app. Based on the collected data, Garmin proposes daily workouts or training schedules. The high battery life gives you great autonomy in planning your activities. If you have a compatible smartphone, you will also remain connected to the outside world during exercise. Thanks to the emergency and accident detection functions, emergency services will immediately receive your location if you have a serious fall.
Whether you want to run, bike, swim, or hike, Garmin Forerunner 245 tracks your performance and helps you improve it. There are sports watches with even more functions, but they are located in a higher price category. Forerunner 245 gives recreational athletes the support they need at an affordable price.
Screen dimensions: 1.2 inches | Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+| Battery life: 7 days (watch mode), 24 hours (GPS mode) | Waterproof: 5 ATM
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- Lots of dates
- Garmin Connect app
- Long battery life
- GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo
- Navigating the watch takes getting used to
- No built-in music player
Best Cheap: Garmin Forerunner 45
The novice athlete does not always need a lot of fuss. Anyone who doubts to what extent the outspoken physical objectives are realistic will certainly want to measure what the performance is without spending a lot of money. Then this Garmin Forerunner 45 is a good solution. For around $150 (or much less at some stores) you can get sports to watch that display the most important data such as heart rate and distance. Moreover, due to its round, elegant shape, this smartwatch looks like an ordinary watch, so you can wear it at work without embarrassment.
Thanks to Bluetooth, you stay connected to your smartphone while exercising. You can easily post your performance on Garmin Connect, where you can find workouts or compete with other athletes. The collected data appears in clear statistics so that you can clearly follow your evolution. If desired, the Garmin Coach helps you with training plans to improve your performance.
The various functions are easily accessible via the five buttons. It takes a while to find out how best to navigate through the watch, but you get used to it quickly. The number of sports apps is all in all fairly limited to running, walking, and cycling, but if you only want to keep track of how long and how fast he walked or cycled, you will find exactly what he is looking for in this cheap sports watch.
Screen dimensions: 1.04 inches | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 7 days (smartwatch mode), 13 hours (GPS) | Waterproof: 5 ATM
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- GPS, GLONASS and Galileo
- Guidance through Garmin Connect
- No built-in music player
- A limited number of sports profiles
Best top model: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
With the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, you step into the wide world. This all-rounder really comes to life in the outdoors. Whether you want to run, cycle, climb, swim, ski, or play golf, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is your best companion. Like any Garmin sports watch, it collects a huge amount of data during your activities. Thanks to the combination of GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, this multifunctional smartwatch quickly finds your location.
During exercise, the PacePro feature helps you keep pace and run smarter on different terrains. Thanks to the ClimbPro function, you get a better view of the upcoming climbs, allowing you to better organize your efforts. Golfers can find 42,000 golf courses with aerial maps. You can download animated workouts for Pilates, for example, via Garmin Connect. All kinds of sensors keep track of various data, even during your daily activities. This way, at the end of the day, you have a nice overview of the number of steps taken, your heart rate or your breathing.
These and other gadgets such as Garmin Pay, notifications from your smartphone or saving music can also be found in various other Garmin sports watches. What makes this Fenix 6 Pro unique is the extremely long battery life. You can play sports with music for 10 hours in combination with GPS. Without music, the Fenix 6 Pro can last for 36 hours. If you turn on expedition mode, you can use the GPS function for up to 28 days. Ideal for ultra running, triathlon or survival trips.
Screen dimensions: 1.3 inches | Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi, Garmin Pay | Battery life: 28 days with GPS in expedition mode, 36 hours with GPS | Waterproof: 10 ATM
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- Extremely long battery life
- Almost unbreakable
- Lots of features
- High accuracy
- Music Storage
- Basic smart functions
- Functions that are too complex for the occasional athlete
Best for Runners: Garmin Forerunner 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 offers everything a long-distance runner wants. Thanks to the very long battery life, you can participate in ultra running without any problems. You can easily analyze the large amount of collected data via the Garmin Connect app, so you know exactly where you stand in the training schedule. This advanced smartwatch not only measures your heart rate and distances covered, but also your performance condition, training status, training effect and much more. You’ll even receive daily workout suggestions based on your fitness level.
The built-in color maps allow you to plan tours and the turn-by-turn navigation keeps you on the right track. Thanks to the combination of GPS, GLONASS and Galileo, the Forerunner 945 always finds you quickly. Do you want to buy something after exercise or on the road? With Garmin Pay you don’t need cash.
This versatile watch not only measures your sporting values, but also analyzes your sleep cycle. You can listen to up to 500 songs via Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music. Of course, you can easily connect the Garmin Forerunner 945 to your smartphone so that you receive notifications of incoming e-mails and text messages during exercise. The built-in altimeter and compass also help you find your way in the dark.
All this support and extras come with a price. For the Forerunner 945 you put a lot more money on the table than for the Forerunner 45 or Forerunner 245. We advise the novice runner to start with one of the cheaper models. As you level up, your needs will change accordingly and the Forerunner 945 will become more prominent.
Screen dimensions: 1.2 inch | Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi, Garmin Pay | Battery life: 14 days (watch mode), 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS with music) | Waterproof: 5 ATM
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- Very long battery life
- A lot of data
- Built-in maps with scheduling and navigation options
- Pay with watch
- Music Storage
Best for Cyclists: Polar Grit X
Polar is known for its very accurate positioning and the Polar Grit X is no exception thanks to the combination of GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS. With its 130 available sport profiles, every athlete can get started with this sports watch, but it has a number of functions that make it extremely suitable for cyclists.
This way you can easily upload your planned training route via Komoot to the Polar Grit X. During training, the turn-by-turn navigation keeps you on the right track. FuelWise monitors your energy consumption and indicates when it is time to top up your energy level. This can be especially useful during long training trips. The Hill Splitter gives you detailed info about the uphill and downhill parts of your cycling workout. However, this function is still somewhat limited compared to Garmin’s ClimbPro function. Training Load Pro measures the training load and indicates whether you trained too heavy, too light or well. Combined with Recovery Pro you will find the perfect balance between effort and rest.
The Polar Grit X is also compatible with all standard heart rate sensors, as well as cadence and power sensors for cycling. Polar has a handlebar mount (to be ordered separately) that makes your sports watch clearly visible on your handlebars.
Of course, the Polar Grit X is also suitable for many other sports. It detects your swimming style, distance and stroke count, even in open water. While running, it measures your running power at the wrist, a handy tool during your interval training. FitSpark provides you with ready-to-use workouts that improve your fitness. The long battery life gives you the freedom to go out for a few days without a charger. In short, a very versatile sports watch.
Screen dimensions: 1.2 inch | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 7 days (watch mode), 40 hours (GPS) | Waterproof: 10 ATM
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- Very accurate positioning
- Compatible with all kinds of external sensors
- Long battery life
- Weather widget
- No music storage
- Limited smartwatch capabilities
Best for Swimmers: Garmin Swim 2
Many sports watches also offer the possibility to measure your swimming performance, but this is usually limited to distance, time and the number of strokes. Garmin designed the Swim 2 specifically for swimming, with a limited number of other options such as walking, cycling and cardio. For those sports, the Swim 2 delivers the standard features. When swimming, however, you get plenty of options.
With the Garmin Swim 2 you can swim in a pool as well as in open water. In the pool, the measurements are mainly based on your arm movements, in the open water via GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. The wrist-based heart rate measurement helps you overcome the loss of underwater connectivity that you have with a chest strap. This feather-light sports watch recognizes your swimming style and accurately keeps track of the distances. If you indicate that you do exercises with little or no arm movements (such as prying), he will register these separately. Take a break in the water? The Garmin Swim 2 registers this automatically, but a simple push of a button is also sufficient.
You can easily activate uploaded workouts in the pool via the Garmin Connect app. Pace alerts and your critical swim speed encourage you to maintain the right pace. The Garmin Swim 2 also helps you record your SWOLF score .
As a general sports watch, Swim 2 seems too skinny to please a versatile athlete. However, for a swimmer who occasionally walks or cycles, it offers a wealth of possibilities. Also make sure you have a good swimming cap and goggles , these small differences help when exercising.
Screen dimensions: 1.04 inches | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 7 days (watch mode), 13 hours (GPS), 72 hours (pool and OHR mode) | Waterproof: 5 ATM
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- Recognizes swimming styles
- Heart rate measurement on wrist
- Registration specific exercises
- Accurate distance measurement (when swimming normally)
- Suitable for open water swimming
- Limited number of sport profiles
- No music storage
Best With Heart Rate Monitor: Polar Vantage V2
Most sports watches, especially in the higher price range, have a heart rate monitor on the wrist. No more hassle with a chest strap. However, you do lose some accuracy as a result, which is a stumbling block for many athletes. However, the Polar Vantage V2 features Polar Precision Prime sensor fusion technology, which makes the wrist heart rate monitor one of the best in its genre.
In addition, it is compatible with the Polar H10 heart rate sensor. This chest strap sensor measures heart rate without interference, even underwater through 5kHz transmission. It has both bluetooth and ANT+ and can be connected to two devices simultaneously. The combination of a high-quality wrist heart rate monitor and chest strap monitor provides a highly accurate picture of your heart rate during sports activities.
The Polar Vantage V2 supports 130 sport profiles and records the common values. If you add a chest strap heart rate monitor, you can map the recovery of your body via the Recovery Pro function, after which you receive feedback about your cardio recovery with corresponding training recommendations. In addition, you monitor the training load via Training Load Pro and you receive customized training schedules.
With the Polar Vantage V2, combined with the Polar H10 heart rate sensor, you have an advanced sports watch equal to the most performing competitors. Anyone who wants to emphasize heart rate measurement when exercising will have all the resources in their hands with this package.
Screen dimensions: 1.2 inch | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 7 days (watch mode), 40 hours (training mode) | Waterproof: 10 ATM
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- Compatible with Polar H10 heart rate sensor
- Many functions around recovery and training load
- About 130 sport profiles
- No music storage
What to look for when buying a sports watch?
Design and weight
A sports watch must first and foremost be easy to wear, because we mainly want to use it for sports. The design of a sports watch is therefore often less stylish than a classic smartwatch, although there are relatively elegant models on the market today.
Do you want a touchscreen or buttons? A touchscreen looks more elegant and is usually more intuitive to use. Buttons have the advantage that when you go for a walk in the rain or swim you are still able to easily operate your watch. A touchscreen is not well able to register touches when the screen is wet.
In most sports, the less weight you have to carry, the better. Most of the sports watches discussed here weigh less than 50 g, the Fenix 6 Pro is the heaviest at 89 g. You hardly feel that you are wearing a watch.
In addition to the design, you can also choose the color and size of the sports watch. Color is purely a personal choice. For the size, on the other hand, we recommend choosing a model that is in proportion to your wrist, especially if good heart rate registration via the wrist is important to you. When in doubt, go to the nearest store to try on a few models.
There are sports watches with and without a built-in GPS sensor. A watch without a GPS sensor must be connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth to record the trajectory of your workouts. This is not useful at all because a smartphone can be quite clunky to have to carry in your pocket or on your arm when you go for a walk. We have therefore only looked at sports watches with a built-in GPS sensor.
In addition to GPS, the better sports watches also have a GLONASS, Galileo – or even a QZSS sensor. These are respectively the Russian, European and Japanese equivalents of the US Global Positioning System. When your sports watch has all four sensors, it can connect to multiple satellites. As a result, it connects faster and you have better coverage, so that it registers your trajectory more accurately. You do use more battery. Nowadays, the cheaper sports watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 45, also have three sensors. This is not a superfluous luxury, especially in urban areas.
Today, Bluetooth is a standard part of a sports watch. No more synchronizing via an inconvenient cable connection to your PC. Thanks to Bluetooth, you are also connected to your smartphone during exercise. Most chosen sports watches offer the possibility to receive notifications about incoming messages. The more expensive ones have Wi-Fi and even replace your smartphone by allowing you to reply to those messages as well. The question is, of course, to what extent you want to be continuously connected with your smartphone. While exercising, I prefer not to be disturbed and just turn off Bluetooth.
In addition to Bluetooth, more and more devices have ANT+. This works in a similar way, but is usually a little slower. It does have the advantage that you can connect different devices to your sports watch at the same time. Do you also want to pay with your sports watch ? Then you need NFC with accompanying payment software, for example Garmin Pay. Please note, not every bank supports this payment software, so it is best to check this out with your bank first.
If you don’t want to carry around a heavy smartphone and still listen to your favorite music, then it is best to choose a running watch with built-in storage space. This allows you to play music on wireless earphones via Bluetooth, without having a smartphone in your pocket.
Many models are compatible with streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer or Google Music. If you have a paid subscription to one of these services, you can sync your favorite playlists with your sports watch. In the beginning, it takes a while to find which app to install and how to sync the songs. Because this technology is still fairly new, not all wireless earphones or headphones are supported. It is therefore best to check which earphones are compatible.
We have already briefly mentioned it, but not every running watch has a touchscreen. However, this is a thoughtful design choice because a touchscreen is impossible to operate in wet conditions. That’s why most of the running watches we chose have buttons. So you can still operate your watch while swimming or walking in the rain. In addition, you also have the screen type that plays a role.
All selected models have an ‘always-on’ display so that you can always immediately view your statistics or the time. This of course affects the battery life, but it is usually quite long so that this is not really a disadvantage. In addition, most Garmin models have transflective memory-in-pixel making the screen easy to read in sunlight and saving energy. Polar provides a similar technology with an ambient light sensor.
The screens of all models discussed here have a form of tempered glass that should be scratch-resistant.
heart rate monitor
There are many sports watches with built-in wrist heart rate monitor on the market. Cheaper sports watches are equipped with a heart rate monitor, which, however, cannot be trusted at all. Some are off by as much as 50 beats per minute. The best wrist heart rate monitors still register your heart rate less accurately than separate heart rate monitors. Research shows that built-in wrist heart rate monitors measure less accurately compared to a heart rate monitor you wear around your chest. However, that separate heart rate monitor is less comfortable and costs extra money. Our advice is to view the direct measurements of your sports watch as an indication rather than an accurate measurement. If you still want accurate heart rate data, it is best to purchase a high-quality separate chest strap.
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