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Best running watches 2021 | Android Central

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Garmin Forerunner 245 ShoesSource: Android Central

Best
running watches
Android Central
2021

Whether you’re a new runner, a budget shopper, a casual runner, or a seasoned expert, there are plenty of smartwatches to choose from. You’ll also find that many of the best running watches are also some of the best Android smartwatches you can buy. If you want a well-rounded experience that caters to your affinity for running, you’ll have a wide range of options available to you. The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music continues to be the best running watch overall with solid battery life, tons of advanced features, and accurate tracking.

Best overall: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central

If you’re a runner of any kind, chances are you’ve heard a thing or two about the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music. It’s been around for two years, but this is one of those running watches that ages gracefully. Newer models continue to come out — from Garmin as well as other top brands — but the Forerunner 245 Music continues to be a go-to choice for many running enthusiasts.

As the name suggests, one of the stand-out features of the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is onboard storage for up to 500 songs. If you’re a dedicated runner who enjoys listening to music while you exercise, this allows you to leave your phone behind while still having access to your favorite tunes. This is a wonderful bonus, but the real selling point here is the impressive running features you’ll get.

This running watch offers multiple tools that help your train better, including Running Dynamics and Garmin Coach. Additionally, the training status feature lets you know whether you’re overtraining or undertraining. You can use the training load feature to compare your most recent exercise volume to the optimal range for your current fitness level. You’ll never be short on run profiles, either. The Forerunner 245 Music offers treadmill running, indoor and outdoor track running, trail running, and virtual running.

This running watch offers 7 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode, and 6 hours in GPS with music mode. If you’re someone who likes extra features, you might be disappointed to learn that the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music does not offer NFC for Garmin Pay. The music model of the watch is more expensive, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re on the fence about whether or not you need built-in storage.

Pros:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart-rate monitoring
  • Multiple running profiles
  • Advanced training metrics
  • 7 days of battery life

Cons:

  • Lacks NFC for Garmin Pay
  • No altimeter for elevation tracking
  • Music version is more expensive

Best overall


Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

The best watch for most runners

If you want a mid-level running watch that’s packed with perks, including music storage, you’ll love the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music.

Best value: Garmin Forerunner 55

Garmin Forerunner 55 Black

Source: Garmin

Shopping for the best running watch doesn’t automatically mean you need to spend a fortune. In fact, many numerous entry-level options still come loaded with features that are geared toward runners. One example is the new Garmin Forerunner 55. It’s perfect for daily wear yet still a good option when you need a sport-ready watch that’s lightweight and comfortable. You’ll also be able to find plenty of third-party Garmin Forerunner 55 bands when you need to switch things up.

Perhaps one of the best things about the Garmin Forerunner 55 is the battery life. It offers a whopping 2 weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode or 20 hours in GPS mode. It comes with all the core features that Garmin usually offers, including GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, built-in sports apps, Body Battery energy monitoring, stress tracking, and more.

Runners will enjoy having everything they need at their fingertips, including several run profiles. These include running, treadmill running, indoor track running, outdoor track running, and virtual running. The recovery advisor helps you understand how much rest time you need between workouts. Another neat perk is race predictor, which accounts for your fitness level and training history when helping you reach your race goal. You’ll also be able to view the impact of training on your predicted finish time.

With such a budget-friendly price tag, it makes sense that some compromises must be made. The Garmin Forerunner 55 doesn’t have NFC for Garmin Pay. You’re also missing an altimeter, so you won’t have any elevation data when recording your workouts. While the watch allows you to control the music playing on your phone, you won’t have onboard storage available. These are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things, especially when you consider how affordable this running watch is compared to its competitors.

Pros:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart-rate monitoring
  • Recovery advisor
  • Advanced training metrics
  • 2 weeks of battery life

Cons:

  • Lacks NFC for Garmin Pay
  • No altimeter for elevation tracking
  • No music storage

Best value


Garmin Forerunner 55

Garmin Forerunner 55

Best bang for your buck

Many affordable entry-level running watches still offer tons of excellent features, like the Garmin Forerunner 55.

Best for casual runners: Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit Versa 3 Heart Rate

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

If you consider yourself a casual runner, you may not need tons of high-end features. Not to mention that you’ll save some money by going with a more basic option, like the Fitbit Versa 3, for example. In this case, basic isn’t a bad thing. You get everything you need — nothing more, nothing less.

It offers a slim, lightweight design with a vibrant AMOLED touchscreen. It’s compatible with interchangeable bands, so you always have the option to change up your look. Keep in mind that Versa 3 bands aren’t compatible with previous Versa bands, though. Digging a little deeper, you’ll get 6 days of battery life depending on usage.

You get plenty of features for tracking your health and fitness. Some examples include heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, automatic exercise recognition, on-screen workouts, and female health tracking. Whether you’re going for a walk, outdoor run, or treadmill run, the Versa 3 can track it. Active Zone Minutes is another useful feature. You’ll earn Active Zone Minutes for the time you spend in fat burn, cardio, or break heart-rate zones.

If you’re big on third-party app selection, you’ll want to manage your expectations when buying the Fitbit Versa 3. It has improved over time, but it’s not as robust as some other Android smartwatches. If you opt for the always-on display feature, be prepared for your battery to train faster. As we mention, you don’t get any super advanced features here as far as running is concerned. Casual runners and those just getting started with their fitness tracking journey will appreciate the efficient simplicity of the Versa 3.

Pros:

  • GPS, HRM, NFC
  • Activity/sleep tracking
  • Active Zone Minutes
  • Gorgeous AMOLED display
  • 6 days of battery life

Cons:

  • App selection is limited
  • Always-on display kills the battery
  • Lacks more advanced features

Best for casual runners


Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit Versa 3

Keep things casual

If you want something basic yet efficient, the Fitbit Versa 3 offers plenty of features, great battery life, and a user-friendly design.

Best for outdoor enthusiasts: Garmin Fenix 6

Garmin Fenix 6

Source: Garmin

Some runners are adamant about exercising outdoors and that’s where the Garmin Fenix 6 comes in. There’s no outdoor adventure too tough for this watch. It might be called a running watch, but outdoor enthusiasts who are also passionate about running will find the best of both worlds in this wearable. It’s important to note there are numerous Garmin Fenix models to choose from. The Fenix 6 is the most “basic” of the bunch, but don’t worry; it’s still packed with important features.

Let’s start with the basics. The Garmin Fenix 6 comes in a rugged 47mm case and has been tested to meet U.S. military standards for thermal, shock, and water resistance. In smartwatch mode, the battery life will last for up to 14 days. In Gps mode, it’ll last for 36 hours. True adventurers will appreciate the expedition GPS activity mode, extending battery life for up to 28 days.

You’ll also enjoy some new features that weren’t previously available on the predecessor. For example, GPS accuracy is improved, and you can now take heart-rate readings underwater. There’s a whole mess of outdoor activity profiles, including hiking, mountain biking, and snowboarding. You get the key run profiles: running, treadmill running, indoor track running, trail running, and virtual running. You also get advanced training metrics that benefit runners, including running dynamics, heat- and altitude-adjusted VO2 max, and recovery advisor.

If you want to more precise navigation with topographical maps, you’ll need to upgrade to a Fenix 6 Pro model. If you want solar charging abilities, consider a solar model. As you can imagine, the price gets higher the further up you go, but it might be worth it for some users. The standard model is still pretty pricey — and huge. If it has the features you need, and you don’t mind the price tag, you’ll love what this multisport GPS watch can do for outdoor runners.

Pros:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart-rate monitoring
  • Highly durable design
  • Advanced training metrics
  • 2 weeks of battery life

Cons:

  • Wildly expensive
  • Too big for some wrists

Best for outdoor enthusiasts


Garmin Fenix6

Garmin Fenix 6

Be unstoppable

If you’re all about running outdoors and taking on new adventures, you’ll be in good hands with the Garmin Fenix 6.

Best for training: Polar Vantage V2

Polar Vantage V2 Lifestyle

Source: Polar

While all runners train at some point, some do it much more than others. Whether you’re a professional athlete or you’ve got a calendar full of races coming up, you’ll appreciate how focused on training and recovery the Polar Vantage V2 is. It may not be quite as popular as some of the other brands on this list, but the Vantage V2 deserves recognition for being one of the best running watches on the market.

It’s quite the upgrade from the previous model, for starters. You’ll have access to several elite performance tests that are designed to help you measure, improve, and monitor key metrics. Some of these tests include running performance, VO2 max estimate, a leg recovery test, Training Load Pro, and Recovery Pro. If you’re interested, you can also enjoy access to personalized, pre-made workouts as well as daily guidance with the company’s FitSpark program.

The running performance test will help you monitor your progress while personalizing your heart rate, speed, and power zones. The Recovery Pro feature can help you determine whether your body is prepared for training with helpful recovery feedback right on the screen. One unique feature is the leg recovery test, which tells you if your legs are ready for high-intensity training. You don’t need any special equipment for this feature, either. Last but not least, the Running Index feature estimates your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) while running. This score indicates how efficient your running is and can be monitored over time so you can track your progress and performance.

Considering that many of the watches on this list offer between one to two weeks of battery life, the Polar Vantage V2 could use some improvement in that area. The watch claims to offer 40 hours of battery life for continuous training. There are some battery saver options, which are supposed to extend battery life up to 100 hours. There aren’t any mapping options, which some runners can’t live without. Finally, the 47mm case still might be too large for some wrists. For everything you get with this running watch, the price tag makes sense. That being said, it’s a stretch for beginners and budget shoppers.

Pros:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart-rate monitoring
  • Multiple battery saving modes
  • Over 100 sport profiles
  • Training Load Pro & Recovery Pro

Cons:

  • Too large for some wrists
  • Battery life could be better
  • Doesn’t offer mapping

Best for training


Polar Vantage V2

Polar Vantage V2

Train your heart out

When you’re a runner who needs to focus on training and recovery, the Polar Vantage V2 goes the extra mile.

Best for LTE: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE

Garmin Forerunner 945 Lte

Source: Garmin

If you’re familiar with the Garmin Forerunner 945, you’ll notice that the new Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE offers many of the same features, including 2 weeks of battery life. As the name indicates, the main difference is LTE connectivity. When it comes to LTE smartwatches, most people think of making calls and sending texts from their watch without their phones connected. The Forerunner 945 LTE takes a different approach.

The ability to use the LTE connectivity on this watch does not depend on your carrier. With other LTE smartwatches, you might only be able to access the connectivity with a certain carrier(s). Instead, the connectivity is based on a subscription plan through Garmin for $5.99 per month if you choose an annual plan or $6.99 monthly without the annual plan. Don’t expect to shooting off texts or making calls, though. The Forerunner 945 LTE is intended to help runners remain connected on the go. You’ll enjoy phone-free safety and tracking features, spectator messaging, and live event sharing.

Another feature that runners will appreciate is PacePro Technology, which offers grade-adjusted guidance when you’re running a course. You also get many of the same key performance metrics that we’ve mentioned in some of the other Garmin running watches, such as VO2 max, training load, training status, performance condition, and training effect. This model also offers full-color maps to keep you on track. You can easily follow a specific route with turn-by-turn navigation.

If you loved the Forerunner 945 and like the idea of having LTE connectivity, this might be the running smartwatch for you. However, it’s important to understand just what this LTE connectivity offers. It’s not like some of the other LTE models out there. The main purpose is to keep you safe and connected while you’re running. If that makes the higher price tag worth it, then the Forerunner 945 LTE could be a winner.

Pros:

  • GPS, HRM, NFC
  • LTE connectivity
  • 2 weeks of battery life
  • Advanced training metrics
  • Full-color mapping

Cons:

  • LTE use requires a monthly subscription
  • Expensive for the limitations of LTE

Best for LTE


Garmin Forerunner 945 Lte

Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE

Connected to what matters

The Forerunner 945 LTE takes running to a whole new level with LTE connectivity to keep you safe during your workouts.

Best for Wear OS: Suunto 7

Suunto 7 with Wear OS

Source: Android Central / Russell Holly

When you’re partial to running watches that run Wear OS, you’ll want to check out the Suunto 7. This wearable focuses on providing in-depth tracking and intricate details that runners crave. It’s over a year old now, so it’s not the newest Wear OS watch out there, but it covers a lot of ground.

If you’re searching for the biggest running smartwatch, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. The Suunto 7 comes in an enormous 50mm case that’s made with durability in mind. It’s been tested and is designed to meet important standards, including resistance for shock, water, dirt, and more. The 5 ATM rating means you can run in mud, snow, rain, or any other condition you might face when you head outdoors.

When you’re training, you’ll appreciate having access to key features that make the process a bit easier. For example, you’ll have outdoor offline maps for easy and accurate navigation. You can use the built-in heatmaps for several activities, including running, which will show you popular routes in the area. You can choose to train where others are training or stay off the beaten path if you prefer.

Other than the fact that you want to make sure this huge watch will be comfortable on your wrist, you also want to make sure that you can live with 2 days of battery life. That goes down to 12 hours when training with GPS. There’s a battery-saving GPS mode that should allow the battery to last longer during outdoor workouts. Wear OS watches are notorious for their short battery life, so this may not be a deal-breaker for some users.

Pros:

  • GPS, HRM, NFC
  • Excellent activity tracking
  • 70 sport modes
  • Full-color mapping
  • Durable design

Cons:

  • Huge is an understatement
  • Poor battery life

Best for Wear OS


Suunto 7 Wear Os

Suunto 7

Get your Wear OS on

If you need a sporty Wear OS running watch that’s all about detailed tracking, you’ll have met your match with the Suunto 7.

Best for iOS: Apple Watch Series 6

Apple Watch Series 6 review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

It may not be an Android smartwatch, but the Apple Watch Series 6 is an excellent choice for iPhone users. You’ll appreciate the seamless experience that occurs when your phone and smartwatch run on the same operating system. This is one of the latest releases from the company, and it offers some minor improvements. For example, if you’re a runner, you’ll be able to take advantage of health and fitness tracking on the Apple Watch Series 6.

As always, this smartwatch maintains the design that most iOS users are familiar with by now. There are some new color options within the Series 6 lineup, including blue, red, gold, and graphite. You can choose between a 40mm and a 44mm case. You’ll also have a few options when it comes to the case material, including aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. Under the hood, you get an improved S6 processor.

Some of the basic health and fitness features include built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, an always-on altimeter, blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, native sleep tracking, and much more. The recent introduction of Apple Fitness+ shows the company has taken note of how competitive the fitness smartwatch industry is becoming. This subscription service offers a giant library of video-led workouts. Choose your workout and the video will display on your preferred Apple device so you can follow along.

Not surprisingly, the Apple Watch Series 6 isn’t the cheapest smartwatch out there. Runners with iPhones might not mind paying the extra money for this experience. With that in mind, nothing is stopping iPhone users from seeking out a more running-focused smartwatch that runs on a different operating system. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that these wearables still only offer a depressing 18 hours of battery life, so prepare for daily charging.

Pros:

  • GPS, HRM, NFC
  • Activity/sleep tracking
  • Blood oxygen monitoring
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Two size options

Cons:

  • Still expensive
  • Not for Android users
  • Disappointing battery life

Best for iOS


Apple Watch Series 6

Apple Watch Series 6

Apple users rejoice

The Apple Watch Series 6 offers the basics that runners need. It also has a faster processor and the new Apple Fitness+ service.

Best running watches: How to decide

Choosing the best running watch will depend on a few key factors, including your battery life needs, feature preferences, and budget. Most runners will find the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music to be the best option. It’s a mid-level running watch that covers the essentials without breaking the bank. Of course, there are cheaper options, but you’re going to score an amazing set of features for the price. It also offers a full week of battery life, which will be more than sufficient for a lot of people.

If you feel like something’s missing from the Forerunner 245 Music, you could always consider one of the more advanced options on this list. On the other hand, if you’re new to all this, you might want the bare minimum when it comes to a running watch. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a running smartwatch out there for everyone.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author:

Courtney Lynch is a freelance writer at Android Central. She’s obsessed with all things health, fitness, and music. At any given time, she can be found checking out the latest and greatest gadgets while simultaneously petting her dog and sipping iced coffee.

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