The Best Fitness Watches of 2024

The Best Fitness Watches of 2024

Fitness encompasses a host of activities: walking, running, golfing, climbing — all with different metrics to track. The best fitness watch or fitness tracker is one that supplements your workout regime, tracks the data, and fits with your lifestyle.

Our experts have been strapping on fitness watches of all kinds for close to a decade now, testing more than 45 of the best fitness watches and pulling together the best for every situation in this guide. These watches have been tested using standardized methods for comparing sensor accuracy, battery life, functionality, durability, and fit.

Beyond that, we’ve also taken these watches everywhere — from the summits of volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest to the depths of the canyonlands of Utah — and pushed these devices to the limit to see what breaks.

Besides our own personal testing, our resident fitness coach reached out to the clients he trains and other athletes for their insights and spent hours reading online reviews. We read spec sheets and compared them across brands and models.

Below are the best fitness watches, GPS watches, and fitness trackers based on our testing. To help you find the best fitness watch for your unique needs, we’ve included a buyer’s guide, a frequently asked questions section, and a comparison chart.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Fitness Watch guide on May 24, 2024, to add the new Suunto Race — easily the best watch the brand has ever made. A new AMOLED screen differentiates it from the Vertical, along with a handful of other smart updates.

The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


Best Overall Fitness Watch

  • Size
    47 x 47 x 14.5 mm
  • Weight
    73 g
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    57 hours; 73 hours with solar
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
  • Screen/Bezel
    Power Sapphire, titanium
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Impressive battery life

  • In-depth fitness and performance stats

  • Huge variety of activity profiles preset

  • Intuitive interface


  • Heavy on the wrist

  • Expensive

Best Budget Fitness Watch

  • Size
    41.9 × 41.9 × 13 mm
  • Weight
    30 g with nylon strap, 38 g with silicone band
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    38 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.2″ Corning glass touchscreen and fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Navigation capable
    Breadcrumb
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Extremely competitively priced

  • Outstanding battery life for the price

  • Dual-frequency GNSS reception

  • On-device 4GB music storage

  • Next-generation 5 LED heart rate monitor


  • Less durable nylon polymer case and mineral glass

  • Feels lightweight and less sturdy

  • Lack of training and coaching insight compared to rivals

Best Mid-Tier Fitness Watch

  • Size
    46.1 x 46.5 x 14 mm
  • Weight
    53 g
  • Battery type
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    75 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.3″ sapphire screen and titanium bezel
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Impressive GPS tracking

  • All-encompassing activity profile suite

  • Great battery life

  • Comfortable band


  • Limited mapping capabilities

  • Dial-wheel tough to use while active

Best Fitness Watch for Running

  • Size
    46.1 x 46.1 x 12.9 mm
  • Weight
    47 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    20 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.1-1.3″ Gorilla Glass 3 and fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Dazzling AMOLED touchscreen display

  • Smart Garmin health stats and reports

  • Multi-band GNSS reception

  • USB-C charging


  • Not much third-party app support

  • Lacking in smartwatch features

Best Fitness Watch for iPhone Users

  • Size
    49 x 44 x 14.4 mm
  • Weight
    61.4 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    12 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    Sapphire crystal and titanium
  • Navigation capable
    With cell service (limited without)
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Depth of smartwatch features and downloadable apps

  • Ease of answering calls and texts without a phone connection

  • Advanced health monitoring

  • Large, clear display


  • Not incredible battery life

  • Heavier device

Best Fitness Tracker

  • Size
    38 x 18.5 x 11.6mm
  • Weight
    37 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-polymer
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    5 hours in GPS mode
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS + GLONASS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1″ glass, aluminum, and resin
  • Navigation capable
    No
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    No
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50M)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • GPS tracking without phone connection

  • Health-tracking metrics

  • Google apps built in

  • Affordable


  • Very basic sports tracking

  • Small screen

  • No non Google app controls

Best Off-Grid Solar Fitness Watch

  • Size
    50 x 50 x 14.5 mm
  • Weight
    67 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    60 hours; unlimited with solar
  • Global satellite networks
    Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.1″ Power Glass and fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Utilizes multiple satellite navigation systems to offer pinpoint accuracy

  • Solar watch face charges the watch as you work

  • In-depth smart fitness features guide our workouts


  • The strap is removable or replaceable

  • Watch body is plastic

Best of the Rest

  • Size
    43.8 x 43.8 x 13.3 mm
  • Weight
    47 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    21 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.2″ Gorilla Glass DX and fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Navigation capable
    No
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Customizable one-button scrolling to view health and fitness data

  • Programmable workouts for running, cycling, and swimming

  • Bright display and crisp button action make it easy to use during activities


  • Expensive

  • No multi-band GNSS satellite reception

  • Weak battery life for the price point

  • Size
    49 x 49 x 13.6 mm
  • Weight
    74 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    90 hours in Endurance GPS mode; 140 hours with solar version
  • Global satellite networks
    Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.4″ sapphire crystal and stainless steel/titanium
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Free detailed topographic maps downloadable to the watch

  • Impressive battery numbers, with available solar charging

  • Dual-band GNSS reception

  • Wi-Fi connectivity


  • No music storage on device

  • Size
    47 x 47 x 14.5 mm
  • Weight
    57 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-polymer
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    Up to 61 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.4″ Gorilla Glass and aerospace aluminum
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    WR50 (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Outstanding battery life

  • Heart rate monitoring

  • Strava Live Segments


  • Expensive

  • Weak and delayed button action

  • Dull and simple app

  • Unintuitive interface

  • Size
    43.6 x 43.6 x 12.6 mm
  • Weight
    51 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    22 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.1-1.3″ Gorilla Glass 3 and stainless steel
  • Navigation capable
    No, only back to start
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Bright AMOLED display

  • Smart Garmin fitness plans and Body Battery readings

  • Smartphone voice assistant compatibility

  • Many different available bezels and straps


  • Proprietary charging connection

  • Some lag when awaking watch

  • Size
    43 x 43 x 10.8 mm
  • Weight
    64 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    70 hours in Endurance GPS mode
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    Sapphire crystal and stainless steel/titanium
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Vastly improved battery life 

  • New processor is much quicker than old version


  • Not immune to a few lags here and there

  • No multi-band GNSS reception in a flagship watch

  • Size
    42.3 x 24.3 x 12.2 mm
  • Weight
    28 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    18 days typical; 28 days with battery saver
  • Global satellite networks
    Connect to smartphone GPS
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.4″ tempered glass and polycarbonate
  • Navigation capable
    No
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    No
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Affordability, intuitive, and comfortable

  • Accurate GPS for walking and biking

  • Strong catalog of workouts


  • Touchy screen lock

  • Short band

  • Not as rugged as other designs

  • Size
    42.2 x 42.2 x 11.1 mm
  • Weight
    36 g.
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    21 hours
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo reception
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.2″ Corning Gorilla Glass and anodized aluminum
  • Navigation capable
    No
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    No altimeter, yes compass
  • Water resistance
    5 ATM (50m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • More affordable than comparative watches

  • Competitive training/health data for the type of watch

  • Smart lifestyle trackers and apps


  • Buttons are not very responsive

  • Size
    49 x 49 x 13.3 mm
  • Weight
    70 g. (Titanium version)
  • Battery
    Lithium-ion
  • Single-band GPS battery life
    50 hours in Endurance mode
  • Global satellite networks
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou
  • Screen/Bezel
    1.4″ sapphire crystal and stainless steel
  • Navigation capable
    Yes
  • Barometric altimeter and compass
    Yes
  • Water resistance
    10 ATM (100m)


The Best Fitness Watches of 2024The Best Fitness Watches of 2024


  • Beautifully crisp and clear AMOLED display

  • Digital dial for quick scrolling in and around maps

  • Worldwide offline GPS maps

  • Massive screen is easy to read

  • Beautiful build quality, materials, and aesthetic


  • No offline music via third-party streaming services like Spotify

  • Unlabeled and unmarked maps

There are plenty of fitness watches on the market today, but some important differences will dictate which to go with; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Fitness Watch Comparison Chart

Fitness Watches Size Weight Battery (GPS) GNSS Reception Screen/Bezel
Garmin fenix 7 Pro Sapphire Solar 47 x 47 x 14.5 mm 73 g 57 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo Power Sapphire, titanium
COROS Pace 3 41.9 × 41.9 × 13 mm 30 g 38 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS 1.2″ Corning glass touchscreen and fiber-reinforced polymer
COROS Apex 2 Pro 46.1 x 46.5 x 14 mm 53 g 75 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS 1.3″ sapphire screen and titanium bezel
Garmin Forerunner 265 46.1 x 46.1 x 12.9 mm 47 g 20 hours Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo 1.1-1.3″ Gorilla Glass 3 and fiber-reinforced polymer
Apple Watch Ultra 49 x 44 x 14.4 mm 61.4 g 12 hours Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou Sapphire crystal and titanium
Fitbit Charge 6 38 x 18.5 x 11.6mm 37 g 5 hours GPS, GLONASS 1″ glass, aluminum, and resin
Garmin Instinct
2X Solar
50 x 50 x 14.5 mm 67 g 60 hours Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo 1.1″ Power Glass and fiber-reinforced polymer
Garmin
Forerunner 745
43.8 x 43.8 x 13.3 mm 47 g 21 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS 1.2″ Gorilla Glass DX and fiber-reinforced polymer
Suunto Vertical 49 x 49 x 13.6 mm 74 g 90 hours Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou 1.4″ sapphire crystal and stainless steel/titanium
Polar Vantage V3 47 x 47 x 14.5 mm 57 g 61 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS 1.4″ Gorilla Glass and aluminum
Garmin Venu 2
Plus
43.6 x 43.6 x 12.6 mm 51 g. 22 hours GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo 1.1-1.3″ Gorilla Glass 3 and stainless steel
Suunto 9 Peak
Pro
43 x 43 x 10.8 mm 64 g 70 hours GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS Sapphire crystal and stainless steel/titanium
Amazfit Band 7 42.3 x 24.3 x 12.2 mm 28 g 18 days Connect to smartphone GPS 1.4″ tempered glass and polycarbonate
Garmin vívoactive 5 42.2 x 42.2 x 11.1 mm 36 g 21 hours GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo 1.2″ Corning Gorilla Glass and anodized aluminum
Suunto Race 49 x 49 x 13.3 mm 70 g 50 hours Multi-band GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou 1.4″ sapphire crystal and stainless steel
Our top three award winners for 2024 — the Garmin fenix 7 Pro, COROS Pace 3, and COROS Apex 2 Pro; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

How We Tested Fitness Watches

GearJunkie knows fitness, and our testers know their watches. The team includes Cory Smith, an online running coach and freelance journalist with over 25 years of running and rock climbing experience. He’s an expert, from treadmills to shoes

Our most recent fitness watch update saw contributor Ilana Newman saddled with more watches than she has wrists to put them on, putting them through the paces in southwest Colorado while trail running, backcountry skiing, and working through daily fitness regiments.

The San Juan mountains provided the perfect testing ground for this new generation of watches, and Newman is obsessed with training data and staying up to date on the newest outdoor gear.

Our experts have crafted a detailed testing regimen that aims to compare these watches on a level playing field, and it’s not uncommon to see our testers wearing three or more watches at once in order to give them a fair shake.

We compare track lengths, measure heart rate data against dedicated devices, challenge the satellite reception with difficult terrain, and run each of these watches completely dead — all in the name of winnowing out the chafe and finding the best fitness watches available today.

Beyond their personal expertise, GearJunkie has solicited the opinions of fellow runners, hikers, and climbers. When the dust settled and the final grades came in, the list above represented the best fitness watches we could drum up. But know that fitness tech is constantly improving, and new functionalities are being added daily to some of these watches. As they improve, so does our coverage, and we’ll continue to test them.

Whether the watch is tracking your progress or leading the way, these little wrist-mounted units pack a lot into a small space; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Perfect Fitness Watch

The fitness watch market can be overwhelming. There are so many options — all of which might seem similar — it can feel as though you need a college degree to tell them apart. 

While finding the best fitness watch for you does require some thought and research, this handy how-to-choose guide has all the essential information compiled so you can make the best decision for your fitness watch needs. 

We go into everything from GPS reception to how training data is used to provide health and performance predictions. Each brand of watch uses slightly different data and provides different features, each of which is more or less important to consumers. We’ll spell it all out for you so you can make an informed decision that works for your specific fitness, health, and performance goals.

Smartwatches, GPS Watches, and Fitness Trackers

Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Watch in IcelandGarmin Fenix 7 Pro Watch in Iceland
The Garmin Fenix series lands squarely in the GPS watch realm, leveraging broad satellite reception and impressive battery life; (photo/Erika Courtney)

There are three very distinct categories of watches, each with strengths and weaknesses. Smartwatches are basically small smartphones for your wrist where you can add apps and take calls without your phone.

The most popular smartwatches are Apple and Samsung Galaxy watches. Functionally, they’re geared toward convenience and health tracking, but they tend to fall short on battery life, GPS accuracy, and workout functionally.

GPS watches such as Garmin, COROS, Suunto, and Polar are designed primarily for workouts that require GPS functionality (running, cycling, hiking, swimming, etc.). They tend to have over triple the battery life of smartwatches and are very strong with workout features, metrics, and tracking.

While most will allow text and email messages, and many provide storage for music or access to streaming apps like Spotify, they’re limited in the scope of apps you can add and will not replace your smartphone.

Fitness trackers have the least functionality and only track health and fitness metrics such as resting and variable heart rate, sleep patterns, and steps. Most will need to stay connected to a phone for features like GPS tracking.

Activity Tracking

A good fitness watch will have specific activity profiles and associated information to display; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Today’s fitness watches can track just about any activity imaginable, ranging from running to indoor rock climbing and even surfing. We’ve found that watches labeled as “outdoor” or “multisport” not only tend to be able to track the more obscure activities but also do so with more detail and granularity. As a result, this increased level of functionality tends to come with a higher price tag.

Some more entry-level watches do allow you to create new activity profiles for sports that are not built-in, but most of the time these only allow you to track the basics like heart rate, time, etc. 

For example, while you could track rock climbing with the Garmin vívoactive 5, it does not have a specific profile for it, so you would only get basic data logged for that workout by using a different activity profile such as cardio. The Garmin fenix 7 Pro, however, has specific rock climbing (indoor climbing, climbing, and bouldering) activity profiles that allow you to track each route, the grade of the route, and the length of each climb. 

Backcountry skiing is another specific activity that testers found lacking on some of the lower-end watches, as a session includes both uphill and downhill travel, logging it without a backcountry skiing-specific activity profile creates an inaccurate representation. Even using cross-country skiing as a substitute on the Fitbit Charge 6 did not provide the same overall picture as using a backcountry skiing profile on a watch like the Polar Vantage V3.

(Photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Depending on the brand and the activity being tracked, you will be able to see different data both during the activity and in the activity summary after completion. If the watch supports navigation, and you’re tracking an activity that involves moving, one screen will feature a map with your location. 

High-end Garmin watches like the fenix 7 Pro series feature over 80 activity profiles with the ability to add more. The Polar Vantage V3 can hold up to 14 profiles on the watch and requires the Polar Flow app to edit or add more. COROS watches have about 30 activity profiles, but veer more toward technical outdoor activities instead of gym activities like Fitbit fitness trackers do. 

All the watches we tested tracked common activities such as walking, running (outdoor, trail, treadmill), outdoor and indoor cycling, yoga, elliptical, general strength, and cardio sessions. If there’s a less-common sport you’d like to track, we suggest taking a look at the watch’s spec sheet to see if it’s covered.

Training and Coaching

Polar Vantage V2 kettlebellPolar Vantage V2 kettlebell
Of all the watches we tested, we found the heart rate sensor on the Polar Vantage V3 to be one of the most accurate; (photo/M.T. Elliott)

As fitness watches have gotten better at tracking health and fitness data, companies have been able to use that data to give guidance on training. As a full-time running coach, our tester Cory Smith finds this particularly interesting.

The top reason he sees most runners struggle is because they overtrain or under-rest. Garmin and Polar seem to have the best training and coaching insights, with COROS right behind them.

Garmin, as the leader in the field for training data and even coaching through the watch interface, has a few statistics that seem to be included across their newest watches, no matter how high-end it is. Even these baseline stats can provide a good overview of training readiness and recovery. 

Recovery time, for example, is included on both the vívoactive 5 and the fenix 7 Pro. Garmin’s recovery time uses data from your past workouts, including your recent and long-term training load and Vo2 max. Other data, like sleep and stress tracking can also impact recovery time. Another now-standard piece of training data for Garmin is Heart Rate Variability Status (HRV), which tracks the time in between heartbeats to determine the level of stress your body is currently under, due to training load, life, lack of sleep, and more. 

Burly ski tour in the morning? Your watch will probably suggest a longer recovery time to ensure you’re 100% again; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Garmin also uses all of the data it is constantly gathering during all-day tracking as well as activity tracking to provide workout suggestions. High-end watches, like the fenix 7 Pro or Forerunner 745, provide a specific workout each day in the Morning Report, with specific goals like “base building”, based on past activities and current training status.

There’s also the option to set up Garmin Coach on any Garmin Watch, which uses the Garmin Connect app to choose a training goal — such as training for a half marathon — and Garmin Coach will provide a training plan over an allotted time. 

Polar uses similar data to provide data like Cardio Load Status, which looks at short-term training load (strain) versus long-term training load (tolerance) to determine the effect of your training (detraining, maintaining, productive, or overreaching).

Health Tracking

More the realm of smartwatches and fitness trackers, even GPS watches offer insightful health tracking info; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Health tracking is standard across fitness watches, from the most basic fitness tracker to the highest-end GPS watch.

Technology for health tracking has advanced a lot over the past few years, and certain features that used to be considered high-end are now available on just about every fitness watch, like SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation — measured through red and infrared light) and Heart Rate Variability. 

Every fitness watch measures heart rate and sleep, while some, like Polar watches, measure body temperature. Additional health data such as calories and hydration are available on most watches we tested but must be tracked manually. 

The Apple Watch provides heart health alerts for low or high heart rates and also allows for medication reminders. All fitness watches provide menstrual cycle tracking, and many have integrated mindfulness into their interfaces, like the Garmin vívoactive 5. 

Garmin watches now also track naps, along with overnight sleep. Each brand has its own way of summarizing a night of sleep, but most use a scale of 1-100 to rate the night of sleep while also tracking time asleep and sleep cycles. 

For the most part, health tracking features are also standard across brands, but each brand also has features that synthesize data in unique ways, like Garmin’s Body Battery and Fitbit’s Daily Readiness. 

Garmin’s Body Battery, for example, uses data from sleep, stress, rest, and physical activity to provide a score from 1 to 100 for physical energy. Your Body Battery will be highest upon waking and ebbs throughout the day depending on activity and stress (measured through heart rate variability).

Some Garmin watches additionally provide insights such as “Easy Day: Your day has been easy so far and you have plenty of energy left for exercise or activity”. Other brands have similar features with different interfaces.

Navigation and Mapping

On-device navigation has come a long way, and is now very impressive on flagship watches such as the Garmin fenix Pro; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

If navigation and mapping are important to you, you’ll have to shell out some cash. You can get some basic navigation features like waypoint markers and tracking integrated into your phone without needing to go for top-of-the-line watches. But if you’re going to be using your watch off grid and want to upload your own .gpx tracks, you’ll need to go for a higher-end Garmin, COROS, or Polar watch. 

Entry-level Garmin watches like the Venu 2 and vívoactive 5 that include GPS but lack navigation often feature a back-to-start mode that allows you to use an on-screen compass to get back to where you started recording, without an on-screen map. 

Watches with full GPS navigational capability and onscreen maps, like the fenix 7 Pro, Polar Vantage 3, or COROS Apex 2 Pro all allow you to download maps and .gpx tracks for navigation. They all come with basic maps installed, with the ability to add maps available through each brand’s app or website.

Garmin’s high-end watches like the fenix 7 Pro have a navigational feature called ClimbPro that shows the remaining distance for a section of uphill travel. Garmin watches also include pre-downloaded ski resort maps for 2000 ski resorts worldwide.

Garmin as well as COROS includes off-track alerts as well as turn-by-turn directions to a predetermined location.

Garmin Fitness Watch and AppGarmin Fitness Watch and App
Associated watch apps can enhance your navigation, even offering on-the-fly route creation; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Smartwatch Features

If you want the most smartwatch features, an Apple Watch or similar will be the way to go. But most fitness trackers and GPS watches also include an assortment of smartwatch features. 

After Apple and Fitbit, Garmin has the best smartwatch features, with other brands like Polar and COROS forgoing features like contactless payment for better heart rate tracking and outdoor-focused features. 

Pretty much all fitness watches sync with your phone and provide notifications for texts and other alerts — if you want. You can also turn this off if you’re in the camp who seek fewer distractions. 

Many Garmin and COROS watches also feature offline music storage, while lower-end watches have compatibility with music streaming apps like Spotify and have music controls. All Garmin watches now feature Garmin Pay and have the ability to download many third-party apps for various additional features through the Garmin ConnectIQ store. Some watches, like the vívoactive 5, even allow you to respond to Android phone texts through the watch’s onscreen keyboard.

Accuracy and Sensors

COROS Apex 2 Watch in IcelandCOROS Apex 2 Watch in Iceland
Multi-band GNSS reception can provide the best location data available by communicating with different generations of satellites; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Global Navigation Satellite Systems

Most GPS devices are accurate within 1-3%. In our testing, all GPS-focused brands (Garmin, COROS, Polar, and Suunto) performed equally in GPS connection and accuracy. Connection time varied from 10 seconds to a couple of minutes, while distance was within the 1-3% margin.

It’s important to keep in mind that location has a lot to do with GPS connection and accuracy. Accuracy depends on multiple satellites communicating with each other freely and reporting back to the watch.

Distractions such as buildings, trees, cliffs, and clouds can affect the satellites’ ability to pinpoint the sensor in the watch. We suggest asking fellow athletes in the area where you’ll be working out to find out how their watch GPS performs.

COROS Pace 3 and Competition WatchesCOROS Pace 3 and Competition Watches
Every watch will utilize a different selection of satellite systems, with more generally offering better fidelity; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

GPS isn’t the only game in town when it comes to satellite navigation systems, and many new fitness watches are integrating other global systems to increase fidelity in their location technologies.

GLONASS is a Russian satellite navigation system that provides global positioning data in the same way that the GPS system does, and can provide more definition in high latitudes. Galileo is operated by the European Union and also offers full global coverage.

The BeiDou Satellite Navigation System is operated by China and while originally only providing coverage to eastern Asia, went global in 2020. And finally, QZSS, a Japanese system, provides coverage over the Asia-Oceania regions.

Because different satellite systems have undergone multiple generations of satellites, each operates on a different frequency than the last. These older satellites are still functional and provide more data that leads to a much higher fidelity signal when combined with one another. This is multi-band GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) technology, and more and more fitness watches today are incorporating it into their builds.

Even without full-blown GPS reception, a good altitude and compass reading can assist in basic navigation; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Barometric Altimeter and Compass

Most outdoor-focused fitness watches now come with barometric altimeters and compasses that support their navigational capabilities. This is where the older term ‘ABC’ watch comes from.

Barometric altimeters measure elevation through air pressure. They can also predict incoming storms and weather patterns.

Polar and Garmin both have options to set their watches to one of three settings: Automatic, Barometer, and Altimeter. ‘Barometer’ locks the watch in a mode where all changes in pressure will be considered due to weather and changes in ambient pressure, while ‘Altimeter’ considers all changes in pressure to be due to elevation change. Automatic determines the best mode for your current activity. 

Pretty much all fitness watches that include GPS, even without full navigational capabilities, include a compass. This allows for back-to-start navigation and basic orientation without service.

Heart Rate Monitors and Pulse Oximeters

Heart rate and pulse oximeter technology can differ between devices, with better data coming from units with more photodiodes; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Monitoring heart rate is one of the most basic features of any fitness watch or tracker, and pulse oximeters have become standard over the past few years. These two sensors allow users to keep track of training strain and overall health. 

Each brand of watch uses a slightly different technology to analyze and interpret heart rate data, but they all use similar ways of measuring optical heart rate, known as photoplethysmography (PPG). A green light shines from the back of the watch, through your skin, and reflects off of red blood cells in your veins, measuring blood flow. 

Pulse oximeters measure blood oxygen content, which is most useful at high elevations to determine adjustment to altitude and performance ability. Fitness watches use red and infrared light to estimate the percentage of oxygen in your blood. While useful especially for altitude training, watch pulse oximeters are not as reliable as fingertip pulse oximeters.

Battery Life

Fitness watches with solar screens can greatly increase their time off the cord; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

This is the most notable difference between smartwatches and GPS watches. On average, smartwatches need to be recharged every 24 to 48 hours, whereas GPS watches can last 5 to 20 days between charges.

These times are ever-increasing, thanks to the integration of solar charging on some of the more premium models. Solar charging, like with the Garmin fenix 7 Pro Solar uses a Power Sapphire lens to convert sunlight into power, extending the charge of your watch, depending on sun exposure.

A lot of factors influence how long your watch’s battery will last, including what you’re using it for. If you’re using GPS tracking (and single GPS versus multi-GNSS mode matters), your battery will die faster. Most watches advertise battery life with and without GPS. 

For example, the COROS Apex 2 Pro advertises 75 hours in GPS mode (GPS + QZSS) and 45 hours with five satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, QZSS), and 30 days for daily use without GPS tracking. 

Charging time is relatively quick, with most offering a full charge in around 2 hours. If you’re like us and hate having to constantly charge yet another device, we recommend a GPS watch with a longer battery life.

Design

Bezel size can be important when you’ve got to tote the watch around all day; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Size

Outdoor and multisport watches are often larger and heavier because of the sheer number of features (and extended battery life), so much so that they can look too big and awkward on small wrists. If you prefer a smaller size, most brands (including Garmin, COROS, and Polar) offer smaller versions of flagship models. 

Buttons and Dials

The physical design of watches varies across brands, with some using a two-, four-, or five-button layout, others using a dial and buttons, and others using no buttons at all. 

Garmin tends to have two-, four-, or five- buttons on its watches. Their lower-end watches tend to have fewer plastic buttons and premium watches feature more metal buttons. Each button can be programmed as hotkeys (press and hold) to access various screens such as music controls, settings, timer, alarm, and more. In our testing, we found that the Garmin buttons feel intuitive, but the left-side buttons can be hard to reach. 

Good button ergonomics can be important when you’re mid-run and want to access a different screen; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Polar uses a similar layout of buttons to Garmin, but we found the material used for its buttons to feel less satisfying and reliable when in use. 

COROS and Apple use a combination of buttons and dials. The dial is useful for looking through lists at a glance, while buttons help make choices and find more in-depth information. 

Most watches have ways to lock the button use, which can be convenient when you don’t want your watch to change screens. Fitbit, however, has mostly done away with buttons and uses haptic sensors on one side of the Fitbit Charge 6. Testing found this to be much less reliable compared to buttons on other watches, but it does provide a simple design.

Displays and Touchscreens

The difference between AMOLED (left) and MIP (right) screens is obvious when viewed in direct daylight; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

These days, most fitness watches feature touch screens, although there are still some, like the Garmin Forerunner 745 that are button-only. But the type of screens depends on the watch and the brand.

There are two types of displays found on fitness watches — AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diodes) and MIP (Memory in Pixel). AMOLED displays are brighter and perform better in low light, but are not always great under direct sunlight. These are your smartwatch screens that look more like a smartphone. They also use up battery quickly when always on, so they usually are ‘lift’ or ‘tap’ to wake. 

MIP screens look duller at first glance, with colors showing up differently than on your phone. They use reflective LCD technology that depends on ambient light for visibility. This allows them to be always on and show up brighter in bright sunlight. They use less power than an AMOLED display. 

Outdoor-focused watches typically feature a MIP screen since this is the battery-friendly option and allows for better visibility outside, while smartwatches tend to have AMOLED displays. Some watches are even offered in both styles (the Garmin Epix Pro is the same as the fenix Pro, just with an AMOLED screen.)

The actual material used for a screen also matters, especially if you’re going to be using it for high-impact activities — or just tend to beat up your belongings. Sapphire glass is one material used by Garmin, Apple, and other watch brands that is incredibly crack and scratch-resistant. Another common material for fitness watch screens is mineral glass, which is cheaper but scratches more easily.

Watch bands can often be customized, and most often are available in textile or silicone versions; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Watch Bands

Most fitness watches come with silicone watch bands that are easy to swap out. Alternative watch bands can be found through the manufacturer, or, depending on the type of watch, can be found through third-party sites. You can choose between various textiles, rubber, or even leather watch bands depending on your needs.

Silicone is the best for active use, although some designs do need to be cleaned and dried often to avoid the build-up of sweat and grime. Textiles or leather can look nicer.

User Experience, Ecosystem, and Apps

Associated apps can offer up custom workouts, more-detailed navigation, or even on-device route creation; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

Perhaps as important as the fitness watch itself is the depth and strength of its ecosystem. An ecosystem is composed of the watch’s application, web portal, and supported third-party apps such as Strava and Spotify. To view your data, you’ll need to download an app on your phone.

As Garmin is the largest fitness watch company, it has the broadest and strongest sport-specific ecosystem. Garmin’s app and web portal, called Garmin Connect, displays just about all the performance and health metrics you need. Polar’s Flow app and web portal follow close behind Garmin, with COROS and Suunto following Polar. Amazfit’s Zepp app is a bit of an outlier, though it shows function and promise.

Price

Price can give you a good measuring stick of the breadth of features of a watch. Entry-level fitness watches tend to focus on basic sports and tracking and cost under $200 retail. Both the Garmin Forerunner 55 and COROS Pace 3 are two of our favorite entry-level watches.

Entry-level watches are perfect for someone interested in casual fitness. More serious fitness people should expect to spend over $200. Moving up in price above $250 brings a huge difference in the look and feel of watches. Premium fitness watches fall in the $300-500 price range, with top-end watches above $500, such as the Garmin fenix 7 Pro Solar.

The COROS Pace 3 (left) is a steal at $229, and offers many of the same features as the COROS Apex 2 Pro; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

FAQ

A fitness tracker’s primary purpose is tracking health data such as heart rate, sleep, steps, and calories. It uses sensors in the band or watch to monitor. Most fitness trackers need to be connected to your smartphone to access the data.

If you have an iPhone, we would recommend the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s the bestselling smartwatch, and everyone we spoke with absolutely loves it. If you don’t have an iPhone, the Apple Watch will not work.

Fitbit is a great choice, but with Google’s recent acquisition in limbo, the future of Fitbit as we know it today is in question.

This is a tough question to answer. It depends on what features you’re talking about. In general, we found Apple watches to have the best health tracking, Garmin to have the best GPS tracking, and Polar to have the most accurate heart-rate monitor.


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