Running watches are getting smarter,tracking so much more than just your run
Suunto Ambit 3
$515 (with heart rate monitor)
Who’s it for?
Serious trail runners, multisport enthusiasts and gear nerds looking for a fully-featured watch.
- The Ambit has always been an innovator when it comes to facilitating apps and pushing its software capabilities in a GPS unit, making the first Ambit a proto-smartwatch.
- The Ambit3 adds Bluetooth synching (a necessary feature for a fully featured 2015 GPS watch, in our opinion) and dumps ANT+ connectivity in favour of Bluetooth Smart sensor for heart rate monitoring and the footpod. While Bluetooth Smart may be the way of the future, it feels like Suunto is acting hastily to move on from ANT+.
- The unit has a large, crisp display face, is highly customizable. The GPS connects quickly, remembers previous locations and is very accurate. The Ambit3 can act as a fitness tracker, but it lacks the ability to seriously analyze this data.
THE BOTTOM LINE The Ambit3 is a solid premium watch, but feels like a product caught in transition. If you’re looking for a powerful watch that does multisport well and has most of the bells and whistles for trail nerds, the Ambit3 is a solid option. But if you can wait out the 12–14 month cycle Suunto seems to work on, the next incarnation may offer more of a value upgrade and it might catch up to the competition.
$500 ($560 with heart rate monitor)
Who’s it for?
Runners who need a fullyfeatured watch and dabble in triathlon.
- After firmware improvements, the V800 is now a stable multisport watch. It functions as a virtual training partner, with very accurate (and quick) GPS, as well as all the custom programmable screens you’d expect from a top-end GPS watch. The V800 also connects to your phone and can push notifications. It’s now also compatible with both iOS and Android devices.
- The unit is primarily designed as a triathlon device, with swimming and biking features, but we found it to be much better as just a running watch. Polar’s Flow web and app offerings, as well as a commitment to improving the watch through various updates over the last year have shown that the company is dedicated to making this watch worth its high-end price tag.
THE BOTTOM LINE The V800 is a quality, current generation fully-featured GPS watch. At $500, it’s pricey, but Polar have also shown a big commitment to pushing the device’s software to be the best watch it can be.
Garmin Fenix 3
$720 (with heart rate monitor)
Who’s it for?
Mountain runners, orienteering nuts, stats obsessives
- Last year, we took the Fenix 2 to Argentina, Chile and up in the Rocky Mountains. We were very impressed. The third edition of Garmin’s backwoods, high country tracking device is slightly slimmer than the previous beefier models. It incorporates a slew of minor improvements, and is a really strong multisport GPS unit. It’s basically a triathlon watch (it shares the same software foundation as the FR920XT) with many added hiking and mountain-oriented features.
- One big addition is app and widget support through Garmin’s Connect IQ portal. You’ll be able to add all sorts of different apps, pushing the capability of the watch even further. Adding useful data such as sunrise/sunset times, weather info (which can be pulled regularly through a Bluetooth connection to your phone) and a simulated chrono watch face makes the Fenix 3 a standout in the full-featured watch category.
- The battery life of the Fenix 3 is also improved from the previous version. The size of the watch may be an issue with some runners, but it’s also one of the more stylish looking sport watches on the market.
THE BOTTOM LINE If you don’t mind the size and plan on doing more than just road running, the Fenix 3 is perhaps the single most impressive sports watch available right now.
Is the Apple Watch Right for Runners?
Apple Watch Sport
Who’s it for?
Runners looking for a robust smartwatch first and a hardcore running watch second (for now).
- The Apple Watch isn’t necessarily a “running watch,” but it serves as a great activity monitor that, paired with an iPhone, can power a variety of popular running apps, including Runtastic, RunKeeper and Strava.
- As a stand-alone activity monitor, it has a wrist heart rate sensor and sophisticated accelerometer for tracking every waking moment. All of this data is beautifully represented within the watch and as an app on the iPhone. Daily exercise, standing and calorie goals can be set and tracked, and alerts will indicate your progress.
- For those who already run often with their phone, the Apple Watch is a great addition. You can receive (and, more importantly, filter) alerts, take a phone call and control iTunes all with a few simple touches and swipes.
THE BOTTOM LINE Although the Apple Watch is not purely for runners, its powerful platform and appeal to developers to build and improve upon apps will make this an increasingly alluring option. If this watch were to have a GPS unit, it would be easily the most interesting option on the market for most athletes. As it stands, the Apple Watch has promise, and the sport model is certainly runner-friendly.
Garmin Forerunner 15
Who’s it for?
Perfect for someone new to running, or an experienced runner looking for a budget GPS watch that is willing to sacrifice features. Also ideal for those with a smaller wrist, as it comes in two sizes.
- Following the trend of providing activity tracking features, the FR15 is like a blend of their VivoFit and a much more basic FR220.
- The GPS is slower to connect (10–20 seconds) than higher-end models, but the tracking accuracy is excellent. It only provides two screens of info, with just two units of data (so, you can’t get pace/overall time/distance on one screen, for example).
- It’s one of the smallest, lightest GPS watches on the market. It also comes in two sizes.
- Enough battery power to last a marathon, or about a week of workouts. Over 15 hours of power in standby/activity tracking mode.
- Pairs with Garmin’s excellent data analysis and online platform, Garmin Connect.
THE BOTTOM LINE Although we wish it could display three units of data and had Bluetooth sync capability, the FR15 is an incredible value for a GPS watch. It’s basic, but will satisfy many runners with its accuracy and simplicity.
TomTom Runner Cardio
Who’s it for?
The everyday runner, particularly one who trains using heart rate monitoring but doesn’t enjoy wearing a chest strap.
- The built-in heart rate monitor reads your pulse straight through your wrist. It’s quite accurate and, even if you aren’t interested in training by monitoring your heart rate, this is very useful data.
- The core unit pops off the strap and TomTom has produced alternate colours, if you get bored of the factory unit’s look. The strap itself is wide, but very comfortable.
- Since the unit was first released last year, TomTom has made big improvements through firmware upgrades. The Cardio now supports Bluetooth uploading to a smartphone and you can upload the data to just about any running app out there. Although TomTom’s web platform is very rudimentary, the fact that they are allowing users to use third-party apps is a smart move on their part.
THE BOTTOM LINE Along with the Garmin FR220, the TomTom Runner Cardio is the best midrange option on the market. It’s a great everyday running watch with heart rate monitoring baked in. It’s well designed, easy to use and was built for serious use.