Generally, GPS watches fall into 3 price ranges: budget ($100-$150), mid-range ($150-$250), and high-end ($250+). While some watches are sold bundled with accessories like foot pods or heart rate monitors, for the purposes of this guide, cost is based on the watch only – or the lowest price if the watch is only sold bundled with accessories.
Budget GPS Watches
Up to $150
GPS Watches in this price range typically do the bare minimum, meaning they track time, distance, pace/speed, and calories burned. They automatically create laps and look like a typical sport watch with standard functions such as time and date, alarms, and a stopwatch.
Many of these watches (but not all!) are also waterproof. So while you can take them swimming, they don’t have features that make them anything other than expensive stopwatches.
Battery life tends to be pretty good, averaging about 8 hours in activity mode (i.e. while you’re exercising), longer if wearing it like a regular watch.
The screens can be customized to varying degrees (from not at all to a limited amount), allowing some control over which data fields are displayed. Many can download activities to a computer to analyze post-workout. And other than a few exceptions, most are not compatible with accessories like heart rate monitors or foot pods.
Mid-range GPS Watches
$150 to $300
These GPS watches offer all the features found in budget watches (time, distance, pace/speed, calorie tracking; the ability to download workouts), but can also support accessories like heart rate monitors, foot pods, and bike speed and cadence sensors.
Like budget watches, most of these are waterproof and have an average battery life of up to 8 hours. Two new features to this class of GPS watches are interval workouts, where you can create time- or distance-based intervals the watch tracks for you; and multi-sport, which lets you quickly change activities (and the data displayed for those activities) with a single button push.
While most of these mid-range watches are sport watches, there are a few brick-style watches. Although bigger and bulkier, they have a larger screen able to display more information.
High-end GPS Watches
$300 & up
Expanding on budget and mid-range functionality, the high-end GPS watches can do the basics and a whole lot more. They have very customizable screens; they work with accessories like heart rate monitors, foot pods, etc.; and almost all of them will wirelessly sync workouts from watch to computer.
These watches also tend to be feature-rich and built with specific athletes in mind. Most function well as triathlete watches – they have multi-sport and customizable activity profiles. A few have a built-in accelerometer that more accurately tracks swimming distances and speed.
Battery life of around 20 hours or more is common. They can track elevation, some with a barometer for added accuracy. When outside, they have strong navigational aids like waypoints and breadcrumb maps.