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Best Budget GPS Watches in 2020

 

Ready to upgrade to a full-fledged GPS watch?

We’ve gathered the best budget GPS watches on the market right now. Besides increased accuracy, a GPS watch is easier than a smartphone to take on your run. Plus they’re more durable and sweat and rain-proof than a smartphone.

But if this is your first GPS watch, you probably don’t need or want all the confusing high-tech features found on expensive watches. Most of these GPS watches are designed and best for runners. Typically, a triathlete watch requires more features, which in turn costs more money. We’ve included one on this list – but the cost might expand your definition of budget.

Most of these GPS watches fall in the $99 to $200 range – a few are under $100. We’ll cover the differences and explore why some cost more than others…

Best Budget GPS Watch

Top 3 and Favorites

 

Garmin Forerunner 45

 

  • Clear, color display
  • Good battery
  • Safety features
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Garmin Forerunner 35

 

  • Wrist heart rate
  • Great price
  • Lightweight
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COROS APEX

 

  • Awesome battery
  • Multisport for triathletes
  • Accurate GPS
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Best Overall Budget GPS Watch

1. Garmin Forerunner 45 and 45S

The Forerunner 45 and 45S are Garmin’s most recent budget GPS watch. They replace the Forerunner 25 and 35 (which you’ll also see listed below).

So why buy the Forerunner 45 if earlier, less expensive versions of this watch are still available? More features, better battery, and longer support from Garmin if something goes wrong.

Like any good GPS watch, the Forerunner 45 tracks time, pace, and distance. A wrist heart rate monitor is built into the watch for round the clock heart rate tracking. It doubles as a fitness tracker to monitor steps and sleep tracking.

Separating this watch from most everything on the list is a high-resolution, color display. You’ll get 13 hours of battery life when using it with GPS on a run. Closer to 7 days when just wearing it as a fitness tracker. The Forerunner 45 also comes in two sizes: the 45 is the larger of the two. The 45S is slightly smaller and lighter, great for people with thin wrists.

Rounding out the watch’s main features are phone alerts like texts appearing on the watch. The Forerunner 45 also comes with a nice safety feature. If you find yourself in trouble, a single button push can alert your friends and family with a text or email that your in trouble and your location.


PROS:

  • Bright, clear color screen
  • Works as activity tracker and has phone notifications
  • Comes in two sizes
  • Good battery life
  • It has wrist heart rate monitor

CONS:

  • Still fairly expensive for a budget watch

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Best GPS Watch under $100

2. Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin’s Forerunner 35 was their first budget watch to add a wrist-based heart rate monitor.

While it’s an earlier version of the Forerunner 45, it still stands above most other budget GPS watches. And because it’s basically discontinued, you can find it for a great price online.

Like the Forerunner 45, the watch tracks essential info for runs: time, distance, pace, and heart rate. It has a nice, easy to read display combined with a user-friendly interface.

Garmin also included an activity tracker on the Forerunner 35. So in addition to tracking your activities with GPS, it can be worn all day and night to monitor steps, track sleep, and set daily exercise goals.

Viewing activities is easy – the Forerunner 35 syncs to your smartphone and uploads activities wirelessly. This also lets your watch act as a notifications center – all alerts and texts appear on the Forerunner 35.

With a powerful battery (13 hours GPS mode) and lightweight form, the Forerunner 35 feels light on the wrist and doesn’t require frequent charging. The screen is easy to read in bright and low-light conditions.

The Forerunner 35 isn’t quite as light as the Forerunner 45. And it’s missing the color display and a few other features. But otherwise, it’s still a great budget GPS watch.


PROS:

  • Thin, lightweight design
  • Easy to read display
  • Wrist heart rate monitor
  • Pretty long battery

CONS:

  • Can’t replace watch band
  • Discontinued

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Lightest Budget GPS Watch

3. Timex Ironman GPS

This watch keeps it simple: it displays your time, your pace, and your distance. That’s basically it. All in a lightweight design with a nice 12-hour battery.

Workouts can be uploaded post-run. And it has a few extra features like interval workouts, a run/walk timer, and race mode.

When turned on, race mode leaves GPS no matter what. So if you are waiting in a corral or at the start for a long period of time, GPS won’t automatically turn off. It also has some pre-loaded race distances (5k, 10k, etc.) so during a race you’ll know how much farther to the finish.

Best of all, the Timex Ironman GPS is a solid deal and the reason it makes our best budget GPS watch list.


PROS:

  • Very lightweight
  • Basic and simple to use
  • Nice, budget price

CONS:

  • Clunky download interface
  • Doesn’t have many extra features

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Best Budget Polar GPS Watch

4. Polar M200

At first glance, the Polar M200 is very comparable to the Forerunner 35 & 45. But while it’s great at tracking distance and pace and includes phone notifications, it has a smaller, lower-resolution screen and weaker battery.

There is also no 24/7 heart rate tracking. Those things aside, it’s a good GPS watch at a decent price.


PROS:

  • Nice color options
  • Basic, simple watch with wrist heart rate

CONS:

  • Small, low resolution screen

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Best Budget GPS Watch for Triathletes

5. COROS APEX

Compared to some of the other GPS watches on our list, the COROS APEX may stretch the boundaries of budget. But in the context of a multisport watch – and by battery life – the APEX is one of the best deals out there.

GPS accuracy on this watch is top-notch. Different from the other watches we’ve looked at, the APEX also tracks swim workouts and bike rides. Combined together, you can track a full triathlon using the multisport button. This changes activities and data screens as you transition from swimming to biking to running.

The most impressive part of the APEX is its incredible battery life. In GPS mode, you’ll get about 35 hours of battery life per charge! Typically, you don’t find this size battery in all but the most expensive watches.

Other nice features include activity tracking, phone notifications, and PODcompatability. This little accessory helps improve form by tracking running efficiency. Uploaded runs and other activities simply with the COROS phone app.


PROS:

  • Tons of features
  • Best budget triathlete watch
  • Awesome battery life

CONS:

  • Budget only in the sense when compared to similar tri watches

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Best Budget GPS Smartwatch

6. Apple Watch Series 3

What?! An Apple watch is on our budget GPS watch list? Actually, yes. If you don’t mind buying an older version of Apple’s wearable device, you can get a great deal on a GPS watch.

The Series 3 was Apple’s first watch to feature a stand-alone GPS design. Meaning, you don’t need to bring your phone with you to track your runs. While the original model required your phone’s GPS to track runs, the Series 3 can do it alone.

Like the other watches we looked at, the Series 3 tracks steps and sleep and heart rate through an optical wrist monitor. 

With the Apple watch, you also enter the Apple ecosphere to sync your phone with your watch, receive alerts, and set-up independent apps.


PROS:

  • Lots of non-running apps
  • Lightweight with nice screen
  • Built-in GPS

CONS:

  • Older version, may not be supported by Apple as long as newer versions
  • Still lacks in features compared to dedicated GPS watches

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Best Basic Discontinued Watch

7. Garmin Forerunner 25

The Forerunner 25 is simple, light-weight, and handles the basics with ease. It comes in two sizes and multiple colors to accommodate everyone’s tastes. And the Forerunner 25 packs enough extra features to really get your money’s worth.

With a simple push of a button, the Forerunner 25 is ready to track your run by time, pace, and distance. Post-run, the Forerunner 25 uploads activities wirelessly to your smartphone (or to a PC with an included cable).

When running, the watch can be programmed with run/walk intervals (great for beginners or anyone doing a couch to 5k plan) or pace alerts which notify you when you go above or below a set pace.

Like Garmin’s other GPS watches, the Forerunner 25 also includes activity tracking to monitor steps, sleep, provide move reminders, and create daily step goals. Like runs and other activities, the data can be easily synced to your smartphone.

The Forerunner 25 comes in two sizes, including a smaller size better for thin wrists. The display is crisp and easy to read. And the battery lasts 8-10 hours in GPS mode – fairly robust for GPS watches in this price range.

To make this an even better deal, Garmin has recently removed the Forerunner 25 from fixed pricing. What does this mean? A bigger discount for you – check the link below for the best price.


PROS:

  • Great value
  • Comes in two sizes and a couple color options
  • Tracks steps and uploads activities wirelessly

CONS:

  • Discontinued so may not be supported by Garmin for much longer
  • Average battery life
  • Low-res screen

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Photo of happy couple running outdoors

How We Picked the Best Budget GPS Watches

Even if you’re not paying top price for a GPS watch, we think the best budget GPS watches can – and should – do more than just track your time, pace, and distance.

Ease of use, battery, and extra features were all things we considered when selecting these GPS watches. With more watch brands and budget models available now than ever before, there are plenty of options for all budgets.

PRICE

While the average mid-level GPS watch costs around $250-$300, we kept the max price for this list to about $200 (with a couple of exceptions). The most expensive included wrist-based heart rate while the mid-range watches had a few features more than what the bare-bones versions had.

EASE OF USE

The most expensive GPS watches are packed with features but come at the expense of a more complicated design. Maneuvering between menus and screens is harder with more features.

With a budget GPS watch – that has fewer features – we expect controls to be simple and easy to use. Operation should be as simple as pushing a button to find satellites and a second button push to start the timer. That’s it.

SCREEN SIZE AND RESOLUTION

Good…..

Not so good….

One of the first things you lose in a budget GPS watch is a large screen with good resolution. The watches we’ve chosen all have a good resolution for easy reading. And while not all have a large-ish screen, most are decent sized so you don’t need to squint to read it.

BATTERY

We’re not expecting long-lasting batteries, but they should be adequate. 10 hours at a minimum.

SYNCING

A good GPS watch – even at a budget price – can and should be able to wirelessly upload activities to a phone with bluetooth.

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

Some of the watches in our list go beyond GPS basics. These include receiving text and other phone notifications on the watch, uploadable routes, and run/walk timers. Some can be programmed with interval workouts. And we especially like the small, lightweight watches that weren’t big and bulky.

Budget GPS Watch FAQs

Why Buy a GPS Watch?

A GPS watch has two advantages over a traditional chronograph running watch. First, it measures how far you ran in real-time. You’ll never be in the dark about what mile you’re at during a run. Second, it tracks pace, also in real-time. So with a GPS watch you’ll know how long you’ve been running, how far, and at what pace.

The fast majority of training plans are built around running a certain distance at a specified pace. Without a GPS watch, it’s very hard to keep track of how far you ran and the pace you are running.

Additionally, almost every GPS watch allows you to download the activity to a computer or phone. This makes it easy to record your runs. This allows you to review past runs, track mileage over a long period of time, and see how your fitness has improved.

What Does a GPS Watch Do?

Beyond tracking time, pace, and distance, a GPS watch has many extra functions. It tracks running data like cadence, calories burned, and heart rate. It can be programmed with intervals or other complicated workouts to help you with your training.

Many GPS watches auto-pause the timer when you stop. And they automatically set a lap at every mile.

More expensive GPS watches are compatible with cycling accessories. Some can track swim workouts. Other watches can track ski runs.

How Much Does a Good GPS Watch Cost?

A basic watch can cost as little as $50. The most expensive can be upwards of $1,000! There is an entire range of watches in-between.

If you want a GPS watch that can do a lot of things, but doesn’t cost a ton of money, we recommend looking into a discontinued watch. These older models are still good, but cost much less than the latest watch it replaced. These watches still have loads of useful features. But typically lack the newest features (like Garmin Pay on the vivoactive 3).

Another factor to consider: battery-life in GPS watch has greatly improved. Batteries in older watches won’t last as long.

GPS watches have also gotten smaller in recent years. Older models are often bigger and bulkier than the latest GPS watches.

What am I giving up by buying a budget GPS watch?

When buying a budget GPS watch, you need to decide where your budget meets your needs.

A more expensive watch will do more things – it tracks more data, can be used with more activities, helps with training and running form. The entire feature list can be pretty long.

But functionality is more complex. This is why many people prefer a budget GPS watch. They may not be able to do as much, but they are simpler to use.

Can I use a budget GPS watch for activities besides running?

Yes, absolutely. You can use even the most basic GPS watch to track anything outdoors where you want to know time, distance, and speed. This goes for cycling, canoeing, skiing, kayaking, walking, hiking, etc.

What you often lose are extra features for those specific activities. For example, the higher-end Garmin fenix series tracks ski runs. It measures vertical speed (how fast you are going down), it automatically sets a lap at the bottom of the run, and it auto-pauses on the ski lift.

You could do the same thing on a less expensive watch. But it’s going to require more manual stopping, pausing, and lapping.

That’s just one example – each watch and each activity is different.

Will My GPS Watch Work in Europe?

Yes! Sometimes it will take longer to find satellites, but yes it works!

The Wired Runner