The Best Smartwatches for Running in 2018
The top smartwatches for running combine fitness tracking with notifications, music, texts, apps, and all the other great things you expect from a smartwatch.
How do you choose which one is best for you?
There are a number of features that are pretty universal from custom watch faces to step tracking to text, emails, and other alerts popping up on the watch.
But there are some significant differences as well. Some function on their own without a nearby phone. Others have built-in GPS. A few are more fitness watch than smartwatch.
How do you choose which one is best for you? The best options depend on your needs.
Here are six of the best smartwatches for running for you to compare to decide on the best smartwatch for you.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. Fitbit Versa
One of the newer Fitbits on the market, the Versa combines fitness tracking with smartphone features. It’s versatile enough to take for a run, but has a stylish look for everyday wear.
It comes with a great battery that can last about four days. It charges from zero to 100% in a couple of hours.
The watch also provides 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring. Leave your phone at home while you listen to music with enough storage for 300+ songs. There are also many apps including coaching, guided breathing, and reminders.
It’s slimmer than older Fitbits. It has a square shape like the Apple watch. It comes in various colors including pink, gray, and black – plus you can pair it with a range of different wristbands.
The touchscreen makes using the watch simple. The three buttons on the side are also customizable to jump to the programs you use most.
Like many smartwatches, the Versa performs best when synced with a smartphone. This means having your phone nearby.
This might be a pain when going for a run. The Versa relies on your phone’s GPS to track your pace and distance.
But you can receive smartphone notifications on the Versa. With an Android phone, you can “quick reply” to texts with a button push.
It supports 15+ exercise modes so no matter what you’re doing, you can track your progress. The Versa is waterproof for swimming. It tracks time and laps while in a pool.
Like all Fitbits, this one also monitors steps, creates step goals, and monitors sleep. It also tracks calories burned and lets you compare active minutes vs. stationary minutes.
For an affordable price, this is one of the best watches out there for tracking your running and fitness progress.
- Take it swimming- waterproof to 50m
- Long battery life (3-4 days)
- Receives phone notifications (plus a “quick reply” with Android phones)
- No GPS of its own (can connect to phone GPS however)
- No microphone to use voice commands
2. Apple Watch Series 4
The Apple Watch Series 4 has been redesigned with new features ideal for runners.
The Series 4 comes with built-in GPS for tracking time, pace, and distance while running. Easily see lap splits, cadence, and how far or ahead you are from your goal pace.
Waterproof to 50m, the Series 4 tracks both pool and open water swims. And if you don’t feel like setting the watch ahead of working out, it attempts to figure out and record whatever you are doing.
Enjoy listening to music? Stream music, podcasts, or radio stations from the watch to wireless bluetooth headphones.
The display screen is 30% larger than prior Apple Watches. An improved battery means less charging. While you’ll still likely to charge it every day, it should last the entire day without a recharge.
The Series 4 tracks your activity 24 hours a day. It uses 3 activity rings that measure how much you move, how much you exercise, and how often you stand. Tracking these metrics ensures you are staying active throughout the day.
Heart rate is tracked with a wrist-based monitor. A new ECG sensor displays irregular heart beat patterns.
Any gym equipment that is compatible syncs with the watch to ensure accurate records of your speed, calories, and heart rate. With the ability to download many popular apps, you can use your favorites for working out.
This is not your classic dedicated work-out device. But it does a great job at monitoring the progress of any running or fitness enthusiast who isn’t a professional.
This is a great choice for any runner wanting an attractive yet fitness-ready smartwatch.
- Built-in GPS and altimeter
- Waterproof to 50m
- Short battery life (a little more than one day)
3. Samsung Gear Sport
At $299.99, the Gear Sport is lighter and nicer looking than its older models, though heavier than many models on the market today. But it looks like a traditional watch which is appealing to many people.
Choose between the black or the blue model, with a variety of interchangeable straps. It can run with both Android and iOS to check notifications but is better suited for Samsung Android phones to utilize Samsung Pay and to reply to texts when connected via Bluetooth (or Wi-Fi.)
With an additional rotating wheel around the watch face, it is very easy to navigate menus. It does boast over three days of battery life, but the voice recognition is currently sub-par and there aren’t many apps to choose from.
Using the training guide app, there are more than 60 workouts to choose from and the watch will guide you through each. It will continuously monitor your heart rate, and like Fitbit will suggest various stretches if you’ve been sitting for a while. It is also waterproof to 50m, with a separate swim tracking app for more advanced stats.
It can automatically detect workouts, and your fitness data syncs with the Samsung S Health app. MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal and a few other, lesser-known apps may be used as well. While it has a GPS, some features may not be as accurate as some individuals would like, so this watch is probably better suited for casual exercise.
- Built-in GPS, altimeter and barometer
- Attractive watch-like design
- Waterproof to 50m
- Easy interface
- Track calories right from the watch without an extra app
- Few apps
- Voice command capability is not reliable
- Some issues when pairing with a non-Samsung phone
- Occasionally may freeze during exercise
4. LG Watch Sport
Working as its own phone with an extra fee, you can make calls and workout without taking your phone along. Plus, there is now a keyboard that allows full texting.
The battery life isn’t one of the best, and the watch is rather large (not great for small wrists), but it still has a nice design and is comfortable. Verizon is no longer selling this one, but it can be found elsewhere!
Waterproof up to 1.5m for 30 minutes, this one is not advised for swimming. Choose between a titanium or blue color, but there aren’t replacement wrist bands, since there are antennas built in. With the large size of this one (partially due to the built-in SIM card tray and 4GB of storage for music) it’s generally thought to be more for fitness than style.
There aren’t too many apps available, but what is available can be installed from the watch in the mini app store. For most functionality, having an android phone will get you farther – to use Google Assistant and Android Pay. One nice feature besides the other fitness abilities, is its strength training mode. Accuracy with location, pace and heart rate while running are decent based on user reports.
- Built-in GPS for runs, hikes and walks
- Large display
- Rotating dial to more easily navigate menus
- Short battery life (little more than one day)
- Large and heavy, better for fitness than style
5. Garmin Vivoactive 3
Ranging in price from $299 to $330, this watch is one of Garmin’s first to bring a more attractive, round and lightweight design to the table – so comfortable you can forget you’re wearing it, even while running. Battery life in smartwatch mode runs over five days, and the GPS mode lasts up to 13 hours, plus water resistance up to 50m.
This watch come with one of the most accurate heart rate monitors next to a chest strap and measures stress and recovery. Plus, it will give you motivational messages and remind you when you’re not being very active.
While this is simpler for style, it comes with many more built-in workout features such as preloaded running and swimming profiles (including stroke type detection and swim efficiency) and various GPS based workouts, though it is limited when it comes to strength training.
It features 15 sport profiles for a very wide variety of exercises, from running, golfing, snowboarding, paddle boarding, rowing, yoga, stairs-stepping, and more.
For runners, this one tracks your cardio fitness level to give you an idea of how physically fit you are, plus you can compare to others in your age group with the app. It also features all-day stress tracking, which is something other watches are working on incorporating.
Other nice features include an upgraded processor for faster response time, find-my-phone, and music control for your phone. You can also use mobile pay and receive your smartphone notifications while on the go – calls, texts, calendar reminders and other apps as you set them – plus send basic responses to texts on android phones.
There aren’t too many advanced performance metrics, but the price point is fair in comparison and if you’re looking for a fitness-focused watch to get into better shape, this is a solid option.
- Built-in GPS, barometric altimeter, and thermometer for outdoor temperatures
- Long battery life
- Mobile pay
- Suited for fitness with fewer smartwatch “extras”
- No built-in music storage
6. Fitbit Ionic
At $299, the Fitbit Ionic is a bigger version of the Versa, with more features, a larger price tag to match, and a slightly bulkier, square, but still light and comfortable style made with aerospace-grade aluminum. The battery will last about four days, with the GPS battery life of 10 hours, and a short one-two hour charge time.
Also having a variety of colors to choose from and replaceable bands, this watch, like the Versa, will also track female health, has a high-res screen, stores 300 songs, accepts mobile payments, and gives access to Pandora.
The Ionic functions as a classic Fitbit and has many smartwatch features that make it stand out. You can now install apps with the Fitbit operating system. The method Fitbit used to create this watch, combining plastic and metal into one continuous piece, is supposed to improve accuracy of the Wi-Fi antenna, GPS and other sensors which is great news for runners.
The heart rate monitor is something Fitbit has big plans for – noticing irregular heartbeat for example. Data won’t be as accurate as a chest strap, but to gain a general understanding of your heart rate, this can be very useful. There is also an SpO2 sensor, which doesn’t function currently but could be used for spotting sleep apnea and monitoring blood oxygen levels in the future.
There’s now an automatic activity pause, so if you stop at a stop light, the watch pauses your exercise and resumes it when you do. If you’re working out at home, there are three built-in workouts just for that. If you’re running, Ionic automatically records all the stats you’d look for, and it’s pretty comparable to the Apple watch.
If you want to track sleep, it will tell you how much light, deep and REM sleep you had, as well as awake time.
The extra features have not turned out as well as some of the other smart watches, but Fitbit is still great as a fitness-tracking solution with a screen. Plus, it’s comfortable to wear all the time.
- Built-in GPS and altimeter
- Water resistant to 50m
- Long battery life for the smartwatch (GPS use drains it to 10 hours)
- Old design style
- Few apps
- Slower operating system
- No speaker or microphone
- Receive phone notification but you can’t reply