Best sport watches 2018: Our Top 3 selection of watches for running

There are so many cool sporty gadgets and watches out there nowadays. The multitude of brands, designs and features make it hard to see the wood for the trees. As we planned to buy a new watch, we asked ourselves the million-dollar question: what makes the perfect running watch?

Well, for any type of outdoor sports, accurate GPS is a given these days, and the focus nowadays is on biometric data. The majority of running watches have heart rate sensors (HR) built in, so they can track heart rate trainings in specific zones. If the watch claims itself to be decent they should also do overall fitness tracking and analytics, by assessing data such as the forms of your body, steps per minute (cadence), and even sleep or stress rate levels.

By the way, how important is heart rate?

With heart rate tech becoming more and more prevalent, and everyone starting to wear smartwatches, it leads many people to ask the question: do I really need to track heart rate? If you’re not 24/7 aware of your own heart rate, you are soon taken for an alien. So, please, take a breath and add some nuance.

For beginner runners, you wouldn’t necessarily need to know your heart rate – the extra data will not make you a better runner, and unless you're seriously fit, it's too hard to train using heart rate zones. However, it’s no reason to disregard the data overall. Big data is the answer, not less in fitness. Heart rate adds to your running data, it indicates your (hopefully increasing) level of fitness, and brings apps like Strava to their full potential. Especially for the more advanced runners who know their specific heart rate zones, logging specific trainings per zone will help you to become stronger, better, faster, harder.

Most importantly, it’s just so much fun to slowly see your heart rate drop as the weeks and workouts go by.

Tick tock, tick tock, ... our favourites!

Since her last watch dated from the prehistoric ages, Elien was looking for a new watch and did the research for you. Hours of scanning reviews and listening to advice ended up in our selection of 3 favourites! Check them out here below.

Most importantly, the watches needed to adhere to three basic conditions before they were considered for our favourites list:

  • Decently working GPS system, potentially with Glonass satellite positioning

  • Top notch optical heart rate sensors via the wrist – no more need of those accurate yet annoying chest straps

  • Free, user-friendly, and analytics-driven fitness and training app and web service

1. Suunto Spartan Sports Wrist HR

The most fashionable watch out there! In terms of design, this was our absolute favorite. (Think of how that teal green would look on your suntanned skin in summer!) It’s a slim and lightweight GPS sports watch for versatile training and active lifestyle. It has all of the features we were looking for:

  • GPS tracking with speed, pace and distance

  • Ready to go: swimming, running, cycling, gym, hiking, and more

  • 14 days battery life in time mode

  • Convenient wrist HR measurement

  • Compact size and optimal fit for sports and daily wear

  • 50 m water resistant

  • 24/7 tracking of your daily steps, calories and sleep

  • Battery life: up to 10h in training mode (up to 30h with power saving options)

Nevertheless, there were some items that made us doubt. The side buttons are not intuitively logic, as the start button is place not in the middle but at the top. Just image you fail tracking your run because you accidentally hit the wrong button! Yes, you have a touchscreen and multi-coloured visual, but the mobile app is lagging behind lightyears compared to the Polar Flow app or the Garmin Connect IQ app. Mobile connectivity and syncing of your activity is a bit slow and the fitness analytics at hand are less advanced.

Verdict on the Suunto Spartan Trainer HR?

If you’re looking for something fancy and pretty on the wrist: this is the one. Yet, in terms of data capability, watch user friendliness and mobile app usefulness, we think the market has better gadgets to offer!

The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR comes at 279 euro.

2. Polar M430

This watch is recommendable, if just for its revolutionary trainings module. The Polar Smart Coaching-functions track – via optical heart rate sensors – data about your activities during both training and races. As you gather more and more data, your Polar M430 will start predicting finishing times or applied in scheduling training schemes personalized to your physical fitness. Say bye to your personal trainer! It has everything we need:

  • Integrated GPS with SiRFInstantFix™ forecast-technologies through satellites

  • Top notch heart-rate performance

  • Designed for serious, goal-driven runners, even though it also syncs with any other activity, including all Les Mills trainings(!)

  • Waterproof (WR30)

  • The Sleep Plus intelligent sleep system

  • Works with Polar Flow, the free fitness and training app and web service

  • Comes with Polar Smart Coaching features, such as the Running Program

  • Battery life: up to 8h of training with GPS and optical heart rate,up to 30h in saver mode

Verdict on the Polar M430?

Absolutely recommended if you're looking for Olympics-proof tool without paying an olympic price. It’s first and foremost a running app, so if you’re looking to track and improve your running skills: this will be your new best friend. The design is nicely minimalist and delivers what it promises. No fluffy extras that just cause distraction. Then again, it has enough little nice extras – such as the advanced Polar Smart Coaching features, the Sleep Plus intelligent system, and even the option to check your V02 Max by means of a small fitness test – to make this an ideal runner’s watch.

The Polar M430 comes at 229 euro.

3. Garmin Fenix 5S

The Garmin Fenix 5S, which is the lighter version of its bold brothers Fenix 5 and 5X, is a GPS multi-sport watch that's neither massive nor ugly. The watch is meant to be a day-to-day fitness tracker, on top of being a world-beating outdoor watch. It contains extra features, nice little extras, and a bit more of that fancy hocus-pocus that also shows in the price. Of our three preferences, it costs twice as much as the Polar M430, but are the features worth twice as much? We do love all of the extra add-ons:

  • Outdoor sensors, including GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning, barometric altimeter, 3-axis compass with gyroscope

  • Elevate™ wrist heart rate technology

  • Preloaded activity profiles for all of your sports and adventures

  • Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows the effects and progress of your workouts

  • Smart notifications, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect™ online sport community and personalisation through free watch apps from our Connect IQ™ store

  • Battery life: up to 9 days in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 14h in GPS mode or up to 40 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.

Verdict on the Garmin Fenix 5S?

Sports-savvy watch ideal for multi-sport lovers. Other than the most basic of features (GPS, optical heart rate, decent battery life, and preloaded activity profiles), it has some extras, though it might not add up to pay twice the price of the Polar M430. The biggest problem with the 5S isn't really to do with the 5S itself, but with Garmin's app; it's desperately in need of an overhaul. It's not that it's lacking features, but finding your way between them is more hassle than it needs to be. As your watch exists not just on itself.

The Garmin Fenix 5S comes at 599,99 euro.

If looking for a new gadget, the choice will remain yours and is highly personal based on your goals and desires. For those with “just” a marathon in mind, yet looking for Olympic analytics results without paying the price of a full smart watch or Ultra Trail tracker, watches within the price range of 150 to 300 euros will suffice. Guess what made my day?

Oh yes, I bought the Polar M430.

What's your favourite?!

Do share your thoughts!

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