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OUR RECOMMENDED RUNNING WATCHES
This article was written some time ago and is outdated! We will get around to rewriting it soon, but we’ve inserted information on new sports watches (marked in red) released by the major brands covered here. First we’d like to make clear that while Garmin have released several new watches, the Garmin Forerunner 305, STILL rates highly as a cost-effective GPS watch. However, Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Timex all have exciting new products on the market with some great new features. Also watches that were new releases (and thus expensive) when the original article was written, can be bought today for significantly reduced prices, so that expensive Garmin Forerunner 405, that would have been out of your price range a couple of years ago, may well be in your “zone” at todays prices.
So you’re looking for the best sports watch you can find. Like many others who have tried, you’ve no-doubt discovered that choosing the right running watch is no easy task! The best sports watches in these times of modern technology are complex, feature-packed wrist-watch-computers and with the endless excess of marketing hype we are bombarded with, it can be tricky seperating the performers from the pretenders.
While choosing the “best watch” is a subjective thing – we are all unique after all… we have decided to give it our best shot! In the remainder of this article we will compare and choose which is the “best of the best” sports running watch out there.
Our method? First, all we only consider watches support the features in a running watch that athletes need.
We consider these to be:
- A Stopwatch Chronograph with large, clear digits that is readable at arm’s length
- Lap Memory Storage – to record training data to enter in training diary
- Countdown Timer or Interval Timer feature, preferably with varying length time intervals for timed intervals
Then we considered other areas that we feel provides additional benefits to performance athletes and those who treat training more than a casual past-time. These areas are namely: Heart Rate Monitor Features, Speed and Distance Tracking Capability, Computer Interfacing and Software, Session History Recording Capacity and Value For Money.
Heart Rate Monitor Features
A heart rate monitor usually comprise of a chest strap that wraps around your chest and is sensitive to your heart beat rate, measuring it in real time and transmitting the data wirelessly to your watch timepiece. Strapless heart rate monitors are available too, but are far less popular. The watches we consider are all chest strap heart rate monitors.
The basic measurement of a heart rate monitoring system is the number of beats per minute your heart is pumping at a given moment in time. Your heart rate is an effective indicator of your intensity level in a workout.
When your heart rate is low, you are at a good fat burning intensity. This should be a comfortable level to that you can sustain for a long period to improve your fitness, but your performance will not increase much at this level. When your heart rate is high 160-180 BPM, you are working out at a much higher level of that is more effective for improving peak performance. This level is difficult to sustain for too long and will lead to over-training and burnout if you do not counter it with a suitable recovery period.
Speed and Distance Tracking Capability
Modern sports watches are capable of tracking speed, pace and distance via a GPS system, pedometer or foot pod unit. This is a great feature for performance runners. When competing in a race or within a high intensity training session, it is extremely useful to know at any given point, what pace you are currently at and the distance you have covered over the course of a run, or even a weekly distance summary of all runs, so as to record these statistics in your training diary.
A foot pod unit, which tend to be slightly cheaper than GPS technology, is secured onto your running shoe and must be calibrated to your stride. Unlike a GPS watch, a foot pod device will work indoors as well as outdoors and on a treadmill, however the accuracy of a food pod suffers when you change intensity level, making it unsuitable for measuring fartlek sessions and it must be calibrated to your stride.
A GPS unit links to a network of 24 satellite systems orbiting the earth. By linking up to three or more satellite signals simultaneously a GPS sports watch can accurately determine your precise location on earth, enabling it to calculate speed, distance, direction and altitude.
When rating the watches we consider “the best”, speed and distance measuring capabilities of all the watches were taken into account.
Computer Software Interfacing
A serious athlete keeps track of their workouts and performances over a long period of time and analyses their personal data in the search of new ways to optimize their training. The best watches have the ability to transfer workout data onto a personal computer and analyse the data with software provided to the watch manufacturer. Some, also allow you to upload and share your data among online communities.
We have rated the watches on their ability to transfer data to PC (or Mac) and the quality of the software they provide.
Session History Recording Capacity
Athletes who record all their training in a personal training diary, require a large amount of storage capacity on a sports wrist watch.
The watches we have selected are able to record and organize session data by a workout date/time stamp and give the wearer the ability to drill down a lot deeper into a given workout and view the details of the session data such as lap distances and recovery time/distances and even session goals.
Value For Money
Value for money is actually not the primary focus of this article. We are looking for the best sports watch, NOT the best value sports watch.
We can talk about best value sports watches another day, but for now we are trying to find the most kick-ass sports watch out there! If this was about cars then we would be looking at the damn sweetest performing car that we could find on the market. A Ferrari might not be the best value for money, but it sure is a damn nice high performance car
We consider cost only when choosing between two good sports watches that are fairly equal in features and benefits, in this case the cost might tip the balance one way or the other. We also consider cost, where you get a bunch of not very useful features for the extra expense and not a lot of added practical value to athletes.
What We Don’t Consider
What we don’t take into account in this “contest” are:
Let’s face it looks matter, but our aim is to determine the best watch for athletes in terms of features that are going to assist them in optimizing their workouts. While looks certainly will matter to many sports people including elite athletes, our ratings are heavily biased towards features that actually have practical value.
Superfluous features that make you think “Wow! That’s cool”, only later to discover they serve no real purpose. The Garmin Forerunner 405′s touch-sensitive bezel feature is one example. While it’s certainly a nice idea, in practice it’s not a big deal and to some is even an annoyance.
The contending sports watches all come from four leading sports watch manufacturers: Garmin, Timex, Polar and Suunto.
Each of these companies has several strong lines of high quality running watches, so we thought it would be interesting to pit against each other and select the best of the bunch out of all of these.
In the article that follows we compare the watches within the company’s line and select the best of these.
The best that company has to offer is then compared with the other watch manufacturer’s “best of the best” and the “best sports running watch” chosen as an overall winner.
So without further ado, here are the actual watches we will be looking at:
The Garmin Forerunner Line: 50, 305 and 405
Timex Bodylink Watches: T5F011, T5J985, T5G311
The Polar “RS” Series: RS200/RS200sx, RS400/RS400sx, RS800/RS800CX
Suunto “T” Series: T3C, T4C, T6C
Garmin Forerunner Watches
Garmin have released six new watches since the original article was published.
Garmin Forerunner 405CX, $219.99 (more info)
Upgrade to the 405, adds more accurate heart rate based calorie counting than the original, allows you to focus more seriously on weight goals.
Garmin Forerunner 410, $299.99 (more info)
Second upgrade to the 410, adds an improved touch bezel, for better user-interactivity andor easier use.
Garmin Forerunner 610, $399.99 (more info)
Next gen GPS watch, adds tap screen technology, training effect, vibration alerts and the new Virtual Racer™ sports mode, the addition of training effect puts the new Forerunner in league with the Suunto watches delivering the ultimate advanced training options for top-level athletes.
Garmin Forerunner 310XT, $399.99 (more info)
Upgrade to the Forerunner 305, adds 20 hr battery, support for power meters and is the world’s first water proof GPS watch, allows you to swim, ride and run, along with all you need for multi-sporting events like triathlons.
Garmin Forerunner FR60, $109.99 (more info)
Upgrade to the Forerunner 50, new look, smaller footpod with ability to download training to Garmin’s new Garmin Training Center via USB ANT+ stick. This watch is smaller and cheaper than a GPS watch, with similar features, so you can optimize your training and performance events just as easily.
Garmin Forerunner 110, $206.99 (more info)
New “trimmed down” version of Garmin GPS watches. A small, cheaper, easy-to-learn sports watch that’ll have you up and running in no time.
Garmin Forerunner 210, $299.99 (more info)
New “trimmed down version of Garmin GPS watches. Like the Forerunner 110, but with support for a foot pod and interval training, a quick and simple solution that’ll get you up and running fast and can be used in an indoor gym.
Few would deny the Garmin Forerunner GPS watches are kings in the GPS arena, but how do they rate in terms of overall value to runners, cyclists, triathletes, rowers, etc?
Quite well actually!
The Garmin Forerunner watches come bundled with some seriously useful sports watch features. One thing is clear, Garmin has gone to great lengths to ensure their sports watches cater to the specific needs of athletes.
In the running for “best sports watch” we are also considering the Forerunner 50 which does not support GPS. The Forerunner 50 is a great entry-level heart rate monitor that measures speed, distance and cadence with a Foot Pod unit. It also supports a bike Speed/Cadence Sensor making it great for triathletes and cyclists.
The Forerunner 50 is much more suitable for use in water, though without the heart rate monitor. HRM watches generally do not work under water.
Other watches in the Forerunner category are the Forerunner 305, a relatively chunky GPS watch that has now been superseded by the more normal sized Forerunner 405. Both these watches cost more than the Forerunner 50, but provide a stack more features too including the Virtual Partner feature, Courses, AutoScroll and Simple/Interval/Advanced Workouts.
What About The Forerunner 205?
You may be wondering why we did not include the Forerunner 205 in this contest. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Forerunner line, besides the paint-job, the FR 205 looks identical the the FR305 and is feature-identical, except that it is slightly cheaper and does not support a heart rate monitor. It cannot be upgraded either, so considering all the other watches we are comparing here have heart rate monitor support, we felt the 205 could not really compete with the others watches. The FR305 is now a very similar price to the FR205, so there is really no reason to even consider it.
How The Forerunner 50, 305 and 405 Compare
Forerunner 305 – Best of the Forerunners
Because of all the extra features in the other watches, it was always going to be hard for the Forerunner 50 to compete in the “best sports watch” category, despite that it is outstanding value for money. So the contestants were quickly whittled down to the Forerunner’s 305 and 405.
The FR 405 is relatively new and in terms of style and comfort, it wins hands-down, but as we are considering features more than looks, the FR 305 actually had the edge. It offers slightly more functionality than the 405 in that it supports map navigation and waypoints, multi-sport modes and can display four fields at the same time, while the FR 405 with a smaller screen size can only display three.
The 405 introduces the concept of a touch-sensitive bezel, wireless PC connectivity via an ANT USB stick and wireless transfer of data between two FR 405 units, however we feel these features don’t really offer much added value over what the FR 305 can do.
Finally, the Forerunner 405, being a relatively new watch in the market is almost twice the price of the 305. Sure it looks amazing, has a fancy touch-bezel and wireless connectivity, but the Forerunner 305 has virtually the same functionality at a fraction of the cost. The FR 305 connects to your PC via a (wired) USB cable and cannot talk wirelessly to another unit, but who really cares?
So of the Forerunner watches, the Forerunner 305 came out a clear winner.
Timex Bodylink Watches
Since the original article was posted, Timex have released the Global Trainer Watch. While they are no longer producting the Bodylink series bundles, they can still be purchased through Amazon by clicking “Buy Now” on the comparisson tables below. Timex have also recently announced the release of a brand new GPS watch, the Timex Run Trainer, which is due out towards the end of the year and is comparible with the Garmin Forerunner 210. Here’s a look at the new Timex Global Trainer watch, an advanced Timex Ironman with GPS abilities, the ideal timepiece for multisport athletes, like triathletes who need to quickly transition between sports.
|BUY Timex Global Trainer Watch With Heart Rate Monitor
|BUY Timex Global Trainer Watch – No Heart Rate Monitor
The Timex Bodylink watches are high-end sports watches that provide heart rate monitoring, GPS tracking and also the best Timex sports watch features available. There are currently three major Bodylink watches on the market, the T5F011, T5J985 “Trail Runner” and T5G311.
Unlike the Garmin Forerunner watches, the Bodylink offers the external Navman GPS device that is separate from the watch. The device includes an adjustable arm strap and belt clip so you can wear it on your running shorts or around your upper arm or anywhere else you want. Some might find this annoying, whereas others won’t be bothered too much. It really depends on your personal preference.
The Timex GPS also requires a single AA battery unlike the Forerunner watches which are rechargeable, however both watches offer a high level of GPS accuracy.
Timex have always known what features athletes need and the Bodylink range is no exception. A particularly unique feature supported by the T5F011 and T5J985 Bodylink watches is Finish Time, a feature that displays your predicted finishing time during an event. This is calculated based on the event distance and your current pace.
All Timex watches in the Bodylink line support a running chrono with 100-Lap memory recall and the ability to scroll back through sessions and laps, even when the stopwatch is running.
The Timex Data Recorder
To get more bang for your buck in terms of memory and also in terms of storing GPS data for downloading into mapping software applications, you need to invest in the Timex Data Recorder. The data recorder, like the Timex Navman GPS device, clips onto the body and links to the GPS unit and Heart Rate Monitor if present.
When you arrive home the Data Recorder links connects to your PC and you can download your workout data and enjoy.
All Bodylink watches support heart rate monitoring features, but differ in the specifics. The T5F011 and T5G311 both support 8 heart rate zones, five are automatically set by the watch based on your maximum heart rate, the other three you can configure yourself.
The Trail runner T5J985 runs two heart rate zone readings simultaneously each of which can be one of five preset HR zones or can be manually set. All the Bodylink watches support heart rate recovery measurements, which is a great indicator of over training.
How Timex Bodylink Watches T5F011, T5J985 and T5G311 Compare
The Verdict: What is the best Timex Bodylink Watch
Well, it was a close call, but we think the T5F011 slightly outdoes the Trail Runner T5J985 as the best sports watch. In truth both watches suit different activities.
If you are working out on a bush trail and are worried about getting lost, then the Trail Runner which supports Navigation and Waypoint setting is a no-brainer, but it lacks Interval Timer Mode that serious runners will miss. As we’re looking for the best running watch, we decided to hand the first prize to the T5F011.
If you are seeking a smaller sized watch, then you might also consider the T5G311 which has most of the features of the T5F011 and is geared towards female runners. It lacks FINISH MODE, however and only supports 2 linked interval timers to the T5F011′s 4, which put the T5F011 ahead.
Polar Watches For Runners
Since the original article was posted, Polar have released a new watch, the Polar RCX5, designed for multisports, it has the ability to measure your heart rate under water.
|More detail …|
|Buy w/ G5 GPS: $449.99|
|Buy w/ sd Run Footpod: $399.95|
|Buy w/o GPS/FP: $329.99|
Polar lay claim to having invented the first EKG accurate heart rate monitor back in 1977 as a training tool for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski Team. The popularity of heart rate monitor sports watches has exploded since and Polar have remained in the upper echelons in this specialized area of technology, but how do they compare overall in terms of the “best sports watch”? Let’s see…
The three main watches from the Polar line we are considering are the RS200, RS400 and RS800CX. Polar “RS” watches also come in bundles that are inclusive of a foot pod unit. These bundles will have “sd” suffix at the end, for example “RS200sd”, is a bundle that includes the RS200 wristwatch and the S1 foot pod unit that measures speed and distance and other good things..
What, no FA20/FT40/FT60/FT80?
The Polar “Fitness” watches are not included. It was deemed that these are more geared at helping the average person improve their health and fitness by providing step-by-step guidance and testing them at each step along the way.
While these watches can certainly be used for running and other performance sports too, we felt they did not quite stack up to the features of the “RS” watches, which are specifically cater to the needs of athletes.
What no RS800/RS800sd/RS800G3?
These models were also excluded as they are soon to become phased out and replaced by the new RS800CX.
The RS800 models are still available on Amazon and share very similar in functionality with the RS800CX, but are not compatible with certain polar devices.
The RS800 IS compatible with:
- The G3 GPS pod (RS800G3)
- The S3 stride sensor (RS800sd)
But does NOT support:
- Polar CS W.I.N.D. Bike Speed Sensor
- Polar CS W.I.N.D. Cadence Sensor
Only the RS800CX can support these.
How The Polar RS200/RS200ds, RS400/RS400sd and RS800CX Watches Compared
The Verdict: The Best Polar Running Watch is The RS400/SD
RS400/RS400sd- Best of” the Polar Running Watches
While the RS800CX is undisputed king in terms of including absolutely everything both an athlete and sports scientist could dream for, we feel that unless you want need the extra devices and altitude measurements and are willing to pay for these, then these extra features are overkill for the average athlete.
The RS400/SD delivers most of what an athlete could want and with 99 exercise files, has superior-enough memory storage capacity to the RS200/SD watches to warrant spending a little extra money. The RS200, is certainly a viable cheaper alternative, and still a good watch if you can live without a lot of memory storage and other niceties that the RS400/sd offers.
The RS400/sd also does not support the Polar GPS pod, but does support the S1 foot pod device allowing speed and distance to be tracked.
If you are looking for the absolute top performing sports running wrist watch and have the money to spend, then the RS800CX is it! It is compatible with the Polar W.I.N.D. devices which provide are more robust signal than the “regular” Polar devices, you can track altitude and unlike the RS400/sd, you can upgrade to the bike speed and cadence devices if you wish. You can also measure R-R HR Intervals and other more advanced stuff.
Still, if you are a runner and not a cyclist, you do not wish to mix cycling with running and are not too fussed about W.I.N.D., the RS400/sd is our choice over all our criteria.
Suunto “T” Series
Suunto is another Finish based company that is noted (among other things) for making great heart rate monitors watches for runners and athletes in a product line that is called the Suunto “Training Watch” line which includes the T3C (cheapest), T4C and T6C (most expensive) watches. Suunto is noted for being the only watch manufacturer that supports “Training Effect”, a feature that can tell you if you’re pushing too hard or too little in your training. It essentially guides you into the correct zones for optimal performance.
The Suunto training watches boast interference-free digital ANT transmission, letting you securely pair your Suunto “Comfort Belt” (HRM Strap) and your Suunto POD. The optional Suunto PODs can support speed and distance as well as cycling cadence. Suunto Training Watches also display real-time heart rate and calories burned, intervals and countdown timers, zone training and stopwatch with splits and laps and session storage.
The T Series watches enable PC transfer (with use of PC pod) and are compatible with the Sunnto Training Manager Software package.
How Suunto T3C, T4C and T6C Watches Differ
The Verdict: The Best Suunto “T” Watch is The T6C
Despite the extra cost and despite a number of features that are probably beyond what most of us could use without a degree in sports science, our best sports watch pick is the Suunto T6C. The T6C has 30 logs of memory capacity compared with only 15 in the T3C and T4.
Actually we feel 30 is hardly even enough for an athlete who is serious about recording their training, but it is adequate.
The T6C also supports the following features that are unsupported in the other watches. These are not necessarily an essential features, but might come in handy for some: altitude measuring capabilities (with the GPS pod), PC transfer included (you have to purchase a separate POD to download data from your T3C and T4C), detailed analysis of 7 body param. on PC, beat-to-beat recording (R-R) capacity, real-time EPOC calculation (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption).
Yes, we don’t know what those last three are either We will find out and may do a write up on these terms in another article soon.
The Best Of The Best
So it comes down to the final four “best of the best” sports watches:
The Garmin Forerunner 305, Timex Bodylink T5F011, RS400/SD and Suunto T6C.
How do they compare in terms of Heart Rate Monitor Features, Speed & Distance Functionality, Sports Features, Computer Interfacing & Software, Memory Capacity and Value For Money? Let’s See…
The Best of The Best Compared:
The Best Of The Best Sports Watches: The Garmin Forerunner 305 – The Overall Winner!
The choice was fairly easy in the end. The Garmin Forerunner 305 outclassed the competition in the area of Speed and Distance, Sports Features, Memory Capacity and Value For money.
While the bundled software package is nothing to scream and shout about, nor does it’s heart rate monitoring features stack up against the Polar watches we feel, it does a decent enough job for most runners, making it a very well rounded fitness training wrist watch.
Some will be turned off by the sheer size of the Forerunner 305 and we cannot argue.
While it can claim many things, sleek it is not! But we are not considering looks and comfort here. The goal of this article is to select the best sports watch for runners. Based on our criteria, Forerunner 305 came up on top in more categories than any other sports running watch.
An additional thing that stood out about about the 305 GPS Sports Watch is that unlike the other watches where you have to invest in external devices to achieve your desired functionality, the Forerunner does not require you to make additional purchases to get full benefit from the watch.
Unless you want a bike cadence sensor, the standard watch comes with almost everything you need, no need to purchase a separate GPS or foot pod for speed and distance measurements, no need to purchase a memory pod for extended session/HR/GPS data storage, no need to purchase a device to enable downloading of session data to PC, it’s all included in the basic watch, which also happens to be currently much cheaper than the competition.
Our “Best Pick Won’t Suite Everyone’s Tastes’ And Preferences: Know What You Need and Choose Wisely
While an outstanding watch, the Garmin Forerunner 305 definitely won’t suit everyone’s needs. We can certainly think of some good reasons NOT to invest your hard earned dollars in the Forerunner.
The obvious one is that you don’t want a bulky hunk of plastic weighing down on your wrist. The FR 405 is a sleeker alternative as are the other watches compared here. The Forerunner watches are the only sports watches considered here with the GPS antenna built into the actual watch piece, so a little extra bulkiness is unavoidable.
If you are a sports scientist, or you like to approach your training sessions in an analytical way, then one of the Polar or Suunto watches might be a better option than the Forerunner.
The Forerunner watches are geared towards competitive athletes and fun runner who want a bit extra. The high-end Polar and Suunto watches offer many more advanced features than the Forerunner watches do.
The Timex Bodylink watches are also excellent choices for runners and the Bodylink watches may just “float your boat” more than the Garmins. If you are a female athlete or have thin wrists, the T5G311 might be a much more suitable fit on your wrist than any of the other watches.
No one knows your needs better than you do. Decide what you want, consider which model is the “best fit” to those needs then enjoy whatever you purchase and run happily ever after