Best Sports Watch: The Best Running Watches and How to Choose the Right One

This article analyzes and compares some of the leading running watches on the market.
Click on the link below to skip the review and see the watches:



OUR RECOMMENDED RUNNING WATCHES

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:

Looks

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.

“Fluff” features

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 Contenders

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

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

garmin-forerunner-50 garmin-forerunner-305-3 garmin-forerunner-405-2

Forerunner 50 Forerunner 305 Forerunner 405

Approximate Amazon Prices

Standalone

NA $300

With HRM (No Foot Pod)

$80 $180 $350

HRM + Foot Pod

$90-100 NA NA

Heart Rate Support

Heart Rate Zones (5x automatically calculated based on max HR)

Heart Rate Zone Alarms

User replaceable CR2032 battery

Heart Rate Fields:

Heart Rate

Heart Rate Avg (duration of current run)

Heart Rate Lap (avg HR in current lap)

Current HR Zone (1-5)

Real-Time Fields:

Heart Rate Zones (5x automatically calculated based on max HR)

Heart Rate Zone Alarms

User replaceable CR2032 battery

Heart Rate Fields:

Heart Rate

Heart Rate Avg (duration of current run)

Heart Rate Lap (avg HR in current lap)

Current HR Zone (1-5)

Real-Time Fields:

Heart Rate

Heart Rate Zone

HR Avg. For Run

HR Avg. For Current Lap

Summary Fields:

HR

Heart Rate Zones (5x automatically calculated based on max HR)

Heart Rate Zone Alarms

User replaceable CR2032 battery

Heart Rate Fields:

Heart Rate

Heart Rate Avg (duration of current run)

Heart Rate Lap (avg HR in current lap)

Current HR Zone (1-5)

Real-Time Fields:

Heart Rate

HR Graph

HR % of Max

HR Avg. For Run

HR Avg. For Current Lap

HR Avg. % of Max For Run

HR % of Max For Current Lap

Summary Fields:

Avg. HR

Speed + Distance

Optional Foot Pod

Auto Lap

Pace Alerts

GPS Enabled

Optional Foot Pod

Auto Pause/Start

Auto Lap

Pace Alerts

Time/Dist. Alerts

Real-Time Fields:

Distance Travelled

Dist. of current Lap

Dist. of Last Lap

Dist. While Paused

Elevation

Grade

Heading

Avg. Pace For Run

Best Pace For Run

Pace Zone

Avg. Pace For Last Lap

Speed

Max Speed For Run

Speed Zone

Avg. Speed for Run

Avg. Speed of Last Lap

Summary Fields:

Avg. Speed

Best Pace

Distance of Session

Distance per Lap

Distance of All Sessions

GPS Enabled

Optional Foot Pod

Auto Pause/Start

Auto Lap

Pace Alerts

Time/Dist. Alerts

Real-Time Fields:

Distance Travelled

Dist. of current Lap

Dist. of Last Lap

Elevation

Grade

Heading

Avg. Pace For Run

Avg. Pace For Last Lap

Speed

Avg. Speed for Run

Avg. Speed of Last Lap

Summary Fields:

Avg. Speed

Avg. Pace

Distance of Session

Distance per Lap

Distance of All Sessions

Computer Interfacing/Software

Auto Sync To Computer (Wireless)

Garmin Connect

Garmin Training Center

USB Connect With Computer

Garmin Connect

Garmin Training Center

Auto Sync To Computer (Wireless)

Garmin Connect

Garmin Training Center

Sports Features

Simple Workouts

Customizable Screens

Virtual Partner

Courses

AutoScroll

Multi-Sport Modes

Advanced Workouts

Simple Workouts

Interval Training

Customizable Screens

Virtual Partner

Courses

AutoScroll

Advanced Workouts

Simple Workouts

Interval Training

Customizable Screens

Touch-Screen Bezel

Goal Tracking

Memory Capacity

100 laps or up to 7 hours of data

1000 Laps

1000 Laps

Value For Money

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Overall Rating

A Great cheap HRM Watch

Winner!

A Great Looking Functional Sports GPS Watch

The Verdict

garmin-forerunner-305

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

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.

data recorder

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

t5f011' t5j985' t5G311'
T5F011 T5J985 Trail Runner T5G311

Approximate Amazon Prices

No Data Recorder

$180 $185 $180

With Data Recorder

$275

$285 $280

Heart Rate Support

General

Digital FM transmission

Synchronized transmission

Continuous heart rate readings

User replaceable batteries

Sensor-Water resistant 50m

Zones

8x HR Zones: 5xAutoset, 3x Custom Set

HR Zone Alarm

Manual Max HR

Autoset Zones

Four Linked Interval Timers: Each interval with its own target zone

Chrono Mode:

HR

Summary Mode Fields:

Avg. HR (per Sess.)

Avg. HR (per Lap)

Max HR

Min HR

HR Recovery

Time in Zones

General

Digital FM transmission

Synchronized transmission

Continuous heart rate readings

User replaceable batteries

Sensor-Water resistant 50m

Zones

2 x Simultaneous Heart Rate training zones – TZ1 and TZ2. TZ1 and TZ2 are any one of the 5 x preset HR zones (or a manual set zone)

HR Zone Alarm

Manual Max HR

Autoset Zones

Chrono Mode:

HR

Summary Mode Fields:

Avg. HR (per Sess.)

Avg. HR (per Lap)

Min HR

HR Recovery

Time in TZ1/TZ2

General

Digital FM transmission

Synchronized transmission

Continuous heart rate readings

User replaceable batteries

Sensor-Water resistant 50m

Zones

8x HR Zones: 5xAutoset, 3x Custom Set

HR Zone Alarm

Manual Max HR

Autoset Zones

Two Linked Interval Timers: Each interval with its own target zone

Chrono Mode:

HR

Summary Mode Fields:

Avg. HR (per Sess.)

Avg. HR (per Lap)

Max HR

Min HR

HR Recovery

Time in Zones

Speed + Distance

External GPS Device

Includes an adjustable arm strap and belt clip

Chrono Mode Fields:

Speed

Avg. Speed

Pace

Avg. Pace

Altitude

Elevation

Summary

Avg. Speed

Max Speed

Avg. Pace

Max Pace

Event Dist.

Odometer Dist.

Total Ascent

Total Descent

Time above pre-set altitude

Hands Free

AutoSplit (Time/Dist)

Auto Start/Stop

Chrono Mode Fields:

Speed

Avg. Speed

Pace

Avg. Pace

Summary

Avg. Speed

Max Speed

Avg. Pace

Max Pace

Event Dist.

Odometer Dist.

Total Ascent

Total Descent

Time above pre-set altitude

Hands Free

AutoSplit (Time/Dist)

Auto Start/Stop

Chrono Mode Fields:

Speed

Avg. Speed

Pace

Avg. Pace

Summary

Avg. Speed

Max Speed

Avg. Pace

Max Pace

Event Dist.

Odometer Dist.

Total Ascent

Total Descent

Time above pre-set altitude

Hands Free

AutoSplit (Time/Dist)

Auto Start/Stop

Computer Interfacing/Software

Transfer to PC Via Optional Timex Data Recorder

Multi Activity Session Entry

Reports:

Weekly Distance by Sport

Daily time in HR Zones

Daily Distance

Daily Activity Time

Daily Body Weight

Daily Resting HR

Daily Highest Altitude

Transfer to PC Via Optional Timex Data Recorder

Multi Activity Session Entry

Reports:

Weekly Distance by Sport

Daily time in HR Zones

Daily Distance

Daily Activity Time

Daily Body Weight

Daily Resting HR

Daily Highest Altitude

Transfer to PC Via Optional Timex Data Recorder

Multi Activty Session Entry

Reports:

Weekly Distance by Sport

Daily time in HR Zones

Daily Distance

Daily Activity Time

Daily Body Weight

Daily Resting HR

Daily Highest Altitude

Sports Features

Chrono Mode

Finish Time

Interval Timer Mode

Vertical Mode

Lap Data Mode

Summary Mode

Basic Timer Mode

Chrono Mode

Finish Time

Vertical Mode

Navigate Mode

Waypoints Mode

Lap Data Mode

Summary Mode

Basic Timer Mode

Chrono Mode

Interval Timer Mode

Vertical Mode

Lap Data Mode

Summary Mode

Basic Timer Mode

Session History Recording Capacity

100-Lap Memory Recall

Extended with Timex Data Recorder
100-Lap Memory Recall

Extended with Timex Data Recorder
100-Lap Memory Recall

Extended with Timex Data Recorder

Value For Money

Very Good Very Good Good

Overall Rating

Winner!

Very Good

Very Good

The Verdict: What is the best Timex Bodylink Watch

t5f011'

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 “RS” Series

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

polar-rs200-heart-rate-monitor-strap polar-rs400-1 polar-rs800cx
RS200/RS200sd RS400/RS400sd RS800CX

Approximate Amazon Price

Standalone

$149.95

$249.95

$324.00

With Footpod

$229.95

$349.95

$469.95

With GPS

$279.90 $389.90 $469.95

Heart Rate Support

Specifications

Polar OwnCode® (5kHz)

Wireless ECG accurate heart rate

HR Real Time Information
Heart rate (displayed as % of maximum heart rate)

Heart rate (displayed as bpm)

HR Zones

Polar OwnZone®

Polar sport zones

ZoneLock

ZonePointer

Average heart rate

Target zone limits

HR-based target zones with audible/visual alarms – 3

HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Average heart rate of total exercise

Maximum heart rate of total exercise

Lap HR Information

Maximum heart rate of each lap

Average heart rate of each lap

Other Features

HRmax based on Polar Fitness test or age
Specifications

Polar OwnCode® (5kHz)

HR Zones

Polar OwnZone®

Polar sport zones

ZoneLock

ZonePointer

Average heart rate

Target zone limits

HR-based target zones with audible/visual alarms – 3

HR Real Time Information

Heart rate (displayed as % of maximum heart rate)

Heart rate (displayed as bpm)


HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Time in target zone

Average heart rate of total exercise

Speed/Pace Summaries

Maximum heart rate of total exercise

Minimum heart rate of total exercise

Lap HR Information

Maximum heart rate of each lap

Average heart rate of each lap

Other Features

HRmax based on Polar Fitness test or age
Specifications

Polar OwnCode® (2.4 GHz) W.I.N.D.

Wireless ECG accurate heart rate

HR Zones

Polar OwnZone®

Polar sport zones

ZoneLock

ZonePointer

Average heart rate

Target zone limits

HR-based target zones with audible/visual alarms – 3

H
R Real Time Information


Heart rate (displayed as % of maximum heart rate)

Heart rate (displayed as HRR% – percentage of heart rate reserve)

Heart rate (displayed as bpm)

R-R Intervals / Online HR Variability

HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Time in target zone

Maximum heart rate of total exercise

Minimum heart rate of total exercise

Average heart rate of total exercise

Lap Information

Maximum heart rate of each lap

Average heart rate of each lap

Other Features

HRmax based on Polar Fitness test or age

Speed + Distance

Specifications

S1 foot pod™

Other Features

Automatic lap recording

Zones

Speed-based target zones with visual and audible alarm

Cadence-based target zones with visual and audible alarm

Target pace with alarms

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Run Distance

Speed displayed in pace, or kmph/mph

Summary Information

Distance Summaries

Speed/Pace summaries

Totals mileage, kilocalories, time training

Trip Odometer
Specifications

S1 foot pod™

Zones

Speed-based target zones with visual and audible alarm

Target pace

Target pace alarms

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Run Distance

Speed displayed in pace, or kmph/mph

Summary Information

Distance Summaries

Speed/Pace summaries

Totals mileage, kilocalories, time training

Trip Odometer

Other Features

Speed/Pace lock

Speed/Pace summaries

Time and Distanced based interval timer

Automatic lap recording
Specifications

WAAS support (wide area augmentation system) – opt. with G3 GPS sensor W.I.N.D.

GPS coordinates – opt. with G3 GPS sensor W.I.N.D.

S3 foot pod™

Zones

Speed-based target zones with visual and audible alarm

Cadence-based target zones with visual and audible alarm

Target pace

Target pace alarms

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Run Distance

Speed displayed in pace, or kmph/mph

Cumulative Ascent and Descent

Summary Information

Distance Summaries

Speed/Pace summaries

Altitude, ascent and descent

Running Route Elevation Profile

Totals mileage, kilocalories, time training

Trip Odometer

Other Features

Speed/Pace lock

Speed/Pace summaries

Time and Distanced based interval timer

Automatic lap recording

Computer Interfacing/Software

Edit wrist unit settings with Polar UpLink Tool and transfer them to your Polar product (UpLink)

Transfer exercise data from wrist unit to polarpersonaltrainer.com via Polar WebLink (SonicLink/Infrared)

SonicLink (PC with a sound card and microphone required)


UpLink (PC with a sound card and headphones/dynamic loudspeakers required)

IrDA USB Adapter or internal/external non-Polar IrDA adapter – opt.

Compatible with Polar ProTrainer 5™ software

Transfer exercise data from wrist unit to polarpersonaltrainer.com via Polar WebLink (SonicLink/Infrared)
IrDA USB Adapter or internal/external non-Polar IrDA adapter

Compatible with Polar ProTrainer 5™ software

Transfer exercise data from wrist unit to polarpersonaltrainer.com via Polar WebLink (SonicLink/Infrared)

Sports Features

Event Countdown Timer

Polar Fitness Test™ with OwnIndex®

Polar OwnCal

Interval trainer (HR, pace, distance) guided workouts

Exercise History Information

Exercise Sets

Summary Information

Distance (total)

Exercise Time (total)

Last OwnIndex

Lap info
Polar OwnOptimizer™

Event Countdown Timer
Running Index

Polar Fitness Test™ with OwnIndex®

Polar OwnCal

Interval timers

Interval trainer (HR, pace, distance) guided workouts

Exercise History Information

Exercise Sets

Calorie expenditure – exe.total

Summary Information

Distance (total)

Exercise Time (total)

Last OwnIndex

Lap info
Polar OwnOptimizer™

Event Countdown Timer

Exercise reminder (visual/alarm)

Running Index

Running Cadence and Avg Stride Length

Shoe selection

Polar Fitness Test™ with OwnIndex®

Polar OwnCal with Altimeter correction

Interval timers

Interval trainer (HR, pace, distance) guided workouts

Exercise History Information

Exercise Sets

Calorie expenditure – exe.total

Summary Information

Distance (total)

Exercise Time (total)

Last OwnIndex

Lap info

Session History Recording Capacity

Exercise file info page with date and time

Number of exercise files (with summaries) – 16

Exercise file info page with date and time

Memory left indication

Number of exercise files (with summaries) – 99

Number of laps – 99

Recording rate – 1s,2s,5s,15s,60s
Exercise file info page with date and time

Memory left indication

Number of exercise files (with summaries) – 99

Number of laps – 99

Recording rate – 1s,2s,5s,15s,60s

Value For Money

Good Good Good

Overall Rating

Very Good Winner! Very Good

The Verdict: The Best Polar Running Watch is The RS400/SD

polar-rs400-2

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

suunto t3c suunto t4c-black-frost suunto t6c
T3C T4C T6C

Approximate Amazon Prices

Standalone (inc. HRM)

$150 $175 $260

With PC Pod

$250 $275 NA

With Foot Pod

$220 $245 $330

With GPS Pod

$265 $295 $375

Heart Rate Support

Specifications

ANT Digitally Coded Transmission

HR Real Time Information

HR

Avg HR in real time

HR Zones

HR limits and HR Zones with Alarm

3x Adjustable Target Zones

HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Achieved Training Effect (TE)

Avg and Peak HR

Time inside, above and below HR Zones


Specifications

ANT Digitally Coded Transmission

HR Real Time Information

HR

Avg HR in real time

HR Zones

HR limits and HR Zones with Alarm

3x Adjustable Target Zones

HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Avg and Peak HR

Time in Zones

Achieved Training Effect (TE)

Specifications

ANT Digitally Coded Transmission

HR Real Time Information

HR

Avg HR in real time

Beat to beat recording (R-R)intervals

HR Zones

HR limits and HR Zones with Alarm

1x Adjustable Target Zone

HR Total Exercise Summary Information

Avg and Peak HR

Time in Zones

Achieved Training Effect (TE)

EPOC

Speed + Distance

Specifications

Requires a Speed and Distance GPS Pod

Other Features

Auto Lap

Speed Limits

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Average Speed

Total Distance

Lap Distance


Summary Information

Total Distance

Average Cadence (with cadence POD)

Average and Maximum Speed

Distance Per Lap

Average Speed Per Lap

Specifications

Requires a Speed and Distance GPS Pod

Other Features

Auto Lap

Speed Limits

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Average Speed

Total Distance

Lap Distance


Summary Information

Total Distance

Average Cadence (with cadence POD)

Average and Maximum Speed

Distance Per Lap

Average Speed Per Lap

Specifications

Requires a Speed and Distance GPS Pod

Other Features

Auto Lap

Speed Limits

Real Time Speed/Dist Information

Average Speed

Altitude/Descent

Ascent

Vertical Speed

Average Speed

Total Distance

Lap Distance


Summary Information

Total Distance

Average Cadence (with cadence POD)

Average and Maximum Speed

Distance Per Lap

Average Speed Per Lap

Computer Interfacing/Software

Requires a PC POD

The PC POD comes with Suunto Training Manager Lite software.

Heart Rate and Speed Profiles

Requires a PC POD

The PC POD comes with Suunto Training Manager Lite software.

Heart Rate and Speed Profiles

Included

Heart Rate and Speed Profiles

Altitude Profile

Detailed Analysis of 7 body param.

Sports Features

Real Time Training Effect

Timers: interval, warm-up, countdown

Real-Time Calories

Summary Calories

Real Time Training Effect

Interval Timers

Real-Time Calories

“Suunto Coach” Personal Training Plan. Automatically adjusts your training program to improve fitness.

Summary Calories

Altimeter Functions

Real Time Training Effect

Real Time EPOC

Interval Timers

Real-Time Calories

Summary Calories

Avg

Session History Recording Capacity

15 Logs

6 Months Workout Summary
30 Laps/Log

15 Logs

6 Months Workout Summary
30 Laps/Log

30 Logs

Man. Resettable Workout Summary

99 Laps/Log

Value For Money

Good Good Good

Overall Rating

Good Good Winner!

The Verdict: The Best Suunto “T” Watch is The T6C

suunto 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:

garmin-forerunner-305 t5f011' polar-rs400-1 suunto t6c-2

Forerunner 305

T5F011

RS400/RS400sd Suunto T6C

Heart Rate Support

Good Good Best Good

Speed + Distance

Best

Good Good Good

Sports Features

Best

Good Good Good

Computer Interfacing/Software

Average Average Best Good

Session History Recording Capacity

Best Average Good Poor

Value For Money

Best Good Good Good

Overall Rating

Winner! Highly Recommended, but Requires Timex Data Recorder for best use. Recommended if you Can Afford It. Requires S1 Foot Pod for best use. Top Watch, but requires GPS add-on POD for best use.

The Best Of The Best Sports Watches: The Garmin Forerunner 305 – The Overall Winner!

garmin-forerunner-305-3

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 :)

18 Responses to “Best Sports Watch: The Best Running Watches and How to Choose the Right One”

  1. John Paul Sepe Says:

    Thank you!
    Your article was very informative.
    I’m also planning to buy a sports watch.

    -jp

  2. Sarah Says:

    Thank You for the awesome information. I really found it helpful and appreciate the time that went into it!
    -ST

  3. admin Says:

    Thanks Sarah, this page might be a bit dated now that Garmin have released their new Forerunner 405CX (supersedes the 405) and 310XT (supersedes the 305) watches.

    The 405CX has better calorie calculation and a replaceable wrist band for smaller wrists. The 310XT is an exciting upgrade too, with 20 hours battery life and water resistance. The 305 is still a great buy, but will be phased out soon.

  4. Carlo Says:

    very good review!!!

  5. SDrunner Says:

    Really helpful post, something that all runners that are interested in a running watch should read. I wrote a review about the watch that I have, Timex Triathlon Ironman Watch

  6. Ankur Says:

    Thanks for your great article…very informative…I was almost set to buy the Forerunner 305 but I’m now unsure given your comments above Garmin planning to phase it out.

    Any plans for updating your comparison given the mentioned new launch of Forerunner 405CX and 310XT?

  7. admin Says:

    Hi Ankur. Glad you like it :)

    The Forerunner 305 is still a great watch, is still very popular and is a great buy considering it’s a bit cheaper than the 405CX and 310XT. But all these watches have their pros and cons.

    If you want to view a comparrison of Forerunner models. I recommend this article:

    How Garmin Forerunner Watches Differ

    These articles contain more information on the Foreunner’s 405CX and 310XT.

    Forerunner 405CX
    Forerunner 310XT

    Hope this helps,
    Rod

  8. Kara Says:

    Thank you for posting this very informative article. I have bought several good running watches in the past but there always seems to be something lacking so I look for another. You have brought up many good points and comparisons which will definitely help in my search. THANKS!

  9. steve Says:

    Thanks for a very useful article!

    Having mulled over your findings I still think that the 50 is the best watch for me, as I’m a bit worried about GPS performance in urban areas and the footpod should do nicely, I hope…

  10. admin Says:

    Yes the Forerunner 50 is a very nice watch. You might also like the Garmin FR 60 watch, which is like the Forerunner 50, but has more features.

  11. Dave W Says:

    Many thanks indeed for this comprehensive review…I have run marathons and triathlons in the past but have taken a break from training and competing during the past few years…however now I want to return to the fray and may need to get a new watch…I was looking for a good side-by-side comparison of these four brands and your article did the job…absolutly brilliant and as Sarah noted, the time that went into the evaluation is greatly appreciated.

    Will also take a look at the updated Garmins as well. – dcw, Las Vegas, USA

  12. Graham Says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with the Garmin comparison as a running device; I am fortunate to have friends who loaned me both for a side-by-side comparison over a couple of weeks, and I found the touch bezel of the 405 a real pain, but the 305 with very clear multi-screen and good positive buttons was brilliant. Download by USB couldn’t be easier. Bought my 305 in July 2009 and has been great ever since. Battery life between charges is excellent – goes for weeks. Don’t be sold on the 405’s gadgets!

  13. Mark Comber Says:

    One big thing for me is how strong the watch band is. With the constant and often clumsy button pressing that goes on when running, the watch band needs to be tough. If the watch band breaks every six months and a watchmaker is required to fit a new band the cost adds up, not to mention the inconvenience.

  14. Renee' A Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this review!

  15. Blake Says:

    This is an amazing review. Very useful, thanks.
    Despite some small issues (like price), I am extremely satisfied with the purchase of the Forerunner 405cx and I highly recommend it. I don’t really know why some people complain about the touch bezel – I think it’s amazing if you know how to use it, as well as the watch itself. It has a lot of functions and you should get familiar with them at first if you want to use all the features properly. I’ve had a lot of watches before, but I find this one the ultimate running watch so far. Turned out to be a great running mate :)

  16. Peter Says:

    I bought the Suunto t4C back in Dec 2008. It took me about a month to work out how to use it (that is, the instruction manual was far, far, far too vague). Suunto “support” was an advertisement and nothing more. Zero response or support. In fact a review I wrote was deleted by them. In the end I grew to get to know my watch and it helped me lose 15 kgs. I love(d) the Coach function. t gave me goals to rach and when I was feeling flat on a day I would check the coach function and it would advise a very easy session or even a day off: all due to my workouts through the week. The backlight is not overly good and the screen scratches all too easily. The most FRUSTRATING features are the slow processor speeds & HR sensor features. The Coach function will tell me at present HR (70%) I have, say, 34 mins till I achieve the Training Effort (TE), then I step it up to 85% HR and it still says 34 mins, and will do for another few minutes until it catches up. The HR is very, very weak and nowhere near as good as advertised (5 meters range). Just by placing your hand behind your head or in any position a PERFECT line of sight is not available, it drops out. Too often (interval training) I’ll rest down to 70% HR then look to work up to 90% within a minute, but after 45 sec of hurting I check the watch and it is stuck at 70% still!!! All in all after learning by trial and error its good and bad points, it has helped me but I would not buy it again over other brands or options out there.

  17. Ron c Says:

    I have had my Garmin 305 for some time and like it except it’s lack of sped finding a signal sometimes it can’t find one at all.

  18. Aditya Says:

    Thank you for the excellent information. I am looking to buy a sports watch and the article was very informative, if perhaps a bit dated. For example, Timex now offers the Ironman Global Trainer GPS watch which has an integrated GSP unit. Overall, appreciate the time and effort that went into writing this up.

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