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Best GPS Watch of 2021

We tested the best GPS watches from Garmin, Coros, Suunto, and more to help you find your perfect adventure companion
When taking on fastpacking missions and you need a whole lot of batter...
Photo: Amber King
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday August 16, 2021
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Our tech geeks have spent the last 7 years testing well over 30 of the best GPS watches. This update discusses 11 of the best on the market. We've put each to the test, testing while exploring lands and water via foot, bike, paddleboard, and boat. These watches have seen the likes of 100-mile trail runs, backpacking trips, and international explorations through canyons, over rivers, and across single-track trails. Not only do we explore the deep features, battery life, and design of each product through a comparative exploration, but we identify niche uses. If you're seeking an unbiased GPS watch review, you've come to the right place.

Top 11 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $569.75 at Amazon
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$349.99 at Amazon$499.99 at Amazon
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$649.99 at Backcountry
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$199.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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78
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Pros Lightweight and thin profile, intuitive, fully featured, very accurateExcellent quality, accurate, simple design, astounding value, very easy to use, great feature set, very long battery lifeStellar battery life, nice size and weight, comfortable, easy to use, simple software platform, seamless syncing and updates, touchscreenAmazing features, excellent storage, easy to use, very durable design, excellent integrations, accurate, fantastic battery lifeLow profile design, great battery life, very accurate, low cost
Cons Expensive, hidden features that take time to set-up and get to know, blood oxygen sensor has questionable accuracyBacklight isn't bright, heart rate monitor accuracy is a little offLarger knob is easy to push accidentally, can't be plugged into a computerHeavy and bulky, expensiveNo mountain sports or navigational features
Bottom Line This elite watch stands out for its high-end features with exceptional accuracy and performance in a low profile designA well-constructed and accurate watch with a minimalistic design, excellent battery life, and all the right featuresWith all the right features and monstrous battery life, this watch is one of our favorites for ultradistance events and explorationsIf you just can't get enough of data, features, and cool integrations, this watch has it allA fully functional and incredibly light GPS sports watch boasting out of this world battery life
Rating Categories Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Coros Apex Pro Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2
Features (20%)
9.0
6.0
7.0
10.0
5.0
Battery Life (20%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Accuracy (20%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Design (20%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
9.0
Specs Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Coros Apex Pro Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2
Model Tested N/A Standard Standard Standard N/A
Watch Face Material Corning Gorilla Glass DX Sapphire glass Sapphire glass Corning Gorilla Glass DX or sapphire crystal Corning glass
Bezel Fiber-reinforced polymer Stainless steel bezel Titanium Alloy Stainless steel or diamond-like carbon coated steel Fiber reinforced polymer
Case Fiber-reinforced polymer Alumnium Alumnium Fiber-reinforced polymer with metal rear cover Fiber reinforced polymer
Strap Material Silicon Silicon or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicone, leather, titanium or nylon Silicon or nylon
Tools Required to Change Band? Yes No No Yes No
Size Tested One size only 44mm 47mm 47mm One size only
Measured Main Body Size (diameter or W x H) 46mm 44mm 47mm 47mm 43mm
Measured Thickness 13mm 13mm 13.4mm 14mm 11mm
Measured Screen Width 30mm 33mm 33mm 33mm 32mm
Measured Weight 1.7 oz 1.7 oz 2.0 oz 2.8 oz 1.2 oz
Measured Charging Time 75 min 70 min 80 min 110 min 80 min
Battery Type Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion
Measured Battery Life With GPS On 28 hours 24 hours 36 hours 31 hours 29 hours
Manufacturer-Reported Battery Life Smartwatch mode: Up to 14 days
GPS mode w/ music: 10 hours
GPS without music: 36 hours
Smartwatch mode: 25 days
Full GPS mode: 25 hours
UltraMax GPS mode: 80 hours
Smartwatch mode: 30 days
GPS mode: 40 hours
UltraMax mode: 100 hours
Smartwatch mode: up to 14 days
Battery-saver watch mode: up to 48 days
GPS mode: up to 36 hours
GPS mode w/ music: up to 10 hours
Max battery GPS mode: up to 72 hours
Expedition GPS activity: up to 28 days
Smartwatch mode: 20 days
GPS mode: 30 hours
Ultramax mode: 60 hours
Navigation Built In? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Satellite Networks Used GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU
Maps? Yes, detailed Yes - basic Yes - basic Yes - detailed No
Back to Start Navigation? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Water Resistance (max depth) 50m 100m 100m 100m 50m
Music Control? Yes No No Yes No
Music Storage? Yes - 1000 songs No No Yes - 2000 songs No
Daily Fitness Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Touchless Payment? Yes No No Yes No
Sleep Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Blood Oxygen? Yes No Yes Yes No
Compass? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Barometric Altimeter? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Main Software App Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros App Coros App Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros
Can Software Cross Over to Different Software Ecosystems? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes


Best Overall GPS Watch


Garmin Forerunner 945


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 9
  • Battery Life 8
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Accuracy 8
  • Design 9
Weight: 1.7 oz | Battery Life: 1.5 weeks in smartwatch mode, 36 hours in GPS mode
Fully featured with app integrations and many onboard features
Good battery for most distances
Thin design
Accurate GPS
Expensive
Features take time to learn

The Garmin Forerunner 945 stands out for its thin profile and host of seemingly endless excellent features. It's this beautiful balance that earns it top marks, and it's a product we recommend wholeheartedly. The 945 is intuitive and accurate, with a battery life that'll last through most ultra-distance events. While many other highly featured watches are thick and bulky, this one has a thin profile that doesn't get stuck on clothing and hardly feels like it's there. We appreciate its durable design, sleek look, and bonus features like huge music storage, Garmin Pay, onboard maps, and integration with Garmin's robust online ecosystem.

While this is a great watch, the price is high, and many will find better value in other lower-priced options that don't have as many features. Taking the time to learn all about the feature options and how to set them up is a time investment as well. That said, if you can afford it, this is the cherry of the GPS watch market — built for distance athletes but great for anyone in need of a high quality watch.

Read review: Garmin Forerunner 945

Best Bang for the Buck


Coros Pace 2


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 5
  • Battery Life 7
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Accuracy 9
  • Design 9
Weight: 1.2 oz | Battery Life: 20 days in smartwatch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode
Exceptionally lightweight
Battery life is long
Fantastic accuracy
Very easy to use
Limited sports profiles
Plastic construction

The Coros Pace 2 can't be beaten when it comes to value. This watch has a smaller watch face that fits even the smallest of wrists and hardly feels like it's there. The features are streamlined to provide you exactly what you need with excellent fitness and health tracking options. It has an incredible design that is intuitive and simple to use. For the price, there is no other watch that compares to its level of quality. Battery life is sufficient for a faster 100-mile race or any endurance event, lasting 29 hours in our tests. The Coros app also crosses over to other platforms and offers one of the easiest-to-use interfaces that we've seen thus far. If you're looking for a heck of a deal, look no further.

Unfortunately, this isn't a fully-featured watch with app integrations, contactless pay, or other exotic features. It doesn't even host a breadcrumb map trail. So if you're in search of the best features, look instead to the Garmin Forerunner 45S that has more features and comes in at a similar price point. But for those that don't care so much about features and are interested in an easy-to-use and accurate watch with loads of battery juice, we wouldn't recommend any other.

Best Battery Life


Coros Apex Pro


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 7
  • Battery Life 9
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Accuracy 9
  • Design 8
Weight: 2.0 oz | Battery Life: 30 days in smartwatch mode, 40 hours in GPS mode
Exceptional GPS and smartwatch battery life
Fantastic accuracy across different profiles
Easy to use
Larger knob stops activity when worn on the left wrist
Requires a smartphone to use software platform

If battery life is your biggest consideration, take a gander at the Coros Apex Pro. This sleek and simple watch offers all the features that you need to train for your next adventure, including a pulse oximeter, touch screen, bread crumb trail, several workout profiles, workout creation, route navigation, and more. The software is easy to use and simple to set up with progress tracking and detailed summaries. The watch feels light to wear with a breathable band and a durable face and bezel. What truly puts the Apex Pro above others, though, is its incredible battery life. In our tests, we measured between 32 and 36 hours of GPS life (with all sensors turned on), with the watch lasting two to three weeks between recharges. No other watch in our lineup has this level of excellent battery power, making it a favorite for ultra adventurers that need their power to keep going all day and all night.

While we love this watch, it's hard to swallow the price. The cost is significantly higher than both the Coros Apex and Coros Pace 2, two other high-value options. The only difference is the addition of the pulse oximeter and a few more features, with about 10 more hours of battery life than the Apex. Most people won't go for the extra cost and might say either of the other Coros watches are a better deal unless extra battery juice is specifically needed. The only other caveat is the large dial on the right side — when worn on the left hand, we found that it often paused our activities when flexing the wrist. Apart from these qualms, this is the best watch for lasting long hours without sacrificing accuracy or turning off certain features.

Read review: Coros Apex Pro

Best Features


Garmin Fenix 6 Pro


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 10
  • Battery Life 8
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Accuracy 8
  • Design 6
Weight: 2.8 oz | Battery Life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 36 hours in GPS mode
Very accurate
Huge music and map storage
Best features and ample profiles
Onboard maps and navigation
Bulky and heavy
Lots to learn with all feature options
Expensive

The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is well known among ultra athletes and mountain explorers for its slew of features and mega battery life in GPS mode. If you want all the features you could ever imagine, access to the Garmin Connect community, and battery life that'll last, this watch is popular for a reason. It comes with thousands of detailed onboard maps with points of interest and turn-by-turn navigation for routes that you can upload. Downloadable workouts, the ability to store and play music without your phone, contactless pay — the list goes on. If you're a total geek when it comes to features and you want the best of the best, here it is.

While it certainly comes loaded with all you could ever hope for, those extra features add extra weight. Of all options tested, this is noticeably heavier and bulkier than the rest. We felt the watch was pretty easy to use, but taking the time to figure out all the features, adds up to hours, with a steep learning curve. If you can move past these caveats (and the price), those that want the best features on the market will be humming a happy tune all the way down the trail.

Read review: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

Best Solar for Expeditions


Garmin Instinct Solar


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 7
  • Battery Life 9
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Accuracy 7
  • Design 5
Weight: 1.9 oz | Battery Life: Endless days in smartwatch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode
Solar panels charge watch quickly
Most features are already built into the watch
Excellent navigational options
Seemingly endless battery life in smartwatch mode when there's sun
No noticeable charging with the GPS running
Design needs improvement
No widget or app integrations

Solar charging on the go? The Garmin Instinct Solar stands out as one of the best GPS watches with solar panels integrated right into the screen. So long as it is exposed to the sun, using it in smartwatch mode will require few to no charges every month. Over three months of testing, we only had to charge it once — when we ran the battery down on purpose. As a result, it's a great option for expeditions or longer treks where you might not be able to find an outlet. The features are simplified on this design but still offer nice navigational features like sight n' go, coordinates, and a breadcrumb trail.

Probably the biggest caveat to this watch is the lack of widget integration with the inability to add new features that all the other Garmin watches host. Sure, you can design and upload courses, but you can't add a layered map, which seems like an important feature for a more tactical type of watch. While the solar panels definitely work, we didn't notice any gains in battery life when running and exploring in the mountains while in GPS mode. We only saw these gains when GPS wasn't running, and the face of the watch was in direct sunlight, ideally off the wrist. All of that considered, this is our top recommendation for those looking for a watch that can charge itself on the trail when headed out on a long backpacking trip or expedition to places that have some sun.

Read review: Garmin Instinct Solar

Compare Products

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Score Product Price Our Take
84
$600
Editors' Choice Award
Fully featured functionality built into a lightweight design that stands out as the best when it comes to features and accuracy
82
$350
This easy-to-use watch offers amazing battery life and a design that is light and low profile, without all the extras
82
$500
Top Pick Award
With huge battery life and just the right amount of features, this easy-to-use GPS watch is versatile for everything from long-distance events to training escapades
80
$650
Top Pick Award
This watch boasts the best features tested thus far and excellent storage with the caveat of being heavy and bulky
78
$200
Best Buy Award
A low-cost GPS watch boasting excellent accuracy, battery life, and ease of use
76
$450
This mid-range GPS watch offers a lightweight design that packs in a myriad of features including touchless payment and phone-free music listening
72
$400
Top Pick Award
This watch shines for its endless battery life in smartwatch mode, making it a recommendation for longer expeditions in the backcountry when in sunny places
70
$499
This touchscreen watch has the features you need with extensive battery life for ultra-endurance events, but the price is too high to recommend easily
68
$200
A well-featured and lower-priced watch that offers access to the robust Garmin ecosystem, with the caveat of a lower battery life and plastic design
60
$400
While it does have nice features and a crisp touchscreen, we were less than pleased with the difficulty of use and high price
60
$200
A simple GPS training watch at a lower price boasting an accurate heart rate monitor and a slim number of features

Roz takes on the dead man&#039;s walk on the Haute Hut Route between S7...
Roz takes on the dead man's walk on the Haute Hut Route between S7 and North Pole Peak in the San Juans during the summer. What do you use your GPS for?
Photo: Amber King

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is brought to you by a team of testers headed up by Amber King. Amber is a professional outdoor educator who spends lots of time navigating the great outdoors. She is also an ultra trail runner who loves to challenge herself with big, steep, and long runs and fastpacking adventures. She uses a GPS watch daily for trail running, open water swimming, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing. Other members of our testing team include recreational and professional athletes training for 100-mile trail races, bike packing missions, and backcountry ski explorations in the San Juans of Colorado.

Before selection occurs, we spend hours looking through the best options on the market and delve into the research to determine the best. Once we've found a handful that we think represents the best on the market, we buy them and start testing. We hand them out to friends and ask them to fill out surveys after cross country skiing, downhill skiing, trail running, open water swimming, and biking. For those conquering 100-mile distances, we gave them out to see if the watch would last. Over the last few years, we've logged hundreds of activities worldwide on different continents, including Europe and North and South America. We also dive into the specs and features of each device, spending hours researching and comparing to note different niches and use cases. With feedback from over 50 different athletes, we are proud to present this review to aid you in your search.

Related: How We Tested GPS Sports Watches

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Analysis and Test Results


There are many GPS watches on the market these days, and finding the one that fits your needs can be a tough project. We took a sample of the market's current best and put them to the test to see how they compare side-by-side. We evaluated each for features, battery life, ease of use, accuracy, and design.

Related: Buying Advice for GPS Sports Watches

We get after it in some beautiful places in order to bring you a...
We get after it in some beautiful places in order to bring you a thoroughly comprehensive review.
Photo: Amber King

Value


It's not a secret that GPS watches are an investment. To help you find the best deals out there, we collected options spanning a wide price bracket. Many high scorers offer more features and battery life, equating to a higher price. But which are best for those on a budget?

Of the highly performing GPS watches, the Coros brand is by far the best value. The Coros Pace2 and Coros Apex are available for approachable price points and scored highly in our review. The Coros Apex Pro is a lower value option, with comparable pricing to Garmin and Suunto but with fewer features — though it excels if battery life is your main concern. The Coros Pace 2 is by far the best deal, offering excellent battery life and simple, necessary features. The Garmin Forerunner 45S is another lower-cost GPS watch with lower battery life but access to the Garmin ecosystem.


Wait for last season's watch to go on sale. These are typically loaded with many of the same functions, and you can get them for a fraction of the retail cost.

Features


The watches in our test group run the gamut in this category. The most basic models capture your GPS activity track, heart rate, and basic activity statistics. The most advanced act as a combination running coach/outdoor guide/personal assistant/weatherman/sometimes annoying relative who's concerned you're not eating or sleeping enough. Navigational capabilities are extra with onboard maps that include layers, which some folks might enjoy. No matter your preference, there's something out there to fit the bill.


Of the feature-laden watches, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is heralded as the top performer along with the Garmin Forerunner 945. Both hosts advanced GPS tracking, lots of profiles to choose from, enough stats to make your head spin, and navigational capabilities, including onboard maps. When you take a close look, these are very similar in performance and quality. Both will sync to your smartphone to deliver notifications, calendar updates, and weather forecasts, monitor your daily steps and sleep patterns, track your training, and give you tips on training load while predicting race times. Both also have a blood oxygen sensor with the ability to use contactless Garmin Pay.

A look at a few of the features on the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, complete...
A look at a few of the features on the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, complete with detailed maps and all the data metrics you could imagine.
Photo: Amber King

The differences are in storage and a few other features. The Fenix 6 Pro is more feature-rich, including more detailed onboard maps, water resistance of 100 meters (the Forerunner 945 can dive to the standard 50 meters), and song storage of up to 2000 songs (the Forerunner can hold up to 1000 songs).

A look at some of the features of the Garmin Forerunner 945...
A look at some of the features of the Garmin Forerunner 945 including music storage and control, plentiful activity profiles, and excellent data for tracking progress.
Photo: Amber King

Garmin products typically score higher in this metric because of their robust ecosystem, including access to hundreds of apps and optimizations found on the Google IQ and Google Connect app. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is touted for storing up to 500 songs with a simple, more minimalistic design. It's less expensive than the two mentioned above because it doesn't have the same onboard maps or extra features, but it can also upload workouts. The Forerunner 45S is the least featured of all the Garmin options our review but still has really great coaching and fitness tracking built-in. Overall, Garmin products are far and above others when it comes to the world of features.

The Suunto 7 is another well-featured product with Google Wear OS products built-in. You can use a host of Google Play apps, in addition to its basic GPS functionality. The Suunto 9 Baro isn't as featured as the Suunto 7 or Garmin products, but it does come with onboard maps for better navigation at a lower price than many of the Garmin options that have this same feature.

Some of the included sport modes on the Suunto 7.
Some of the included sport modes on the Suunto 7.
Photo: Amber King

While features are fun, many simply aren't needed, especially if you're only looking to track stats on your next bike ride or run. The options from Coros strip away all the fancy features as a trade-off for exceptional battery life and simplicity. The Apex Pro is the most featured of the Coros watches, adding in touch screen capabilities, a digital pulse oximeter, and a night mode that isn't found in the regular Apex. The Pace 2 has an "always-on" backlight that the Apex doesn't have and a simpler design overall. Neither can add onboard apps, have music storage, or any of those fancy features. This brand has slimmed down the features for the trade-off of simplicity and better battery life. The Polar M430 is similar to the Coros products in its simplicity, with even fewer features overall.

We were happy to have GPS watches with navigational capabilities on...
We were happy to have GPS watches with navigational capabilities on this steep and foggy ridge in the Faroe Islands, southeast of Iceland.
Photo: Amber King

Battery Life


For any distance athlete, battery life is probably one of the biggest factors affecting your decision to buy a watch. Battery life is affected by many things, including the route you're on, GPS signal, coverage, the number of apps you have turned on/off, the battery mode you have it set to, and how long you run your device. As a result, it's inherently hard to test to get a standard number. So, we constructed a few side-by-side simulations to uncover which will actually last for your entire 100-mile race and which requires a charge on the go.


We performed a few tests. The first was a more subjective in-field test where we charged up the battery and used the watch normally day in and day out. We noted how long the watch took to die while incorporating 2-3 activities each week, about 1-3 hours in length. We then compared manufacturers' claims to the actual results that we got.

Eddie enjoys the ample battery life of the Coros Apex Pro during his...
Eddie enjoys the ample battery life of the Coros Apex Pro during his rim-to-rim-to-rim attempt in the Grand Canyon, overnight.
Photo: Amber King

Then, we tested GPS by setting each watch out in the same area under the open sky and running them down until they turned off. We noted the time taken to reach this point and if any went into battery saver mode to enhance battery life. We realize this test won't tell you the specific number of hours you'll get during real GPS activity, but it gave us an idea of which watches last longer than others and the quality of the data. In addition, we also took each watch on at least 50 miles of activities, noting the amount of battery taken for the time of the activity.

Trevor wears the Garmin Instinct in sunny Colorado, which offers...
Trevor wears the Garmin Instinct in sunny Colorado, which offers ample battery life in Smartwatch mode.
Photo: amber king

For smartwatch mode, the clear winner is the Garmin Instinct Solar followed by the Coros Apex Pro, Coros Apex, and Coros Pace 2. The Instinct Solar didn't require a real charge for a whopping three months when worn regularly outdoors in the sun. This solar-powered watch can recharge on the go — and it works. In GPS mode, our results were a bit different, but we were still very impressed with its longevity for regular smartwatch mode. The Coros Apex and Apex Pro have been tested for months now, and we average about 1-2 charges a month with regular activity. The Coros Pace 2 wasn't noticeably different than the Apex, but Coros claims only 20 days of use in smartwatch mode with the Pace 2, 25 days with the Apex, and 30 days with the Apex Pro.

We kept everything set to regular settings without turning anything off to mimic the conditions that most people will start using their watches. Turn off notifications and other functions you don't need before your activity to extend battery life.


Trevor looking pretty darn good (and tasting salty) after 100 miles...
Trevor looking pretty darn good (and tasting salty) after 100 miles of adventure through the mountains. The Garmin Forerunner 945 lasted just long enough for his 27-hour finish.
Photo: Amber King

Watches for a 24+ Hour Event


We tested each watch while running GPS during ultra-distance events, backpacking, and exploring for hours on end. We gave them out to different athletes running 24+ hour events. The trophy in this test clearly goes to the Coros Apex Pro, which lasted between 32 and 36 hours in GPS with all sensors turned on in both covered and uncovered terrain. Next was the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (31 hours, claims 36 hours), followed by the Coros Pace 2 (29 hours, claims 30 hours), Garmin Instinct Solar (29 hours, claims 30 hours), and the Garmin Forerunner 945 (28 hours, claims 36 hours). The Suunto Baro 9 lasts 25 hours (claims 25 hours), with the Coros Apex 42mm lasting 24 hours (claims 25 hours). All of these watches can be optimized to save battery power without sacrificing accuracy by simply turning off the screen or heart rate sensors.

The Suunto 9 Baro (center) features a strong magnetic connector...
The Suunto 9 Baro (center) features a strong magnetic connector that'll stay in place. The Garmin 645 Music (right) uses a clip that also stays in place, while the Coros (and most other Garmin products) use a simple clip-in system.
Photo: Amber King

Battery Life Lasting Longer than 35 hours


Why would anybody need a watch to last this long? Ultrarunners are interesting creatures that like to run through the night and into the next day. Some events, like 200+ mile running challenges, require battery life for multiple days. In this case, a watch with a solid battery connector cable that won't disconnect from the watch while in motion is key. Think - a strong magnet or clip. Surprisingly, many watches marketed for ultrarunning distances don't have this feature, which we'd like to see more of. The only watch that does this well is the Suunto Baro 9 which has a super-strong magnetic connector. It also continues to track information while charging from an exterior battery pack.

Watches for a Shorter Event


Some options aren't built with the longest battery life in mind, making them perfect for shorter timed events. For those training for a traditional marathon or 50K event, a watch with 12 hours of GPS life will do just fine. The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, for example, will last 12 hours with GPS running (and 5 hours when listening to music), which is enough for a faster marathon distance. The Suunto 7 is similar with 12 hours of GPS battery life.

Amber, our main tester, uses the Garmin Forerunner 945 while...
Amber, our main tester, uses the Garmin Forerunner 945 while completing the Bryce 50 mile run in just under 12 hours. While she could have gotten away buying a watch with shorter battery life this gives her the opportunity to keep using it for that 100-miler in the future.
Photo: Amber King

Ease of Use


We evaluated how easy each watch is to use out of the box. Those that score the highest have a user-friendly interface, well-constructed button design, and can easily be used during any time of the day or night. Observing relevant information at a glance is also important, with an app that isn't too complicated or difficult to use.


Based on our tests, the Coros Apex, Coros Pace 2, Coros Apex Pro, and Garmin Forerunner 45S are by far the easiest to use. The Coros watches have a shorter feature list with simple buttons and a scroll knob. The Forerunner 45S is a little more complex than the Coros watches, but it is easier to figure out than most Garmin products since it has fewer features. That said, the high-end Garmin products are very intuitive, with nice considerations when it comes to button placement and useability. However, the more featured they are, the more learning that's required for use. As a result, Garmin products scored high but not as high as other contenders.

The Coros watches, like the Coros Apex Pro, seen here, are some of...
The Coros watches, like the Coros Apex Pro, seen here, are some of the easiest to figure out right out of the box.
Photo: Amber King

The Suunto 9 Baro and Suunto 7 are very different watches, each using a touchscreen in addition to buttons. Of the two, the 9 Baro has a far better layout. The Suunto 7 is our least favorite in this metric because the buttons are confusing, and it's easy to get lost on the screens. For example, two of the buttons access the same feature (music and video), which we think is a huge oversight with the design. Both are harder to use than any of the other products in this review.

Apps are another consideration in this metric. Of all the manufacturers we reviewed, Garmin has the most widely used data management software with the most features. It has hundreds of apps that can be used with specific Garmin watches, which can seem overwhelming. The app itself has a lot of stats and other options. That said, Garmin does a good job laying it all out, and even with all the extras, we are impressed at the ease of use.

A look at the different home screens for each app. Left: Garmin...
A look at the different home screens for each app. Left: Garmin. Middle: Coros. Right: Suunto.
Photo: Amber King

Suunto, Coros, and Polar have apps that are more stripped-down, less integrated, and overall easier to use. Suunto has a really beautiful layout that integrates photos, which we enjoyed. All of these apps were easier to figure out in comparison to Garmin, though none offer the same social ecosystem. Luckily they all cross over to different ecosystems like Strava.

Jeff appreciates the easy-to-use functionality of the Garmin Fenix 6...
Jeff appreciates the easy-to-use functionality of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.
Photo: Amber King

Also worth noting is that most of the devices in our tests export activity information in a standardized format. All GPS watches can generate GPX files (i.e., GPS exchange files) that contain time and position data and that can be stored and viewed in a variety of ways. Various applications, PC or web-based, can take this data and generate distance, pace, and other information. For instance, Strava can interpret and store all GPX files. Regardless of what device captured the file, Strava will organize it and integrate it with its website. There are a host of other applications and products that will help you organize and process your GPX data. We really like that the Coros app has an export option in the app with a series of different file configurations.

Accuracy


We're guessing you're not in the market for a GPS watch so you can figure out roughly how far you ran and about how many feet you climbed. GPS signal strength, satellite location, watch fit, and internal hardware all have a large impact on device accuracy. If the very best device has a limited view of the sky, it might be far less accurate than a cheaper tool, with a tiny and misplaced antenna that is out in the wide-open plains. As the GPS watch world is evolving, we are seeing better accuracy across all devices. To evaluate the accuracy, we ran, biked, swam, and hiked known distances to compare our watches and their track metrics. We tried to run over bridges and next to bodies of water as much as possible to find out which watches thought we were swimming instead of running.


All of the GPS watches tested had good accuracy that we would trust. All gave us smooth tracks that consistently stayed within 1-3% of the actual measured distance. As technology continues to improve, so does tracking, and we're happy to witness this trend.

A look at some of the different watches on a bike ride for an...
A look at some of the different watches on a bike ride for an accuracy test. As you can see, many follow the same line on this particular curve, but some are off more than others. Overall, most of the watches tested were pretty accurate.
Photo: Amber King

Heart Rate Monitor Accuracy

Testing heart rate monitors is quite a challenge. During runs, we observed heart rate data and compared this to the information we received from a heart monitor chest strap. While most watches can accurately track the relative ups and downs you might experience while exercising, few are as accurate as a chest strap. This is largely due to variable fit on the wrist and a myriad of other factors.

A look at the different sensors used to measure heart rate and blood...
A look at the different sensors used to measure heart rate and blood oxygen saturation.
Photo: Amber King

None of the heart rate monitors we tested was spot on. If you want precise heart rate readings, be sure to purchase a chest strap. Some did better than others, with the Garmin brand being a touch more accurate than others. The Forerunner 945 and Forerunner 45S seemed to be spot on with a good fit, with an average variation of 0 - 4 beats per minute. The Polar M430 HR is also very accurate with a variation of only 0 - 2 bpm (one of the best tested). The Suunto Baro 9 and Suunto 7 had variations of 3 - 5 bpm and 1 - 7 bpm respectively. Both are larger watches, and we noted that both of these would lose a heartbeat during exercise more than others. The Coros watches always seemed to have a higher reading, with variations of up to 20 bpm. We're not sure if this is because of the smaller design, but we weren't too impressed with this accuracy.

Grappling Sour Patch Kids in one hand, our main editor found this...
Grappling Sour Patch Kids in one hand, our main editor found this tester of the Coros Apex Pro finishing the last miles of the Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. This watch tracked beautifully through steep canyons for accurate distances and splits, the whole way.
Photo: Amber King

One important thing to note regarding optical heart rate monitors is they do not provide quality data for people with dark skin, tattoos, or large amounts of hair or sweat under the monitor. This issue applies to every watch with an optical heart rate monitor because they use photoplethysmography (PPG), where light reflected from your arteries indicates your heart rate. Outside light, bursts of activity, interference from hair, tattoo ink, sweat, etc., can all affect readings.

Design


When considering design, we take a close look at the way each watch fits on the wrist and any notable issues with it during use. This includes looking at the size and thickness of the body, use under clothing, accidentally turning buttons on and off, and the clarity of the screen. Design considerations can be deal breakers for some, so let's dig in.


For those that are full of features with the best design, the hands-down winner is the Garmin Forerunner 945 (1.7 oz). It is lighter and more compact than the heavier Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (2.8 oz) or the Garmin Instinct Solar (1.9 oz). All of these options have larger watch faces. The Suunto watches also have large watch faces with touch screen capabilities which some love and others don't.

A look at all the different watch faces in this review. There are...
A look at all the different watch faces in this review. There are different options with many thicknesses, diameters, and button placement. Which do you prefer?
Photo: Amber King

The Coros Apex is one of our favorites from a design point of view. It has a smaller watch face size (42mm) with a rolling knob and a single button for use. The Coros Pace 2 has a similar design. It is simple and low-tech. The Coros Apex Pro adds an extra button, with the knob on the widest part of the watch face, whereas the other Coros options have a smaller knob at the top of the watch. This watch gets a lower design score because we found ourselves constantly pushing the button and accidentally pausing activities, which didn't happen with the other Coros models.

A comparison of the Coros Apex Pro (left), Coros Apex (middle), and...
A comparison of the Coros Apex Pro (left), Coros Apex (middle), and Coros Pace 2 (right)
Photo: Amber King

Garmin watches have five buttons, while the Suunto watches have three to four buttons. We like the Coros Apex and Pace 2 the best of all of these, but if you're not privy to rolling knobs and prefer buttons, Garmin has buttons that are more reactive and easier to use than other models.

If you're on the hunt for a light option, be sure to check out the Coros Pace 2 and the Garmin Forerunner 45S. Both are very light (1.2 oz), with the Coros Pace 2 being constructed of a higher quality polymer with a snug fit. The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music also features a low-profile design with a smaller watch face and weighs in at just 1.4 oz. The Apple Watch Series 6 and Letscom Smart Watch are also quite small and minimalistic, with the Apple Watch being a touch heavier but with nicer materials on the strap for all-day wear.

Carlyn enjoys the simplicity of the high-value Garmin Forerunner...
Carlyn enjoys the simplicity of the high-value Garmin Forerunner 45S, which comes packed with fitness and wellness features, while backcountry skiing in the San Juan mountains.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


Buying a GPS watch is a big decision and a big investment. You might find yourself researching for weeks or even months before finding the right one at the right price. We hope that our insights and in-depth comparative research have helped you find confidence in taking the plunge into this investment.

Amber King