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Best GPS Watch of 2021

Photo: Amber King
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday May 18, 2021
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Our experts have tested 30 of the best GPS watches in the last 7 years. This 2021 update features 12 of the market's latest and greatest options, tested side-by-side. We have traveled hundreds of miles on land and water, assessing the battery life, accuracy, and features of each product. We've run marathons in Europe, gone on fastpacking adventures in the Faroe Islands, and explored backcountry trails all over Colorado and beyond. Using a host of testers' feedback, we've developed conclusions and recommendations that are unbiased and designed to help you find the perfect GPS watch for your need and budget.

Top 12 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $584.99 at Amazon
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$349.99 at AmazonCheck Price at Backcountry
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$399.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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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 lifeBest features tested, excellent storage, easy to use, very durable design, excellent integrations, accurate, great battery lifeLow profile design, exceptional battery life, very accurate, low costLightweight and compact design, storage for 500 songs, great features, easy to use
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 offHeavy and bulky, expensiveNo mountain sports or navigational featuresShort battery life with music, long uploads for music, bluetooth connection with headphones is subpar
Bottom Line This elite watch stands out for its high-end features that boast 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 featuresIf 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 lifeThis lightweight contender packs in extensive features including music storage and touchless payment
Rating Categories Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner 6...
Features (20%)
9.0
6.0
10.0
5.0
8.0
Battery Life (20%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Accuracy (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
Design (20%)
9.0
9.0
6.0
9.0
8.0
Specs Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner 6...
Model Tested N/A Standard Standard N/A Music
Watch Face Material Corning Gorilla Glass DX Sapphire glass Corning Gorilla Glass DX or sapphire crystal Corning glass Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Bezel Fiber-reinforced polymer Stainless steel bezel Stainless steel or diamond-like carbon coated steel Fiber reinforced polymer Stainless steel
Case Fiber-reinforced polymer Alumnium Fiber-reinforced polymer with metal rear cover Fiber reinforced polymer Polymer
Strap Material Silicon Silicon or nylon Silicone, leather, titanium or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicone
Tools Required to Change Band? Yes No Yes No No
Size Tested One size only 44 mm 47mm One size only One size only
Measured Main Body Size (diameter or W x H) 46mm 44mm 47mm 43mm 42mm
Measured Thickness 13mm 13mm 14mm 11mm 12mm
Measured Screen Width 30mm 33mm 33mm 32mm 29mm
Measured Weight 1.7 oz 1.7 oz 2.8 oz 1.2 oz 1.5 oz
Measured Charging Time 75 min 70 min 110 min 80 min 75 min
Battery Type Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion
Measured Battery Life With GPS On 46 hours 31 hours 39 hours 38 hours 12 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
25 hours Hours in Full GPS Mode
80 hours in UltraMax GPS Mode
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 14 days
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 48 days
GPS: Up to 36 hours
GPS + 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: 30 hours
Ultramax Mode: 60 hours
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 14 hours
Navigation Built In? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Satellite Networks Used GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
Maps? Yes, detailed Yes - basic Yes - detailed No Yes - basic
Back to Start Navigation? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Water Resistance (max depth) 50m 100m 100m 50m 50m
Music Control? Yes No Yes No Yes
Music Storage? Yes - 1000 songs No Yes - 2000 songs No Yes - 500 songs
Daily Fitness Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Touchless Payment? Yes No Yes No Yes
Sleep Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Blood Oxygen? Yes No Yes No 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 Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros Garmin Connect, widgets for other features
Can Software Cross Over to Different Software Ecosystems? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes


Best Overall GPS Watch


Garmin Forerunner 945


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 9
  • Battery Life 9
  • 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
Fantastic battery life
Thin design
Accurate GPS
Expensive
Features take time to learn

The Garmin Forerunner 945 stands out for its long battery life, thin profile, and host of seemingly endless excellent features. It's this beautiful balance that earns it top marks, and it's a product that we recommend wholeheartedly. The 945 is intuitive, accurate, and battery life during our GPS tests lasted longer than any other contender. 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 also 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 great watch.

Read review: Garmin Forerunner 945

Best Bang for the Buck


Coros Pace 2


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 5
  • Battery Life 8
  • 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 past 30 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 Simple Design


Coros Apex


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 6
  • Battery Life 9
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Accuracy 9
  • Design 9
Weight: 1.7 oz | Battery Life: 30 days in smartwatch mode, 31 hours in GPS mode
Simplicity at its best
Very accurate GPS
Good price
Exceptional battery life in all modes
Lacks downloadable features and app integrations
Poor backlight

The Coros Apex is moving up on the ultra-distance forums as one of the most recommended for its incredibly intuitive design, simplicity of features, and mega battery life. After biking, swimming, trail running, and exploring through the summer, we've decided this is by far the easiest GPS watch we've ever used. It's incredibly accurate, and the manufacturer claims 25 days in smartwatch mode and 25 hours of GPS battery life. In our tests, we actually got 31 hours of battery life in GPS mode. The 46mm option is said to have even more (we tested the 42mm). Coros has kept all the features an athlete might need and omitted those that are extraneous.

While we can't think of much that's wrong with this beautiful timepiece, it doesn't have onboard maps or the ability to upload workouts. It also doesn't connect with any apps outside of the watch itself. If you don't care too much for fancy features, this simply designed watch offers excellent battery life for your next endurance event or a jaunt to the gym. The small design is also amenable to small wrists.

Read review: Coros Apex

Best Features


Garmin Fenix 6 Pro


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 10
  • Battery Life 9
  • 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 a 100-mile running race, this one 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


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 7
  • Battery Life 10
  • 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 you have some 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 in 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 definitley 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. 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

Bargain Touchscreen Activity Tracker with GPS


Letscom Smart Watch


52
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Features 3
  • Battery Life 4
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Accuracy 4
  • Design 6
Weight: 1.2 oz | Battery Life: 10 days in smartwatch mode, 4 hours in GPS
Very inexpensive
Sleek looking touchscreen
Decent battery life
Simple and featured fitness and activity tracking
Easy to use
The app doesn't cross to over platforms
Poor GPS accuracy in covered areas

The Letscom Smart Watch is a sleek rectangular touchscreen timepiece with a few key features that surprised us with their functionality. It features fitness tracking and GPS activity tracking that can be used directly through the phone or the app on your phone. While the fonts are a little dated and pixelated, we were pleased to find that the software is relatively smooth to use. The battery life is decent, with the opportunity to track a GPS-based activity for up to 4 hours. This is a good watch for most athletes that get out a few hours a day.

The software app itself is limited, and so is the software. Activity logging is sub-par as you can only see maps of your activity for just one day (so annoying). The GPS accuracy is poor, especially in areas of cover, and the display looks old-school. But if you can handle these caveats and really just want a watch that will do the bare minimum at a really reasonable price, this is one to consider.

Read review: Letscom Smart Watch

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
86
$600
Editors' Choice Award
Fully featured functionality built into a lightweight design that stands out as the best when it comes to data collection, battery life, and accuracy
84
$350
Top Pick Award
This easy-to-use watch offers amazing battery life and a design that is light and low profile, without all the extras
82
$650
Top Pick Award
This watch boasts the best features tested thus far and excellent storage with the caveat of being heavy and bulky
80
$200
Best Buy Award
A low-cost GPS watch boasting excellent accuracy, battery life, and ease of use
78
$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
74
$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
72
$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
70
$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
66
$399
This fully-featured touch screen watch is a great option for those seeking something to track fitness but it falls short with GPS accuracy and battery life
62
$400
While it does have nice features and a crisp touchscreen, we were less than pleased with the difficulty of use and high price
62
$200
A simple GPS training watch at a lower price boasting an accurate heart rate monitor and a slim number of features
52
$45
This GPS watch has a low sticker price and all the features you'd look for, but with some big drawbacks

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 which are the best. Once we've found a handful that we think represent the best on the market, we buy them and start testing. We hand them out to friends and ask them to fill out surveys while taking them out cross country skiing, downhill skiing, trail running, open water swimming, and biking. When big races came up, we found our friends running these races and strapped a watch to their wrist. Over the last few years, we've logged hundreds of activities across the world on different continents, including Europe and North and South America. We also take a deep 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 of this review and hope that it helps you out too.

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

A look at a handful of the GPS contenders that we updated in this...
A look at a handful of the GPS contenders that we updated in this review. We chose options that are amenable for both the high rollers and penny pinchers.
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. Of the highly performing GPS watches, the Coros brand options are by far the best value. The Coros Pace2 and Coros Apex are available for approachable price points and scored highly in our review. These less expensive watches typically have fewer features, but we've learned a lot of these features are the ones most people don't use anyway. So if you seek a deal, look to Coros.

The Letscom Smart Watch is similar to the Apple Watch Series 6 in design with incredibly simple functionality for a super low cost. Unfortunately, with the lower cost comes a GPS signal that is spotty in overhead cover and aspects that look old school and a bit dated. However, if you want a less expensive watch that'll track your activities and fitness through the day, you likely won't find anything cheaper.


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 host 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.

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).

The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro comes with several preloaded maps that will...
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro comes with several preloaded maps that will show your current position so you don't get lost when daydreaming down the dirt road.
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

The Apple Watch Series 6 is another highly-featured product, but it's less of a GPS watch and more of a fitness tracker. It is similar to a smartphone where you can download and use apps with the use of a touchscreen. The Letscom Smart Watch looks like a knock-off of the Apple Watch but certainly doesn't have its features. That said, it does have music control, fitness tracking, and GPS tracking for a select few activities, though the simple home environment can't really be modified.

We appreciate the seemingly limitless features of the Apple Watch...
We appreciate the seemingly limitless features of the Apple Watch Series 6. While many of the features come in the form of apps, it's almost like wearing a fully featured smartphone on your wrist. You can even take a call through it.
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 Coros Apex and Coros Pace 2 are two products that strip away all the fancy features as a trade-off for exceptional battery life and simplicity in use. The Apex has a few more navigational features (like trackback and a breadcrumb trail) and more activity profiles. The Pace 2 has an "always on" backlight that the Apex doesn't have and a simpler design overall. Neither have access to downloadable workouts, apps that can be added, 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 to 3 activities each week, about 1 to 3 hours in length. We then compared manufacturers' claims to the actual results that we got.

Here we enjoy the grandeur of some of the tallest sea cliffs in the...
Here we enjoy the grandeur of some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world while sailing and exploring the Faroe Islands. The Garmin Solar Instinct is a good choice for expeditions like these, with the caveat of sunlight sometimes being sparse in these parts of the world.
Photo: Amber King

Then, we tested GPS by setting each 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 us the specific number of hours we'll get during a real GPS activity, but it gives us an idea of which last longer than others and the quality of the data. In addition, we also took each on at least 50 miles of activities, noting the amount of battery taken for the time of the activity.

The Garmin Instinct Solar seems to have endless battery life when...
The Garmin Instinct Solar seems to have endless battery life when exposed to the sun and not in GPS mode.
Photo: Amber King

For smartwatch mode, the clear winner is the Garmin Instinct Solar followed by the 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 are still very impressed with its longevity for regular smartwatch mode. The Coros Apex has been tested for months now, and we average about one charge a month with regular activity. The Coros Pace 2 honestly wasn't noticeably different than the Apex, but Coros claims only 20 days of use in smartwatch mode, whereas the Apex has 30 days.

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.

When we turned the watches to GPS mode, we were surprised at the stark differences in the timing. To test comparative GPS time, we placed each outside, facing down, and turned the watch on. In this mode, more battery is used as satellites need to acquire a signal. We realize this test won't give us actuals for GPS time while moving, but it's meant to serve as a comparison only and a look at what each can do in a best-case scenario.

Battery chargers seem to be optimized for specific watches, even...
Battery chargers seem to be optimized for specific watches, even within the brands themselves. Most need to be taken off while charging. This is applicable for ultra events where a charge may be needed while competing with an auxiliary battery stick.
Photo: Amber King

Watches for a 24+ Hour Event


In the GPS tests described above, the Garmin Forerunner 945 lasted 46 hours (Garmin's claim is 36 hours) while the Suunto Baro 9 (claimed is 25 - 50 hours) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (claimed is 36 hours) both lasted a whopping 39 hours in GPS mode. All of these lasted longer than expected, with some of the functionality automatically turning off at some point to preserve battery life. The Coros Pace 2 lasted 38 hours (the claim is 30 hours), while the Coros Apex lasted 31 hours (the claim is 25 hours for the 42mm). The Garmin Instinct Solar lasted 29 hours with a claim of 30 hours in GPS mode without solar energy.

A crew of Ouray trail runners get ready for a 12-hour training night...
A crew of Ouray trail runners get ready for a 12-hour training night run traveling over remote trails from Ouray to Lake City, CO. A GPS watch with longer battery life is a big plus here, especially when using it to navigate through fog and wet weather (yes - it poured on them the whole night).
Photo: Amber King

Watches for a Shorter Event


Some options aren't built with battery life entirely in mind and are a little smaller in stature. But for the marathon trainer or 50K runner, a watch with 12 hours of GPS life is just fine. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music 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 measured.

Shorter GPS running times include the Garmin 45S (measured 10.5 hours while moving, claims up to 13 hours), the Polar M430 (measured 7 hours in GPS mode), and the Apple Watch Series 6 (5.5 hours in GPS mode). The Letscom Smart Watch had the shortest GPS time captured of only 4 hours.

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

Overall, if you want a watch that has a longer smartwatch mode and GPS time, we'd recommend one of the Coros options. For super long days where you might have multiple days on the trail and need charges in between, we recommend the Garmin Instinct Solar (assuming it's sunny). For ultralong events like multiple-day races, a fast-charging watch with huge battery life is ideal, like the Forerunner 945.

Ease of Use


We evaluated how easy each watch is to use in regards to unpacking, starting up, to using it daily. Those that score the highest have a user-friendly interface, thought-out button design, and intuitive scrolling features. 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, and Garmin Forerunner 45S are by far the easiest to use. The Coros watches have a shorter feature list and only utilize one scroll and one push button with limited screen options to keep things very simple. 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.

We love the simplicity of a single push dial and a single button...
We love the simplicity of a single push dial and a single button. The Coros Pace 2 is one of the easiest watches to figure out without any experience. Plus it syncs seamlessly with the software.
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. However, 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 were impressed at 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
Left: VeryFitPro (used with the Letscom Smartwatch). Right: Polar
Left: VeryFitPro (used with the Letscom Smartwatch). Right: Polar
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. The Apple Fitness app is decently straightforward, though, like all Apple products, there almost always seems to be more you can learn. 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 the Coros app as it has export options in the actual app for 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 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, with the exception of the Letscom Smart Watch 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 look at the actual data as we go. We also compare the collected data afterward and the results to those of a chest strap heart rate monitor. Additionally, it was important for us to consider our personal feel of the run. Being ultra runners, we know how our hearts perform over distance, so we use it as another data point. Overall, we found that we had the most issues with watches that fit poorly or were too loose. In both cases, we almost always had poor data results.

One important thing to note regarding optical heart rate monitors is that they might 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 that has 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 the readings.

None of the heart rate monitors we tested was spot on. If you want precise heart rate readings, but sure to purchase a chest strap. That said, some did better than others in our testing. Of all options tested, the Garmin watches typically did better than other brands. The Forerunner 945 and Forerunner 45S all seemed to be spot on when a connection was made well, with a variation of only 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.

Heart rate monitors vary and the accuracy depends on the quality of...
Heart rate monitors vary and the accuracy depends on the quality of the sensor, and the fit on the wrist. While none are perfect, most offer enough accuracy to see roughly where your heart rate is at.
Photo: Amber King

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.

Steph appreciates the smaller watch face of the Garmin Forerunner...
Steph appreciates the smaller watch face of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.
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 also has this same design. It is simple and low-tech. Garmin watches have five buttons, while the Suunto watches have three to four buttons. We like the Coros 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.

The design is important. Here we see a relative comparison of the...
The design is important. Here we see a relative comparison of the top contenders. Left to right: Suunto Baro 9, Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, Garmin Forerunner 945, Garmin Instinct Solar, Coros Apex (42 mm), Coros Pace 2
Photo: Amber King

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