Best GPS Watch of 2021
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$435.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Lightweight and thin profile, intuitive, fully featured, very accurate||Excellent quality, accurate, simple design, astounding value, very easy to use, great feature set, very long battery life||Low profile design, great battery life, very accurate, low cost||Stellar battery life, nice size and weight, comfortable, easy to use, simple software platform, seamless syncing and updates, touchscreen||Lightweight 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 accuracy||Backlight isn't bright, heart rate monitor accuracy is a little off||No mountain sports or navigational features||Larger knob is easy to push accidentally, can't be plugged into a computer||Short 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 with exceptional accuracy and performance in a low profile design||A well-constructed and accurate watch with a minimalistic design, excellent battery life, and all the right features||A fully functional and incredibly light GPS sports watch boasting out of this world battery life||With all the right features and monstrous battery life, this watch is one of our favorites for ultradistance events and explorations||This lightweight contender packs in extensive features including music storage and touchless payment|
|Rating Categories||Garmin Forerunner 945||Coros Apex||Coros Pace 2||Coros Apex Pro||Garmin Forerunner 6...|
|Battery Life (20%)|
|Ease Of Use (20%)|
|Specs||Garmin Forerunner 945||Coros Apex||Coros Pace 2||Coros Apex Pro||Garmin Forerunner 6...|
|Watch Face Material||Corning Gorilla Glass DX||Sapphire glass||Corning glass||Sapphire glass||Corning Gorilla Glass 3|
|Bezel||Fiber-reinforced polymer||Stainless steel bezel||Fiber reinforced polymer||Titanium Alloy||Stainless steel|
|Case||Fiber-reinforced polymer||Alumnium||Fiber reinforced polymer||Alumnium||Polymer|
|Strap Material||Silicon||Silicon or nylon||Silicon or nylon||Silicon or nylon||Silicone|
|Tools Required to Change Band?||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Size Tested||One size only||44mm||One size only||47mm||One size only|
|Measured Main Body Size (diameter or W x H)||46mm||44mm||43mm||47mm||42mm|
|Measured Screen Width||30mm||33mm||32mm||33mm||29mm|
|Measured Weight||1.7 oz||1.7 oz||1.2 oz||2.0 oz||1.5 oz|
|Measured Charging Time||75 min||70 min||80 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||28 hours||24 hours||29 hours||36 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
Full GPS mode: 25 hours
UltraMax GPS mode: 80 hours
|Smartwatch mode: 20 days
GPS mode: 30 hours
Ultramax mode: 60 hours
|Smartwatch mode: 30 days
GPS mode: 40 hours
UltraMax mode: 100 hours
|Smartwatch mode: up to 7 days
GPS mode w/ music: up to 5 hours
GPS without music: up to 14 hours
|Navigation Built In?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Satellite Networks Used||GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO||GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU||GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU||GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU||GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO|
|Maps?||Yes, detailed||Yes - basic||No||Yes - basic||Yes - basic|
|Back to Start Navigation?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Water Resistance (max depth)||50m||100m||50m||100m||50m|
|Music Storage?||Yes - 1000 songs||No||No||No||Yes - 500 songs|
|Daily Fitness Tracking?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Main Software App||Garmin Connect, widgets for other features||Coros App||Coros||Coros App||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
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
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
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
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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