GPS run­ning watches

If you want to get the most out of your wear­able tech, it’s worth in­vest­ing in a run­ning- spe­cific GPS watch, as op­posed to a band that tracks gen­eral ac­tiv­ity. Here are nine of our favourites – rang­ing from en­try- level to supreme per­for­mance.

Runner's World South Africa - - Contents - BY RYAN SCOTT PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY JAMES GARAGHTY


Ap­ple Watch Series 2 from R6 400 The first Ap­ple Watch was viewed largely as a fun ac­ces­sory for your iPhone, and lacked some key fea­tures that run­ners wanted. The Watch Series 2 has built- in GPS track­ing and wa­ter­proof con­struc­tion, which in­stantly makes it a one-watch so­lu­tion for run­ners.

This sec­ond it­er­a­tion is still an ex­ten­sion of your iPhone, but now you can leave the hand­set be­hind when you set out for a run, and not miss a step. The na­tive Work­out app records your lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude points di­rectly to the watch, to give you real-time dis­tance and pace, and to chart a map later of where you’ve trav­elled.

Our tests found the GPS to be on par with more ad­vanced sport­spe­cific watches, and the op­ti­cal heart-rate mon­i­tor was pre­cise when strapped on snugly. 5 hours bat­tery life my­i­s­


Po­lar M200 R2 494 A brainy smart­watch that boasts ad­vanced func­tion­al­ity not com­monly found at this price – many of the con­nected fea­tures typ­i­cally found in ex­pen­sive smart­watches have trick­led down into more af­ford­able op­tions. The M200 is an all-day ac­tiv­ity tracker with a built-in heart-rate sen­sor, ac­cu­rate GPS, and ba­sic phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions. It also down­loads work­outs (such as in­ter­vals) and mon­i­tors your ef­fort dur­ing your train­ing ses­sion.

Lastly, for those who for­get where you started a new route, there’s a back- to- start func­tion, to help you re­turn to your ho­tel or parked car. 6 hours in GPS mode Sports­mans Ware­house


Po­lar V430 R3 495 A run­ning-fo­cused watch from Po­lar that still ac­com­mo­dates a whole lot of other sports op­tions, and adds an op­ti­cal heart-rate mon­i­tor to the su­per- pop­u­lar but dis­con­tin­ued M400. While many up­grades have turned to touch-screen func­tion­al­ity, the M430 has kept things sim­ple, stick­ing to an ex­tremely ef­fec­tive five- but­ton op­er­a­tion. Testers en­joyed the one-touch start op­tion, and the quick con­nec­tion to GPS – no longer will you hold up your run­ning group be­cause you’re wait­ing for a satel­lite con­nec­tion.

An in­ter­est­ing change to the wrist strap is the ad­di­tion of a series of holes – not just for aes­thet­ics, but to make the watch lighter, which re­sults in less bounce and there­fore more ac­cu­rate op­ti­cal heart-rate read­ings. 8 hours bat­tery life, with an op­tion to power down the GPS to ex­tend bat­tery longevity Sports­mans Ware­house


Garmin Fore­run­ner 235 R5 300 Whether we were deep in the rocky Ceder­berg or on the moun­tain slopes that sur­round Cape Town, we locked on to a satel­lite quickly with the Fore­run­ner 235. It gath­ers pings from both the GPS and GLONASS con­stel­la­tions of satel­lites, strength­en­ing its sig­nal in chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions.

The wrist- based heart- rate mon­i­tor was the only unit that worked per­fectly for all our testers, re­gard­less of skin tone, hair, or body shape, and special al­go­rithms in the watch sug­gested how long we should rest be­fore our next hard work­out.

Testers raved about how easy it was to wire­lessly upload runs and all-day ac­tiv­ity stats to both iOS and An­droid phones. And to sync with Strava, MapMyFit­ness and En­domondo – no watch is bet­ter at get­ting friends to sup­port you, or ri­vals to hate you. 11 hours bat­tery life in GPS and HRM mode


Garmin Fore­run­ner 935 R10 999 The watch has GPS, a heart-rate me­ter on the wrist, new train­ing fea­tures – which al­low you to ad­just ex­er­cise and re­cov­ery – and weighs only 49 grams.

“With sim­i­lar fea­tures to the Fenix 5, the Fore­run­ner 935 is aimed at ath­letes fo­cused on per­for­mance and re­sults,” says Garmin Brazil direc­tor Martín Cosentino. “It not only pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on how your body is re­spond­ing to train­ing, but also data for each ac­tiv­ity – and al­lows them to be sent au­to­mat­i­cally to Garmin Con­nect. It’s still cus­tomis­able with free ap­pli­ca­tions, data fields and Con­nect IQ store ser­vices.”

The watch au­to­mat­i­cally analy­ses pre­vi­ous lev­els of ex­er­cise, and pro­vides in­sight into how your body is re­spond­ing. The new train­ing-ef­fect met­ric com­pares the aer­o­bic and anaer­o­bic ben­e­fit of a work­out. The Fore­run­ner 935 can be paired with the Run­ning Dy­nam­ics Pod, which al­lows ath­letes to see six run­ning­dy­nam­ics met­rics: cadence, length of steps, time and ground bal­ance, os­cil­la­tion, and ver­ti­cal ra­tio. 24 hours of bat­tery in GPS mode To­tal­sports


Su­unto Spar­tan Trainer Wrist HR R4 499 If the Su­unto Sport Wrist op­tion (p58) is too large and its many func­tions seem daunt­ing, the Trainer Wrist is smaller, cheaper and still in­cludes a lot more un­der the hood than most watches do when they drop a notch in price. Even at just 66g – and a lot slim­mer than the rest of the Spar­tan range – it still has the op­ti­cal heartrate mon­i­tor built in, 80 pre-in­stalled sports modes, and 24/7 track­ing.

Sound fa­mil­iar? That’s be­cause it re­ally isn’t lack­ing much of what the Sport op­tion has, even though the wa­ter­proof­ing ca­pa­bil­ity is down from 100m to 50m. (You’ve got to won­der – how many of these watches ever make it deeper

than three me­tres of wa­ter?) 10-hour bat­tery life in train­ing mode Cape Union Mart


Su­unto Spar­tan Sport Wrist HR R8 999 No longer re­quir­ing a heart-rate strap, the Spar­tan Sport Wrist HR has an op­ti­cal heart-rate mon­i­tor built into the back of the watch. The watch also fea­tures 24/7 ac­tiv­ity track­ing, to give you a com­plete pic­ture of your daily move­ments.

The Spar­tan series com­prises big, durable watches, with long-run bat­tery life and an impressive ar­ray of fea­tures in­clud­ing cus­tomised sport modes (80 are pre-loaded), map­ping, train­ing in­sights, and charts. The new op­ti­cal HR sen­sor was built in part­ner­ship with Va­len­cell, a leader in bio­met­ric sen­sors, and we found it rou­tinely de­liv­ered mea­sure­ments that we’d ex­pect.

Plus, re­cent soft­ware up­dates have di­alled in GPS track­ing, even in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions. 12 hours bat­tery life in train­ing mode Due South

Fit­bit Surge R4 799 Fit­bit are big players in the gen­eral ac­tiv­ity- track­ing game, but the Surge is their top- end of­fer­ing; it makes the leap into the GPS cat­e­gory, and re­ally does dif­fer­en­ti­ate this op­tion from the rest of their range. The Surge doesn’t rely on your phone for GPS – ba­sic GPS func­tion­al­ity is built in to the watch.

The one-touch start for run mode is wel­come as a sim­ple nav­i­ga­tion op­tion, but don’t wait around ex­pect­ing the GPS to con­nect to a satel­lite, like our testers did – you need to tap again to fire up the GPS. And be pa­tient: the Surge con­nected slow­est out of all those tested.

Testers also used the muchun­her­alded but eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble pause but­ton to great ef­fect. There’s lit­tle more frus­trat­ing than leav­ing the clock run­ning while you fum­ble around try­ing to find the pause but­ton. 4 hours bat­tery life in GPS mode Sports­mans Ware­house, To­tal Sports



TomTom Spark 3 Car­dio with mu­sic R3 999 With a built-in mu­sic player and long-run­ning bat­tery, you’ll rock through any dis­tance. While some other watches (like the Ap­ple Series 2) also play mu­sic, the Spark 3 does that and saves you cash, if you’re not in­ter­ested in lots of bat­tery-drain­ing smart­watch fea­tures.

Nav­i­gat­ing menu op­tions on the Spark 3 is a breeze, thanks to the four-way joy­stick on the strap. Strap­less heart- rate mon­i­tor­ing is ac­cu­rate via the op­ti­cal sen­sor, and – as you would ex­pect from nav­i­gat­ing gi­ant TomTom – this new ver­sion also en­ables up­load­ing of GPX routes from your apps, so you can get out and ex­plore new re­gions. 5 hours bat­tery life with GPS and mu­sic play­ing Makro

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