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Top 20 Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches of 2020

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Updated September 16, 2020

Regardless of whether you’re an elite sportsperson or a beginner, a pulse watch is a useful aid for reaching the next level. We’ve tested a large number of pulse watches and consider the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music as the best heart rate monitor watch of 2020 due to its excellent functions and reasonable price tag.

How we did the test

We tested pulse watches in line with how they're intended to be used. The watches were tested both by an experienced sportsperson and a beginner to get a full spectrum of opinions. All of the watches were tested in the different exercise modes they offer, and also in their multisport mode if one was available. As the majority of pulse watches also offer step counting, sleep and similar functions in addition to exercise, they have also been worn over a longer period to investigate these bonus functions.

All of the watches were tested based on the target group they were designed for, and we took the following into account during our tests:

  • Accuracy: The majority of top rated pulse watches have built-in GPS and the option to measure the pulse at the wrist. These have been compared to known distances and more accurate pulse straps to check their function accuracy.

  • Functions: What does the watch do in addition to offering a number of sport modes for running, swimming, cycling and so on? How can you set these modes according to your own performance and medical needs? How does the activity tracking work outside exercise sessions and what other functions are offered? Does it come with an app for phone compatibility and for streaming exercising data between the two?

  • Battery and use: How long does the watch battery last both during exercise and in everyday life? It’s also important that in every mode it’s easy to control the watch and its functions.

1. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music - BEST HEART RATE MONITOR 2020

Amazing complete runner’s watch that doesn’t skimp on the details

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 42.3x42.3x12.2 mm Weight: 38.5 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5ATM Battery life: 24 hours with GPS, 8 hours with GPS & music Wireless technology: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only height from GPS data Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

The Garmin Forerunner 245 takes a big step – pardon the pun! - up from its more budget-focused predecessor and comes straight in as our best heart rate monitor watch of 2020. This neat watch doesn’t have every function, but it has enough for us not to feel left out. Really, Garmin are playing a dangerous game by competing against their own more expensive watches.

Neat format with everything but multisport

In a comparison with the almost-twice-as-expensive sister model, the Forerunner 945, there’s very little missing from a training perspective. There’s no altitude meter, or tracking of swimming in open water, but it does support swimming in a pool. Because this is primarily a runner’s watch, you don’t have any easy way to quickly change between sports, such as triathlon sports. Nor do you receive the most advanced data that the more expensive models are able to collect, but at the same time, that’s data most people can manage without.

Running, cycling, swimming in a pool and a reasonable number of indoor activities are included in the watch. Together with simpler navigation (without a map), a free training programme for beginner runners and also Garmin’s new functions for showing other people where you are and if you’ve been in an accident, the exercise part feels rather complete.

At the same time, you have pretty much the entire range of data (except for altitude) outside the exercise aspects, with steps, pulse, sleep, stress, recovery and much more to hand.

The watch itself is also very compact and suitable for smaller wrists without feeling too big and bulky.

Music eats up battery life

Of course, everything connects to Garmin’s app, where the watch also has functions to reject calls with a message – something only more expensive models had previously. This is combined with increasingly competent notification handling from a smartphone and the option to install new apps and dials via Garmin’s app store.

The major new feature is the inclusion of music in a slightly cheaper Garmin watch. Pop in an earbud and enjoy your run even more with this watch. You can choose either music files from your computer or offline playlists from services including Spotify. Synchronising our Spotify playlists was very simple, if not lightning fast, and so far we haven’t run into any problems connecting Bluetooth headphones to the watch. This is really useful if you want to have music on your run without having to take your phone with you (although you do need to take it with you to use the accident reporting function, even if you’ll hopefully never need it).

But a cheaper price and smaller size is reflected in the battery life. At least it comes with alarm functions so you can remember to charge it. Without music you’d have to be an ultrarunner for the watch to nod off during an exercise session, and the same applies in normal watch mode. But with the music playing, it eats up at least 20% of the battery for just one run, which is understandable but worth bearing in mind.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is perfect for anyone doing different sports but doesn’t need a dedicated multisport watch. The inclusion of a music player in this price class is welcome - and the Garmin Forerunner 245 is small and has enough functions to be named as our best heart rate monitor watch of 2020.

Neat formatgood music player with Spotifylots of exercise types
Mediocre battery life when playing music

2. Garmin Forerunner 45/45s - BEST BUDGET CHOICE

Garmen finally start taking their cheap runner’s watches seriously

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 208 x 208 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 39.5 x 39.5 x 11.4 mm (Forerunner 45S), 42 x 42 x 11.4 mm (Forerunner 45) Weight: 32 g (Forerunner 45S), 36 g (Forerunner 45) Watertight/Depth: Yes/5ATM Battery life: 13 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only altitude data via GPS Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Forerunner 45

The Garmin Forerunner 45 and the smaller model Forerunner 45S is just as big a step forward as the Forerunner 245/945, given what they can do compared with previous models. The whole thing, with a sleek format and good platform, means that we awarded it as our best cheap choice. At the same time, it’s an enormous improvement in terms of quality and functions compared with Garmin’s earlier runner’s watches from their budget watch department.

The difference between the Forerunner 45 and 45S is actually extremely minimal. The S model is a little smaller, with 39.5 mm diameter compared to the “normal” 45 version’s 42 mm. And that’s the only thing that distinguishes them. The screen size, the resolution of the screen, and above all the battery life, are identical. The Forerunner 45S just has a slightly smaller frame – that’s all there is to it!

Functions from more expensive watches

Unlike its predecessor - the Forerunner 35 (and the 25 before that) - this model doesn’t work with a special system that further emphasises the budget tag. Instead, we recognise the major features of the interface from all of Garmin’s more expensive watches. This makes the Forerunner 45 much easier to use. We particularly like the fact that the button to switch on the screen illumination doubles as a way to access the quick menu, where you can find the emergency function, the stopwatch and everything else that isn’t necessarily exercise-related.

The emergency function is new this year and can, if you have a mobile with you, be used to tell emergency contacts that you've been in an accident. This works either manually or automatically, although we haven’t been able to test the latter.

The watch itself is very compact, which means that it also fits narrower wrists well without looking oversized. And despite it being one of the best cheap options, it doesn’t feel overly plasticky either.

Lots of functions for the fitness enthusiast

When it comes to functions, of course, it doesn’t have the same range as the more expensive watches from Garmin, but at the same time, we feel we’re not missing out on too much. Running is obviously the main event, with the majority of functions and support for Garmin’s free training programme. In addition to this, there’s a very reasonable cycling mode, a handful of indoor sports and even very simple swimming measurements available. Finding GPS is fast, and we can’t complain about the accuracy either in that or the built-in pulse meter.

The majority of functions for everyday activity tracking are also included. Steps, sleep and pulse with some additional analysis functions for stress and so on. These are all very welcome.

And of course, the watch talks to your phone, both to synchronise sessions but also to bring up timely notifications from your phone. The notification function works well, even though it doesn’t have the more advanced functions for answering calls and so on. Via your mobile, you can also access the ConnectIQ App, which gives you new dials to pick from, exercise types and data pages for the watch.

The Garmin Forerunner 45 and Forerunner 45S are quite simply excellent introductory watches with the majority of functions you might need. Even if they're obviously missing functions from more expensive watches, they still don’t feel like stingy budget options, but really good value for money.

Very smalllots of functionsbest cheap watchgood functions in the app
Unnecessary division into large and small models

3. Garmin Forerunner 945 - BEST PREMIUM CHOICE

Everything you want in a fitness watch

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 47x47x13.7 mm Weight: 50 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 atm Battery life: 36 hours with GPS, 10 hours with GPS & music Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 14 days Altimeter (Barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Forerunner 945

The Garmin Forerunner 945 comes in exactly the same shell as its predecessor. The only differences are changes to a few detail colours (unfortunately for the worse). So the watch feels rather boring to begin with, but it certainly grows on you. So much so in fact, that we have no problems naming the Garmin Forerunner 945 as the best premium choice for its enormous range of useful functions.

Music, swimming pulse, maps

What Garmin has done in practice is to take a Fenix 5 Plus and squeeze the entire package into the same neat form as the Forerunner 935. And they’ve also added to this a few new functions that seem to be only partially included in the older Fenix models.

Music storage is built-in, with support for Bluetooth headphones and offline lists from Spotify. This works in the same trouble-free way as other Garmin watches with this support, although music transfer is a little slow.

Maps are now also included too. The navigation isn’t exactly the most detailed, predictable or easy-to-use in a watch. But it exists, and if you don’t have your phone with you it’s an exceptionally useful function.

Because it’s a multisport watch, you have support for every sport you could think of. What's new this time is that Garmin has also added support for measuring your pulse directly from the watch when you’re swimming. Other manufacturers have had this, but now Garmin has squeezed it into their watches, it feels like the measurement is slightly more stable. And we didn’t run into any problems when it comes to GPS accuracy and so on, just like we’d expect from Garmin.

Neat format

Unlike the Fenix series, the Forerunner 945 is a significantly sportier design, which means that it perhaps won’t fit all lifestyles. But simultaneously, it’s relatively small and neat to contain as many functions as it does. Of course, the slightly smaller format means that you don’t have all the battery life in the world, particularly not if you have music playing. But without music, you certainly have enough battery life to run one or even two marathons.

In addition to standard functions such as mobile notifications, step counting, sleep measurement and others, the watch includes better functions for measuring stress and values for how much your sleep and exercise affect your energy levels (this is what Garmin calls Body Battery). It isn’t as detailed as what Polar have done with their Ignite watch, but it agrees extremely well with how the testers felt and is perfectly sufficient from an everyday perspective. The Garmin Forerunner 945 perhaps won’t suit everyone given its design, and there are watches with a better battery life. But out of the more luxurious pulse watches on the market, it’s really hard to find this combination of functions and size for a competing price to this one. And this makes the watch a worthy winner of our best premium choice award.

All the training functions you needreally good activity trackinggood music playermeasures pulse during swimming too
Music playback uses a lot of battery

4. Garmin Fenix 5X Plus

The top model for both multisport and hiking that can do pretty much everything

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 51 x 51 x 17.5 mm Weight: 96 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/10 Atm Battery life: 32 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 20 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus represents pretty much everything Garmin can squeeze into a watch. But while the Fenix 5 series’ X model offered new functions, the differences are less obvious in the 5 Plus series. All three watches in the series (Fenix 5/5S/5X Plus) have support for maps and navigation (previously only available in the Fenix 5X), music playback (locally or via Spotify), mobile payments with Garmin Pay, integrated golf courses and improved battery life. This time the technical differences in the specification are limited to the values for acclimatisation at high altitude (yes, the differences really are that small).

Instead, the Plus series is all about different sizes for different users. A larger size gives a better battery life, and the 5X Plus is clearly the best (and much better than its already persistent predecessor).

Extra everything plus

Here you have everything built in. Maps for easier navigation (the screen is very small) and all of the tools for hiking, fishing and wilderness adventures that you can imagine (the Fenix series began as a wilderness watch rather than a multisport one). Music playback to Bluetooth headphones is built in, and the watch also supports Spotify’s offline playlists now, with everything working surprisingly smooth. Garmin Pay works very well and support for different cards and payment methods is starting to be really impressive. And of course, it includes a range of exercise modes, schedules, internal and external sensors, measurement points and endless data for all types of training. If anything should turn out to be missing, Garmin’s app store is starting to be well equipped with exercise modes, dials and special exercise fields. It also has a solid package of activity tracker functions and a stable connection to your phone for notifications and exercise analysis.

Substantial but still neat

In fact, there are more functions than most people will need, but they are there and only a touch of a button away. The only sour note among all these functions is that notifications from your mobile are still limited, but at least now there’s the possibility to send pre-composed SMS responses. Everything’s squeezed into one of Garmin’s bigger watches with a circumference of 51 mm (the smaller models are 42 and 47 mm, respectively).

That’s quite big, but at the same time it’s well-designed and paradoxically feels quite neat. We rarely experienced the size of the watch as a problem.

If you want the best battery life

Trying to describe everything the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus offers would require much more space than we have here. But if you want a watch for all types of exercise that can also offer the most important functions in a smartwatch, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. If it feels too big you can choose one of the system models without losing any functions.

Good battery lifestraightforward music managementan insane number of well-built functions
Limited smartwatch functionsseveral major music services missing

5. Huawei Watch GT2 (46 mm)

Phenomenal battery life in a decent watch

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 45.9 x 45.9 x 10.7 mm Weight: 41 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 17 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth 5.1 Battery life (standby): up to 14 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Huawei Watch GT 2 46mm Classic Edition

The Huawei Watch GT2 clearly invests everything in battery life – and beats most of its competitors by a good margin in this race. The sport-oriented watch isn’t entirely problem free though, particularly when it comes to sport ironically, but Huawei have come a good way since the first generation of the Watch GT.

Incredible battery life

As you probably already know, the idea with a fitness watch is that you wear it 24 hours a day to measure your sleep, steps and everything else, even when you’re not actually exercising. And standard battery life is between 4 days and a week, depending on the watch and how much you use it. Huawei smash this record with a whopping two-week battery life.

This is, of course, with the screen switched off, so it only comes on when you raise your arm. There’s a mode where the screen is always on, with a simple analogue or digital watch face (with really strong illumination). If you choose this mode, the watch informs you that the battery life will be halved. But this means that, including exercise, you only need to charge the watch once a week, which is still an impressive battery performance.

And the battery life is just as good when you use it for exercise. It’s in the exercise area too that the watch has been improved, primarily by offering pulse measurement from the wrist while you swim. In addition to swimming, the watch includes most indoor and outdoor sports. But this version still includes strength training in the watch’s “other” category, which is a shame.

More functions

You can adapt what's shown on the screen for some sports, but unfortunately you have to have started an activity to be able to do this, instead of setting it first. Nor is it possible to connect external sensors to the watch. But it picked up GPS position and our pulses well from the wrist during our sessions. It takes a little while to get going in terms of pulse, but once it’s started it stays within reasonable limits. Steps you take outside exercise sessions are also captured very well.

After exercising, you can share the session with an image, but that’s about it. You can’t synchronise it with anything other than Huawei's own app or download Fit/Gpx files.

The watch supports notifications from your phone, sleep logging and a mode for breathing exercises. You get a status report about the effect of your exercise session, together with recovery, but it's a bit basic and could have been better.

The watch also has a built-in MP3 player, if you have any of these files. You can play them via Bluetooth headphones or the speaker – because the watch can be used as a speakerphone for your mobile, which works well and produces good sound.

The Huawei Watch GT2 has notifications and a speakerphone function, but the rest of the watch is firmly focused on sport and health – and on battery life. It copes well with the basic functions in these areas but lacks the majority of more advanced features. Overall, if you want a simpler exercise watch with phenomenal battery life, the Huawei Watch GT2 is an interesting choice.

Phenomenal battery lifePulse measurement during swimmingGood hands-free function
Very basic sports functions

6. Polar Vantage M

Plasticky but competent

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240x240 pixels, 1.2 inches Dimensions (WxHxD): 46x46x12.5 mm Weight: 45 g Watertight/Depth: 30 m Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Battery life (standby): 5 days Battery life (with GPS): 30 hours Altitude meter (barometric): No Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement:** Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Polar Vantage M

Polar’s current range of pulse watches is a series of products that’s benefited from being able to mature a little. When we test the Polar Vantage M, it’s a couple of seasons old, but at the same time it’s had the chance to grow quite a bit in terms of software. But it still has a couple of problems.

Papery-feeling bracelet

But let’s start with the outside. The Vantage M is an attractively priced multisport watch with a large number of the functions you’d expect, and in terms of software is very similar to the same company’s significantly more expensive Vantage V.

The watch is very light, even though the diameter may be on the large side for smaller users. The lightness comes from the fact that the majority of the shell is plastic, which unfortunately gives it a slightly cheaper feel. The bracelet is even worse, feeling like it’s been made of rough paper. Fortunately it’s easy to replace the bracelet with something better, even though you do have to pay extra.

The watch itself has a set of LEDs on the back to measure the pulse (10 in total, although only 9 are used), which gives a really good pulse measurement even without an external pulse strap. However, there’s no touch screen or altimeter which you get on the more expensive model. This means that downhill skiing is a bit less accurate in terms of the altitudes the map gives, for example. Instead you navigate using the buttons on the side, which generally work quite well. The only illogical thing is that the back and menu buttons are the same.

There are a large number of sport profiles to use. You mark your favourites in the app on your mobile and these are then available on the watch. You also change most of the settings for the watch using your phone. There’s also support for measurement of open water swimming, which isn’t common in this price class. But you do have to manage without pulse measurement as the watch only runs Bluetooth for external accessories (and you need ANT+ for swimming).

GPS reception is something of a mixed bag. The final result is usually about right for our measured routes, although it tends to give around 100 m too much or too little. But the route has a life of its own on the map, and often shows up a few metres away from where you're actually running. Sometimes it goes off on its own adventure for a while before coming back again. Because the end result isn’t far off reality on average, this works OK, but it does look quite comical when you look back at the map.

Good app, poor mobile connection

When it comes to the associated software, the Vantage M has benefited enormously from being able to mature. The truly exhaustive analysis functions for exercise, sleep and daily activity that were introduced in the budget Ignite watch are also included here. You also get notifications from your mobile, even though they regularly stopped working on both iPhone and Android during our tests. At the same time there’s no “fixed connection” to the mobile. When you finish a session you must manually synchronise it to your phone or computer (with a cable).

The analysis functions deserve a special mention. Because when it comes to sleep measurement, nobody provides as much detail as Polar. Combined with built-in sessions for stretching, simple strength training and condition based on the watch’s assessment of your well-being and exercise, this is really good.

A lot of the functionality has been added over the years for the Vantage M, and as both a pulse watch and an everyday activity assistant it’s become very intelligent and good value for money. For the everyday fitness enthusiast there’s really everything you need here, but if you want a better connection to your mobile or perfect accuracy in how GPS routes are recorded, this may not be the watch for you. But despite that this is a very competent pulse watch and associated app, and in terms of price it’s a good choice for those with a slightly tighter budget.

Lots of functionsGood pulse meterGood analysis functions
Dreadful plasticky braceletSlightly quirky GPS measurementMobile connection not great

7. Polar Vantage V

Luxurious multisport watch with tough competition

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240x240 pixels, 1.2 inches Dimensions (WxHxD): 46x46x13 mm Weight: 66 g Watertight/Depth: 50m Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Battery life (standby): 7 days Battery life (with GPS): 40 hours Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Polar Vantage V

Polar’s slightly older watches have benefited from being able to mature over time. At the same time the Polar Vantage V has perhaps not developed as much as it should have. But if you're only after exercise measurement, it may still be of interest.

Well built

The similarities with its little sister, the Vantage M, are striking. If you put them next to each other they're practically identical in terms of appearance. The major difference is that the Vantage V is constructed from robust metal. Strangely, however, it doesn’t have the same standardised system for replacing the bracelet as the cheaper model. But on the other hand, the bracelet that comes with it is incredibly comfortable and solid feeling.

The touchscreen is a relatively pointless extra function. It’s there, but is locked while you’re exercising and at other times never works better than the physical buttons. So it's a nice but unnecessary addition. Polar have put the menu and back functions on the same button, which is confusing.

Good things about the Vantage V, however, are its built-in function for measuring running power and a significantly expanded system for keeping track of exercise recovery. Combined with the phenomenal analysis functions that were first introduced in the Ignite budget watch, this gives you a really good overview of your exercise.

We think the recovery aspect could have been included in the M model too, as it’s only a software function, but in the V you also get an altimeter that provides you with more exact data if you're running in the mountains or doing downhill skiing. Although the downhill part of the watch’s sports functions has significantly less data than the corresponding function in Garmin’s watches.

Tough competition

As a multisport watch in the mid-price segment, the Vantage V faces completely different competition than its cheaper sibling. There’s no lack of functions or sports modes here, but they’re also present to a large extent in the cheaper model. Over time the price has reduced somewhat, which is positive. GPS reception during training sessions and after is quite realistic, where the cheaper model behaves rather erratically.

But alongside the analysis functions, which are certainly very good, the Vantage V doesn’t really stand out from its competitors. ANT+ is missing, which will disappoint anyone with many external sensors using this technology. The battery life is good, but not exceptional for this class. The only extra functions in addition to exercise related ones are breathing exercises and simple notifications from your phone. You still have to synchronise sessions and settings manually. And if you want built-in music, you have to look elsewhere.

The Polar Vantage V is very good at measuring training in all forms, other activities during the day and sleep. It’s really good at converting both sleep and exercise into usable tips and has built-in exercise programmes to support this. This is simply a very good watch that's comfortable to wear – if a bit big for smaller arms – and has plenty of functions. At the same time, the budget version Vantage M is very similar on most points and the competitors in the same price class offer more extra functions that may tempt you more. The Polar Vantage V is a really good exercise watch that only pales in comparison with Polar’s own other products and its competitors in the same price class.

Good build qualityreally good analysis functions for exercisegood built-in pulse meter
Pointless touchscreenrather clumsy navigation

8. Suunto 5

Mid-price multisport watch where Suunto give their best shot

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 218 x 218 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 46x46x14.9mm Weight: 66 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50m Battery life: 20 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only height from GPS data Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Suunto 5

The Suunto 5 is the mid-range model in Suunto’s new series of watches, but still beats its big brother, the Suunto 9, in many ways. This is a multisport watch that does a lot with your everyday data too.

Poor screen and mediocre battery life

The watch is about the same size as many other multisport watches. The design feels modern, but the screen is quite poor from some viewing angles. From straight in front it’s clear in all environments, but as soon as it’s on a bit of an angle it isn't so clear.

To get all the downsides out of the way at once, it’s also worth mentioning that the interface feels slow and the battery doesn’t last as long as competitors’ if you run a lot. It isn’t exactly catastrophic, but with lots of activities, it’s a day or two shorter than the average watch. Despite the fact that Suunto were once first with apps in pulse watches, there’s no such functionality in their current watches, which is a shame. This also applies to the dials, and there weren’t enough included to suit all of our testers’ tastes.

Full of functions for everyday activities

On the whole, the downsides mentioned above are more annoyances than deal breakers. Because this is a really good watch all the same. For outdoor activities, it finds the GPS quickly and saves sessions accurately. There are a lot of different sports to choose between and creating new ones isn’t a problem. In comparison with its big brother the Suunto 9, it’s only the built-in altitude meter that’s missing, so in practice you won’t notice much difference between them.

At the same time, you get a lot of extra data for everyday things such as pulse and steps that Suunto’s more expensive watches are lacking. It keeps track of steps, sleep and your pulse throughout the day, as you’d expect. In the Suunto 5, this data is used to show how stressed you are, how rested you are and so on. This is a really nice inclusion. Training sessions are also added, with information such as recovery times, exercise programmes, etc.

While most people get more than enough data from the watch, you don’t have the same quantity of data and functions compared to Garmin’s watches. Nor do you have the same options for settings, and luxury functions such as mobile payment or built-in music players are completely lacking. But if it’s multisport mode you’re after, where you can have several activities in a single session without having to stop and start them during the same session or competition, the Suunto 5 is a much cheaper alternative to the majority of Garmin’s equivalents.

The Suunto 5 is a nice piece of kit, which copes with most things and does something with the data it collects. It isn’t perfect but does well for a reasonable price tag.

Good use of everyday datawell-equipped
Not a very good viewing angle on the screen

9. Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Decent watch with most features you'll need

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 215 x 180 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 44.5 x 44.5 x 11.9 mm Weight: 40.2 g Width: 44.5 mm Height: 44.5 mm Depth: 11.9 mm Weight: 40.2 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 atm Battery life: 14 hours Wireless technology: ANT+ Battery life (standby): 11 days Altimeter: No Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin are hardly strangers to the multi-sport watch market. But alongside the Fenix series, which officially falls in the leisure category, the Forerunner 735XT is the first purely multi-sport watch from Garmin for a long time. And it’s here that it becomes clear how much technology has advanced since the top model Forerunner 920X was launched, both in terms of hardware and software. Externally it gives a somewhat plasticky impression and is almost confusingly similar to the Forerunner 235 runner's watch, but you can't mistake the feeling of quality once you actually get your hands on the device. The external measurements are ideal for this type of watch, and it never feels clunky on your wrist. Nor is the watch missing many key features. Certainly, it could do with an altitude meter and built-in thermometer, but at least you can buy a sensor for the latter.

If you invest in one of Garmin's more high-end pulse straps, you get everything, from pulse measurements while you swim to more running data than you can possibly need. The watch finds the GPS quickly and measures circuits exactly, and the built-in pulse meter is rarely wrong. The screen lacks a touchscreen function but is sharp and clear. Despite the smaller size, the battery is powerful enough to cope with all of your exercise sessions, and the time in between, without having to be charged more than once or twice per week. The available sports offer pretty much something for everyone. And if anything's missing, there are extra training profiles, new dials and extra functions you can download via your computer or phone. The latter is preferable, as you also get your training sessions, steps and sleep data automatically synced with your mobile. And in the other direction, the watch also displays notifications from your phone, which functions extremely well. There's quite simply a lot to like in the Forerunner 735XT. If you want more options than a pure runner's watch, this is a an affordable alternative to cover most needs.

Neat formatgood mobile connectiongood battery life
Not the most luxurious appearance in the worldlacks altitude and temperature sensors

10. Garmin Forerunner 935

Straightforward multisport watch that’s resisted the passage of time

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 47 x 47 x 13.9 mm Weight: 49 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 24 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 14 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Forerunner 935

The Garmin Forerunner 935 is about two years old and has just been joined by its successor. But this doesn’t make the Forerunner 935 an outdated product. On the contrary, it has resisted the passage of time well due to solid hardware and continuous updates.

Straightforward multisport watch

Just like its predecessor, the Forerunner 735, and the slightly more expensive “does everything” Fenix series from Garmin, there’s a focus on several different sports. You could call this a triathlon watch instead of a multisport watch, but you can combine all sorts of sports.

Compared with its predecessor, the Forerunner 735, this watch has an altitude meter, support for more sensors and more sport modes. If you instead compare it with its successor – the Forerunner 945 – it doesn’t have music playback, payment functions or extra detailed training data.

But with that being said, the Forerunner 935 doesn’t feel old. It’s a straightforward GPS watch, easier to use than the Fenix series, which leaves very little to be desired when it comes to exercise. At the same time, the price is starting to be competitive. The watch itself is without doubt the most slimmed-down version in the Forerunner 900 series. Despite the fact that it’s completely made of plastic and really light, it never feels too cheap or plasticky.

With you wherever you go

As well as recording all the exercise sessions you can think of, you can of course download more via Garmin’s app store, where you can also find dials and new ways of visualising your exercise data. Just like all of Garmin's other watches today, you receive notifications from your mobile and can keep track of your pulse, benefit from automatic sleep measurement and step counting. Via the mobile app, you can also connect various different exercise programmes for running.

The battery lasts well given the watch’s size, regardless of whether you’re exercising or simply wearing it to count your steps and receive mobile notifications. Nor do we have any complaints when it comes to the accuracy of the various sensors. It finds GPS positions swiftly, measures your pulse at the wrist correctly (if you’re wearing it correctly) and counts steps to within a reasonable level of accuracy.

It’s quite simply a straightforward watch for all types of sports, with quick connection to GPS and a solid battery life both during and after exercise. The Garmin Forerunner 935 is excellent value for money, and chosen as our best heart rate monitor watch of 2020 in the multisport pulse watches category.

Good battery lifeneat formatlots of functions
Not that much different from its predecessor

11. Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

The sports watch that provide music and effortless payments

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 43.1 x 43.1 x 13.6 mm Weight: 39 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: Five hours with GPS and music Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

Garmin has painted themselves into a bit of a corner with their Vivo models, which run from the simplest activity tracker up to Vivoactive. They quite simply have a confusing range of series in completely different models, beginning with the Vivo and followed by Smart, Sport, Fit, Active and the list goes on.

But the Vivoactive 3 can still be considered as the top model and is really competent while simultaneously attempting to be more discreet than many other variants in this category. The construction isn’t in the same class as the much more expensive Fenix 5 series, but it’s really good all the same - particularly given the price. You navigate around the watch both using physical buttons and a touchscreen, and unfortunately, it’s the latter that Garmin seem to struggle with. You have to use swipe gestures, tap the screen and sometimes even the buttons – which means that navigation is inconsistent. Moreover, the screen and its various animations are significantly more lively than we’ve seen previously, which makes the above-mentioned Fenix series feel rather outdated.

Function rich and with a built-in music player

In terms of functions, this watch offers a lot. A fast and one of the most accurate GPS systems together with a load of different exercise forms to choose between are on offer, from running and cycling to swimming and strength training. Weirdly, the swimming function can only cope with measuring indoors in a pool, while the more expensive models can also deal with outdoor swimming. The watch can be linked to your mobile for synchronisation of sessions, steps, sleep and notifications, but it’s also independent in that it can play music on its own. Pair a Bluetooth headset with your watch, download your music and you can simply leave your mobile at home. This works really well as long as you have physical MP3 files to copy across. Streaming services are minimal, but it recently got support for Spotify, which will satisfy quite a large number of potential buyers.

Pay with your watch

With this model you have access to Garmin Pay, which means you can link your payment card to Garmin and pay via your watch instead of having to carry your card. This is just like when you pay with your mobile or use a contactless payment card. After a long period of only supporting approved credit cards, the service now supports most debit cards. The Vivoactive 3 Music is quite simply a watch that can do an amazing amount in an affordable package. You get less battery life and miss out on a few of the extra functions and more detailed data that the more expensive models offer, but for most people, Garmin offer a very comprehensive package in this option.

Finally music through a Garmin watch!lots of functionsSpotifyattractive user interface
Lacking many of the bigger music servicesinconsistent navigationgood but not great battery life

12. Huawei Watch GT2e

May be the smartwatch you really want

Type: Sports watch Dimensions: 53 x 46.8 x 10.8 mm Weight: 43 g SIM card slot: No Screen: 1.39 inch AMOLED, capacitive. OS: Huawei’s own Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, pulse meter, barometer, compass, SpO2 Battery: 455 mAh Miscellaneous: Support for more than 80 exercise types, built-in GPS, 16 MB RAM

Huawei Watch GT 2e

In recent years, Huawei have become a very popular brand, including with fitness enthusiasts, as their smartwatches under the name Watch GT have offered very competitively priced watches with a clear focus on exercise. Huawei have chosen a different approach than companies like Samsung and Apple, whose smartwatches are intended to be an extension or even a replacement for a smartphone.

A GT watch from Huawei primarily shows notifications from different apps, but other than the exercise side have no other functionality worth mentioning. And this is probably exactly what many users want. Because they've succeeded really well with the exercise bit.

With the GT2e, they take the concept one step further and now you can record more than 80 different exercise activities. Pretty much every sporting activity you can think of is included. For example belly dancing or parkour (and no, we haven't tried out these activities). Another nice thing about the GT2e is that – just like the previous units in the GT series – it has an exceptionally good battery life. During our month-long test, we only needed to charge the watch once! This is despite the fact that it was on our tester's wrist almost all day and went along on runs or cycle trips five times a week. Compared to the battery life delivered by many other manufacturers’ smartwatches, this is simply fantastic, and not needing to worry about whether your watch is charged when you're setting off for a run is a really nice feeling. But you do get used to it quickly, and when it does finally need charging it comes as a nasty shock.

The watch is quite large, but not clumsy. The design is fairly basic, with a circular, reasonable sized 1.39 inch AMOLED screen that’s always easy to read, partly as a result of its size and partly because of really impressive contrast. Even when the sun is shining directly on it, there's no problem seeing how terribly slowly you're actually running!

Like a better GT2

This is a more sport-focused development of its predecessor, the GT2, and lacks a few refinements. For example, there's no built-in speaker, so you can’t have phone conversations directly via your wrist – although to be fair this did feel more like a gimmick than something you'd do on a regular basis. We also note that the bracelet has changed. The new one has lots of perforated holes and, as well as an elegant yet sporty appearance, provides a slightly more comfortable experience as significantly less sweat accumulates under the bracelet.

The watch does very well at pulse measurement, and also keeps track of the blood oxygenation level. We used it very sparingly at night, but the sleep measurement function seems to be on a par with other wearable tech units (in other words, we get the same result). The built-in GPS also delivers what it should and the watch seems to keep accurate track of steps, stress level, oxygen uptake, calorie burning and other details.

If you're looking for a smartwatch primarily to give you reliable information on your condition and health, it’s difficult to find an alternative in this price class that comes close to the Watch GT2e. You'd have to look at considerably more expensive watches from manufacturers such as Garmin and Suunto. The Fitbit Versa 2 is the closest thing in terms of competing products, but that lacks built-in GPS.

If you're looking for more of a standard smartwatch, there are better options on the market. None of them are as good in terms of price as this device, but of course for that extra money they offer a completely different level of smartwatch functionality. But you do need to ask yourself how much you’ll really use it. Perhaps this one’s actually exactly what you're looking for?

Excellent exercise watchfantastic battery life
Not a fully-fledged smartwatch

13. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

Helpful exercise partner with unreliable battery life

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 360x360 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 39.5x39.5x10.5 mm Weight: 25 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: up to 2 days Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only height from GPS data Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is equal parts successor to the company’s top model Galaxy Watch, which was launched last year, and a cheaper sister model to the same thing. In comparison, this is primarily a much smaller and lighter model, with the same hardware but roughly half the battery life.

Small, attractive smartwatch

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is a small and neat watch with a huge number of training and health functions. It has built-in GPS, measures your pulse from the wrist (only) and keeps track of everything from steps to sleep.

The watch is driven by Samsung's own Tizen system, which is in all respects a fully-fledged smartwatch system. This means that you can download Spotify direct to the watch, but also that there are lots of other apps for various purposes.

The watch is one of the most easily navigated on the market. Most things are controlled via the touchscreen or one of the two buttons, and it’s rare that we feel confused about how to do something or where to find a specific function. Naturally, it synchronises constantly with your smartphone, both for advanced notification management and to upload your health data to Samsung’s fitness service. Sharing your exercise data is a straightforward matter too, something that not all smartwatches do so well.

And the watch is very quick to use. However, the “raise your hand to wake up the watch screen” movement is still just as unreliable as for every other manufacturer attempting this right now.

Varying battery life

As you can tell from the name, exercise and health are the focus here. This largely involves good training alternatives with many options to edit what's displayed. There are lots of different exercise types to choose between, both for indoor and outdoor use. The only strange aspect is that there’s no standard mode for strength training, but instead a small set of individual exercises – which isn’t an appealing solution for gym-goers.

The watch is charged wirelessly, either via the charger supplied or a smartphone from the Galaxy S10 series - but not from normal wireless chargers for mobiles.

When you aren’t exercising, the battery life lasts for two days without problems, even with all the notification functions switched on. But if you’re using apps or exercising, it varies significantly. One day a 30-minute bicycle ride with GPS switched on used 10% of the battery, while another day it used half of the battery...despite the distance covered being identical. This means that you rarely feel you can rely on the watch and have to carry the charging cable with you just in case.

The unreliable battery life is a major problem for the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. Because apart from that, it’s a really helpful exercise partner that without doubt is amongst the best smartwatches you can buy today.

Good interfacemany functionsgood range of apps
Inconsistent battery lifelacking some exercise types

14. Garmin Forerunner 235

Cheap runner's pulse watch

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 215 x 180 pixels Width: 45 mm Height: 45 mm Depth: 11.7 mm Weight: 42 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50 m Battery life: 11H Wireless technology: ANT+ Bluetooth Battery life (standby): 9 days Altimeter: Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Using optical sensor on wrist or with pulse band

Garmin Forerunner 235

The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a couple of years old, but the price has now fallen to the point that it has become more interesting to anyone looking for a cheaper option. Even if it doesn't include the latest functions, it still does the job for most.

A small pulse watch with GPS

The Forerunner 235 is sleek enough in terms of its format and has both a GPS and pulse meter built in. At the same time, like other watches in Garmin's Forerunner series, it's designed to look sporty, which can be a bit off-putting if you want to wear your watch constantly without looking like you just finished up at the gym.

Not that it's a problem to wear it all the time. It copes perfectly measuring your steps, your pulse and how you sleep. It gives a broader image of your activity over the day than just what you do during an exercise session.

Primarily for running

While newer Garmin watches in the lower price bracket have begun to be good at including a greater number of sports, it's obvious that running is the focus here. And outdoor running gives you the most options and opportunities, but also the most data after your session. This includes the ability to create your own sessions directly through the watch. This is fiddly but it does work once you do it.

You can use the watch for cycling, indoor running and a few other sports. But it's clear that running is what this watch is here for. The same is evident during everyday activities, where newer watches have both more ways to measure and give you recommendations based on your performance.

Overall, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a good runner's watch in a simplistic and pleasing format. If you're looking for a cheap pulse watch, it's an interesting alternative. But newer watches have more functions that can be useful both during your exercise sessions and in everyday life.

Good basic functionssmall format
Newer mid-price watches have more fun functions

15. Fitbit Versa Lite

A good smartwatch without GPS functions

GPS: No (connected via telephone) Screen resolution: 300 x 300 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 39.35x39.5x11.24 mm Weight: 38 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50m Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 4 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only height from GPS data Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Fitbit Versa Lite

The Fitbit Versa Lite is a slightly cheaper smartwatch with a primary focus on exercise. Just like the name indicates, it’s a slimmed-down version of the Fitbit Versa. Essentially, it’s lacking an altitude meter, music playback functionality and functions to measure swimming.

Difficult Bluetooth leads to fiddly GPS

The slightly odd design of the Versa Lite is something you’ll either love or hate. In any case, we like the colours of the watch and band. It sits comfortably on your arm and the battery lasts for about half a week before it needs to be charged. Neither phenomenal nor terrible –just a pretty normal battery life.

The Fitbit Versa Lite doesn’t have built-in GPS on the watch, but instead you can use your smartphone’s GPS chip for runs and such. Of course, this means you have to carry your phone with you, which is one more thing to remember.

While the phone doesn’t have any major problems measuring an accurate GPS route via any of the innumerable training apps, the same is sadly not true of the Versa Lite. The connection is often unstable regardless of the smartphone we tested it with. This isn’t so obvious in normal watch mode, but during a run the connection can spontaneously die and then the watch ‘forgets’ to record the whole or parts of the distance covered. This is really poor and something that means you’d rather use Runkeeper or a similar app in your phone instead of a watch.

Intelligent and comprehensive

That’s a shame, because the watch is very intelligent. It collects data on your pulse, steps and sleep really accurately and Fitbit’s app has long been one of the best for visualising your data in an attractive way. The watch even keeps track of your stress levels and offers breathing exercises to calm you down.

For exercise, there are a satisfactory number of exercise modes for everything from swimming and cycling to running and strength training. The ones that don't rely on the mobile’s GPS coverage work really well, although we’d have liked to see more setting options for each exercise type.

There’s also an app store with a large number of apps for every purpose. A while ago, Fitbit bought smartwatch manufacturer Pebble, and a lot of the range and interface seems to have been transferred directly to Fitbit. Here you can find a lot of standard smartwatch apps to control smart lighting, in addition to the more exercise-related apps. But something that’s completely lacking is the opportunity to store and play music via the watch. The idea is that you’ll carry your phone with you anyway, so this isn’t a major negative, but it feels a bit odd when there are so many other apps.

If you want an activity band with extra everything, the Fitbit Versa is an interesting alternative. But if you're after a true fitness watch for your running sessions, you’re probably better looking elsewhere (scroll up or down!).

Good range of appsexact measurement of stepspulse and sleepstraightforward and easy-to-use app
Mediocre battery lifeunreliable GPS measurement for exercising

16. Garmin Venu

Attractive but poor screen ruins this sports watch

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 390 x 390 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 43.2 x 43.2 x 12.4 mm Weight: 46.3 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 6 hours with GPS and music Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Venu

The Garmin Venu is a daring attempt to bridge the gap between smart watches and traditional sports watches. While it succeeds to an extent, it falls completely flat in other areas, and is ultimately just frustrating. It’s almost identical to the VivoActive 4/4S, which doesn't have the majority of the Garmin Venu's screen problems.

Lots of functions for everyday life

But let’s start with the positive things. The Venu (or VivoActive 4) series is pretty much Garmin’s ‘sports watch for everyday folk’. It has a neat format, simple and discreet design but boasts multiple functions.

In this case, it has the majority of exercise forms you can imagine: a step counter, sleep measurement, pulse, stress measurement, breathing exercises, hydration log, menstruation cycle log, mobile payments, music support including for Spotify, and a whole lot more. Phew!

The only things it’s really missing are a multisport mode including swimming in open water and recovery times, which the more advanced watches do have. The latter feels like something that would have fitted in well with this watch.

New features include a log for fluid intake and a built-in yoga programme, complete with animations on the watch screen. Nice!

The screen's (not) the thing

When it comes to measuring all the things the watch can do, this is just as good as Garmin’s previous watches. The pulse measurement is exact, it finds the GPS quickly and so on.

But problems emerge with the main watch function – in other words, the screen. Even if Garmin has come a long way when it comes to touchscreen management (something they’ve been notoriously hopeless at over the years), the logic just doesn't always work. For example, you can control start times and rounds/sets during an activity just by using two buttons, but you can only stop an activity using the button on the touchscreen.

The screen is an attractive Oled screen with crisp colours and great sharpness, but even if Garmin has done a lot to take advantage of this, the interface still feels very black and white in many areas.

The major disadvantage is the Oled technology itself; a transflective LCD screen like other companies use in their watches would have been better (although with the advantage of being always on and having many days’ battery life). You can set it to always be on (it actually isn't, but almost), but this has the disadvantage of meaning you barely get two days’ use out of it without training, and just over 24 hours with GPS on during exercise sessions.

If you instead set it to switch off after a while, the battery life is about the same as many of Garmin's other watches. The problem then is that you never see notifications or what the time is. This is because automatic illumination of the screen is, to put it mildly, a joke.

Waking up the screen using one of the buttons is possible, but one of the buttons goes straight into the exercise section, and the other works as the “back” button. If you press the latter when you get a notification from your telephone, you close the notification you wanted to see but couldn’t, all because the screen refused to wake up first.

It’s quite simply a study in frustration. The watch is a shame because otherwise it is a really nice watch. The way the Garmin Venu works currently means that the cheaper and almost identical Garmin VivoActive 4 is a much better buy.

Loads of training functionsLoads of health functionsLoads of extra functions
Terrible screen and equally worse battery life

17. Amazfit Stratos

Budget watch that wants to do everything – and almost succeeds

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 320 x 300 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 46 x 46 x 13.9 mm Weight: 70 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 35 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 11 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Xiaomi Amazfit Stratos

Amazfit perhaps isn’t a brand of watches you’ve heard of before. But behind the name is the Chinese giant Xiaomi. For some reason, however, they’ve chosen to sell their pulse watches under different branding, and you need to do quite a lot of digging around in menus to even find any connection between the two.

Your own music direct on your watch

The Stratos is the company’s top model and on the surface follows the same pattern as Xiaomi’s other products. In other words, lots of functions for a very attractive price. This is a GPS watch with both a built-in pulse meter and the possibility of storing music directly on the watch for playback via Bluetooth headphones while you exercise. The watch also supports most types of exercise, with everything from triathlon and skiing (cross-country and downhill) to running and cycling both indoors and outdoors.

In addition, it has plenty of functions, such as step and sleep measurement, notifications from your smartphone, the possibility of exporting exercise sessions (a surprisingly uncommon function in cheaper watches) and even a battery life up to 11 days. Both the Bluetooth connection and GPS accuracy and step/sleep measurement work really well.

Lots of functions missing

Yet, not everything in the garden is rosy. If you wanted to connect it to one of the most accurate pulse straps, or another external sensor, you come to a harsh stop. And there are no music streaming services. Even though you can find skipping rope amongst the sports, there isn’t a strength training mode or even an “other” solution. The data fields displayed are extremely restricted and you can’t really change them – and the same thing applies to the various dials and the information they display. At the same time, some parts of the watch work slowly. When we find the GPS position before a run and hit start, the entire watch goes blank for a couple of seconds before the counter begins.

The biggest disadvantage is in the interface. There’s no major problem with the interface, even though it’s a bit confusing to know when you’re supposed to use the touchscreen or the buttons. But the interface is impaired by a touchscreen that reacts pretty much when it wants to. Swipes become clicks and vice versa - and sometimes the screen doesn’t react at all.

The Amazfit Stratos is a watch that wants to, and indeed can, do a lot. And it often does work well. But there are an equal number of times when we come to a stop because the function we expect just isn’t there.

Lots of training typesmusic from the watchgood battery life
Clumsy interface and touchscreenfew setting opportunities for exerciseno support for external sensors

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18. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Inviting as a watch, but not for exercise

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 360 x 360 pixels, 1.2/1.35 inches (40/44 mm) Dimensions (WxHxD): 40 x 40 x 10.9 mm (40 mm), 44 x 44 x 10.9 mm (44 mm) Weight: 37/44 g (40/44 mm) Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Wireless technology: Bluetooth, LTE (some models) Battery life (standby): 24-60 hours Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 40mm Bluetooth Aluminium

Samsung’s decision to release their Galaxy Watch Active 2 only six months after its predecessor feels like one they didn't think through properly. Even if the differences between the two are very small, the Watch Active 2 is the better product – but it’s still far from perfect.

Attractive, with a gorgeous screen

The model we tested is the smaller, 40 mm version. The same watch is also available in 44 mm diameter, with a slightly larger screen and battery.

Other than a bracelet that feels really cheap, this is a very attractive and discreet watch. The screen can constantly be in simpler mode so you can always see the time. Once it’s running, the screen is beautiful and Samsung have created the interface to really benefit from the lovely colours the AMOLED screen provides. It also works really well in direct sunlight.

Around the screen is a touch sensor that acts as a control in addition to the touch screen. A few generations back, Samsung’s watches had a physical wheel around the screen for navigation, and this is half a step back to that. After something of a learning curve, it works very well.

Unreliable for exercise

The watch works well with the majority of Android phones, even though it has most functions and the best integration with Samsung devices. It does work with iPhones too, but with slightly limited functions.

As a smartwatch it’s extremely efficient, with lots of useful apps and smart notifications. But we’d like to see a really good map app and a sensible voice assistant (the built-in Bixby assistant is nobody’s first choice).

However, it’s quite unreliable as an exercise watch, just like its predecessor. The smaller model we tested has a slightly shorter battery life than the larger one, of course. But the battery life varies significantly even on days where the activity is pretty much identical, lasting anything from half a day to one and a half days A cycling or running session can take from a fraction of battery to more than half, despite being an identical course each time.

And after the session it’s clear that the GPS measurement is extremely overenthusiastic. A 5k run often comes out to as much as half a kilometre longer, and the same thing applies to cycling. The step count is also quite a lot higher than on other activity trackers – very much higher than can be explained by variations in the manufacture’s algorithms.

One of the big things with this watch was meant to be ECG. But this function wasn’t activated during our test period.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is an attractive and extremely competent smartwatch. But for exercise and activity tracking it leaves quite a lot to be desired.

Cool wheel controlAttractive designGood notification functions
GPS overexaggeratesStep counts too highUnreliable battery life

19. Huawei Watch GT

Running watch that completely changes track - and almost succeeds!

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.5 x 46.5 x 10.6 mm Weight: 46 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50m Battery life: 22 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 14 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Huawei Watch GT Active

Huawei has made a series of top rated smartwatches with Google’s Wear OS under the bonnet, and they’re among the best on the market. So it was rather surprising that the Huawei Watch GT completely avoids Google’s operating system for watches and instead uses Huawei's own OS.

The reason is simple: a watch with Wear OS lasts about a day or two before the battery runs out. The Watch GT claims to last for up to two weeks on a single charge depending on how you use it. And this is a fairly accurate claim.

To achieve this battery life, the operating system is scaled down compared to Wear OS. You have step counting, pulse metering, sleep measurement and notifications from your mobile running the entire time. The screen lights up when you flick your wrist (works about half of the time, as is unfortunately always the case with this technology) and goes off again quickly to save power.

Has lost many functions

Other than the stopwatch and so on, there isn’t much left of the smartwatch functions from before. Instead, the focus has been placed on health and exercise.

GPS is built in so that you can measure runs, and there are a few other sport types for those who exercise indoors. The accuracy of the GPS measurement is adequate and the pulse meter in the watch stays within reasonable limits (there's no support for a separate pulse meter). It also has built-in measurement of VO2 max and recovery, together with a running coach for all levels.

The step counting and sleep measurement are also very good. The disadvantage is that if you're running Android, the app in the phone requires everything to be shown in the status field. Here it counts steps using the smartphone's sensors, which means that there’s always a couple of hundred steps difference between the watch and what’s shown on the phone.

Good exercise without setting options

As long as the correct sport is on the watch, training is fine. But you simply can’t set what should be shown on the screen while you’re exercising. After exercising the sharing options are very poor and it’s a challenge to get your data out of it.

The disadvantages continue in the software. The limited functions make the interface easy to navigate, but you can’t set which data should be shown on the various dials. Notifications don’t work all that well either. Sometimes you see the name or number of the person calling, and sometimes not. Sometimes it shows which app is trying to get your attention, and sometimes not. Sometimes the notification is shown, and… guess what? Sometimes not.

The Huawei Watch GT has taken a brave sidestep by starting something completely different from previous models. But it feels like the watch has been released too early in the development process to be able to give other smartwatches or pulse meters a serious run for their crown; the biggest plus point will remain its battery life.

Good battery lifesimple interfacediscreet design
Inconsistent notificationsvery few setting optionsfew functions

20. Polar Ignite

Cheap watch with phenomenal ideas and substandard hardware

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 204 x 204 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 43x43x8.5 mm Weight: 35 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 17 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 5 days Altitude meter (barometric): No, only altitude data via GPS Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Polar Ignite

The Polar Ignite is meant to represent a revival for the classic sports company. At the same time, the combination of old problems and a cheaper price tag is all too familiar.

Really good analysis

So, let’s start with the positive things. Once upon a time, Polar started out making pulse meters, and this is clear in the Ignite. Their expertise combined with an advanced pulse meter makes a big difference. First, you're offered just the watch, and you can sleep with it for a couple of days for it to learn your patterns.

Once you’ve done this, you’re offered an enormously advanced sleep analysis, which uses a number of parameters to determine how you've slept and how this will probably affect your day. In at least nine cases out of ten, this matched well with how the tester actually felt.

The analysis is then combined with the exercise you record with the watch. After this you get recommendations for what you should do in terms of exercise in the future, divided into condition, strength and mobility. The recommended exercises are adapted to you, rather than being the rigid templates other watches often have. Really good, user-friendly and something we hope becomes standard for the industry from here on.

Incredibly poor watch

The watch itself is small and neat, but the strap included feels like having a piece of card wrapped around your wrist. The battery life is reasonable, and step and activity tracking without GPS works well. But the GPS part is unexpectedly poor. In almost every session, we get one or two detours on the map to places we’ve never been anywhere near. The end total is very accurate, but the tracking definitely isn’t.

There are a reasonable number of sports. But to change something on the watch, such as the order or what's visible on the watch during exercise, you have to go to Polar’s website, change it there and hope that the change is included in at least one of the forthcoming syncs (which occur sporadically). Why this can’t be done in the watch or the app is a mystery.

On the other hand, the app is far from the website in terms of user-friendliness and information display. On a worrying number of occasions, synchronisation between the watch and the app stops working completely and won’t work again before we restart the watch. Once connected, the watch can pick up notifications from your phone. You can’t choose which ones, however, which means that you get absolutely all notifications to Android. At one point we’re worried the vibrator in the watch is going to break when the phone updates ten apps and the watch gives live reports on their progress.

But the most irritating thing is the display. It isn’t on all the time, but activates when you raise the watch to look at it... sometimes... And it always takes three seconds... Except when you’re lying in bed and it thinks it’s time to act like a torch. The same thing applies during exercise despite the fact we set the screen to always be on. Moreover, the touchscreen is poor and always requires several swipes or presses to react. The Polar Ignite is definitely on the right track with its advanced analysis functions. Now we’re just waiting to see them in a watch that isn’t as frustrating to use.

Really good analysis functionsfantastic exercise tipsgood pulse meter
Screen extremely slow to wake upterrible touchscreenunstable synchronisationfiddly settings

Heart rate monitor

Over the last few years, cardiac rate monitors and GPS monitors have become increasingly important tools for a large number of runners, cyclists, swimmers and fitness enthusiasts. Regardless of your level, a top rated heart rate monitor watch with a built-in GPS can help you to achieve the best results from your training. Today there are many affordable models with intelligent functionality that can make your training both more enjoyable and more effective. They’re a bit like having a personal trainer wrapped around your wrist, although you can get these products for arm placement or for ankle placement. We’ll help you to decide what to buy regardless of your level, whether you are an absolute beginner or an elite athlete.

What you should consider before buying

Before you buy a heart rate monitor, you first need to think about what type of exercise you will use it for, how much you will be exercising and what the most important functions are for you. For example, a clear display will be very helpful when you’re out running or cycling, especially in the evenings.

All of the monitors we tested worked well as heart rate monitors when exercising. All could perform basic ECG monitoring, such as measuring heart rate interval in relation to maximum heart rate. These values are based on your weight and height and are measured using optical sensors on the wrist or with a chest band that wirelessly transfers data to the monitor.

The majority of the monitors in the test have GPS and functions to measure speed, distance and calories expenditure. The differences in the models become evident in the advanced functions they provide in addition to basic ones. The more advanced modern exercise monitors have a multitude of functions to help with your training and can provide suggestions for recovery times, analyse your running dynamics or your swimming stroke, or help you with interval training and warn you if your heart rate becomes too high. The most advanced models can even read your VO2 max, your lactate threshold and predict your competition times.

The option to pair the monitor with your phone to receive SMS messages, calls, social media updates and play audio is a function that many users desire today.

Different wireless technologies

Straps worn around the chest record the activity of the heart muscle through the skin. This information on cardiac activity is then sent to the heart rate monitor watch via a wireless transmitter in the chest strap. There are different digital technologies for this, the most common today being ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart. These make it possible for your heart rate monitor watch to talk to other units such as pedal-mounted power meters for bicycles, foot sensors, mobile phones or exercise equipment at the gym. Both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ are extremely energy-efficient, so the battery in a heart rate band can last for several years. The advantage of these digital transfer technologies over traditional analogue transfer is that your heart rate monitor watch can’t be affected by interference from other units in the vicinity. Some products come with chest strap accessories like the ones mentioned above, but not many.

Unfortunately, these technologies are often not compatible with each other. This can cause real problems if you’ve invested in a lot of accessories for your heart rate monitor watch and then want to change to a model that uses another technology, as your accessories may then become incompatible.

Heart rate monitors with or without GPS

Among the heart rate monitors with built-in GPS, Garmin, Suunto, Polar and TomTom are the dominant market leaders. With these monitors you can easily read speed and distance and can plot out your route via tools such as Garmin Connect, Suunto MovesCount, Polar Flow, Strava, Endomondo or Google Maps.

The GPS receiver is built into the monitor and is extremely small, so size is no longer an issue. However, the receiver does draw a lot of power from the battery, so you will have to recharge the cardiac rate monitor watch quite often. In rest mode with GPS tracking turned off, the battery life of the watches are now good enough to be used throughout your everyday life too.

Because heart rate monitors with GPS draw a lot of power from the battery, our advice is to buy one without GPS if you don’t need this function. If at a later stage you change your mind, you still have the ability to measure speed and distance via a foot pod, which is a type GPS accessory. The accessory is ultra-light and you fasten it to your shoelaces, from where it will connect wirelessly to your heart rate monitor.

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