1. Expert reviews

Top 33 Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches of 2021

Daniel Hessel

Updated September 7, 2021

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 2021 due to its excellent functions and reasonable price tag.

Top 33 Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches of 2021

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 CHOICE HEART RATE MONITOR 2021

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

Price Comparison

Compare all prices
Itechs Logotype

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, GPS Running Smartwatch-White

£209.00
Jaycenter Logotype

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music-Black

£235.99
OnBuy.com Logotype

Garmin Forerunner 245 Gps Running Smartwatch Music - Black

£239.79

2. Huawei Watch Fit - BEST BUDGET CHOICE

Really cheap beginner’s watch with fun design

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels, 1.39 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 46x30x10.7 mm Weight: 21 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 atm Battery life: up to 12 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 10 days Altitude meter (barometric): No Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Huawei Watch Fit

The Huawei Watch Fit is, regardless of version, a really cheap option for those who want to start training with a heart rate watch and GPS. The watch is available in several different colours, some of which cost £20 or so more but have the same function in other respects.

At the same time, it’s small and slim enough to fit smaller wrists and works well with both Android and iPhone.

pulsklocka-stegraknare-Huawei-watch-fit-001

Excellent screen

Huawei have watches in quite a number of price classes. This is an advantage for the Watch Fit, which has inherited its more expensive siblings' interface more or less straight off. This allows you to have a very wide range of basic functions and training modes from the outset.

At the same time, there’s a lot missing when it comes to training mode settings, and you have no option to expand these with third-party apps. For a beginner who just wants to dip their toes in the world of smartwatches and basic training functions, it's good enough.

pulsklocka-stegraknare-Huawei-watch-fit-011

There are also some basic training programmes you can follow direct on the watch should you be in the mood. The watch can also measure stress levels and help with breathing exercises.

You control the watch almost exclusively using the touch screen (there is one menu button) and the screen itself is really nice thanks to AMOLED technology.

pulsklocka-stegraknare-Huawei-watch-fit-0015

Contains a lot

However, one disadvantage of the Watch Fit is that it’s a bit locked and limited. As well as the lack of third-party apps, it has a fairly limited ability to analyse activities, and only provides simple notifications. The latter is hardly unusual, but with such a nice screen and a fast system, we’d have liked to have seen better possibilities for acting on notifications.

The data collected during workouts and normal activity tracking during the day (steps, sleep, heart rate at the wrist) stays within reasonable limits, including GPS measurement during your workouts. You also get a history of the collected data, but not much more about it.

pulsklocka-stegraknare-Huawei-watch-fit-0121

Depending on how you train – in other words, how you use the GPS part – the battery can last up to 10 days. The reality of mixed use is more like one to two charges a week, which is still a great result in terms of both size and price.

The Huawei Watch Fit gains a lot by having collected its functions from the company’s more expensive watches and packaged it in a amazingly good value and convenient package. That’s why it’s the perfect watch for anyone who wants to start exercising, keeping track of steps and sleep, and who’s taking their first steps into the world of smartwatches.

Attractive designexcellent screencontains a lot for the pricegood battery life
Notifications not greata bit limited for those who aren't beginners

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 Forerunner 45/45s

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

5. Polar Vantage V2

Analyses all of your workouts

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 280 x 280 pixels, 1.4 in Dimensions (WxHxD): 51x51x14.9 mm Weight: 71 g Waterproof/Depth: Yes/10 ATM Battery life: Up to 80 hours with GPS (95 days in expedition mode, 300 hours in low frequency mode) Wireless technology: Bluetooth, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 65 days Altimeter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Heart rate measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Polar Vantage V2

The Polar Vantage V2 builds on the successes of the Vantage V. If you compare what the Vantage V originally looked like with its successor, the differences are huge, but at the same time the older model has received a lot of the new functions through updates over the years. What is clear is that if you want to measure yourself in lots of different situations, the V2 is for you.

Pulsklocka-gps-multisport-polar-vantage-v2-0040

Stylish multisport

The watch itself is incredibly boring to look at. But that’s where most of the negativity ends. Appearance aside, the watch is enormously well-built, with a high feeling of quality throughout.

Looking at the watch’s more everyday functions, these seem to be much like before. Notification from your phone and syncing of workouts are still very patchy, but at least now you can control your phone's music with the watch. Steps, sleep and heart rate, on the other hand, are all really good.

Polar-Vantage-V2-01

After wearing the watch for a couple of days, perhaps the industry’s most thorough analysis functions kick off for various aspects of these things.

Analysis of everything

If we look at new functions in the V2, analysis is the big thing. There’s a mode for measuring running performance, one for measuring cycling performance and even a leg exercise test to see how well your legs have recovered since your last workout. At the other end of the spectrum is a nutrition guide for long workouts that reminds you when it’s time to top up your energy.

Pulsklocka-gps-multisport-polar-vantage-v2-0095

Of course, all functions for sports and multisports remain in the same or slightly improved form since the earlier model. One thing that can be annoying is that the watch sometimes takes a couple of minutes to find GPS (although usually less than half a minute).

The Polar Vantage V2 is a really strong contribution from Polar. The analysis functions are quite different from the competitors and give the watch a completely different angle (although others have different types of analysis functions as well). At the same time, it’s quite weak in terms of side functions such as mobile connection, music, maps and the like. So whether this is the watch for you will depend on how much you need those things. In any case, it’s definitely a good choice for the serious exerciser.

Lots of good analysis functionswell builtgood battery life
GPS sometimes a bit slowdull lookingfairly limited other than training and activity measurement

6. Garmin Forerunner 745

All in one for the multisport fan who doesn’t need maps

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels, 1.2 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 43.8x43.8x13.3 mm Weight: 47 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: 16 hours with GPS, 6 hours with GPS & 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 Forerunner 745

In some ways, Garmin’s Forerunner 945 is the watch for a multisport fan who wants everything. But what about if you can get by with almost everything? Put the 945 on a diet and remove the maps so you get a watch that’s about £100 cheaper... And say hello to the Garmin Forerunner 745.

Garmin-Forerunner-745

Neat format

What we said above is actually most of the story. It’s a slightly smaller version of the 945, with a slightly shorter battery life, a bit less memory because it doesn’t need to store maps and they’ve also got rid of golf mode. At the same time, Garmin have pinched “Track mode” from Coros, which means the watch can do almost millimetre-accurate GPS tracking if you’re running outdoors. And that’s a really nice function regardless of the watch that’s using it.

At the same time, the size is probably the thing that will appeal to most people, because unlike both the 945 and the Fenix series, the 745 doesn’t feel too big. At the same time we feel that Garmin should have perhaps updated both the form and the interface a tad, because they’ve both been pretty much unchanged for several years now.

Garmin-Forerunner-745-2

Everything in one place

But essentially, the 745 is a triathlon and multisport watch. In this area, Garmin are veterans and rather hard to beat. Other than maps and golf mode, nothing else has been removed in the form of sensors or advanced analysis features. This means you get the whole of Garmin’s range in these areas, including the really good recovery function. Another new feature is suggestions for what training you should do next. For example, if your watch thinks you should rest your legs from running, it might suggest strength training.

Garmin-Forerunner-745-3

Garmin’s platform as a whole looks like it normally does, which by now is a really stable affair with many features beyond exercise. You have built-in music mobile payments, phone notifications and all kinds of 24/7 activity tracking you could wish for.

To be honest, we’re a little sceptical about the true value of maps in a format as small as a watch, so the Forerunner 745 feels the more natural choice at a more sensible price for the multisport practitioner. But if you really do want “everything”, the more expensive variety is still the best choice.

Accurate and good GPS and heart rate measurementsconvenient formatincredible number of functions
Battery life is a little short for the most demanding

7. 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

8. 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

9. Garmin Venu SQ

Garmin’s really nice attempt to modernise

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240x240 pixels, 1.3 in Dimensions (WxHxD): 40.6x37.0x11.5 mm Weight: 37.6 g Watertight/Depth: 5 atm Wireless technology: Bluetooth smart, ANT+ Battery life (GPS): 14 hours Battery life (standby): 6 days Altitude meter (barometric): No Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Garmin Venu Sq

What’s the main visual difference between a smartwatch and a classic runner’s watch? The screen, of course. And while the Apple Watch and others in that league have amazingly good screens, most of the watches from Garmin, Suunto, Polar and so on have rather boring ones. The reason is, of course, the battery life, where the latter are miles ahead. But what if the two worlds could be combined? The Garmin Venu SQ is Garmin’s second attempt to do this.

Square

Or at least the second with a colour display. The Venu series is in the same niche as the company’s Vivo watches, trying to bridge the distance between the runner’s watch and the “lifestyle watch”.

The Venu SQ and Venu SQ Music (identical other than support for music and wireless headphones) is a slimmed-down version of the previous round Venu with the OLED screen. Now the screen is of LCD type and also square. Overall, battery life is the same as on its big brother, but slightly shorter with GPS turned on.

As usual, you get the whole package for measuring heart rate, steps, sleep, and so on, along with mobile payments, Spotify and some support for apps. You’ll miss out on the built-in altimeter and animations for yoga, amongst others, in this cheaper model.

At the same time, we’re happy to see that battery management has improved considerably, especially with “always on” mode, which constantly displays the clock. Now we actually get a couple of days of battery life out of the watch, unlike the case with the Venu.

Still a gym beast

The appearance is clearly more Apple Watch than Forerunner. But it's still Garmin under the surface. This means a lot more functions related to exercise than you’d expect at first glance. Various forms of structured workouts, loads of opportunities to create your own exercise sessions, and relatively stable analysis functions mean the watch shines on that front. We’d have liked to see the recovery functions and even more advanced training elements in the Forerunner and Fenix watches, but for most people this is already really advanced. The GPS and heart rate monitoring are of high quality too, and the GPS finds you very quickly before a workout.

Garmin have also got significantly better at touchscreen interfaces. This isn’t the most beautiful one in the world, but now it feels logical throughout, and as a backup for when you’re wearing gloves there are two physical buttons.

The Garmin Venu SQ is packed with functions for the price, including, unusually, Spotify support. At the same time, the design and screen will most suit someone who feels Garmin’s normal watches are too old-fashioned.

Good heart rate and GPS measurementlots of functions for the pricereally good workout functions
Very dull interfacemore advanced analysis functions missing

10. Apple Watch Series 6

A fine-tuned smartwatch

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 368x448 pixels, 44 mm Dimensions (WxHxD): 44x38x10.4 mm Weight: 36.5/47.1/41.3 g (aluminium/steel/titanium) Watertight/Depth: 50 m Wireless technology: Bluetooth, WiFi Battery life (standby): up to 18 hours Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Apple Watch Series 6 44mm Aluminium Case with Sport Band

The Apple Watch Series 6 is a safe and very familiar update of Apple's smartwatch. If you’d like an Apple Watch, or if you had one with a few years back, this version is an upgrade. But for those of you who bought last year's model, it’s actually quite difficult to find any obvious differences.

Smart smartwatch

Apple's approach to smartwatches is one of the best in the industry – always provided you run an iPhone however, because the watch is locked into those. Built-in functions such as hands-free for the phone, or walkie talkie with other Apple watches, all work flawlessly.

At the same time, third-party apps are really fast both to launch and to display the information you want. On the other hand, Apple only allows its own music app for offline storage of music, so you either use that or have no music at all.

New since last year, and also present in Series 6, is that the screen is always on. This is so that the watch worn on your arm will function as a normal watch without you having to do a drum solo on the screen to wake it up.

The disadvantage is that the battery then needs to be charged at least once a day. And as a result of the new functions, this is even more of a stressful operation than it used to be.

There’s an app for that

Apple's attitude towards health, exercise and activity differs a little from the industry standard. In the case of activity, this is a good thing. Instead of steps, which are actually quite difficult to find, it’s all based on three rings to be filled: Standing, moving and exercise. Filling the rings every day feels both more varied and motivating than the classic step goal, because in the case of the Apple Watch, it works more on the basis of what you do overall.

In the case of health, on the other hand, things aren’t so good. The attitude is very much that if there’s nothing wrong, you don’t need to be told anything. You can take your ECG and even measure the oxygen level in your blood, which is one great new feature for the Series 6. But at the same time, you don’t get any of the values unless it seems as if something may be wrong.

The health app in both the watch and on the iPhone is awfully messy. Viewing your history of what you've done and getting tips to improve your performance is almost impossible.

Unfortunately, the same applies to the new sleep measurement. Sleep isn't an exact science, but the only thing you actually get out of Apple's sleep measurement is knowing when you fell asleep and what time the alarm clock rang in the morning. Light/deep sleep, nocturnal visits to the loo or any assessment of sleep quality (which Polar does brilliantly) is completely lacking. However, there are third-party apps that deal with sleep a bit better.

Sleep mode also means you need to charge the watch an extra once a day so it doesn’t run out during the night.

Apps are also required for training. The basics are all there, but only the minimum requirements such as time, distance and heart rate, and overall Apple's training modes are far too simple. This means you might quickly need to find a bunch of extra apps to measure different forms of exercise, but even then you’ll have the same messy compilation of everything in Apple's Health app.

When it comes to naming the very best smartwatch, none come close to the Apple Watch, for its built-in features and for how well the third-party apps work. A more open ecosystem for apps, however, wouldn't have hurt. When it comes to exercise and health, the activity measurement feels motivating and the watch is good at warning of irregularities in your health, but just about everything else feels messy, missing or is solved better via third-party apps. And then there was the thing with the battery life and the constant stress of having to charge it...

Good and accurate heart rate and step measurementfantastically good integration with the phonegood built-in functions
Battery lifemessy integration of exercise and healthvery basic sleep measurement

11. Huawei Watch GT2 Pro (46 mm)

Simple model with premium looks

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels, 1.39 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.7x46.7x11.4 mm Weight: 52 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50 m Battery life: 30 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth 5.2 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 2 Pro

The Huawei Watch GT2 Pro is the third edition in the GT2 series, after the first model and the slightly simpler GT2e. And in many ways it’s merely the choice of materials that makes this model “pro” compared to earlier versions.

At the same time, this is a good watch for anyone who wants something simpler.

Titanium and sapphire

The watch comes in two models, Sport and Classic, but it’s really only the material on the bracelet that’s different. Classic, with the titanium shell, was the model we tested, and it really impressed us in terms of quality.

The screen, which can be set to always be on so that it actually works like a watch, is covered with sapphire crystal to withstand scratches better. This is a big watch and there’s no smaller model to choose from. You have to have reasonable sized forearms for it to fit well.

The watch has the same decent battery life of up to 14 days as the previous versions. That in itself comes with its limitations, but we prefer long battery life over advanced functions.

Health, health, health

The watch has its own ecosystem, without downloadable apps (but there are more than 150 dials, so you won’t get bored). The notifications are just simple notices and you can rarely do very much with them. Music can be downloaded to the watch, but only in the form of MP3 files, so forget syncing to Spotify and the like.

Music can be played via a headset or through the watch's surprisingly good built-in speakers. It also has the phenomenal function that the watch can be used as a hands-free unit when making phone calls – something all watches should have. Unfortunately, this only works as long as the watch is near your phone, as there’s no eSIM edition.

That aside this watch is purely about exercise. The watch is quite advanced in terms of sleep measurement, and it keeps track of steps and stress via the pulse monitor. Overall it provides a pretty good foundation for everyday life and when it comes to exercise types, there’s a large range to choose from. However, we’d have liked to see greater options for customising what the watch displays during training sessions.

GPS reception is fast and in most cases accurate. There’s also a function to find your way back home if you get lost. All data is then synced to Huawei Health, which acts as a hub on the phone and which is starting to get better at sharing data with third-party services, even though it still has some way to go in that respect.

The Huawei Watch GT2 Pro is ideal if your arms are big enough and you're looking for a watch with premium materials and a good battery life. Other functions are somewhat limited compared to smarter watches, but at least do a reasonable job.

Good battery lifestandard QI technology for wireless charginghigh quality feeling
Not great notification functionsfew customisation options for training

12. Coros Apex Pro

Marathon runner built only for sport

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240 x 240 pixels, 1.2 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 47x47x13.4 mm Weight: 59 g Waterproof/Depth Yes/10 atm Battery life: 40 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth, ANT+ Battery life (standby): 30 days Altimeter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Coros Apex Pro

Coros is a fairly small player as well as being a fairly young company, globally speaking. The Coros Apex Pro is the top model in terms of multisport watches. What you get is an efficient watch with a fantastic battery life, but one where the software doesn’t always keep up.

Amazing battery life

On the outside, the Apex Pro is a solid looking piece that’s somewhat reminiscent of Garmin's Fenix series. The main difference is in the scroll wheel, which is used to navigate menus instead of up and down buttons. A very convenient solution, except when you’re wearing gloves. Quite often, however, it feels like the wheel misses a notch and you have to turn it more to get where you want to be.

There’s nothing wrong with the build quality, however – the watch is as well built as it is sturdy and despite a couple of months of harsh treatment, our test watch still looks like new.

But what's even more fun is the battery life. The battery lasts 30 days as a watch and 40 hours with GPS. In other words, it lasts so long you’ll often forget where you’ve put the charging cable between times.

Sport only

Coros is clearly aiming at serious athletes. As proof of that, they’ve completely skipped "luxury features" such as payments, music and the like. Only very simple notifications from your mobile are available. The watch counts steps and sleep very well. However, there is no useful compilation of data such as stress warnings and so on.

Instead the watch is purely about sport. There are modes for about 20 different sports, unfortunately without the possibility to set your own variants. Though you do get the most common modes, including swimming and downhill skiing.

Recently, an extensive mode for strength training was added, which shows great potential in its ambition, but which isn't quite there in terms of logic yet. There’s also have a special Track Mode, which keeps a better eye on you when you’re running on a running track, and this is one function that actually works really well.

Technically, the watch also performs fine. GPS measurement in all modes except Track Mode is consistently 1-200 metres shorter than what Polar's and Garmin's watches state. Outdoor swimming works, but for some reason the drawn track "trembles" like an ECG meter.

Heart rate measurement at the wrist (external band via ANT + and Bluetooth) works well. The heart rate monitor, however, is consistently twice as slow to lock in a value than the built-in GPS, which is a bit disturbing when all other watches already know your heart rate.

The mobile app is also a bit on the frugal side. You get all your training information, but not much more. There’s a mode to show how your condition is developing, but it seems to produce an almost random curve.

The Coros Apex Pro is an interesting choice with an even more interesting price. The hardware, mainly the battery life, is very good. However, the software is just not up to the same level. But if the level of ambition in the new strength training mode is an indicator, they’ll quickly raise the bar there as well.

Incredible battery lifegood build quality and hardware functionsrapid development
GPS measurements are a bit outheart rate monitor slow to startmobile app a bit basic

13. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar

A bit of extra power from the sun

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 260x260 pixels, 1.3 in Dimensions (WxHxD): 47x47x15.1 mm Weight: 85 g Watertight/Depth: 10 atm Wireless technology: Bluetooth smart, ANT+, Wi-Fi Battery life (standby): 14 days (16 with sun) Battery life (with GPS): 36 hours (40 with sun) 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 6 Pro Solar

The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar is exactly what the Fenix 6 Pro was, but with built-in solar cells for an extra battery boost. In a way, this makes the watch a bit of a boring update as it already contains everything you might need for training.

Everyone loves the sun

With the Fenix 6 Pro series, only the largest model, the 6X, had solar cells, and this whole update is actually about Garmin incorporating the same technology into the two smaller models in the series. Of course, there’s added support for training modes as well, but in practice it’s only the solar cells (in the watch case as well as under the screen) that are new here.

Does that give you a watch with infinitely more hours of use as long as you’re out in the sun? No, not really. The Fenix 6 Pro already has a longer battery life than most people will ever need for a workout. What the solar panel does is add a couple of hours to that.

If you train for an hour a day and otherwise use the watch around the clock, the battery will last for about a week instead of five days, thanks to the solar cells. So more of a “nice to have” than something that saves your life when you go out on a hike.

The worst thing about it all is that you have to have a special dial to see how much juice the solar cells generate, because the meter can’t be included as a regular data field.

Lots of functions

Otherwise, it’s the same watch as the Fenix 6 Pro. Which means you get an improved and really good heart rate monitor, fast and accurate GPS and so forth. Maps and music from Spotify amongst others are built in, plus activity measurement, mobile payments and more training modes than you've ever heard of.

The training itself is carefully analysed, but we’d like to see the same level of detail for activity measurement, sleep and health. Those things are there, but don’t feel as developed.

If you’re wondering whether to choose the Fenix 6 Pro or the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, you’re really only paying extra for a function that may take another generation to become really useful. With that said, the Fenix Pro is still one of the most fully-fledged sports watches we’ve ever tested.

Cool to have those solar cellsgood battery lifetons of functions
Solar cells hardly make much difference to the battery lifeanalysis functions for health and activity could have been more detailed

14. Garmin Fenix 6s Pro

Has everything you need

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240x240 pixels, 1.2 in Dimensions (WxHxD): 42x42x13.8 mm Weight: 61 g Watertight/Depth: 10 atm Wireless technology: Bluetooth smart, ANT+, Wi-Fi Battery life (standby): 9 days Battery life (with GPS): 25 hours 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 6S Pro

The Garmin Fenix 6s Pro is the smallest model in the Fenix 6 Pro family. For once, the difference between small/medium/large (6S/6/6X) really is just size, battery life and nothing else, except for the 6X which also has built-in solar panels.

Equipped with everything

If you spend the relatively modest amount that a Fenix watch costs, you can expect pretty much everything Garmin has to offer, and that’s true here too. There are an insane number of training modes, a compass, altimeter and updated built-in heart rate monitor all accompanied by a built-in memory for both (simple) map navigation and music storage from the likes of Spotify. Anything else you need can usually found via the app store Connect IQ.

And it’s during training that Garmin shine like never before. The vast majority of training modes feel really well thought out, and via the Garmin Connect app you get all your data as well as a lot of analysis of your training. As a whole, with steps and sleep, Polar have a better overall grasp and the Apple Watch is better at guiding you when it comes to health linked to heart rate, but for training no one beats Garmin's Fenix series.

Long battery life

Even the smallest 6S Pro has an impressive battery life. Not at the same level as Coro's models, but considering how many functions are built in, it holds up really well.

At the same time, it feels a bit like Garmin should start looking more closely at what Polar and Apple are doing. Of course you can get heart rate warnings even when you aren’t exercising, and of course the watch logs your sleep, but we’d have liked to see the solid analysis function for exercise extended across the board. The same goes for notifications or other typical smartwatch features, where Garmin have clearly moved furthest from the original manufacturers of heart rate monitors, but where it still feels like they’re some way behind.

The Fenix 6S Pro is designed for tough training regimes, and on that front it does really well. The same goes for navigation or trips out into the countryside, which is where the Fenix series began, and also on the golf course. What we want now is for Garmin to take the next step when it comes to health and smartwatch functions.

Built-in music & mapsincredible number of training functionsgood analysis functions
Music eats a lot of batterysomewhat limited as a smartwatch

15. 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

16. 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

17. 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

18. 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

19. 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

20. 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

21. Xiaomi Mi Watch

Cheap heart rate watch with huge width but no depth

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels, 1.39 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 45.9x53.3x11.8 mm Weight: 32 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: up to 50 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 16 days Altitude meter (barometric): No Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Xiaomi Mi Watch

The Xiaomi Mi Watch, sometimes also known as the Mi Watch Sport depending on which part of the app you’re in, is a really cheap heart rate watch. At first sight, it has everything boasted by heart rate watches costing five times the price. But as soon as we begin to dig, we quickly realise that much of it is just on the surface.

Empty app

We’ll talk about the watch a little later, and start with the associated app. This is available for both Android and iOS. To begin with, we can only pair it with Android. It’s only after we have started up the whole thing via Android and reset the watch that it even wants to see our iPhone.

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The app itself should be Mi Fit, Xiaomi’s well-established health app for their activity trackers. This app has some support for sharing activities and data, and half-hearted support for friends. Or you can run the Xiaomi-owned Amazfit app, with great sharing features... But no. Those apps were clearly too good, so instead we’re meant to use Xiaomi Wear, which only works with the company’s watches, forces us to use a very ugly avatar that can’t be changed, lacks friend functions and lacks sharing functions such as sharing a picture of your workout data via Facebook… In other words, not a very well thought out app.

The data collected is, in some places, quite OK. It can do sleep and steps very well. Pulse, stress and the slightly undefined “Energy” seem to jump a little up and down. The calculation of the VO2max shows such positive figures that we almost send our application to the national team. None of the collected data is then used to assist you or guide you in your training.

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Wide but thin

The watch in itself is a fairly simple and convenient affair, with great battery life. The touch screen and the two buttons provide convenient navigation that usually feels logical. You’ll also get basic notifications from your phone and a lot of widgets to check the weather, control the camera and so on.

The watch locks onto GPS quite quickly, taking just under a minute at its worst. The measurement also stays reasonably accurate over short distances. After about five kilometres, however, it starts to get tired and slips steadily down in recorded distance compared to our reference watches.

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The watch comes with hundreds of training modes, but it’s really just running that offers some kind of choice. Most modes are either copies of other ones, or just offer a glorified stopwatch.

If you want a really cheap heart rate watch to test the concept, the Xiaomi Mi Watch can be an interesting choice. If so, we’d recommend the slightly cheaper Lite version from the same company. But as soon as you’ve learned what a heart rate watch is all about, you’ll want to go up to something more versatile.

Good battery lifethe priceexcellent screen
Poor appshallow training modeslocked system

22. 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

23. 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

24. Wahoo Elemnt Rival

Still a long way to go

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 240x240 pixels, 1.2 in Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.5x46.5x15.3 mm Weight: 54 g Watertight/Depth: 50 m Wireless technology: Bluetooth smart, ANT+ Battery life (GPS): 24 hours Battery life (standby): 14 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: No Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist and with external pulse strap

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

Wahoo have a habit of turning markets upside down when they enter them. Their heart rate monitor changed the game, for instance. Similarly, their cycle computers and trainers have mostly been really sharp.

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is the company's first pulse watch, so naturally it has attracted a lot of interest. Unfortunately, this latest product sort of fails for a couple of reasons.

Platformless

From the outset, one hallmark of Wahoo’s products has been that they work nicely with all the others. They have an app with settings and basic functions for saving data, but their idea has always been to pass that data freely on to whichever service you use.

The same thing applies with the Rival. The app saves your workouts and manages your settings. However, the app doesn’t save fitness tracker data for more than a week, no heart rate outside of training, no sleep data and so on.

And the same applies to the software on the watch itself. The focus is on workouts, but even if all the sensors are in place, outside of the session, you don’t get much more than today's steps and your current heart rate. Basic support for phone notifications is available, although it seems to miss a fair few. Widget support is also available, but it’s nothing to boast about.

In fact, it's all about your workouts and the one you’ve just finished, something that unfortunately makes navigation via the watch's five buttons incredibly messy and confusing – an issue Wahoo could easily have avoided.

At the same time, you have unexpectedly few functions relating to your workouts. The ability to automatically detect switching between sports in duathlon/triathlon is quite fun, but you lack analysis, recovery guides, a heart rate/cadence alarm and other things that are standard today. Outside training, a lot of functions are also missing, including such basics as an alarm.

Good hardware

Many parts of the Rival can be fixed via updates and will probably need to be repaired over time. But in terms of the price tag, the software feels quite poor and slightly unfinished. There are no luxury features such as maps, music or payments.

All of which is a shame because there's nothing wrong with the hardware. In terms of quality, the watch feels and looks like something from Garmin's luxurious Fenix series. During a workout, you get really good accuracy from both the built-in heart rate monitor and the GPS. The battery life may not be on a par with Coros watches, but it’s more than able to last for several longer sessions and work as a watch in between.

As it is today, however, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is a comparatively basic watch dressed up in luxurious packaging. You can get significantly more functions for a much lower price and at the same time a much more mature platform around the watch. Even if you don’t really see the benefit of such extra functions, other watches also have more purely training-related functions and lots of other small details. The Rival will get there in time, but so far, it’s not really worth it given the price.

Well builtgood triathlon featuresgood heart rate and GPS measurement
Few training functionsalso lacks basic functionsmeagre mobile app

25. 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

26. Garmin Enduro

Lasts for ages if you don’t mind lag

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 280 x 280 pixels, 1.4 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 51x51x14.9 mm Weight: 71 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/10 atm Battery life: Up to 80 hours with GPS (95 days in expedition mode, 300 hours in low frequency mode) Wireless technology: Bluetooth, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 65 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Garmin Enduro

Newcomer Coros has some watches with “I've forgotten where I put the charger”-long battery life. We can’t have that, Garmin seems to have thought, and thrown together the Garmin Enduro almost exclusively for the purpose of a stupidly long battery life. This aspect works extremely well, if you want a watch that really copes with an ultra-marathon or logging long mountain hikes. But it comes with a price.

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Fenix 6 with long battery life

So what are we talking about here? Essentially, a really big, multi-sport watch, with the same solar panels as are built into Garmin's Solar watches. The whole shell is actually more or less a Fenix 6X Pro Solar. A load of battery-intensive features, like music and maps, have been removed, and Garmin have squeezed a lot inside in terms of both hardware and software.

The result is 50-65 days (depending on the amount of sun) with the smartwatch connected to your phone, 70-80 hours of normal GPS time, or 200-300 hours of GPS in lowish power mode. And just for fun, they’ve included an expedition mode that can manage 65-95 days.

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A big watch and super long battery life, in other words. Even though we understand the battery saving properties, we’d have liked to have seen maps included in the package as well. At the same time, we understand why they’ve been removed when we test the performance.

Slow as treacle

As well as music and maps, you lose the animations for strength training and the more advanced golf lessons that the higher end Fenix watches have. Otherwise, everything’s there in the form of daily activity tracking, exercise modes and multisport.

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At the same time, we think Garmin has cut back a bit too much on the hardware and software. About half of the times we press a button, it takes one or two seconds before something happens. In many cases we aren’t too bothered by this, but having to wait for a reaction during interval training or to enter your weights and reps during strength training leaves a rather sour aftertaste. The price you pay for an almost endless battery life seems to be a watch that wants to be left alone.

Start your workout and don’t touch your watch until your session is over (whether after half an hour or three days) and it’ll be satisfied. If you don’t need such extreme battery life as the Garmin Enduro offers, you’ll get a lot more from a Fenix watch for about the same price – and without the lag.

Extremely long battery lifelots of functions
Terribly sluggishcould have had maps built-in

27. 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

28. 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

29. 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

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

30. 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

31. 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

32. Suunto 7

A good idea stuck between two worlds

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 454 x 454 pixels, 1.39 ins Dimensions (WxHxD): 50x50x15.3 mm Weight: 70 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50 m Battery life: up to 12 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Battery life (standby): up to 2 days Altitude meter (barometric): Yes Compass: Yes Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in optical reading at the wrist

Suunto 7

The Suunto 7 is really a good idea on paper. The Android Wear operating system, recently reinforced by the purchase of Fitbit, combined with Suunto’s long expertise in sports watches and exercise... should be a dream combination. In practice, however, it’s a bit of a different story.

This watch is a really nice piece of hardware, especially the titanium version we received for testing The materials and bracelet are the only thing that sets it apart from the standard Suunto 7. It has a good screen and excellent GPS reception.

The built-in heart rate monitor, however, is rather slow to record changes both up and down compared to the competitors’ equivalents. Just like any other watch with Android Wear, you’ll also have to remember that the average battery life is one day. If you use GPS it gets much shorter. If you only use it as a watch for notifications it can last two days. And unfortunately it doesn’t feel like the processor inside is very modern, because it’s quite often very slow.

Pulsklocka-gps-android-wear-suunto-7-01

Suunto under construction

Over the last few years, it feels a bit like Suunto have started afresh with every major watch release. This is particularly clear here, as Suunto's part on the software side is made up of their own training app. If you sync with the web service, it’s called Sports Tracker (which is owned by the same company). At the same time, the app recently received support for sleep measurement, but many of the more advanced analysis or recovery data is missing.

Then again, other than the physical shortcut button to Suunto’s app, you don’t feel like you’re missing much, for example by downloading Strava onto your watch and just running that app instead.

Some parts feel like Suunto have simply offloaded them onto Android Wear and the Google Fit app, which are built into the watch. Unfortunately, this app leaves much to be desired, as it doesn’t feel like it’s been updated since it was released six years ago.

Pulsklocka-gps-android-wear-suunto-7

Android Wear under construction

The status of Google Fit is similar to that of Android Wear. Development has pretty much stopped completely in recent years. The interface feels a little cluttered and there are very few apps other than fitness ones. Google’s purchase of Fitbit hasn’t really had an impact yet, but at the same time it feels like many of these functions, once they arrive, will be in direct competition with Suunto's own app. Wear OS, however, offers a wealth of watch dials for those who want to play around with them

At the same time, Wear OS is what it’s all about, which takes us to what’s really the biggest problem with this watch. Subtract Suunto’s app from the equation and you get a Wear OS watch with virtually identical specifications for two-thirds or half the price. Even if Suunto’s workout app was pretty good from the start and has improved over the past year, it’s still difficult to justify the price of the Suunto 7. Even more so when the Suunto 5 is £100 less expensive for the same sports functions, and the cheapest form of the Suunto 9 offers many more sports functions for the same price.

Good build qualitynice design
Wear OS feels underdevelopedrelatively very expensiveuncertain heart rate monitor

33. 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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