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Top 10 best heart rate monitors of 2019

ByDaniel HesselUpdated October 21, 2019

Regardless of whether you’re an elite sports person 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 designate the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music as best in test for its many functions and reasonable price tag.

How we did the test

We tested pulse watches in line with what they're intended to be used for. The watches were tested both by an experienced sports person and a beginner to get both opinions. All of the watches were tested in the majority of the different exercise modes they offer, and also in their multisport mode if there is one. As the majority of pulse watches also offer step counting, sleep and similar things in addition to exercise, they have also been worn over a longer period to investigate these 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 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.

  • 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 needs? How does the activity tracking work outside exercise sessions and what other functions are offered?

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

1. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music - BEST IN TEST HEART RATE MONITOR

Amazingly 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 up from its more budget-focused predecessor – and comes straight in as our best in test. This neat watch doesn’t have every function, but it has enough for us not to feel left out. The fact is that 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 Forerunner 945, there’s very little missing from a purely 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. Nor do you get 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 fine 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 really complete.

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

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

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 the telephone and the option to install new apps and dials via Garmin’s app store.

The major new feature is, of course, the inclusion of music in a slightly cheaper Garmin watch. You can choose either music files from your computer or offline playlists from services including Spotify. Synchronising our Spotify playlists is 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 for the accident reporting function to work).

But a cheaper price and smaller size is reflected in the battery life. 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 running it eats up at least 20% of the battery per hour, which is understandable but worth bearing in mind.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is perfect for anyone doing different sports but who 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 best in test.

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

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

Garmen finally start taking their cheap runner’s watches seriously

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

Garmin Forerunner 45

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

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!

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 telephone 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 small and neat, which means that it also fits narrower wrists without looking grotesque. And despite the price 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 finally feel that we’re not missing 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 measurement. Far more than what we’ve had earlier, in other words. 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 show 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 store which gives you new dials, 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 stingy budget options, but actually really good value for money.

Very smalllots of functions given the pricegood functions in the app
Unnecessary division into large and small models

3. 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 very 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 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 smoothly. Garmin Pay works very well and support for different cards and payment methods is starting to be really good. 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 really well filled with exercise modes, dials and special exercise fields. It also has a solid package of activity tracker functions and an enormously stable connection to your phone for notifications and exercise analysis.

Substantial but still neat

In fact there are more functions than most people will really need, but they are there, and only the touch of a button away. The major sour note amongst all these functions is that notifications from your mobile are still a little bit limited, but now there’s at least 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 experience the size of the watch as being a problem, which is positive.

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 also choose one of the system models without losing any functions.

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

4. 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 in terms of 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 doesn’t work so well.

To get all the downsides out of the way once, it’s also worth mentioning that the interface feels slow and the battery doesn’t last as long as the competitors’ if you run a lot of sessions with the watch. It isn’t exactly catastrophic, but with lots of activities, it’s a day or two shorter than average. 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 real shame. This also applies to the dials, and there aren’t enough included to suit all 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 actually only the built-in altitude meter that’s missing, so in practice you won’t notice much difference.

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 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 actually are and so on. This is really nice. Training sessions are also included, with information such as recovery times, exercise programmes and so on.

While you get more than enough data from the watch for most people, you don’t have the same quantity of data and functions as with 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 much cheaper than the majority of Garmin’s equivalents.

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

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

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5. 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 HRM

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’s resisted the passage of time very 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 actually 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 said, the Forerunner 935 doesn’t feel old. It’s actually a really 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 really 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 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 now, you also receive notifications from your mobile and can keep track of your pulse throughout the day, automatic sleep measurement and of course step counting. Via the mobile app you can also connect various different exercise programmes for running.

The battery lasts very well given the 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 quickly, measures the pulse at the wrist correctly (if you’re wearing it correctly) and counts steps to within a reasonable accuracy.

It’s quite simply a very straightforward watch for all types of sports, with quick connection to GPS and a really good battery life both during and after exercise. The Garmin Forerunner 935 is excellent value for money, and our best in test in the multisport pulse watches category.

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

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6. Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

The sports watch that can cope with both music and 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 have 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 so on.

But the Vivoactive 3 can still be considered as the top model and is actually really competent while simultaneously attempting to be more discreet than many other variants in this segment. The construction isn’t in the same class as the significantly 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. At the same time 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. Fast and accurate GPS together with a load of different exercise forms to choose between, 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 a bit minimal, but it recently got support for Spotify, which covers quite a large number of users.

Pay with your watch

You also 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, just like when you pay with your mobile or use a contactless payment card. After a long period when it only approved credit cards for connecting this service, the service now also supports normal 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 offers a very comprehensive package here.

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

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7. 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 significantly smaller and lighter model, with the same hardware but roughly half the battery life.

Small, attractive smartwatch

In itself the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is a small and very neat watch with a large number of training and health functions. It has inbuilt 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, for instance, that you can download Spotify direct to the watch, but also that there are lots of other apps for various purposes.

The watch in itself 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 telephone, both for advance notification management and to upload your health data to Samsung’s fitness service. Sharing your exercise data is largely a very straightforward matter too, something that not all smartwatches do so well.

And the watch is also 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.

Varying battery life

As you can tell from the name, exercise and health are in focus here. This largely involves really 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 thing is that there’s no standard mode for strength training, but instead a small set of individual exercises – which isn’t exactly a straightforward solution.

The watch is charged wirelessly, either via the charger supplied or a telephone from the Galaxy S10 series. But weirdly not from normal wireless chargers for telephones.

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 uses 10% of the battery, while another day it uses 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 the whole time.

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

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8. Fitbit Versa Lite

Smartwatch without GPS

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 – in fact just a pretty normal battery life.

The Fitbit Versa Lite doesn’t have any built-in GPS in the watch, but instead you can use your telephone’s GPS chip for runs and so on. 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 really unstable regardless of the telephone we test 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 during the radio silence. This is really poor and something that means you’d rather use Runkeeper or a similar app in your telephone instead of a watch.

Intelligent and comprehensive

That’s a shame, because the watch is generally 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 also 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 and so on, 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. Because the idea is that you’ll carry your phone with you anyway this isn’t a major minus point, 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 a really interesting alternative. But if you're after a true fitness watch for your running sessions, you’re probably better looking elsewhere.

Good range of appsexact measurement of steps, pulse and sleepstraightforward and easy-to-use app
Mediocre battery lifeunreliable solution for GPS measurement of exercise

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9. Amazfit Stratos

Budget watch that wants to do everything – and almost succeeds

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

Xiaomi Amazfit Stratos

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

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

Lots of functions missing

At the same time not everything in the garden is lovely. If you want to connect a more accurate pulse strap, or another external sensor, you come to a full 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 very slowly. When we find the GPS position before a run and press Start, the entire watch goes blank for a couple of seconds before the counter starts.

The biggest disadvantage is in the interface. There’s actually no major problem with the interface, even though it’s a little bit confusing to know when you’re supposed to use the touchscreen versus 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 the screen often 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 very well. But simultaneously there are at least as many times when we come to a stop because the function we expect just isn’t there.

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

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10. 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 have made a series of really good 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 maybe 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 actually agrees pretty well with the reality.

To achieve this battery life, the operating system is extremely 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 so on outdoors, and there are a few other sport types for those who exercise indoors. The accuracy of the GPS measurement is fine and the pulse meter in the watch also 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 telephone'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 sport is on the watch, the 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 ringing you, and sometimes not. Sometimes it shows which app is trying to get your attention, and sometimes not. Sometimes the notification is shown, and 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 smartwatches or pulse meters a serious match, as the biggest plus point is the battery life.

Good battery lifesimple interfacediscreet design
Inconsistent notificationsvery few setting optionsfew functions

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Heart rate monitor

Over the last few years heart 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 good 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 – it’s a bit like having a personal trainer wrapped around your wrist. 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 the basic ones. The more advanced modern exercise monitors have a multitude of functions to help you with your training and can provide suggestions for recovery times, analyse your running dynamics or your swimming stroke, help you with interval training or warn you if your heart rate becomes too high. The most advanced models can also 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 also a function that many users want today.

Different wireless technologies

Straps worn around the chest record the electrical activity of the heart muscle through the skin. This information on heart 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.

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 often your accessories will then become unusable.

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 also 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 heart 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, a 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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