Technology has always been on a rapid growth and it’s safe to say that not many of us can keep up. This is especially true when it comes to our ol’ favorite timekeeping tool – the watch. These days, watches have all these advanced features including GPS capabilities. The best GPS watches will not only provide navigation features but a whole slew of features as well – ones that can significantly improve the quality of life.
However, shopping for a GPS watch is no easy matter. You’ll come across many brands and models that it quickly becomes confusing. If you are looking for tips on how to shop for a GPS watch, then you’ve come to the right place. On top of that, we also took the liberty of recommending a number of models that might be worth your time and money.
Note: We get commissions for purchases made through links in this article
|Product name||Weight||Dimensions||Defining feature||Price|
|Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS Watch||2.8 ounces||0.6 inches thick, 1.96 inches diameter body||Swimming, cycling, and running||Check price on Amazon|
|Garmin Fenix 2 GPS Watch||3.2 ounces||0.7 X 1.9 X 1.9 inches||Running and skiing||Check price on Amazon|
|Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS Watch||12 ounces||6.7 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches||Running||Check price on Amazon|
|Nike+ SportWatch GPS||2.2 ounces||2.3 x 0.6 x 1.4 inches||For beginner runners, works best with Nike+ shoes||Check price on Amazon|
|Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Watch||2.6 ounces||0.6 x 1.8 x 2.5 inches||For beginner runners||Check price on Amazon|
|Garmin Forerunner 110W Sports Watch||1.8 ounces||2.7 x 1.8 x 0.6 inches||For beginner runners||Check price on Amazon|
|SkyCaddie Golf GPS Watch||2.1 ounces||0.8 x 0.8 x 1.05 inches||Golfing||Check price on Amazon|
|TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch||5.3 ounces||4 x 3 x 3 inches||Running and swimming||Check price on Amazon|
|Garmin Forerunner 405 Watch||3.8 ounces||0.8 x 2 x 4.1 inches||All-purpose||Check price on Amazon|
|Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch||Approx. 16 ounces||9 inches wristband length||Cycling and general health monitoring||Check price on Amazon|
Best products on today’s market
Now, if you thought that the above features pretty much summed up what your GPS watch should do, think again. There are a number of really cool additional features we hadn’t even begun to think of. Most of the best GPS watches on today’s market come with the aforementioned unique additional features. We certainly took that into account while working on our product recommendations.
Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS Watch
Weight: 2.8 ounces
Dimensions: 0.6 inches thick, 1.96 inches diameter body
Specific features: GPS tracker; MovesCount app; waterproof up to a depth of 50 m; heart rate monitor; Suunto Smart sensor
Best use: Great for swimming, cycling, and running
The Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS Watch -black is going to have to deliver a great product each time to make serious inroads into a market, which has been traditionally dominated by the likes of Garmin and Polar. And it would appear that they are well on track with this model.
The Ambit 3 comes very close to getting it all right, it syncs quickly and the GPS functionality is impressive, even indoors sometimes. MovesCount, the online application which gathers, displays including; time splits, elevations, and distances is not great. The watch is, in itself, intuitive and easy to use nonetheless.
- It acquires satellites and devices fast
- It customizes visible data by activity type
- Battery life is admirable
- HRM works wonders and can even tracks your heart rate when you’re swimming
- The Suunto app needs some work
- Expensive, especially considering the fact that Suunto is a new contender in this market
- The design isn’t modern
Garmin Fenix 2 GPS Watch
Weight: 3.2 ounces
Dimensions: 0.7 X 1.9 X 1.9 inches
Specific features: Speed, distance, heart rate; ski mode and swim mode—waterproof although only to a certain depth; Smart Notification4 allows this device to function like a phone; Lithium Ion battery; 3-axis compass with altimeter and barometer
Best use: For running or skiing, not very suitable for swimming
The Garmin Fenix 2 GPS Watch tracks heart rate, distance, and pace (heart rate monitor and HRM-run is sold separately). It calculates recovery time and VO2 max estimate (obviously when used with a heart rate monitor). Features a swim profile and ski-board mode, and connects to Garmin’s BaseCamp for tracking and sharing. It is also compatible with iPhone 4S or later.
And if that was not enough already, it also has a 3-axis compass with altimeter and barometer. With an additional sensor or two, this could amount to having a Stevenson Screen on your wrist.
The watch is, however, bulky and has been susceptible to water ingress, at the modest depths, and it would indeed be a good idea to get your watch into the water right up front to ensure that this very important feature (for a watch that includes swimming lap functionality) is intact.
- Fenix 2 is equipped with ABC sensors, to provide relevant real-time information
- It acquires satellites and devices fast
- It customizes visible data by activity type, battery life, price
- The comments about the water proofing of this watch are not favorable
- It is expensive
- It is quite heavy and bulky
Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS Watch
Weight: 12 ounces
Dimensions: 6.7 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches
Specific features: This is a certified refurbished watch; water-resistant to a depth of 1 meter; GPS tracker; heart rate monitor
Best use: Great for runners
The Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS Watch is likely to appeal to the vast majority of regular exercise users. The watch offers the basic necessities including; distance, time and pace; add the heart rate monitor and it has all the basics covered.
The design itself looks very minimalist but many folks should find the simplicity a great boon. The analog display is quite crisp and clear.
It is likely to present with a small scratch or two, nothing that won’t, at very least, add a little character to this sturdy Garmin device. This is definitely one of the more affordable GPS timepieces that you can find in the market.
- The near-new look and finish, simple and to the point
- The price is amazingly low for the quality it offers
- It comes with a great app that tracks pretty much everything
- Durable and reliable
- Limited warranty and functionality
- Takes some time to connect to the satellite
- Some complaints about the charger not working properly
- Heavy and bulky
Nike+ SportWatch GPS
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Dimensions: 2.3 x 0.6 x 1.4 inches
Specific features: Rechargeable lithium ion battery; TomTom GPS technology; water-resistant; can track NikeFuel
Best use: Great for beginner runners and especially good for combination use with Nike shoes
Better known for their sports apparel, it was a question of time when Nike would leverage on their powerful brand with additional activity based devices. The Nike+ SportWatch GPS is a good product, and teaming up with TomTom, is a good idea at this point.
Large clear display returns exactly what you want to see, and leaves the balance of the screen rotating through the remainder of the reports including; pace, clock, time elapsed, calories burned etc. Not quite as bulky as the traditional models.
Getting the watch to light up is a bit of a challenge and you’ll need to tap really hard and really fast, this is to avoid accidentally lighting up the watch, as claimed by the manufacturer. Display setting changes happen through the PC interface, which is a bit annoying. Having said this the Nike+ interface is intuitive and easy to grasp.
- Funky modern look
- Uses proven TomTom GPS technology
- Quite durable and water-resistant
- Long battery life
- Simple and informative app interface
- Still in their early days of GPS watches, so expect significant improvements on newer models
- The watch can light up but the control panel is a bit unresponsive
- If you want to change the display setting, you have to use a PC
Related: For a greater accuracy, consider purchasing this Nike+ Stand Alone Sensor Kit. It links the device to your Nike+ shoes so you’ll get an amazingly accurate data when you go running.
Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Watch
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Dimensions: 0.6 x 1.8 x 2.5 inches
Specific features: Comes with a heart rate monitor; Training Effect capability from Firstbeat; water-resistant to a certain point
Best use: Suitable for beginner runners
It is understandable and to be expected that when the touch screen gets wet, that it will get a little unresponsive. Thankfully the important functions are not located within the display, but rather are activated or deactivated through the buttons. Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Watch with heart rate monitor is Garmin’s first sport watch with the Training Effect capability from Firstbeat.
Training Effect measures the impact of an activity on your aerobic fitness, which essentially helps you train more efficiently. The result is based on your user profile, your heart rate and the difficulty of the activity. The 610 also offers customizable heart rate zones, alerts and heart-rate based calorie calculations.
Whilst we made the point that we do not like the fact that it is not water proof, we must admire the fact that it does not claim to be water proof, but rather resistant to sweat and the occasional splash, something that more manufacturers should consider given the inconsistent quality in their ‘water proofness’.
- Slim design
- Touch screen
- Buzzing notifications
- Not water proof
- Seems to have slight manufacturing defects, screen freezes up often
- Runs out of juice quickly
- Not very durable
Related: There’s currently a newer version of this device, and it’s called the Garmin 010-03717-21 Garmin Forerunner 630. It comes with upgraded features such as a longer battery life, smart notifications, and physiological measurements.
Garmin Forerunner 110W Sports Watch
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Dimensions: 2.7 x 1.8 x 0.6 inches
Specific features: Heart rate monitor; GPS tracker; Garmin Connect; Lithium ion battery; waterproof
Best use: Great for running and swimming but not diving
The Garmin Forerunner 110W Sports Watch with HRM is a simple GPS watch which features all of the basic must haves, and whilst elevation is important for many users, this function is not available live on the watch as you go, but rather can be viewed once you have downloaded your activity log.
Industry standard – 8-hour – battery life when the GPS is on, and up to three weeks in idle mode. The watch is claimed to be water proof, and whilst this is not a swimmers watch, it seems to be good enough for most users (not divers).
It’s not the most feature-packed GPS-enabled watch out there but it’s reliable and provides the most basic functionalities that will serve the needs of many casual users.
- Slim design
- Mile split notification with time
- Long battery life
- No current pace data
- Quite expensive
Related: For a new and improved version of this device, consider purchasing Garmin 010-03717-45 Forerunner 230 GPS Unit. This one has a battery life that’s around 7 hours longer than Garmin 110W’s 8 hours. It also comes with a larger screen and a more stylish design.
SkyCaddie Golf GPS Watch
Weight: 2.1 ounces
Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.8 x 1.05 inches
Specific features: Water resistant up to 30 meters; GPS tracker; backlight
Best use: As the name suggests, it’s mainly for golfing
The SkyCaddie Golf GPS Watch has a clear display, fairly accurate distance to green, score as you go, and course data, all combine to get the GPS tracker off the golf cart and onto your wrist.
This has got to be handy for folkswho want to track and store their games. It appears though, that the standard 6-month warranty lasts just long enough to be of no use when the battery starts losing its life span.
As you might expect, this watch is tailored to those who are looking to keep track of their golf games and thus improve in the long run. Despite the battery and durability issues, it’s a solid GPS watch for golfers.
- No annual charge for course updates
- Water resistant up to 30 meters
- Has backlight
- Battery life is reportedly poor before long
- Annual fee is charged for maps
- Not very durable
Related: If you use this device with the charger it comes with, it takes forever to charge, and you need to plug it in often. For faster charging, consider using this JINHEZO Premium External Power Supply instead.
TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch
Weight: 5.3 ounces
Dimensions: 4 x 3 x 3 inches
Specific features: Proven TomTom GPS technology; TomTom Cardio; waterproof up to 50 meters
Best use: A great device for runners and swimmers
Was never going to be too long before TomTom took their navigator, out of the automobile and onto the wrists of active users. Pretty good value for TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch, and there really is not a great deal to fault on this device.
If we need to be hyper critical, we could say that their desktop interface could do with a little work, and whilst the idea of the accelerometer is somewhat advanced, it does require the swimmer to exaggerate their turns in order to count the lap, something the watch has not quite mastered. However, that doesn’t mean that this watch is not a good option for runners.
For the price and the features it offers, this GPS watch is a good investment for beginners who are looking to stay fit by running.
- Extra-large display with one touch scroll through the key exercise metrics
- Accurate tracking
- The display screen is capable of multi-tasking like a computer
- Affordable price
- Swimming accelerometer not particularly accurate
- App user interface could do with some improvements
Garmin Forerunner 405 Watch
Weight: 3.8 ounces
Dimensions: 0.8 x 2 x 4.1 inches
Specific features: Lithium ion battery; GPS-enabled; water-resistant; ANT+SPORT technology; heart rate monitor; Garmin Connect
Best use: An all-purpose watch that’s great for general use
It is worth repeating that Garmin Forerunner 405 Watch with heart rate monitor and USB is an extremely good looking watch and, by all accounts, is used as an everyday watch by many athletes. The virtual training partner in addition to the now-standard package of pace, time, elevation, and calories makes for an impressive ‘entry level package’.
Whilst many of us are always a little circumspect when it comes to wireless data interface, this one appears to work well with Garmin Connect. And whilst there are no claims of the device being waterproof, the touch bezel design does seem to be become a little unresponsive and erratic when wet.
Again, this is a solid product from Garmin with all the bells and whistles that makes up a great GPS watch. Definitely recommended for sporty types.
- Regular size
- Accurately monitors heart rate, pace, distance, elevation, and laps
- Develops a mind of its own when wet
- A bit expensive
- Not many extra features
Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch
Weight: Approx. 16 ounces
Dimensions: 9 inches wristband length
Specific features: GPS tracker; rechargeable battery; Polar Smart Coaching; free training diary
Best use: Great for cycling and general health monitoring
Polar have produced some impressive devices and, it must be said, have brand loyal customers to rely on for the most part, and for good reason. Having said this, we are not convinced that the Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch adds to Polar’s reputation.
The watch is not going to win too many new customers with its rather ordinary design. But it does seem to do what it says. The All in one GPS can track things like your speed, route, distance and more. The design is also slim and lightweight which makes it a good running or cycling companion. There’s also Polar Smart Coaching that can help certain facets of your training.
It’s not much of a looker as far as aesthetics go, but the Polar RC3 offers great features and certainly delivers in terms of value.
- All your data is displayed on the screen
- Simple and effective user interface
- Has coaching features to motivate you
- The look of it leaves a lot to be desired
- GPS connectivity is rather slow
- Not very accurate in monitoring runners
Things to consider before buying
There are several features that you should look for in a GPS watch as they dictate usefulness and quality. Here are as follows.
The best amongst them must enable you to see the display clearly. Also you should be able to determine what primary information is displayed on the default screen. For example, you may be an athlete who is heart rate-focused during your exercise routine, and for you, beats per minute should be prominently displayed while other info becomes less important.
Obviously, the longer the battery lasts between charges or replacement, the better. You should also take how long the battery needs to be charged to full capacity into consideration. Some GPS watches today come equipped with fast-charging, while others take a long while to refill their energy.
Accuracy is a challenge for any GPS, and often requires the user to remain motionless for a while, whilst the unit gathers satellite data returning greater degrees of locational accuracy as the seconds tick by. One can only then imagine how difficult it is for a watch, which is on constant motion, often at high speed, to maintain locational accuracy.
Locating and locking onto satellites is best achieved by keeping still in an area free of trees and buildings. And yet expect that it could take a few minutes for your watch to find and lock onto their heavenly guides.
Pay attention to whether the GPS watch has mobile or desktop applications and the ability to synchronize your watch data easily, providing you with a range of graphs and statistical data to ‘track’ your performance.
Sometimes, it’s not so much the app that is complicated as it’s the user that refuses to read the manual. Yes we all know that this is necessary, but few of us will ever take the time to do this, and so let’s accept that a fair number of our complaints are probably based on the fact that we didn’t do as requested.
It must be able to quickly pick up a heart rate strap or any other device we wish to pair to our watch – earlier models had a torrid time of deciding whose heart rate strap to pick up in crowded places, and often just abandoned the idea altogether.
We take it as given, that the watch needs to be waterproof, include a stop watch and alarm, and offer a range of beep notifications: oh, and at very least, must have the ability to lock out the buttons, to stop accidentally changing modes or disrupting the recording of our activity – a problem which affected many early model sport watches.
The age old water proof versus water resistant debate appears to be showing no signs of ending any time soon. And this is where many manufacturers don’t seem to have quite got the hang of producing the perfect seal with every unit sold. It is worth checking out your device (if this feature is critical to your application) before automatically assuming it is as it says it is.
The majority of active folk either want to stay in shape or need to track their performance against distance over time.
The GPS watch, for the most part, does both. Strap on the heart rate monitor, set your age, weight and height, and you should quickly be able to work out where your ideal fat-burn heart rate should be, and before long you will know exactly what exercise intensity you should be maintaining to shed those extra pounds.
Distance over time athletes are less interested in calories and heart rate, perhaps; and more interested in measuring and storing distance, and time over distance as they work towards a marathon for example.
Now combine all of this into a device and add altitude (elevation), pressure, temperature, email, calls etc. You will get the most incredible device; and to think this started out as a watch!
Are you interested in getting a GPS watch for yourself? Which one of the products we’ve reviewed for you do you think is the best? If there’s another GPS watch that you think deserves to be in this article, share it with us in the comments section underneath.