When I worked at a running store, the GPS watches were intimidating to start working with. There were so many different kinds, different features, and way different price points. But then when it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to know how fast and far we went? The good news: they literally all do that!! The better news: they all do SO MUCH MORE than that!
Garmin is probably the best-known name in the GPS watch game, and for good reason. They’ve been making GPS-based devices since 1989, and started the popular Forerunner series in 2003. Since then, GPS watches have become less cumbersome and more accurate, and might I even say, stylish! With so many options and capabilities, there’s a Garmin for everyone.
A quick note about some of the features included in every Garmin device we’re going to talk about. Each watch on this list is going to be equipped with GPS technology, wrist-based heart rate, bluetooth capabilities, and activity tracking.
Garmin has more than 24 satellites orbiting the Earth at any given moment, and there are at least 4 in view of you when you’re setting off for your run. When your watch alerts you that GPS is connected, you are connected to three different satellites to help triangulate your position for accurate distance and pace.
Wrist-Based Heart Rate
Garmin utilizes optical wrist-based heart rate, meaning you can get your heart rate without the use of a chest strap. This technology is surprisingly accurate, but it does not take the place of a medical device (meaning, if you need absolutely accurate heart rate, you will need to wear a strap.) This optical technology utilizes a series of lights that flash against your skin, illuminating the capillaries to detect changes in blood volume.
Allows your watch and phone to sync to allow for wrist-based alerts, easier updating, and, with music-enabled watches, the ability to pair with wireless headphones.
Uses a wrist-based accelerometer to count your steps throughout the day. You also have the ability to turn on or off alerts reminding you to move if you’ve been stationary for too long.
So let’s look at the good!
Forerunner 45 – $200
The 45 is the most basic Garmin GPS watch out there. It’s a perfect watch for the runner who is just getting started, or who doesn’t want to mess around with lots of bells and whistles. In addition to distance, pace, and time, you’ll have wrist-based heart rate, bluetooth capability, and multiple training modes (run, bike, cardio, and more.) This watch is also available in two sizes and multiple colors, with 13 hours of GPS battery life.
Forerunner 245 – $300 (no music) and $350 (music)
The 245 contains all of the features of the 45, plus a few more advanced features. Advanced running dynamics means you’ll be able to see metrics like your ground contact time, cadence, stride length, vertical oscillation, and more. This watch can also evaluate your training load, your body energy, and is even equipped with a pulse ox sensor. Finally, the 245 is available with or without music storage, allowing you to access up to 500 songs without carrying your phone (you will need bluetooth headphones, however.) The 245 has up to 24 hours in GPS mode, 6 hours with GPS and music, and up to 7 days in activity tracking mode.
Forerunner 945 – $600 (watch only) and $750 (triathlon bundle)
The Forerunner 945 is every tech runner’s dream watch. It includes everything in the 245 music version (yes, music storage is standard on this watch) but also has more incredible features! First, the 945 has three options for satellite tracking including GLONASS and Galileo, in addition to GPS (read: it’s crazy accurate.) It also has full-color mapping, turn-by-turn navigation, suggested routing, and the ClimbPro feature, which gives you real-time data on your current and upcoming climbs.
Fenix 6 – $600+ (many sizes and features to choose from)
If you’re looking for a watch that will do anything that a watch could feasibly do, and look good doing it, the Fenix might just be your watch. It has all of the capabilities of the Forerunner 945, and then some, in a sleek stainless steel package. Upgrades from the 945 include topographic maps, even preloaded maps for ski resorts, pace guidance, animated workouts, preloaded golf courses, three different size choices … even an option for a solar-chargeable battery. Battery life on this watch varies greatly with size (smaller face = fewer GPS battery hours) and capabilities (using music decreases battery life), but with GPS only, you can expect at least 25 hours with the smaller watch, and 36 hours with the standard watch. Plus, the power monitor on the watch helps you manage your battery life on the fly.
Vivoactive 4 – $350
The Vivoactive series watches are stylish yet functional watches meant for more than just running. It maximizes some of the most popular health functions of the other watches (stress, respiration, hydration, and sleep tracking, as well as pulse ox and multiple sport functions), and also has music storage and animated workouts. This watch is available in two sizes, and battery life with GPS and music is 6 hours.
So there we have it folks! If you’re looking for a more in-depth review, www.dcrainmaker.com is an amazing resource and he compares all sorts of watches, brands and more. HERE is his review of the new Vivoactive 4. He states it better than I ever could, so head on over there!