Update: For Fitness Week we’ve added some great new budget watches for 2018 from Garmin, Polar and Suunto.
Once upon a jog, the wonder of running watches with their new-fangled GPS smarts were reserved for the rich. Now advances in tech mean running watches are smaller, more advanced and – crucially – more affordable than ever before.
Setting running goals and monitoring your progress has never been easier thanks to data analysis offered by even the most basic and cheap running watches. With metrics like heart rate and GPS location anyone can train like a pro.
Even on smaller budgets, there’s still plenty of running watches choice, including offerings for beginners just starting out, regulars looking to push themselves and athletes aiming to smash their running bests, with the following the best of the affordable bunch.
Note: we’ve ranked these from cheapest to most expensive according to prices at time of writing.
1. Garmin Vivosmart HR+
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 5 days | Waterproof: 5 meters
Tracks heart rate
Not super cheap
While this comes in the guise of a slim and attractive activity tracker, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is actually a full-on GPS-toting running wearable. As the name suggests, you get wrist-based heart rate tracking plus all that Vivosmart connectivity for smartphone notifications.
The screen is always-on and offers clear readouts even in strong bright daylight. That includes heart rate, distance and pace, as well as full on smartphone messages you can read plus call notifications and more.
The Vivosmart HR+ works with Garmin Connect for auto syncing of data to various fitness services and should last for a good five days of activity tracking with eight hours of continuous GPS running. Plus, it’s waterproof to five meters deep, so you only need to remove it for charging.
2. Fitbit Charge 2
Slim, attractive and easy to use
GPS: No | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 5 days | Waterproof: Splash-proof
Heart rate tracker
Average battery life
Fitbit has come a long way from its activity tracking routes and now offers GPS-level tracking accuracy (in this case using the connected phone’s GPS) and heart rate monitoring.
The Fitbit Charge 2 is a slim, attractive and simplistic wearable that can be worn daily for activity and sleep tracking, but will also measure runs with data like pace, distance and heart rate zones all displayed on its OLED screen.
The Charge 2 automatically tracks runs, sleep and more as it recognizes the variation between activities. Since it can be connected to a smartphone it will also offers notifications for calls, messages and more with vibrating alerts.
Plus, that smart sleep tracking can offer a subtle vibrating alarm to wake you at peak sleep cycle for a more refreshed start – ideal for those early runs.
3. TomTom Spark 3
Stats plus phone-free sound tracks for your runs
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 11 hours run time | Waterproof: Yes
Phone free music
Accurate heart-rate training
Complex menu system
Sound quality is middling
TomTom is exiting the wearable tech game, but it’s certainly going out on a high with the Spark 3. The highlight is the new, compass-powered Route Exploration mode, which will keep your runs fresh and eliminate the fear of losing your way on the trails.
The TomTom Spark 3 also crams in a heart-rate monitor, a Bluetooth enabled-built-in music player, with room for 500 songs, and 24/7 multi-sport activity tracking. It’s also packing a battery that’ll get you through the most challenging of runs even with GPS, HR, Bluetooth running concurrently
4. Polar M200
A watch that tracks almost everything
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: One week | Waterproof: Water resistant
GPS can be slow to lock on
The Polar M200 is a super affordable option, especially when you consider everything that’s crammed into this running watch.
You get – deep breath – wrist-based heart rate tracking, built-in GPS, smartphone notifications, all day activity tracking, personalized training programs via the app, varying color options and battery life for a week of use with an hour’s run per day – and breathe.
The round face is designed to be attractive enough for daily wear, while the water-resistant build should mean you don’t need to take it off much. The Polar Flow app plays nice with other fitness services, so you should be able to transition across painlessly – well, apart from the pain of running, of course.
5. Garmin Forerunner 30
A lot of features for a low price
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 8 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant (5ATM)
GPS and heart-rate tracking on a budget
Move ID activity detection is cool
The Garmin Forerunner 30 is a simple and affordable running watch that squeezes in round-the-clock heart rate tracking, GPS tracking, automatic activity detection and up to 8-hours of battery life in activity mode (5 days in total).
It delivers smartphone notifications if you desire and, if you wish to leave your phone at home, automatically upload workouts whenever you reconnect via Bluetooth.
Like the Forerunner 35, it’s not really a looker, but the multi-sport tracker offers some serious value for money.
6. Suunto Ambit3 Run
Rugged partner for off-road running discovery
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 15 hours with GPS
Great for trail runners
No built-in HR monitor
Quite complicated to use
If you’re a dogged trail runner rather than a city slicker, the Suunto Ambit3 Run, with a rugged, off-road design and a sporty finish and plenty of fun features, could be the GPS running watch for you.
The cool ‘Run a POI’ and ‘Run a Route’ features let you scan online repositories for good routes to run, making this watch ideal for discovery and running off the beaten track.
Unfortunately, there’s no built-in heart rate monitor, so you’ll need a separate chest strap, but runners will benefit from fast GPS pick up.
7. Garmin Forerunner 35
Good range of features at entry level price
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 13 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant (5ATM)
Waterproof to 50m
Bland 1.2-inch display
The affordable Garmin Forerunner 35 packs in plenty of the high-end features you’d find on Garmin’s elite running watches but at a more wallet-friendly price.
In addition to a large array of running metrics, the GPS-based wearable includes an optical heart-rate monitor, smart notifications (calls and messages) and activity tracking, meaning you’ll get a full picture of your daily motion, not just running.
It may lack some of the advance running dynamics tools you get on watches like the Garmin Forerunner 635 (stride length, for example) and seasoned runners may need a more powerful HR sensor, but it’s perfect for new runners or those dipping their toes into the world of wearable tech.
8. Polar M430
Best running watch under £200
GPS: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 8 hours with GPS | Waterproof: Water resistant to 30 metres (WR30)
Great for goal-based runners
Good battery life
Annoying charging lead
Some smartphone syncing issues
A significant upgrade on the best-selling M400, the newer Polar M430 adds improved heart-rate tracking, pin-point accurate GPS and the addition of sleep tracking.
The mid-range watch sits enticingly at under £200 ($230, AU$330) and delivers enough to cater for Couch-to-5Kers and serious marathon runners alike. The M430 boast all the usual run-tracking but also offers additional features such as sleep tracking, a simple Fitness Test to chart your progress and recommended recovery times.
A relatively recent update added a find-your-way-home feature, giving you the freedom to run off the beaten track.
The design is a little retro, the screen is basic and you won’t get all of the elite features you get with the Polar V800 or a top-end Forerunner. Still, at this price, there’s more than enough to satisfy most runners.