While the whole world is now discovering the benefit of a connected watch. For runners, this is home turf. While connected watches have come on leaps and bounds, the needs of runners haven't changed hugely over the past 20 years that running watches have been around.
Familiar names persist: Garmin and Polar offer some of the best sports watches, adding the connectivity to give you more from your smartphone, more analysis of your data and better presentation.
There are decisions to be made - do you want the accuracy of a heart rate chest strap or the convenience of wrist-based HR? Do you have a preference for the platform the data will sync to? Are you interested in a wider ecosystem?
Buying a running watch is a very personal thing, so here's a rundown of the best watches on the market, for you to take your pick.
Our top recommendation...
Here's our recommendation for the best all round sports watch on the market.
Garmin Forerunner 935
The Garmin Forerunner 935 is Garmin's top watch for runners and triathletes, updating the ageing 925XT and giving things a fresh new look. This has all the skills of the Fenix 5, but in a package that's more affordable, which is a win in our books.
The data that the Forerunner 935 gathers is comprehensive, not only taking those basic running metrics like your heart rate and GPS location - both fantastically accurate, but also altitude data, training status, your stress levels and estimations for things like VO2 Max and your power to weight ratio.
It's also fully compatible with a wide-range of accessories from Garmin. It works with sensors old and new, so whether you're looking for cadence data from your bike or stats from your golf swing, you're fully covered. Beyond that, it's a lovely watch to wear, offers a battery that will see you through a full week easily, as well as giving you tracking for events over 24 hours and support for a full range of sports and activities.
As a watch it can be customised, feeds you notifications from your smartphone and can control your music. About the only downside - apart from the premium price - is the lack of onboard storage for music on the move.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 935
Best of the rest...
The Garmin Forerunner 935 isn't for everyone though, and there are plenty of other great sports watches to consider whatever budget you are on. Here are the ones that you should also look at:
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a fully-featured multi-sport watch, offering much the same feature set as the 935, but there are some key things it misses out on. The design and looks aren't as sophisticated and the display isn't as sharp as luscious as the 935, but the performance in terms of GPS and heart rate is just as good.
That makes it an impressive option, because it also supports a range of sports and accessories, with the option to use a heart rate strap if you prefer, or stick to the wrist-based option. It also offers a range of customisations and smartphone alerts, but the menu system isn't quite as logical as the newer 935.
Still, those are almost acceptable compromises for the lower price. Make no doubt, this is an accomplished sports watch.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Polar has traditionally been a brand focused on heart rate. With the V800, the company has integrated GPS while sticking to chest strap connected heart rate monitoring. Although the V800 has been around for a few years, it's still Polar's flagship and a great performer.
This model is better looking than any Polar device before it, with a metal finish and buttons plus a super comfortable strap. It offers GPS, a chest HR strap, barometer, motion sensors and it's compatible with Polar's other sensors to track additional metrics.
The V800 also has added smart notifications as well as activity tracking. The metallic finish looks like a day-to-day wearable and the battery life is decent at 13 hours of training time and a month in activity tracking mode. This also tracks sleep and offers inactivity alerts.
The Polar Flow app pulls all the data together in a large community where you can be competitive. Snap one up with heart rate sensor for around £350.
Read the full review: Polar V800
TomTom has a number of watches, all with a similar design, but the most fully featured is the TomTom Adventurer. The Adventurer is designed for the great outdoors, but that brings with it advantages you don't always get in a watch at this price.
There's excellent wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS, but the addition of an altimeter means you can have additional data about how much climbing you've done, which is more accurate than from GPS alone. It's also a comfortable watch to wear, protected against the elements and offers Bluetooth connectivity so you can hook it up to headphones to play music on the run.
It connects to your smartphone but offers no notifications from you phone, with data syncing into TomTom Sports. This isn't quite as sophisticated as PolarFlow or Garmin Connect and you miss out on some of the more advanced running metrics, although TomTom recently added VO2 Max and fitness age to the metrics. It will pause tracking when you get on a ski lift however. Not bad for around £220.
Read the full review: TomTom Adventurer
Garmin Vivoactive HR
If it's the great outdoors that features on your radar, aside from just running, then you might be drawn to the Vivoactive HR. Then model makes a departure from the Forerunner family that's often the favourite of runners and sits on the fitness tracking side of Garmin's offerings.
However, the Vivoactive HR is still equipped with a wrist-based heart rate tracker and GPS, designed to be a master of multi-sports, but also including an altimeter, so it will give you distance climbed rather than just linear tracking.
The downside is that the design is a little bland, even if the information you gather, synced with Garmin Connect, is nicely presented and accurate enough. Still, if you're looking for a little more than just running, the Vivoactive HR has you covered and for around £180. It has recently been replaced by the Vivoactive 3, although that's a much more expensive device.
Read the full review: Garmin Vivoactive HR
TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3
If the Adventurer just sounds like it does too much, then step down to the TomTom Spark 3, or Runner 3. Two names, one watch. It's focused on fitness and is essentially the same hardware as the Adventurer above, but without such a premium strap and without the altimeter or functions that use it - like ski tracking.
If you're a runner then that's fine, as you still get the advantages of excellent wrist-based HR tracking and GPS performance. New in this model over older Spark models is the inclusion of route tracking, meaning you can find your way back to where you came from simply and easily.
There's no smartphone notifications but you can have all-day activity tracking with all your data syncing to TomTom Sports. It's a little more basic than some of the functions you'll get from Polar or Garmin, but if you buy the right model, you can at least hook-up your Bluetooth headphones and listen to your music with no need for your phone, which those other models don't all offer.
There are a number of different models, so make sure you buy the one that does what you need: expect to pay around £160 for heart rate and music.
Read the full review: TomTom Spark 3
The Fitbit Ionic is the fitness brand's attempt at creating a smartwatch that's as savvy with fitness as it is with its connectivity. It's a no brainer for those looking for a more advanced device who are already in the Fitbit ecosystem, a great upgrade for someone who finds that an older device just doesn't give them enough information.
Importantly, the Ionic covers major sports - running, cycling, swimming - rather well, with integrated GPS and heart rate tracking. But it's all wrapped in a light and compact design that's less bulky than a lot of the watches on this list. From a runner's point of view the presentation of the information isn't as customisable as you'll get from Garmin and the Fitbit app is more geared towards lifestyle tracking than running performance, but for casual runners, that might be what you need.
The attempt to be a smartwatch brings some other benefits, such as Fitbit Pay for payment on the move, as well as smartphone notifications. The display is also lovely, vibrant and far from boring, but the cost is that it only really offers 4 days of battery life.
Read the full review: Fitbit Ionic
Fitbit is traditionally a company that's been all about activity tracking. With the Surge it moved into GPS running watch territory. It's a decent size, offers smart notifications, tracks multiple sports and has a built-in heart rate monitor.
It offers the good looks of an activity tracker with a comfy elastomer strap, clear app platform and excellent touchscreen monochrome display and one of the immediate appeals is that it comes from Fitbit, so it integrates with the Fitbit app and all the other services that now work with Fitbit too.
The Surge offers constant wrist-based heart rate monitoring and it'll also track activity and sleep. All that translates to a battery that'll last about four days with moderate use. In GPS mode you'll be lucky to get five hours out of the wearable, but that will see you through most runs.
There may not be as many metrics as the established watches, nor the ability to personalise screens, but at around £150, it undercuts the big boys and offers a cheaper way for newbies to get a GPS sports watch.
Read the full review: Fitbit Surge
Garmin Forerunner 35
If you're after a Garmin but want something a little more basic, then the Forerunner 35 is a good starting place. It cuts away a lot of the additional features of the watches higher up the family and focuses on just the information you need.
You get wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS as well as the accelerometer to take care of your daily step tracking. You get all your information with a leaning toward the beginner runner. Importantly, however, this is a slim and compact device, so it won't weigh you down like some other models.
Buy you still get lots of information, syncing through to Garmin Connect as well as the option for smartphone notifications on your wrist. The price is a more pocket-friendly £150 too.
Read the full review: Garmin Forerunner 35
And if you're looking for a smartwatch...
If the temptation of a smartwatch is clouding your judgement and you really want a wearable that will do everything, but still deliver a reasonable sports experience, then there are a couple of choices. In general, the running watches above have the advantage of offering better battery life, but the following devices give you a lot more features outside of sport.
Apple Watch Nike+
If you're an Apple iPhone user, then the Apple Watch delivers a first class smartwatch experience. This version of the watch has been designed for runners with a tie-in with Nike, although the only real unique options are the strap and the watch faces from the Nike Running app. Otherwise, the Apple Watch supplies you with wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS, returning accurate results.
The running metrics aren't as full as you'll get from the other devices on this list, especially for the price of £369-£399, which is the real downside. However, if it's only basic run tracking that you're after then the Apple Watch will do that for you, while also giving you the advantage of a full smartwatch experience.
The latest Nike+ Apple Watch is the Series 3, so there's wireless connectivity too, so you'll be able to stay connected without your phone when you're out of the house. That means you can stream music without a phone, or send messages to stop people worrying when you're on an epically long run.
The Apple Watch will only work with the iPhone, however, it's not compatible with Android devices.
The Polar M600 is an Android Wear smartwatch that's been built for runners on top of the full Android experience. As such, it offers a better experience for runners than the Apple Watch Nike+ edition, as there's a lot more information and a lot better presented than on Apple's device.
With integrated heart rate and GPS the Polar M600 offers great tracking of your activities, syncing all your data to Polar Flow, which is a great diagnostic app, providing plenty of feedback on the effectiveness of your exercise.
The downside against as a regular running watch is battery life. Where you'll get a week from the running watches on this list, smartwatches will struggle to make it through two days. But you get a fully connected Android experience, making this a great companion for an Android smartphone user. This will also work with the iPhone too, although Android users get the better experience.
Read the full review: Polar M600