(Pocket-lint) - Sports watches are smartwatches but they have some specialisms - notably, they tend to have GPS so you can track fitness activity as you go.
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 starting with our top running watch - all reviewed and rated by us.
Our pick of the best running watches to buy today
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is an outstanding sports device, with enough intelligence to compete in the smartwatch category too. It offers a substantial build, a range of sports metrics and a genuine two week battery life.
It's not cheap and you'll find some of its features on other Garmin sports watches for less money, but whether you're training for a 5K, about to finish your third Ironman or are on a multi-day adventure race, the Fenix has something for you in terms of functions.
It's impossible not to applaud a device as comprehensively impressive as the Fenix 6. As multi-functional sports-focused smartwatches go there's no equal.
Garmin Forerunner 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is Garmin's top multisport watch. The functions it offers very much match those that you get on the Fenix 6 - so it basically does everything - but it's priced a little cheaper than the Fenix because it doesn't have quite the same build and protection. If you're not planning on abusing it in the great outdoors, you might find it's the better choice for you.
The 945 offers mapping - which the 935 didn't - as well as offline music and Garmin Pay, so it's very much the complete package. Not only that, but it's accurate, has a great battery life, is slim and comfortable to wear and offers you one of the most comprehensive sets of data that you'll find on a sports watch. It's smart too, giving you notifications, and if you're an Android user, smart replies to messages as well.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is a wonderful running watch. It doesn't offer all the metrics you get with the Forerunner 945 or the Fenix 6 Pro - but it supports offline music, including Spotify, while also offering smartphone notifications and other tweaks.
This sports watch has a lovely compact design that is comfortable to wear, excellent sports and activity tracking, and it sits on a platform that doesn't just track that activity but it excels in delivering your stats too.
It's a great way to get Garmin's excellent tracking without spending quite so much.
Polar Vantage V
The Polar Vantage V is a flagship device that will track and monitor your daily activity, sleep, sport-specific training and give you feedback. There are great metrics for runners particularly, along with great running training programmes and you'll find plenty of support for other sports too.
The wrist-based heart rate monitor isn't the best in the market - offering slightly dubious results at times - and a lot of the great data requires the Polar website, but the Vantage V is comfortable and the Polar Flow system has some great elements.
Garmin Forerunner 935
The Garmin Forerunner 935 has been updated with the 945, but it's still very complete.
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.
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.
Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 offers great multi-sport tracking at a sensible price point. It is a versatile smart fitness watch that offers a long-lasting battery life, lightweight design and it tracks multiple activities, not just running so it's a great option if you like to mix it up every once in a while.
Its screen isn't as impressive as the likes of the Apple Watch or Fitbit Ionic but the Garmin Vivoactive 3 still offers great GPS and heart rate tracking and it delivers plenty of detail through the Garmin Connect app. You also get a couple of extra features on this device like Garmin Pay and offline music, so it's a complete package.
Polar Vantage M
The Polar Vantage M has a lot to admire if you're looking for a sports-first smartwatch. It's comfortable to wear, there is plenty of support for sports and there are some great training programmes too.
There's no on board music storage or payments and the heart rate sensor can be a little hit and miss, but the Polar Flow environment is great and the Polar Vantage M will do everything most users will want, even if it isn't as accomplished as the Vantage V.
Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge 4 offers all the normal lifestyle tracking that Fitbit is known for - steps, sleep - but in the Charge 4 is adds GPS, meaning it's a lot more capable as a device for those who want to throw in the occasional run as well.
We say occasional, because the size of the display means you can't see a huge amount of information and because this is a compact device, the battery won't last as long as others on this list - especially if you're using the GPS to track a lot of events. But, it's affordable, it's discreet, and it's accurate enough, it just won't give you as complete a set of metric as some of the more advanced devices here.
The Fitbit Ionic is the 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 display is lovely, vibrant and far from boring, but the cost is that it only really offers four days of battery life.
Apple Watch Nike
If you're an Apple iPhone user, then the Apple Watch delivers a first class smartwatch experience. The Nike version of the watch has been designed for runners, 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, but 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. There are Nike versions of many recent models, including the new Apple Watch SE. The downside is you only get 1 day of battery life.
The Garmin Venu is Garmin's answer to devices like the Apple Watch, offering an OLED display to boost the visuals over all the other devices it offers. That means this watch is nicer to look at than anything else the company does - but it takes a big hit on the battery life as a result.
To back up its credentials, it offers a full range of functionality, essentially the same as the Garmin Vivoactive 4, so that's offline music, Garmin Pay and all the sports functions you'd expect from Garmin. If you want a watch that has a great display, this could be the model for you, if you are happy to accept the hit to battery life.
What to look for when buying a running watch
There are plenty of options when it comes to buying a running watch, from design to functionality, making it harder to make a decision.
Smart or sporty?
There was once a big divided between smartwatches and sports devices, but that gap has narrowed, with many smartwatches now integrating sporty features. Health and wellbeing is at their core.
That might make smartwatches look attractive when you're browsing the features list, but they often fall short in one area: battery life. Many of the dedicated fitness devices have a battery life that far surpasses a typical smartwatch.
Many sports devices now offer smartwatch features too: features like offline music or mobile payments are common across devices, and while a smartwatch might offer more apps, you don't miss out completely when it comes to functions on a sports device.
Display and interaction
The display size dictates the overall size of the device and again there's plenty to choose from. While big bulky devices give you plenty of screen space, they might just be too large.
From the Apple Watch to Garmin models, many offer a choice of size - and for those who just don't want a watch, there are bands that will offer many desireable features in a much more compact form.
The display also dictates how you interact with a device: while touch is commonplace, it's not the most reliable method of interaction when you have sweaty hands or when you're running. That's why a number of devices, like the Garmin Forerunner models, offer button-based interaction as it's more reliable.
While the Apple Watch might seem like it's a member of the biggest ecosystem, in sporting terms there's a lot more on offer from additional sensors.
Garmin is a huge player here, offering support for things like bike power meters and a whole world of sensors, meaning you can track your sports in any number of ways. This is worth considering - is your device just for your weekend run or do you want to venture further with cycling for example?
What does all this data mean?
You'll be presented with a lot of data, but not all watches are equal. Each device has a platform that sits behind it, offering a range of different features. Apple's position as a smartwatch is telling, because it doesn't dive deep into sporting metrics - but closing your rings might be enough for you.
Brands like Garmin and Polar go a lot deeper, offer a lot of metrics through Garmin Connect and Polar Flow that can help you interpret the data. This can be really useful to target your training, with many devices using metrics specific to running, like running power or cadence.
It's also worth considering the rest of your lifestyle: what impact is the rest of your day and your sleep having on your recovery? Most devices will offer some of this information too.
Do I need all these functions?
Bringing it back down to earth, it's worth asking yourself if you need all these functions. Much of it sounds impressive, but if you only need speed, distance and pace, do you need all those other functions you're buying?
It might be that choosing something lower down a brand's scale will give you everything you need, and saving you money in the process.