(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.
Our top recommendation ... the best running watch available to buy today
Here's our recommendation for the best all round sports watch on the market.
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 sportswatches 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.
Top running watches: The best of the rest
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro isn't for everyone though, especially considering its price, but 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 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is Garmin's latest 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 645 Music
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is a wonderful running watch. It doesn't offer all the metrics you get with the Forerunner 945 (above) - but it supports Garmin Pay and offline music, including Spotify while also offering smartphone notifications and customisations.
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. Garmin Pay isn't hugely supported as yet and the battery life of the Forerunner 645 Music could be better but overall this is a fantastic running device.
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 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 older 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. Pair is with Garmin's latest heart rate straps and you'll get even more data to fine-tune your running style.
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.
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 or 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 mistake, this is an accomplished sports watch.
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.
It's 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.
It's about deciding exactly what you want from your wearable. If it's training first and you don't mind not having music support, then the Vantage M is a great device.
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 four days of battery life.
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.
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. 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.
The latest Nike+ Apple Watch is the Series 5, so there's a bigger screen than previous models and an additional electrical heart rate sensor on the crown. There is also the option of 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 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.