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The Best GPS Watches (and How They Work)

The best GPS watches aren’t just a great way to help you find your way home in a pinch; they are also a must-have for anyone who wants to accurately track their workouts. Like fitness trackers, GPS smartwatches let the user record distance, steps, speed, calories burned and more. On top of that, you can also track your favorite running and cycling routes.

Wearing a GPS enabled watch means that you’re able to track your workout without having to hold your phone. The watches we’ve included below can use the GPS functions during workouts even if your phone is not in Bluetooth range, although additional features, like receiving texts and phone calls and being able to control music, may not be available in all models. GPS watches are also easier to use during workouts than looking at your phone, with the workout mode remaining on the watch face. It’s easier to glance down and see data during a run than going through apps and screens on your phone. Sweaty hands aren’t great for swiping.

While fitness trackers offer some of the same features as GPS watches, they don’t have the same accuracy when it comes to tracking steps, distance, and location, with many GPS watches letting you store workout routines, plan routes and track progress.

We’ve included the best GPS watches below, all of which offer a long list of features are varying price points. All of these watches can track the user’s location, enabling users to accurately record the distance they travel while biking, running or walking. Some of the best GPS watches, like the Garmin and Apple Watch, are also waterproof, which means you can even record swimming distance.

Ready to get fit with a new GPS smartwatch? Check out our favorite GPS watches below.

1. Garmin Vivoactive 3

The Garmin vívoactive 3 has features that will please the least to most active users, including a waterproof design, 15 pre-loaded sports apps and a built-in GPS that is a must-have for runners, hikers, cyclists, walkers and all outdoor athletes. On top of that, this Garmin smartwatch features a heart-rate monitor that can track when your body is beginning to exhibit signs of stress, alerting you to your quickening heart rate, for instance. When connected to a smartphone, the Garmin can notify you when texts, emails, and phone calls are received, with the ability to control your phone’s music all from your watch. While all of those features may sound complicated to set up, first-time users of all technical skill levels will be able to navigate the user interface.

Pros: Dozens of face watch options, contactless payment, versatile smartwatch functionality. Easy set up.

Cons: Falls somewhat short of the advertised 13-hour battery life, especially when using multiple apps.

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2. Apple Watch Series 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 includes many of the same features of the Garmin, but with Apple you have access to the company’s seemingly endless supply of apps and features that can be downloaded to the watch. The Apple smartwatch has a sizeable 42mm face, making it easy to see everything from incoming emails to your current distance during a workout. Using Siri, the Apple watch allows users to speak their commands, from sending text messages, to making phone calls and starting workout programs.

Pros: Apple Watch Series 3 keeps you connected to emails, phone calls and texts while also boasting GPS tracking, an optical heart sensor and a waterproof design.

Cons: Battery life could be better. Doesn’t come with as many pre-loaded fitness apps as the Garmin.

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3. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2

Samsung has long been the go-to alternative to the Apple iPhone, and Samsung also makes a mean competitor to the Apple Watch. The brand’s best GPS watch features a large circular face and a simple rubber strap, and it comes in either a 40mm or 44mm face and several sleek colors like black, silver and pink gold. This GPS watch has automatic fitness tracking, as well as a sleep and stress tracker. You can change the face display to suit your taste and eyesight, whether that’s a digital time readout or an analog display.  Built-in Bixby voice functionality makes it even easier to control your watch, although it’s not quite as sophisticated as Siri or Alexa.

Pros: Sleek option with plenty of sports features like step tracking, heart rate tracking as well as sleep tracking.

Cons: Somewhat thick, and the smallest face size (40mm) may still be too big for some. Larger watch face can dig into your wrist.

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4. Polar M430 GPS Running Watch

The Polar M430 is specifically designed with runners in mind, and this GPS watch has plenty of features that keep you informed of your fitness goals and routes without distracting you with calls and text notifications. The wrist sensor helps track your heart rate. Plus, you can monitor how many steps you take, and it even provides sleep monitoring. The rubber watch strap is perforated throughout, so it won’t make your wrist too sweaty while you’re working out.

Pros: Great for runners. Active heart rate tracking, sleep tracking and step counting. Breathable perforated wristband.

Cons: Wireless syncing to your smartphone can be unreliable and clunky compared to Android and Apple smartwatches. Less stylish design.

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5. Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch

If you want the smarts of a GPS watch but prefer a dressier look, then the Galaxy Watch from Samsung is a great option. The Galaxy Watch has similar functionality to the Active2, but the design evokes a diver watch, down to the metal lugs and bezel. The face is completely digital, but the display resembles an analog chronograph. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to do everything from checking your messages to making contactless payments. It automatically tracks workout data and your heart rate, making it a great fitness watch, too.

Pros: Diver-inspired analog-like appearance. Fitness tracking. Android and iOS compatible through Bluetooth.

Cons: Available in either 42mm or 46mm faces, both of which are very large.

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6. Amazfit Bip Smartwatch by Huami

The Amazfit Bip Smartwatch by Huami has solid battery life; it can go up to 30 days on a single 2.5-hour charge. Of course, the tradeoff is less sophisticated fitness tracking and apps. If you want to pair your smartwatch with another fitness device, you’re also out of luck. That being said, the affordable watch is also the lightest on our list at 1.1 oz, and like the Apple GPS watch includes an optical heart rate sensor and built-in GPS, a must-have to accurately track distance, steps and calories burned. The Bip is dust and water-resistant, making it better suited to users who don’t wear a watch in the shower or when swimming.

Pro: Good battery life, solid basic option with optical heart rate tracking and built-in GPS. Comfortable strap won’t irritate skin.

Con: Communication is one way, with no option to respond to notifications from the watch. The Bip also doesn’t allow for third-party apps to be added.

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7. Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin makes so many GPS watches that it can be confusing to figure out the differences between various models. This option is the Forerunner, and it’s a great pick if you’re a daily runner or fitness enthusiast. If you want a full suite of apps right on the device, then you’ll likely want to stick with the more expensive Vivoactive (also featured on this list). But for basic GPS functionality, heart rate monitoring and step counting, this is a great option. Plus, it can display texts on the screen.

Pros: Heart rate monitoring, step counting and text message display. Comfortable rubber strap that’s available in numerous colors. Good option for runners.

Cons: Not as many features as the Vivoactive. More complicated set up.

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