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Best sports watch 2021: Track your training with the best sports watches


Here's our pick of the top sports watches this year

When it comes to improving your sporting performance, knowledge is power. Elite athletes have teams of coaches and performance experts logging and analysing their every move; for the rest of us, a sports watch is the next best thing.

And you might be surprised by how much these little wrist-borne marvels can do. They use technology that even elites could only have dreamed of a few decades ago, and can track pretty much every popular sport. As well as basic information like training time and distance covered, they can provide in-depth analysis of your technique, heart rate, and training effect, and some will even coach you on the go.

Here’s our pick of the best sports watches for tracking a variety of different activities, along with our buyer’s guide to help you make the right choice.

Best sports watch: At a glance

  • Best sports watch for running: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music | Buy now
  • Best-value sports watch: Coros Pace 2 | Buy now
  • Best sports watch for triathlon and cycling: Garmin Forerunner 945 | Buy now
  • Best sports smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 6 | Buy now
  • Best budget sports smartwatch: Huawei GT 2e | Buy now

How to buy the best sports watch for you

You'll first have to decide which sporting activity you want to track, as this will determine the core features you want. If you’re a runner or a cyclist then GPS tracking is a must, while swimmers will be more concerned with waterproofing. Triathletes need a multi-sport mode to switch between their different disciplines seamlessly, and those who stick to the gym might well want to monitor different forms of indoor workout, such as weight training and HIIT. Whatever kind of sportsperson you are, your perfect watch is almost certainly out there – you just have to pick it.

What else should I look for?

App support is important: check out how user-friendly the watch’s partner app is, and whether it will sync your exercise record to third-party apps like Strava. You might also want to look for a tracker with a built-in music player, so you can leave your phone behind while still enjoying some audio entertainment during your activity.

Remember too that not all-important statistics can be tracked from the wrist. Cyclists and triathletes, for example, might want to measure their pedalling cadence and power; for this, you’ll need a watch that can use Bluetooth or ANT+ to communicate with other monitoring devices attached to your body or bike.

Finally, check battery life, especially if you’re planning to use GPS. Some devices need charging daily, but the majority will get through a few days of training, and the best will last you a week or two without needing to be plugged in.

Should I consider a smartwatch instead?

Almost all general purpose “smartwatches” have some sort of fitness tracking capabilities; some indeed are just as good as dedicated sports wearables. If you want the ability to install apps on your watch and receive detail-rich notifications for text, email, WhatsApp and many other apps, all alongside sports tracking, there are several great options. They tend to cost more than “dumber” devices, however – and since they’re designed to be worn all the time, you might have to charge them more often than a sports watch that you only wear while working out.

How much should I spend?

A basic sports tracker, without fancy features like location tracking, will set you back between £50 and £100. If you want a decent watch with GPS, expect to pay around £100 and up – and if you can stretch to £150 to £300 you’ll find a range of quality options for every kind of sport. You can, of course, spend even more than that: triathletes and runners, in particular, will find some great options in the £300 to £500 bracket. For comparison, sporty smartwatches cost around £250-£350.

READ NEXT: These are the best watches for running

The best sports watches to buy in 2021

1. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Best sports watch for running

Price: £299 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to sports watches, runners get a wider choice than any other kind of athlete. There are great options available at any price point, from budget picks like the Garmin Forerunner 45 to premium models like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.

The Forerunner 245 Music splits the difference to offer all the essential features runners need, plus a few fancier ones, for £300. There is distance tracking using GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites, and we’ve found optical heart rate monitoring in the 245 to be spot on as well.

You can also sync your music to the watch (there is a cheaper 245 available without music) and link it to a Spotify Premium account to transfer and update your playlists wirelessly. The 245 Music also offers breadcrumb navigation, and can guide you through both individual workouts or an entire training plan for a 5K, 10K or half marathon, thanks to options in the Garmin Coach feature within the Garmin Connect app that you can sync to the watch.

Key specs – Battery life: 24 hours (GPS), six hours (GPS plus music), 7 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+

2. Coros Pace 2: Best-value sports watch

Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon

The Pace 2 packs an astonishing array of features into its small, lightweight case, offering all the essentials that runners and triathletes in particular need. It has built-in GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring and a somewhat extraordinary 30 hours of GPS battery life.

It’s a full multisport watch with triathlon and open-water swimming modes, and it offers an impressive level of insight into your training, going well beyond what other watches in its price bracket provide. You get advice on recovery time after workouts, estimated race times and detail on the amount of load you're placing on your body, combined with a rating of your fitness and how well you’re able to tolerate that load.

The feature list goes on and on, with perhaps the only really notable exception being the lack of breadcrumb navigation, but you can forgive that given the low price of the Pace 2. In terms of bang for your buck, the Pace 2 is the clear pick for keen sportspeople.

Key specs – Battery life: 30 hours GPS, 20 days watch mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth/ANT+

3. Garmin Forerunner 945: Best sports watch for triathlon and cycling

Price: £500 | Buy now from Garmin

The Forerunner 945 is an outstanding all-round watch. It offers reliable and detailed tracking across a range of sports, as well as in-depth training and recovery analysis, plus smart features like music playback and on-board maps to help you navigate on-the-go.

What makes is so good for cyclists and triathletes starts with its slim, lightweight design, which is comfortable to wear through long activities, plus the open-water swimming and multisport sports mode it offers. The latter can be customised to include the activities you’re undertaking that day, whether it’s a full triathlon, a swimrun, or a brick training session with cycling and running.

Perhaps more important is the fact that the 945 is compatible with any sensor you’d like to pair with it, including cycling power meters and running footpods, and you can use either ANT+ and Bluetooth to link them with the watch.

Key specs – Battery life: 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+

4. Withings Steel HR: Most discreet sports watch

Price: £150 | Buy now from Withings

Not everyone likes the overtly sporty look. If you prefer to keep your fitness functions low-key, the Withings Steel HR is a great option, as it looks just like an ordinary watch. Yet beneath the unassuming facade sits all the tech you need to track everyday activity and record basic info about your fitness.

The Withings Steel HR automatically tracks walks, runs, swims and sleep, and gives subtle insights into how you’re progressing via the sub-dial and small OLED display. There’s no GPS tracking or in-depth workout stats, but if you want a tasteful watch with fitness tracking thrown in, it’s the perfect choice.

Read our full review of the Withings Steel HR

Key specs – Battery life: 25 days; GPS: No; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: None

5. Apple Watch Series 6: Best sports smartwatch

Price: £379 | Buy now from John Lewis

Apple’s latest smartwatch isn’t a massive update on its predecessor, the Series 5 (which previously occupied this position in our roundup). Nevertheless, it’s arguably the best smartwatch you can buy.

Its sports tracking features remain largely unchanged, which is no bad thing. However, in addition to in-built GPS, heart rate monitor and a great workout app, there are a couple of new additions. The Series 6 now offers blood-oxygen measurements, sleep tracking, and an always-on altimeter. This latter feature allows you to track your altitude in real time whereas, previously, the Apple Watch altimeter would only update every 15 minutes.

As with all Apple Watches before it, the battery life is nothing to write home about. However, it should be capable of logging all but the longest workouts, and the Series 6 is undoubtedly deserving of its place here.

Key specs – Battery life: 18 hours; GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth

6. Huawei GT 2e: Best budget sports smartwatch

Price: £88 | Buy now on Amazon

The Huawei GT 2e sits somewhere in between a smartwatch and a sports watch. It’s not a full smartwatch because it doesn’t run Wear OS and so has no app store, but it has a large, bright AMOLED touchscreen and you can put music on it (Android users only). By not using Google's software, however, Huawei has been able to massively increase the battery life of the GT 2e compared to most Android smartwatches, with the GT 2e lasting around a week even if regularly using it to track outdoor exercise.

With 100 workout modes it’s definitely fair to say the GT 2e shines on the sports front, and it offers runners, in particular, impressive insights into their training load and overall fitness, using the same Firstbeat technology that you find in Garmin devices. There are also some preset running workouts you can use, and training plans for events ranging from 5K to a marathon.

The GT 2e has built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor and can also track your blood oxygen levels using a SpO2 sensor. Along with sports it does a solid job of tracking everyday activity and Huawei’s sleep tracking is right up there with Fitbit and Polar’s as among the best available on any watch. The only significant caveat is that sadly the Watch GT2e won’t interface with Strava. If Huawei fixes that, this is a truly formidable watch for the money.

Key specs – Battery life: Up to two weeks; GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth