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6 Basic Watches for Runners


Modern running watches have extremely complex functionality and get expensive quickly. But there is great value to be had at lower prices, too, both from watches that simply tell you elapsed time and record lap splits to GPS trackers that are dead simple to use. Here are some of the best models that help you keep tabs on the essentials of your run.

And make sure you bookmark this page. We’ll keep all of our latest reviews of the best bang-for-your buck running watches here once we put them through their paces. Looking for more advanced watches? Check out 11 Advanced GPS Watches for Runners.


Timex Ironman GPS
Release Date:
 Spring 2017

Timex has a checkered history with GPS watches, but its forthcoming Ironman GPS (available in spring 2017), could be the bargain runners seek.

Why We Like It: The latest GPS watch Timex built, the One GPS+, was recently discontinued. It had a slew of messaging features built in so you could stay connected even when you weren’t carrying your phone. This all-new, entry-level watch, however, is the complete opposite. Timex promises it’ll be your simplest GPS watch ever. For just a Benjamin, you get a 12-hour battery and the ability to see swim, bike, and run metrics, plus time your transitions. To keep things simple, there’s no wireless connectivity, and you use a standard micro USB charging cable—there’s also no proprietary charging clip to lose.

Bottom Line: Good for telling you how fast and how far you’re traveling.
Connectivity: USB
Battery Life: 12 hours

6 Basic Watches for Runners

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxPolar M400Polar M400


Polar M400
Release Date:
 September 2014
(starting at $180;

This all-day activity tracker and GPS watch packs a lot of features for its small price tag.

Why We Like It: The clean display has big numbers we can easily see when running fast. Plus, a bonus for watches in this category, you can tweak the displayed metrics on each screen via Polar Flow, the company’s online training log. That same sporty design, though, might prevent some folks from wearing it casually. If you do you’ll get 24-hour activity tracking and smart phone notifications for both iOS and Android. The GPS locks onto satellites quickly and tracks accurately.

Bottom Line: A value at full price, but can be found on sale since it’s now a couple years old.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
Battery Life: 8 hours

6 Basic Watches for Runners

TomTom Spark CardioTomTom Spark Cardio

Matt Rainey

TomTom Spark+ Cardio
Release Date:
 September 2015

A combination support vehicle and party wagon, the Spark tracks distance and heart rate, all while beaming music and audio content to wireless earphones.

Why We Like It: With the ability to store up to 500 songs on the watch itself, you can leave the phone behind when you head out for a run—pair Bluetooth headphones to the watch directly. But that extra functionality can drain your battery in a hurry. Testers complained that the battery lasted just over five hours. They did like the joystick-style buttons that are easy to mash with sweaty fingers. It is a lot of hardware, but with a 24-hour activity and sleep monitor, rough distance tracking indoors (for treadmill running), and swimming tracker, the only thing you need to bring to the party are Bluetooth earbuds.

Bottom Line: Best for audio lovers.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
Battery Life: 5 hours

6 Basic Watches for Runners

Pebble 2 + HRPebble 2 + HR


Pebble 2 + HR
Release Date:
 October 2016
(From $130;

It’s important to note up front: This watch doesn’t have built-in GPS. But, it is a thin, lightweight smartwatch that packs in some fitness features—including the ability to connect to running apps and leverage your phone’s location data—making it an affordable sports watch for occasional runners.

Why We Like It: This inconspicuous and budget-friendly watch now boasts an optical heart rate monitor on its backside to chart your fitness—at rest or working out. During intervals, we found it to be in the ballpark of what we’d expect, spiking during hard efforts but leveling off when we rested. But its strongest suit may be battery life: You can eek out a week’s worth of juice, thanks to an e-ink, Kindle-like screen. Endorphin junkies may find the watch’s stats lacking, but paired with the Runkeeper app we found the measurements on par with a Garmin Forerunner 230 in testing—distance and pace proved accurate when carrying a phone. Without a phone, the distance estimates proved wildly long. As a smartwatch, it has a slew of customizable apps, as well as on-screen notifications, music controls, step tracking, and the ability to respond to texts using voice commands.

Bottom Line: Best suited as an everyday smartwatch, but works to track your runs if you’re already running with your phone.
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Battery Life: 7 days

6 Basic Watches for Runners

Timex Ironman Sleek 50Timex Ironman Sleek 50

Ryan Olszewski

Timex Ironman Sleek 50

You already know your neighborhood loop is 3.8 miles, so do you really need mile splits and a map of it on every easy jog and recovery run?

Why We Like It: Small and durable, this is one running partner that will keep stride with you for many years. It has a 50-lap memory—splits are manually triggered by a button push—so you can review your laps after your run. Plus, a handy programmable interval timer is built-in, so you can set it to beep, signaling when it’s time to switch from running to walking. Bonus: it’s water-resistant to 100 meters.

Bottom Line: Old-timers and beginning runners alike will love the simplicity.
Connectivity: none
Battery Life: 1+ year

6 Basic Watches for Runners

Soleus GPS PulseSoleus GPS Pulse

Matt Rainey

Soleus GPS Pulse + HRM
Release Date:
 February 2016

Our testers—especially women—balked at the clunky design but appreciated the long battery life (12 hours).

Why We Like It: The GPS distance and pace was as accurate as anything we tried, and the heart-rate sensor surpassed those of most units—possibly because the unique design places the optical pulse sensor inside the user’s wrist, where capillaries are closer to the surface. We didn’t mind that the unit is only water-resistant (don’t wear it swimming). While software can automatically transfer a run to Strava, we encountered troubles when downloading data after a run to use on other popular tracking and coaching apps.

Bottom Line: Best for the basics.
Connectivity: USB
Battery Life: 12 hours

Advanced GPS Watches



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