Best running watches 2022

Polar Pacer Pro in action
(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Whether you're a couch-to-5K runner, marathoner, or somewhere in the middle, you'll find plenty of watches and trackers to fit any workload or preference. An Apple Watch or Wear OS watch will give you some basic fitness functions along with lifestyle apps for a more well-rounded experience. But the best running watches prioritize sensor accuracy, advanced fitness features, and durable battery life above all else. Starting with the Garmin Forerunner 255, we've tested and chosen the best running tech that caters to your passion for running.

Keep the pace going with the best running watches

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Run workout screen on the Garmin Forerunner 255

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)
The best watch for most runners

Reasons to buy

+
14 days / 30 GPS hours of battery
+
Adds Garmin Pay and altimeter over 245
+
Ultra-accurate multi-band GPS
+
New training and race widgets
+
Petite 255S and music storage models

Reasons to avoid

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Music version costs more
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Fairly expensive
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Non-touch MIP display

For years, the Garmin Forerunner 245 was Android Central's #1 pick thanks to its reliable health and location tracking, along with tools like Garmin Coach and Running Dynamics that keep you on the right training path. But it lacked some key features and its battery life didn't exactly wow us. Thankfully, the Garmin Forerunner 255 arrived in 2022 with some key upgrades to cement its place as the first choice for runners.

The many useful running widgets from the 245 return, including Body Battery, Pacepro, Training Effect, and so on. But it added a few new gems, starting with Morning Report: a widget that sums up your current energy and recovery level, local weather, your workout goal for the day, and other customizable data. Your sleep recovery is calculated with heart rate variability (HRV) measurements via the upgraded HRM, helping to show your body's stress levels during workouts or rest. There's even a new Race Widget showing how long until your next race and how you should train that day to prepare.

Another neat new feature is all-systems multi-band GPS, which tracks you across all three GNSS systems (GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO) and across multiple satellite frequencies simultaneously for near-perfect location tracking. It burns through your battery, but some serious runners needing accurate results in areas with poor coverage will really benefit from this tool.

All of the shiny new features aside, the Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best runner's watch because it gives you all the data on your form, performance, and health you need without a monthly fee. Our review details how the watch lived up to Garmin's two-week battery estimate even with regular GPS usage, as did the watch's accuracy boost for workout tracking.

The Forerunner 255 comes in 1.3-inch and 1.1-inch display sizes, offering a 0.35oz-lighter model with a slightly shorter 12-day/26-hour battery life. Our reviewer loved the 1.3-inch display but found it a bit large, preferring the display and battery trade-off for a slightly more compact 255S fit. But it's a matter of preference, and the larger 255 is still perfectly comfortable compared to some of the larger Garmin watches.

Garmin Forerunner 55

(Image credit: Courtney Lynch / Android Central)
Best bang for your buck

Reasons to buy

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Built-in GPS
+
Heart-rate monitoring
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Recovery advisor
+
Advanced training metrics
+
2 weeks of battery life

Reasons to avoid

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Lacks NFC for Garmin Pay
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No altimeter for elevation tracking
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No music storage

Shopping for the best running watch doesn't automatically mean you need to spend a fortune. With the Garmin Forerunner 55, it comes with core Garmin features like built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, sports apps, Body Battery energy monitoring, and stress tracking. It trades off features like NFC, an altimeter, and music storage; but it has all the essentials for a much lower price than most Garmin devices.

As our Garmin Forerunner 55 review explained, this bargain running watch won't win any style awards — though some third-party Garmin Forerunner 55 bands could help with that — but its 5-button design makes it just as easily navigatable as more expensive models. And it packs in two weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode or 20 hours in GPS mode, beating many non-Garmin watches at this price point.

Runners will enjoy several run profiles like treadmill running, indoor track running, outdoor track running, and virtual running for various workouts. The recovery advisor helps you understand how much rest time you need between workouts, and the race predictor accounts for your fitness level and training history when helping you reach your race goal. You'll also be able to view the impact of training on your predicted finish time.

You'll miss out on plenty of Forerunner 255 features; but self-guided runners who care more about metrics than training guidance won't miss out on much with this budget runner's watch.

Fitbit Versa 3 Heart Rate

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)
For casual runners

Reasons to buy

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GPS, HRM, NFC
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Activity/sleep tracking
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Active Zone Minutes
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Gorgeous AMOLED display
+
6 days of battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
App selection is limited
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Always-on display kills the battery
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Lacks more advanced features

Some people run for the joy of running; others because it's the simplest way to get your heart and body healthier. If health is your main concern, or if you spend as much time in the gym as hitting the pavement, you may want to opt for a Fitbit instead. Casual runners will find plenty to like with the Fitbit Versa 3, the best Fitbit available today.

Our Fitbit Versa 3 review explains the many perks that come with this model, starting with the attractive "squircle" design with AMOLED touchscreen. Its one capacitive touch button and a sweaty touchscreen aren't as easy to navigate as a five-button Garmin watch, but it's undoubtedly a lighter, more attractive watch for casual wear outside of runs. And you'll get good everyday mileage out of tools like tap-to-pay, Google Assistant integration, and a decent selection of third-party apps.

In terms of fitness features, you get essentials like heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, automatic exercise recognition, on-screen workouts, and female health tracking. And you'll love Active Zone Minutes, which shows the time you spend in fat burn, cardio, or break heart-rate zones. 

You don't get any super-advanced features here as far as running is concerned, and the six-day battery life doesn't match other options on this list. Still, casual runners and those just getting started with their fitness tracking journey will appreciate the efficient simplicity of the Versa 3. 

Just keep in mind that the Fitbit Versa 4 will very likely take this slot. We've yet to get a review unit for the newer model, which launches in late September, but it has very similar specs with a few improvements — like a physical button that's easier to use than the 3's capacitive button — and is likely to be just as good.

An interval workout on the Coros Pace 2

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)
Best for affordable battery life

Reasons to buy

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Built-in GPS
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Heart-rate monitoring
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Competitive price
+
Ultra-lightweight design
+
Up to 20 days of battery life

Reasons to avoid

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Lacks SPO2 tracking
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No extra smartwatch perks
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Nylon strap can be itchy

If you're looking for a straightforward running watch with stellar battery life, look no further than the Coros Pace 2. It offers many of the same perks as a Garmin watch — a Training Hub with free data and running metrics, button-based navigation, and a long battery life — but at a lower price point. Our Coros Pace 2 review dives into various ways it beats the Forerunner 55 while selling at the same price point. 

The Coros Pace 2's battery life is the star of the show. This smartwatch can last for up to 20 days with regular use. That translates to 30 hours in continuous GPS mode. Other watches like the Forerunner 255 hit this figure, but for hundreds more. Whether you're a casual runner or a more serious one with daily training, you'll likely only need to charge your watch 2-3 times a month.

It also offers a lightweight design at a mere 29g with a nylon strap (or 35g with silicone). You also get a 1.2-inch LCD with 64 colors and a useful rotating crown for unlocking the watch and scrolling quickly through data and menus. Plus, of course, you'll have all of the features you'd expect, including built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, multiple workout modes, and more.

In terms of data, Coros EvoLab has the essentials like Training Effect/Load, your relative Running Performance, your Fatigue level, a Race Predictor, and even a Marathon Level score for your marathon training

Just don't expect the Coros Pace 2 to offer much else beyond the essentials. You lack NFC payments, music storage, an SpO2 sensor, or 3rd-party apps. Plus, you may want to invest in the silicone strap, as the default nylon strap gets somewhat itchy and uncomfortable as a trade-off for the lighter weight.

Polar Pacer Pro in action

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)
Best for on-watch data

Reasons to buy

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1 week/35 GPS hours battery
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Free Polar Flow health/fitness data
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Running performance test w/ VO2 Max score
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Check running progress/workouts on watch

Reasons to avoid

-
No SpO2, NFC, music storage
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Dim display with thick bezel

For the most reliable running metrics and health data that isn't tied to a paid subscription, we have three main brands we trust: Garmin, Coros, and Polar. The latter recently released the Polar Pacer Pro, a revamped mid-level running watch that made some significant spec upgrades to go with its typically reliable data tools. Aside from missing a few key features, our Polar Pacer Pro review mostly raved about this watch as another Garmin Forerunner rival.

For starters, we tested the GPS and HRM tracking compared to other watches' results, and were satisfied with the accuracy, especially for heart rate. Button-tapping through watch faces is fast, so you can swap between info like daily activity progress, weekly heart rate zone data, current heart rate, weather, nightly recharge, and recommended workouts in a snap. No need to open the mobile app to find out how your body is doing or what your next run should be.

We're also fans of the Running Performance test, which has you steadily run faster and faster while staying in an MPH/KPH zone to test your VO2 Max and judge what kind of pace and distance to recommend daily. The Polar Flow app collates your data and gives you a clear look at how your running fitness is progressing. 

Compared to other watches, it's certainly missing some sensors other brands add by default, and it lacks many uses outside of running that makes a typical smartwatch handier in everyday life. But simply as a watch you strap on for runs and fitness guidance, it's an excellent choice.

Solar intensity readings on the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)
Best for ultramarathoners and nature-lovers

Reasons to buy

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Up to 48 hours of GPS tracking with solar
+
Comes in 40mm or 45mm sizes
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10ATM and MIL-820 water/fall protection
+
Easily viewable memory-in-pixel display
+
All the usual advanced metrics and tracking

Reasons to avoid

-
Solar upgrade is expensive
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A bit heavy
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Missing Forerunner widgets

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar's appeal is the claim that it has "unlimited" battery life thanks to its Solar Panel, though mileage will vary based on local weather and your daily habits. Sunlight will counterbalance everyday health tracking and your GPS tracking will be much more efficient than most Garmin watches — with 18 more GPS hours than our top pick, the long-lived Forerunner 255. 

Runners will need to charge it eventually, but much less often than any other watch if you get regular time outdoors. In our Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review, we found it lived up to Garmin's battery estimates, with the solar panel offsetting the GPS use across multiple running races so it rarely needed a charge.

One can still argue the Coros Pace 2 has the better price-to-battery ratio. It matches the Solar-less Instinct 2 at 30 GPS hours, costs less than half as much as the Solar version, and is much lighter on your wrist. But at 48 estimated GPS hours in 50,000 lux conditions (a cloudy day, so you don't even necessarily need direct sunlight), the Instinct 2 Solar is the marathoner of all running watches.

It's a good choice for trail runners, with MIL-820 shock resistance and a scratch-proof Gorilla Glass display that'll handle any fall or collision. The black-and-white memory-in-pixel display is lower resolution than most other Garmin watches at just 176 x 176 pixels, but it's fully visible in sunny conditions and contributed to the long battery life.

Otherwise, it gives you all the core Garmin metrics you need, from Body Battery to Pulse Ox, daily workout suggestions to recovery time. It supports Garmin Pay and connects with the Connect IQ app for different watch faces. Just keep in mind that the Instinct 2 Solar lacks many of the running widgets you'd get on the Forerunner 255, or even the 55. Its software isn't specifically designed for everyday runners in the same way as our other picks.

Exercise modes like Running Coach on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)
Best Android running watches

Reasons to buy

+
GPS, HRM, SpO2, ECG, BIA, temperature
+
Speedy performance with Wear OS 3.5
+
Ultra-fast charging
+
IP68 / MIL-STD-810H protection
+
GW5 Pro has 3-day battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
GW5 has short battery
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GW5 Pro is too heavy and thick

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 and 5 Pro give you three different size options for practically the same experience. The only question is whether you want to prioritize comfort or battery life.

Each watch has an Exynos W920 Dual-Core with 1.5GB of RAM for silky-smooth performance and app support that most other runners' watches can't offer. Each has a gorgeous super AMOLED display with a touch bezel for scrolling through menus (no physical rotating bezel like the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, unfortunately). And they all share a bevy of health sensors that measure everything from your heart's health and rhythm to your overall body composition (aka fat and muscle percentage) and blood oxygen. 

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is the "better" watch for runners because it has an 80-hour battery life, something that proved accurate in our review testing. Where other Wear OS watches and the Apple Watch could die after just a few hours of GPS tracking, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is much more dependable to handle that, continuous HRM, music storage, and so on without instantly dying. Unfortunately, the tradeoff for this battery life is that it's "hard to get past just how heavy this watch is" as a runner used to lighter devices. 

Then you have the standard Galaxy Watch 5, which our reviewer praised for its comfortable design and more accurate sensor data than the last generation, thanks to a redesign that gives the sensors better contact with your skin. It'll give you accurate data for training, and you have your pick between Samsung Health and popular third-party running apps. Unfortunately, the battery barely lives up to Samsung's 40-hour estimate with regular use, let alone with GPS tracking. But you can make up for that with the watch's ultra-fast charging speed, taking the battery back up to full in a little over an hour. 

We bundled these two watches because, again, there aren't many differences between them for runners, aside from the Pro getting exclusive access to a Trackback tool. The Galaxy Watch 5 is more comfortable to wear, but you have to pay closer attention to the battery. The Pro isn't as comfortable for all-day wear, but ultramarathoners who need something dependable will prefer it despite the extra weight. 

They're the two best Android smartwatches we've tested, giving you plenty of perks outside of fitness to enjoy, while still giving plenty of perks for casual runners striving to achieve their goals. It's up to you to decide which is "better" for your needs!

Apple Watch Series 7

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)
Apple users rejoice

Reasons to buy

+
GPS, HRM, NFC
+
Activity/sleep tracking
+
Blood oxygen monitoring
+
Electrocardiogram
+
Two size options

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive
-
Not for Android users
-
Disappointing battery life

We may focus on Android smartwatches on this site, but the Apple Watch Series 7, which our reviewer called "the only premium smartwatch you should buy," is too excellent a choice for iPhone users to ignore. It offers seamless connectivity between your phone and smartwatch, with some of the best watch apps available. It's a pleasure to use for everyday life, with the activity rings as a great "gamification" tool that motivates you to get running every day. And the latest operating system adds some incredibly useful running tools, as well.

The latest model ships with all of the core health and fitness sensors you need: built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, an always-on altimeter, blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, and native sleep tracking. And Apple Fitness+ video workouts offer plenty of cross-training potential for HIIT or Strength days, though you'll have to pay extra for it.

WatchOS 9 (opens in new tab), the newest OS available on the Apple Watch Series 7, adds heart rate zones, custom and multisport workouts (aka triathalon mode). It measures Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation, includes new Sleep Stages for better sleep tracking, and even adds AFib history if you're monitoring any longstanding heart issues. All these tools will arrive in full when the Apple Watch Series 8 ships this fall.

Like the Galaxy Watch 5, the Apple Watch requires daily charging and is much more likely than any of the other best running watches to die mid-workout if you don't keep it topped off. But it's more attractive, lightweight, and generally useful than most of our other picks. And we're certain the Apple Watch Series 8 will offer a similar experience once it becomes available (and we're able to review it).

Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)
Best for LTE

Reasons to buy

+
GPS, HRM, NFC
+
LTE connectivity
+
2 weeks of battery life
+
Advanced training metrics
+
Full-color mapping

Reasons to avoid

-
LTE use requires a monthly subscription
-
Expensive for the limitations of LTE

If you're familiar with the Garmin Forerunner 945, you'll notice that the more recent Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE offers many of the same features, including two weeks of battery life. As the name indicates, the main difference is LTE connectivity. When it comes to LTE smartwatches, most people think of making calls and sending texts from their watch without their phones connected. The Forerunner 945 LTE takes a different approach.

As our Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review explains, the watch's LTE support is both more independent and less functional than what you'll find on other LTE smartwatches. It requires a $6.99 monthly Garmin subscription to use; in exchange, it lets runners share live tracking or broadcast an emergency signal if you go somewhere without your phone (or your phone dies). It's especially helpful as an emergency backup if you tend to run on rough trails or hike deserted paths, but isn't helpful for on-watch calls or messaging.

Other LTE watches — like the Galaxy Watch 4 or Apple Watch Series 7 with cellular upgrades — will have more robust features, but they're unlikely to last more than a day and won't have the same fitness tools. The Forerunner 945 LTE has a ton of useful tools like full-color mapping and turn-by-turn navigation that cheaper Garmins lack, plus all the essentials like VO2 max, training load, training status, performance condition, and training effect. This makes the 945 LTE a great choice for runners who like to run all over the world and want plenty of data to go with it.

Best running watches: How to decide

When shopping for the best running watch, there are several factors to consider, including your battery life needs, feature preferences, and budget. Most dedicated runners will find the Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best option. It's a mid-level running watch that covers all the essentials without breaking the bank. Of course, there are cheaper options out there, but you're going to receive a solid set of features for the price. It also offers a whole week of battery life, which will be more than enough for most runners.

If you feel like something's missing from the Forerunner 255, you could always consider one of the more advanced options on this list. While you might spend more for a premium pick, keep in mind that these are some of the best running watches you can buy right now. With that said, if you're new to all this, you might want the bare minimum from your wearable. No matter what you're looking for, there's a running smartwatch out there for everyone.