While smartwatches have made a significant splash in the past few years, and small fitness trackers have certainly made their mark, exercise watches are carving out a larger portion of the market. They’re more substantial than their flimsy fitness tracker counterparts, and they look more like watches and less like a wristband, but they perform many of the same functions and then some.
The big appeal of workout watches is that their raison d’être is well defined: they exist to help you focus on your health. The glitzy draw of high-end and open-ended smartwatches, on the other hand, is still a little unclear. Is it a computer on your wrist? A scaled-down smartphone? And why exactly do I need one, other than to feel cool? Exercise watches, on the other hand, do a great job of providing data with a purpose, often at a decent price, and without too much of a commitment to having a giant piece of technology strapped to your body.
The features you’ll want to focus on as you shop for a new exercise watch depend on what type of exercises you’ll be doing with it. All of the exercise watches on our list track steps taken, calories burned, and distance traveled — the holy trinity of contemporary fitness tracking metrics. Many will measure elevation climbed, and most will track your sleep
In the past year, almost all of the new exercise watches on the market have included heart rate monitoring, and many have other sensors for things like temperature and galvanic skin response. Some have smart coaching, and if you’re willing to pay a little more, you can get one with onboard GPS. Smartphone syncing is a common feature, though if you’re trying to exercise, you might find this a bit distracting. And of course, there is the design of the thing to consider, as some are more bulky or flashy, while others are slimmer and more unassuming.
What are the best exercise watches on the market today? We took a look at what’s available, sized up the competition, and here are our top ten picks.
10. Fitbit Blaze
Brand new to the market this year is the Fitbit Blaze, an exercise watch that borders on smartwatch territory. It looks great, almost like the Apple Watch’s younger and less athletic brother, with its vibrant full-color touchscreen display and impressive functionality. It can recognize exercises automatically, though this feature is a bit slow, and it measures heart rate as well. The Blaze also tracks sleep, syncs with your phone for notifications, allows you to control your workout music, and has FitStar workout instructions right on the screen.
There’s no built-in GPS, though it can connect to your phone’s GPS; it’s a nice connection, though it also means that you have to have your phone within arm’s reach as you exercise. The Blaze also isn’t waterproof, so taking it swimming is out of the question. And while it looks pretty good on the wrist, its overall appearance is definitely not as impressive as some other exercise watches. Still, it’s a wonderful and exciting new product from market cornerstone Fitbit, and that’s why it earns a spot on our list.
9. Basis Peak
A longtime favorite fitness tracker and exercise watch, the Basis Peak was one of the first to offer 24-hour heart rate monitoring at an affordable price. But how does it hold up after being on the market for almost a year and a half? Surprisingly well, actually, and that’s because the quality is evergreen.
Its black and white display may seem vintage for the category, though it is touch sensitive. Its activity and sleep tracking are practically legendary in the category for accuracy and automatic mode switching. The app helps you set goals, you can get text messages and other notifications right on your wrist, and it’s water resistant to 5 ATM, so you can even swim in it. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and it looks good to boot, earning it the number nine slot.
Update: Unfortunately Basis stopped supporting the Watch after customers experienced problems and have now decided to issue a full recall of ALL sold watches and not offer any exchange, just refunds. It’s a shame, as it was really one of the best on the market. Time will tell, if Basis (part of Intel now) will bring a new and improved version onto the market.
8. Polar A360
Finally — a Polar fitness watch with built-in heart rate monitoring! That’s the big draw of the relatively new Polar A360. Other appealing features include a full-color touchscreen TFT display, all day activity and sleep tracking, a WR30 waterproof rating, a two-week battery, and Polar’s smart coaching to help you improve. It also boasts a sleek look and comes in five colors.
There’s no built-in GPS on the A360, but more concerning is the fact that the device easily slips out of its wristband. This is maybe a positive feature if you swap out wristbands on a regular basis, but the downside is that it could fall out, leaving you $200 in the hole and without your device. It’s a strap problem and not an A360 problem, but it’s a big enough concern to keep the Polar A360 from rising any higher on our list. It’s a wonderful exercise watch, but if you’re not careful, it could get away from you.
7. Mio Alpha 2
If you were to close your eyes and envision a generic sports watch, you’d probably be envisioning the Mio Alpha 2.
It just looks like it’s built for exercise — which it is. Its features include heart rate monitoring and all the all-day tracking you need: steps, calories, distance, and pace. There’s also an onboard timer, and the device is water resistant up to 30 meters, so it’s safe for swimming. It’s a more basic workout watch, but it does a great job.
What the Mio Alpha 2 lacks, though, keeps it from ranking any higher on our list. There’s no built-in GPS, which isn’t a huge deal at this price point (it retails for $169 but can often be found for a little less), but it also lacks a full-color display, and it doesn’t do sleep tracking at all. Still, for a dedicated exercise watch, the Mio Alpha 2 is well worth a closer look.
6. Pebble Time Steel
While the Pebble Time Steel is technically a smart watch and not a workout watch, it still ranks well on our list because it’s a great watch that doubles as a fairly solid fitness tracker. It will run several different fitness apps, including the new Pebble Health app that the company has been featuring on its website. It tracks the basics — steps, distance, calories, and sleep — and syncs with both Apple Health and Google Fit.
The Pebble Time Steel can be worn all day for several days, thanks to its ten-day battery life. It has a reflective, always on color display that looks great, even if the overall design of the Pebble Time Steel is just so-so. The downsides to this one? There’s no built-in GPS, and there’s not even any heart rate monitoring. So, this is an exercise watch with the emphasis on “watch.” Its tracking capabilities are good, but more serious athletes will probably want something with a little more functionality.
Update: Pebble no more. Taking all the headlines at CES 2013 and 2016 Pebble decided few months ago to close down their business and sell their technology to Fitbit. RIP Pebble!
5. Withings Activité Steel
You can’t deny the beauty of the Withings Activité Steel: it’s an amazing looking watch with a full-fledged fitness tracker under the hood. Does it qualify as an exercise watch? Yeah, probably. It’s got 24/7 fitness tracking capabilities plus sleep tracking, and the Withings Health Mate app not only aggregates and graphs your personal data, but it even offers a little bit of coaching so you continue to improve. Oh, and it’s waterproof, so you can even swim in it.
The Activité Steel is a good choice for everyday exercise, but it’s really not designed for more intense workouts. There’s no heart rate sensor or built-in GPS, two big drawbacks. Still, it runs on a button cell battery that should last up to eight months, and it seems designed for activity. Unlike the leather band on the more expensive Activité Sapphire, the Steel’s comfortable silicone strap means that you won’t feel badly sweating in it. The bottom line is that the stunning minimalist aesthetic of the Activité Steel has pushed it to the halfway point on our list.
4. Garmin Forerunner 235
If you’re a navigation company, your exercise watches had better contain a GPS sensor — and the Garmin Forerunner 235 does. For runners, this means accurate distance information, maps, routes, and more. The 235 also offers a good heart rate sensor, and it can do both all day tracking and some very basic sleep tracking. There’s even a built-in accelerometer for treadmill workouts. It’s lightweight and comfortable, it’s totally durable, and while the 235 probably won’t be winning any awards for innovative design, it’s decent looking.
The downside of built-in GPS, of course, is the limited battery life. With the 225, you’re looking at about 10 hours; switch off the GPS, though, and you’ll have up to four weeks. Also, the heart rate sensor runs only during workouts. If you’re a runner, the 235 is a great exercise watch. If you’re not a runner, or if you want a device that will track a variety of activities, then you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
3. MOOV NOW
Putting the MOOV NOW on our list, especially in the three spot, might seem like a strange call. It looks like a watch, and it’s built for increasing the intensity of your workouts, but some might say that it’s more of a watch-shaped activity tracker. That argument does hold water, but we’re not here to argue about that. We’re here to tell you that the MOOV NOW is an awesome piece of tech if you’re hoping to run better, swim better, bike better, cross train better, and be better.
Featuring live audio coaching as you exercise and 3D motion detection (thanks to a nine-axis motion sensing system), MOOV NOW helps improve your performance, one workout at a time. It’s less useful as an all day tracker, though. And, even though there’s no heart rate sensor or built-in GPS, its high levels of functionality and versatility make the MOOV NOW one workout watch that you’ll want to check out.
2. Apple Watch 2
How could we make a list of the best exercise watches and not include the Apple Watch 2? Sure, it’s not a dedicated workout device, but that’s what makes it so appealing: it does lots of things, and it does them all well. Features like automatic exercise detection, an accelerometer, and heart rate monitoring all measure and track, then put your data in the Workout app for easy viewing and comparing.
The best part is that when you’re done working on your fitness, the Apple Watch can stay on your wrist and look great. Even the Sports line of the device looks more sleek than sporty. True, there’s no onboard GPS, and true, the battery lasts just a day, but with everything else that the Apple Watch does, it’s hard to deny its overall excellence as both an exercise watch and a smart watch. There’s also an undeniable cool factor here that you just don’t get with the other products on our list, and that helps the Apple Watch rank quite high on our list.
1. Fitbit Surge 2
Even though there are many worthwhile competitors in the exercise watch arena, we just don’t see any of them topping the Fitbit Surge. Their top of the line tracker is, according to their website, the number one selling GPS watch in the US, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to great navigation (which means routes, maps, and highly accurate distance information), the Surge boasts continuous heart rate monitoring, all day and all night tracking, multi-sports tracking, smartphone sync, and a simple but effective design.
At $249.95, it’s on the pricey side, but it’s still competitive with other GPS-enabled workout watches. The battery gets just ten hours when GPS is turned on, but that’s also on par with similar devices; it gets up to seven days when it’s off. Plus, you get the Fitbit name, a giant in the fitness-tracking industry. All of these factors make the Surge tops on our list
But wait, as the saying goes — there’s more! There’s plenty of room at the top of the exercise watch mountain, and the best workout watch for you depends largely on your own personal needs. After all, not all users are created equal. Here are some of the best exercise watches by category.
Best for Men: Basis Peak
When looking at the best fitness watches for men, there are many good choices, but we’d have to go with the Basis Peak. It’s got a strong, masculine appearance that goes from the trail to the office, and the smartphone syncing is extremely convenient.
Best for Women: Polar A360
It’s slim, it’s attractive, and it’s one of the best fitness watches for women. The full-color display and continual heart rate monitoring are some of its better features, though as mentioned earlier in this write-up, wearers will want to be a little extra careful about the device fitting snugly in its wristband.
Best Calorie Counter: Fitbit Surge
Fitbit really has a lock on accuracy, and its calorie counting algorithm is no exception. The Surge is really the best calorie counter watch, plus the Fitbit app is incredibly thorough, with food and hydration logs, a weight tracker, and more. Having all of your calorie intake versus calories burned information is most helpful in reaching your ideal weight.
Best Step Counter: Misfit Shine 2
It may not seem fair to call the Misfit Shine 2 the best step counter watch since its face is nothing more than a series of pinhole LEDs. However, it ranks on our list because it’s just so good at what it does. It tackles all day tracking like a champ, it’s equally as home at the gym, and because it’s waterproof up to 50 meters, you can even wear it in the pool.
Best for Running: TomTom Spark
A new favorite running watch on the market, the Spark is from longstanding navigation company TomTom. It goes without saying that this exercise watch has built-in GPS, but it also has heart rate monitoring, all day fitness tracking, goal setting, and space for 500 songs plus the ability to transmit them wirelessly to your BlueTooth headphones. Move to the app, and you’d get routes, maps, and more. For serious runners, the Spark is an ideal choice.
Best for Weight Lifting: Atlas
It’s good for running and cardio, but the big selling point of Atlas is that it recognizes individual exercises, rates you on your form, and even counts reps.
Add in optical heart rate monitoring, water resistance up to 30 meters, and an app that offers motivation to go harder, faster, and stronger, and you’ve got an exercise watch that will completely transform your time in the gym.
Best Looking: Withings Activité Steel
We’re sorry, Apple Watch. You’re beautiful, but this one goes to the Withings Activité Steel. There’s just something about its clean and classic aesthetic that is just so appealing.
It’s slim without seeming flimsy, simple without seeming basic, and functional without seeming like a complicated piece of technology. Truth be told, we really love the Activité Sapphire, with its leather band and sapphire glass, but we’d feel bad about getting it all sweaty. The Steel it is, then.
. Looking Ahead
What do you think? Which exercise watch are tops in your book? Leave us a comment and share your favorite.