The 9 Best GPS Watches
9. TomTom Runner
- straightforward controls
- screen often lights up accidentally
- only good for tracking outdoor runs
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
8. Garmin Foretrex 401
- can store a lot of useful trip info
- impressive 17-hour battery life
- feels large and bulky on the wrist
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
7. Suunto Quest
- sleek and lightweight design
- doesn't require constant charging
- has a stopwatch mode
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
6. TomTom Spark 3
- good for a variety of sports
- can set up customized intervals
- 3gb of onboard storage
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
5. Suunto Ambit3
- comes in five color choices
- intuitive interface
- no vibration alerts
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
4. Polar V800
- heart rate monitor is accurate
- comes with a bike mount
- shows your recovery status
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
3. Garmin Forerunner 920XT
- can set a calories burned alarm
- smart notifications from your phone
- live tracking capabilities
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
2. Polar M400
- tracks your running cadence
- access to free training routines
- two independent interval timers
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
1. Garmin Fenix 3
- display can be read in full sunlight
- waterproof to 100 meters
- customizable watch face
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
GPS Watch Versus A Smart Phone
With the prevalence of smartphones, some may think there is no need for a GPS watch, but they actually offer many benefits over using a smartphone for fitness tracking. The four biggest benefits are accuracy, battery life, durability, and size.
It's no secret that fitness tracking apps on smartphones are often wildly inaccurate. A recent study by the University of Toronto concluded that smartphone fitness tracking apps are "neither valid nor consistent in measuring step counts". This is because many of the sensors in smartphones are substandard when compared to dedicated fitness tracking devices.
Most smartphone users struggle with battery life when just performing daily activities, like making phone calls and browsing the web. Battery life is even more of an issue when using GPS fitness apps. Some estimates state that the average battery life for a smartphone using a GPS fitness app is approximately three to four hours. So unless one has the time to recharge the phone for a couple of hours after exercising, they will most likely be left with a dead phone for the rest of the day.
When it comes to durability and size, GPS watches are the hands down winner. Getting caught in the rain while running with a smartphone can be disastrous, but many GPS watches are waterproof, and nearly all are water resistant. Taking a smartphone along for swimming laps is an impossibility, but not only can many GPS watches be worn when swimming, some even count strokes and laps. For those who find the large size of a smartphone inconvenient to carry when running, a GPS watch offers a compact solution.
Choosing The Right GPS Watch
The most common uses for GPS watches are running and hiking, but many people also find them beneficial for swimming, skiing, kayaking, and cycling. One who intends to use their watch for running has different needs than one who will be taking their GPS watch swimming and kayaking. If you are on the fence about what you will be using your watch for the most, it is best to buy one that has more features than you think you need, to cover all of your bases.
For those who want to take their watch on extreme excursions and during water-based activities, it is important to look for one with a durable and waterproof case. There are some models designed specifically with triathlons in mind that can can switch quickly from one sport to another.
Battery life for GPS watches runs the gambit from 5 hours to over 50. The more features and sensors it has, the shorter the battery life generally is, but there are some very high end models packed with features that still get an impressive battery life. One should also take into account the screen size. Some may find that a smaller watch is more comfortable when running, but others may find the small screen inconvenient when trying to read exercise data.
Different watches also offer varying levels of data tracking capabilities. Some may only track speed and distance, while others track heart rate, elevation, calories, vertical speed, temperature and more. The more data tracking features you get, the more you pay, so determine which features are most vital to you. For somebody who often runs indoors, a built-in accelerometer and indoor run option are necessary, while outdoor runners may find them extraneous. Swimmers will want a GPS watch that counts swim strokes and laps.
Take the time to closely examine all of the additional features of the watch you are considering and compare it with other options. Some offer onscreen maps, beep or vibration alerts, programmable interval workouts, off-the-shelf training programs, and feedback on running form.
History Of GPS
GPS is a network of satellites that orbit the Earth which are capable of sending and receiving signals to and from anyone with a GPS device, no matter where on Earth they are located. It was initially created with military applications in mind, but has since been opened up to consumer use.
The United States was motivated to create the GPS system during the Cold War after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957. After Sputnik was launched, the United States set their mind to launching their own satellite, and by 1960 they launched Transit, a five satellite system that allowed U.S. Navy ships to take a reading on their position once every hour.
A decade later, the Timation satellite system was launched to replace Transit. Timation satellites had more accurate atomic clocks, which made them able to more accurately determine a GPS receiver's location on Earth. In the seven years between 1978 and 1985, 11 new satellites were launched into the Timation system.
Under the Reagan Administration, the United States decided to open the GPS system up to commercial and consumer use after the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger jet who strayed too close to their borders. Until then, commercial flights had no way of accurately determining their exact location.
In the mid 1990s, the 24 satellite Navstar system replaced Timation and is the system currently in use. Currently a 30 satellite GPS system known as Galileo is being created by the European Union, of which 14 satellites are already in orbit.