Modern GPS running watches have extremely complex functionality and get expensive quickly. But there’s great value to be had at lower prices, too, both from watches that simply tell you elapsed time and average pace to fitness trackers that are dead simple to use.
Check out quick snapshots below of our top five options, then scroll down for longer reviews of these and more basic GPS running watches that will help you keep tabs on the essentials during your run. Plus, helpful buying tips and testing insight from our gear experts.
What to Look for in an Affordable GPS Watch
While you can expect basic watches to have fewer features than an advanced GPS watch, an affordable GPS watch might also be easier to use, so it won’t slow you down with unnecessary functionality. If you’re unsure whether to leap into a higher price range, ask yourself how often you’ll be using the watch and what add-ons you think are essential or just nice to have. For example, do you plan to use it twice a week for a quick run, or will you wear it daily for every workout? And when you’re done sweating, do you want to keep it on for the rest of the day to use its other non-running features?
Advanced watches may have services like contactless payments, barometric altimeters, gyroscopes, voice-activated controls, LTE cellular service, and the ability to sync your music library. While these more basic watches might not be able to completely replace your smartphone, many still offer features like heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, multi-sport functionality, as well as the ability to monitor your workouts and provide training recommendations. Because all of these basic-watch recommendations have built-in GPS, they might just be all you need in a running watch.
How We Selected
Every model here has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors; we research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience tracking and obsessing over runs as short as 100 meters or as long as 100 miles. We evaluated smart watches from more than 10 popular and lesser-known brands based on accuracy, reliability, durability, features, style, and value to narrow down the best ones you should consider in your search. And even though these are basic watches (each of them costs less than $200) we had one important requirement: that GPS run tracking be built in to the watch’s functionality—no smartphone-tethered app or Bluetooth required.
[Related: The Best Smartwatches for Men]
—BEST FOR ROAD RUNNERS—
Coros Pace 2
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 20 days in watch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode
We’ve been fans of Coros for its affordable, long-lasting alternatives to the major players in the GPS watch game. Its new Pace 2 is refined to focus only on being the lightest, fastest run-tracking experience for road runners.
The Pace 2 isn’t bogged down by any extra features you’re unlikely to ever use. At just 29 grams, it’s the lightest GPS watch we’ve tested—the Apple Watch Series 5 weighs 31 grams, and the original Pace was 48 grams—but doesn’t skimp on battery. In fact, it’ll go up to 30 hours between charges with GPS tracking on, long enough that you can leave the power cord at home when you go away for a weekend run vacation. Some of that weight savings comes from a new lightweight nylon strap that’s comfortably snug and more easily adjustable than silicone options.
Amazfit Bip S
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 40 days—with a 2.5-hour charge
Have you ever experienced that moment when your watch powers off mid-run, even though you charged it, like, two days ago? The Bip has a battery that lasts for over a month after being fully charged, so you won’t have to worry about never logging that 5K PR. And this watch has gotten astonishing reviews from customers for its expensive-watch features at a cheap price. It has a slim design that’s suitable for both business meetings and track sessions and is super light at 1.1 ounces. It also records multi-sport data—perfect for runner-cyclist unicorns—and notifies you if you receive calls, messages, and emails on your phone.
While we found the Bip’s distance tracking (and the maps it created of our routes post-run) to be accurate, the heart rate sensor and sleep tracking proved less than reliable. One important note is that the Bip has only one main physical dial and no touchscreen, so most of the watch’s settings need to be adjusted through the Amazfit smartphone app.
Garmin Venu Sq
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 14 hours in GPS mode, 6 days in watch mode
Most cheap sports watches look like, well, cheap sports watches. Or at least, they used to. But we’re seeing more stylish and versatile options—no doubt spurred by the crossover success of the Apple Watch—including affordable models like the Venu Sq.
As a running watch, it ticks a lot of boxes. You get accurate GPS tracking, along with most of the same basic run-tracking features you find in the Forerunner 45 (below)—cadence, optical HR, customizable data pages, VO2 max estimates, and the ability to mark laps automatically or manually. It even comes with a Pulse Ox sensor, which measures your blood oxygen levels. It doesn’t have an interval option, however, nor will the basic version store music; that will cost you an extra $50.
Fitbit Charge 4
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 5 hours in GPS mode, 7 days in standard mode
If you’re in the market for all-day tracking in a sleek, simple band, you still can’t beat Fitbit. The new Charge still logs all the 24-hour activity and sleep tracking features previous generations of the watch have been known for. But the GPS is surprisingly accurate and the touch screen is responsive even when your hands are sweaty. You won’t confuse it with a high-powered running watch, but if all you want to do is get reliable pace readings while out on your run, the Charge delivers. Bear in mind: The battery is touted to last up to seven days, but GPS will drain it in just a few hours.
Garmin Forerunner 45
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 7 days in smartwatch mode, 13 hours in GPS mode
For runners used to following basic metrics—i.e., pace, time, and distance—the Forerunner 45 is a user-friendly entry into more advanced territory. Bluetooth connectivity syncs data to the Garmin Connect phone app. Like a personal assistant, the watch notifies you about calendar appointments and incoming calls. Besides recording your sleep, stress, and heart rate, a body battery feature (a number out of 100 that represents your energy level) lets you know if it’s advisable to work out or take a rest day. The smaller 45S is also available, but the 45 itself has enough notches to fit comfortably on our tester’s five-inch wrist. Some features may seem superfluous—personally, she could do without the Garmin Coach, which provides training plans and custom workouts—while others, like the assistance/incident detection feature, are nice touches. However, your phone must be within close proximity for the safety feature to work.
—DEEP TRAINING ANALYSIS—
Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth Smart | Battery life: 8 hours in GPS mode
A simple, yet brainy, smartwatch, the M430 boasts convenient runner-friendly tweaks, advanced functionality, and health tracking features of those above its price range. And at their respective full retail prices, a bump of $50 separates it from the less expensive M200, but it’s money well spent for significantly improved durability and more accurate GPS tracking. Many runners will appreciate that, instead of a touchscreen, the 430 has five locking buttons, which make it both easier to operate with gloved hands and immune to accidental pauses on runs—the automatic start/stop feature does the latter for you. It can download workouts and intervals, monitor your effort during the training session, and continuously read your heart rate so you know how well you’re recovering afterward, too. We also liked the M430’s few more runner-specific updates, like improved Strava integration, a power-saving GPS mode for those jaunts that go a little longer than intended, and a one-piece design that’s comfier on small wrists and easier to charge. (Unlike the 200, you won’t need to remove the 430’s watch face from its band to plug in.) According to our tester, the only drawback is that the watch and required Polar Flow smartphone app are not especially intuitive, and provided instructions are pretty lacking. “There’s a learning curve, and you have to take it upon yourself to play around and figure out all it can do,” he said. “But once you get past those barriers, it performs well and is reliable.”
—SIMPLE AND INEXPENSIVE—
Timex Ironman GPS
Connectivity: USB | Battery life: 12 hours
Timex had a checkered history with GPS watches, but its minimalist Ironman GPS proves itself as the bargain runners seek. Compare this to the previous GPS watch Timex built, the One GPS+, which had an arsenal of messaging features built in so you could stay connected even when you weren’t carrying your phone. It was also discontinued in mid-2017. The entry-level Ironman GPS, however, is the complete opposite. Timex promises it’ll be your simplest GPS watch ever. For less than 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. Our tester loved that the watch has no learning curve to use. “It does two things: It tells the time, and it tracks activities (including swims and bike rides) with the single addition of GPS,” he said. “That’s all—no heart rate, no vertical oscillation, no text alerts pinging me in the middle of a run. And I love it.”
—BEST ACCURACY AT ITS PRICE—
Huawei Band 4 Pro
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 12 days without GPS, 7 hours with GPS
This one boils down to accuracy. The fitness tracker and running-watch market is filled with relatively inexpensive devices touting on-wrist heart rate monitoring and built-in GPS. When you wear budget devices alongside their high-quality peers, you’ll typically discover their measurements for BPM or distance traveled (or both) are inaccurate by as much as 10 percent one way or another. Not so with the Huawei Band 4 Pro—repeated trials against trusted trackers have proven it reliable. Other big-league features include advanced sleep analysis with the help of Harvard’s Center for Dynamical Biomarkers, data-driven coaching, and swim-proof design with swim style recognition.