Apple Watch Ultra
Apple’s most rugged Apple Watch with improved GPS, a 49mm casing, a more durable display, extra long battery life, a built-in Action button, and more.
- 49mm case
- Flat sapphire front crystal
- 36 hour battery life
- Dual-frequency GPS
- Action button
- Depth app for divers
- All Series 8 features
- Heart Rate Tracking
- Sleep Tracking
- Fall Detection
- Temperature Sensing
- Crash Detection
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS
Apple in September 2022 introduced the Apple Watch Ultra, a high-end version of the Apple Watch that’s been in development for years now. Designed to compete with more expensive fitness-focused Smart watches from companies like Garmin, the Apple Watch Ultra is aimed at sports enthusiasts and athletes that need more battery life and more sport-specific performance from of their devices.
Apple says the Apple Watch Ultra was built for endurance, exploration, and adventure, and it is the largest Apple Watch to date at 49mm, which is 4mm larger than the 45mm Apple Watch Series 8 that it’s being sold alongside.
The Apple Watch Ultra features the first redesign we’ve seen in years with a lightweight aerospace-grade titanium body, flat sapphire crystal face, a larger diameter and deeper grooved Digital Crown, a housing for the side button and an extra physical button on the left side called the Action button.
At up to 2000 nits, the Apple Watch Ultra is the brightest Apple Watch to date, so it is easy to see in sunlight. The Action button is designed in international orange to make it noticeable in the dark and under water, and it’s customizable so it can activate Workouts, mark segments, set Compass Waypoints, and more.
There are three built-in microphones to improve sound quality, and a beamforming algorithm captures voice while reducing ambient background sounds even when it’s noisy outdoors. There is an 86-decibel siren available for drawing help if needed, with two SOS patterns.
With the larger 49mm casing, Apple was able to include a larger battery. The Apple Watch Ultra lasts for up to 36 hours on a single charge, and with a new low-power setting, battery life can last for up to 60 hours for multi-day adventuring. The battery lasts long enough for users to complete a long-course triathlon that includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon.
The Apple Watch Ultra features dual-frequency GPS, integrating both the L1 and L5 frequencies, plus it has new positioning algorithms. It provides the most accurate GPS of any Apple Watch, which means it also offers precise distance, pace, and route data for training and competing.
To accommodate more extreme environments, the Apple Watch Ultra can withstand a wider temperature range. It works in conditions as cold as.4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20° C) to as hot as 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55° C). The watch is certified to MIL-STD-810H, a metric used for military equipment and by rugged equipment manufacturers.
For water sports, the Apple Watch Ultra can hold up to kitesurfing, wakeboarding, and recreational scuba diving, activities not recommended for the standard Apple Watch models. The Apple Watch Ultra is certified to WR100 and EN 13319, an internationally recognized standard for diving accessories. When used for diving, the Apple Watch Ultra has a depth gauge and a dedicated Depth app that displays current depth, water temperature (using the new temperature sensor), duration under water, and max depth reached.
Apple designed a special Wayfinder watch face for the Apple Watch Ultra, with a built-in compass and space for up to eight complications. The watch face can be customized for the mountain, ocean, or trail, and it turns red at night for better visibility. The Apple Watch Ultra supports Compass Waypoints for marking a location or point of interest, and a Backtrack feature uses GPS to create a path showing where the user has been, helpful for retracing steps when lost.
In addition to features designed for exploring and adventuring, the Apple Watch Ultra has all of the functionality available in the Apple Watch Series 8. It monitors heart rate, tracks sleep, can take ECG readings, monitors blood oxygen, and offers all of the same fitness tracking options. All Apple Watch Ultra models feature cellular connectivity, with a cellular plan needed to access all functions.
The Apple Watch Ultra has the same temperature sensor that’s in the Series 8, which measures water temperature but is also used for fertility planning for women. It improves cycle tracking and can give retrospective ovulation estimates.
There are motion sensors in the Apple Watch Ultra that enable Crash Detection, alerting emergency services if you are in a severe car crash. When a crash is detected, the Apple Watch checks in with the user and then dials emergency services automatically if there’s no response after a 10 second countdown.
There are three new sport-focused bands available for the Apple Watch Ultra, including the Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, and Ocean Band, plus older bands designed for 44 and 45mm Apple Watches fit the new model. The Trail Loop Band is the thinnest Apple Watch Band to date, while the Alpine Loop features high-strength yarn and a woven design made for durability. The Ocean Band is for extreme water sports and features a flexible fluoroelastomer that can stretch to fit over a wetsuit.
Preorders for the Apple Watch Ultra began on Wednesday, September 7, and a launch followed on Friday, September 23. The Apple Watch Ultra is priced at 799.
Note: See an error in this roundup or want to offer feedback? Send us an email here.
How to Buy
There is just one Apple Watch Ultra model, and it is priced at 799. It launched on Friday, September 23, 2022. Track pricing from third-party retailers in our Apple Deals roundup.
Initial reviews of the Apple Watch Ultra were very positive, highlighting the device’s 49mm titanium case, larger display with a flat sapphire crystal cover, new bands designed for the outdoors, water resistance up to a depth of 100 meters, customizable bright orange Action button, up to 60 hours of battery life with an upcoming low power setting, and more. The Verge’s Victoria Song shared her overall impressions:
The Apple Watch Ultra is big, a lil’ chunky, and goes hard on features that the average joe won’t need in their everyday life. And at 799, it’s the most expensive watch in the current Apple Watch lineup (Hermès edition excluded). After a week of testing, I don’t think it’s going to bump Garmin, Polar, or Coros watches for the Ironman, thru-hiker, or deep-sea diving crowds, at least not yet. But it’s legitimately good for weekend warriors and intermediate athletes — and very tempting for folks who aspire to that status and a whole lot of people who just want the biggest, baddest Apple Watch they can get.
Song said in a week of testing the Apple Watch Ultra, she was regularly blowing past the device’s advertised 36-hour battery life in standard mode:
CNET’s Lexy Savvides on pricing vs. the Series 8 and Garmin smartwatches:
Considering the 749 45mm Apple Watch Series 8 in stainless steel costs almost as much, I think the Ultra is a better overall value, given that you get additional hardware features like the Action button (which I’ve come to love), an emergency siren and extra microphones to boost call quality. It’s also priced competitively with other sports watches that have a similar titanium construction and OLED screens, like the 999 Garmin Epix 2. The Apple Watch Ultra’s battery doesn’t last as long, and it doesn’t have anywhere near as many navigation features as the Epix 2. But it’s easier to use, has heart features like an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) app, cellular connectivity and seamless integration with the iPhone. If you’re someone who wants a true hybrid smartwatch and sports watch, the Ultra is the one to beat.
Savvides pointed out the Apple Watch Ultra’s inability to download offline maps:
That’s something I also miss on the Ultra compared to other sports and outdoor watches.- being able to download offline maps on the watch for when I’m away from cellular signal, or have topographic map options without downloading a third-party app.
The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Nguyen said the Apple Watch Ultra is exciting, but no Garmin killer since it lacks features like recovery metrics:
So, should you get an Ultra? It’s an exciting update for current Apple Watch wearers who need more—especially battery life. But it’s no Garmin killer. Besides navigation, Garmin watches support other features important to serious athletes that are missing in the Apple Watch, such as recovery metrics and the ability to broadcast heart rate to workout equipment via Bluetooth.
CNBC’s Sofia Pitt said the Apple Watch Ultra’s larger speaker is noticeable:
Aside from the larger battery, I really appreciate the larger speaker on the Ultra. The watch has two speakers that work together, which makes the Ultra 40% louder than the Series 8, according to Apple. I often use my watch to pick up phone calls, especially while I’m cooking. I could hear the difference when using the Ultra compared with my Series 7. While this feature is really meant to be louder in extreme conditions for the outdoorsy type, I appreciated it for regular use, too.
TechRadar’s Gareth Beavis appreciates the new Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra, but wishes it was even more customizable:
One of the things we really like is the Action Button makes pausing a workout so much easier. before you either swiped the screen (hard with sweaty or wet hands) or pressed the Side Button and Digital Crown together. which could be a bit of a contortion. Now, you can code it so the Action Button begins a workout (yes, finally. something that seems so obvious yet took this long. ) and then pressing it with the Side button on the opposite edge of the Watch Ultra will pause. It’s simple, effective and a lovely natural movement. We would prefer it if the Action Button was a bit more customizable though: you can only set it to open workouts, start a dive, open the [flashlight], start a stopwatch or use the compass features. you can use it to start a Shortcut (a set of pre-defined actions using apps on your iPhone or Watch) but they’re very limited too, when they could be so much richer.
Men’s Journal’s Michael Frank said the Apple Watch Ultra’s brighter display with up to 2,000 nits of brightness makes info easier to read:
That larger, powerfully lit screen can show six lines of data versus five lines while using Apple’s Workout app. But the real key here is legibility. Regardless of the app you’re using or the watch face you’ve chosen, the intense display is just far easier to read on the fly, whether you’re eyeballing an incoming text or trying to parse your mile split time for a 5K.
There are times when I wear the standard Apple Watch and wish there was more oomph to it. I actually prefer that feeling—it takes me back to slipping on a classy analog watch made of premium materials, designed to do just a few tasks (at most) and do them well. At the same time, the Ultra doesn’t feel too heavy; when I was lifting weights or running with it on, I didn’t feel like I was fighting against extra resistance. That said, I can see how the Ultra might be a tough wear for those with smaller wrists.
The Apple Watch Ultra features the first notable design update to the Apple Watch that we’ve seen since its 2015 launch. It still uses the same rounded rectangular shape, but the casing design has been overhauled. The case has been extended to the edges of a new flat front crystal display to offer additional protection, and the Digital Crown and side button are now in a raised area on the case.
Apple redesigned the Digital Crown to give it a larger diameter and coarser grooves for easier access even when using gloves, and the side button is also able to be used with gloves on.
At 49mm, the Apple Watch Ultra is the biggest Apple Watch to date, and it is 4mm larger than the 45mm Apple Watch Series 8, the second largest Apple Watch available for purchase. The Apple Watch Ultra measures in at 49mm by 44mm by 14.4mm, and it weighs 61.3 grams, making it heavier than even the 45mm stainless steel Apple Watch Series 8.
The right side of the Apple Watch has long featured a Digital Crown and accompanying side button, but on the Apple Watch Ultra, there’s an additional Action button on the left side that can be customized by the user. The Action button is a bright orange color to make it easy to see, and it can do things like launch Workouts and apps.
Colors and Materials
The Apple Watch Ultra is made from an aerospace-grade titanium, which is a lightweight and durable material that also offers corrosion resistance for use in the water. The back of the Apple Watch Ultra is made from ceramic and sapphire crystal, like the Series 8.
There are no color options for the Apple Watch Ultra, and it is available only in a silver titanium shade. With prior versions of the Apple Watch Edition, Apple offered titanium in black as well, but that is not available for the Apple Watch Ultra.
Exclusive Watch Face
The Apple Watch Ultra has an exclusive Wayfinder face that incorporates a time dial that can be transformed into a compass, plus it has room for up to eight complications. The Wayfinder face has a built-in night mode that turns it red for better visibility in the dark. Night mode can be activated by turning the Digital Crown.
Because it is meant to be used for exploring and adventuring, the Apple Watch Ultra is able to withstand more extreme temperatures than standard Apple Watch models. It works in temperatures as cold as.4° F (-20° C) to to as warm as 131° F (55° C).
It is certified to MIL-STD-810H, a standard that is used for military equipment and employed by rugged equipment manufacturers. Apple says this testing includes Low Pressure (Altitude), High Temperature, Low Temperature, Temperature Shock, Contamination by Fluids, Rain, Humidity, Immersion, Sand and Dust, Freeze/Thaw, Ice/Freezing Rain, Shock, Vibration, and more.
The Apple Watch Ultra’s display is made from a flat sapphire front crystal that is more durable than the Ion-X front glass used for the Apple Watch SE and aluminum Apple Watch Series 8 models. The flat design paired with the raised edges of the case is meant to protect the display from edge impacts.
Apple designed the Apple Watch Ultra for extreme water sports. Unlike standard Apple Watch models, it can be used for kitesurfing, wakeboarding, and recreational scuba diving to 40 meters deep. It is water resistant to a total of 100m, making it more water resistant than other Apple Watch models.
The Apple Watch Ultra is also certified to WR100 and EN13319, a standard for dive accessories such as depth gauges.
The Apple Watch Ultra features an updated Retina display with a resolution of 410 by 502, and it offers up to 2000 nits of brightness, making it twice as bright as any prior Apple Watch display. It has an 1164 sq mm display area, larger than the 1143 sq mm display area of the 45mm Apple Watch Series 8.
It features always-on display technology enabled by an OLED ultra low power temperature poly-silicon and oxide display (LTPO). With always-on, the watch face and complications remain continually visible and the screen does not dim and go black when the Apple Watch is not in use. The display dims when the wrist is down in order to preserve battery life, but key features like watch hands remain illuminated all the time.
According to Apple, the Apple Watch Ultra features an S8 chip with a 64-bit dual-core processor. Little has been said about the S8 because it is functionally identical to both the S6 and S7 chips that preceded it. The Apple Watch chip has not received a meaningful update since the Apple Watch Series 6.
The Apple Watch Ultra has 32GB of storage like other Apple Watch models.
Sensors at the back of the Apple Watch Ultra support blood oxygen monitoring. Blood oxygen saturation in a healthy individual is around 95 to 100 percent, and when the percentage of oxygen in the blood drops below that, it can be indicative of a serious health issue that needs immediate attention.
Green, red, and infrared LEDs shine light onto the blood vessels in the wrist, with photodiodes measuring the amount of light reflected back. Apple’s algorithms then calculate the color of the blood, which is an indication of how much oxygen is present. The Apple Watch Ultra can measure blood oxygen between 70 and 100 percent.
Blood oxygen measurements can be taken on-demand using the Blood Oxygen app, and blood oxygen measurements are also taken in the background when the wrist is not moving and when the watch is used for sleep tracking.
The ECG app uses sensors on the bottom of the Apple Watch and the Digital Crown to take a one-lead electrocardiogram. It detects heartbeat and rhythm, and can let users know if atrial fibrillation is detected or if the heart is in a normal sinus rhythm.
A single-lead ECG like the Apple Watch means there are two points of contact measuring the electrical sensations of your heart. Clinical electrocardiograms done by your doctor can have six to 12 leads for greater accuracy, but the Apple Watch offers the convenience of being able to take an ECG anytime anywhere in approximately 30 seconds.
Heart Rate Tracking
Like all Apple Watch models, the Apple Watch Ultra has a set of optical sensors for measuring heart rate. It is able to provide irregular heart rate notifications should atrial fibrillation be detected, plus it can inform users when their heart rate is too high at resting or too low.
The Apple Watch Ultra is using a third-generation optical heart rate sensor like the Series 8.
The Apple Watch Ultra can be worn at night to keep track of your sleep. It monitors when you’re awake and when you’re asleep, letting you know how much time you spent in the REM, Core, and Deep sleep stages. It also lets you know how often you’ve woken up in the night and for how long.
The sensors in the Apple Watch are able to determine if you’ve taken a hard fall, alerting emergency services if there is no response. Fall detection is enabled by default for older adults, but anyone is able to turn it on in the Apple Watch settings.
Apple added two temperature sensors to the Apple Watch Ultra, including one that measures the temperature at the wrist and one that measures the ambient temperature in the air to cut down on outside bias.
The temperature sensor is used for the Depth app, but its main purpose is for women’s health. It is able to take temperature readings every five seconds when the wearer is asleep, aggregating the data in the Health app. Temperature fluctuations can provide data on overall health, but it is also useful for fertility planning.
The Apple Watch Ultra is able to deliver retrospective ovulation estimates, letting them know when they might have ovulated for better cycle tracking. Apple says temperature sensing will also improve period predictions for those who menstruate.
The Apple Watch Ultra tracks movement throughout the day like other Apple Watch models, keeping track of steps taken, calories burned, and workouts. It provides exercise, movement, and stand rings in the Activity app, and offers up reminders to help people get out and move more often.
Apple created a Depth app for the Apple Watch Ultra that uses a depth gauge when under water. The Depth app can display the time, current depth, water temperature (using the Apple Watch temperature sensor), the duration spent under the water, and the max depth reached.
Apple has also partnered with Huish Outdoors for the Oceanic app that is able to turn the Apple Watch Ultra into a dive computer. It offers dive planning, dive metrics, visual and haptic alerts, a no-decompression limit, ascent rate, and safety stop guidance. It runs using the Bühlmann decompression algorithm.
Apple redesigned the Compass app in watchOS 9 specifically for the Apple Watch Ultra. The redesigned Compass app features an analog compass that displays a digital view of the current bearing and direction. A scroll of the Digital Crown brings up a view that shows bearing, elevation, incline, latitude, and longitude.
With the Action button or the Compass Waypoint option, a waypoint can be dropped that appears on the Compass face to mark a point of interest. Waypoints update dynamically in real time relative to the Apple Watch’s position, providing an idea of the direction of the waypoint and its distance.
There’s also a new Backtrack feature that uses GPS to record a path of where the user has been, so if they get lost or disoriented, it is easy to find the way back to the starting point.
Battery and Charging
As it has a larger case size, the Apple Watch Ultra can accommodate a larger battery that lasts for up to 36 hours. The Apple Watch Ultra is equipped with a 542 mAh battery, which is 76 percent larger than the 308 mAh battery that’s in the 45mm Apple Watch Series 8.
With Low Power Mode and an additional battery savings option that cuts down on heart rate measurements during workouts, the Apple Watch Ultra’s battery can last for up to 60 hours for multi-day adventures.
The Apple Watch Ultra supports fast charging technology and comes with an Apple Watch charging puck that allows for quicker charging speeds. The charging puck has an exclusive upgraded braided cable that is not available with other Apple Watch models.
Microphone and Speakers
There are three built-in microphones in the Apple Watch Ultra, and Apple says the microphones are meant to provide improved sound quality during calls even when conditions outside aren’t ideal.
There’s an adaptive beamforming microphone that captures the user’s voice while cutting down on background sounds, and in windy environments, the Apple Watch Ultra takes advantage of advanced wind noise-reduction algorithms to ensure clear audio during calls.
The Apple Watch Ultra is also equipped with dual speakers for improved audio volume for calls and Siri interactions.
All Apple Watch Ultra models feature cellular connectivity, but an additional service plan from a carrier is required to use the feature. The Apple Watch connects over LTE, and does not support 5G like the iPhone.
The Apple Watch does not require an iPhone for an internet connection and it can connect to LTE networks on its own. LTE through a carrier does, however, require an iPhone as Apple Watch and iPhone cellular plans are linked.
Apple with watchOS 9 introduced international roaming for cellular Apple Watch models, allowing the Apple Watch to connect to cellular networks even outside of the country.
Along with LTE, the Apple Watch Ultra features a W3 Apple wireless chip and a U1 Ultra Wideband chip for interfacing with other devices equipped with a U1 such as the modern iPhone models. It also supports Bluetooth 5.3, and is the only Apple Watch model with Bluetooth 5.3.
The U1 chip enables highly accurate short-range wireless that Apple says supports experiences like Car Keys, the feature that allows an Apple Watch (or iPhone) to be used in lieu of a physical car key, plus it allows the watch to be used to track AirTags.
All Apple Watch models support Emergency SOS, a feature that contacts the local emergency services when the side button is pressed and held. Emergency SOS also notifies emergency contacts and it lets them see the Apple Watch wearer’s location.
There is an 86-decibel emergency siren available on the Apple Watch Ultra that can be used in emergency situations to draw attention to a location. The sound uses two alternating patterns, including a distress pattern and a second that matches the universally recognized SOS pattern.
Apple says the siren can be heard up to 600 feet or 180 meters away. The siren can be activated by pressing and holding on the Action button or the Side button.
Updated motion sensors and an advanced sensor-fusion algorithm allow the Apple Watch Ultra to detect a severe car crash and alert emergency services. After a crash is detected, the Apple Watch will check in with the user and then dial emergency services after a 10-second period with no response. It will also alert emergency contacts.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS
The Apple Watch Ultra includes dual-frequency GPS that integrates the L1 frequency and the L5 frequency for better GPS accuracy, plus it has new positioning algorithms.
According to Apple, the Apple Watch Ultra provides the most accurate GPS of any Apple Watch to date for more precise distance, pace, and route data for training and competing purposes.
The L5 frequency is able to work better in urban environments where there are a lot of trees and other obstacles to deal with. Apple uses the GPS function with Apple Maps for more accurate road, bike, and trail routes.
Depth Gauge and Seal Check
Apple Watch Ultra owners can contact Apple to have Depth and Water Seal Tests conducted to make sure the depth gauge and seals are working. This can be done to assure those who use the watch for diving that it is in operational condition, and it can also be done if there is any damage done to the watch that might impact the seal.
Apple introduced three bands alongside the Apple Watch Ultra, including the Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, and Ocean Band.
The Alpine Loop is two integrated layers constructed from a continuous weaving process that does not require stitching to ensure longtime durability. The top loops provide adjustability and an attachment point for the titanium fastener.
The Trail Loop is Apple’s thinnest Band to date, modeled after the Sport Loop. It uses a lightweight woven textile material that is soft and flexible, and it has a pull tab to make size adjustments quick and easy.
The Ocean Band is made for extreme water sports and recreational diving. It is crafted from a flexible fluoroelastomer that is designed to stretch, and it has an added long tail that can allow it to fit over a wetsuit. The Band is equipped with a titanium buckle and it has a spring-loaded loop.
Though Apple designed these bands for the Apple Watch Ultra, it is also compatible with older bands that are designed for the 44 and 45mm Apple Watch models, so existing larger-sized Sport Bands, Sport Loops, Braided Loops, Solo Loops, and other bands should fit the Apple Watch Ultra.
Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE
The Apple Watch Ultra is being sold alongside the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch SE. Priced starting at 399, the Apple Watch Series 8 is available in aluminum or stainless steel, and it is close to identical to the Series 7 but with support for temperature sensing and crash detection. The Series 8 comes in 41 and 45mm sizes.
Compared to the Apple Watch Ultra, the Apple Watch Series 8 is less water resistant, smaller, cannot be used for diving and high-speed water sports, does not feature a siren, has a shorter battery life, and a display that’s not as bright.
The Apple Watch SE is Apple’s low-cost Apple Watch and it is priced starting at 249. It has the same processor as the Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra, but it lacks some health sensors such as the blood oxygen sensor and the ECG app.
The Apple Watch Ultra runs watchOS 9, the latest version of the Apple Watch operating system. watchOS 9 introduced new watch faces, enhancements to the Workout app and many types of workouts, a feature for tracking medications, updates to notifications, an AFib History option for those who have irregular heart rhythms, and more. Full details on watchOS 9 can be found in our watchOS 9 roundup.
What’s Next for the Apple Watch Ultra
A refreshed version of the Apple Watch Ultra will come out this fall, and it is expected to get the same processor upgrades that are coming to the Apple Watch Series 9, along with new 3D printed components. The rumored microLED display is not expected to be included in this refresh, and that will be coming at a later date.
The second-generation version of the Apple Watch Ultra could potentially be lighter than the first-generation model. A rumor from Weibo user Setsuna Digital claims that the new Apple Watch Ultra will have a reduced weight, which could be due to the 3D printed parts Apple is rumored to be using.
Apple is working on a new S9 chip based on the same technology found in the A15 chip used in the iPhone 13, iPhone 14, and other devices. The chip will reportedly be used in the standard Apple Watch Series 9 coming later this year, and we can also expect the new chip to be included in an Apple Watch Ultra.
Future microLED Models
According to analyst Jeff Pu, DigiTimes, and display analyst Ross Young, Apple is working on a new high-end watch that will feature a 2.1-inch (diagonal) microLED display, perhaps manufactured by LG. The new Apple Watch with microLED could launch in the second half of 2025, but some rumors say it won’t come until 2026.
Future Health Features
Apple is working on noninvasive blood glucose monitoring technology for a future version of the Apple Watch. The feature is still a few years away, but in early 2023, Apple hit a milestone in development, creating a proof-of-concept model that is viable, but needs to be sized down to fit into a wearable.
Blood glucose monitoring is still three to seven years away from launching.
Best bike computers 2023 | Top GPS devices ridden and rated
These are the best GPS bike computers for 2023, based on real-world use by our expert team of road and mountain bike testers.
GPS bike computers enable you to measure your performance, log rides on apps such as Strava and navigate. The majority provide turn-by-turn guidance. Garmin dominates the market, with units ranging from the diminutive Edge 130 Plus to the smartphone-sized Edge 1030 Plus. Wahoo is not far behind, while brands including Sigma and Hammerhead are giving the GPS giants a run for their money with useful features and sharp pricing.
Here is our selection of the best GPS cycling computers. Keep reading for our buyer’s guide to cycling computers.
Best cycling computers 2023 as reviewed by our expert testers
Garmin Edge 1040 Solar
- Navigation: Full colour with turn-by-turn routing and Rapid rerouting
- Training data: A huge number of training metrics including training status and load, VO2 Max and recovery time
- Connectivity: ANT, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB-C
- Compatibility: ANT, Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, Campagnolo EPS, Garmin Varia
- Size: 59×118×20mm
- Screen: 3.5in / 89mm colour touchscreen, 282×470 pixels
- Price: Solar: £629.99 / 749.99 / €749.99 / AU1299.99 as tested (Non-solar: £519.99 / 599.99 / €599.99 / AU999.99)
Garmin’s latest top-end computer has a neat trick – there’s a solar glass screen that can extend your runtime up to an industry-leading claimed 45 hours. We regularly gained 10 minutes per hour of extra charge on summer rides. There’s a non-solar option as well, which costs less.
Size-wise, it’s a large device, a tiny bit larger than the Edge 1030 Plus, but it’s got 64GB of memory, so it can store twice as much data. The Edge 1040 is much more of a training aid than just a ride recorder, so it gives you your training status, recovery time and more. It’s highly configurable and records loads of training stats.
It links automatically into the best-in-class Garmin Connect training infrastructure, giving you route planning using Garmin’s heatmaps from its rider community and lots of post-ride analysis options that others make you pay for. Garmin Connect also enables you to integrate data from Garmin smartwatches, to give you 24/7 fitness and training status analysis.
Hammerhead Karoo 2
- Navigation: Fast rerouting even over complex route networks, on the fly climb profiles
- Training data: Speed, altitude, power, heart rate, cadence, calories, gears (for non-Di2 electronic drivetrains), distance, time, temperature, navigation, performance monitoring and more
- Connectivity: ANT, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB-C
- Compatibility: ANT, SRAM eTap, Campagnolo EPS, Garmin Varia (but not Shimano Di2)
- Size: 61×101×19mm
- Screen: 3.2in / 81mm colour touchscreen, 480×800 pixels
- Price: £359 / 399 / €399 / AU639 as tested
The Hammerhead Karoo 2 does things a bit differently from other cycling computers. It’s based on an Android operating system, which gives you fast screen response and Android-style fields and gestures. The resolution of the sharp colour touchscreen is also much greater than competitors.
The Karoo 2 is currently the only cycling computer that gives you climb profiles on the fly as you ride, so there’s no need to pre-plan a route to display gradient and distance to the top.
The phone app just passes data back and forward to the Karoo 2 without any user interface and the web app has limited functionality, although it does let you plan or import a route and keeps a record of your rides, routes and workouts. Instead, Hammerhead interfaces to third-party software such as Strava or TrainingPeaks for any more detailed post-ride analysis.
With a high-end processor and screen to run, the Karoo 2’s battery life isn’t great at around eight hours though.
Sigma ROX 11.1 Evo
- Navigation: Limited to a breadcrumb trail, but it does sync with Komoot
- Training data: Over 150 functions
- Connectivity: BLE, ANT
- Compatibility: Heart rate, cadence, electronic shifting, power meter, Smart trainer
- Size: 46.8×66.1×20.8 mm
- Screen dimensions: 1.77in, 128×160
- Price: £249.99 as tested
Sigma may not be as well-known as the likes of Wahoo and Garmin, but its ROX 11.1 Evo is an excellent bike computer, combining a user-friendly interface with riding and training data.
The unit has a 1.77in display, which is smaller than many other bike computers, but this means it sits unobtrusively on your handlebar.
The computer has over 150 operations, including an emergency crash notification feature, and you can save up to 20 profiles to display different information, making it great if you ride across cycling disciplines.
When it comes to mapping, you can upload routes from Komoot in the computer’s smartphone app.
The display only shows a breadcrumb trail, which is fine for road and gravel rides, but not so great for mountain biking.
If simplicity is what you’re after, the ROX 11.1 Evo is a good bet.
Bryton Rider 420T
The Bryton Rider 420T is a competitively priced cycling computer with 77 functions. David Caudery / Immediate Media
- Navigation: No mapping capabilities but can be used with a GPX file for turn-by-turn navigation
- Training data: Speed, distance, heart rate, riding time, power (with a power meter), gradient, altitude, metres climbed, cadence, calories burned and more
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, BLE, USB
- Compatibility: ANT and Bluetooth, heart rate, cadence, speed, power meter and Smart trainer, Shimano Di2, SRAM, eTap, Campagnolo EPS
- Size: 49.9×83.9×16.9mm
- Screen: 58.4mm diagonal (2.3in), 128×160 pixels, grayscale mono LCD
- Price: £190 / 230 / AU340 as tested
The Bryton 420T is a competitively priced cycling computer that comes with a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor included. The computer is also available as a standalone 420E head unit (£104.99).
The cycling computer has an impressive 77 functions, including everything you need for training, such as heart rate and power readings, which it can present as averages and maximums.
The 420T does not have mapping, making it more of a training tool than a computer that will help you explore your surroundings. You can load a GPX to the 420T for basic turn-by-turn navigation.
A claimed 35-hour battery life after a four-hour charge sets the Bryton 420T apart from the competition.
Garmin Edge 530
The Edge 530 is a hugely capable GPS computer in a relatively small package. Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
- Navigation: Good, aimed primarily at following courses created in advance, with excellent turn-by-turn instructions and hazard warnings. Non-touchscreen means browsing map is mostly a waste of time
- Training data: Speed, altitude, power, heart rate, cadence, calories, gears (for electronic drivetrains), distance, time, temperature, navigation, performance monitoring and more
- Connectivity: Micro-USB, Bluetooth, BLE, Wi-Fi
- Compatibility: ANT and ANT shifting, power meter and bike trainer, Shimano Di2, Vector power meter, Garmin Varia and Virb
- Size: 85(L)×51(W)×16mm(D, 20mm total including protruding mount)
- Screen: 38×51mm (2.6in diagonal), 246×322 pixel colour screen (non-touchscreen)
- Price: £259.99 / 299.99 / AU499 as tested
The Edge 530 is a hugely capable GPS computer packed with features aimed at serious enthusiast cyclists who want to track their training.
Externally almost identical, the Edge 530 shares almost all of its features with the more expensive Edge 830, but uses external buttons rather than a touchscreen.
As a result, navigating menus and setting up ride profiles can be time-consuming and fiddly, but once you’ve got those sorted it’s very easy to live with.
Navigating pre-planned courses is straightforward and the colour display is crisp and easy to read. With added sensors (available separately or as a bundle with the device), the Edge 530 offers a wealth of performance-tracking data.
Garmin Edge 830
- Navigation: Good, maps and navigation features are easy to understand and it’s relatively simple to program routes. On-device route calculation isn’t great, though
- Training data: Speed, altitude, power, heart rate, cadence, calories, gears (for electronic drivetrains), distance, time, temperature, navigation, performance monitoring and more
- Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth, BLE, Wi-Fi
- Compatibility: ANT and ANT shifting, power meter and bike trainer, Shimano Di2, Vector power meter, Garmin Varia and Virb
- Size: 48×74.5mm
- Screen: 50×82mm, 246×322 pixels, colour touchscreen
- Price: £349.99 / €399.99 / 399.99 / AU599 as tested
With an impressive array of interesting and useful – if a little clunky at times – features, the Edge 830 is a true class-leading GPS that offers plenty of useful functions above and beyond its competition.
The maps and navigation features are easy to understand and it’s relatively simple to program in routes. On-device route calculation isn’t great, though, and it certainly didn’t live up to Garmin’s claims of riding like a local.
The on-device data and displays are fantastically simple to read when you’re on the move, but it’s certainly worth investing in the additional sensors if you don’t already own compatible ones.
Overall, the Edge 830 has a fantastically diverse feature-set that makes it one of the most comprehensive training and navigating devices money can buy.
Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
The Garmin Edge 1030 Plus has all the trimmings, with a price tag to match. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
- Navigation: Best in class with a faster processor for quick route recalculation
- Training data: A bewildering number of training metrics that can be customised to your heart’s content
- Connectivity: ANT, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB
- Compatibility: ANT, Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, Campagnolo EPS, Garmin Varia
- Size: 58×114×19mm
- Screen: 3.5in / 89mm colour touchscreen, 282×470 pixels
- Price: £519.99 / 599.99 / €599.99 / AU999 as tested
The Edge 1030 Plus gives you every single feature you could ever want in a bike computer with the same format, but an updated processor and an improved touchscreen over the now-discontinued Garmin Edge 1030 (although you can still buy this computer if you search around).
Battery life has also grown to 24 hours, though this can be extended to an enormous 48 hours if you run the computer in a stripped-down mode. It’s compatible with Garmin’s Charge power pack and Edge Power Mount if you want even more recording duration.
The SD card slot has been removed, but internal storage has grown to 32GB. The Trailforks trail database is also installed as standard on the unit.
Garmin Edge Explore 2
The Garmin Edge Explore 2 gives you a summary screen at the end of your ride. Warren Rossiter / Our Media
- Navigation: Clear screen with detailed maps, efficient rerouting, climb profiles, heatmaps and high-traffic indicator
- Training data: Live power and heart rate from connected devices, recovery time. Omits the more detailed training data found on other Edge units
- Connectivity: ANT, Bluetooth, USB-C
- Compatibility: ANT, Garmin Varia
- Size: 106×56×21mm, 104g
- Screen: 3in / 76mm colour touchscreen, 240×400 pixels
- Price: £250 / 300 / €300 / AU500 as tested
The Edge Explore 2 majors on navigation functionality and strips out most of the training tools offered by Garmin’s higher-priced computers. Its colour touchscreen is bright, with a size midway between the Edge 830 and the Edge 1040. Battery life is around 16 hours.
It’s easy to search for a location and the Edge Explore 2 will use heatmaps to direct you via the most cycled routes. You can overlay maps with a high-traffic indicator based on data from a linked phone, which can also provide weather information. Rerouting is efficient if you go off course.
There’s no Wi-Fi connectivity, but rides can be uploaded to Garmin Connect and through to Strava via Bluetooth and your smartphone. You can use the Edge Explore 2 to control a Smart trainer.
This is a good option if you want the cycling computer essentials and don’t need the full suite of training data.
Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS
The Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS computer offers good functionality at a great price. Immediate Media
- Navigation: Good, with turn-by-turn directions and GPS Ally on-the-fly destination finding
- Training data: Speed, altitude, power, heart rate, cadence, calories, gears (for electronic drivetrains), distance, time, temperature, sunset time, workout counters and more
- Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth
- Compatibility: ANT, Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap
- Size: 42.9×67.8mm
- Screen: 31.7×40.1mm, black/white
- Price: £130 / 150 / AU220 as tested
The Enhanced Super GPS looks a little clunky compared to Lezyne’s ultra-sleek tools and pumps, but it generally works well. The 45-degree X-Lock mount is more secure than Garmin’s, and the wealth of data on offer is impressive.
You can have up to five pages with up to four fields on each, with seemingly every metric imaginable available. Turn-by-turn navigation, Strava Live Segments and incoming call/text notifications? Check, check and check.
Similar to the Elemnt Bolt, you can use the Lezyne app to find a destination and use the computer to navigate to it.
The Super GPS has now been superseded by newer models, but it remains widely available.
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt V2
The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt has been updated with a colour screen and USB-C charging. Steve Sayers / Our Media
- Navigation: Colour screen is good for navigation but limited by screen size
- Training data: Over 170 functions
- Connectivity: USB-C, Bluetooth, ANT
- Compatibility: Apple iOS, Android, wireless training sensors such as power meters
- Size: 47×77mm
- Screen: 55.9mm, 240×300 pixels
- Price: £264.99 / 279.99 / €279.99 / AU419.95 as tested
The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt V2 has it all when it comes to user interface, with all of the set-up done via a Smart app.
It now offers a colour screen, Smart navigation, USB-C charging and improved battery life over the original Bolt.
It syncs seamlessly with most third-party apps and performs well on the bike and on the road, as well as on a Smart trainer.
If you’re looking for a GPS computer to track your performance with over 170 functions and an impressive 15-hour battery life all in a neat, minimalist package, then the Bolt V2 is for you.
You’ll be best off doing your planning before you set out on a ride. The mapping capabilities aren’t as good as on Hammerhead and Garmin computers, but the Bolt is more affordable.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam V2
- Navigation: Larger screen for improved mapping and navigation compared to Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
- Training data: Huge range of training data; easy to configure via Elemnt app and read on Roam’s display
- Connectivity: USB-C, Bluetooth, ANT
- Compatibility: Apple iOS, Android, wireless training sensors such as power meters
- Size: 90mm x 60mm
- Screen: 68.6mm, 240×400 pixels
- Price: £349.99 / 399.99 / €399.99 / AU599.95 as tested
The Wahoo Elemnt Roam V2 takes many of the features of the Elemnt Bolt but puts them in a larger package with a bigger screen for improved mapping and navigation capabilities.
Where’s the Bolt’s display measures 55.9mm (2.2in) diagonally, the Roam ups this to 68.6mm (2.7in). Both offer a 64-colour screen – used sparingly to highlight key training or map details – and USB-C charging.
Like all of Wahoo’s devices, there’s no touchscreen, with the computer operated via a series of buttons and setup coming via the Elemnt app. Configuration is very easy, though, as we’ve come to expect from Wahoo computers.
Screen resolution isn’t as sharp as the Hammerhead Karoo 2 but, as an easy-to-use device with excellent mapping and data options, this is a Smart all-round choice.
Want the latest cycling tech news, reviews and features direct to your inbox?
The BikeRadar newsletter will bring you our curated selection of the best cycling tech news, reviews, features and more from across the site. Just enter your email address below to get started.
Thank you for signing up to the BikeRadar newsletter!
Buyer’s guide to GPS cycling computers
GPS cycling computers are now packed with features that improve training as well as navigation. Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
In the past, cycling GPS devices were primarily for riders who wanted ‘pure’ navigation and trail guidance.
However, their usage has changed greatly and these devices now combine navigation, regular bike computer functions, connectivity to devices such as heart rate monitors and power meters, and lots else into one unit. The GPS is now just as much a dedicated training tool and ride tracker as it once was a navigation unit.
GPS bike computers are now also hitting price points that rival basic bike computers. Using GPS technology to provide speed and distance information means it’s no longer necessary to use wheel-mounted magnets and sensors, so switching the computer between bikes has never been easier.
The cycling GPS market is dominated by similar brands to the automotive GPS industry. Garmin is the key player, but brands such as Wahoo, Polar, Bryton, Suunto, Lezyne and CatEye also offer GPS-equipped options.
What to consider when buying a GPS device for cycling
Navigation or tracking?
Navigation and mapping is useful for riding near home and bikepacking. Joseph Branston / Immediate Media
Perhaps the biggest question when choosing a GPS unit is deciding whether you want it to guide you on a ride via maps and navigation, or if you simply want it to track your ride and give you the data to look back at after your ride.
Generally speaking, navigational GPS units will cost more because they feature built-in maps, additional storage, navigation software and often a much larger screen to make use of all of this information.
Devices that offer mapping and directional guidance have come a long way. GPS accuracy has greatly improved, guiding you to within one or two metres of a desired location.
Far more tracking GPS units are sold than those that include navigational aids. For most riders, all they want is live ride data with the option to undertake detailed analysis after a ride.
However, they don’t offer nearly as detailed navigational information, and often only offer ‘breadcrumb’ navigation, which overlays a simple line over a blank screen for you to follow.
Mobile phone connectivity is desirable for a number of reasons. The likes of the Garmin and Wahoo offer Bluetooth and ANT connectivity and share information with compatible phones.
Many bike computers now include a giddy array of features when linked up to phones and other sensors, including incoming call and text alerts, tracking which allows your riding buddies or family at home to see your location in real-time, and even which gear you are in with electronic drivetrains.
Bluetooth and ANT cycling computers will link up to external sensors so you can pair them with devices such as heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, speed or power meters, and more. This unlocks a whole host of possibilities and can help you step your training up a notch.
Most high-end cycling computers will also neatly integrate with third-party cycling apps such as Strava, TrainingPeaks and Komoot.
Some will also link with Wi-Fi for automatic uploads, avoiding any need to upload your ride via Bluetooth once you get home.
Cycling computer training functions
The main and most familiar way cycling computers can aid training is by linking up to a power meter or heart rate monitor, providing live data about your power output or heart rate during your ride.
There are benefits and disadvantages to both and many things to consider when deciding whether heart rate or power training is best for you.
Beyond simply providing live readouts for auxiliary devices, some cycling computer brands claim their computers can use this data to establish VO2 max and FTP (Functional Threshold Power), as well as provide insight into needed recovery time and training load.
Various bike computers now come with the option to load workouts and training plans directly onto the computer, making structured training an easier affair.
These plans are either available through brand-specific software (Garmin Connect for Garmin computers, for example) or in some instances through apps such as TrainerRoad and TrainingPeaks.
Some other features available on cycling computers are framed as training tools but are also useful and enjoyable for cyclists who are just out riding for the fun of it. These include alerts signalling how much longer a climb is and live Strava segments introducing some friendly competition against others or your own personal bests.
How does a cycling computer mount to the bike?
Out-front mounts are a popular choice, especially with performance-orientated cyclists. Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
A key factor, but one that’s easily overlooked, is how the device attaches to the bike.
Most GPS units attach to either the handlebar or the stem of the bike. Generally speaking, the more common the brand, the more available mounting options there will be.
Garmin is the leader in this area, with scores of aftermarket mount options allowing you to decide exactly how and where the device sits on your handlebar or stem.
Gamin and Wahoo use mounts that rely on a quarter-turn twist-lock to hold the computer in place. The 90-degree turn makes it easy to fit your computer but also easy to remove when popping into a shop or cafe.
Out-front mounts are a popular choice because they put the computer in front of the bar, making it easier to look at while moving. These mounts also make the cycling computer flush with the bar, giving a cleaner look for the more aesthetically minded.
Screen size and display type
The new version of the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt has switched from greyscale to a colour display. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
As a general rule, the larger the screen size, the easier the information will be to read. You’ll also be able to show more information on the screen without having to scroll to another page.
Of course, the downside is that larger units can be cumbersome, crowd your handlebar, and add extra heft – offending the more weight-conscious riders among us.
For performance and general riding, the Garmin Edge 820’s 2.3in (5.84cm) screen has become something of a benchmark. Most newer devices are this size or larger. For those looking for a truly diminutive option, the Garmin Edge 130 Plus would be our first recommendation.
Screen size and resolution are a bigger concern if you want to use a cycling computer for routes and navigation. Here, being able to see waypoints and your desired route is crucial, so a screen size of 2.5in (6.35 cm) or larger is advisable.
Colour displays are becoming the norm, which makes for easy reading, especially with detailed maps.
Some cycling computers still use a greyscale screen, because these can be more readable in bright light, but if Wahoo’s latest Elemnt Bolt is anything to go by this might become less and less common.
Touchscreens are becoming a standard on newer devices too because they help simplify toggling menus and selecting desired data.
Early GPS cycling computers offered turn-by-turn navigation via a snail trail (also known as a breadcrumb trail).
Snail trails didn’t really give enough information because they were simply displayed as a single line over a blank screen with no landmarks or surrounding roads detailed, but you could get a fairly good sense of where you were going and were often notified if you drifted off course.
Now, many cycling computers are pre-loaded with in-depth maps that are similar to topographic maps detailing roads, landscape, features, waypoints and any amenities. This is particularly useful for bikepacking but is great even if you’re cycling somewhere unfamiliar on holiday or close to home.
Maps often only cover certain territories. For instance, in the UK, the Garmin 1030 Plus comes pre-loaded with maps for Europe and North America, but you will have to download maps for other regions.
Plenty of computers allow you to sync courses from route-building apps such as Ride With GPS or Komoot, and in some cases let you drop a pin on the computer’s map and will automatically route you to that location.
Are you looking to complete long rides, multi-day adventures, or simply want to go out and not worry about having to recharge your device between training sessions?
If any of these sound familiar, it is probably worth seeking out a cycling computer with decent battery life. Many computers will have a claimed battery life of between 15 and 20 hours, but this is of course dependent on use.
External battery expanders can bump up the battery life of your cycling computer if you’re out for a particularly long time.
Alternatives to GPS cycling computers
The Fenix 7 has colour maps that show points of interest and are customisable. Simon von Bromley / Our Media
While this buyer’s guide is dedicated to GPS units, there are viable alternatives to GPS cycling computers in the form of GPS watches and smartphones.
Many of the best cycling watches will record your cycling data much like a GPS cycling computer. They have the added benefit of having built-in heart rate monitors but don’t have the same mapping and navigation capabilities as many cycling GPS computers.
If you do more than cycling – for instance running, swimming or indeed triathlon – GPS watches are a good choice for their versatility. But a major downside to these devices is the smaller screen size, so if you’re planning to keep the device on your bike, you’re better off with a cycling-specific unit.
Smartphones are ideal if you’re looking for a way of navigating around town and don’t want to invest in a dedicated cycling device, or simply dip a toe in the world of GPS navigation and ride recording.
Smartphones can be used with apps such as Strava and might prove just as useful as a cycling computer for casual riding.
There are many smartphone handlebar mounts and cases available to keep your phone safe and secure while riding, but they are likely to be less waterproof than cycling-specific computers. That said, keeping the phone in your or pack remains an option for data collection.
- Email to a friend
Garmin Forerunner 255S review
The Garmin Forerunner 255S might lack the extra splash of colour you get on the AMOLED-packing Forerunner 265, but this is still a great running watch for runners getting more serious about putting in more focused time on the treadmill, trails or pavement.
Best Today: Garmin Forerunner 255S
Garmin has a sports watch at pretty much every price point and if you’re a runner who’s started to get more serious about that running time, the Forerunner 255S is a watch built for you.
The follow-up to the Forerunner 245 grabs Garmin’s new multiband GNSS mode from its top-end watches to improve outdoor tracking accuracy in typically challenging conditions along with offering two case sizes and is still something swimmers, cyclists and now triathletes can put to good tracking use.
It has since been succeeded by the Forerunner 265, which most notably adds an AMOLED screen into the mix, but with the 255S offering a similar feature set outside of that AMOLED for less, it’s still a running watch worth casting an eye over.
The Forerunner 255S is the smaller of the two case options the 255 is available in, with a 41mm-sized case as opposed to a 46mm one. So if you like the idea of a watch that doesn’t dominate on the wrist, then this is the 255 model for you.
You can also grab the 255S in music or non-music editions. The former adds a built-in 32GB music player to store your own purchased audio or offline playlists from music streaming services including Spotify and Deezer. Opting for the music edition does push the price up by 50/£50.
That 41mm case is made from polymer, which is pretty much the go-to material for Garmin’s Forerunner watches and that’s matched up with an 18mm silicone strap that’s well built for exercise and can be removed if you want something more stylish or colourful in its place.
Along with a typical array of physical buttons there’s a 1.1-inch, 218 x 218 resolution memory in pixel (MIP) display. That’s a smaller display than found on the 245 and also a drop in resolution.
That does mean it lacks the more vibrant and colourful AMOLED you’ll find on the new Forerunner 265 and it’s not a touchscreen display either. If you’re happy living without that AMOLED touchscreen, then you’re still getting a good-sized screen here with solid viewing angles indoors and outdoors that was also fine to view during pool swims.
On the swimming front, it carries the same waterproof rating as its predecessor so it can be submerged in water up to 50 metres deep and you don’t have to take it off when taking a shower, though it’s worth taking it off every now and then to clean the sweat off the strap.
Turn the watch over and you’ll find Garmin’s own optical sensor that provides heart rate data continuously and during exercise and additionally offers blood oxygen measurements during sleep or throughout the day. That’s also where you’ll find the charging port, which is the spot for Garmin’s pretty universal charging cable for most of its watches though it lacks the wireless charging support Garmin introduced to its Vivomove Trend hybrid smartwatch.
Overall, it’s been a very comfortable time wearing the 255S. Yes, it’s small, but it’s light and unobtrusive and has a good enough display to soak up your metrics and other insights it serves up on the move.
Health and fitness tracking
Forerunner might be in the name, but like other Forerunner watches, the 255S also has the sensors and tracking features to track swimming, cycling and has profiles for hiking, skiing and snowboarding among other more outdoorsy pursuits.
Garmin has bolstered the sports profiles available with the 255S now getting an open water swimming mode and a dedicated triathlon mode to make it a more affordable triathlon watch in Garmin’s collection.
If you are turning to it for running, then there’s plenty here. It covers running profiles for ultras and track running, and you have access to Garmin Coach to sync workouts from programs built for 5K up to half marathon distance. There’s also a visual race predictor to give you a sense of what you might end up running on race day based on workout history.
The big additions here in this department are Garmin’s new multi-Band GNSS mode and SATIQ technology. The first of those is similar to the dual Band mode used on the Apple Watch Ultra, tapping into multiple frequency bands from supported satellite systems to deliver richer accuracy, particularly when near tall buildings, trees and mountain ranges.
Using multi-Band GNSS means sacrificing more battery than using the standard GPS tracking mode, but does notably deliver more accurate data and did when we compared data to a non-dual Band running watch running near big buildings, which can typically impact on location tracking accuracy.
The SATIQ technology is used by Garmin to automatically determine which level of satellite support you should use given your surroundings and location. So the idea is that you’re not wasting battery using the top end positioning mode when you don’t need it. Ultimately though, I found that manually picking the GPS mode was the best way to go in most scenarios.
Garmin has also sought to offer more in terms of insights into your recovery and also doing a better job of packaging your data in a way that you can better absorb it. On the analysis front, you now have something called HRV status, which uses heart rate variability measurements taken from the optical sensor during sleep. As the watch gathers those measurements over a few weeks it tries to better understand if your body is handling your current training load.
While a tap of the top physical button will reveal if your HRV status is good or bad, the presentation of it feels a touch complex. It would have definitely benefited from including the Training Readiness feature, which is available on the new Forerunner 265 and other pricier Garmin watches. It takes that HRV status and other pieces of your tracking data to give you a more simplified way of knowing whether you should train or ease off.
It’s something that I like about the new Morning Report, which you’ll see when you wake up telling you how you’ve slept, the weather forecast, suggested workouts to do for the day and a little motivational message to put some pep in your step. It feels a bit gimmicky, but it’s a feature I’ve warmed to over time and it’s quite a useful thing to look at first thing when you wake up.
On top of those new features, the 255S has everything the 245 offered. Whether that’s tracking daily activity and sleep or dishing out stress and blood oxygen saturation data, it can be useful as a fitness tracker and a monitor for your general wellbeing, but lacks the more serious health monitoring features you’ll find on the smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch.
The heart rate monitor performed pretty well both for steady paced and more high intensity workouts against Garmin’s own HRM Pro Plus heart rate monitor chest strap, with scope to pair up an external heart rate monitor to bolster accuracy.
The 255S still lacks the full mapping support you’ll get on Garmin’s top-end Forerunner, Fenix and Epix watches, but it does offer point-to-point navigation and the ability to see breadcrumb trails in real time, which still makes it handy to get around or get back home if you’ve got a bit lost.
The Forerunner 255S’s sports tracking is well-rounded, offering good accuracy, a rich level of training analysis and some new features that do make it more reliable and insightful on those fronts too.
As a smartwatch, the 255S does a pretty admirable job of being useful when you’re not out tracking exercise. It works with Android and iOS and the experience of using the Garmin Connect companion phone app across those platforms is pretty consistent in terms of presentation and reliability of setup, pairing and syncing the watch.
In terms of smartwatch features, it’s the very same ones included on the 245. You have access to Garmin’s Connect IQ Store, which isn’t at Apple App Store level of quality in terms of apps, but is a useful place for grabbing some additional watch faces, data fields and extra widgets if a little slow at times to download and sync them over.
Viewing notifications works well in spite of that small screen, though it would be a nicer experience with the added touchscreen functionality you get on the Forerunner 265. If you’re using it with an Android phone, you can respond to texts and the notifications (out of luck on iPhone) and the support in general is better than you’ll find on most sports watches.
Garmin Pay is supported here too, letting you make contactless payments from the watch if your bank is supported and it worked fine for me when I needed to quickly grab a drink. But it does lack the slickness and supported banks you get from rival watch-based payment systems.
Then you have the music features, which is made up of the controls you can use for controlling audio playing on your phone and the built-in music player to store purchased audio and playlists from Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music.
There’s capacity to store up to about 500 songs and getting playlists over from supported music streaming services can be done in a relatively straightforward fashion. Using the music streaming during tracking dents the battery more, but the support works well, it was easy to pair a bunch of different Bluetooth headphones to use it.
Again, it would be nice to have a touchscreen here to interact with the music features, but if you want the ability to stream music, podcasts and audiobooks on a sports watch, you want a Garmin like the 255s on your wrist.
Battery life and charging
The Garmin Forerunner 255S is a watch I’d say is built to last a good week if you’re planning to use its key sports tracking and smartwatch features on a regular basis throughout that week. Garmin says it should be 12 days, but getting to that number means lighter use of core tracking modes. Such longevity is helped by the MIP screen rather than a power-hungry AMOLED.
The biggest drain on battery life here is the music streaming and the continuous blood oxygen saturation monitoring, which sees the battery life drop quite dramatically. If you can live without that 24/7 blood oxygen data, then it’s worth disabling it.
If you switch to the new multiband GNSSS outdoor tracking mode, that number drops from 26 hours to 13 hours to give you a sense of the difference in battery usage. Add music streaming into the mix and that drops to 5.5 hours. That’s still good enough to last a long marathon, but listening to music does hit the battery hard.
The numbers are bigger than what was promised on the Forerunner 245, but unlike a lot of more expensive Garmin watches, you’re getting something here that will hold out for a week with the potential to go further if you sacrifice some of those more battery-hungry features.
Price and availability
The Garmin Forerunner 255S costs 349.99/£299.99 or 399.99/£349.99 for the music version. You can buy it direct from Garmin.
It’s also available from Amazon US or Amazon UK.
The 255S definitely sits at that more midrange category of sports watches, so it’s a fair bit of a jump from Garmin’s entry level watches like the Forerunner 55 (199.99/£149.99) and the likes of the Coros Pace 2 (199.99/£179.99), which does offer a similar feature set for less money.
It does also share similar features to the Forerunner 265, which sees roughly a 100/£100 price jump compared to the 255S to get that added AMOLED display and some of Garmin’s latest software features.
The Garmin Forerunner 255S might not be the newest model in this particular Forerunner range, but that doesn’t mean you should entirely discount buying it either.
If you’re not that fussed about having an AMOLED touchscreen display and features like Training Readiness and a few extra sports profiles and would gladly take a bigger battery instead, then there’s still reasons to go for the 255S.
It offers a really comprehensive experience overall and not just for runners either. If you were looking for a Garmin watch that can work as a triathlon watch, then it’s worth looking at too.
The problem Garmin has is that the Coros Pace 2 can offer a lot of what the 255S offers for less money. It’s not a better smartwatch and the UI won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for sports tracking and value, it’s up there with the 255.
The Garmin Forerunner 255S offers a great experience overall, that’s not as pricey as the newer 265 and shows going for an older watch isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The 6 Best GPS Watches of 2023
Our review authors and testers have spent the last 9 years testing over 50 of the best GPS watches, with the top 14 in this review. We’ve developed a testing plan which focuses on analyzing the features, battery life, ease of use, accuracy, and design. We look at both the internal user interface and the external hardware to give you the best recommendations. We know everyone has different priorities, so we delve into various use cases to help you decide which watch will be best for your lifestyle and budget.
If you’re also in the market for some new hiking gear or camping supplies, we’re here to help you out. We conduct complete testing and offer reviews for everything from the best trekking poles to the comfiest sleeping bags. If you’re hoping to get really remote and want to pair your watch with a satellite messenger or solar charger, we’ve tested those too.
Editor’s Note: We updated this review on July 19, 2023, to include the new Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar and the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar, the most current model in the Fenix line.
Best Overall GPS Watch
Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar
Weight: 2.9 oz | Battery Life: 22 days in solar smartwatch mode, 73 hours in solar GPS
The Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar is newly refreshed with an updated heart rate monitor, solar charging, and flashlight. These features add to the dominance of the series, and while more expensive, we found the additions to be well worth the cost. Garmin continues to provide the best user interface and experience for a GPS smartwatch. For serious athletes or users simply wanting the best, look no further. After extensive testing while skiing, running, paddling, and backpacking, this model continued to provide reliable accuracy and enhance our outdoor experiences.
While this is a great watch, the price is high, and many will find better value in other lower-priced options with fewer features. Taking the time to learn about the feature options and how to set them up is also a time investment. However, if you can afford it, this is the best GPS watch in today’s market, and the new flashlight is something we can’t see ever wanting to live without.
Best Bang for the Buck
Garmin Forerunner 955
Weight: 1.70 oz | Battery Life: 15 days in smartwatch mode, 42 hours in GPS mode
The Garmin Forerunner 955 provides advanced features like turn-by-turn, multi-Band GPS, and multiple industry-leading health metrics. This model is also extremely light but still features all-day battery life that should be sufficient for most users. A touch screen and dedicated buttons make this watch easy to use in various conditions. Garmin’s sensors are also some of the best, providing accurate metrics like BPM, HRV, and sleep analysis.
The design of this model, while slim, feels slightly less robust due to its lack of metal materials. If you want your watch to stand out more and look slightly more rugged, you may appreciate some of the competition’s designs. Garmin also needs to revamp its companion mobile application; it feels dated and more confusing than the Apple or Coros apps. Regardless, if you are looking for all the latest features without spending top dollar, this is the model for you.
Best on a Tight Budget
Coros Pace 2
Weight: 1.20 oz | Battery Life: 20 days in smartwatch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode
The Coros Pace 2 can’t be beaten when it comes to value. It has a smaller watch face that fits even the most petite wrists and hardly feels like it’s there. The features are streamlined to provide exactly what you need, with excellent fitness and health tracking options. It has an incredible design that is intuitive and simple to use. For the price, there is no other watch that compares to its level of quality. Battery life is sufficient for a faster 100-mile race or any endurance event, lasting 29 hours in our tests. The Coros app also crosses over to other platforms and offers one of the easiest-to-use interfaces we’ve seen thus far. If you’re looking for a heck of a deal, look no further.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a fully-featured watch with contactless pay or other exotic upgrades. It doesn’t host a breadcrumb trail map but, surprisingly, does have ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass) functions. If you’re in search of the best software features, look instead to the Garmin Forerunner 55, which comes in at a similar price point. But for those that don’t care so much about features and are just interested in an easy-to-use and accurate watch with loads of battery life, we wouldn’t recommend any other.
Best Battery Life
Coros Vertix 2
Weight: 3.17 oz | Battery Life: 60 days in smartwatch mode, 60 hours in low power mode
If battery life is your biggest consideration, the Coros Vertix 2 is for you. This large and rugged watch offers all the features you need to train for your next adventure, including a pulse oximeter, touch screen, breadcrumb trail, several workout profiles, workout creation, route navigation, and more. No other watch in our lineup has this level of excellent battery power, making it a favorite for ultra adventurers that need their power to keep going all day and through the night.
While we love this watch, the 51mm size may be a no-go for some folks. With the case size and never-ending battery life, it’s noticeably heavy, and it may not be the best option for runners and people that do activities with lots of arm movement. The cost is also significantly higher than both the Garmin Forerunner 955 and Coros Pace 2, two other high-value options. Still, if you desire the commanding look of this model, we think you will not be disappointed — it’s great for hiking, and we could see it working perfectly in expedition settings.
Best Smartwatch for iPhone Users
Apple Watch Ultra
When paired with an iPhone, the Apple Watch Ultra is powerful. The ability to activate and use many of the functions of your phone is a great tool. Whether talking on the phone or sending a quick text, the UI found on this device is fluid and functional. If you have been looking for a GPS-enabled smartwatch that’s smarter than the rest, this is the model for you. While it’s not as ultra as some of the other more rugged models, it’s undoubtedly the best designed.
Battery life suffers on the Ultra due to the super bright always-on display, and the modes don’t feel as tailored to athletics as some of the other models in our lineup, but the Smart features far surpass the competition. This watch is for those that want both excellent GPS tracking while also owning the functionality of an Apple Watch. If we could afford more than one watch, this would surely be on our list, but it’s not our first choice for certain kinds of outings. However, for those that don’t find themselves needing multi-day battery life, this could be the model for you.
Best Solar Options for Expeditions
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Weight: 1.87 oz | Battery Life: Endless in smartwatch mode w/ sun, 30 hours in GPS mode
The Garmin Instinct Solar 2 stands out as one of the best GPS watches for daily use, with solar panels integrated right into the screen. So long as it is exposed to the sun, using it in smartwatch mode will require few to no charges every month. Over three months of testing, we only had to charge it once — after we ran the battery down on purpose. As a result, it’s a great option for expeditions or longer treks where you might not be able to find an outlet. This design has simplified features but still offers nice navigational perks like sight n’ go, coordinates, and a breadcrumb trail.
While we have little negative to say about this model, some may find the design a bit tactical, and it may not fit those great with smaller wrists. One other downside is the lack of solar charging while actively recording GPS; this could be an issue if you find yourself reaching the limits of its 30-hour recording time. Luckily with Garmin’s ‘resume later’ feature, you can stop the workout and put it in the background for solar charging. Then you can pick up where you started without losing your activity.
Why You Should Trust Us
Before selection occurs, we spend hours looking through the top options on the market, delving into the research to determine the best. Once we’ve determined our final lineup, we buy each watch at full retail and start our testing process. From days out running, skiing, climbing, and biking, we analyze the features, accuracy, and usability to give you our recommendations on what’s best. Our team is proud to provide our thoughts and aid you in searching for the best GPS watch to fit your needs.
- Features (20% of overall score weighting)
- Battery Life (20% weighting)
- Ease of Use (20% weighting)
- Accuracy (20% weighting)
- Design (20% weighting)
This review is brought to you by a team of expert testers headed up by Matthew Richardson. Matthew works with maps for a living and spends his free time in the outdoors surrounding Durango, Colorado. He uses a GPS watch daily and has completed some big outings, such as a solo ride on the Colorado Trail and linking up Chicago Basin 14ers in a day. Also on the testing team is Amber King. Amber is a professional outdoor educator who spends lots of time navigating the great outdoors. She is also an ultra trail runner who loves to challenge herself with big, steep, and long runs and fastpacking adventures. She also uses a GPS watch daily for trail running, open-water swimming, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing.
Analysis and Test Results
There are many GPS watches on the market these days, and finding the one that fits your needs can be a tough project. We took a sample of the market’s current best and tested them to see how they compare side-by-side. We evaluated each for features, battery life, ease of use, accuracy, and design.
GPS watches are an investment, and your level of usage should determine what your price point should be. If you’re looking to get into the entry-level GPS watch market and want a watch purely for distance and heart rate tracking, we suggest the Coros Pace 2 or Garmin Forerunner 55. These are great entry-level models which will satisfy most users.
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is at the lower end of the high-priced watches, but its combination of advanced features and all-day battery life make it one of our top recommendations. There is a lot of competition in this price range, and we think Garmin has the best offering with this model.
Wait for last season’s watch to go on sale. These are typically loaded with many of the same functions, and you can get them for a fraction of the retail cost.
The variety of feature sets in today’s market mimics the wide range of pricing. Across all the devices, we tested roughly 1-second interval GPS recording, and a heart rate monitor is a minimum. A higher price tag generally equates to more internal software features. The most advanced watches have features like flashlights, blood oxygen readings, topographic maps, and a suite of smartwatch-enabled features. Some features lend themselves to urban usage, others expeditions into unfamiliar terrain. Keep in mind your usage scenario and try to purchase a watch based on the features you will actually use.
The Apple Watch Ultra and Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar received the highest scores in this category, with the Garmin Forerunner 955 nipping at their heels. These models feature advanced GPS tracking (MULTI GNSS), lots of activity profiles, advanced health metric stats, and premium topo maps for navigation. When you take a close look, both Garmin models are very similar in performance and quality. Both will sync to your smartphone to deliver notifications, calendar updates, and weather forecasts. The Coros Vertix 2 also scores highly in this category, but it lacks some Garmin-specific features that we end up missing.
These differences are important to us, but they could be meaningless to you. We suggest checking out the spec sheets via each brand’s website to view the most current, up-to-date features and any software updates. The user interfaces found on the brands we tested are similar to a phone ecosystem — each has its own style of operating system (OS). For example, an iPhone model behaves similarly to other iPhones and vice versa for Android. This is the current state of the GPS market when comparing brands. Because of this, we will run down some general trends and features which make us prefer the premium Garmin products over the premium Coros products:
Top-tier Garmin products offer:
- Resume later function enabled on all activities
- ANT integration and inReach compatibility
- Health metrics provide a score and descriptive explanations
- Garmin Pay wallet integration for contactless payment
- Spotify download for music vs. manual upload
- Easy to access Battery Modes and GPS settings via quick prompts
- Touchscreen enabled throughout the device
The Suunto 7 also scores highly here with Google Wear OS products built-in. You can use a host of Google Play apps, in addition to its basic GPS functionality. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend this for anything other than its feature set due to it being incredibly difficult to use, compounded with poor battery life.
For any distance athlete, battery life is probably one of the biggest factors affecting your decision to buy a watch. Battery life is affected by many things, including the route you’re on, GPS signal, coverage, the number of apps you have turned on/off, the battery mode you have set, and how long you run your device. As a result, we appreciate that many of the watches we tested have battery modes and profiles that make it easy to turn on/off various features at once without having to dig through the menus.
We performed many battery tests. The first was a more subjective in-field test where we charged up the battery and used the watch normally day in and day out. We noted how long the watch took to die while incorporating 2-3 activities each week, about 1-3 hours in length. We then compared manufacturers’ claims to the actual results that we got.
Then, we tested GPS by setting each watch out in the same area under the open sky and running them down until they turned off. We noted the time taken to reach this point and if any went into a battery-saver mode to enhance battery life. We realize this test won’t tell you the specific number of hours you’ll get during real GPS activity, but it gave us an idea of which watches last longer than others and the quality of the data. In addition, we also took each watch on at least 50 miles of activities, noting the amount of battery used for the time of the activity.
Make sure to consider the types of adventures and the length of time you anticipate using your device. Most of these models can charge while recording, but we would recommend choosing the one that best fits your needs to avoid having to do this. We think 24 hours of GPS tracking is a good place to start for most people and to increase only if you know you’ll need more. Realize that a battery is a trade-off in terms of features gained/lost or changes to the case size.
If your priority is a smartwatch that seemingly never dies, then consider the Garmin Instinct Solar 2, Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar, or Fenix 7 Pro Solar. You will want to have reliable solar energy available to charge the watch, and minimal percentage gains are made while GPS is running, so you will want to have a power backup if you are planning to use a lot of GPS tracking. This is another instance where the ‘resume later’ features on Garmin can be beneficial during rest periods out on the trail.
For maximum battery usage, the Coros models excel across their range. The battery life on the Vertix 2 is insane, with almost 90 hours of MULTI GNSS tracking. Some people could complete the entire Colorado Trail on their bikes without ever charging their watch! Coros products are known for their battery life, and it’s clearly a priority throughout their whole range. The Apex Pro 2 is another model that excels by having extended battery life and roughly 75 hours of GPS. The new Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar also excels at battery life, providing roughly 85 hours of GPS recording thanks to the solar screen. Its slightly larger 49mm case size gives a bump up over the competition of the flagship 47mm size models that Garmin and Coros offer.
We kept everything set to default settings when running our battery tests. in the condition that most people will start using their watches. Turn off notifications and other functions you don’t need before your activity to extend battery life.
We appreciate the battery-saver options and modes found on the Garmin products. These are easy to use and enabled in the tools after a long press of the back button. When starting an activity, the battery options are clearly labeled, and you can visually see how each mode will impact watch functionality. This may be less of a priority for Coros to implement, given their industry-leading battery life.
The older Suunto products generally scored lower, with the Suunto 7 having the worst battery life due to the abundant smartwatch features and bright screen. Both the Suunto 9 Peak and Suunto 9 Baro have all-day battery lives at 25 hours for their ‘Best’ recording mode. Instead of Best/Better/Good/Okay, we wish there were more descriptions of what is gained and lost under these settings. The Apple Watch Ultra also scored low in the battery metric due to the super bright always-on display.
Across our entire lineup, there is a GPS watch that fits anyone’s battery needs. If your main priority is battery life, the Coros models are the clear winner. Think of the longest time you expect to be out and use our comparison chart to view the various battery lives of these models.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is important when using a watch both during activity and during your daily life. These products should enhance your life, not make it more difficult. Models which scored highest are those we felt were the easiest to use and provided the best user experience. Integration of mobile apps was also taken into consideration when determining user experience. Like any product with this many features, learning the ins and outs will take some time.
Similar to features, there are lots of similarities between brands, with the interface on the cheapest watches mimicking those found on the top-of-the-line models. You will see there isn’t as much spread in our rankings for this metric — this is due to the similarities of the interfaces. If you can use the Vertix 2, you will instantly be able to use the Apex 2 — same for the Fenix 7 Pro Solar and Forerunner 955. That said, there are a few items that give Garmin the lead in terms of usability:
All of the Garmin products feature dedicated buttons, with the Forerunner 955 and Fenix models having a touch screen. All of the Coros models feature a scroll wheel, with all new models containing a touch screen (not including the Pace 2). Unfortunately, the touch screen on the Coros models is not enabled throughout the device, only on certain screens, such as swiping data fields and using navigation.
Ultimately it’s hard to say which brand is easier to use because they are both different yet similar. Their method of interaction is the biggest difference, and we would suggest deciding on whether you like the idea of a scroll wheel or dedicated buttons. Internally, the menu systems are essentially the same, with just some minor differences listed above.
The Apple Watch Ultra impressed us with its feature set and how easy it is to use these features. It’s really no surprise that Apple was able to incorporate its beloved design into this more rugged model. Setting up and customizing notifications and the layout is a breeze with the watch app.
The Suunto products all scored poorly here as we felt their menu systems were the hardest to learn and use. Even after hours of using their products, the menus still felt unintuitive compared to the competition. The 9 Baro, 9 Peak, and Vertical Titanium Solar all have very nice touch screens that aid in ease of use, but we can’t recommend them for this feature alone. The Suunto 7 was the hardest to use, and we found the Google OS features to be overwhelming.
Apps are another consideration in this metric. Of all the manufacturers we reviewed, Garmin Connect has the most features, but the design left a bit to be desired, in our opinion. Suunto, Coros, and Polar have apps that are more stripped-down, less integrated, and overall easier to use. Suunto has a really beautiful layout that integrates photos, which we enjoyed. These apps were easier to figure out compared to Garmin, though none offer the same social ecosystem. Luckily they all cross over to different ecosystems like Strava. You can also sync your data from these apps to the Apple Health app which we think provides the best health metric visualization.
We know that accurate GPS recordings and metrics are important. Nobody wants wonky elevation data or elevated heart rate stats, especially with the cost of today’s devices. We’ve been impressed with the watches in our test group, each performing adequately across the price ranges. Luckily all of the watches we tested now feature multi-Band GPS satellite recording, with some even working in multi-frequency. GPS signal strength, satellite location, watch fit, and internal hardware all have a large impact on device accuracy.
To evaluate the accuracy of each watch, we ran, biked, and hiked known distances to compare our watches and their track metrics. We also tested the watches deep in the canyons of Utah. Canyons are notoriously bad for GPS watches due to the limited open line of sight. All of the GPS watches we tested had good accuracy that we would trust. Most gave us smooth tracks that consistently stayed within 1-3% of the actual measured distance. Multi-Band satellites produced the best results; those with dual-frequency performed even better. It’s important to keep in mind that these advanced features generally use more battery, but these devices already have sufficient battery life to perform these tasks. Thanks to their dual-frequency recording, the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar and Coros Vertix 2 had the best GPS data.
Testing heart rate monitors is quite a challenge. We observed heart rate data during runs and compared this to the information we received from a heart monitor chest strap. While most watches can accurately track the relative ups and downs you might experience while exercising, few are as accurate as a chest strap. This is largely due to variable fit on the wrist and a myriad of other factors. None of the heart rate monitors we tested was spot on. If you want precise heart rate readings, be sure to purchase a chest strap. That said, some did better than others, with the Garmin brand being a touch more accurate than others.
The Forerunner 955 and Fenix 7 Pro Solar were almost spot on with a good fit on our wrist and an average variation of just 0-4 beats per minute. The Polar Vantage M2 is also very accurate, with a variation of only 0-2 bpm (one of the best tested). The Suunto 9 Baro and Suunto 7 had variations of 3-5 bpm and 1-7 bpm, respectively. Both are larger watches, and we noted that both of these would lose a heartbeat during exercise more than others. The Coros watches always seemed to have higher readings, with variations of up to 20 bpm. We’re not sure if this is because of the smaller design, but we weren’t too impressed with this accuracy.
One important thing to note regarding optical heart rate monitors is that they do not provide quality data for people with dark skin, tattoos, or large amounts of hair or sweat under the monitor. This issue applies to every watch with an optical heart rate monitor because they use photoplethysmography (PPG), where light reflected from your arteries indicates your heart rate. Outside light, bursts of activity, interference from hair, tattoo ink, sweat, etc., can all affect readings.
When considering design, we took a close look at the way each watch fits on the wrist and any notable issues with it during use. This included looking at the size and thickness of the body, using under clothing, accidentally turning buttons on and off, and the clarity of the screen. We also considered aesthetics which will vary from person to person. Pick the design you like best that fits your budget and see how the externals stack up between each model.
We used these watches for all-day use, and our opinions will reflect that. If you have a dedicated wristwatch that will take priority over your active GPS watch, take that into consideration. We put priority on premium materials and a good design since this is something we wear 24/7 except while charging. The sleekest design and best for small wrists are the Suunto 9 Peak and Polar Vantage M2. We are impressed with the amount of technology packed into these units. The Garmin Forerunner 955 also has a super-thin design that works great for running. The new Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar is a standout in the lineup for design, and it’s easily one of our favorites, offering titanium construction and an excellent bezel.
We appreciate that Apple went against the grain, creating a unique design. The rectangular shape of the Apple Watch Ultra may not be for everyone but was a favorite of our team. The titanium bezel and ceramic back feel both rugged and premium. We tested the alpine loop strap, and we were fans of it for daily usage but we think the trail Band could be better for more active users. The always-on display is vibrant and easy to read under any sun conditions. The standard watch face is awesome-looking, and the adjustable red mode is perfect for a night under the stars. We hope that other brands start to incorporate this level of detail and precision into their units.
We recommend the Fenix 7 Pro Solar or Vertix 2 for those looking for a more rugged design. Both of these watches are made with the most premium materials and are durable enough to withstand years of abuse. The 51mm case size of the Vertix 2 is great for those with a bigger wrist or who like the commanding-looking screen and bezel. If your primary activity is running, we would stick with the 47mm case size of the Garmin Forerunner 955 or Fenix models. The weight difference is noticeable for activities with a lot of arm movement.
The Fenix 7 Pro Solar has an excellent screen design, with the best contrast and brightness out of any of the screens we tested. The data fields pop and the numbers are bolder than those on the Coros models. We found glancing at the data fields while running technical terrain to be the most fluid and natural. If you aren’t doing intense activities, this may be less of a priority for you.
Similarly important, the dedicated buttons on the Fenix 7 Pro Solar make accessing the data screens easier while under intense activities. The scroll wheel found on the Coros models tends to be bumped accidentally, requiring a lockout mode to be enabled. This is easily disabled if you personally don’t have issues. This extra step of unlocking the device while on the move felt annoying and one extra unneeded step. We like the action and sureness of dedicated physical buttons. If you use the swipe touchscreen feature or auto-scroll, this may be less important to you.
Buying a GPS watch is a big decision and a significant investment. Take a look through our reviews for a more in-depth look at the various models we tested. You might find yourself researching for weeks or even months before finding the right one at the right price. We hope that our insights and in-depth comparative research have helped you find confidence in taking the plunge into this investment. Take our thoughts and use cases and determine what’s most important to you. There is a GPS watch here for everyone, and we hope this makes your decision process a little easier. Have fun out there!
The Best Rugged Waterproof Smartwatches of 2023
Just like the regular smartwatch, the rugged smartwatch has evolved from the traditional wearable (that could have been mechanical or with a battery, as well waterproof / water-resistant) in order to become a device more suitable for this century.
While I won’t deny the usefulness of all the integrated technologies (fitness trackers, heart-rate monitors, integration with the IoT, pairing with a smartphone and more), there are some shortcomings that still plague all the Smart wearable devices: the battery life has gone from years (or indefinite for mechanical watches) to days and even hours. But that’s something that we must accept as there isn’t yet a solution available in sight (the TicWatch may be onto something and the Amazfit T-Rex has broken some boundaries as well).
The concept of a Smart watch is not really new, as engineers have tried many times, for many years, to strap a mini-computer to your wrist, but, the breakthrough into the consumer market came shyly with the Pebble series and it went into the mainstream with the emergence of the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear and Motorola 360 (along with the implementation of the Android Wear as a general OS for non-iOS smartwatches – some other third-party operating systems have also been developed afterwards).
In 2023, smartwatches don’t need an introduction since there’s a fairly large number of devices already flooding the market, but the FOCUS of this article will be for the most rugged smartwatches which will survive a harsher environment and all the punishment that comes from practicing outdoor sports and activities. So, without further ado, let’s see which are the best waterproof smartwatches (which can withstand a beating) on the market right now.
UPDATE 02.12.2023: I have added the Amazfit T-Rex 2 to the best rugged waterproof Smart watches list.
Garmin Fenix 6
For a long time, the Garmin smartwatches have been regarded as among the best sports tracking rugged devices on the market and, a month ago (August 2019), Garmin has launched its new Fenix 6 series which comes with some major improvements over the Fenix 5 rugged smartwatches, making no compromises and it shows in the price tag. It’s true that the Garmin products have always been intimidating cost-wise, but the Fenix smartwatches do offer a premium build, solid tracking capabilities, lots of sensors and if you opt for the Sapphire variant, you get an all-round rugged device which you will not be afraid to take along on your outdoor adventures.
The latest Fenix 6 has kept everything that made last year’s Fenix 5 Plus a fantastic smartwatch, including a plethora of sensors (such as the HRM, GPSGLONASSGALILEO, sleep and stress tracking and contactless payment), the ability to track a large variety of sports and a rugged body, but it has made available more types of lens (including solar Power Glass) and there is an increased variety of materials for the case (there are also more sizes), but the most significant changes are in the battery life department (significantly improved GPS mode), as well as in the number of features directed towards a better sports tracking experience.
In terms of design, the Fenix 6 and the 5 Plus share a similar look, both featuring a relatively large main body made of fiber-reinforced polymer and with a metal cover, while the bezel is stainless steel (or titanium and the Fenix 6 offers an additional option: diamond-like carbon coated titanium). But, when put next to its predecessor, you will immediately notice that the inner (black) bezel is a lot thinner, allowing for more screen real-estate (the bezel gradations are also gone); the front screws are also better integrated with the look of the rugged smartwatch and overall, the device feels more aesthetically pleasing.
The outer metallic bezel is elevated above the display and it provides a reliable barrier in case you hit the watch on a flat surface, otherwise, you would have to rely on the screen protection, which can be glass (Garmin has decided to use Gorilla Glass 3 instead of the domed chemically strengthened glass), sapphire (which handles scratches a lot better, but makes the device more expensive) or Power Glass solar lens (which has the role of charging the battery of the rugged smartwatch when there is a lot of sunlight – you should not use a screen protector since it can reduce the solar intensity and the lens are scratch-resistant).
Note: Be aware that only the Pro and Sapphire variants of the Garmin 6 support Music, Maps and Wi-Fi, while the 6 and 6S versions are limited to only the Bluetooth connectivity and lack any Wi-Fi capabilities. I recently took a look at Casio WSD-F30 and it was a behemoth even when compared to the beefier Fenix 3 (which measured 2.0 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches), so the Fenix 6, while still quite large, it will look better on the wrist, being slightly smaller (the 47mm variant measures 1.85 x 1.85 x 0.57 inches, but the 51mm 6X is only a bit larger, measuring 2.0 x 2.0 x 0.58 inches). By default, the Fenix 6 comes with a silicone strap, which is both durable and comfortable and, if you don’t find it elegant, the fixing mechanism is easy to operate, allowing you to quickly change the straps (you can choose between silicone, leather, titanium and nylon).
Garmin has placed three buttons on the left side: Light – can be used to turn on the device, view the controls menu and turn the backlight on/off; Up-Menu – press to scroll up through the widget loop and menus or hold to view the menu; Down – press to scroll down through menus and the widget. There are also two buttons on the right side, one for Activity/Enter (upper arrow icon) – select an option from a menu or start/stop an activity and view the activity list – while the other is for the Back/Lap – press it to return to a previous window / record a lap, rest or transition during an activity or hold it to view the watch face from any screen.
In terms of sensors, the Garmin Fenix 6 doesn’t lack any important ones, being equipped with a Compass, an Accelerometer, a Thermometer (which can be a bit inaccurate because of the body temperature), a Gyroscope, a Barometric Altimeter, a built-in Elevate optical heart-rate sensor (the rugged smartwatch can also be paired with ANT and Bluetooth HR sensors), GPS / GLONASS and Galileo Satellite Navigation (GNSS), as well as Pulse Oximeter with Acclimation which has the role of detecting the saturation of oxygen in your blood, therefore showing you how well your body is acclimating to higher altitudes. The heart-rate sensor is surprisingly accurate, but, this type of sensor is not really the best with high intensity training, so it is advisable to pair it with a chest strap for more accurate measurements (you may need to wait for a few minutes until you get accurate readings, though).
Garmin has done a good job waterproofing the Fenix 6 which is water resistant to 10 ATM, which means that it can be submerged under water down to more than 300 feet, but, unfortunately, it does not have any shock / temperature / humidity resistance rating (that does not mean that it won’t survive short falls or the occasional bumps and scratches that can happen while performing any outdoor activities).
On the front, the Fenix 6 features a 1.3-inch LCD Chroma display (the Pro and Sapphire version offer a larger 1.4-inch display), with a resolution of 260 x 260 pixels and a pixel density of 283 ppi (which is an improvement over what the 5X Plus had to offer). It’s worth noting that no smartwatch from the Fenix 6 series has a touch-screen display and the only way to operate your Garmin smartwatch is by using the buttons – I hoped that Garmin liked Apple’s approach, where the true, significant upgrade comes every two years, but it doesn’t seem like Garmin has any intention of using a touchscreen display anytime soon.
Still, some would argue that a touch-screen would drain the battery life faster and that an athlete may find it annoying to operate a touch-enabled display, but, while these points are reasonably valid, considering that this is a premium device, this omission can be a deal-breaker for some. The screen is always on, but, to come easier on the battery, it has a transflective layer which has the role of brightening the display while using it outside, but, indoors, the screen can look quite dim (you can manually activate the back-light). The low-resolution of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus was one of its main weaknesses and, while Garmin has improved the display for the Fenix 6 rugged smartwatch, it still can do better, especially since there are some great screens from Apple and Samsung (but that’s the sacrifice needed to be done to gain better battery life – similarly to how Pebble handled things).
Similarly to the Fenix 5 Plus, the Garmin Fenix 6 did not go the Android Wear route and it uses its own proprietary software. The UI offers the ability to track almost any outdoor activity, such as Trail Run, Run, Triathlon (gives you scores, it monitors your heart rate, it tells you if you’ve been improving your fitness level, it shows maps of the area you ran and so on), cycling, swimming (the smartwatch can’t record your heart rate while swimming; it can automatically record swim intervals and lengths), kayaking, skiing (detailed stats of your skiing course, including the time and speed it took you to finish it), climbing, stair stepper, cardio, golf (keeps scores, it gives you detailed hole information and other overall statistics) and a lot more.
Every data collected by the sensors can be accessed from the Garmin Connect app, which gives an user-friendly way of viewing summaries or detailed info about your activities (the data is collected via Wi-Fi in the case of the Pro models or via the Garmin Connect Mobile app when you are connected to your phone – compatible with both iOS or Android OS). You can also create schedules for your workout (it can be as structured as you want), so you can more easily follow a plan. Besides the larger amount of activities that are being tracked by Garmin, other novelty elements are the redesigned widgets (which make it easier to track activities), there are new map display themes, the switch from the MediaTek GPS chip to the better Sony GPS chip, there is now more storage available (32 or 64GB, so you can store a lot more songs and listen to them using Bluetooth headphones) and the manufacturer has made significant improvements on the battery life.
The battery life was one of the best features of the rugged smartwatch, because, if you disabled the GPS and the heart-rate monitor and used the device only as a watch, you could get up to 2 weeks on a single charge (with the GPS on, you would get up to 24 hours and if used in UltraTrac mode (it accesses the satellite once a minute), the battery would deplete in about 60 hours). The Garmin Fenix 6’s battery life is even better, offering up to 36 hours on the GPS mode, 72 hours in Max Battery GPS mode and up to 2 weeks on use in smartwatch mode (no GPS); additionally, there is the Expedition GPS Activity mode which can offer up to 28 days of battery life and the Battery Save Watch Mode for getting more than a month of battery life (up to 48 days).
Casio WSD-F30 Rugged Smartwatch
As the name suggests, the Casio WSD-F30 is the third attempt from Casio to create a smartwatch which accomplishes the perfect balance between toughness and functionality, therefore being both suitable for outdoor sports and being able to offer a great user-experience (mostly, in terms of software).
While the first WSD-F10 was a rather unique smartwatch, retaining both the classical look and the toughness of the digital G-Shock series (along with new Smart technologies), the direct predecessor of the WDS-F30, the Casio WSD-F20, didn’t bring that much to the table, although some key improvements have been made to render it a better device (such as a more appealing design, the implementation of a GPS and more). At first glance, the Casio WSD-F30 doesn’t seem to have made significant upgrades as well, but, on a closer look, you can see that the body of the rugged smartwatch is now slimmer and smaller, the display is improved and it comes with all the new features of the latest Wear OS.
The Casio G-Shock watches were characteristically larger and thicker than the average watch and the WSD-F20 preferred to keep the same dimensions, therefore shocking its potential users when they came face to face with the 2.42 x 2.22 x 0.61 inches smartwatch. Fortunately, the WDS-F30 has suffered some reductions, now measuring 2.38 x 2.11 x 0.58 which, may not seem that much, but you’ll definitely feel the difference on your wrist (the reduced weight also helps a bit, as it has gone from the 3.24 ounces of the WSD-F20 to 2.93 ounces).
As you can see, it is significantly heavier and larger than the Apple Watch 4 (while not really adding more screen real estate), but the size of the Casio WSD-F03 is justified because it’s there to provide a superior protection, especially while practicing outdoor sports or other similar types of activities.
I can see that Casio retained the design line of the previous generation, still featuring two sets of large plastic bezels, with the outer one reminding you that it is part of the ProTrek series and revealing the location of each button and sensors; the bezels are elevated and have the role of protecting the screen in case you accidentally hit it on a flat surface, otherwise, you’ll have to rely on the scratch-resistant screen glass. Unlike the WDS-F20, where the protruding bezels were exposing some screws which kept everything together, the WDS-F30 has removed them, so the smartwatch looks a bit more elegant and less industrial (don’t worry, it still kept the feeling that you’re dealing with a tough, rugged smartwatch).
The metallic buttons are conveniently placed on the right side (Tool, Power ad App), while on the left side, there’s the Charging Terminal (the cable is backwards compatible with the previous two Casio smartwatches) and the Pressure sensor. On the front, on the inner bezel, there’s a small Charge LED light and, towards the bottom, there’s a water-resistant microphone (up to five atmospheres), which is useful for taking advantage of the Google Assistant.
The whole smartwatch is waterproof, so it can be submerged underwater down to 164 feet (obviously, the touchscreen will not work while submerged and I would suggest against wearing it in high humidity / high temperature environments) and it is MIL-STD-810G rated, therefore, similarly to the WDS-F20 it survived the transit drop and general vibration tests, it can withstand a moderate level of humidity, solar radiation and it should also be resistant to multi-cycle shocks from constant extreme temperatures or icing/freezing rain (and more).
Furthermore, the back of the smartwatch is a simple brushed metal fixed with visible screws and, while I have no complaints about the longevity of the plastic strap, it does feel quite rigid and I had a hard time detaching it (so, it’s not easy to swap between different straps – besides adding more holes to the strap, the rigidity is an element that hasn’t really been improved from the previous model). In terms of sensors, the Casio WSD-F30 is equipped with a magnetic sensor for direction, a pressure sensor, an accelerometer, a gyrometer and a low-powered GPS (it also is compatible with GLONASS and Michibiki) – unfortunately, Casio decided against adding a Heart rate sensor, which is inexplicable, since you can find it on less costlier smartwatches.
You can use the aforementioned Tool button to swap between the info given by each sensor, which includes a tide graph (useful for fishing, but not recommended for navigation purposes – use the official charts for that), the compass measurements, sunrise and sunset, the altitude, a coloured map of your location, an activity graph and more.
On the front, the main attraction is the 1.2-inch OLED display with a resolution of 390 x 390 pixels and a pixel density of 459 ppi (while the display is smaller, it is a lot better than what the WSD-F20 had to offer). Furthermore, there are actually two displays, with the OLED one positioned underneath a semi-transparent low-power monochrome LCD display that becomes active during the Multi Timepiece mode (which besides simply displays the time, it also offers additional sensor info – a useful feature for people that dislike having the display turned off most of the time, but taking on the battery life – in this mode, the rugged smartwatch can go up to a month on a single charge). Overall, WSD-F30’s display is greatly improved, but it’s still not really the best I’ve seen on a smartwatch, lacking a bit in terms of brightness (something really annoying especially while travelling), but it was reasonably vibrant and colourful.
The WSD-F30 uses the Android Wear 2.10 OS and some of the main applications are the Activity app (useful for tracking the current progress of your usual activities, such as fishing, trekking, cycling, paddling or snow activities), the Casio Watch Faces (choose between Location, Traveller, (updated) 2 Layers, Authentic, World Time, Place, Journey, Multi or Frontier), the ViewRanger App (great for mountain-climbing or trekking), BikeMap, Equilab, MyRadar, Location Memory and more.
Pairing the smartwatch to an Android phone is done really fast and it opens up a whole new set of features (such as answering a call, getting notifications, listening to locally stored music and more). The WSD-F30 will pair with an iPhone, but the features are a lot more limited. Note: Inside the case, the smartwatch is equipped with a Snapdragon 2100 processor, 512 MB LPDDR3 SDRAM and 4 GB internal storage (it also equipped with the low-energy Bluetooth V4.1 tech and the Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n).
The one major weakness of the Casio WSD-F10 was the battery life, which would barely reach a day with very light use. Unfortunately, the Casio made no real progress with the WSD-F20 and while the WSD-F30 also made no significant advancements, it does come with some battery saving modes which could push the battery life from 3 days (the Extended Mode) up to 1 month. One complaint that I had about the WSD-F30 is the charge magnet, which was very weak and difficult to be kept attached to the smartwatch and, to improve things on the Casio WSD-F30, you can add a clip to keep things tighter.
Amazfit T-Rex 2
The Amazfit T-Rex 2 is the successor to the T-Rex Pro which is a proven properly rugged smartwatch that still goes strong even after years of abuse. And honestly, this is the reason why both rugged smartwatches are a part of this list, Amazfit has managed to build two rugged smartwatches that are more than capable of withstanding harsh conditions. Of course, being the newer device, there are some improvements in a few key areas, including the look, the screen and the software.
The T-Rex Pro was made of plastic and that’s also the case with the T-Rex 2, but the good news is that you’ll hardly be able to tell. The rugged smartwatch does measure 1.85 x 1.85 x 0.51 inches, so it’s not a small device by any means, but it’s also not very heavy, weighing only 2.3oz (due to the plastic build). There are some design choices that I am not fond of, such as the decision to plaster the logos all around the case and I am fairly sure that this smartwatch won’t look that great on a formal wear.
But, the construction and industrial workers will not care that much about the looks and will want to know if this smartwatch can survive harsh conditions. The Amazfit T-Rex 2 is MIL-STD-810G certified which means that the smartwatch has passed some tests, so it’s fairly shockproof.
But, if it’s built in the same manner as the T-Rex Pro, then the case will survive just about anything. What about the display? Amazfit did make it a bit bigger, although not by much and, unfortunately, they did not go with Gorilla Glass or Shappire, so the only thing that protects it is the raised lip within the bezel. One interesting aspects that a lot of manufacturers of rugged smartwatches should take note is the use of a touchscreen display, while also allowing full control using only the side buttons.
There’s the UP and Down buttons on the left, and the Select and Back buttons on the right. All these combined will allow you to operate the smartwatch when using gloves. Now let’s talk a bit about the water resistance of the watch. The Smart watch prides itself with a 10 ATM water-protection, so it’s fairly waterproof and considering that it will survive at 10 ATM, you should be able to submerge the T-Rex 2 underwater down to 300 feet.
Even so, I wouldn’t really trade it for a professional device that can actually withstand deep dives. What I didn’t see is any IP68 rating, but, considering the water proofing of the case, I assume that the rugged smartwatch is also dust-resistant. In terms of sensors, the Amazfit T-Rex 2 comes with a Barometer, a Gyroscope, a Geometric sensor, an Accelerometer, an Ambient light sensor and one of the most interesting additions is the Dual-frequency Band along with the 6 satellite positioning which should ensure that your outdoors activities are properly tracked.
Furthermore, the Amazfit T-Rex 2 includes a Heart rate monitor which is used for producing fairly accurate PAI measurements. On the front of the rugged smartwatch, the manufacturer has bumped the size of the AMOLED display to 1.39 inches, the resolution also seeing an increase to 454 x 454 pixels (and a pixel density of 326ppi). By default, the display is set to adaptive brightness which is more than enough when indoors and it will be more gentle on the battery.
At peak brightness, you will be able to see the info on the display even if it’s very sunny outdoors. As expected, there is no always-on display mode and so far, only TicWatch seems to have been able to achieve something close to the ideal AoD. The T-Rex 2 does not use Android Wear OS and instead it relies on a proprietary software called Zepp OS. If you ever had one of those inexpensive smartwatches, you’ll recognize the layout and yes, there are no third-party apps unfortunately.
At the same time, you do get a very responsive OS with smooth transitions between the Windows even if the hardware is not inherently that powerful. You do get a Sleep tracking app, the aforementioned PAI which in my opinion is far superior to the step-counting system. And then there’s the suite of workout tracking apps which cover pretty much all types of sports.
As for accuracy, I mostly focused on the strength training and it was decent, way better than a lot of other smartwatches in the same price range and below. But it did sometimes had issue with quick rising and lowering heart rates (characteristic for weight lifting). Besides that, you do get to change the watch faces, get notifications, use the music player and more. In terms of connectivity, the Mission SS supports Bluetooth 5.0 technology (Bluetooth Low Energy) and there is no way to connect it to a local network – no support for Wi-Fi.
The lack of a microphone and a speaker also erases the possibility to answer calls from the smartwatch without having to use the phone. The battery life is really good due to the 500mAh built-in battery and it will manage to deliver about two weeks on normal use including running 3-4 workout sessions a week. To charge the Amazfit T-Rex 2, you have to use the magnetic charger that has a strong magnet (so it attaches firmly to the back of the Smart watch). It’s proprietary and it doesn’t seem to be compatible with the T-Rex Pro which is lovely (yay for e-waste!).
TicWatch Pro 2020
The original TicWatch Pro was built as a means to breathe some life back into the Wear OS ecosystem and for a 2018 rugged smartwatch, it had a tough exterior, while also keeping a premium look, the dual-layer display was and still is an interesting way to deliver more battery life, so all the basics were covered and some more, but it was missing a bit in the performance department. For a mid-range smartwatch, the 512MB of RAM were the norm, but two years later, you’re going to notice its slightly sluggish UI a lot more. To fix it, Mobvoi decided to release the TicWatch Pro 2020 which is the refreshed version of the aforementioned two year old smartwatch and it now has double the RAM, while also adding the MIL-STD-8190G certification, therefore making it a far more rugged smartwatch than its predecessor.
Design-wise, The TicWatch Pro 2020 is identical to the 2018 model, so expect the same graphite body with a metallic panel where it touches the hand, while the top bezel is still covered by numbers all around the screen. On the right side, there are two buttons and in between them, there is a microphone opening (for calls). Despite being a bit on the large side (it measures 1.77 x 0.49 inches – which is similar to the Nixon Mission SS), the Pro 2020 is still a lot more lightweight than its more expensive competitors and this is an aspect that some of you may appreciate (not many like a heavy watch on their wrist, especially when your wrists are thin since the watch will move downwards most of the time). The smartwatch that I tested is all black, but there is also a silver version and the straps are made of a combination between leather and silicone (the former sits at the top, while the latter on the underside).
Some TicWatch smartwatches had proprietary straps (because the manufacturer added a GPS antenna within them), but just like the original Pro, the 2020 version is more forgiving, so you can freely use any standard 22mm straps. The Galaxy Watch has a rotating bezel, while other smartwatches rely on a combination between the crown and the touchscreen display – the TicWatch Pro decided to use two buttons and the touchscreen, allowing the user to power on or off the smartwatch using the top button (requires a long press), to activate the Google Assistant (a long press while the smartwatch is active) or to enter the app menu (requires a single quick click on the button). The other button can be customized, but, by default, it will open the Mobvoi fitness suite. The rear side of the smartwatch has a dynamic optical heart rate sensor (which is decently accurate), while a bit to the left, there are four contact points for the charging cable (which attaches magnetically to the device).
On the front, the round bezel that surrounds the display is slightly raised to offer some level of protection in case you accidentally hit the smartwatch; there is also the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection which should help with scratches. But that’s not all the TicWatch Pro 2020 has to offer in terms of protection: the device is also MIL-STD-810G rated and, as Mobvoi has stated, the device was tested for sand, dust, shocks, humidity, extreme temperatures and pressure, and it survived. Furthermore, the TicWatch Pro 2020 is IP68-rated which means that it’s both dust and waterproof, and you should be able to go under 5 feet of fresh water without suffering any damage. In terms of sensors, the rugged smartwatch features an accelerometer, a heart rate sensor, a gyroscope, a geomagnetic sensor, an ambient light sensor, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou and there’s also NFC for payments only with the watch; if you’re wondering about the connectivity, the TicWatch Pro 2020 supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi standard and the Bluetooth 4.2 LE.
On the front, there’s a 1.39-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 400 x 400 pixels (the same as on the original TicWatch Pro) and it’s actually more than decent (on par with other more expensive solutions), featuring vibrant colors and good brightness levels to ensure that the smartwatch’s display will remain visible in all scenarios. But a very important element is the secondary monochrome LCD display that sits on top of the AMOLED layer and it activates when you’re no longer using the smartwatch – this way, you get an always-on display while sacrificing almost nothing in terms of battery life. You still do get the traditional always-on mode (with a lower brightness), so the device can look like a regular watch (but it will have a heavy impact on the battery life). The TicWatch Pro 2020 will wake when you tilt your wrist and I did find the process a bit faster than on the TicWatch S and S2.
The TicWatch Pro 2020 uses the Wear OS (which will work with both iOS and Android smartphones) which is not really that loved by the community due to the development lag when compared to the Tizen OS or watchOS and also because the chip inside the smartwatches is not the most powerful (the TicWatch Pro 2020 is equipped with the Snapdragon Wear 2100 – the newer Wear 3100 is almost the same as its predecessor).
Still, Mobvoi does a decent job at delivering a balanced experience, offering some actually cool watch faces and, besides the default Android experience, the manufacturer has also added some proprietary apps such as the TicHealth, TicPulse and the TicExercise. The TicHealth is a replacement to the Google Fit and it counts your step and tracks your exercise, while the TicPulse has the role of monitoring your heart rate for 24 hours and the TicExrecise tries to detect the type of physical activity that you’re undergoing, so you don’t have to manually switch between the activity type.
Overall, the interface is reactive and reasonably quick, which is a great feat considering that it is equipped with the dual-core Snapdragon 2100 – it’s clear that the 1GB of RAM did have a significant effect on the performance of the smartwatch. The TicWatch S2 has a 415 mAh battery (same as the TicWatch S2) which can deliver up to 5 days if you switch between the Essential mode (only the LCD screen) and regular mode and, if you decide to keep the Essential mode for a longer period of time, it can go up to 30 days of a single charge. Furthermore, using the charging cable, it will charge the battery from 0 to 100 % in about one hour and a half. So, is the TicWatches Pro 2020 the next Pebble? What I loved about the Pebble smartwatch was the battery life, but also that it could deliver some smartwatch functions at the same time, so in this sense, Mobvoi hasn’t really filled that Pebble shaped hole in our hearts, but it has managed to design a decent rugged smartwatch which offers some sport-focused elements (similarly to the other waterproof rugged smartwatches), all that at a lower price tag than some of its competitors.
Amazfit T-Rex Pro
Amazfit has been busy these last few years and, while it didn’t (yet) try to go against the brands that have been popular for a long time, I noticed that they have been gaining some serious traction in the market. And that’s because they build inexpensive, yet decent smartwatches. I know that this list is filled with expensive rugged smartwatches, so I thought I would add a more budget-friendly option, the Amazfit T-Rex Pro. The interesting thing is that I have been testing this model for well over six months and it has held up perfectly fine – the smartwatch was used by an industrial worker and it has survived some of the worst conditions. So yes, the Military Grade certifications aren’t just for advertising purposes.
After I got it out of the package, I could immediately tell that this is build for people that want their rugged smartwaches to survive, so the design is not really that pretty. What you do get is a Casio-like look, with thick bezels that protrude upwards to help protect the display and we’re not dealing with stainless steel or other types of alloy, this is a smartwatch that’s mainly built out of plastic (polycarbonate). This is not going to give the smartwatch a premium look or feel, but it is going to make it more lightweight which, considering the size of the Amazfit T-Rex Pro, is a very welcomed design choice. Indeed, the smartwatch may measure 1.9 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches, but it does only weigh 2 ounces and, taking into account the silicone wristband, it does make the Amazfit T-Rex perhaps the most comfortable rugged smartwatch on the market.
On the sides, there are four metallic buttons. On the left side, there are the Up and Down buttons which can be used to navigate through menus and other options in the software, but don’t worry, the display is touchscreen, so you can slide your fingers on the screen as well. The buttons do make sense in an industrial environment, where gloves are mandatory, so you can still use the smartwatch without touching the display. On the right side, there’s the Select button and the Back button, both allowing you to again navigate the software without relying on the display. The manufacturer says that the smartwatch is rated as being waterproof up to 10ATM which means that you can down to 330 feet, but I would still go with professional equipment since this is not really suitable for proper diving.
Furthermore, the encasing is designed in a manner as to remain operational in temperatures that go as low as.10F and as high as 150F. There’s also the aforementioned military grade tests and it seems that the rugged smartwatch passed 15 tests which include the 240h humidity resistance, the shock resistance, the 96 hour salt spray resistance and the ice freezing rain resistance. I haven’t really tested any of these claims, but as I said before, six months after being used by an industrial worker, the Amazfit T-Rex Pro only has a few scratches and nothing more. Within the plastic bezels, rests a 1.35 inch AMOLED display that has a resolution of 360×360 pixels and its battery performance allows for proper Always On Display performance.
And that’s something only a few brands can achieve (including the strange approach of Mobvoi with its TicWatch line). Since we’re dealing with an AMOLED, the colors are vibrant, the blacks are deep, there is a good amount of brightness, so it is better than what we get on far more expensive brands. To make sure that the display will have a better chance at surviving in a harsh environment, the manufacturer has also added a Gorilla Glass 3 protection. The battery life on the Amazfit T-Rex Pro is nothing short of amazing because in the last months, it required charging every 10-12 days and that’s with the display set on Wake on Tilt. I am not sure how well it will behave in a couple of years – for example, my daily driver, the TicWatch Pro 2020 will now barely go above 24 hours with most of its functions enabled.
For the wide audience, these are pretty much all one would need from a rugged smartphone and truth be told, the software is not that great. It’s not bad per se, it’s just quite basic, but it does work for its intended purposes. There are lots of watche faces to choose from (I am still slightly annoyed by the limited options on the TicWatch), you can check your hear rate (uses the BioTracker 2 PPG biological tracking optical sensor) and the blood-oxygen saturation. You can also check your notifications, use any of the 14 available workout modes, check your phone location and more. It’s worth mentioning that the rugged smartwatch uses Bluetooth 5.0 (and BLE), so it will connect to both an Android smartphone and an iPhone, but there is no support for a Wi-Fi connection.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
The Samsung and Apple rivalry has transcended the smartphone market and it entered the smartwatch realm where each manufacturer tried to create the perfect smartwatch suitable for a broader audience. But, while the Apple Watch has effortlessly managed to capture the attention of the public (it almost single handedly put the smartwatch in the mainstream), the other smartwatches (mainly from the Android environment) still have a harder time becoming more relevant in the wearable market. This has also been the case for the Gear series for a while, with Samsung constantly trying to reinvent itself and give its smartwatch line a proper direction. The original Galaxy Watch was already proof that Samsung has gotten more serious and the latest Galaxy Watch seems to be even more refined which made the manufacturer confident that it can surpass Apple Watch’s reign.
While I doubt that’s going to be the case anytime soon, I do have to admit that the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is one of the better looking smartwatches on the market, sporting a design very close to the traditional watch, so it will go very well with a formal attire. Of course, some rugged elements are still present (otherwise it wouldn’t have been a part of the best rugged smartwatches list), so it will be suitable for outdoor activities and survive a slightly more harsh working environment. To accomplish this, it has kept the analogue-type watch look and surrounding the display, there’s the watch bezel made of stainless steel which rotates and gives easy access to your data.
Yes, Samsung has brought back the rotating bezel which got skipped with the Galaxy Watch 2 and it’s worth pointing out that the mechanism is even smoother than on the original smartwatch and will give a satisfying feeling while rotating it. But that’s not all because the stainless steel 316L case of the rugged smartwatch is thinner and it has also lost a bit of weight, so it will feel better on your wrist. As before, the rotating bezel sits a bit more elevated from the screen, which gives the watch an increased protection against accidental hits. I would still be careful to not hit the device against sharp objects because the screen is not made of sapphire, but it is protected by Gorilla Glass DX – the same as on the previous two models. Besides the rotating bezel, the Galaxy Watch also has a Back key located on the right side of the smartwatch and, underneath it, there’s a Home/Power button.
Similarly to its predecessors and other smartwatch brands, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is available as two models, one for smaller wrists (41mm) and the other for people with larger wrists (45mm). The 42mm Galaxy Watch seems to be aimed at women considering that it has a ‘larger’ palette of colors available – it includes Rose Gold. The 45mm variant may initially seem a bit too large or too heavy when compared to the Apple Watch, but, let’s not forget that the Galaxy Watch is an outdoor-type rugged smartwatch and, when compared to the likes of Garmin Fenix 6 or Casio WSD-F30, this rugged Smart watch is actually quite average. As expected, the Galaxy Watch 3 is equipped with all the important sensors: an Ambient Light sensor (to properly adjust the display brightness and contrast), A-GPS/Glonass/Beidou/Galileo, a Heart Rate sensor (positioned on the rear side of the smartwatch, where the device touches your wrist), an Accelerometer, a Barometer, a Gyroscope and an Electrical Heart Sensor (ECG).
Samsung still decided to not add a Magnetometer, so no Compass and there’s no Thermometer. At first, the heart rate monitor did not really seem that accurate while jogging, but, I noticed that after I tightened the strap on my wrist, it has greatly improved the accuracy of the readings. One department that Samsung has made some improvements when it moved to the Galaxy Watch series was on the waterproof department so, similarly to the first model, the Galaxy Watch 3 can be submerged down to 165 feet (5 ATM). Furthermore, besides being waterproof, the Galaxy Watch is also dust-proof (IP68 certified) and it is MIL-STD-810G rated: it has survived 10 specific conditions, which includes low pressure, high altitude, drops from 4.9 feet, vibration and shock and extreme temperatures. Just like its predecessors, the Galaxy Watch comes with either a 20mm or a 22mm strap and it’s made of seemingly genuine leather. Both variants (42 and 45mm) allow the user to change the straps and the mechanism is easy to operate, so swapping them is quick and painless.
On the front, Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Watch with a 1.4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive touch-screen display. but the smaller version comes with a 1.2-inch screen. Both displays feature 16 million colors, have a resolution of 360 x 360 pixels and a pixel density went up to 364 ppi. Although no improvements have been made over the last generation, the display is still very much up to the 2021 standards: it is vibrant, the contrast levels are good, it’s bright enough for sunny days and the blacks are very deep (as expected from an AMOLED). Additionally to the rotating bezel, the touchscreen feels appropriately reactive and fast. The Galaxy Watch 3 allows you to set the display to be always on and, when you’re not looking at the screen, the display slightly dims and it supports a wider range of customization. This feature had a heavy impact on the battery life, so, if the battery life is extremely important to you, you can set the display to turn on only when you raise your wrist (the process is very fast and you won’t notice that the display is off).
Unsurprisingly, Samsung steered clear of the Android Wear and it remained with the proprietary Tizen OS which is now on version 5.5 (a way of competing with both Google and Apple). To navigate the interface, you can use swipe gestures (swipe left to see the notifications, the recently opened apps, view the weather and so on; swipe down to open the status bar, adjust the brightness and volume, open the music player) or the bottom right button (to open the app menu with its circularly arranged icons). If you press and hold the top right button, it will launch the Samsung Pay, which allows the smartwatch to be used as a credit card (supports both NFC and MST – therefore supported by almost all checkout terminals). The Samsung Pay feature will work with some non-Samsung smartphones (minus iPhones) and it can be used with the Galaxy Watch as a standalone (if you don’t have your smartphone with you).
Samsung has worked very hard to push the Tizen OS forward and gather the necessary attention from software developers, so there are far more apps available at the moment than with the first Galaxy Watch, but it seems that the next Galaxy Watch will use the new Google software. In any case, using Tizen OS, you get the Samsung Health (it provides fitness tracking, including new exercise modes for both indoors and outdoors workouts and can accurately enough detect when the user switches the exercise; it can also track your sleeping time decently well), Bixby (a voice assistant – useful to perform calls or send emails) or the SOS function (tap the Home key three times to send an emergency message to your contacts or perform an SOS call). The Galaxy Watch 3 rugged smartwatch will work with both Android smartphones (offers a full range of control, but you need to install the Galaxy Wearable app) and iPhones (also offers a wide range of control, but it is mostly limited by the iOS).
The Galaxy Watch is equipped with the same dual-core 1.15 GHz Exynos 9110 chipset as the first Galaxy Watch, it has 8GB of internal storage and apparently only 1 GB RAM. It’s a bit surprising that Samsung would cut the amount of RAM on the Galaxy Watch 3, even though so far, it didn’t seem to have had much of an impact on the performance of the device. Connectivity-wise, the rugged smartwatch supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 5.0. Furthermore, the Galaxy Watch is also equipped with a non-removable 340-mAh battery, same as its predecessor. It’s clearly not enough to get an excellent battery life and the most you’ll be able to get with an LTE connection and with the always-on screen turned off will be about 2 to 3 days (with moderate use).
Kospet Tank T1 Rugged Smartwatch
I have been postponing adding a Kospet rugged smartwatch to this list, but after testing the Tank T1, I think it’s time to take a serious look at how the inexpensive devices are able to hold their ground against the costlier options from the market. I have already added the Amazfit T-Rex which offers a lot of value for the money and the Kospet Tank T1 seems to be in the same league.
I have tested the Kospet Tank M1 a few months ago and, while it was a solid option for the price, the design held it back a lot (seemed a bit cheap) but the manufacturer remedied that when it developed the Tank T1. Indeed, the rugged smartwatch features a metallic bezel which surrounds a circular display and there are two metallic buttons on the right side as well. The rest of the device is made of plastic, but that’s something to be expected considering the price tag of the device.
Even so, you should be able to wear the Kospet Tank T1 with a casual or more formal wear and also take it with you while working out or swimming (it is a waterproof smartwatch after all). At the same time, the device is a bit large (49mm) but, as I mentioned in the full review, it did not look bad on my thin wrist (they may go with a smaller version in the future, as Apple does).
What I didn’t like that much was the strap which is made of silicone and doesn’t really complement the design of the Kospet Tank T1 – you also get a camouflage strap as well. You can change the straps to whatever you like since they use a universal closing mechanism. The two buttons on the side of the rugged smartwatch have a simple purpose, the first one is the Power button and the second is the Return button (which will also enable the Apple Watch-like menu).
On the rear panel, the Kospet Tank T1 has the HR sensor to detect the hear beats per minute, to check the blood pressure (not that accurate though, which was expected), the SP01 (Oxygen level in the blood) and there’s also a pedometer to check for the number of steps that you took. The gyroscope is not that great though because the Tilt-to-Wake function is terrible, requiring for ample movements. And it’s something that I saw with all Kospet smartwatches that I tested so far (the Tank M1 and the Optimus 2).
Since I mentioned that this is a rugged smartwatch, it’s important to know that the device is built to be (seemingly) shockproof. The MIL-STD tests that the manufacturer ran does include dropping the smartwatch from very high and the raised bezels can help if you bump the device into things.
Then, there’s the IP69K rating which means that the Kospet Tank T1 is dustproof and as close to being waterproof as possible. To be more specific, the rugged smartwatch can withstand 5ATM of pressure (meaning that you can submerge it down to 164 feet). Also, it seems that the smartwatch was tested with corrosive substances (5% NaCl) and it did fine, so it will survive in a construction site and in an industrial setting.
The display 1.32-inches and it’s a TFT panel with a 360×360 pixels resolution. It’s a decently bright display with a fair representation of colors. There is a bit of glare, but the black levels are surprisingly deep (the whites are also not yellowish or with a green tint, which is a plus). The display is touchscreen, but the function to wake on double-tap is missing and I am actually missing it, especially since the Tilt-to-Wake is not that great. The software itself is the same lightweight set of tools that you see on most inexpensive devices, so nothing specially tailored for the Kospet smartwatches.
And this is probably the most relevant weakness that both the Tank T1 and the Amazfit T-Rex have because any other brand that I mentioned in this list offers a lot more in terms of fitness tracking – Garmin is actually phenomenal at this. You still do get some fitness tracking with about 20 different modes and there’s also the HR monitoring which is decently accurate when you’re not working out (at that point, it just gives up).
But there is an advantage that this rugged smartwatch has over its competitors that are more expensive. It’s the battery life. While an Apple Watch barely manages to survive a day, a device like the Kospet Tank T1 can last for about 2 weeks. Sure, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but a lot of people don’t need them. Note: The Kospet Tank T1 uses Bluetooth 5.0 to connect to the smartphone for the dedicated app.
Mark is a graduate in Computer Science, having gathered valuable experience over the years working in IT as a programmer. Mark is also the main tech writer for MBReviews.com, covering not only his passion, the networking devices, but also other cool electronic gadgets that you may find useful for your every day life.