Highlight: The ultimate training tool.
As a training watch, the 620 can’t be beat. With the best GPS connectivity available, it links with satellites almost immediately. Speed updates in a matter of seconds—the lag was shortest among the GPS watches in this review—and the touch screen helps navigate through a multitude of features, including mapping. Paired with Garmin’s HRM-Run chest strap, the 620 provides useful insight into your stride, which reminded a tester to hold it together at the end of a challenging tempo workout. Expect to spend a little time learning to use the device. The interface is good, but the watch is so multifunctional that it still takes time to master.
Highlight: Attractive and functional.
The stylish band illuminates from within to display steps, calories, total activity or the time of day. Polar’s app helps easily track your data—this is a really good version of a basic fitness tracker, a perfect tool to get started with exercise. Just don’t expect to use the Loop to train for your next race—this is strictly an activity monitor, not a training device.
Highlight: Strapless HR improved.
An optical heart rate sensor on the back of the Alpha 2 reads your pulse without a chest strap. But be prepared to cinch it down tightly; that’s when data was most reliable. When firmly in place it reads accurately, closely mirroring numbers from a hear rate strap during testing. The second-generation Alpha gains accelerometer-based speed and distance functions. Runners looking for a general sense of pace and distance will love it, although it seemed to stray more than the best GPS devices.
Highlight: Fresher shoes.
Ask a shoe expert when to replace a worn pair and you’re likely to get a wide-ranging suggestion based on mileage. But the design of the shoe and differences between runners have a major impact on the usable life of the shoe. Mino is a thin device that slides under the insole to measure the impact absorbed by your specific shoe, giving a more accurate gauge of its lifespan. It’s barely noticeable and, for just $15, a cheap insurance plan against injury. Race flats wear more quickly than sturdy trainers, however, so Mino isn’t a foolproof solution.
Highlight: Multifunctional yet intuitive.
This is an activity tracker that’s been souped up specifically for runners. Steps, calories and total daily distance—the Surge records it all, and boasts impressively responsive GPS to track speed and distance during a run. Optical heart rate ups its usefulness during workouts. The fully functional touch screen makes the data easier to read than any other activity tracker and FitBit nailed the design and usability. Testers preferred it to the Mio, which offers similar features. It’s a device with the style and functionality that Apple lovers would be proud to have.
Highlight: Real-time coaching.
The headphones and heart rate monitor are just tools—Pear is a virtual coach that responds to your body. Pick a workout or complete training plan within the app based on your goals, and the plan’s author will provide cues through the headphones to help you stay within the prescribed HR zones. Athletes looking for a lot of guidance will appreciate Pear the most. It offers frequent advice that can help newbies quickly learn how to navigate a workout, but some veteran runners may find the audio interruptions extraneous.
Free with paid upgrades, runtastic.com
Highlight: Training advice in a tracker.
This workout-tracking app does more than record your training, it also helps craft your schedule. Runtastic monitors workouts as well as any fitness app and offers pre-programed interval workouts, maps of routes across the globe and paid training plans built around specific time goals for all the major distances. Playing music stored on your phone is a cinch.
Highlight: Affordable speed and distance.
For an extra 50 bucks or so, the x20 adds GPS-based speed and distance tracking to a familiar Ironman-style watch. Connectivity is surprisingly good considering the price—you won’t be standing around waiting for this watch to sync to satellites. The biggest tradeoff for the low price? The software is clunky compared to higher-end GPS watches, but this watch is a perfect tool for athletes looking to refine the pace and distance of interval and tempo workouts.