With GPS run watches becoming ever smarter, more efficient, phone-connected and around-the-clock useful, it was inevitable that the battle to stay on our wrists 24/7 and for all occasions would go upscale. These state-of-the-art running watches not only perform magnificently, but each in its own way seeks to make style statements through its design, screen quality and materials.
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Suunto Spartan Ultra
$700–$850, depending on options
Suunto’s first color touch screen watch is a beauty. Rounder than the Fēnix and lighter by 15 grams, its three buttons are perfectly placed on the watch’s right side for easy reach. The touch screen performs superbly with sweaty fingers and is backed up in run control by buttons (which we discovered when caught in a downpour). The sapphire screen has a very intuitive user interface and the highest resolution of the three here. It is easy to view multiple data fields on the run. The crisp analog and digital faces change the personality of the watch for après run wear. Battery life is two hours longer than the Fēnix in training mode, but without the wrist heart rate of the others (due late this year in the tri-focused Spartan Sport). Spartan Ultra is loaded with multisport and vertical mountain features, but functionality is a work in progress—Suunto is continually releasing software updates. Styles include black and titanium bezels, and black and white stainless steel bezels.
In contrast to the burlier Garmin and Suunto models, the Polar M600 has lighter, sleeker, square design, and an open Android Wear operating system for its first wrist-based optical heart rate GPS and first model with a color display and touchscreen. The training features are superbly executed, but a bit harder to see on the smallish screen than on the others. It’s in between the Fēnix and Spartan in screen resolution. The M600’s color screen is made of the same Gorilla Glass found on smartphones. Android Wear provides access to more than 4,000 apps and even the ability to have the watch function as a standalone Bluetooth music player. iPhone users get the notifications, music control and phone features analogous to the other watches here. There are performance tradeoffs compared to the others: Battery life is 8 hours in training mode; one day (iPhone), two days (Android) when the phone is connected. It’s available in black or white.
Garmin fēnix 3 HR
$600–$1,500, depending on options
Garmin’s top-end multisport smartwatch offers 16 hours of training with GPS and wrist heart rate, 40 hours in Ultra Trac mode, and two weeks in everyday phone-connected use. We particularly like its 24/7 heart rate monitoring to help gauge recovery. Incredibly rugged, the Fēnix 3 uses five buttons on both sides to operate the watch, but it doesn’t have touchscreen functionality. We found in-run scrolling of stats by buttons a bit more awkward than the easy swipe of other watches here. The screen is protected with a durable sapphire crystal and stainless steel bezel. The mostly monochrome display is very visible in all light conditions. The just-announced luxe Fēnix Chronos heart rate models ($900-$1,500) come with choices of titanium bezels and titanium hybrid bands, as well as steel and leather bands. Models without wrist heart rate function are also available in six style choices.