Listen Up! The Best GPS Running Watches for Music

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When I go for a run, I’m a big fan of taking a playlist of music with me. Sometimes it’s bands or albums I’ve never heard before, other times it’s a hit parade of classics I can count on when the workout gets tough. Music can be a distraction from the tiredness or it can be used to fuel your motivation to new levels.

But do you really want to carry around an iPod and a GPS running watch? Of course you could carry your smartphone, but that does add a bit of extra weight into the situation. Thankfully, there’s a new generation of fitness wearables emerging which make things better. I’ve shortlisted the best for your listening pleasure…

Garmin Foreunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music - Best GPS watches with music storageYes that’s right, finally in 2018 a Garmin GPS watch with music features! As a brand with a reputation for quality made sports tracking wearables, Garmin are quite late to the table when it comes to music functionality. The Forerunner 645 Music, or 645M for short, is the first Garmin release to allow users to store music on the watch itself, up to 500 songs it claims. The 645 Music is still very much a sports watch first, capturing metrics across running, cycling and swimming. GPS, heart-rate training zones, VO2 Max score; they’re all features Garmin has done countless times across various iterations of the Forerunner series.

With a spring 2018 release, the watch is priced up at $399, perhaps more expensive than most Garmin Forerunner products – and that’s without a pair of Bluetooth headphones. If that’s out your price range, I reckon they’ll add the functionality into their mid and low tier devices over the next two years; much like they did with on-wrist Elevate heart rate tracking in 2017.

If you don’t mind the idea of running with your mobile phone, then other Garmin’s like the Vivoactive series are half the price. These give you the option to control your music playlist from the watch screen, as long as you’re within range of your phone.

Fitbit Ionic

Best GPS music watches - Fitbit Ionic

Fitbit Ionic

It’s the first Fitbit release to have built in music storage. Claiming a capacity of 300+ songs (2.5GB), the Ionic has enough capacity to keep a playlist feeling fresh after several workouts. In the United States, Ionic wearers with Pandora Plus/Premium subscriptions can download and listen to their favourite stations offline. With GPS and PurePulse heart rate tracking built in, you won’t feel shortchanged on fitness features.

You will need a pair of Bluetooth headphones for music playback, if you don’t own any don’t panic. Have a look out for Ionic offers which bundle up with the Fitbit Flyer, for a pair that are designed with exercise in mind.

Older Fitbit releases such as the Surge offer GPS but only allow you to control music playlists on your phone. The Ionic gives you much greater freedom to exercise phone free. Compare Fitbit differences guide.

Apple Watch Series 3 / Apple Watch Nike+ Series 3

Best running music watches - Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+

Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+

Fair play Apple, I’ll admit I was critical of your debut watch release, but this 2017 outing is on another level. GPS, check. Storage for music, check. So far so good.

Where this gets interesting is the GPS + Cellular version gives you phone features without needing to carry one. By having a sim card in the watch, you can ring or text a friend for help if you get a puncture for instance. Where music comes into play here though, is the ability to stream an Apple music subscription directly to the watch. A library of more than 40 million tracks is pretty much as good as it gets. Though not yet released as a feature, let’s hope the usability is there to easy navigate through all that choice.

You can pay less on an Apple Watch Series 3 through buying the GPS only version. You won’t have access to Apple Music wherever, but with 8GB internal storage for software and apps, there’ll likely be 2-3GB of space at least for your own music playlists.

With music storage space available on the TomTom Spark you can upload your playlists directly to the watch and playback without the need to carry around a smartphone.

TomTom Spark

Released in late 2015, the TomTom Spark can store approximately 500 songs on your wrist without the need of a smartphone. Though their site doesn’t give an exact storage, I estimate you’d get up to 2GB of internal storage on the watch for your tracks. To listen to your playlists, just wirelessly connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones and you’re all set to go.

For a limited period, the Spark is pre-loaded with Ministry of Sounds’ album “Running Trax” which includes tracks from the likes of Clean Bandit and David Guetta.

Beyond the music, the Spark is a fully fledged GPS running watch with heart rate measured from the wrist and 24/7 step and sleep tracking.

Motorola Moto 360 Sport

Motorola Moto 360 SportIf you fancy a watch that looks good away from the running track, the Moto 360 Sport may tick the box. It runs Android Wear giving you access to a whole host of apps from Google Play. Tracks can be played directly from the 4GB storage (Probably up to 2GB user memory) so just transfer over to the watch to use independently from your phone.

For sporty features, the Moto 360 is a strong choice with built in GPS, on wrist heart rate tracking and ability to download apps such as Strava, Fitbit (yes Fitbit!) and MapMyRun.

Sony Smartwatch 3

Sony SmartWatch 3As the Android Wear alternative, the SmartWatch 3 mixes a plentiful app store (Google Play) with sports features such as GPS. With 4GB memory on the device, I imagine you’ll get between 2-3GB of music storage if you account for the Android Wear software and any additional apps you have installed. The GPS in this watch can work simultaneously while you’re playing music on the device and using a fitness app such as RunKeeper. Its got all the bases covered!

When in range of an Android smartphone you can use the SmartWatch 3 as a remote to play the tracks from your phone storage. Ideal if the music on your watch starts to sound a little stale.

Timex Ironman One GPS+

Timex product specs on Amazon state the 4GB storage can store up to 1000 songs. This seems quite high compared to the other releases, so take the number with a pinch of salt.

Though released in USA, Timex haven’t yet brought it to UK shores so I can’t test it. This may be due to the freebie 1 year of data on the AT&T carrier which isn’t a network over here. Its unlikely you’d be able to use the data to stream music, rather its for features such as sending texts and uploading runs to Strava without the use of your phone. Nevertheless, it ticks the box of getting you listening to music on your long runs.

 

Samsung Gear S2

This Tizen timepiece runs Samsung’s own software rather than Android, but still gives you access to popular fitness apps such as Nike+ and RunKeeper. With 4GB internal memory you can store music directly onto the watch itself, though I reckon 50% of this memory will already be used up with Samsung related software. You should be able to get enough songs on the watch for a workout.

 Built in GPS and on-wrist heart rate mean you can listen to your music without compromising on running metrics.

Samsung Gear S2 music connectivity

The Gear S2 is compatible with Samsung smartphones which run at least Android OS 4.3 and have at least 1.5GB of RAM, so as far back as the Samsung Galaxy S43, Galaxy A3 or Note 3. If you own an Android phone which isn’t Samsung, it’s also compatible with many other devices from the likes of HTC, Huawei, LG and Sony (Android OS 4.4 minimum requirements and 1.5GB RAM).

 

Where do I plug in my headphones?

Unlike smartphones and mp3 players where you would stick your headphone plug into a 3.5mm jack, the wearables listed above all require Bluetooth headphones to enjoy the music. This keeps your activity wire-free and gives you the freedom to move.

 

Verdict

Time spent alone on a run is a great opportunity to get your head stuck into some tunes. Its great to see a range of GPS watches offering music functionality from the wrist, removing hassle and freeing up the running movement. The only question to answer now, is of all the songs you own, which make it onto your watch?

Then again, you always rely on others to bring music to your exercise routine…

Running with music


Compare Prices Below

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 645 MusicLinks to Amazon

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Fitbit Ionic

Best GPS music watches - Fitbit IonicLinks to Amazon

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I'm a super keen injured runner with over 20 years experience in races and endurance training. Get in touch with me over Twitter, G+ on in the comments below.