Take control of your workout tunes and leave your smartphone at home
Music makes running easier, but for those looking to run to their tunes and have their workouts tracked with a GPS running watch, it usually means strapping on a smartphone, too.
The good news is the latest running watches and smartwatches are coming equipped with on-board storage and even music streaming access, so you can leave your smartphone behind and run untethered.
While dedicated sports watches still offer the best way to train, GPS-equipped smartwatches are quickly catching up. And below are our picks for the best running watches with music playback skills.
Best running watch with music playback
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Yes, Garmin finally made a sports watch with a built-in music player. The Forerunner 645 lets you drag and drop music files from your computer to your watch and pair Bluetooth headphones to give you another reason to leave that smartphone behind.
There’s one physical button on the side of the watch dedicated to giving you quick access to those music controls, letting you do the basics like skip through tracks and change playlists.
Along with enough room for 500 songs, Garmin is also offering offline listening support for select music streaming services. Deezer is one of those services on board. There’s also support for iHeart Radio, but Garmin might be looking for an alternative after the iHeartRadio owner recently filed for bankruptcy.
£399.99, garmin.com | Amazon
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music
Now, we know that the Garmin is not cheap, so we’ve decided to suggest a more affordable route to a music-packing sports watch, too.
TomTom may now be getting out of the wearables game, but that doesn’t mean the Spark 3 isn’t still a great option when it comes to running with music.
Not only does it boast all the normal running metrics (distance, speed, time), but its built-in optical heart rate monitor aced our tests and plugs into nearly every running app.
In terms of music, though, it’s the storage for 500 or so MP3s (3GB), which it’ll play via a pair of wireless headphones, that helps the latest Spark standout from the TomTom crowd. The feeling of running unencumbered by your phone isn’t to be underestimated. Make sure you get the ‘+Music’ version though, obviously.
And if you like trail running, you should check out our TomTom Adventurer review. It offers all the same music playback features along with some additional outdoor sports tracking modes.
£219.99, tomtom.com | Amazon
With TomTom not the most reliable option moving forward, it’s also worth throwing the Amazfit Stratos – another budget option compared to the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music – into this list.
It doesn’t just compare favourably to the top pick in this field with regard to price, either, with the Stratos matching Garmin with 4GB of storage data for your music files. In our testing, we found the music controls to be limited, but generally the playback lives up to basic expectations.
Like other sports watches, the meat here is in its built-in tracking modes, which is also backed up by GPS/GLONASS support and a heart rate monitor. Thanks to a partnership with Firstbeat, more advanced metrics, such as VO2 Max and Training Load, are also on board.
$199.99, amazfit.com | Amazon
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
We wondered if Garmin would find room to pack its new music features into its most serious outdoor sports watch and we didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
The Fenix 5 Plus series includes the Fenix 5 Plus, Fenix 5S Plus and the Fenix 5X Plus. All three models now include the same features that rolled out first on the Forerunner 645 Music. So you can transfer music and podcasts to the watch and download offline playlists from music streaming services like Deezer. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include Spotify right now.
The good news is that while these new features have been added in, they haven’t been at the expense of the big battery life that makes the Fenix watches some of the best in the business when you are planning to put in some serious sports tracking time.
From £599.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Smartwatches with fitness & music
While running watches have long been the only choice for serious athletes, the smartwatch is fast catching up. The benefit is that smartwatches have the full power of apps at their disposal, while dedicated running trackers are one-trick ponies, albeit with superior tracking chops.
Choosing a smartwatch currently means losing the in-depth stats, such as cadence tracking, vertical oscillation monitoring and other pro-running feedback, but means you can get big beats straight to your headphones.
Apple Watch Nike+
With the Nike+ edition, Apple has given its smartwatch more of a focus on running, while tweaking the strap and software to make it easier for runners to strap it on and put the built-in GPS to the test. But behind the Nike-themed watch face, it’s still Watch Series 3 at heart – and Apple is greatly improving how you experience music through its latest generation.
Previously, you could play music by transferring playlists from your phone and pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones. Now, though, Apple Music subscribers rocking the Series 3 with LTE will be able to stream music directly from the watch. The feature was delayed at launch, but has now started rolling out. And for those who want to save money, you’ll have to pick up the Watch Series 1 if you want to experience (non-streaming) music playback, with the Series 2 now confined to the smartwatch graveyard.
From £329 (£399 for Series 3 LTE), apple.com | Amazon
Samsung Galaxy Watch
Like the rest of the Samsung smartwatch bunch, the new Galaxy Watch offers a music feature that no other smartwatch currently does, and that’s a dedicated Spotify app. This means you can stream music (over Wi-Fi or LTE) and download offline playlists from the streaming service onto the watch.
You can also transfer music through Samsung’s own music player and thankfully it’s really easy to do from the Gear Companion app. The new Galaxy Watch now comes in 42mm and 46mm sizes, with both offering 4GB of storage to pile on your music and Spotify playlists.
From £279.99, samsung.com | Amazon
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
Like the Forerunner 645 Music and Fenix 5 Plus series, Garmin has added the same music features to the watch you can say is the closest to being an Apple Watch rival.
That means you can drag and drop audio files onto the watch when you hook it up to a computer and it’ll offer offline playlists support for select music streaming services.
On top of that, you get the same sports tracking features packed in the Vivoactive 3 sans music support, including Garmin Pay, GPS, heart rate monitor and big battery life.
From £299.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Fitbit’s first smartwatch was also its first device to pack in music streaming from the wrist, though just where you are depends on how effective this feature currently works.
Unfortunately, unlike Samsung, there’s no Spotify support just yet, but those in the US will have access to Pandora in order access offline listening. If you’re in Europe, that door is closed to you, but it does have Deezer support, which recently landed on the watch.
Thankfully, putting music on the watch itself is actually fairly straightforward, since this can be done through Fitbit’s own music app. To do so, you need to go through the desktop Fitbit Connect app and select the files you want to sync. Once on there, it’s a case of pairing your Bluetooth headphones with the watch and you’re away. This feature is also available on the slimmer Fitbit Versa smartwatch, which lacks the built-in GPS powers of the Ionic but still offers plenty of solid sports tracking features.
From £279.99, fitbit.com | Amazon
Samsung Gear Sport
If you don’t want to spend big on the latest Samsung smartwatch, you could always consider the Gear Sport, instead.
Just like the Gear S3 and the Galaxy Watch, the Gear Sport’s killer feature in this regard is the ability to tap into Spotify. You can sync music either via the phone’s Bluetooth connection or by connecting your watch to your Wi-Fi, and once you’re all logged in you can browse all of your playlists and select what you’d like to download.
The smartwatch harbours 4GB of built-in storage to stick those your music on, which is about 500 songs, and is a great pickup for those looking for something slightly cheaper from Samsung.
From £299, samsung.com | Amazon
Very much a Polar running watch first and Wear smartwatch second; the Polar M600 is unashamedly a fitness device, so much so that it’s almost inaccurate to compare it to the current crop of smartwatches at all.
But a smartwatch it is and, as such, it comes with the same musical skills as the rest of the Wear-clan. GPS run tracking is on the money and the stats and metrics the excellent Flow app provides post-run make it the top smartwatch for runners.
£299, polar.com | Amazon
LG Watch Sport
The LG Watch Sport was one of the two debut Android Wear 2.0 (now Wear) smartwatches, the other being the LG Watch Style. It’s a well-equipped fitness watch, with built-in GPS which we found to be spot-on.
As for music options, there’s Google Play Music support straight from the watch, but if that’s not your bag, there’s 2.35GB of storage to load your own music onto the device, too.
$349, LG.com | Amazon