Got the Samsung but iWatch 4 was the true overall winner
Looking for the best running watch with music and GPS? Maybe even a watch with Spotify? Me too. I’ve noticed increasingly the big movement towards being phone-free, this is especially true with walkers, runners and outdoor sports enthusiasts.
To have a running watch with music AND GPS built-in is what people want most of all so they can leave their phone at home and be free to run, track their run stats, and enjoy good music while running. All that with no phone calls and no interruptions. But, you need it to be good right? It can’t have terrible Bluetooth that drops the music, you can’t have bad GPS that drops your run mapping stats or heart rate monitoring.
Recently I spent an extensive amount of time online researching to buy a watch suitable for running with music and Bluetooth headphones that allowed my wife to leave her phone at home – phone-free running with music (and GPS). This research took me so long, I felt it would be worth sharing in the event it helps others.
When I say it took me a long time – probably over 9 hours of research. Overdoing it really.
The idea of running with only Bluetooth headphones and a watch, while still tracking GPS location, pace, heart rate, times while listening to music without the need for a bulky armband for your phone sounds to me like a perfect scenario.
Leaving my phone at home is a freeing feeling and good for me to be in a good headspace (and you too I expect). In addition to researching for my wife, I also researched and purchased a smartwatch – although my priorities were smartwatch first and running watch with mp3 music second.
Running Watch with Music Research
Most of the research I did was on Amazon but there are a lot of running blogs that have bits and pieces here and there. My issue was that no one blog had all the options listed. There were posts about music on your watch but only a couple of models.
So the list that I’ve compiled (as at July 2019) is as up to date as possible with only running watches that include phone-free music as standard. I won’t put prices here as they change frenetically so easier to check the price for each at the time your researching to buy. Links for each below.
riteria for a running watch with music
- No need for phone
- Accurate GPS (Glonass a bonus)
- Easy to use interface for running
- Good Bluetooth for headphones/earphones
- Good heart rate monitor
- Decent amount of space for downloading music on to the phone
‘Nice to have’ for this music running watch
- Spotify with download option on watch
- Great battery life for long runs when GPS, Music and Heartrate tracker are all working.
- Integrates with Runkeeper first, or Strava as a second choice.
Full list of running watches with phone-free music (for 2019)
The notes on the end of some of the watches
Quick List (longer details follow below)
- Vivoactive 3 Music (Most affordable Garmin with Music)
- Apple iWatch 4 (Best watch overall)
- Amazfit Stratos
- Fitbit Ionic
- Polar M600
- Samsung Galaxy Watch
- Apple iWatch 3 (Still good value)
- LG Watch Sport
- Garmin Forerunner 645 (Good choice for runners and Garmin fans)
- Samsung Gear Sport
- Motorola Moto 360 Sport
- Huawei Watch 2 Sport (Best Android compatible watch – see our review of the Huawei Watch 2 Sport here)
- Fossil Sport
- Garmin Fenix 5X Plus (Most ridiculously powerful sports watch for 2019. #hardcore.)
New Running Watches with Music and GPS added in 2019
Since writing this original post I did say I’d update this as new models of running watches with music come to marketing in 2019. Also with offline music options.
The release of the Qualcomms Snapdragon 3100 processor for Android watches will improve performance and the release of the Apple iWatch 5 will certainly spice things up. Fossil have been quick to release new watches this year with the latest being the Gen 5 range: Carlyle and Julianna.
The new Samsung Galaxy Active uses the proprietary Samsung Tizen OS which seems to be performing quite well as a sports & running watch. I certainly think they have done one of the best looking round watch face sports watches that also crosses over to everyday wear. The screen is lovely.
I expect this year we’ll see a lot more sports watches come to market with Spotify built in with offline options for downloading music to the watch.
So, here is the updated list of new watches with music for 2019:
- Samsung Galaxy Watch Active – it looks really nice. There is a nice black colour but also a really lovely Rose Gold aimed at women. Both 40mm faces. Wireless charging.
- Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle – Men’s – comes with 8GB storage
- Fossil Gen 5 Julianna – Woman’s – also comes with 8GB storage. That’s a lot of offline music!
- Huawei Watch GT – looks a little similar to the last one but it’s much better, and a little sexier.
- TicWatch Pro 4G – This new release from mobvio. A 4G model with Wear OS. Also looks very nice. Only on Verizon at the moment which is sad but still a great option if you want cellular! Streaming music. Sadly still the Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip but more RAM which helps!
- CASIO Pro Trek (WSD-F30) – I have a real soft spot for Casio so I was delighted to see this model released in July. It’s running Wear OS. I’m sorry this does not have music on board but I hope you’ll indulge my love for Casio and let me include it.
- Apple iWatch 5 – not expected until September 2019 but considering I felt the iWatch 4 was the best pick for this when I wrote it, I expect it will make a great running watch and allow music without needing your phone. This will probably include Spotify offline music, if we’re lucky. More on that when the iWatch 5 is released.
New smart watch with music & gps releases in 2019
Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle
New for 2019 and already exciting all the Wear OS / Fossil fans in the Fossil Gen 5. This is perfectly aimed at a market of people where it’s common for both people in the relationship to have the watch. The customer seems to be young and cool. The style between the watches is not vastly different, but different enough that the Gen 5 Carlyle and Julianna are clearly designed with both Men and Women respectively. The Gen 5 Julianna has a beautiful Rose Gold model which will appeal to a lot of women and definitely brings a new look for a ladies smart watch with music.
Fossil have jammed in the features and the most significant improvement with the Fossil Gen 5 is the upgraded processor – now the Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100, upgraded from the 2100. Speed has always been one of the major complaints with Wear OS devices so the Snapdragon Wear 3100 is a welcome update to Wear OS smart watches. As it is the newest and best broad market watch in 2019 it is going to sell like hotcakes. I also expect this and the Samsung Galaxy Active will battle it out.
Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle Features
- Wrist based Heartrate tracking
- Changeable watch bands – style is important people.
- 8GB on watch storage which gives plenty of room for music
- Google Pay
- Swimproof (3 ATM)
- Speaker and microphone built-in
- Wear OS
- Google Assistant
- For a new release, it’s affordable
- Includes all the things you want or need in a running watch & smart watch
- 8GB is a good amount of on watch storage for apps/music etc
- 44mm for the Carlyle is a great size for display
- Snapdragon 3100 chip is faster and able to handle more – especially things like Google Assistant commands.
- Great battery life.
- Swimproof is a big win here.
- Size might be a lot for skinny wrists unless you like that look
- Nothing else of note.
Each running watch with music and GPS in more detail
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has a few things going for it. Overall the price and features make this a Top 3 choice for runners who what a good running watch + GPS + onboard music. Here are the key features, positives and some negatives.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Features
- Download and store up to 500 songs on the watch
- Bluetooth headphone compatible
- Garmin Pay available (contactless payment method unique to Garmin)
- Wrist-based heart rate
- VO2 Max measurements
- It’s a smartwatch too
- Bunch of preloaded sports apps
- Some smartwatch apps available e.g. Uber
- 5 Hour battery life with running and GPS going
- 7 Day batter life in smartwatch mode
- It’s a Garmin. That seems to hold a lot of weight in the running world.
- Equal memory size to most other watches so no points off for that.
- 2 Colours available
- Waterproof 5 ATM
- GPS, Glonass & Galileo (all three 😄 )
- All-day stress tracking – this is unique to Garmin.
- Affordable price considering the Brand and features.
- Garmin Pay – not convinced about this one.
- Limited colours – be nice in White
The Vivoactive 3 Music is available on Amazon here for latest price and more reviews: Vivoactive 3 Music
Apple iWatch 4
The Apple iWatch 4 is almost a given in this. It has a fantastic processor speed which ensures that it not only makes a great running watch (with music) but it also is the best all-round smartwatch available. With the ECG feature available in the
It’s expected the Apple iWatch 5 will launch in September of 2019 so we’ll have to see if that knocks this off the top in terms of value for money.
Apple iWatch 4 Features
- Comes in a variety of colours to choose from. Lots of watch bands to choose from too.
- Adjustable and swappable bands
. a plenty
- The Apple iWatch 4 can include a nano-SIM which is unique to other phones.
- Speed – processor is unmatched in a smart device currently
- ECG – it’s a medical device too
- GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS. If you can’t get a signal for tracking your runs…you must run in a cave.
- Software updates are a sure bet for at least a few years. It might slow down but it’ll get some of the good stuff they release each year.
- Music can be streamed or downloaded.
- 16GB storage facility – most running smart watches with music only have 4GB. It’s be shared but it’s still much better.
- nano-SIM. Leave your phone behind – run without it and still take/make phone calls and control Siri etc.
- Cost. Big expensive cost.
- It’s square. A subjective thing but feels wrong being square
- Probable not fully featured for Android users.
Amazfit Stratos Multisport Smartwatch
I really wanted to get this watch. It was a real contender – the features are plentiful and the screen looks really nice. It also has a natural round watch shape which was appealing. I was a bit too masculine and large for my wife but I seriously considered it for myself. Seriously impressive value for money for a running watch with music.
Amazfit Stratos Features
- 5 ATM water-resistant – this would be OK for swimming in
- VO2 Max
- GPS + Glonass
- Heart rate sensor
- 22mm regular watch strap
- Waterproof (5 ATM)
- Battery life
- Built-in music capabilities
- Value for money
- Overall features for a watch are plenty
- Decent processor speed
- Strava features
- Multisports mode
- No NFC
- Slightly complicated user experience
- Music – ensure you have good Bluetooth signal
- Not sure about OS platform – no evidence it’s WearOS so…?
- Music space approx. 2gb (4gb total on watch)
Definitely a design that people will love or love…less. This Fitbit Ionic just didn’t seem to hold enough ‘tech bling’ for me. So as a running fitness watch, it’s a subjective choice for sure. It’s very popular and a solid brand behind it.
Fitbit Ionic Features
- Store and play up to 300+ songs. Depending on the quality of the music files – this seems pretty typical but some units go up to 500 songs.
- Smartphone notifications
- NFC including mobile payments
- Phone free music (like all watches on this list)
- Sleep tracking included
- Build in coaching features
- Experienced brand
- Design – if you like it
- Build quality
- Water resistant (50m – 5ATM).
- Finger sized friendly screen
- Good battery life
- Heart rate wristbased monitor
- Design if you don’t like it
- Can be a little slow
- Storage is plenty but some might want more.
Polar is not new to the running watch game, or the fitness tracking game in general. I remember over a decade ago I owned a Polar heart rate chest band. For a square watch, the Polar M600 looks pretty good. Reviews are not stellar which is a shame as I like the look of it.
Polar M600 Features
- 4GB of space for MP3 music.
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Wrist heart rate monitor
- GPS and GLONASS
- Waterproof – we think this is a real plus for a sports watch. Well done Polar.
- Looks good
- Single push-action button
- Onboard music – 4GB is as good as anyone else
- Includes a smart coaching feature which, in our opinion, is quite handy
- GPS and GLONASS
- Runs Android Wear OS
- Waterproof – so you can swim in this one. Big plus
- Android Wear OS can be slow.
- Good watch but lacking some advanced tracking metrics if those are important.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
The Samsung Galaxy Watch is probably one of the best selling smartwatches right now. It’s not specifically a running watch but as it has all the sporty bits and it has music so it seemed wrong to leave it off. Clearly, the look alone will turn some people off, especially my wife, or so I predicted. The Galaxy watch did lead me to the eventual choice for her and it was extremely close to being my choice also. Safe to say the Samsung Galaxy Watch is one of the only serious current competitors to the Apple iWatch.
Samsung Galaxy Features
- 46 mm watch face (also comes in 42mm watch face)
- 4GB internal storage
- Light sensor (for dynamic display)
- Wireless charging
- Samsung Pay
- Swim proof – not sure that means waterproof.
- Built-in microphone and speakers
- Looks great for a tough watch
- Great battery life
- Swim proof
- Samsung Pay built-in
- Samsung Health & Fitness tracking included (same as their sports watches)
- Bluetooth connectivity
- MP3 storage for phone-free running and exercise with music
- Round watch face – more natural
- Built-in microphone and speaker means you can take calls on this. Your phone has to be in Bluetooth reach but you can answer and talk through the watch
- Wireless charging on the Samsung Galaxy Watch is great. So much easier not having to line up charging points.
- Proprietary OS. Generally, I tend to prefer Google/Apple/Samsung type platforms where updates are somewhat assured.
Apple iWatch 3
The Apple iWatch 3 is still an awesome watch. The iWatch 4 might have come with the cool ECG features and a faster processor, but the Apple iWatch 3 is still a serious contender. In the recent Amazon Prime day, the prices were reduced even further so you will have little regret in buying one as the price and features are still great. It’s swim-proof which will appeal to the aqua minded.
Apple iWatch 3 Features
- GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS (you won’t be getting lost in a hurry)
- 8GB storage
- Wrist-based optical heart rate sensor
- 50-metre water-resistant (5 ATM)
- Comes in 38mm and 42mm sizes
- Price – serious value for money
- Brand status (if that kind of thing floats your boat)
- Quality of build
- Processor is fast enough. You won’t feel the lag like you do on the Wear OS devices
- Screen is beautiful
- Apps are plentiful and integrations galore
- Watch OS store is good
- Software updates continue
- Older model with expectations the iWatch 5 will come out in September 2019
- Cost of replacement bands
LG Watch Sport
The LG Sport Watch include GSM and music and GPS. It originally came out with an AT&T deal set up which is always a bad sign. You never want to release a watch tied to a network in my option so this review will not go into a lot of detail on this one. It’s a little older now and harder to come by.
Garmin Forerunner 645 with Music & GPS
Another strong contender from Garmin for sure. Garmin seems to have really captured the running watch market very well. The issue is with the prices and I feel over time they are going to have to work hard to beat out the rising contenders like Apple iWatch and whatever Google plans for Wear OS in the future. While Google isn’t a big threat right now, it’s price point for cheaper running watches with music and GPS will need to be considered. There are also a number of good Wear OS watches coming out with Spotify too. But I digress!
The Garmin Forerunner 645 with Music is a great watch. It didn’t make the cut based on price but it was probably one of the favourites for sure.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Features
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music features:
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Garmin Pay (like apple pay/Samsung pay/google pay…but Garmin pay – NFC contactless payments so you don’t need your phone or wallet for a run!)
- Space for up to 500 songs
- Wrist heart monitor
- Water-resistant (5 ATM)
- Some wireless services connectivity (Spotify)
- It’s a Garmin. That means something in the running world. Probably the go-to brand for sports, running and outdoor watches.
- Garmin Pay built-in. So you can leave your wallet at home and still buy a coffee.
- The Garmin training software is smart – gives you what you need.
- Integration with Spotify streaming service is a big plus. No need to manually manage files so much.
- 5 ATM water rating but wouldn’t put too much trust in that if your swimming a lot.
- Battery life is great!
- Pricey. Not saying it isn’t worth it and if you want a running watch only, then it’s good. But if you want a few more smartwatch features then the iWatch 4 is a better choice in this price range, if you can live with a shorter battery life.
Samsung Gear Sport
This the one we went for in the end, for my wife. A few reasons including it was very well priced for the number of features it comes with. Samsung has had great success with the Samsung Galaxy Watch, and this shared its launch space. It was water-resistant to 50 meters and finally, it looked better than a lot of others in this space. We bought the Garmin Forerunner 35 first but sent it back as we realised the need to be able to run with music and headphones, without a phone, was really important and an opportunity not to be missed.
Samsung Gear Sport Features
- Swim-resistant to 50 meters
- Samsung Pay NFC payment option (where available)
- iOS and Android integration compatibility
- 20mm watch strap
- Wife likes the look of it – not too ‘sporty’.
- iOS and Android compatibility for notifications etc
- Bluetooth connectivity is good
- The music manager is easy to use to get songs on the phones
- Wrist-based heart rate
- The bezel for navigation is really good
- Good access to music controls when running
- GPS got a little lost at times but overall it’s OK.
- Can’t find a lap function?
- Updating runs to the Samsung Health app can sometimes be a little slow. A restart always kicks it. This seems common for a lot of smart running watches though.
Motorola Moto 360 Sport
The Motorola Moto 360 Sport has a really nice look to it. High on the smooth round edges and low on jarring aggressive design. One thing that appealed about it was the colours available. White, Black and Orange (Flame Orange). Personally, I love a little orange colour on sports stuff and I wanted the Huawei Sport 2 in orange but couldn’t find it. It has 4gb on watch storage which is usually good for about 500 songs give or take. The reviews, sadly, didn’t seem to stand up to the design aesthetic and it didn’t make the final cut.
Motorola Moto 360 Sport Features
- 3 colour options
- Optical heart monitor
- Wireless charging
- Ambient screen light sensor
- Wifi + Bluetooth
- Looks good
- Has turn by turn navigation
- 4GB is decent-sized onboard storage
- It runs Wear OS so you’re not tied into a proprietary OS
- Wireless watch charging is always a good thing these days
- Price is attractive
- Can’t change the watch strap/band. It’s built into the unit.
- Battery won’t last a full marathon
- Strap silicon is a sticky dust attractor.
- Didn’t pass the minimum ‘positive reviews’ litmus test
Huawei Watch 2 Sport
It’s easy to write about this watch as it’s the one I choose. After 6 months of use, I can’t say enough good things about it, but I wrote a separate review on it which you can read here.
I knew it wasn’t a new model but as there were few other watches being released I figured that it was the best of the bunch. I wasn’t crazy about a super sporty looking watch but as the owner of a Seiko 5 watch (SNZF17), which is my favourite watch of all time (even though it’s quite cheap) I was happy that it had a tough look to it. The Huawei Sport 2 ticked all those boxes.
When running with the watch I use Google offline music as it’s the built-in option. I do have Spotify on it but that only works with your phone, google works without your phone. With google music, I can stream music from the cloud on the phone (I have the 4G model) OR before you leave home, and your phone behind, you can click the albums you want and download them for offline use. You can also download on the 4G/LTE model without WiFi but that will use data.
This means you can run without your phone and have all the music you need.
Huawei Watch 2 Sport Features
- GPS and GLONASS
- Wrist-based heart rate monitor
- Huawei Health built-in
- Sleep tracking built-in
- Wear OS
- Interchangeable watch bands – standard watch size
- Built-in NFC payment – Google Pay
- 4GB on watch storage for music.
- Comfortable – I can wear this all day and not notice it
- Wear OS – updates often, isn’t the fastest, but it works
- Good integration with iOS for notifications
- Sleep tracking is great
- GPS is solid – great on watch mapping and very pin-point accurate
- Heart rate and workout statistics and graphs are really great – nice on the phone and on the watch
- Running coach and running plans built into Huawei Health app are good
- Speed. This is a complaint of every smartwatch using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 chip, which is nearly all of them right now. It works but it could be faster. The 3100 chip is being used in more smartwatches this year.
- No other complaints at this price.
Fossil Sport Watch – Gen 4
Powered by Google Wear OS you can be sure you’ll get updates and be able to change the watch face to suit. Mediocre reviews on this steered my clear but there is a huge Fossil fan base out there, and considering Fossil watches come out of the same factory as most other brands it seems likely they are as good in terms of build quality as all the rest.
Fossil Sport Watch Gen 4 Features
- Wear OS
- Swim proof – 5ATM
- 24-hour battery life
- Magnetic charger
- 43mm Men’s and 41mm Women’s
- 22mm watch band (Men’s) and 18mm watch band (Women’s)
- Heart rate tracking
- Offline music storage – 4GB on watch storage
- GPS (no clear idea if it’s only GPS or if it also has GLONASS or similar?)
- iOS and Android compatible
- NFC Google Pay
- Wear OS so at least you know it will maintain some sort of updates
- Swim proof
- Men’s and Women’s options…if you like being matchy matchy
- Offline music storage – 4GB
- Built-in microphone
- NFC Google Pay is built in so you can ‘coffee’ with the cool kids after your run…or just pick up some milk at the store on your way home
- Battery life can suffer pretty quickly of you like to doodle with your watch a lot. True of most Wear OS models here
- A little slow – as all Wear OS Snapdragon 2100 models are here
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus (fēnix)
Let’s be clear, this is not just a running watch, although you could use it just for that and be very happy. The Garmin Fenix 5X is a multi-sport watch with serious firepower. It’s a chunky monkey so if you have petite wrists then you might look like a kid trying to fit his Dad’s wetsuit (I have petite wrists). It comes in Orange too, which you will already have realised I really like for a sports watch. If you have the money then there is little debate this is the best of the best.
Garmin Fenix 5X features
- Premium multisport GPS smartwatch
- Garmin Pay
- Stores up to 500 songs
- GPS, GLONASS and Galileo built-in (no ones getting lost)
- 10 Day watch life (or 8 hours with GPS and Music going – Marathon-able)
- TOPO Maps
- Loads of colour/spec options
- Wrist base heart rate
- Spotify compatible – Garmin did an update across a whole bunch of watches.
- Multi-sport options
- Waterproof – not just resistant
- If Topographical maps are an important part of your running i.e you are an ultra marathon runner, then this is a big pro to the Fenix.
- Garmin Pay NFC eWallet
- Spotify integration
- Cost – it’s not cheap but if you’re serious about running, or multi-sports, then this is the high end.
Conclusion on which running watch with music we chose…(drum roll?)
Running watch for my wife:
I went with the Samsung Gear Sport for my wife because it was affordable and seemed to have a straight forward interface. The bezel works well and the interface is attractive. The colour was also appealing to my wife. #winning
2 months in and many runs finished the Gear Sport was a good choice for the price. Transferring songs to the phone
The real winning watch was the iWatch 4 but just couldn’t stretch to that considering this was also a bit of a test as to whether she would like using a running watch with music, or a watch at all.
Running watch for myself
I went with the Huawei Watch 2 for myself and while running was not my priority I have clocked loads of runs on this and love it. Connects to my Bluetooth earphones easily. The GPS on it is excellent and the heart-rate monitor is also consistent. It’s light, comfortable and also quite comfy to sleep wearing at night for sleep monitoring. The built-in fitness app data is attractive and well organised and the sleep tracker is excellent.
I especially bought this for the built-in 4g sim card so I can use it as a watch and phone on the go (like the iWatch but cheaper). This doesn’t seem to be on the US model but is on the UK model.
If I’ve missed a winner from the list let me know in the comments below.