The Year's Best GPS Watches

Outfit your wrist with a GPS watch that does a lot more than tell time.

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photo by Andrew Bydlon

best GPS watches
photo by Andrew Bydlon

The Bargain: Soleus GPS Cross Country

If you only need the basics—pace, distance, speed—this affordable option records your workouts and uploads them (via Soleus’s software) to fitness community app Strava. Bonus: onboard altimeter and compass. Bummer: Compared to the other watches, the pixelated display feels like a throwback to the 90s, and the menu takes some time to figure out. $200; 2 oz.; 8 hours battery life;

The All-Mountain Navigator: Garmin fenix 3

Like its predecessor, the fenix 2, this new model has a big display, intuitive controls, and best-of-class navigation features like waypoint marking and bread-crumb tracking. But the fenix 3’s antenna is now open to both GPS and GLONASS signals, which in field testing gave us the most precise positioning and quickest fix on satellites. More new features: a color display, and email and text message display (when the watch is paired with your phone). $400; 2.8 oz.; 50 hours battery life;

The Fitness Band: Microsoft Band

Testers who like the accuracy of a GPS watch but really only want fitness data preferred this anti-watch. It’s one of the few fitness trackers with a built-in GPS sensor for tracking distance and pace (most use a pedometer, which is less precise) and a heart rate sensor on the clasp. And paired with your phone, it allows you to read emails, texts, calendar, and social media messages. $200; 2.1 oz.; 48 hours battery life;

Most Versatile: Suunto Ambit3 Sport

The Ambit3 has advanced navigation and fitness features like the fenix 3, but what makes it unique are user-developed apps (on Suunto’s website) that do everything from tracking your sleep to telling you how many beers you earned during your workout. Bonus: Best-of-class battery life if you set the GPS data collection to every 60 seconds, and it’s the most comfortable watch here. Ding: You have to connect to an external device like a computer to change settings. $400; 2.7 oz.; 100 hours battery life;

For Hikers and Bikers: Magellan Switch Up

For bikers: The Switch Up’s face detaches and clips to an included handlebar mount. It records your pace, miles, and elevation change, and has tactile notifications (it vibrates when you’re moving faster or slower than your preset pace). The display is small, but a bright screen and good contrast make it easy to read during sunny rides. Ding: It’s bulky on the wrist, especially compared to the svelte Soleus. $210; 2.8 oz.; 8 hours battery life;

Easiest to use: Tomtom Cardio Runner GPS

Just want to know how far and how fast? Tomtom’s watch tracks distance, time, and pace, and saves data and maps to be viewed on the accompanying desktop and mobile apps. We found the menus on the big face easy to navigate and read, and the multi-directional button below the display proved much more intuitive than the side-mounted buttons on most other watches. Bonus: a wrist-mounted heart-rate sensor. $270; 2.1 oz; 8 hours battery life;