Introduction to GPS Watches

About me...

Gryls is a runner who started with the most basic of running tech who just kept on collecting and investigating. Hired by the LFR website crew to introduce tech to others.

To introduce the new gadget corner I thought I would start with starter GPS devices.

But let us go back a little. To the beginning...

What is a GPS device?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. GPS works in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. There are no subscription fees or setup charges to use GPS.globe1

GPS devices have a tiny receiver that listens for the Global Positioning System satellites. Once the device has found at least 3 satellites it will know where you are. Very much like a SatNav in a car but much much smaller!! A GPS device can be in the form of a watch, a handheld or a bike computer. Yes, there’s more than one type. For runners the most common type of GPS device is the running sports watch. Handhelds are for geocaching (explanation later), self-navigating walks or for ultra-runners with less than desirable map reading skills. Bike computers are just like the running sports watch but instead of measuring a running pace they measure cycling speed and how fast you pedal.  

Still here? Phew. That’s the very technical bit out of the way. I’m going to continue with GPS sports watches to keep things uncomplicated.

Why would you want or need a GPS sports watch?

To begin with most new runners would not know what to do with a GPS sports watch let alone think of reasons to even buy one. I’m not here to sell you a GPS sports watch either. I’m here to explain why you see and hear other runners talk about pace, timings, intervals, progression, challenges and Strava sections whilst cooing over what looks like an odd looking wrist watch.

Most of those runners use GPS sports watches to see how well they did on each of their runs in detail, how far they went, where they went, how fast they went and most importantly how much effort was put into that run. Yes – that’s what GPS sports watches do. Surely wearing a standard watch and noting the time you started and finished is enough.  Why would you want to make running more complicated?


Below are a few of the basics of what GPS running watches offer.

Where you went

It can be nice to know where you went. Especially when you’ve gone for a run with friends or a club and not really taken notice of the route. Then there’s exploration routes, going out for a run but not really knowing where you went. A download later and there’s your route easy to see online.

Here’s a view of one of my runs. This was a run at night and I had NO CLUE where I went or how far I went. This lovely map tracked by my GPS sports watch let me view exactly where I went.


How fast you went

If you know the mileage of your route and the time you took then that’s an easy calculation. With a GPS sports watch this calculation is done for you and even better, you can see where you were fast and where you were slow. You do that same route faster knowing where you slowed down. Some GPS sports watches will tell you this whilst you are running.

Below is the speed chart for the route above. As you can see I stopped quite a few times and my speed was not constant. So room for improvement on that route.







How much effort you put into your run

This is something GPS sports watches offer in abundance. Most have just a calorie count but some of the more snazzy watches have O2 thresholds, Heart Rate monitoring and then there’s running dynamics (stride length, oscilation height/side). All of these give you a technical running coach on your wrist that you can verbally abuse and it still gives you the facts.

Running communities

The ability to join a running community like Strava, NIKE+, Movescount, Garmin Connect, Endomondo, Running Bug, Fetcheveryone and more.   Some sites even reward their members for recording their physical activities to motivate their members.



So now we’ve covered what a GPS sports watch can offer. What are the best starter running watches out there? I’m a Garmin girl myself. But that doesn’t always mean Garmin are the best for everybody.

Introducing beginner GPS watches. I’ve classed these as beginner watches because they’ve got the least amount of menu features for a newbie to get used to. Recording your run, viewing your run on the watch and then uploading your run.

I will list the basics about each watch purely because I don’t have my hands on them to play with myself. Most running shops will be happy to give you a run through of extra menu features or you can visit some very helpful sports gear blogs. My favourite for the majority of my investigations has been - - This blog will help you through the majority of current running/cycling gear out there.


Notes about the terms I’m using.

Price range – Cheapest found online to most expensive found online.

Battery range watch – This is how long the sports watch will be in standby mode acting like a very strange looking watch.

Battery range gps recording – This is how long the sports watch will record your run for.

Upload via – This is how the watch downloads the information from the watch to the various sites used to analyse your running data.

Uses – Some sports watches record more than just one type of sport. For example there are gps sports watches that can record hiking, swimming, swimming indoors, running, running indoors or cycling indoors.

Colours – Yes, these snazzy little sports watches come in some very cool colours. Most are your standard black or white but some come in a range of colours to suit your sporting personality.

Website – Where you will view your activities online. Not all websites are easy to use and some website offer more services than others.

Comments – The good, the bad and the ugly. What I think of these watches from looking at reviews online.


Garmin Forerunner 10

Price range - £70-£100

Battery range watch – 4-6 weeks.

Battery range gps recording – 4-5 hours

Upload via – USB direct to computer.

Uses – Running

Colours – Black, pink, purple, green, orange.

Website – Garmin Connect. This is a very extensive site offering lots of services to analyse and view your activities.

Comments – This is a very basic gps sports watch and is perfect as an introduction to these devices. It would be nice if it talked directly to your phone or tablet to upload activities but this does not detract from a simple, easy to use device.



Tom Tom Runner

Price range - £66-£96

Battery range watch – 2-3 months.

Battery range gps recording – 8-10 hours

Upload via – USB direct to computer or Bluetooth.

Uses – Running, cycling, swimming, running indoors.

Colours – Grey/black, black, pink/grey.

Website – TomTom. The basics are there. Nothing overcomplicated for the beginner runner.

Comments – This is a similar price range to the Garmin Forerunner 10 but you get so much more for your money. Uploading activities direct to your phone/tablet via Bluetooth makes viewing activities uncomplicated.


Fitbit Surge

Price range - £100-£200

Battery range watch – 3-5 days (with step tracking turned on)

Battery range gps recording – 4-5 hours

Upload via – Bluetooth.

Uses – Running, cycling, step tracking.

Colours – Black.

Website – Fitbit. The Fitbit website is an all-round activity tracking website. Most of the Fitbit range consists of activity tracking devices using step goals. This can make the website look very complicated to begin with but once you know where things are it’s got everything there to help you keep moving and burn those calories. Not the best website for a beginner.  

Comments – Even though the only colour you get is black this sports watch offers a lot. Fitbit have been in the step tracking market for a long time and have had a long time to find what motivates people to keep moving. This is their first gps sports watch and for someone who is starting out on their running journey this is an all-round sports watch/activity tracker. Unfortunately the battery life will keep this watch in the beginners corner. The price range for this watch is due to the number of used Fitbit Surges out there. Probably from other beginners who have now moved onto something more technical.


Suunto Amit2 R

Price range - £120-£200

Battery range watch – 15 days

Battery range gps recording – 10-50 hours

Upload via – USB.

Uses – Running, cycling, swimming.

Colours – Black, white.

Website – Movescount – a decent website offering lots of feedback on activities. There’s a cool feature of reviewing your run by viewing a 3D map flyby. After a few times this can be a bit boring but when showing loved ones or anyone who wants to know where you’ve run then it’s lots of fun.

Comments – This is a pretty hefty watch and not the most recent version in the Suunto range. I chose this older model for its price range compared to the other beginner watches. Compared to the other beginner watches this is the most complicated beginner watch. This is an all-round sports watch that offers an extensive level of features that unfortunately does not have Bluetooth for uploading direct to phones/tablets. The battery life is extensive due to its “smart” recording abilities. This watch would be suited to a beginner who is working towards duathlons and triathlons in the near future.


So there you have it. Not a huge list but an introduction to some very easy to use gps sports watches.