The Quest for a Running Watch

Two years ago my husband talked me into a terrible decision: to switch from iOS to Android. I had been the proud owner of an iPhone since Gen 1, and the change was difficult for the simple reason of shifting perspective on how the interfaces worked.

The change was also hard because the vast majority of my “accessory electronics” were Apple products also. Following this switch, I put a lot of items up for sale. An iPad I had used in college was not a huge loss, but my Apple Watch Series 1 was a hard hit. I loved the tracking capabilities of this watch and missed the daily self challenges I had come accustomed to setting.

I settled on switching to a FitBit Alta HR after selling my Apple Watch. Friends, it was not the same though. Even more unfortunate than going to Android was we chose the Google Pixel 2 as our new smartphones, which are quite possibly the worst phones in the history of phones (#sorrynotsorry.) The Pixel 2’s apps glitched constantly and pairing anything was near impossible. Any ideal of tracking my fitness with the FitBit was extinguished when the Pixel 2 required me to reset the phone every day to sync, and the majority of the resets resulted in the phone glitching out for the remainder of the night. By mid-2019 I had retired the FitBit and let any glimmer of future tracking die along with the Alta’s battery…

Then G and I made the courageous decision to say goodbye to our Pixel 2’s early and return to the Wonderful World of iPhones at the beginning of March — HALLELUJAH! And with the power of iOS in-hand and the beautiful iPhone 11 as my partner-in-crime, I began the quest to find a budget-friendly and easy-to-use running watch. Here is how that quest progressed:

When looking for a running watch, I wanted more than just a time-keeper. The basic functions I wanted were GPS-tracking, a built-in heart rate monitor, and a long battery life. I did not necessarily need notifications, calling capability, or music. I also was unwilling to spend over $200 for the watch.

There are a lot of articles out there on the best budget-friendly watches. You can view a few here and here and here. As my list of “possibilities” grew from FitBit, Apple and Garmin to include Polar, Suunto, Samsung, TomTom, and even Amazon, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed. Then I found this awesome “Running Watch Quiz”:

This quiz is excellent to help narrow your scope when looking at brands and specific models of running watches. Questions include:

  • What sort of running will you be doing?

  • What distance do you regularly run and what distance is your goal?

  • Will you be swimming with your watch? What other sports/exercises do you plan on using the watch for?

  • Will you have your phone with you while you run?

  • What fitness tracker features are you interested in?

  • Do you want the newest models of running watches?

  • What is your budget?

Using my results from this quiz, I then took to Amazon and began looking at reviews and comparisons of similar items. It seemed as if the Amazfit Bip, FitBit Charge 3, Garmin Forerunner 35, and Garmin Forerunner 45 were my front-runners.

Though I was nervous due to the lowest reviews of these four options, I was about to purchase the Amazfit Bip simply due to its price-point of $70. I figured I’d get enough out of the watch for my money and always buy something bigger and better once I was more conditioned to run greater distances than my typical 1-3 miles. However, before biting the bullet and hitting “Buy Now” I decided to talk with my running group first. I posed the question on our Facebook group:

Hey all, question on tracking technology: what brand/model are the top recommendations to track heart rate, distance, pace, etc.? I have had a Fitbit Alta HR, but found it lacking modes I might like with my increased movement. I once had the Apple Watch (first gen) and liked it, so have been leaning towards a newer model, but there are so many options out there!

I received a number of responses from my peers:

  • I’ve had Fitbits in the past and found them to wear out pretty quickly and not have that much info (I did get the cheaper ones). I’ve had a Garmin for about a year, but only recently started using it effectively. I’m happy with the data. You can look at mine when we meet next.

  • Love my Garmin Forerunner 235!

  • I’m a Garmin fan as well. One lower cost option is to check out Facebook Marketplace. A year or so ago I found a Garmin 225 with a wrist based heart monitor and paid less than $100. People are always selling their old ones to get shiny new ones.

  • I have a Garmin 235 too and love it! I wear it every single day, all day long and use it for GPS on my runs too. It holds a charge pretty well and mine is still going strong and it’s almost three years old. They’re an investment but it’s amazing not needing to map out your course beforehand every single time!

  • Had a Fitbit Charge, then a Fitbit ChargeHR. Both watch faces cracked straight down the center after about a year, i think from summer heat – they were not abused. Fitbit would only give me a slight discount on replacing the HR so i decided instead to go with the Apple. Have had it since August and really like it! It has plenty of bells and whistles even though it’s not the newest model.

  • I use Runtopia which is a cheaper option and I haven’t had any problems with it!

Not a single person had ever heard of the Amazbit or seen one. So I started second guessing…

Luckily, at our next meeting, one of my running friends brought along her “old” Garmin Forerunner 35. She had recently upgraded to a newer version of Garmin, and asked if I wanted to give the 35 a try for that day’s run. I was enthusiastic to see how this running watch would work, and by the end of the 3.5 mile interval training, I was in love. I thanked her for allowing me to give it a shot and said I’d most likely be purchasing one that afternoon — and she replied I could just buy hers, since it was already on my wrist. Even more joyful, she sold it to me for a bargain: $20!

Turns out I slayed the Option Dragon with good luck and better friends.

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