Choosing the right sports smartwatch to track your runs, rides and swims.
Choosing the right sports smartwatch


Choosing the right smartwatch for your sports needs

A smartwatch can make a real difference to your sports performance, whether you’re a top-class athlete or just looking for more motivation to keep fit or lose some weight. With so many different models on the market, at many different price points, how do you make sure you choose the right sports smartwatch?

Image courtesy of Ivan Samkov. Published on: April 23rd, 2021 Source:

Different devices for different people

It’s also important to distinguish between activity trackers (such as a Fitbit) which count steps and calories burned, GPS watches (or running watches), and true smartwatches. The lines between these are blurring, and while serious athletes may still want a dedicated sports watch, there is now a lot of overlap between running watches and the latest generation of smartwatches.

One major difference of course is that a smartwatch lets you stay connected (via your phone) to emails, phone calls and messages, so you can make important decisions while you exercise. For many people, however, the whole point of going for a run or a ride is to get away from work for an hour or two, so think carefully about whether you really want to take the office with you.

What’s your passion?

The sports that you’re into will be a major factor in choosing the right smartwatch for you. Along with your budget, it’s probably the most important factor. For example, if you enjoy swimming at the gym, you’ll naturally want to choose a smartwatch that’s completely waterproof. Equally, if you do endurance races like Comrades, you need enough battery life to get you to the finish line – even if it takes longer than you had planned.

Key smartwatch features for sports

If you only need simple data from your smartwatch (like distance covered, time and speed), a more basic model will suffice. However, the more biometric data your watch can collect, the more useful it will be in terms of making healthier lifestyle choices, and understanding how to improve your results. 

A heart rate monitor can tell you a great deal about how your body performed during a race or training session – and if you wear it at night, you’ll gain insights into how well you sleep, too. You can get a separate heart rate monitor that connects to your watch, but that just means another thing to wear, so most people prefer smartwatches with built-in heartrates. 

Compatibility counts for a lot 

Teamwork is vital for success in many sports, and you naturally want your smartwatch to work with your other devices and apps. Look for a model that syncs easily with your smartphone (usually via Bluetooth), and check which apps it is compatible with. 

Most smartwatch makers have their own apps, but you can also use popular third-party apps like Strava. Linking to an app lets you see where you have run or cycled (as long as your watch has GPS – most do) and visualise key statistics like gradients, heart rate and cadence. 

Features to look out for

You might find that music helps you get fired up for exercise, in which case, look for a watch that can store and play music. Size matters, too – many smartwatches come in ‘male’ and ‘female’ versions, with the screen size being the main difference. Some sports watches can get very bulky indeed, so from a design point of view, you might want to consider getting one that looks more like a conventional watch. You’ll get more use out of watch that goes with your work and leisure outfits, as well as with Lycra.

Peak performance

Modern smartwatches can help you improve your performance by suggesting training plans, and even letting you know when you should take a rest day. You can compare each run or ride to previous ones on the same route to track your improvement over time, and if you really want to take your exercise to the next level, you can select one of the hardcore endurance models where the watch screen functions as a solar panel, keeping the watch battery charged for days at a time, even when you’re miles from civilisation.

How far, how fast, how long and how expensive – answer these questions, and you’ll be able to choose the right smartwatch for your sporting needs.