Discover 12 of the best sports watches of 2020, then read on to learn what distinguishes a great sports watch from a merely average model. The term “sports watch” used to simply mean a comfortable watch, usually made of plastic, with a durable and water resistant frame. And while many older sports watches came with basic features like stopwatches and dual timekeeping, these weren’t especially sophisticated instruments. They were cheap and served their purpose well.
The market has changed dramatically. Modern smartwatches have found a niche with the athletic crowd due to the wealth of conveniences and health tracking features they offer. Today, good sports watches can set you back hundreds of dollars, and that means that you need to be diligent in your shopping process to make sure you get value for your purchase. We’re here to help you with our guide to 12 of the best sports watches available in 2020.
Quick Look: Best Sport Watches
- Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Casio Men’s W800H-1AV Classic Sport Watch
- Fitbit Versa Smart Watch
- Timex Ironman Classic 30 Watch
- Garmin vívoactive 3 Watch
- Nixon Regulus Shock Resistant Digital Watch
- Seiko Men’s SNZG15 Seiko 5 Sports Watch
- Tomtom Spark 3 GPS Fitness Watch
- Casio Men’s G-Shock Analog-Digital Watch
- Armitron Sport Digital Chronograph Watch
- Fossil Gen 4 Explorist HR Watch
1. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
The Samsung Galaxy jockeys with the Apple Watch as a contender for the best wearable around, but it's also a whole lot of watch for a whole lot of money. If you're mostly just interested in fitness features, the Active model offers most of the things that are great about the Galaxy without some of the unnecessary bells and whistles that drive up the price. It also rocks a sleeker and sportier design that makes it a great choice for the gym or the track.
The real time tracking here is more than just background noise. It will send you an alert if it recognizes your heart rate getting too high or too low, and it syncs up with the pedometer to remind you to take the time to move throughout the day. It can track 39 different exercises while offering automatic detection for six different routines.
2. Apple Watch Series 4
The Apple Watch has long been the gold standard for smartwatches, and that doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. And while these products aren't marketed explicitly as smart sport watches, they offer some unique features that make them a real winner for fitness tracking. The fourth generation model doesn't come cheap, but it offers the deepest bench of fitness and general purpose features that you'll find on any of the popular sports watches available today.
The standout feature here is the inclusion of the first ECG approved by the FDA. For some, that level of in-depth heart monitoring alone will make this the best sports watch. But that's just the most prominent in a dense suite of fitness-related services. Automatic workout detection is built in, and you can customize your workout routines to track up to five different metrics at a time. There's even personalized coaching options included.
3. Casio Men’s W800H-1AV Classic Sport Watch
Casio's been around for decades, and they've managed to maintain a reputation for themselves for doing two things consistently: offering some of the most durable watches around and managing to deliver cheap sports watches that don't sacrifice quality. The W800H-1AV sports the same classic design it has for years. That means that you won't find anything in the way of smartwatch functionality, but it's still a reliable standard that you can pick up for less than $20.
The nice and clean look is lightweight, comfortable on the wrist, and topped by a digital screen that's bright and easy to read. Despite the incredibly low price, these mens and ladies sports watches can last you for years without any problems. They're also water resistant enough to take with you diving or snorkeling, and they offer a basic range of lap and exercise tracking modes.
4. Fitbit Versa Smart Watch
Apple and Samsung may have carved out a spot as the king and queen of all-around sports watches, but FitBit has earned a serious reputation for their ability to deliver feature rich and affordable sport watches with a high level of consistency. It would be a crime to not include their budget flagship Versa model on a list of the best sportsman watches. It takes the same philosophy of the Galaxy Active: retaining the functionality of their mainstream model and stripping out the non-essentials.
These casual watches are also highly customizable. Dedicated tracking modes are available for almost any workout, and this watch will automatically detect when you're running and start tracking your performance. The quality waterproofing and top shelf tracking options make this a particularly strong choice for swimmers. If you're looking specifically for women's sports watches, this model offers targeted female health tracking services.
5. Timex Ironman Classic 30 Watch
The Timex Ironman Classic is another fitness watch that strips out the smartwatch functionality for the sake of cost and convenience. If you're looking for workhorse sport watches for men that don't require charging or complex navigation, the Ironman Classic can respectably fit your demands. You have 16 different styles to choose from them, but all of them sport the same durable design and a water resistance rating that's appropriate for diving.
And while they may be lacking in smartwatch features, these watches for sports get about as much versatility as they can out of the traditional design. The countdown timer can go up to 24 hours, and it can be assigned to repeat up to 99 different times. An extensive memory for lap recall allows you to recall your best performances by date so you can engage in accurate analysis of your improvement over time.
6. Garmin vívoactive 3 Watch
Garmin's reputation as a quality manufacturer of GPS tracking devices goes back at 30 years, so it's no surprise that they've decided to edge their way into the market for touch screen sport watches. What may be surprising is how good their products really are. They don't just rely on the quality of their precision GPS capabilities and coast by. Instead, they implement their tech in some interesting ways, and the result are some very smart touch screen sport watches.
Despite using a proprietary OS, the vivoactive 3 incorporates most of the features you'd expect from a fitness watch, and the best part is that you can upload all of your data through Garmin's robust ecosystem of apps for better archiving and analysis. In addition to the full suite of fitness features, the options to store music locally and pay via NFC make this a great option for long runs.
7. Nixon Regulus Shock Resistant Digital Watch
$150 may be a big ask for a fitness watch that doesn't come with smart capabilities, but serious outdoor adventurers can confidently venture out into the wilds with these seriously rugged and sporty watches for men. The Regulus models are solar sports watches, so you don't have to worry about the batteries running out while on the trail, and their LED display is bright and suitably equipped with strong backlighting for nighttime and underwater usage.
The appeal here isn't in the feature set but in the sheer durability on offer. The case is military designed, and it can easily give Casio's illlustrious G-Shock models a run for their money on that front. Despite that, it employs a very attractive design with its appealing strap, squared off face, and expressive display.
8. Seiko Men’s SNZG15 Seiko 5 Sports Watch
Seiko may be known for their classy and elegant diving watches, but they've never been afraid to venture into other categories of watch design as well. The 5 series are great luxury sport watches that are a little more all-purpose than some of the other timepieces that Seiko offers. The SNZG15 doesn't come heavy with the features, but it does offer an elegant design that can take a beating.
What you get with these automatic sports watches is the level of reliability that Seiko is known for. Their movements are well regarded throughout the industry for their precision, and the same loving attention that goes into the builds of their diving watches is applied here as well. The traditional design is clean and easy to read out in the wild, but it will look just as good on your wrist in the office.
9. Tomtom Spark 3 GPS Fitness Watch
Like Garmin, Tomtom has smoothly made the transition from traditional GPS designer to smartwatch manufacturer. The Spark 3 is compatible with most modern phones, and while it isn't built on the same sort of impressive OS that you'd find from Garmin, Samsung, or Apple, it packs in most of the features you could hope for and generally gets the job done in every critical category.
Best of all, it's not a watch that you have to constantly keep plugging back in. While it sports a steady battery life of 11 hours with GPS on, turning off location tracking can extend that life to an impressive three weeks. The activity tracking is fairly diverse and is complemented by both sleep tracking and route exploration options. The multisport mode is flexible enough to support a number of different workout types.
10. Casio Men’s G-Shock Analog-Digital Watch
Any article talking about the top sport watches wouldn't be complete without a discussion of the G-Shock. It may not be quite as cheap as the other Casio watch on our list, but it's still significantly cheaper than most of the other athletic watches that we're discussing here. That price increase is justified too. G-Shock technology is inarguably the best at what it does, and you can count on this watch to sustain any damage you throw at it with a smile.
That said, the features here are a little light, but they're great for rigorous and long periods out in the wild. These men sports watches come with incredible lighting that can be controlled easily as well as adjustable alarms and a simple stopwatch feature for tracking hikes or runs. And their simplicity means that they promise a battery life of up to three years.
11. Armitron Sport Digital Chronograph Watch
The Armitron is another traditional sports watch. It only costs a little more than the old school Casio we highlighted, but it offers a rugged design and a chronograph built in to its digital face. It's incredibly durable and capable of being used while snorkeling and swimming in deeper waters, but it might not fit the needs of athletes looking for detailed exercise tracking.
But if you're just looking to cover the basics, it's going to be a good fit. The chronograph provides you with lap tracking and a stopwatch without crowding out the face, and the four dials built into the bezel make navigation simple. That bezel is a high point. It's a rotating model with compass functions that will be incredibly useful for hikers and campers.
12. Fossil Gen 4 Explorist HR Watch
The fourth generation Fossil Explorist is a designer sports watch that can hold its own with more rough and tumble models. It's built off of Google's Wear OS, and that gives it a great head start. The operating system has grown effectively in the past few years, and the current version gives you decent access to the Play Store as well as Google Assistant voice activation and NFC payment functionality. That's all in addition to the range of fitness features built in.
By opting for a Google OS, Fossil has been able to focus more on crafting stylish digital watches than worrying about functionality. And this is a great looking watch! The round face and notched but muted bezel create a clean and modernist design. That gives more space for your apps to do the talking, and there's plenty of room here to track all of the most important fitness and health metrics.
Best Sport Watches Buyer’s Guide
What Kind of Watch Do You Need?
When shopping for active watches, the main question you need to ask is whether or not you need smart features. Even the cheapest multi sport watches with smart capabilities are going to set you back roughly $150 bucks, and they can easily reach double that. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between these main two breeds of cool sports watches.
Most smartwatches rely on a Bluetooth connection to access their higher end features. If you’re looking to receive text notifications, make use of smart pay features, or stream live music through your watch, you’re going to need to keep your phone with you. But the majority of exercise features you’d actually use can largely function without the need for Bluetooth. Most exercise and sleep tracking features work independently of a Bluetooth connection, but you’ll still need to periodically connect them to your phone if you want to upload your data to partner apps. GPS is also almost always independent. In addition to the higher price point, smartwatches tend to offer a battery life in the hours (with GPS enabled) or days (if GPS disabled).
Traditional sports watches are more basic in design, but that can actually serve as a benefit to many users. In addition to their cheaper pricing, traditional options offer a pretty simple selection of features that rarely extends beyond lap tracking, timers, and alarms. The designation as a sports watch in this regard refers to their incredibly high durability and their water and shock resistance. Traditional sports watches can run on a single battery for years before needing to be replaced.
What Do the Water Resistance Ratings Mean?
Because of the necessities they demand, waterproof sports watches are the exception rather than the norm. While many more traditional watches use IP ratings, which determine how much splash damage a watch can withstand, most sports watches are measured by the more serious metric of a water resistance measured in meters. It’s important to recognize that this refers to the water pressure they can withstand and not how deep they can go. In other words, you can’t dive 150 feet below the surface just because a watch has a rating of 50 meters.
- Only a few of the watches on our list has a waterproof rating under 50 meters. That’s still pretty good as far as general watches go, but you should exercise caution. 30 meters is measured good enough to sustain splash damage but not submersion. That means it will be fine in the shower, but swimming should be avoided.
- 50 meters is the starting standard for most exercise smartwatches. They’re safe for swimming in shallow waters but shouldn’t be taken too far from the beach or to the bottom of the pool.
- At 100 meters, a watch can start to be used for aquatic sports. This is the appropriate depth for scuba diving and should be appropriate for surfers as well.
- If you’re a scuba diver, you’ll want to make sure to invest in a watch with a depth rating of 200 meters. Anything short of that is likely to fail you and require replacement.
Do You Need Heart Rate Monitoring?
When speaking about sports watches, there’s generally a distinction between fitness monitoring and health monitoring. The former covers features like the ability to track distance, calories burned, and time spent exercising. The latter actually relies on the response of your body to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself.
At the heart of any good fitness tracking feature set is heart rate monitoring. They actually measure the pulse in your wrist to determine your activity level and provide warnings when your heart rate dips too low or spikes too high. If you have existing health conditions, a watch with heart rate monitoring is worth investing in. But even if you don’t, they can be incredibly useful because they can be paired with fitness metrics to provide you with a more accurate analysis of how effective your exercises are.
A good sports watch can be your best friend in the gym or out on the trail, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get something that works great. Whether you’re looking for a basic digital watch or a hypermodern smartwatch, we have something that is bound to accommodate you. And if you need something a little more intense or specialized, be sure to check out our guides to the best diving watches and the best outdoor watches.