There’s a fairly solid group of sports tech sale deals that lit up over the weekend. This includes trainers (Tacx/CycleOps/Elite), the Garmin Venu at $100 off, the GoPro Hero 8 down to $349 (and bundle deals even better), the DJI OSMO Action cam at $279, and the Polar Ignite at $179 ($50 off). Plus a boatload of Fitbit deals from $50 off and then Pioneer cycling power meters at 40% off! And a few more things.
Each year around this time I publish my complete guide of sports tech recommendations, covering a wide range of sport gadget areas. My goal here being to give my specific recommendations – exactly the same recommendations I’d give to my own friends and family. This post isn’t here to list every option on the market in an effort to make every manufacturer happy. Of course, as more and more companies get into the market, there ends up being more and more possible scenarios as the products expand in functionality.
Inversely – we’ve also seen cases where the strong get stronger, while others struggle to keep up. It’s not all about features of course, reliability and accuracy, as well as ease of use are a key aspect. Still, there’s a reality when one company in the industry (Garmin) sells many millions more sport-focused devices than all but the largest of international companies (Apple/Fitbit/Samsung/Huawei). It’s because they’re releasing 10-20 fitness/outdoor/sports devices per year, and more people are buying them than ever before. Sometimes they whiff, but most times, they don’t.
One could try and write recommendations for every possible edge case, but realistically I think there’s probably already too many categories below as it is. Plus, that’s what the comments section is for. I try as best as possible to answer all those quirky edge-case questions.
Oh – wait, if you’re new around here note that I don’t take any money/sponsorships/whatever from any of the companies in this post. Or from any company I review for that matter. So if I like a device, it’s because it’s a legit good device I want to use. With that, let’s dive into it!
We saw an absolute boatload of new wearable tech this year. Garmin refreshed their entire lineup from top to bottom, COROS added a bunch, and Fitbit, Apple, and Suunto also added new units. Polar also introduced a new watch, and significantly updated last year’s watches with new firmware.
It’s getting harder and harder to separate through everything. And again, keep in mind that there are still some good watches that don’t make the cut here. In many cases there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just not what I’m likely to recommend to friends and family, which is how I approach this.
Casual Athlete: Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch (variants noted below), Polar Ignite, or Garmin Vivoactive 3
Apple Watch: If you’re looking for a watch that’ll track your workouts but won’t obsess over data – while still giving you the best all around smartwatch experience, there’s no question here – it’s the Apple Watch. The tricky part is deciding which one. Series 3 is a steal now at $199 (remember, it has GPS as well as offline music support). Meanwhile, Series 5 is the newest with the always-on display. However, I think in some ways the sweet spot is actually Series 4, given it has better battery life than the Series 5 while still sporting the same larger display (the Series 3 has a smaller display). Apple keeps the software virtually identical on all of them.
Fitbit Ionic: I know, there’s the Fitbit Versa for cheaper. But you’ll have to take your phone along for runs if you want a GPS track. The Ionic you don’t. Sure, it’s two years old – but the power of Fitbit is (or was?) never their hardware. It was their platform and social ecosystem. So if you’ve got friends on Fitbit that you want to compete with (create challenges or such), and if you want a smartwatch that’s smart but doesn’t feel like it’s outsmarting you – then this is a good option. Just find it on sale…and of course, realize that Google just bought Fitbit.
Garmin Vivoactive 3: The Vivoactive series is the most athlete-focused of this bunch. You can download structured workouts to it, pace races, and track all the health/fitness stats you could ever want across virtually every sport (even tracking runs while downhill skiing). Yes, I know – the Vivoactive 4 just came out a few months ago. But I don’t think it justifies the price over the Vivoactive 3 music (when not on sale, on sale for $299 – sure). No matter how many times Garmin tries to convince itself that a $100 price bump over the real-world Vivoactive 3 Music price, I just don’t buy it. So, the Vivoactive 3 Music is still a great little watch that does almost everything the Vivoactive 4 does. If you don’t want music, then simply get the base Vivoactive 3 (sans-music). Now – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Vivoactive 4. So if that’s more your jam – go forth. Same goes for the Garmin Venu, which is merely a Vivoactive with a far prettier screen for $50 more.
Polar Ignite: While I think the Ignite is very slightly overpriced, I think what the company is doing around dynamically prescribing workouts and recovery/strength/flexibility workouts is super cool. Plus, the watch integrates well into the larger Polar ecosystem, so it doesn’t feel like a budget watch – but like an athletes’ watch.
Garmin’s latest mid-range Forerunner now encompasses almost all of the higher end stats found on what was last year’s highest-end watches. Of course, as always, there are new higher-end stats in the land – which you’ll find on the FR945/Fenix 6 (I cover those later). But for most people, you’ll find you get everything you could possibly need for running or racing with a Forerunner 245 or 245 Music. PacePro being one of the big new additions this year, which allows you to get dynamic pacing information based on grade and splits. It’s super cool tech, and really one of the highlights of the year from a sports tech standpoint (it’s also on the Fenix 6 and FR945). You’ll also get the newer safety/tracking assistance features as well as more data fields/page layouts than years prior. While the previous FR235 was solidly middle of the pack from a features standpoint, so much has been packed into the FR245 now that it feels more premium than price point suggests.
And while it’s definitely a runner’s watch at heart, it’ll likely appeal to most any athlete. Unless you openwater swim, since it doesn’t do that.
There’s really no competition here. If you’re looking for the most feature-packed higher-end watch, it’s going to be the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Series. Ok, I guess technically it’s the MARQ Athlete, but I’d prefer to spend that near-$2,000 elsewhere. I just wouldn’t recommend it to friends – perhaps only because I mostly dislike everything about the band.
But the Fenix 6 – that I like. I’d personally recommend the Fenix 6 Pro, since it includes maps and music. I think the Solar edition is probably overkill, but I’m not really a large-watch kinda guy (which also perhaps didn’t help MARQ in my eyes). While I think the potential for solar within the Garmin lineup is super cool, it’s clearly more of a proof of concept within the Fenix 6X Pro Solar. Yes, it proves it can work (well in fact), but I don’t think it adds a ton of value in the grand scheme of things.
To me the Fenix 6 is really all about optimization and attention to deal. I absolutely love the smaller widgets now, it’s just so much cleaner. And the thinner sizes of the watch is right up my alley as well. You don’t realize it at first, but then over time it’s harder to switch back to a Fenix 5 series watch due to the weight/size. Again – if you’re looking for the best fitness watch money can buy that isn’t MARQ, then go Fenix 6 Pro Series. If you want something a bit swankier, MARQ is great too.
More and more music is becoming baseline for wearables. I cover my specific recommendations throughout this piece, however I do briefly want to touch on music services, as that might drive your decision matrix. Most notably, apps that cache your music for playback when your phone isn’t near. Here’s the current list:
Apple Watch: Apple Music (Note: While there are apps like Spotify for the Apple Watch, they don’t cache music)Fitbit: Pandora, Deezer (The Spotify app on Fitbit doesn’t download/cache your music)Garmin: Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, DeezerSamsung: Spotify, TidalWearOS: Spotify, Google Music
This category is for what the industry calls ‘multisport’ watches, but that typically just translates to triathlon watches. They track your time/distance/etc… within the three sports – swim/bike/run. From a non-triathlon multisport aspect, these watches are often used by everyone from windsurfers to skaters, mostly because of their versatility and flexibility in configuration and display customization.
Note that the minimum requirement to be a multisport watch is specifically a multisport mode, which allows you to record multiple sports (e.g. swim/bike/run) in a single activity/file. If you have to stop the workout to change modes (like on a Fitbit), that’s not a multisport watch. That’s just a watch that happens to have multiple sports (at least by commonly accepted industry definitions).
I know, I know, you think the Fenix 6 should be here. But I don’t. Mainly because a heck of a lot of triathletes want something that has a quick-release kit, so they can move it to their handlebars. But if that doesn’t bother you, then go forth – you can absolutely scratch out ‘Forerunner 945’ and replace it with Fenix 6 above. They’ve got virtually identical everything, from software to internal hardware (with Fenix 6 having a handful more features).
Still, as for the FR945 – both myself and y’all seem pretty darn happy with it since it came out this past spring. By now everyone’s had a full triathlon season on it, and nobody is screaming yet. It’s got more metrics than you’ll frankly ever need, but I have found the Training Load Focus/Balance bits useful for remembering when to mix up the intensities a bit. And if I want to do offline music, I can do that too – it can connect to Bluetooth Smart headphones and cache my Spotify playlists.
This little unit got upgraded to best budget option. It probably helps that it’s currently on sale for nearly 40% off, but even at normal prices, I think it’s the best budget option today.
I want to be really clear on this. The reason I don’t recommend these watches is twofold, but mainly centers on the fact that they don’t support a multisport mode. Yes, it supports running, and cycling, and indoor swimming. But you can’t tie all those together in a race or training. Further, while the Garmin Instinct does support openwater swimming, it doesn’t support multisport mode.
This is pretty similar for some of the other running watches like the Polar M400/M430/M600 or Garmin FR45/230/235/245/620/630/645. Yes, they all support running and cycling, but none support multisport modes (nor openwater swimming). If you cycle sparingly and don’t swim, then they’re all still viable options.
Also, why not: Before folks ask, why not Suunto 5 (or COROS)? Honestly – I think Suunto has lost the plot here with their app/platform ecosystem. At a time when Polar keeps pushing ahead on not just their features via firmware, but also their platform behind it all – Suunto keeps removing things. Which is too bad. Last year they owned the budget category here. As for the COROS units, they’re just priced weird to win either of these categories. At the top end the Vertix is horribly overpriced for triathletes (or almost anyone), while at the bottom end the COROS Pace is actually priced very well (sub-$200), but lacks a lot of the features of the Polar Vantage M. However, I would say that there are scenarios where the COROS Pace would be something to consider if you’ve done your feature/price research against the Vantage M (use the tables at the end of this post), and don’t mind the gaps.
Before we go too much further, if you’re looking for indoor trainers or power meters, then check out my two dedicated posts on that. My trainer post is pretty darn new – only a few weeks old. My power meter post is from this time last year. Though, nothing has actually changed since last year. Sometime soon I’ll re-write it merely to move chairs around the deck, but again, there’s no tangible change from a year ago. The products are the same and the prices are the same. Oh, and finally, if you’re looking at an indoor smart bike, then hit up that guide too.
If we were to play purely a features game, the Edge 530 would win this category no problem (or the Edge 830 if you want to pay $100 more). But it’s not as simple as that. For what the Wahoo BOLT lacks in features it does make up for in simplicity and ease of use. Mostly.
Starting with the Edge 530 – it got a boatload of new features upon launch this past spring. ClimbPro being one of the biggest, which automatically shows each segment of your climbs as you go through them on a course. It’s super cool for hilly/mountainous routes. Atop that, for mountain bikers there’s a massive swath of new features from trail routing to jump metrics. And of course – the biggie for the Edge 530 was that it now includes detailed routable maps for your region. That’s the core difference to the Wahoo BOLT, which while it has underlying maps – they can’t route atop them on the fly without a pre-programmed route.
Meanwhile, the Wahoo BOLT does support navigation as long as the routes are sent to it from your phone or a 3rd party service. And it supports all the sensors you’re likely to use, including Garmin’s Varia Radar these days. Atop that – one of the biggest points for the Wahoo is the phone integration is super smooth and ‘just works’. There’s no fiddling with trying to get or keep the pairing, nor is it complicated to find features. Sure, it has less features (a lot less), but, it’s also just simpler for many folks to pick up and go.
Either way – you won’t go wrong with either unit. You’ll largely find the Edge 530 on my handlebars these days, with the odd Edge 830 showing up here and there. The main difference between the two being the touchscreen (which, as yesterday can once again attest do – works perfectly fine in the pouring rain).
When it comes to depth of mapping features, there’s really no competition here – the Edge 1030 wins every time. SIGMA was making a strong go for it last year with the ROX 12, but when Garmin decided to add all the new Edge 530/830 features to the Edge 1030 this past summer…that sorta killed the ROX 12’s chances of making the cut for this category (especially given they’re essentially the same price and because SIGMA has pulled out of the US market).
If you want to do it from your handlebars, there’s a pretty darn strong chance the Edge 1030 can do it. It’s a bit bigger than I probably need, it does things well and there’s no touchscreen issues (or clumsiness like the Edge 820 touchscreen). I don’t really know of anyone that doesn’t love their Edge 1030. Even the comments mirror that on not just my review, but all reviews. People are happy there, minus a few folks with a blue halo display issue – but support seems to take care of them pretty quickly. In any case, with the Edge 1030 getting features like Climb Pro this summer as well as everything else that came to the Edge 530/830, it’s just packed with cool cycling tech.
The main thing that really differentiates the Edge 1030 from something like the Wahoo ROAM is the onboard database of not just points of interests, but also addresses. It’s the ability to do literally everything from that unit – no phone required. Which is largely why you won’t find the ROAM on these lists. I just don’t see how it fits in overall, compared to their competitors on price. If it was cheaper – then it might find a place.
This category hasn’t changed this year. At about $100 cheaper than the Edge 520/Bolt is the Polar M460. It’s essentially got the core features you want on a GPS bike computer, in a rather nice little size. It can sync your rides afterwards via Bluetooth Smart, and soon also send those completed rides to Strava wirelessly, and even has Strava Live Segments. Plus it even connects to a power meter, unlike its previous generation M450.
Next, we’ve got the Lezyne Mega-X at $199. Lezyne has like 38 different models between $100 and $200, I tried to explain it all here a few years ago, and then they added more. They’ve all got minor nuances. This year they tried to simplify that some with the Mega-C and Mega-XL options. And to some degree they have. These were essentially updates of last year’s units with an overlay map shown (though it’s more of an underlay map I suppose).
The strength of the Lezyne unit over the Polar is the ANT+ sensor support (in addition to Bluetooth sensor support). So if you have ANT+ sensors already, you may want to consider this. Whereas if you have just Bluetooth Smart sensors you’re more of a free agent. But the budget options are still really solid. Again, check out my detailed post on it to understand those specifics.
So what about the Edge 130? It’s really solid at $199, especially in terms of sensor connectivity and if you want Garmin Connect IQ support. But, it also feels a little bit overpriced compared to the Lezyne and Polar options. Of course, you’re paying for the Garmin ecosystem. Also, note that the Edge 130 wasn’t designed to be a replacement for the Edge 500 (which some folks seem to think it is). If you look at it like a budget GPS first, then it’s got fantastic features. But if you approach it as a smaller Edge 520/530, you’ll be disappointed.
Oh – and the Stages Dash L10 should probably get an honorable mention, especially if you’re a power meter user. The depth of power meter metrics is super deep there, and the battery life too. Plus, it’s sub-$150 (well, $104 right now). Seriously, it’s got the data features of a $300 unit. However, it lacks a lot of the other more common features in cycling GPS units like Strava Live Segments.
In some ways, it was kinda the ‘year of the radar’ for the Varia radar (RTL-510 is the current version that combines bike lights). Over the course of the last few months we saw Wahoo add support to their product lineup for it, then we saw Hammerhead add support, and then just yesterday we saw Stages add support. There’s good reason: It’s an awesome little device. I’ve yet (still!!!) to find someone who bought one that is unhappy with it.
Next, we’ve got the Cycliq cams. If you’re not familiar, this isn’t an action cam per se, but it’s the closest category I’ve got. It combines a rear light (which you’d want anyway) with a camera. Basically, this is a safety cam. And not in the sense that it’s going to save your ass, but rather, it’s like an insurance policy for later. I have it on my bikes while riding around the vast majority of the time and it’s just silly easy to use.
Now, this isn’t really a replacement for a GoPro or the like, it doesn’t have anywhere near that level of quality. Rather – it’s just so in the event something bad happens to you – you can prove it wasn’t your fault, or even better – catch the person if they left you at the scene.
Year after year, swimming gets ignored by companies…but hey – this year is different! We got not one, but two new swimming devices. Heck – we go years without swimming devices and now we managed two of them in a single year!
In a category that actually has no formal competitors, I guess it was bound to win. Like showing up on race day and being the only one in your age group. But in actuality, it really is the best swim watch out there – even taking into account all of the multisport watches that mostly do swimming just fine. The reason it’s the best is rather simple: It’s got more features, and does all of those features better. There’s a pile of new indoor features, especially around automatic rest tracking.
But I think the real star of the show is the openwater swim accuracy. Previously the Apple Watch won that category, but this year with the Swim 2, Garmin manages to wrestle that crown back. It was borderline scary how accurate it was. Check out my full review for all those side by side track comparisons.
If you’re looking for both a pool and openwater swim watch on a budget and don’t need quite all the features – then check-out the Polar Vantage M. It’s a full-featured triathlon watch that also happens to do swimming pretty well.
Similarly, the Apple Watch Series 3 spits out fantastically accurate openwater swim tracks, as well as really strong indoor swimming. Sure, it doesn’t have the most full-featured swimming functionality – but if you’re mostly looking to just track laps and splits, it’ll more than do the trick.
It’s hard to categorize the FORM Swimming goggles. It’s not a watch obviously, and you can’t use it in openwater swimming. Still, if you’re primarily pool bound, it’s incredibly good at tracking your swim without ever requiring a glance at your wrist or a touch of the display. It just does it all automatically while displaying the stats in real-time on the inside of the goggle, heads-up display like. Sure, it’s a bit pricey at $199, and how well it holds up long-term remains to be seen. But the company is rolling out integration with the Polar OH1 heart rate sensor any day now, which should make for a super interesting combo.
If you’re getting any of the units listed above, you may be in the market for accessories. Obviously, some bundles include accessories, while others do not. Here’s what I recommend based on having entire buckets worth of accessories to test with.
In general, almost nothing has changed here in that I strongly favor dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensors over single-channel versions (e.g. ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart only). These sensors are available in all categories now. The reason for going dual is simple: It allows you the flexibility to choose whichever device you want and know it’ll work with it. Be it using it with apps like Zwift or Strava on Bluetooth Smart, or your bike computers or watches that just do ANT+. Or both at once!
Looking for a non-optical HR strap? I almost exclusively use the Garmin HRM-DUAL and the Wahoo TICKR series. I personally give a slight edge to the Garmin HRM-DUAL because it’s not just dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but actually dual-Bluetooth Smart. While the scenarios are somewhat limited that you’d need to concurrently connect two Bluetooth Smart devices (such as Zwift at the same time as a Polar or Suunto watch), I appreciate the flexibility. Also, I think the strap is more comfortable.
Yet at the same time, you’ll often find me rockin’ the Wahoo TICKR (often the X, but I rarely use the X-specific features). Personally, if you’re going to go for a TICKR and don’t have a specific need for the TICKR X features, then just pick up the regular TICKR and save a bunch of money.
Finally, there’s the 4iiii Viiiiva. It’s always the forgotten one, but it’s a super function-rich strap. It has a boatload of extra features around ANT+ to BLE conversion and offline storage. Plus all the regular dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart HR bits.
If I’m using a standalone optical HR sensor, it’s almost undoubtedly the Polar OH1 Plus. After adding ANT+ to it via firmware update this year, it’s quickly climbed into my gear bag. Not only does it broadcast dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but a simple double-tap will record the workout to memory and then sync easily into Polar’s Flow app/platform.
While in years past I’ve recommended the dual ANT+ Scosche Rhythm/Rhythm 24, the app experience just isn’t what Polar’s is. Little things like having only a handful of hours of onboard storage for that is tough – whereas I can record boatloads of workouts to the Polar OH1+ and it happily syncs them all down the road. Plus, you get the entire Polar training analysis ecosystem along with it.
As for the just announced Mio Pod, in my testing at this point I’m seeing good accuracy results. And the app shows promise – but has some gaps that’ll keep it off this list for now. But I could easily see a case where early next year it mind find a spot after some app updates.
I’ll use either unit, when I use one at all. Both transmit dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cadence signals, however the Garmin also transmits a second pairable cadence signal. For cyclists using a watch that’s Bluetooth Smart only (like Polar or Suunto), this would allow you to concurrently pair it to your watch for tracking your workout there, as well as pairing it to your smart trainer app like Zwift.
Note that technically I find the Garmin ANT+ cadence-only attachment system slightly better than Wahoo’s, as it doesn’t require zip ties and instead uses an industrial-strength rubber band. But that’s probably not a big deal for most people.
While I rarely use a speed sensor on my regular road bike, I do use one on my commuter and cargo bikes – simply to track mileage. The Garmin V2 sensor will act like a normal dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart speed sensor, but it’ll also quietly download a copy of every ride to your Garmin Connect account (and then onwards to connected apps like Strava).
If you don’t care about that, then realistically it won’t matter which sensor you use. Like the cadence sensor, the Garmin does have dual-Bluetooth Smart as well as being dual ANT+/BLE, but for an outdoor unit that’s frankly less important. Again – either the Wahoo or Garmin one will work just fine – both are dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart.
If for some reason you really want a magnet-based sensor, then the Wahoo Blue SC is what you want. It includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. Bontrager also has a dual option out these days too, but I haven’t tried it yet. Most of these are made in the same factory and just rebranded.
For the most part, the action cam industry is consolidating. But this year we did see DJI get into the mix with a very solid first attempt at things with the DJI OSMO Action. Super strong first attempt. Meanwhile, we haven’t really seen Garmin touch their wares in a few years – so I’ve gotta believe they’re stepping away from it at this point. There are of course a bunch of random budget cams out there on Amazon. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for there.
Both of these units are fantastic. The Hero 8 is better quality-wise (image and audio), though, is more annoying mechanically with the side door and removal of the HDMI port. The side door makes charging on the go more difficult unless you have the still unreleased accessory “Mods”. Still, if you find me out and about, you’ll find me with a Hero 8 in a pocket somewhere. Not only is the stabilization better, but so are some of the nuanced features around settings and configuration.
The stabilization on the Hero 7 introduced last year was great, but the Hero 8 really kicks it up a notch – especially for mountain biking or anything with crazy amounts of bumps or vibrations. If you don’t do that sort of activity on the regular, then save a bit of cash and pick up the Hero 7. You won’t go wrong either way.
As for the DJI OSMO Action? Yes, it’s good. Especially the dual-screens (I *LOVE* the dual screens). But the OSMO Action smartphone app really lets it down. While GoPro was hardly the poster child for app development, things have really gotten better over the last year or so. The apps work cleanly, they do what you expect, and the entire ecosystem just works. My GoPro quietly uploads all of its footage to the GoPro Plus cloud each night when I plug it in, just for backup. DJI lacks any of that today.
Nope. Not the Mavic Mini. It’s sitting right here on my desk. And it’s an awesome little drone that pushed the envelope of what’s possible in a 249g package. But in pursuit of that, they cut out too many functional features – like obstacle avoidance to minimize crashes. Or Active Track to actually follow you. Or 4K, because 4K is apparently…heavy? Or that you *have* to take the remote with you, you can’t just use your phone.
Thus, my favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air. It’s a rock star with a reasonable price. It’s got 4K video and can do some basic (very basic) tracking of you in a sport setting. While it doesn’t have as good of Active Track as the newer DJI Mavic 2 (which is much better in that department), I find that the Mavic 2’s limitations for Active Track still make it less ideal for most people (you can’t use a phone to track like you can with the Mavic Air, you have to use the dedicated controller+phone concurrently).
Video and photo quality on the DJI Mavic Air are fantastic, as is the ability to operate in high wind conditions (as I showed in some of my videos). Plus, you’ll find it on sale this holiday season as well. Seems like a no-brainer.
Note that the DJI Spark however is a freakin’ fantastic all arounder as well, and usually under $400. It lacks 4K support, but for most social media type applications you won’t notice. It’s buttery smooth and remains awesome. You’ll actually find me taking it just as often as the Mavic Air. Basically, if I’m taking photos only, I’ll take the DJI Spark, whereas if I’m taking video, I tend to take the Mavic Air.
When it comes to sports tracking though, there’s no competition. The Skydio R1 came out about two years ago and was incredible for sports tracking with its 13 cameras onboard that was virtually impossible to crash, but the price tag was $1,999 – far too high for most people. Not to mention the size was roughly that of a pizza box, and it didn’t fold up either. Still, it was hard to set aside just how incredible the autonomous tracking was.
Well, Skydio solved that with the R2. They halved the price to $999, increased every spec they could on it, and shrunk the size to roughly that of an iPad’s dimensions (except thickness, it’s thicker of course). It starts shipping next week – so look out for my full review then.
Ok, lots of recommendations. If there’s a category I’ve missed (entirely plausible) – just drop a note in the comments and I’ll try and come up with a recommendation and add it above.
More importantly though, you can mix and match just about everything I’ve talked about above, with in-depth comparison tables over at the product comparison calculator, which today supports: Action Cameras, Drones, Heart Rate Straps, Watches/Bike Computers, Power Meters, Activity Monitors, and Trainers.
Note: While many running watches have a basic bike mode, only running units that are multi-sport focused are also included in the bike-only results (in addition to bike-specific units). Hiking units are those that include a Barometric Altimeter, Magnetic Compass and navigational functions.
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The Roam is at 289€ today at Futurumshop.nl, is this a good enough deal to have it in the list? I’m coming from a 520 (with crappy battery life). Don’t want to buy the Bolt anymore because of it’s age.
Yeah, I’d say that’s a reasonable price actually for it – and I’d strongly consider it at that price.
Two solid options for budget running watches that I’d also recommend: – Polar M430, now at €120 (Amazon DE), with structured workouts, 4 datafields per page, back-to-start – Garmin Forerunner 35, now at €110 (Amazon DE), almost the same as M430 but for folks who don’t need structured workouts, more than 3 datafields per page and back-to-start
Was just comparing my Fenix 5 Plus with the FR 945, the only difference in the comparison tool is emergency notification and crash detection, but Fenix 5 Plus has that as well. Apparently since some software update a while ago.
Yeah, I need to figure out how to cover all these newer features like PacePro and such that aren’t in the comparison database.
It’s tricky because realistically only Garmin has these sorts of things. So do I basically make extra rows which heavily favor Garmin (as nobody else competes on unique features)? Or do I say ‘Well, tough’, and just start adding them so the database is more valuable?
I find Pace-Pro and training load focus so useful that I think it’s warranted to give them space in the DCR comparison charts – Garmin should be noted for pulling ahead of the competition here.
If there’s way to make the term more general (say, “pace guidance” and “load metrics”) it makes it open enough to cover other manufacturers others if/when they add them.
Also, generic terms like “load metrics” would allow for “non-granular” vs “granular” types as you’d see on the Forerunner 245 versus 945.
Would it be possible to hide/show them, on click/request saying that those are Garmin specific features?
Yeah, the training load metrics are definitely more applicable beyond just Garmin. Polar and Suunto have them to various extents as well.
Or you add a row for “unique features” and for each watch/head unit/etc. list whatever they do that is unique. Link to the review or a more detailed description of the feature.
What I found hard in comparing these two devices, was that so many rows are the same, Would be great if you could hide those rows.
Should not be too hard to integrate that in the Comparison Tool, if I can help, I see you on Saturday
Vantage M is just 20 Euro more than a Polar Ignite on Amazon here in Europe. So price is not a important factor.
For a mountain hiker / gym rat I might as well get a Vantage M? Can’t see anything a Ignite can do that a Vantage can’t?
Yup, I agree. The Ignite at launch at some unique features, but by time the year as out, it’ll be a wash.
As a road cyclist and gym rat, I was looking at the Vantage M or V as well. However, it appears that it lacks the support of Ant+. What would be a good alternative?
I’ve owned countless Garmin straps (HRM1 through 3, and HRM-Run), as well as a Wahoo Tickr, and I gotta agree with this one – the Polar H10 is king of the heap.
With the Polar H10 now featuring ANT+, BTLE dual-channel, and Polar 5kHz “GymLink,” as well as the most comfortable strap I’ve worn, and on-board memory, it’s the only one I recommend unless someone needs swim capability. (HRM-Swim, HRM-Tri) Running Dynamics can be added with the Garmin RDPod.
I was tempted – but my challenge there is the app offload process is kinda a mess. Every time I try and use it, my heard hurts.
So once you take that out, it’s tougher. That said, the 5Khz is a valid point for gym folks and I’ll add an honorable mention in there for people that need that.
I only have experience with an old Polar H7 and now a Wahoo TICKR. That model Polar was BLE only and eventually died after several years. The TICKR device has worked flawlessly on ANT+. The issue, however, is the strap. The darn thing is either losing elasticity from week to week or the slides don’t hold well. I’ve had to stop on numerous rides when the strap has slid down. This NEVER happened with the Polar. Once adjusted it stayed put no matter how long and sweaty a ride was. When it comes time to replace the TICKR I’m going back to Polar.
I think you could add the Sigma iD.TRI as a budget option for Triathlon. Your review was ok and I think they continously develop the firmware.link to dcrainmaker.com
Have you looked at the SmartHalo (there is a new version coming out in the Spring)? It looks like an interesting concept for navigation, a simply directional system rather than maps with a bunch of other features included (alarm, headlight, etc.). I am wondering how it would work for someone who wants turn by turn directions (or at least prompts) but has no use for a head unit otherwise (right now my phone is mounted to the bars). Let us know if you have any thoughts or impressions on it.
I noticed this too, and it’s still there. I think anyone reading should be able to figure it out after comparing the prices, but it does cause a moment of confusion.
Honestly depends on the price a bit. I like the FR935 a lot, but I think there won’t be any new feature updates there. Whereas the FR945 is at the begining of its life.
I had a VA3 and really liked it. Traded it in for a 935 as I wanted to try my hand at a triathlon and bought a power meter.
I’m debating getting the VA4s for the wife as she likes to run with music. VA3 Music would be fine, but it’s just ugly.
Great guide. If for pool swimming only (no outdoor) would you prefer the Form’s or Swim 2? What’s the better overall experience for lap tracking, measuring progress, And most likely to be a multi year solution etc.
If I want to track running with some stats and sleeping HR overnight, could I get away with an Iphone and Garmin Dual chest strap?
Hey Ray, Any advice on running footpods? I don’t want to splash out on stryd but want more accurate instant pace. I have a polar vantage watch but the polar ones look massive!
Garmin still sells the old shoe-mounted footpod (not the new pod that clips to your waist). I’m not sure anyone else is making a basic just-works footpod (speed, cadence) like that now. I’m not sure about its Polar connectivity. It’s ant+ only, I think.
Vivoactive 3 Music is a great buy. Except when you (or in this case, my wife) got a version that after some update got a battery drain issue which Garmin has not been able to put a finger on. In fact VA3 (not the music) has been updating software versions more often than some people change socks without much effect.
How bad is it? The watch used to last for a week or more with normal wear, two days if you run, listen to music and use gps. Now -5% per hour – when everything else is switched off, just sitting on the table – and that is after major update from two days ago, it was worse before that. With chilly weather, you have to charge full before going for a 10k run and hope to last til the end. Yes, it is bad. But it seems to only affect SOME of the watches, but not all.
Have you had the new gen 2 Fly6 CE in hand yet? They’ve teased it for a while & it’s available now.
I just want to point out that Garmin ELEVATE V3 in the Forerunner 945, VA4, F6 or Venu cant do OHR when arm is flexing. This seems even more true in cold weather. So no winter sports with poles on the newest generation of Garmin OHR. Something in ELEVATE HW V3 compared to last generation OHR has messed up the OHR doing winter sports. 27 out of 27 resting V4 or 945 gave crappy OHR data when cross country skiing againts 2 out of 39 for the Fenix 5 (ELEVATE V2). This can be easily fixed with a heart rate strap for sure. But just keep in mind when recommending Garmin for winter use.
But in the winter, aren’t you wearing it on the outside of clothing so you can see it, so you can’t use the OHR anyway? That’s what I do with my Fenix 5+.
No, for the most part I see Garmin and Apple pretty similiar, along with Polar depending on the device. Suunto has historically done better, but less so lately.
Each has their quirks, and they’re not always consistent in which quirk shows up which day. By the same token, chest HRM’s also have way more quirks than people like to realize. One only need to look at posts from pre-optical HR sensors to see that (or any of my tests, even my review from Wednesday of the Apple Watch to see cases where HR straps struggled).
Is the benefit mainly convenience for the bicep optical HRM straps over wrist based HRM or the chest straps? Is either arm or chest more accurate or similar? I’ve seen mention of wrist-based being less reliable on bike maybe.
The ones that sit on the upper arm are much more accurate than wrist based ones. On the wrist you have issues with accuracy as the wrist flexes and tenses, both from letting light in and cutting off circulation momentarily. You cannot really use wrist based for things like rowing, weight training, cycling, kickboxing, etc. I switched to the Polar OH1 and it is spot on every time and amazingly comfortable. Chest versus arm is apples versus oranges, using two different technologies. Traditionally chest was more accurate versus wrist but I do not find that the case versus upper arm optical straps. Chest has its own issues with them needed to be wet, chafing, comfort, etc.
I’ve used a wrist-based MIO HRM for cycling and indoor rowing for the last 5 years. Apart from the occasional misread on the rowing machine, which quickly goes back to where it should be, I’ve had no problems. I’ve even done comparisons on a spinning bike wearing the MIO and a Polar H10, and they both track pretty accurately. Maybe I’m just not fast enough at either activity to produce problems…
About the Drones, I’m ordering a Mavic Mini with my christmass-bonus, I don’t get that u would recommend the Mavic Air, it’s double the price and for us normal people (I’m even a photographer) it’s plenty good and with the new drone laws in Europe next year it’s the only drone everyone can use! Also the Spark is discontinued, so if u want one u’ll need to buy it second-hand and that’s not really smart for drones!
So while I agree with the rest of the recommendations, the footage and reviews of the Mavic Mini are so good that, u should really take a look at the drones again! Try to look at it in our perspective, we don’t need alot of bells and whistles, good footage, price and be able to use it everywhere is alot more important to us normies!
A) The Mavic Mini doesn’t have *ANY* obstacle avoidance sensors. The Spark and Mavic Air do. So, whether you’re new or old to drone flying, this is a 2-4 year step back in drone tech – and keeping drones from crashing.
B) The Mavic Mini doesn’t have any functional Active Tracking tech – that’s all good. Sure, that might not matter to a lot of people, but I think it kinda sucks.
C) The Mavic Mini requires a remote controller – neither the Spark or Mavic Air do. What I’ve found over the years more and more is that I just rarely use the controller – the phone is good enough for the quick shots I want to get. Sure, if you’re planning on going more than 100m away – then definitely go controller. But I think you’d be surprised at how often you don’t. You just want a specific angle slightly different than your own.
D) From a color science standpoint, the Mavic Mini really isn’t all that great comparative to the Mavic Air. Side by side and you’ll see the details fall out. Same goes for exposure – often blowing out the highlights without much effort. Is it good enough for most people? Sure. Is it probably good enough for me? Yup, mostly.
E) The challenge with the 249g thing is that it doesn’t appreciably change the landscape. I lot of people misunderstand that. In the US, it just means you don’t have to register it. It doesn’t change where you can fly. So that doesn’t matter. In the EU next year, again, it won’t change here because the 250g ruling that’s in process to be approved for next June wouldn’t exempt the Mavic Mini, as it has a camera (“sensor”) that’s able to capture personal info, which is the requirement. You can read it here: link to easa.europa.eu
Don’t get me wrong – I think what DJI did with the Mavic Mini is amazing, but I also think they cut too hard in features in order to hit that weight limit. I’d rather them have shaved a bit more battery life (as they did with the Japense version to hit the lower weight limit), and got back the proximity sensors. Or, not artificially reduce the 4K sensor down to 2.7K (the teardowns have clearly shown the entire imaging pipeline is more than capable of 4K/60 HDR).
– understand why Mavic did away with some things, if they put everything from the more expensive drones in this one, why would anyone still buy those?
-I completely agree about the controller, that was a bit hard to read, but it is something they can maybe put in a software update.
-The Active tracking is also a bit sad to loose, but again, not alot of people will use it at this price point and they have to differentiate their drones somehow.
-The 2,7k samples Youtube look great, and to add to this, I use my GoPro Hero 5 Session in 1440p instead of 4k (the 4k doesn’t have EIS), could they have crippled this, yeah probably but I don’t really care, it’s good enough.
-The new rules aren’t that easy to understand I read somewhere else that, some places they say that u need to register it, other places it doesn’t. But if it’s only a registration (as I read on the site u linked to), it still is alot better than the Belgian laws now, where u need to do a flytest and such. And what do they mean with this: Drone user can start operating in limited ‘Open’ category. Between June 2020 till June 2022: “Drones with a weight less than 500g may be operated in an area where reasonably it is expected that no uninvolved person is overflown”
But what I mostly wanted to say: the Mavic Air is still DOUBLE the price, and the Spark is discontinued. Therefor the Mini is really the only choice for 90% of the people, as it does so much for half of the price, again look at it throught the eyes of your readers, will they fork up €800 for an awesome drone or will they instead pay €400 for a drone that can do most of what they want (take a few drone shots once in a while for their social media).
Anyway, I will order my Mini in january, it will be my first drone with a good camera (I had a cheap drone with a bad 480p camera and a DJI Tello that flies awesome but with only a 720p camera ), I will probably use it mostly for some landscape photo’s (as I’m more of a photographer) and some interesting wedding pics, and once in a while a quick b-shot for some of my bad video’s! By the way, I recommend u to watch this video: link to youtube.com
Bij ons zijn de 245 en 935 ongeveer allebei 300 euro. Welke lijkt je de beste keus als ze evenveel kosten… Ik ga ze vooral gebruiken om te lopen…
Thanks once again for another guide; how come there are no power meter recommendations? It’s interesting that the milestone pod has been removed from recommendations; has there been any real changes to the design since they were bought out?
I wholeheartedly agree with your decision not to recommend suunto based on the fact that they keep taking away features from their ecosystem, it has been quite a frustrating experience.
On the plus side, a prompt on the suunto app today notified me that sports-tracker was part of suunto and all my training has been imported into sports-tracker; suunto users finally have a way to access training data through a Web browser, but it feels extremely bare bones compared to the old movescount page.
He mentioned there is a separate recent power meter review and linked to it, and also trainers. Look near beginning of Cycling Tech section.
The Sigma id.tri might definetly be a great budget watch but with black friday around amazon sells the Polar Vantage M for 175€. Can’t. Beat. That.
No mention of the forerunner 645 Music? I am thinking about getting one for the training metrics, altimeter and small form factor. Right now it costs about the same as a vivoactive 4 or forerunner 245 Music. Am I making a mistake?
As far as I am aware of the most important thing present on the 645 but not the 245 is a barometric altimeter. This may be useful for trail running or cycling in hilly areas and the watch tracks floors climbed using that sensor. If you also buy the running dynamics pod, the 645 can calculate running power (watts), the 245 can’t because if the missing altimeter.
Do you recommend Forerunner 45 or Vivoactice 3 Element for basic runner who just run, no swim, no cycle? The V3E is $20 cheaper.
In your Vantage M review you wrote ” to wrap-up HR accuracy on the whole – I don’t see it as good. Something still isn’t right with the HR accuracy of the Vantage series (including the Vantage M)”
These are such great reviews. Have you done anything for the weights room like FLEX Stronger, Beast or A2P?
Ray – Thanks for this. Like you, I’m no fan of big and heavy watches, and so I’m curious if you’ve found that over time, you got used to the F6 Pro on your wrist, or if it still feels heavy and large, esp. for running and swimming.
“I do really like widget glances on the Fenix 6 though” Any news on when we may see that on the 945 ??
Yves – the weight of the F3 really annoyed me after a while – it would bounce when I ran even tho locked down with a velcro strap. The 935/945 size and weight are so much better for me.
The Polar M450 does support some power meters including my Tacx Vortex trainer.link to support.polar.com
Hey DCR, Where I’m at the Garmin 645 Music is about 250€ and the polar vantage m 200€. I’m having trouble deciding which one is best for me. The 245 musicless is also 250€. I like supporting smaller companies (ie not Garmin) and don’t own anything polar or Garmin as of now, so I’m not invested in either ecosystem. I don’t currently run with music either. Going off of that, what would be the major differences between them when running, and which would you recommend. Also, do you know if I can use my rides on Strava/Wahoo Elemnt in Polar Flow/Garmin Connect to the correct recovery/exercise recommendations?
Also, thank you for your articles! They have helped a bit, though it’s still not clear to me how well the vantage M works nowadays, after updates.
Hi, Do you mind sharing where you can get the 6645 music for 250euros? Any chance of EU-wide shipping? Thanks!
Sorry, it’s already gone. I’d recommend just checking Pricespy (or your country’s version of it). Chain reaction has it for 280€ though.
I have to agree with you on the Fenix 6 Pro. While not a small guy at 6′ tall, I am the classic ectomorph at 150-155 pounds, with skinny monkey arms. The Fenix 3, 5+, and even 5S+ were all too big for my wrist with the distance between the strap lugs being greater than the width of my arms.
After seeing that the strap lugs on the Fenix 6 were very similar to the lugs on the FR945, which has been serving me well of the last 6 months, I took a chance that all of my Fenix woes were over and ordered one.
Received my 6 Pro Titanium earlier this week and can’t be happier with it. First run out of the box was a 10 miler and the watch sat right where it should the whole time and the experience has been just as good on the following 3 runs.
I noticed there is no Scales section, bit nothing seems to have changed there for 3 or 4 years so last year’s likely still applies
I would like the Garmin HRM Dual. But, I also want the HRM-Run. But, they don’t make the HRM-Run with dual frequency do they? I don’t understand why?
I’m amazed that there haven’t been improvements in the 4 years since the HRM-Run was released… I want the run data, but I was hoping to give someone (Garmin?) more money for improvements/dual-band capabilities, etc.
Hi Ray Thanks for the reviews So you favour the 1030 over the Karoo I guess since it’s not in the list. Does this mean you do not recommend the Karoo? If so, why not. Regards Niels Christian
I’m thinking about buying a new Garmin watch. I’m mainly running (roads), but have started with some trails as well. I’m also mountain biking a bit.
I have looked at the 245 music and the 645 music, and I think I know all the differences. However, I have a wondering about the barometric data.
If I’m running up a hill, lets say the distance is 1 km. The difference in altitude is 100 m. Will both the 245 and the 645 show the distance 1 km after the running? And will the difference only be in the elevation data? The 645 will be closer to 100 m compared to the 245?
I’m assuming that the 645 has a barometric altimeter and the 245 doesn’t. If that’s the case, the 245 probably won’t show any altitude data at all, because GPS altitude is just too imprecise. The 645 will show 100 m. Some Garmin watches have “3d” mode which take into account vertical as well as horizontal when computing distance, but even at the nasty 10% grade you’re thinking about, the difference will be only about 50 m.
But will both watches show the distance 1km, since the 245 doesnt have barometric altimeter? And will the elevation be correct on The 245 once I upload it to garmin connect?
Yes (keeping in mind that there’s error in GPS, so they won’t be exactly 1000m every time you run that actual km). Garmin Connect will use a digital elevation map for the 245, but will trust the 645 unless you tell it not to. So in the end you should see the same elevation profile.
Thanks for the guide. I was going to pull the trigger on the Varia but held off this time around. I do have an older Cycliq Fly6. Do you put both of these are your bike while you ride? It would be ideal to have one unit that does both. Is there one you prefer understanding they have different functions. Maybe you’ve mentioned this elsewhere on your site.
“If you don’t do that sort of activity on the regular, then save a bit of cash and pick up the Hero 8.”
I’m a happy owner of a Lezyne Mega XL. The thing has a massive battery. I use USB to transfer my rides off the device, and during that time the device charges enough to offset the losses that occurred during cycling. I don’t remember when I last charged my unit, but I think it was August. It’s seen nearly daily commute use since then.
Beyond the budget role, the unit is splendid for anyone with special battery needs. Bikepacking, multiday touring, cold climates and so on.
Hmm.. Garmin’s new 945 – venturing into the tiresome entertainment world of apps with annoying updates, music, credit card and other useless jippo gets rewarded with 1# place for multi-sport watches..
These are NOT important features for people dedicated to training. Quite the opposite. A focus on sport specific features, restitution and great visibility in all conditions should be the main criteria’s.
I can’t help being suspicious. Perhaps this a buyer guide aimed more at tech lovers. (USA) Garmin again.. Perhaps they throw the coolest parties for influencers