Run to the beat: Best running watches and smartwatches with music playback

Take control of your workout tunes and leave your smartphone at home
Top sports watches with music

Music makes running easier, but for those looking to run to the beat and have their workouts tracked with a GPS running watch, it usually means strapping on a phone as well.

The good news is the latest running watches and smartwatches are coming equipped with on-board storage and even music streaming access, so you can leave your smartphone behind and run untethered.

Essential reading: Best heart rate monitors and watches

Thanks to Rocky Balboa we all know that workouts are easier when we're pumped up by our favourite power song playlists. Science has even gone and proved the positive effect a few killer tunes can have when you're trying to kick your own ass on the pavements, in the gym or even doing laps down the pool.

While dedicated sports watches still offer the best way to train, GPS equipped smartwatches are quickly catching up.

Here's our pick of the best running watches with music playback skills...

GPS running watches with music playback

TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music

Best running watches and smartwatches with music playback

The TomTom Spark 3 boasts all the normal running metrics (distance, speed, time), has a built-in optical heart rate monitor which aced our tests and plugs into nearly every running app.

But it's the storage for 500 or so MP3s (3GB), which it'll play via a pair of wireless headphones, that makes the latest Spark standout from the TomTom crowd. The feeling of running unencumbered by your phone isn't to be underestimated. Make sure you get the '+Music' version though... obviously.

Take a look at our TomTom Spark 3 review.

$249.99, tomtom.com | Amazon

Adidas miCoach Smart Run

The miCoach Smart Run might be an ageing beast now, but if you want a built-in MP3 player on your running watch then this is still one of the best options. You can load up to 4GB from your iTunes and MP3 music by dragging them into a folder on your computer and syncing via USB.

You can then use the Smart Run's Bluetooth 4.0 work to pair Bluetooth headphones giving you control of your running playlist from your wrist. There was talk of adding offline Spotify playlist support, but sadly that's still not happened... MixRadio is on board though (yeah, we know).

Adidas has actually stopped selling the watch recently but you can pick it up on Amazon pretty cheaply.

$169, Amazon

Smartwatches with fitness & music

While running watches have long been the only choice for serious athletes, the smartwatch is fast catching up. The benefit is that smartwatches have the full power of apps at their disposal, while dedicated running trackers are one-trick ponies, albeit, with superior tracking chops.

Choosing a smartwatch currently means losing the in-depth stats such as cadence tracking, vertical oscillation monitoring and other pro-running feedback, but means you can get big beats straight to your headphones.

Moto 360 Sport

The Moto 360 Sport has lagged behind the second generation smartwatch, but it's finally landed and we've had a good play with it.

It was only the second Android Wear smartwatch to feature GPS inside, the Moto 360 Sport plays nicely with your favourite running apps and can also play music from its built-in 4GB of storage.

Read our full Moto 360 Sport review.

$199.99, motorola.com | Amazon


Polar M600

Best running watches with music

Very much a Polar running watch first and Android Wear smartwatch second; it's unashamedly a fitness device, so much so that it's almost inaccurate to compare it to the current crop of smartwatches at all.

But a smartwatch it is and, as such, it comes with the same musical skills as the rest of the Wear-clan. GPS run tracking is on the money and the stats and metrics the excellent Flow app provides post-run make it the top smartwatch for runners.

Have a look at our Polar M600 review now.

$329.95, polar.com | Amazon

Apple Watch Nike+

Top running watch with music playback

With the Nike+ edition, Apple has teamed given its smartwatch more of a focus on running; tweaking the strap and software to make it easier for runners to strap it on and put the built-in GPS to the test. But, behind the Nike themed watch face it's a regular Series 2 at heart - with all the musical abilities of its less sporty looking brethren.

You can play music by transferring playlists from your phone to the watch and pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones. Also, if you're an Apple Music subscriber you can transfer playlists from the service, putting even more tracks at your fingertips.

From $369, apple.com | Amazon


Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 235
$329.99
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3
$225.00
Polar M600
Polar M600
$251.08
Fitbit Surge
Fitbit Surge
$249.95

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18 Comments

  • LaxMom says:

    NOT really in depth.  Just returned my Microsoft band. Still looking. I want exactly what MS band offered but must have comfort.

  • keith says:

    You mention some watches enable you to stream music. I don't believe this is possible. Which one(s) were you referring to when you said "equipped with on-board storage and even music streaming access ..."?

    • CDR_Shepard says:

      Happily, it's not only possible, it's under $200 from Timex. 

      http://www.timex.com/one-gps Comes with a year's wireless access from AT&T, and 4GB of internal storage that will talk to your Bluetooth earpiece.  Anything else you're thinking is "impossible?"  Just wait.  As Napoleon reportedly said, "'Impossible' is a word found only in the dictionary of ____."

      • gleepglop says:

        no, you are wrong. It doesn't stream music, unfortunately. It has 3g, that's only used for gps, text messaging, and stats uploading.

        • cschwegs says:

          This is my discovery too @gleepglop, it DOESNT stream music. Streaming music, in my mind, is the ability to pull up apps such as Spotify and actually stream music.  I purchased this watch based off of this review, and am VERY disappointed that I can only listen to music uploaded to the watch from songs I've purchased through iTunes. I'm sick of this same songs and don't want to bring my huge iPhone 6plus on my runs and would really appreciate some technology that allows me to stream music, in the truest sense of the phrase. Streaming music is not just playing music from your watch to your bluetooth headphones - that's a great feature but certainly not unique!! Your review is extremely misleading @CDR_Shepard!!

          • Jimb0 says:

            It's not out just yet, but Pebble Core will meet your needs.

            • kakibera says:

              Thank you for this heads-up! I signed up for the update. 

  • Fangjun says:

    The Samsung Gear S doesn't have a built-in GPS sensor. How is it "GPS enabled"? Does "GPS enabled" mean it has to be paired with a carry-on phone with GPS?

    • skullmonkey says:

      It does have GPS, I run with mine without my phone. I use Nike+ and it records my route.

    • NoThanX says:

      When the Gear S is not paired to smart phone, it will use it's own GPS. This requires cellular service but will accurately map out your run. I do find that it's accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, so factor that in. I side load my music list and pair it to a wireless headset. Works great for anything under a half marathon.  More than that, and I had to turn GPS to save battery life.  Been using it for about 9 months and enjoy it.  It's also nice to have a phone on my wrist when on long runs, without having to carry my actual smartphone.  Hope that helps. 

  • SatomiTakara says:

    You've got a couple typo's in there. I assume that's supposed to be blood "sweat" and tears under the apple watch and also I'm pretty sure it was supposed to say leave your smart"phone" behind not leave the smart"watch" behind

  • FiReeves says:

    Do you know if Garmin are planning on bringing out a running watch with the option to upload music?

    • SarahKB says:

      I'm curious about this too - seems like the only one left without music storage capability.

  • gleepglop says:

    you should do better research. Timex One does NOT stream music! It's a mystery as to why not, what with the 3g connection, but it doesn't. Which is such a disappointment!

    • cschwegs says:

      This is my discovery too @gleepglop, it DOESNT stream music. Streaming music, in my mind, is the ability to pull up apps such as Spotify and actually stream music. I purchased this watch based off of this review, and am VERY disappointed that I can only listen to music uploaded to the watch from songs I've purchased through iTunes. I'm sick of this same songs and don't want to bring my huge iPhone 6plus on my runs and would really appreciate some technology that allows me to stream music, in the truest sense of the phrase. Streaming music is not just playing music from your watch to your bluetooth headphones - that's a great feature but certainly not unique!! Your review is extremely misleading @CDR_Shepard!!

  • Jbry says:

    should of added in the motoactv.

    Though discontinued in 2013, still the best smart watch around. 8g or 16g available.

  • Pashlit says:

    Just got 16gb model. Practical, but way too bulky. Not a watch to wear all day. Samsung's Fit 2 looks attractive and comfy. A bit buggy though based on reviews.

  • skinnerneil says:

    The sony SW3 has terrible GPS... Slow to lock and then frustratingly inaccurate.

    My "dumb" garmin forerunner 25 has no fancy features but works perfectly as a fitness/running tracker.  Super fast GPS lock and very accurate.

    Now if Garmin could figure a way to give me this + offline spotify playback - I would purchase in a second.

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