For those looking to exercise to their tunes and have their workouts tracked through GPS, it usually means strapping on a smartphone. However, with plenty of devices boasting on-board storage and even music streaming, it's now easy to leave your phone behind and work out without tethers.
We still believe dedicated sports watches still offer the best way to train, but it's also true that GPS-equipped smartwatches are closing the gap. Wherever your preference lies, read on below for our picks of the top running watches with music playback.
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Best running watch with music playback
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
After years of waiting, we now have a Garmin with a built-in music player. The Forerunner 645 lets you drag and drop music files from your computer to your watch and pair Bluetooth headphones to give you another reason to leave that smartphone behind.
There's one physical button on the side of the watch dedicated to giving you quick access to those music controls, letting you do the basics like skip through tracks and change playlists.
Essential reading: How to use Spotify on your Garmin watch
Along with enough room for 500 songs, Garmin is also offering offline listening support for select music streaming services. Deezer and iHeartRadio are two of those services on board, but the most recent and noteworthy addition here is a dedicated Spotify app. If you're a Premium subscriber of the service, you'll be able to transfer playlists to the device for that all-important offline support.
You can have a read of our Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review to get the full verdict on its music and sports tracking features.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music
Now, we know that the Garmin is not cheap, so we've decided to suggest a more affordable route to a music-packing sports watch, too. And though TomTom is now getting out of the wearables game, it that doesn't mean the Spark 3 isn't still a great option when it comes to running with music.
It not only boasts all the usual running metrics (distance, speed, time), but its built-in optical heart rate monitor aced our tests and plugs into nearly every running app.
In terms of music, though, it's the storage for 500 or so MP3s (3GB), which it'll play via a pair of Bluetooth headphones, that helps the latest Spark standout from the rest of 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.
For more on this, take a look at our TomTom Spark 3 review. And if you like trail running, you should check out our TomTom Adventurer review. It offers all the same music playback features along with some additional outdoor sports tracking modes.
With TomTom not the most reliable option moving forward, it's also worth throwing the Amazfit Stratos - another budget option compared to the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music - into this list.
It doesn't just compare favourably to the top pick in this field with regard to price, either, with the Stratos matching Garmin with 4GB of storage data for your music files. In our testing, we found the music controls to be limited, but generally the playback lives up to basic expectations.
Like other sports watches, the meat here is in its built-in tracking modes, which is also backed up by GPS/GLONASS support and a heart rate monitor. Thanks to a partnership with Firstbeat, more advanced metrics, such as VO2 Max and Training Load, are also on board.
For the full details on its music tracking capabilities and tracking chops, jump over to our Amazfit Stratos review.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
We wondered if Garmin would find room to pack its new music features into its most serious outdoor sports watch, and we didn't have to wait too long to find out.
The Fenix 5 Plus series includes the Fenix 5 Plus, Fenix 5S Plus and the Fenix 5X Plus. All three models now include the same features that rolled out first on the Forerunner 645 Music. So you can transfer music and podcasts to the watch and download offline playlists from music streaming services like Deezer. Like the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, that support now also includes the Spotify app.
Even better news? All the new features provided in the new generation haven't come at the expense of the big battery life that makes the Fenix range some of the best in the business when you are planning to put in some serious sports tracking time.
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 generally one-trick ponies, albeit with superior tracking chops.
Choosing a smartwatch currently means losing the in-depth stats, such as VO2 Max, vertical oscillation monitoring and other hardcore running metrics, but means you can get big beats straight to your headphones.
Apple Watch Series 4 Nike+
With the Nike+ edition, Apple has given its smartwatch more of a focus on running, while 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 still a regular Apple Watch Series 4 at heart - and the company has greatly improved how you experience music since introducing an LTE version of its smartwatch.
Read this: How to play music on Apple Watch
Previously, you could only play music by transferring playlists from your phone and pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones. Now, though, Apple Music subscribers rocking the Series 4 with LTE are be able to stream music directly from the watch. A new Apple Watch Spotify app is also in its early stages, meaning subscribers can finally drop workarounds and access their full library. It's not perfect just yet, as there's no cellular streaming or offline playback, but we imagine those features will be added sooner rather than later.
For those who want to save money, you can still pick up the Apple Watch Series 3 and receive the same music powers - just make sure it's the LTE version (with the red dot on the Digital Crown) if you want to stream directly from the wrist.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
Like the rest of the Samsung smartwatch bunch, the Galaxy Watch offers a dedicated Spotify app. This means you can stream music (over Wi-Fi or LTE) and download offline playlists from the streaming service onto the watch.
Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Watch review
You can also transfer music through Samsung's own music player, and thankfully it's really easy to do from the Gear Companion app. The new Galaxy Watch now comes in 42mm and 46mm sizes, with both offering 4GB of storage to pile on your music and Spotify playlists.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
Like the Forerunner 645 Music and Fenix 5 Plus series, Garmin has added the same music features to the watch you can say is the closest to being an Apple Watch rival.
That means you can drag and drop audio files onto the watch when you hook it up to a computer and it'll offer offline playlists support for select music streaming services, such as Deezer and iHeartRadio. Spotify has yet to be added, but we imagine it won't be too long before it shows up.
On top of that, you get the same sports tracking features packed in the Vivoactive 3 sans music support, including Garmin Pay, GPS, heart rate monitor and big battery life.
Read ourfull Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review to find out how Garmin's updated sporty smartwatch fares in the music department.
Fitbit's first smartwatch was also its first device to pack in music streaming from the wrist, though just where you are depends on how effective this feature currently works.
Unfortunately, unlike Samsung, Apple and Garmin, there's no Spotify support just yet, but those in the US will have access to Pandora in order access offline listening. If you're in Europe, that door is closed to you, but it does have Deezer support.
Thankfully, putting music on the watch itself is actually fairly straightforward, since this can be done through Fitbit's own music app. To do so, you need to go through the desktop Fitbit Connect app and select the files you want to sync. Once on there, it's a case of pairing your Bluetooth headphones with the watch and you're away. This feature is also available on the slimmer Fitbit Versa smartwatch, which lacks the built-in GPS powers of the Ionic, but still offers plenty of solid sports tracking features.
Very much a Polar running watch first and Wear smartwatch second; the Polar M600 is 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 talents 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.
For an extended look, have a look at our Polar M600 review.
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