The good news is the latest running watches and smartwatches are coming equipped with onboard storage and even music streaming access, so you can leave your smartphone behind and run untethered.
Essential reading: Best heart rate monitors and watches
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...
Best running watch with music playback
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music
TomTom may now be out of the wearables game, but that doesn't mean the Spark 3 isn't still an elite option when it comes to running with music.
Not only does it boast all the normal 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 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.
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.
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.
Apple Watch 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 Watch Series 3 at heart - and Apple is greatly improving how you experience music through its latest generation.
Previously, you could play music by transferring playlists from your phone and pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones. Now, though, Apple Music subscribers rocking the Series 3 with LTE will be able to stream music directly from the watch. The feature was delayed at launch, but should be rolling out in October. And for those who want to save money, you'll have to pick up the Watch Series 1 if you want to experience the non-streaming music playback. After all, the Series 2 has now been confined to the smartwatch graveyard.
Samsung Gear S3
We weren't the biggest fans of the jump up in size from the Gear S2, but with the built-in GPS, a more rugged design and built-in music player you can go running with the Gear S3 sans smartphone.
The only drawback is that you have to transfer music through Samsung's own music player but thankfully it's really easy to do from the Gear Companion app. If you download the Spotify app and you are signed up to the music streaming service, you can also stream from the Gear S3 Frontier with LTE connectivity. It's also the only smartwatch that offers offline playback via Spotify as well.
Give our Samsung Gear S3 review to see what we made of the run tracking skills of the Frontier.
Very much a Polar running watch first and Android 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 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.
New Balance RunIQ
The New Balance RunIQ is the sports apparel company's first Android Wear smartwatch that'll run on Wear 2.0 and has Strava integration to make it easier to track your running and cycling workouts.
Like the LG Watch Sport, Moto 360 Sport and the Polar M600 Wear watches, the GPS-packing RunIQ also packs in 4GB of onboard storage to let you transfer music from Google Play straight over to the watch. You can even pair some headphones to the Run IQ to listen sans phone.
As we found during testing, though, this is a very hit-and-miss watch. There's a well designed music player widget for easily skipping tracks and adjusting volume, but make sure to check out our full New Balance RunIQ review to see if you can handle the device's low points.
LG Watch Sport
The LG Watch Sport was one of the two debut Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches, the other being the LG Watch Style. It's a well-equipped fitness watch, with built-in GPS which we found to be spot-on.
As for music options, there's Google Play Music support straight from the watch, but if that's not your bag there's 2.35GB of storage to load your own music onto the device, too. Google also tells us it's working with other streaming services for support before the end of the year, but we're yet to hear anything more on this.
Take a gander at our full LG Watch Sport review.
Moto 360 Sport
As you can probably guess, the Moto 360 Sport is a sportier version of Motorola's flagship smartwatch.
It was only the second Android Wear smartwatch to feature GPS inside, allowing the Moto 360 Sport to play nicely with your favourite running apps. And yes, it can also play music from its built-in 4GB of storage.
The 360 Sport is getting a little long in the tooth, and it appears that Motorola has stopped selling the device, but you can still pick it up on Amazon.
Read more in our Moto 360 Sport review.
Although we've talked through the Samsung Gear S3 on this list, the Korean giant also has the Gear Sport dropping in late October, alongside the Gear IconX 2018 earbuds and the Gear Fit2 Pro fitness tracker, which can also handle your tunes.
And while the smartwatch doesn't deal with your music exactly like Apple and its streaming service, it does have rival it with one killer feature - offline Spotify mode. This means subscribers can listen while online, offline and even without their smartphone. We'll be testing the Gear Sport over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for how we fare with its Spotify smarts.
Keep on running
- Essential heart rate zone training guideHow to use your heart rate monitor or running watch to supercharge your training
- How to use your running watch for interval trainingGetting the most from your GPS wearable for high intensity interval training
- Best Bluetooth headphones for runningRun with freedom by connecting your smartwatch to a pair of these
- Best running appsWhether it's for your smartwatch or smartphone, these are the best apps out there
- Using running watches to earn marathon PBHow your GPS running watch can help you cross the marathon line
Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon
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