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

Take control of your workout tunes and leave your smartphone at home

There's plenty of wearables out there that can track your workout from the wrist, but finding the best running watch or smartwatch for music is another matter altogether.

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

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

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.

£399.99, garmin.com | Amazon

TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music

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

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.

£219.99, tomtom.com | Amazon

Amazfit Stratos

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

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.

$199.99, amazfit.com | Amazon

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series

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

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.

Read our full Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review and our full Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review to find out what we made of the new Fenix watches.

From £599.99, garmin.com | 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 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+

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

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.

From £399 (£499 for Series 4 LTE), apple.com | Amazon

Samsung Galaxy Watch

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

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.

From £279.99, samsung.com | Amazon

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

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

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.

From £299.99, garmin.com | Amazon


Fitbit Ionic

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

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.

For a deeper take on how the device fares in music streaming and beyond, take a look at our Fitbit Ionic review and our Fitbit Ionic Adidas Edition review.

From £279.99, fitbit.com | Amazon

Polar M600

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

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.

£299, polar.com | Amazon


What do you think?

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33 comments

  • LaxMom·

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

  • keith·

    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 ..."?

  • Fangjun·

    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·

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

    • NoThanX·

      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·

    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·

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

    • SarahKB·

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

  • gleepglop·

    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·

      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·

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

        • kakibera·

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

        • Scottydug·

          Shame about the Pebble Core getting canned. Do you know of any other smart watch/tracker that has GOS and can stream Spotify or play offline?

  • gleepglop·

    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·

      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·

    should of added in the motoactv.

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

  • Pashlit·

    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·

    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.

  • fabianC·

    So I've had the SPARK watch for 9 months but the strap ruptured after 5 months (mostly running and swimming). Since then I have been waiting for several months for the replacement strap... 

    Regarding the music, the data transfer to the headphones only works when there is nothing in the way. 

    So the watch has to be on the left side and it will still loose it's connection and cut the song when the workout get a bit harder and your arm movements get wider.

  • CChute·

    The Polar has an awsome feature not mentioned - it allows music playback when it's not connected.  That's huge.  Too bad it's only on Android though.  

  • bogdanovits·

    Bought RunIQ today and Android 1.5 is the op system :-) not the 2.0 with no possibility to upgrade

    • m.sawh·

      Hi, we were told that the RunIQ will be upgradeable to 2.0. We're hoping that the update lands in the next few weeks

  • jd113·

    I really want to buy a running watch but i NEED music playback. It doesn't have to stream- it just has to be able to take my playlist with it when i go out for a run and stream through Bluetooth to my wireless earphones. How is it possible that the Garmin Forerunner 630 doesn't have this feature??

    My Needs are: GPS, Bluetooth, Accurate Heart Monitor, Music Playback. 

    Can anyone make a good suggestion?

  • jd113·

    I really want to buy a running watch but i NEED music playback. It doesn't have to stream- it just has to be able to take my playlist with it when i go out for a run and stream through Bluetooth to my wireless earphones. How is it possible that the Garmin Forerunner 630 doesn't have this feature??

    My Needs are: GPS, Bluetooth, Accurate Heart Monitor, Music Playback.

    Can anyone make a good suggestion?

    • Runner2017·

      TomTom Spark Watch works well for that.  That is what I use.  Recently used it for the NYC Marathon and it lasted the whole way

    • Sleekguy·

      You have spark 3 as a good option. Limited do to only mp3. If you go for a LG Sport or Polar M600 you can make your on play list from 40 million song at Google Music or soon Spotify 

  • Runner2017·

    TomTom Watch works well for that.  That is what I use.

  • chiqui·

    Ive been wanting to buy a running watch for the last 2 months now, but I keep running into indecision over reviews! I'll read an article like this where the watches look great, but when I go to the manufacturers websites, the user reviews are totally different. Tomtom spark3 with music and cardio was a big contender for me, but from the website it looks like glitchy music play is a big problem - has anyone encountered this?? I would absolutely love to be able to run without my phone....

    • m.sawh·

      Hey Chiqui, what are the main things you are looking for from your running watch? We can certainly offer some advice based on the ones we've tested

  • MasterNeeks·

    You should add that the TomTom (and I think the S3) require users to purchase music. Example, if you have a Google Music subscription, you can't download music for offline play back and transfer it to the watch. Also Moto 360 sport battery life takes a plunge after a year. 

  • PornchaiChantha·

    Michael, what are your thoughts about the pricing? It seems like wearables are costing more than cell phones (the price when people upgrade), yet they're hyperfocused on fitness alone. Also, the price may prevent them from touching different markets - are you going to spend $300 on a watch, if you're not THAT committed to a working out?

  • Sleekguy·

    Samsung Gear 3 got the offline Spotify feature some months ago. Premium subscribers can listen while online, offline and without their smartphone. 

  • Xilityxlauta·

    What about Gear Fit2? GPS, Offline Spotify, 4Gb storage. Currently $129.99.