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 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

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, | 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 a great option. 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 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.

New Balance RunIQ

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

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 360 Sport and the Polar M600 watches below, 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.

We've found the GPS to be solid, and there's a really well designed music player widget for easily skipping tracks and adjusting volume.

Check out our full New Balance RunIQ review.

$299.99, | Amazon

LG Watch Sport

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

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. Google also tells us it's working with other streaming services for support later this year.

Take a gander at our full LG Watch Sport review.

$349, LG | Amazon

Moto 360 Sport

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

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.

$199.99, | Amazon

Polar M600

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

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.

$329.95, | Amazon

Apple Watch Nike+

Run to the beat: Best running watches and smartwatches 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 Watch 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. If you want to save some money and don't necessarily care about the Nike tie-up, you can always opt for the Watch Series 1 as well.

Read our Apple Watch Nike+ review.

From $369, | Amazon

Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 235
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3
Polar M600
Polar M600
Fitbit Surge
Fitbit Surge

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  • 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 ..."?

  • 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.

  • fabianC says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

    • m.sawh says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

      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 says:

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

  • chiqui says:

    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 says:

      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

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