No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (2024)

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (1)

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All in all, running is a pretty cheap way to get moving—a plush pair of shoes is often a major investment of time and money, but you can otherwise run what you brung without any judgement. That said, there’s one gear upgrade that can level up your training unlike any other: A quality running watch. And boy, can they get flashy and expensive.

Luckily, not every smartwatch on the market is going to cost you the same as a monthly mortgage payment. In fact, there are a good few you can score for less than $200, and they can run reliably for years while giving you every bit of training data you want. The hard part is determining which are truly worth your time and which ones are just taking up space on your wrist. That’s where we come in.

The Best Cheap Running Watches

What to Consider

Features, Functionality, and Compromises Thereof

While there are plenty of high-quality watches you can score for less than $200, they all have something in common: They lack features you can find in fancier, more expensive models. But that doesn’t mean inexpensive gear is useless—watches like Garmin’s $1,000 Fenix 7X Pro Sapphire Solar have a near-ludicrous array of neat tools you can use, but they also come with plenty of settings we don’t expect the average runner to use regularly, if at all.

Ultimately, finding an effective budget running watch comes down to establishing your priorities. Do you need a GPS-capable device that can log your miles accurately and upload them to Strava? If so, opt for a watch like the Forerunner 55 that offers GPS activity tracking but little else. Need a quality health tracker that you can wear all day without noticing? Try the Fitbit Inspire 3. It lacks its own GPS and relies on your phone’s, but its face is the size of a strip of bubble gum, and it measures and interprets your heart rate and sleep patterns in an impressively digestible way with its companion app.

If a budget smartwatch claims to give you the moon and the stars in terms of software, we recommend looking elsewhere. If the compromise isn’t with its feature set, it’s likely with its quality, either durability- or performance-wise.

Battery Life

We don’t think battery life should affect which watch you purchase, but it’s certainly something to be aware of once you’re settling into your smartwatch-wearing routine. Brands love telling you the max battery life their products can offer, but be wary. That number typically comes from as little active use as possible. In other words, if you want your Garmin to last you its advertised two weeks (or however many days), you better not have the GPS turned on, which will sap the battery more quickly. Obviously, that’s not very practical.

If you intend to use your watch solely as a GPS workout tracker, we recommend looking at the fine print related to your potential pick’s energy efficiency. Most watches will last you a day or less in constant tracking mode, especially at this price point. Nevertheless, you should be able to get regular use out of any decent running watch while only charging it at night.

How We Selected

There are hundreds of running watches available, many of them from quality brands—in short, there’s no way we can test them all. We’ve tested the Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Fitbit Inspire 3 ourselves, and so include them here, but few of the other watches we have tried and are confident recommending fall below $200—a non-negotiable cap for our purposes here. As such, we had to use our knowledge of what we liked about nicer watches to figure out what’s actually essential for good run tracking.

Starting with brands we know and trust, such as Garmin and Wahoo, we looked for options that boil off the fancy features we seldom needed on nicer models. Extra sport modes, blood oxygen sensors, and turn-by-turn navigation are all nice to have, for some examples, but they aren’t essential for tracking your runs. We then looked for models like the Amazfit Bip 5 that have plenty of smartwatch software, such as Alexa compatibility and stress tracking, but might not look or feel as swanky on your arm.

To round out our search, we looked at older models of other watches we recommend that aren’t a significant downgrade in terms of functionality—that way, you’re still getting much of the new watch’s performance, but you’re not paying new-watch prices. Plenty of models, like Garmin’s Venu Sq 2, are just a shade away from making it under $200, whereas their predecessors do so while offering much of the same as the newer version.

At this point, all you need to land on a watch that fits your fitness and budget needs is to read on. Whether you’re just getting into running or simply looking for a way to check your mileage for cheap, we have something here that will suffice.

1

Best Overall

Garmin Forerunner 55 GPS Running Watch

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (2)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (3)All the most important tools for tracking runs, and nothing more
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (4)Fewer features make the interface more intuitive
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (5)Watch face, while smaller than other Forerunners, may feel bulky to some

Garmin’s running watches have long been among our favorites at every price level, from the most basic of basic to the priciest, most feature-laden timepieces you can buy with mortal money. The Forerunner 55 represents the former, but you wouldn’t guess it at a glance. It’s a bit smaller than its more expensive siblings, but it still packs a punch with its trickled-down GPS tech. I, as a disliker of large faces, found it astronomically more comfortable.

The 55 strips away all kinds of frills to deliver a quality bit of tech that measures distance, pace, and time accurately. Sure, we weren’t able to measure barometric pressure or stride length with it, for example. But we wouldn’t consider either of those to be critical for the average training plan. Plus, with all that clutter out of the way, we found the screen is easy to read, even at a glance.

2

Best Value

Amazfit Bip 5 Running Watch

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (6)

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (7)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (8)Built-in GPS for less than $100
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (9)An absolute boatload of smartwatch software
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (10)Materials feel cheaply made

“Sleeper cars” are known among automotive enthusiasts as cars that have an unassuming, sometimes crummy exterior and a sneakily powerful engine under the hood. To transfer that terminology over to fitness tech, the Bip 5 is a sleeper watch. It looks cheap at first, and we don’t necessarily laud it for its comfort or durability, but it has all the fixings of a decent smartwatch for well below the price you’d expect.

On the health tracker front, you can check your steps and heart rate on a companion app similar to Fitbit’s. The data interpretations you get aren’t quite as expansive, but you can still see whether your exercise was aerobic or anaerobic during each run. You can even find out if you were in the right heart rate zone for burning fat, if that’s something you’re interested in. During runs, you can check your mileage, pace, and time on the fly, and you can additionally set reminders to drink water on your long runs.

This watch not only has standalone GPS for 90 bones (before discounts), but it also pairs with your phone to send and receive calls. On top of that, it has a full touchscreen, and you can customize the face with 70 different designs.

Regarding the watch’s wearability, we do have to knock it for its cheap-feeling plastic body and silicone band. Furthermore, the band has to tuck under itself after going through the buckle, leaving an annoying bump on your wrist that might not feel great on hours-long excursions.

Key Specs

GPS Built In?Yes
Battery Life10 days of normal use, up to a month in battery saver mode
ConnectivityBluetooth

3

Best Previous-Generation Model

Garmin Venu Sq Running Watch

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (11)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (12)Profile and functionality similar to previous gens of Apple Watch
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (13)Price is lower while it phases out
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (14)Won’t be around much longer

Believe us when we say we love the Apple Watch, and for good reason: It works well and looks good. Taking note of its commercial success, other watch brands scrambled to offer their own take on the sleek, phone-friendly running watch with a priority for all-day wear. The Venu Sq is Garmin’s offering.

While it’s not quite as high-octane as the Apple Watch in terms of features, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper, especially now that there’s a newer version out. And it has plenty of Garmin’s best sensors and software built in, such as stress tracking, a blood oxygen sensor, and advanced sleep tracking. You can even track your menstrual cycle if you’d like. The Forerunner 55 has some of those features, but not all of them.

Why are we recommending this one over the Venu Sq 2? First and foremost, the Sq 2 doesn’t fit below our $200 mark. Second, the upgrades you’re getting are largely aesthetic—a brighter, clearer display, for example. That said, the Sq 2 does offer a “sleep score” function, which takes all the sleep data both watches measure and pre-digests it into an overall rating of your sleep quality on a scale of zero to 100. If you want to spend less time interpreting your sleep data on your own, that may warrant the step up.

Of course, because this is the first-generation model that’s being phased out, you’ll have to act quick to get one before it’s gone. The Venu Sq is in stock at the time of publication, but we don’t know if or when that will change.

Key Specs

GPS Built In?Yes
Battery LifeUp to 6 days
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANT+

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4

Best Multisport

Wahoo Elemnt Rival Smartwatch

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (15)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (16)Instant syncing between your watch and bike computer
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (17)Display allows you to zoom in on individual data points
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (18)Can only send your activity to another Wahoo device

This recommendation doesn’t actually come from past experience with Wahoo’s watches, but rather the brand’s cycling computers. The Elemnt Bolt is one of the best race-oriented handlebar units I’ve used on my bike, and it’s hundreds of dollars cheaper than a comparable Garmin model. Much of that tech seems to show up in the Rival watch as well, and Wahoo managed to pack a heart rate monitor in there too.

The neatest feature this watch boasts is its ability to pair to a Wahoo bike computer instantly, allowing for a seamless transition to the bike leg of a triathlon or duathlon without the need to start a new activity. Watches like Garmin’s Forerunner 265 similarly have a triathlon mode, but you can’t quite as easily sync the information on that watch with a screen on your handlebar. The Rival keeps it easy-peasy so you can go back to worrying about how quickly you can tighten your shoes.

Key Specs

GPS Built In?Yes
Battery LifeUp to a day in GPS mode, 14 days in watch mode
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANT+

5

Best for Kids

Garmin Vivofit Jr. 3 Running Watch

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (19)

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (20)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (21)Nearly as indestructible as your kid
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (22)Chore tracker unlocks games after successful tasks
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (23)Battery lasts a year
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (24)Battery isn’t rechargeable

Got a kiddo who wants to match your running bling? This affordable option is built for kids, the world’s most renowned experts in breaking-nice-things-ology. The Vivofit Jr. comes wrapped in a silicone case that buffers against cracks and scratches, and the whole thing is waterproof for when your young ’uns forget to take theirs off at the pool.

All the while, it’s tracking their steps so they can unlock fun facts and games that can keep them engaged with their playtime in a new way. And if you’re looking for a more compelling method to get them to complete their chores, you can also set up a program that awards them more games as they complete their tasks.

One thing to note: The battery here isn’t rechargeable, but it is replaceable. It’ll last you as long as a year, then you simply need to remove the face from its band to access the battery compartment on the back.

Key Specs

GPS Built In?No
Battery LifeUp to a year (non-rechargeable)
ConnectivityBluetooth

6

Best Minimalist

Fitbit Inspire 3 Health Tracker

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (25)

Pros
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (26)Minimalist screen that’s still easy to read
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (27)Customizable display
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (28)Premium health tracking at a low price
Cons
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (29)Needs a phone for GPS signal
  • No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (30)Screen doesn’t fit much info

Now that it’s a bit trickier to find trackers under $200 in general, it’s about time we take a look at a GPS-free option that has plenty of staying power. Enter Fitbit’s Inspire 3.

Minimalists will appreciate that, despite all the data this Fitbit can grab from your wrist, it’s sleek as can be. We found that this makes it a perfect all-day companion—one that can chart out your heart rate, stress levels, and even sleep cycles with impressive accuracy. Plus, if you do want to track your location, all you need to do is connect the Inspire to your phone.

To that end, the accuracy of any runs you map on this watch are only as good as your phone. Our tests found that the route can jump around a bit in thick woods, for example. But the other neat perk that comes with a Bluetooth connection is the ability to use the Fitbit app. It keeps a dynamic and detailed record of your base stats, such as heart rate and mileage, and charts them out on easy-to-read graphs so you can watch your fitness change over time.

Key Specs

GPS Built In?No
Battery LifeUp to 10 days
ConnectivityBluetooth

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (31)

Adam Schram

Adam Schram is an Assistant Editor of Commerce at Runner's World, though you might see his byline on Bicycling and Popular Mechanics, too. A lover of all things outdoors, Adam's writing career comes after six years as a bike mechanic in his hometown of State College, PA. His journalism experience is steeped in cycling and running gear reviews, and he's also a published creative nonfiction and satire author. When he's not writing, riding, or running, you can catch Adam at home mixing co*cktails, watching Star Wars, or trying in vain to do the Sunday crossword. You can check out his latest work below.

No Need to Splurge on a Pricey Running Watch with These Models Under $200 (2024)
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