Feb 01, 2018

Running Watches with Music

Want music while you run? Here are your options...

When the Forerunner 645 was introduced in 2018, it was the first Garmin to have on-board music storage and playback. It made us curious how many other GPS sports watches had this ability, and it turned out there were many — a few could even stream music as you ran. We created this post to be an ongoing complete list of every running watch that supports music. We update it every time new information is available. The most recent update was on June 18, 2019.

Here's every music-equipped sports watch that lets you leave the phone at home...

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music running watch

If you want the excellent run-tracking features that Garmin is famous for combined with built-in music capabilities, the new Forerunner 245 Music is likely your best choice. We go over everything that makes this watch compelling in a dedicated separate post, but the main thing you need to understand is that this watch can do almost everything, except for count stairs (because it lacks a barometric altimeter). It also does not support Garmin's Running Power, and if you're the type of person who jumps into lakes, the 245 can't track open water swims.

With the short list of downsides out of the way, there's a lot to like about the 245 Music. It's got a great display, an improved heart-rate monitor with a sensor that measures oxygen absorption, pool swim tracking, basic navigation features, and built-in Wi-Fi (for loading music onto the device, and automatically sending workouts to Garmin Connect and SportTracks). Premium Spotify accounts are supported, as well as Deezer, and iHeartRadio. It cannot stream music from these services, it can only download playlists.

Pros:

  • Very similar to a high-end Garmin — just missing a few features
  • Easy auto-sync integration with SportTracks

Cons:

  • Lacks barometric altimeter, a feature found on inexpensive fitness wearables
  • No music streaming support

 

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The 645 Music was the very first Garmin watch that could store and playback of music — a feature that many loyal users had wanted for a long time. We cover the main features of the Garmin Forerunner 645 in a separate post, but it basically boils down to this: it's an advanced running watch with some multi-sport features (such as pool swim tracking), but it's most notable attribute is having 3.5 GB of storage for playing music.

You must load your tunes (or podcasts and audio books) onto the watch when it's attached to your computer via USB. You can then play them back while you're working out and listen on paired Bluetooth headphones. The 645 will remember being paired to multiple sets of headphones, which is a nice feature. It has support for Spotify (if you have premium account), Deezer, and iHeartRadio, but it cannot stream music from these services, only sync playlists when connected via Wi-Fi.

Pros:

Cons:

  • It's a high-end sports watch with a matching higher price
  • No music streaming support

 

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 4 with the Breathe watch-face

If a smartwatch is what you're after, then the Apple Watch is definitely worth considering. It's widely praised as the best of the breed in smartwatches, and it's a solid performer for sports and activity tracking as well. Every version of this watch features a built-in heart rate monitor and the ability to store and playback music. More advanced versions feature built-in GPS and swim tracking. A useful app called HeathFit will automatically send your Apple Watch workouts to SportTracks. 

The drawbacks of Apple Watch are its somewhat limited battery life, its reliance on a touchscreen for operation in sports mode, and the fact that you need to have an iPhone to use it. To load music you need to subscribe to Apple Music, or have an iTunes music library that you still use. If you have the LTE Apple Watch and an Apple Music account, you can stream music and leave your iPhone at home. The Series 3 GPS Apple Watch has 8 GB of storage, and the LTE model has 16 GB. Every version of the Apple Watch Series 4 has 16 GB of storage.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Battery life and touchscreen make it less than ideal for sports
  • You need to have an iPhone (it does not work with Android)

 

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music sports watch

Announced in June 2018, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music features a built-in heart rate monitor, 3.5 GB of music storage, and seamless auto-sync integration with SportTracks. The music features are nearly identical to what you get on the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, including support for Spotify —the only difference is that you control the Spotify app with the touchscreen (Spotify support was added to the Vivoactive 3 Music 8 months after it came out). The single-button design, touchscreen, and less-advanced training features make the Vivoactive 3 Music starkly different from the 645. A benefit of this is that it's significantly more affordable.

The Vivoactive 3 Music is both a well-rounded activity tracker and workout device. It features 24 x 7 heart rate monitoring and the ability to steps, stairs, and sleep. It can also record runs, bike rides, indoor swims, rowing sessions, yoga, and more. It also has smartwatch features, Connect IQ which lets you add custom watchfaces and apps (such as Workout Builder from Genius Wrist, and the Spotify app). It also has Garmin Pay for making wireless payments, which is handy, but only if your bank is supported.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Does not record open-water swims or work with cycling power meters
  • Touchscreens are not ideal for sports, lacks a physical Lap button

 

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus sports watch

The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is a complete line of advanced sports watches with superior build qualities and features. Every model has 16 GB of storage and the ability to play music, and you can add music and podcasts from Spotify if you have a premium account. There is a built-in heart rate monitor and seamless auto-sync integration with SportTracks. The music features are nearly identical to other Garmin music watches. A big downside to the Fenix 5 Plus watches is that they're expensive.

The Fenix 5 Plus has impressive features like color mapping, Galileo GPS for improved accuracy, and Garmin Pay for wireless payments. The GPS locks altitude to the elevation data in its maps and uses it to calibrate the onboard altimeter. The flagship 5X Plus model even has a Pulse Oximetry sensor that reads oxygen saturation levels, which is useful for high elevation activities. There are three sizes of this watch available: 42, 47, and 51 mm to suit various wrist sizes. You can learn more about this series in our Fenix 5 Plus post.

Pros:

Cons:

  • The higher build quality makes the watches heavier and bulkier
  • They are expensive

 

Polar M600

The Polar M600 sports watch

Do you want a running watch that has all of the capabilities of a full-blown smartwatch? That's what you get with the Polar M600, which has a built-in heart rate monitor and runs on the smartwatch operating system called AndroidWear. This operating system enables the M600 to store and playback music.

While it's possible to use the M600 if you have an iPhone, the watch is much more capable if you have an Android phone. Namely, the ability to store and playback music isn't available if you use an iPhone. If you're on Android, it can store around 2.5 GB of music, and it pairs with a wide variety of Bluetooth headphones and speakers.

Pros:

  • An excellent sports device with full smartwatch capabilities
  • Easy auto-sync integration with SportTracks

Cons:

  • Rather large in size and clunky on the wrist
  • More useful with an Android device, as opposed to an iPhone

 

Garmin Forerunner 945

The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

If you like to do other sports in addition to running, such as open water swimming and triathlon, you would be better suited with a watch like the Garmin Forerunner 945. This model is the latest in a line of much loved multi-sport watches, and it's the first to feature on-board music storage. We've got a dedicated blog post that explains everything about the Garmin 945, but the main things you need to know is that it's compatible with cycling power meters and that it's got a barometric altimeter. 

The music functionality of the 945 is equal to that of the other Garmin watches covered in this blog post, but one thing that makes it different is that it's got 16GB of storage. About half of that will be consumed by other stuff, such as maps for naviagation, but it does have considerably more storage for music and podcasts.

Pros:

Cons:

  • The price is a bit steep
  • No music streaming support

 

More options...

Garmin MARQ Series - Garmin has a high-end line of sports watches that enable you to track runs while listening to music, but these models are prohibitively expensive. For example, the least expensive option in the line, the MARQ Athlete, costs $1500 USD.

Fitbit Ionic and Fitbit Versa - Both are capable smartwatches with basic fitness features (the Versa lacks GPS and NFC), with the ability store 2.5 GB of music from a computer, or Pandora and Deezer (but only if you have paid accounts), but they're not compatible with external sensors like heart rate straps, footpods, and power meters  which greatly limits their usefulness. It's possible to export workouts from Fitbit and manually upload them to SportTracks, but it isn't an ideal workflow.

TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music - With its built-in heart rate monitor, 3 GB of music storage, and budget-friendly price, this was an excellent option. Unfortunately, TomTom decided to cease sales in the US. It's disappointing because it was a great watch that featured auto-sync integration with SportTracks. In light of recent events, we do not recommend buying TomTom fitness products.

Samsung Gear S3 and Gear Sport - Both of these smartwatches have access to Spotify, but they suffer from poor GPS and pacing accuracy.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active - This is a new GPS smartwatch that features the ability to store and playback music. Since it's such a new product, and because Samsung's track record for accuracy is poor, we do not recommend this watch at this time. 

New Balance RunIQ - This smartwatch offers music capabilities for Android users, but suffers from poor software implementation and inadequate battery life.

LG Watch Sport - Features built-in LTE (for phone calls and data), NFC (to use Android Pay), GPS, and a heart rate monitor. However, it is excessively large and has stiff, non-replaceable wrist bands. It can stream music, but getting a snug fit is impossible if your wrists aren't thick enough.

Xiaomi Amazfit Pace - An affordable device with 4GB of storage for music playback (you need to add music files manually). However, data sharing options are extremely limited, battery life is shorter than promised, elevation data is inaccurate, and it has compatibility issues with Android. 

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