When shopping for sports watches with interactive features that can be controlled by your smartphone, strapless heart rate monitoring, GPS and other must-haves, keep in mind that battery life, number and size of buttons, readability and weight are all a function of size. The bigger the watch, the bigger the screen, battery and heft.
Although Garmin has become synonymous with wrist-based performance tracking, it's not the only brand of wearable. All the devices we looked at include on-board GPS—because rules prohibit using a phone while racing—and many models now feature on-wrist heart rate monitoring. Many iterations in the latest generation of wearables also feature passive performance monitoring to account for steps taken and floors climbed as well as sleep tracking, estimated calorie expenditure and time to fully recover from your last training session based on your current fitness, stress and activity levels. This can help give you an overall picture of your health, as well as sports-specific measurements.
For the Newbie
Garmin Forerunner 45 ($199) just might be perfect for those "dipping a toe" into triathlon. This new wearable counts all the basics—steps, calories, relative effort—and provides apps for nearly every activity type you can imagine, indoors and out, and not just for the swim-bike-run. When you're training—and when this watch is linked to a smartphone—it can display incoming calls and texts. It can even act as a remote control for the music app on your phone. Two sizes available.
For the Pro Hopeful
The Garmin Forerunner 945 ($599+) is a new do-it-all wearable that improves on previous versions quite a bit. Claimed battery life may get you up to two weeks between charges as well as better heart rate monitoring accuracy. Full-color maps can help you navigate as you go, a pulse oximeter will help guide you through acclimating to hot and elevated environments and there's even a crash incident detection function. Plus, if you like to listen to tunes while you train, the Garmin Forerunner 945 can store and playback around 500 songs. And if there's some activity tracking feature you want that's not one of the apps already included, you can likely find and download it from the Garmin Connect website.
For the Cycling Focused
The Polar Vantage V Titan ($600+) connects to all the major social performance tracking apps. Upload ANT+ and BTLE sensor data—like cadence, speed, power and heart rate—to get a complete overview and detailed look at how your training is progressing. You can leave the heart rate monitor strap at home, as the Titan includes a titanium shell and its own optical sensor to track your effort.
For the Running Focused
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro ($384+) offers 80 different sport modes, including running of course, with specific data screens and metrics based on your activity. Run-specific features of this Finnish-made wearable include automatically calibrating a paired foot-pod for treadmill runs and the ability to connect with Stryd running powermeters. Suunto also boasts a feature called Interval Guidance , which helps you keep on pace by not only looking at time over distance but also heart rate response to your effort. Plus, swappable straps in a variety of colors and materials allows for optimal matching with your bike and tri kit!
The Garmin Fenix 5S ($349+) offers many of the same features as the new Forerunner 945, like a full-color display, a multisport mode, indoor cycling/running/stepper modes, strapless heart rate monitoring, Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity and dozens more valuable features, including an app to help female users track their monthly cycles. These are all packaged in a smaller form factor than other Garmin units with swappable wristbands that offer plenty of color options to help you accessorize.
For the Bargain-Seeker
Timex knows triathletes and their needs with decades of experience perfecting devices. The Timex Ironman GPS ($99) is basic yet has all the features you need : GPS, time, distance, pace, hi/low alerts and reminders to hydrate and take on calories, all in a relatively small form factor.
For the Big Spender
Garmin MARQ Athlete ($1,500) offers all the features found in less-expensive models wrapped in titanium and under a sapphire crystal. Extending the metrics offered in other wearables, the MARQ Athlete provides the wearer with their VO2Max and recovery time indicators right on the bezel. And, the QuickFit watch straps provide for easy customization in a variety of finish colors and materials.
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