Best GPS Watch for CS?

With all the great topics and dialog on this forum, I’m surprised not to find a discussion about GPS watches themselves and if there are particular models that are better than others for streets projects. If I’ve missed it, let me know where to find it!

I’m just curious if anyone has found one watch to be better than another for whatever reason. I personally have a Garmin Forerunner 235 which works fine for tracking my results but definitely lacks some of the more advanced features of newer watches.

What are you all using and what’s good or bad about it?

I also have the FR235. Picked it up during a Black Friday sale on Amazon. Bought it primarily for training, but is working perfectly for CS too. It is my first GPS enabled watch, so did not want to spent a lot of money on tech that was new to me.

Only negative about the watch is that walking/hiking are not built-in activities, but there are apps for that… In fact there is even an app for “Any Activity”… So it’s really not a negative.

Any watch that has the possibility to import routes from CS would be great i think.

I use a Polar Vantage V watch.

It can import and display the GPX tracks that CityStrides generates. It does not have maps, only shows the route line, but works for me.

I have a Garmin Forerunner 245 music, which I’m disappointed with. I chose it as it can give turn by turn directions but - for CityStrides - it is not up to scratch. It only holds 50 bits of data. That’s not bits as in computer bytes and the problem is I can’t work out what it is which counts towards this limit.
I’ll often plan 15-20k to catch a lot of roads (sometimes LOTS of roads, sometimes a long run to then get to a selection of roads then a long run home). There is no apparent logic to where it runs out of capacity: I understand that running into a dead-end, doing a U-turn and running back out would use more data than running along a straight road. But sometimes the turn-by-turn directions will say “turn right in 800m” when there are actually 3 road junctions between me and that turning.
I’ve inquired directly to Garmin (but got little joy). It’s a good watch if you want to do CityStrides up to about 8 or 10k runs. Once it runs out of data for the turn-by-turn directions it still shows the route, but you can’t zoom in enough to have the accuracy to tell which road you’re meant to be going down.

Thanks for the info on the 245. I’ve been reading reviews on the Garmin fenix 6 and it’s varieties. Super expensive, but it sounds like it does everything except do the run for you. I’m wondering how practical a map on my wrist would be in real life on a run though.

When I bought my Fenix 6x, I was mostly interested in the long battery life, but was “meh” about gaining maps.

For CS, however, the map has been awesome. You can upload your route and see it progress on the map, and even more useful sometimes is if you are going from memory or freestyling a route, you can look at that map and see where you have already been and see right away when you missed an area, or see that you already did a street on that run and don’t need to re-do it. This is especially useful in confusing suburban neighborhoods that are flat out DESIGNED to keep you from being able to get from one side of it to the other efficiently.

I have been a bit disappointed my 6x from a pace and distance tracking standpoint. It seems to short my distance by ~10% per run due to its distance and pace-smoothing algorithm, despite the GPS track being pretty much spot-on. In every other aspect it has been rock-solid.

My wife has a Fenix 6 Pro. I planned a 10mile run for us to do together and we imported the same gpx file into our watches. I got to the end at the loop at the correct distance - she was about 800m short (so carried on and ran a bit further!). She then came back and descended into google to resolve it. I’m not sure what she managed to find out

Hi There,

I’ve tried many different devices, from Fenix 5 and 6, to forerunner, mobile apps like strava etc.
The best outcome; Tracking with Runkeeper on your phone. Very accurate with straight lines in the end result. Make sure not to look at the map while recording (possible in pauze mode) becouse it will be off a bit.

Hope this was helpfull.

Regards Willem

I will say, looking back at my old data from the pre-GPS watch days, my phone with data running definitely gave me the more accurate GPS trace than those recorded on my watch. Even so I won’t be going back, watch is too much more convenient, and I can always fix the GPS trace after.

That’s not bits as in computer bytes and the problem is I can’t work out what it is which counts towards this limit.

I have a FR645 with the same useless breadcrumb maps … The ‘50 Limit’ is essentially 50 waypoints, so every dot for direction change counts to the limit. The longer and more complicated the route - the bigger the problem.

I try not to loop as much as I used to (as this causes me to miss roads. I’m also no longer afraid to stop for a few seconds so that it can right itself and show me if I’ve missed or about to miss some nodes!

Hope this helps to ease the frustration slightly :wink:

I have a new phone, a Samsung Galaxy S20FE, and I must say its GPS is way more accurate than my old phone, a Moto G5 Plus. Prior to the Samsung, I was not confident in using a phone’s GPS for CS.

Also, on the maps subject, I am more comfortable with a printed paper map. I have not spent a great deal of time with mapping apps, but a) the FR235 is rather limited, and b) the process was more cumbersome than just using a piece of paper, which I keep using until that area is finished.

Also, I have only played a little with the CS Route Builder (available on the map page). Since it basically does on screen, what I do on paper, I have not used it very much.

I use the FR245 as well. I can confirm that there is a 50 point (number of turn-by-turn directions) limit in terms of navigation, which I expect is limiting even for “regular” running and definitely insufficient for CS. I usually hit the limit somewhere between km 7 and km 11, depending on the area.

That said, I still find the navigation very useful and use it for all my runs since it’s easy enough to just look at the breadcrumb track and turn when it shows a turn (exceptions are bunched intersections with many streets going off at similar angles, especially in areas with poor gps signal). By the time the watch runs out of directions the degrees of freedom are generally reduced to the point that an obvious remaining path emerges even for complex routes. I can set the zoom level on my watch, so I’ve not had the issue described by @18945368a4555f8cccf4 .

Tracking is excellent in suburban conditions, good in urban, definitely a bit iffy in old city alleyways. It’s much better than my phone for all three.

Overall I would rate it a 7/10 for CS, probably a good contender in terms of cost/street compared to high-end watches.

1 Like

I work for a watch company and run with 4 to 10 watches, depending on what needs to be tested. I run with both our own Timex GPS watches as well as many competitive devices for comparison.

First off, for those with existing watches, who are not looking to upgrade, but would like to see better performance of the GPS path relative to the road, there is a pretty simple trick. That trick is to take your watch outside and get your watch into the GPS workout mode (but don’t actually start the workout) for at least 5 minutes prior to starting your run. This allows the watch to completely download the local ephemeris data from the satellites in view. I find that this makes a huge difference, particularly for any of the Sony GPS chipset based watches (Garmin , Suunto, Polar, Coros, Amazfit, Timex, etc.). Most of these companies switched to Sony (from MTK) starting with their 2019 models. Most GPS chipsets (like Sony) support loading the watch with server generated ephemeris (SGE). This data is what allows modern GPS watches to get a GPS fix very quickly. In the early days of GPS it would take 1-2 minutes for the GPS to acquire the fix and be ready to track your location. The server generated ephemeris is loaded (via the mobile phone app, or via USB connection to a PC) anywhere from once a day to once per week, depending on the watch manufacturer. The SGE allows for the ability to quickly obtain a fix (as the GPS only has to decode time from the satellites in view, as opposed to decoding their ephemeris data). The GPS will try to download the local ephemeris once the fix is obtained, but it you start moving right away it is far more difficult for the GPS to do so and it may take many attempts for it to successfully do so. Letting it sit still for 5 minutes, prior to moving insures that it can download the local ephemeris data, which contains the most up to data data on the satellite’s position in the sky. This can result in point accuracy improving from 25-50m of error with just SGE to under 5m of error with local ephemeris.

Note that this only works for watches which allow you to “turn on” the GPS without starting the workout as well. The worst for this is Apple Watch, where all of the workout apps for it start the workout and the GPS at the same time. With watches which behave this way, you can start the workout and then let the watch sit for 5 minutes prior to moving, but then you end up with that extra time added to the run.

As far as watches go, from our testing the most accurate watches for tracking are currently the Apple Watch Series 6 (when used without the phone being present), the Garmin 945 and the Coros watches. The Garmin Fenix 6 is one of the biggest letdowns for such an expensive watch, with worse GPS position accuracy than watches 1/5 its price (like our Timex Ironman R300, which feeds my Strava account that is my primary input to CityStrides).

The older Garmins which used the MTK chipset (like the 220, 225, 235, 920XT, etc.) perform better than most of the newer Garmins (with the Sony chipset), but the Sony chipset is so much more power efficient, that the battery life is way better for the newer ones.


@Scott_McClure That was very interesting. Thank you

@Scott_McClure thanks for all that information. Very informative!

I have not heard of a watch that has the navigation features that the Fenix has. It seems like you are compromising GPS accuracy in order to get more features like battery life and navigation, etcetera. Or is there a watch out there that has it all?

@feldpauschmkr I don’t know of a watch with “built in” navigation, but since there are apps for that, it’s not a negative (IMHO). There are many apps (for Garmin), but the two I was looking at are:

Turn-By-Turn Widget and dwMap.

But as I mentioned, personally I did not like the extra steps (no pun intended).


This is really useful and thank you so much for posting! Is there any way to find out what chipset our watch has? For instance, I’m using a Garmin Fenix5 that I purchased in 2018. I’m guessing it doesn’t have the Sony chipset but it does generally behave as you describe, and I do try to GPS “soak” by putting it in activity mode before starting the workout, in order to let the GPS connect. Even so, I get utterly insane drift on my GPS trace with pretty much every run, and it does seem like it’s gotten worse over the years. On the other hand I hope I don’t have to buy a new watch anytime soon, but knowing the GPS (or at least the battery, arguably more important) will have significantly better performance would soften the financial hit…

The 945 has the same navigation features as the Fenix (with much better GPS performance and a more comfortable fit). I create very complex routes for my progress here, and the Garmin navigation (previously with a Fenix 6 Pro and lately with the 945) is about the best I have found. I find the Apple Watch WorkOutDoors app to be very good as well, but it doesn’t do the turn by turn instructions as the Garmin does.

The Fenix 5 was MTK based, but in my opinion, the antenna was really the issue for it (as opposed to the chipset). The Fenix 6 Pro which I used for over 2 years started exhibiting similar issues to what you described with degrading GPS performance over time and I was able to get their customer service to replace the watch for me and I did see improvement with the replacement.

1 Like