Being able to run with music is a big deal for most runners. We know this as well as anyone, since you can count most of the Wareable team as being firmly in the running with music camp.
Grab your phone, a pair of headphones (wired or Bluetooth), hit the Start button on your running watch or smartwatch, and you’re ready to clock up some miles.
Read this: Understanding your running watch stats
There are now more top smartwatches out there that let you remove the phone part of that setup, letting you pack music straight onto your wrist-worn device and pair Bluetooth phones to zone out to your running playlist, podcast or audiobook of choice.
We’ve throughly tested a whole host of watches that can liberate you from your phone and bring the music down to your wrist. These are top picks for running watches and smartwatches with music playback.
Check out our video
We partnered with our pals at The Running Channel to do a video on the latest and greatest running watches. Check it out for a thorough run-down on the best running watches.
Best running watch with music options
There’s no Spotify support just yet, but those in the US have access to Pandora and Deezer support. If not, it’s all about MP3s, which can be dragged and dropped easily through the Fitbit music app.
With Spotify, Deezer and iHeart Radio support, the Garmin is an affordable winner when it comes to music streaming, with the pricier Forerunner 645 also a creditable option.
If you’re looking for a little more battery life on your music-powered runs, the Fenix 6 Pro can also offline sync Spotify, as well as Deezer and iHeartRadio.
Best running watch with music playback
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Buy now: Amazon | $349.94
After years of waiting, we now have a bunch of Garmins that offer a built-in music player. The Forerunner 245 is our pick of the Garmin watches that offer that support, and is also one of the more affordable Garmin options available.
You can drag and drop music files from your computer to your watch and pair Bluetooth headphones to give you another reason to leave that smartphone behind. Pressing the Down button on the side of the watch gives you quick access to those music controls, letting you do the basics like skip through tracks and change playlists.
Essential reading: How to use Spotify on your Garmin watch
Along with enough room for 500 songs, Garmin also offers offline listening support for select music streaming services. Deezer and iHeartRadio are two of those services on board, along with a noteworthy addition in the form of a dedicated Spotify app. If you’re a Premium subscriber for that service, you’ll be able to transfer playlists to the device for that all-important offline support.
You can have a read of our Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review to get the full verdict on its music and sports tracking features. If you’re happy to spend a little more money, you could go for the up-specced Garmin Forerunner 645 Music instead. If you want even more advanced running features, the pricier Forerunner 945 also packs in the same features. If you’re looking for the option with the most storage possible, you’ll need to spend big and pick up the Garmin Marq Athlete.
Buy now: Amazon | $199.99
Amazfit may not be a familiar name to most, but the Chinese company is definitely one to watch. The Stratos is a budget watch that ticks that built-in music player box – and an impressive-looking new model is releasing very soon, the Amazfit Stratos 3.
The original Stratos doesn’t just compare favourably to the top pick in this field with regard to price, either, with the Stratos matching Garmin with 4GB of storage data for your music files. In our testing, we found the music controls to be limited, but generally the playback lives up to basic expectations.
Like other sports watches, the meat here is in its built-in tracking modes, which is also backed up by GPS/GLONASS support and a heart rate monitor. Thanks to a partnership with Firstbeat, more advanced metrics, such as VO2 Max and Training Load, are also on board.
For the full details on its music tracking capabilities and tracking chops, jump over to our Amazfit Stratos review.
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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro series
Buy now: Amazon | From $599.99
Garmin has shown it’s serious about music playback support with its latest range, the Fenix 6 line.
The Fenix 6 series includes a whole range of watches, including the premium Solar model that can eke extra charge from the sun. All the models from the “Pro” tier of the Fenix 6 range add music playback versus their base versions, so you can transfer music and podcasts to the watch and download offline playlists from music streaming services like Deezer and Spotify.
Even better news? All these features haven’t come at the expense of the big battery life that makes the watches in the Fenix range some of the best in the business when you’re planning to put in some serious sports tracking time.
We’re still in the process of giving the Fenix 6 line some rigorous testing, but you can read our hands-on review to find out more.
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 generally one-trick ponies, albeit with superior tracking chops.
Choosing a smartwatch currently means losing the in-depth stats, such as VO2 Max, vertical oscillation monitoring and other hardcore running metrics, but means you can get big beats straight to your headphones.
Apple Watch Series 5
Buy now: Amazon| From $399 ($499 for Series 5 LTE)
Since its partnership with Nike, Apple has given its smartwatches more of a focus on running, tweaking its strap and software to make it easier for runners to pop it on and put the built-in GPS to the test. But behind the Nike-themed watch face, it’s still a regular Apple Watch Series 5 at heart.
Read this: How to play music on Apple Watch
In earlier generations, you could only play music by transferring playlists from your phone and pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones. Now, though, Apple Music subscribers rocking a model with LTE can stream music directly from their watch.
There’s also an Apple Watch Spotify app, meaning subscribers can finally drop their workarounds and access their full library. It’s not perfect just yet, as there’s no cellular streaming or offline playback, but we’re hoping those features will be added eventually.
For those who want to save money, the Apple Watch Series 3 has also had a big price cut down to $199, and has the same music powers – just make sure it’s the LTE version (with the red dot on the Digital Crown) if you want to stream directly from your wrist.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Buy now: Amazon | From $279.99
Like the rest of the Samsung smartwatch bunch, the Galaxy Watch 2 offers a dedicated Spotify app. This means you can stream music (over Wi-Fi or LTE) and download offline playlists from the streaming service onto the watch.
Wareable verdict: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review
You can also transfer music through Samsung’s own music player, and thankfully it’s really easy to do from the Gear Companion app. The new Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes, with both offering 4GB of storage to pile on your music and Spotify playlists.
Our experiences of playing music on the Galaxy Watch Active 2 have been positive overall, although our in-depth review is still in progress. Bringing back a software version of the much-loved rotating bezel makes it easier to navigate through your tunes and playlists, too. This is a smartwatch well worth considering to liberate the music from your smartphone.
Garmin Vivoactive 4S
Buy now: Amazon | From $349.99
Like the Forerunner 645 Music, 245 Music, 945 and Fenix 6 Pro series, Garmin has added the same music features to the watch you could say is its closest to being an Apple Watch rival (although the Venu does complicate that picture a tad).
That means you can drag and drop audio files onto the watch when you hook it up to a computer and it’ll offer offline playlist support for select music streaming services, such as Deezer and Spotify.
On top of that, you get the same sports tracking features packed in the Vivoactive 3 Music, including Garmin Pay, GPS, heart rate monitor and big battery life.
Read our Vivoactive 4 hands-on impressions to get a sense for the watch while we’re still putting it through its paces for our full review, and find out how Garmin’s updated sporty smartwatch fares in the music department.
Buy now: Amazon| $248
Fitbit’s first smartwatch was also its first device to pack in music streaming from the wrist, though just how effective this feature currently is depends on where you are in the world.
Unfortunately, unlike Samsung, Apple and Garmin, there’s no Spotify support just yet, but those in the US will have access to Pandora in order access offline listening. If you’re in Europe, that door is closed to you, but it does have Deezer support.
Thankfully, putting music on the watch itself is actually fairly straightforward, since this can be done through Fitbit’s own music app. To do so, you need to go through the desktop Fitbit Connect app and select the files you want to sync.
Once on there, it’s a case of pairing your Bluetooth headphones with the watch and you’re away. This feature is also available on the slimmer Fitbit Versa 2, which lacks the built-in GPS powers of the Ionic, but still offers plenty of solid sports tracking features.
Buy now: Amazon | From $213.29
If you buy a smartwatch running on Google’s Wear OS, you’re getting the ability to put music on your watch, pair up some Bluetooth headphones and leave your smartphone behind.
One of our favourites to do that with (especially if you’re going to work out with it) is the Fossil Sport. It’s got the right blend of that sporty and stylish look and it’s one of the most affordable Wear OS watches you can wrap around your wrist.
In terms of music features, you can transfer tracks to the watch via Google Play Music and there’s also support for services such including iHeartRadio and Pandora. There is also a Spotify app that gives you better controls of your music and playlists, but it doesn’t offer offline playlists (yet).
If you’re looking for a Wear smartwatch that you’d want to work out with and you need that hit of music too, this is the one to go for at present. Have a read of our in-depth Fossil Sport review to find out how the Wear OS watch shapes up.
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This article was originally posted on Wareable.com