Why You Shouldn’t Use A Smartwatch As A Running Watch

A few pieces of advice on why you shouldn't run with a smartwatch and choose a regular running watch instead. 

If you have been reading my blog for at least some time, you probably know that I am a runner and running is my second biggest hobby (technology is, obviously, my number-one hobby).

I run quite a lot (a few thousand kilometers each year). What  I love the most is measuring  and analyzing my workouts, running tracks and, obviously, progress I make.

I’ve already tested many different running apps and running watches. I even wanted to replace my current running watch () with an Android Wear smartwatch (Sony Smartwatch 3). I did this experiment some time ago and I must say it has some very interesting results which I am going to show you in this very article.

As you can see, today’s tutorial is quite specific and is addressed for all those who are thinking about using an Android Wear smartwatch as their basic running watch.  Let’s start!

[alert-warning]If you are interested here are the links to where I bought my watches: TomTom Runner and Sony Smartwatch 3. 

Running Watch vs Android Wear Smartwatch

Before we go into details,  I have to make sure that you understand the difference between a standard running watch and an Android Wear smartwach.

What is a running watch?

A standard running watch has a built-in GPS and its main (and usually only) purpose is to let you measure and track your workouts. Depending on the model and type of your running watch, it will have a variety of extra features and options.

The most popular manufacturers of running watches are Garmin, Polar and TomTom which offer a variety of different watches.

Here you have a nice list of the best GPS running watches.

Below you can see my current running watch TomTom Runner.

Why not use smartwatch as a running watch

What is a smartwatch?

As the name suggests, smartwatches are smart, which means they have a lot of different options, features and you can use them for tons of different things (measuring your running workouts is only one of them).

Android Wear smartwatches are, so to speak, the “light” version of our Android phones and offer similar functions (checking e-mail, calling, browsing the web, listening to music and so forth). If we install a running app (like we do on our phones), we can also use them as running watches.

Some of the newest Garmin watches can in fact work as smartwatches and after pairing with a phone display notifications, e-mails or messages. However, their main functions still is to track and measure our workouts. Their “smartness” is just an addition.

This is my Sony Smartwatch 3 with me running.

Why not use smartwatch as a running watch

Why You Shouldn’t Use A Smartwatch As A Running Watch

As I ran hundreds of kilometers with both my Android Wear smartwatch and a regular running watch, I really know what I am talking about. If you are serious about running, you should trust me with that. :)

Smartwatches Are Too Smart For Running

Yes, that’s true. Android Wear smartwatches are no good for running because they are in fact the “lite” version of our Android phone with the same set of capabilities and features. You want to have a running watch because you aren’t satisfied with what your phone has to offer in this regard (i.e. only a possibility of installing some running app and using it).

This is, unfortunately, what an Android Wear watch will offer you. It will only be the second display of your phone, not your independent running watch.

Ease Of Use

When it comes to the practical ease of use, dedicated running watches don’t have  any competition in this respect. Since they are made solely for running, they have special buttons that let you quickly start and stop a workout (or adjust its settings). This is especially important if you are taking part in a race.

You can forget about this level of comfort when using a smartwatch for running. Most Android Wear watches (if not all) only have touch screens which are not very easy to operate when your hand is all wet or you are wearing gloves. I only realized it once I took my Sony Smartwatch 3 for running and tried to quickly pause and restart my workout. What’s more, you can accidentally stop the entire workout if you are wearing a jacket.

Take a look at my TomTom watch below. It has some specially dedicated buttons for its operation during running.

Why not use smartwatch as a running watch


I am not an expert when it comes to the GPS technology but I know that Android Wear devices give you about the same level of accuracy you get from a phone using a running app (e.g. Endomondo).

Yes, you can track a workout and have it placed on a map, but the accurateness of a workout traced with a professional running app is incomparably better. Run on a racecourse and compare how your workout looks when it was tracked with a smartwatch and a running watch. In the first case, you will see triangles and in the second circles. Take a look at my run below and guess how it was measured.

Smartwatch for running


I guess the situation is similar in the case of most smart watches. If their screen is often on, their battery is draining like crazy.

This is unfortunately what happens if you set your smartwatch to never dim the screen (which you must do if you want to be able to look at workout stats in real time). Once you do this, your smart running watch will die within hours.

Dependence on the phone

Some models of Android Wear watches can work without being paired with a phone (for example my Sony Smartwatch 3 can) but if you want to use them as your independent running watch, you cannot expect anything good to happen.

I tried to use Endomondo installed on my watch. It ran, it even started to track my workout but when I paired it back with my phone (to sync the results with my Endomondo account) I saw that I have several workouts started simultaneously and couldn’t make much sense of any one of them. :(

Reliance On A Running App

If you decide to use your smartwatch as your running watch, you will only be able to do that once you install some running app on your phone (and your watch, obviously). There are, of course, lots of different running apps out there (like Endomondo or Run Keeper) but your watch will not offer you any features other than what the app offers (and very often many extra features are paid).

As great as they are, running apps and their capabilities cannot be compared to what a professional running watch offers.

Quite Complex Setup Process & Management

In tutorial about how to install new apps to an Android Wear watch, I showed you how you can easily install new apps (and in fact new functionalities) to your watch. However, even if you correctly install a new app on your Android phone (and sync apps with your watch), the apps may not always behave the way you may want them to behave.

Sometimes what your watch will show will vary from what you will see on the screen of your phone or you will have two simultaneous training sessions active.

Use A Running Watch If You Run

Summing up, Android Wear smartwatches are all great and we cannot imagine living without them. They can improve or enhance almost every aspect of our life and are great as second displays of our phones. However, if we are serious about running, the only option for us is a professional running watch like TomTom or Garmin.

P.S. Writing this article inspired me to buy myself a new and more professional running watch. I have just ordered Garmin Forerunner  235 and will soon write its review. I heard this running watch can also be used as a smartwatch (that will show you notifications from your phone). I hope I will check that this week!

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