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25 Aug 2020

On test: the latest stylish smartwatches for sports

Discover the latest wearables from Amazfit, Mobvoi and Polar, and how they can help you get the most from your outdoor workouts
Polar Grit X smartwatch on a wrist

Whether you're a fitness devotee who's happy to pay more for the ultimate sports watch, or are looking for something more affordable that still ticks the right boxes, Which? is here to help.

Exercise can be a great way to help you stay sane during the pandemic and it's one of the few daily pleasures of normal life that we can enjoy right now.

A smartwatch can help you stay motivated and track your progress - but only if you buy one that's matched to your needs.

We've put three recent models - the Amazfit GTR, Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+ and Polar Grit X - through our lab tests. Read on to find out what each one has to offer and which one is right for you.

Or head straight to our reviews of the best smartwatches to see which models came out on top.

Polar Grit X (£379): best for advanced fitness fans and outdoor adventurers

If you're a hardcore sports fanatic who considers climbing Ben Nevis to be a morning stroll, you'll need something that can match your stamina. The Polar Grit X is a high-spec product, but it comes at a price.

It's very much designed to be a sturdy outdoors watch and is fairly heavy at 65g, so you're not going to want to keep it on day in, day out. We certainly wouldn't recommend if you're looking for a watch to track daily activity levels such as step count as you potter about the house. And, while it offers sleep-tracking and will give you detailed sleep graphs, you probably won't want something this weighty on your wrist at night.

But, if you're a budding athlete or the outdoorsy sort, and you're prepared to pay for a sturdy hi-tech smartwatch, the Polar Grit X could be perfect.

The screen is large, making it easy to see your stats at a glance, even in bright sunlight and in poor lighting. We found the touchscreen didn't always respond to our swipes, but you can avoid it entirely and just use the five buttons to navigate your way round the watch instead. If you're likely to be exercising in the rain or be wearing gloves that's a useful option to have.

Polar Grit X on a wrist

It has built-in GPS (no need to rely on your phone's GPS), and uses both GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems for greater coverage. It also has a compass, a barometer and the ability to calculate gain (the sum of all your climbs - useful if you've taken a hilly route that starts and ends at the same place).

It's also waterproof for swimming and it can track a wide range of sports in detail.

Our review of the Polar Grit X reveals how well it performed when we tested its heart-rate monitoring, distance tracking, gain, elevation and more.

Looking for a running watch rather than a multi-sport watch? Garmin's Forerunner offer in-depth analysis of your running style. Check out our reviews of Garmin smartwatches to find the best.

Accuracy is everything for those serious about their sports. Our guide to fitness tracker and smartwatch accuracy shows how well each model we've tested performs for steps, distance and heart rate

Amazfit GTR (£122): best for fashionable fitness enthusiasts

If you're after an attractive watch with decent activity-tracking features, and you don't mind having basic smart features, the Amazfit GTR could be the watch for you.

It can track 12 different sports, including climbing, elliptical machines and skiing, all in a reasonable level of detail.

If you're a runner, you'll get useful metrics such as distance, cadence, exercise time, pace, rolling pace and stride length. It has standalone GPS, so you can leave your phone at home and still have it track your run. Importantly, it's also easy to read the screen under bright sun glare.

It's also waterproof for swimming, although you'll need a silicone strap for this. Luckily, it's easy to take off the leather-silicone hybrid strap and swap it for another one.

Amazfit GTR on wrist while lifting weights

It has continuous heart-rate monitoring, allowing you to look back over your heart rate at the end of each day and see what activities caused it to peak. If you're not fussed about doing that and want to save battery, you can ask it to only measure your heart rate occasionally, unless you're exercising (in which case it will do it constantly).

Based on your heart rate, it can also give you a Personal Activity Intelligence score for the week, too. It's a useful way to get an indication of overall heart health, but it shouldn't be relied on, particularly if you have a medical condition.

As for smart features, it has the basics covered, but, as we mentioned before, it doesn't shine here. You'll get notifications for calls, messages, social media updates and calendar reminders, however you'll need to get your smartphone out to reply to anything.

And, if you need music to help you power through your runs, you'll still need to take your smartphone out with you. You can use the Amazfit GTR to control the music playing from your smartphone, but there's no music storage on the watch itself.

Amazfit Bip Lite

With their rounded square 'squircle' shape, previous Amazfit smartwatches that we've reviewed, such as the Amazfit Bip Lite (£65, pictured above) and the Amazfit GTS (£122), have looked remarkably like the Apple Watch, whereas the Amazfit GTR could easily be mistaken for a traditional, non-smart watch.

The Amazfit GTR comes in two sizes: 42mm and 47mm. We tried the 47mm version. At more than 52.4g, it's not a lightweight watch, but it feels comfortable.

Read our full Amazfit GTR review to find out what other features it has and how we rated it when we tested it.

Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+ (£170): best for stylish casual exercisers

Of three, the Mobvoi has the most lifestyle appeal. It's a good-looking Wear OS smartwatch that gives you plenty of ways to stay connected, including replying to messages (either by using a preset message or by writing one from scratch or dictating one with Google Assistant) and connecting to wi-fi networks when your phone's out of Bluetooth range.

Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+

If basic sports tracking is all you're after, the Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+ should have you covered. It's a reasonably useful watch for an experienced runner, capturing stats such as distance, cadence, exercise time, heart rate, speed and GPS position. You can wear it swimming (opt for the silicone strap, not the leather strap) and will give you metrics such as length, stroke, calories, exercise time and pace - although, no SWOLF (a calculation of swimming efficiency), as you get with the other two watches.

You can download additional sports-tracking apps on to the watch if you want to and it can do the basics such as step tracking, heart rate monitoring and distance tracking.

At time of writing, you can't use it to track your sleep, unlike the other two, as the TicSleep app isn't available on the Ticwatch C2+. Like the Amazfit GTR, it a fairly weighty 52.4g, so you might have found it too hefty to wear at night anyway.

Read our full thoughts on the Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+or find out what the slightly more expensive Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro 2020 (£195) has to offer by comparison.

Man cycling wearing Mobvoi Ticwatch C2+

Should you buy a smartwatch or a fitness tracker for sports?

Smartwatches have risen in popularity in recent times, but if you're primarily looking to track your fitness, you might still be considering a cheap tracker instead.

Which you choose, really depends on your priorities. If smart features are high up on your list, you're likely to be better off with a watch, as the narrow screens on trackers aren't really designed for reading or responding to messages. But, as with the Polar Grit X and Amazfit GTR here, not all smartwatches are super 'smart', either - some are better thought of as fitness watches or outdoor multi-sport watches.

As a general rule, go for a fitness tracker if you want something lightweight (particularly if you want it to track your sleep, as a smartwatch will be bulkier). High-end fitness trackers such as the Fitbit Charge 4 (£128) are aimed at people who are serious about exercise and want as many stats as possible.

Mid-range options are fine for getting a feel if fitness tracking is for you - let's say, you've generally been quite sedentary and are hoping a tracker will get you motivated, but beware of some really cheap models as we've found they can be a pain to use. Our guide to cheap fitness trackers will help make sure you don't get burnt.

Still not sure which type of wearable is right for you? Our guide on whether to buy fitness tracker or smartwatch goes into more detail to help you decide.