GPS Watch or Phone?

A discussion on our running club Facebook page, and the coincidental timing of getting ready to run today and discovering that my Garmin 405CX watch battery had completely died, has led me to write this post. Before Christmas I had been thinking about this too to some extent – at least to the point that I had put a running phone armband on my list of ideas for Christmas presents.

So, today I had a perfect reason to use the armband I received for Christmas.

I have run with my phone before, but it was mainly restricted to very long runs, or runs away from home (one particular time I recall particularly when I got to my destination and realized that I had left my watch at home), but only used it to record my run a couple of times when I had forgotten my watch after driving somewhere to run. On those occasions I had the phone stashed in a Spibelt.

When you use a phone you have to use an app. I used to use MapMyRun (and still do sometimes), but I make more use of Strava now. On the previous runs where I used a phone I had used the MapMyRun app, which called out times at every mile (there was probably a setting to turn it off, but I never bothered to look – either way, I like knowing how far I have been most of the time). Today I decided to use the Strava app, and I was expecting it to do the same, but it didn’t (again, maybe there’s a setting?).

I was happy with an easy run today, so it didn’t matter too much. I had an idea of what distance I wanted to do, but was also aware that I hadn’t been well over the weekend. I actually ended up with 12.5 miles despite thinking I had done about 10.

Do I prefer wearing a GPS watch, or using a phone?

On using a phone…


  • No need for a separate device
  • It can be good to have a phone available (although I’ve never needed one on any run – actually, that’s not entirely true now that I think about it, there was a time when I got a little lost in some woods in Michigan and I used Google Maps to point me back in the direction I wanted to go, but at least the Garmin Fenix 3 will be able to help with that situation)
  • No need to upload data anywhere – it happens directly from the app
  • I was a bit worried about battery, but on a 1 hour 40 minute run it only used about 10% of my battery (Samsung Galaxy S5)


  • It’s bulky
  • Where/how to carry it can be a problem – the armband felt heavy on my arm, particularly over distance; perhaps that’s not such a bad thing as it was on my weaker left arm and maybe it can strengthen that muscle while I run
  • Visibility – I had no idea how far or fast I was going (again, sometimes it may not be a bad thing, but after being sick over the weekend, if I had realized how fast I was going I probably would have slowed down – I really felt it in the last mile)
  • Accessibility – I had no way to easily pause the workout
  • I recall one time when I carried my phone on a very cold day (single digit wind chill), the phone (I had an iPhone at the time) crashed during my run (my GPS watch was fine), so reliability could be an issue
  • Not waterproof – it was unexpectedly cloudy today, and there were a few flakes of snow at a couple of times, so it wasn’t much of a worry, but you would have to put it in a ziploc bag or something if it were raining (which is actually what I have done before when using it in a Spibelt or in the back pocket of a cycling jersey)
  • Limited functions – in particular when compared to something like the Garmin Fenix 3 (which REI have said they expect to get to me around February 3) – I’m interested in the things that will give me access to such as heart rate, VO2 max, cadence, etc. I’m not sure what part they will play in my training yet, perhaps they will just provide an interesting perspective on why some days runs are harder than others, but I am interested. If you can do without them, then this really wouldn’t factor into the decision
  • The idea of still being “connected” – I like running without a phone. It’s one of the few times I’m not near an internet connection, and there’s just some sense of calm and positive feeling about that

I think my list gives a pretty good idea which side of the argument I am on. Which side are you on?

This is the Strava recording of my run.

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3 Responses to GPS Watch or Phone?

  1. After dropping and breaking my phone as a race started because I was fumbling with it trying to put it back in my Spibelt after turning on a running app, I’m firmly on the gps watch side. I often do run with my phone, but it’s for emergencies.

    • runnj says:

      It’s not good for a fast start, and I think your example proves it. I started the app, carefully put the phone in the pouch, made sure it was secure, and then started running, so no accurate race/run times would be had from that process – same again when turning off; had to take it out, unlock the phone, then unlock the app, then stop it.

  2. Love the convenience of my GPS 🙂 Have tried both and wouldn’t choose the phone unless my watch wasn’t working.

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