GPS Running Watch vs Phone – Which Is Better and Why?

GPS running watch vs phone

Smart technology is a major component of all of our daily lives. Long gone are the days of running or jogging with a basic stopwatch to record time, now you can use a smartwatch to record your health statistics and a wide range of performance details. With this in mind, some of us still enjoy running with our cell phone, rather by habit or by choice. So between a GPS running watch vs. a phone, which is better and why?

GPS Running Watch vs Phone: Between a GPS running watch and a smartphone, a GPS watch is more comfortable and filled with useful running apps to measure health monitoring and detailed performance analytics. A smartphone can offer some of these benefits, but running with a phone is more difficult than a convenient GPS watch.

In this article, I will compare all of the similarities and differences between using GPS running watches and phone GPS. Read on to find out about accuracy comparisons between the two types of products and to discover which is better for running. There are some obvious benefits to using one product over the other, therefore, this guide will primarily focus on the differences between GPS accuracy and notification performance.

Are GPS Watches More Accurate Than iPhone?

A strong and dedicated GPS watch tends to have more overall accuracy than an iPhone for a variety of different reasons. First, most GPS watches, especially those by Garmin, have advanced satellite GPS sensors through standard, GLONASS, and Galileo technology. This isn’t to say that some iPhone models do not have these advanced GPS systems, but the accuracy is typically better received for long distances traveled as opposed to shorter, running distances.

Distance and Time

Secondly, GPS watch vs. phone GPS distance tracking will get a much better reception due to the smaller framework of a GPS watch in contrast to a larger and bulkier iPhone. If you are running with a GPS watch, time, distance, and pace with a Garmin watch is the hallmark of the Garmin line, which is better overall than what is seen with an Apple Watch Series. Therefore, it can be assumed that Apple’s iPhone is also somewhat lacking in GPS accuracy when compared to a Garmin watch.

This is mostly because an iPhone prioritizes advanced smart features in other areas while coming up short in some areas that a smaller and less-advanced smartwatch covers. For example, you can get better tracking performance through a GPS watch because the watch is programmed for only a handful of tasks when compared to an iPhone, which is essentially a small computer.


A GPS watch has a lot fewer features to keep track of since running or other sports are usually the primary uses of the watch in the first place. An iPhone is good for apps and notifications, but an iPhone is having to keep track of so many other apps that get in the way; therefore, the GPS accuracy of a watch can give a quick and precise performance and health metrics notifications without the need to cycle through other apps also running the in the background.

For these reasons, a GPS watch is more precise and accurate for detailed GPS readings than what you will see with an iPhone. An iPhone is better for longer distances, like in a vehicle, but a GPS watch is more accurate for targeted activities like running.

Do You Really Need a GPS Watch for Running?

While you certainly do not need a GPS watch for running, there are many benefits to investing in one of these watches. If you run or jog every day, it is smart to use a device that is made for everyday use for running and jogging to avoid problems with perspiration or accidentally dropping your smartphone. There is nothing wrong with running with a smartphone, but you would likely agree that it can be an inconvenience to hold your phone steady to switch through apps.

Apart from the inconvenience, it is easy to switch out of or inadvertently stop an app from recording performance statistics in the background. A smartphone may work great for stationary running, like on a treadmill, but this becomes more difficult for outdoor running. This is where the convenience of a GPS fitness watch comes into play.


A GPS fitness watch is designed for running, jogging, or playing other sports every day. GPS fitness watches are built-to-last for the wear and tear that can come from these activities, which is not always the case with a smartphone or smart device. Plus, a GPS fitness watch is really the pinnacle of precision when it comes to measuring time, distance, and pace with pinpoint precision.

A fitness watch is fastened directly to your wrist, therefore, you simply have to raise your arm to your face to see all of your statistics with accurate and well-balanced training dynamics that are only a click away when you run. Additionally, one argument that many runners make with a GPS fitness watch is the lack of proper music functions, but there are many watches, like the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, that really prioritize music storage as one of the main draws of the watch.


If you are running a race or event, speed and precision are the cornerstones to measuring the speed at which you can finish a race. A smartphone can record these dynamics, but the results will not be as accurate due to the prioritization of multiple apps running in the background every time you run.

Your tracking distance is also a key factor when analyzing your overall running performance and a GPS watch can pick up your outdoor location and track your running performance based on the topography and real-time distance between the two points you select. The pace of your run is also important since you can select a certain pace at which you run to accurately reflect your overall speed and pace against what the overall distance may otherwise report.

To summarize, although you do not need running watches with GPS to run with performance tracking, your tracking statistics will be more accurate and targeted with a watch over a phone. Finally, battery life is also much better and longer-lasting than a phone overall.

Do Smartwatches Have GPS?

It usually depends on the brand when it comes to GPS with smartwatches. Most smartwatches typically have basic GPS at a minimum, but some brands, like Garmin, have state-of-the-art GPS tracking through a multitude of GPS systems. A watch can provide exact calculations of pace and distance, as well as time measurements that can provide data on how well you are performing in a fitness activity.

Using GPS on a watch may not be necessary for those only doing one type of routine fitness, but GPS is very beneficial for athletes or those wanting detailed performance metrics. For example, the GPS on a phone can measure distance, but most phone models will not have dynamics that can report advanced GPS-rated metrics like heart rate and elevation training that uses navigational data during the workout. Elevation and miles covered are two distinct features that can be found on many Garmin watches.

When you run, watches can track data based on the speed of the run as well as heart rate data that can tell you if you need to elevate or decrease heart rate–based solely on the readings that correspond to your run. The data reports are much more advanced than what you can find on a phone. Additionally, watches have a better battery than phones, which can die within hours compared to days of battery you can get with a smartwatch.

GPS is much better on smartwatches than on phones, and this is amplified greater if you get a smartwatch that has multiple navigation systems that can track numerous types of activities.

Are iPhone GPS Running Apps Accurate?

The GPS running app on a phone is accurate, but this can change rapidly based on the type of activity you are using it for. With an iPhone, Apple is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to app-building, therefore, the running app on an iPhone is impressive – if you are using a treadmill indoors. The truth of the matter is that a decent running app is only as good as the device it is installed on and its intended use.

An iPhone is not going to give you the best readings for speed dynamics in a run as you can find on a smartwatch that uses GPS to usually only record speed intervals over time and not based on pinpoint precision on open terrain. The inner components of a smartwatch are also smaller and more targeted for fitness than what you would find with a running app on an iPhone.

An iPhone represents one of the best types of phone when it comes to smart technology. Your fitness level is also better-suited in the beginner stage if you just use a standard running app on an iPhone. A running smartwatch has a broader range of fitness level representation for a wide array of fitness categories than what you can find on an iPhone running app.

Bottom Line

So, which is better between a GPS smartwatch and a smartphone? I think that you can get much more accurate readings based on miles with a smartwatch than you can with a phone. Keep in mind, this is only based on outdoor fitness; if you just need a good and accurate GPS device to record distance, a phone will still definitely meet your needs.

A GPS smartwatch is a good investment if you are using it for physical fitness. Several watches that are fashioned for runners and joggers promise technology that can monitor your heart rate, pace, timing, and advanced performance tracking features that cover a wide range of sports way more than an app on a phone.

You might also be interested in our guide to the Garmin Sleep Tracking Widget.

Best GPS Tech

At Best GPS Tech we found it frustrating that there were limited websites available, willing to provide an honest opinion on the latest GPS technology to aid our interests. We enjoy creating content around GPS products from the industry leaders such as Garmin, FitBit and more. We hope you find the site informative in helping you make the right buying decisions.

Recent Posts