Runkeeper: The best Apple Watch running app sent the Garmin Fenix 3 to a drawer

With the addition of GPS in the Apple Watch, the potential to leave the phone behind on a run was offered. It wasn't until this latest Runkeeper update that I was able to do so and replace my GPS sports watch.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Image: RunKeeper

In my quest to find a smartwatch that can also stay on my wrist to track my running, I've been through dozens of different devices. This includes wearables from Garmin, Polar, Apple, Samsung, TomTom, and more. I may have finally found what I need thanks in large part to an application.

Last year I purchased a Garmin Fenix 3 HR and it is an incredible GPS sports watch that tracks every stat I could hope for during runs. I am a recreational runner who is trying to keep my weight down, achieve some personal bests, and improve my health for a quality life as I age. It's rare that I look at the detailed stats from my Garmin and there is no real community of my friends and family in the Garmin ecosystem.

I purchased the Apple Watch Series 2 a few months ago and tried the first release of Runkeeper for watchOS 3. It did a great job at tracking runs and syncing up to the service, but there was no GPS status so runs began with a step of faith that the Apple Watch was capturing the data. The lack of GPS status is the same thing we see in the Apple Workout app and in S Health on the Samsung Gear S2 and S3. It's a small detail, but one that caused me to stick with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR.

A couple months ago Runkeeper updated its app and added a small GPS signal indicator to the upper right of the launch screen. This minor improvement prompted me to give the Apple Watch Series 2 another chance.

Runkeeper for Android Wear, watchOS, and Pebble has always offered just a very basic interface and even though I am a recreational runner it was never enough. The recent update didn't just add the GPS signal indicator, but we now see the ability to customize the three fields for metrics you want to see while running, view a heart rate graph for the past five minutes, and view your pace for the past five minutes with a line showing your target pace so you can adjust on the go. All of these are welcome additions and I look forward to even more.

Image: RunKeeper

Run data is incorporated with the Apple Activity app and also syncs up to the Runkeeper website. For some odd reason, the website only shows the basic stat summary, your GPS maps, and heart rate tracking. The iOS Runkeeper app shows your splits, pace chart, heart rate chart, and stride rate chart so there is more data being captured than shown on the website. If you then open up Runkeeper on an Android device, you will also see an elevation chart.

I went on a six mile run yesterday with the Apple Watch on one wrist and the Garmin Fenix 3 HR on the other. The heart rate tracked about the same and the difference in distance was only 0.05 miles (264 feet). I've seen repeated accuracy like this for the Apple Watch Series 2 so it meets my needs for accurate GPS run tracking.

In addition, I am motivated by music and more than any other wearable I have tested the Apple Watch streams music to my Bluetooth headset flawlessly. The Apple Watch is also a fantastic smartwatch, allowing me to communicate with people, track my other activity, see key information quickly, and more. Battery life has been fantastic and even after tracking my day there is still enough juice left to go on a nice run in the evening.

I was completely wrong about GPS on the Apple Watch and am extremely pleased with it as a wearable that meets all my needs. The Apple Watch may not be the next iPhone, but it is an excellent GPS sports watch for many of us.

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