Gear: Four watches that step up the time-telling game

Not ready to ditch the watch? A few models via @latimes that go the distance (mostly)

There's only so much real estate on your wrist. "Activity" straps are great, but what if most of the time you just want to know the time — and need something that looks presentable in street clothes? The products reviewed here all function as bona-fide watches — and then some do a whole lot more.


Sports watches: In the Dec. 27 Saturday section, a review of four sports watches gave the price of the Sony Smartwatch 3 as $299. It is $250. —

No-strap monitor

TomTom Runner Cardio GPS Watch: A GPS watch with a built-in heart rate monitor that requires no chest strap and has a navigation button.

Likes: Convenient and user friendly, with a quick setup, simple navigation between menus (an ingenious square button below the watch face that you press up, down, left or right to make selections) and an easy-to-read screen with simple, clear numbers. Heart rate is measured by a light sensor that monitors changes in blood flow through the wrist. You get real running data at a glance — distance, time, calories burned. You can select from five heart rate zones with high and low beeps and get a beats-per-minute bar graph or zone-bar graph of your current run. Back at home, you can send your data via USB to TomTom MySports for a map of the run, elevation, strides per minute and graphs of all your final data.

Dislikes: As with all these high-powered HRM watches, the need to constantly charge it gets irritating. It drains quickly (three to four hours) if you use the heart-rate function and at night.

Price: $269.99,


Stylish multitasker

Polar M400: Bluetooth-compatible heart-rate watch with built-in GPS and 24/7 activity tracking that tracks speed, pace, distance and altitude and your steps, calories burned and how restfully you slept.

Likes: Comfy, great looking and many useful features. It'll help you write your own training programs, inform you when you've reached a personal record and estimate your finishing time at an upcoming race based on your recent training times. I really liked "Back to Start," which gets you back home by the quicker route after a long, meandering run. It also allows you to customize your workout data based on what activities you do — cycling, running, Zumba and three dozen more. Also, the software automatically updates, the GPS signal locks on quickly (about a minute) and the USB-charged battery power lasts a claimed 24 days with GPS off.

Dislikes: There is no vibration feature on the alarms.

Price: $249 with heart-rate chest strap, $199 without;


Phone optional

Sony Smartwatch 3: Sleek, waterproof Android Wear-compatible smartwatch with 1.6-inch touch-screen display, 4 gigabytes of internal memory (for music, etc.), voice search and command, and a GPS sensor, accelerometer and gyro sensors (to track your motion and location). Unlike other "smart" watches, it can work with or without a smartphone by using the iFit run tracker and other apps.

Likes: Practical, easy to use and beautiful stainless steel case with high-def display. You can fill it with music to play through a Bluetooth headphone, ear buds or remote speaker — without your phone. With the phone in your pocket, you can use the watch to Google voice search, send text messages, call people, go to Google maps and any Android Wear programs without touching any buttons. To change out of normal clock mode (which has 20 programmable faces) and activate the screen, turn the watch face toward you with a flick of the wrist. The built-in pedometer counts your steps and stores the data onboard and on your phone. Different colored wrist straps can be swapped in 2 seconds; just pop the rectangular watch face and body out of the rubber-and steel wrist strap.

Dislikes: Only made for Android, not iPhones. There's no heart rate monitor function as in some of the other fancy smartwatches, including GalaxyGear. Some say that the screen scratches easily.

Price: $299,


Forever? Well …

Reactor Watches Gryphon: Old-fashioned, heavy-duty, non-electronic, quartz movement, waterproof sports watch designed to do two things: keep time and last forever. Made of a hybrid polymer-steel body to cut weight, it includes a light-up dial, a 10-year lithium power cell and the ability to handle underwater depths of 660 feet.

Likes: Macho looks with a meaty, indestructible feel that combines a "weapons grade" high-tensile glass-reinforced polymer exterior with a steel core that contains all the watch's watertight elements. Features include a comfy nylon-rubber band; illuminated surfaces on all dial markings and hands; a forged case back, like most Swiss watches, for a watertight seal; and use of a solid threaded screw bar to attach the band, not an inherently weak spring bar.

Dislikes: Although I loved the watch, lap swimming and a rough afternoon of climbing walls and going in and out of mud and ice at a Tough Mudder event wrecked it, with water leaking into the face, fogging the crystal and ultimately stopping all movement a month later. I was told that this happened because I didn't shove the crown in all the way when I set the time (true, my mistake), but the website says that it has a "screw-down crown that maintains water resistance even when unscrewed." Maybe under normal conditions.

Price: $350,

Wallack is the coauthor of "Healthy Running Step by Step," with Santa Monica physical therapist Robert Forster.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times