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Best basic sport watches for tracking time, laps

Although some athletes prefer watches loaded with features and GPS functions, others want a simple no-frills running watch that tracks time and laps. The overwhelming favorite among basic sport watches is the Timex Ironman Sleek 150-Lap (*Est. $60) . This inexpensive watch earns numerous recommendations from top fitness publications -- including a Best of Adventure award from National Geographic Adventure -- thanks to its simple and easy-to-use design. Although the Timex Ironman Sleek has been around for years, it has been updated with TapScreen technology, which allows users to tap anywhere on the display to start or stop workout timers. The watch, which comes in both full- and mid-size versions, has a 100-hour chronograph, 150-lap memory and hydration and nutrition alarms. Sixteen interval timers, three daily alarms and an Indiglo nightlight are also included.

The Timex Ironman Sleek 150-Lap sport watch is particularly well liked among swimmers and triathletes because the TapScreen is easy to control, even when wet or underwater (the watch is water-resistant to 100 meters). Runners also appreciate the many interval timers and unusual features like nutrition alarms. "We especially liked the watch's customizable alerts that reminded us to drink and eat during a long run," says Mathew Honan at Runner's World magazine. The lightweight sport watch is comfortable to wear, according to reviews, and the alarms are loud enough to hear on a windy day or underwater.

However, some users complain that the resin watch strap is too stiff and inflexible, which can cause it to split or break altogether. We also saw a few complaints that the TapScreen is too sensitive and will start a new lap at random moments, especially when used for lap swimming. The sensitivity of the TapScreen is adjustable, and some users have luck changing the settings. "We did, however, have to increase the pressure sensitivity to high to keep it from counting extra laps on occasion when it brushed against our torsos," says Honan.

Timex also gets high marks for the Ironman 100-Lap (*Est. $50) , a similar sport watch that includes a 100-hour chronograph and 100-lap memory. Although the two watches are similar, the Timex Ironman 100-Lap is bulkier -- it is not one of Timex's "sleek" watches -- and it comes only in a full-size version.

Even so, the Timex Ironman 100-Lap gets excellent reviews at Amazon.com, where more than 200 reviews combine to the give the sport watch a 4.5-star rating. Some users say they appreciate the larger display, which makes workout data easier to read at a glance. Others say the display is too big for those with small wrists. "I have had many Ironman watches and so far, I think this has been the best; it is a bit bigger than I like but this is the only drawback," says one owner. Although the Timex Ironman 100-Lap doesn't have TapScreen technology, reviewers say the buttons are intuitively placed and easy to press. As with the Timex Ironman Sleek 150-Lap, a number of users say the watch band isn't very durable.

The Timex watches don't track speed or distance, an option that is available with the Nike+ SportBand (*Est. $60) . This minimalist sport watch tracks distance, pace, time and calories burned using a small sensor that is placed underneath the insole of compatible Nike running shoes. Once your run is over, the included USB stick can upload workout data to the Nike+ website. The watch also includes a 30-hour workout history, but it lacks interval and lap timers, alarms and other features available on the Timex sport watches. It has been updated since it was first released, and the Nike+ SportBand 2 (as some users call it; Nike keeps the original name) has a brighter, more readable display and improved water resistance.  

Some reviewers think the Nike+ SportBand is a good fit for beginners who likely will benefit from the motivation of seeing how fast or far they've run or walked. Runner's World magazine says it is a good fit for these users because it "holds your hand along the way." TriRadar.com says the updated SportsBand is accurate, especially when calibrated properly, and the Nike+ website does a good job of displaying basic workout data. Users at RoadRunnerSports.com, where the Nike+ SportBand has a 4-star rating (out of 5), are generally pleased with the sport watch. They say it is simple, easy to use and doesn't look bulky on their wrists. The Nike+ SportBand is also much cheaper than a GPS watch, which is a huge plus. However, some users report problems uploading their workout data, and others say they wish the display included a backlight.

Basic sport watches typically don't track heart rate, which is a useful metric for measuring your exertion and stamina. Fitness watches that are primarily designed to track heart rate are discussed in our companion report on heart-rate monitors. In addition to measuring heart rate, many of these watches also include chronographs, interval timers and alarms. Top picks include the Timex Ironman Race Trainer (*Est. $120) and the Polar FT60 (*Est. $200) .  

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Timex Men's T5H721 Ironman Triathlon Sleek 150-Lap Resin Strap Watch
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from Amazon.com
New: $89.95   
Average Customer Review:  
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Timex Men's T5E231 Ironman Traditional 100-Lap Silver-Tone/Black Resin Strap Watch
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from Amazon.com
New: $69.95 $41.97   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Nike+ SportBand (Silver)
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from Amazon.com
Average Customer Review:  
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Timex Ironman Race Trainer Heart Rate Monitor Watch, Grey/Lilac, Mid Size
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from Amazon.com
New: $149.95 $85.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Polar FT60 Men's Heart Rate Monitor Watch (Black with White Display)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $239.95 $112.95   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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