The best fitness trackers

Looking to get into shape? Snag one of these fitness trackers

Fitness wearables can be sorted into two broad categories: trackers and smartwatches. Fitness trackers are the lightweight, fitness-focused devices that count steps and measure sleep, while smartwatches serve as an extension to a smartphone delivering notifications, phone calls, and more to your wrist. The line between these fitness bands and smartwatches continues to blur, as more companies introduce full-featured wearables dedicated to both health and communications.

Whether you’re trying to get fit, you want to analyze your performance in depth, or you’re just looking to keep tabs on your general health, there is a fitness tracker for you. We’ve collected a handful of the best fitness trackers to help make the buying process a little easier.

For most people, the Fitbit Charge 4 is the best choice. It’s light and stylish, has plenty of stamina, and offers smartphone notifications alongside all the fitness tracking you need. It’s also very affordable. We have lots of alternative options for anyone who doesn’t fancy the Fitbit, whether you’re after something with more features, something specialist, or something a bit cheaper.

Best fitness tracker overall: Fitbit Charge 4

Why you should buy this: You want a fitness tracker with outstanding battery life and a thin, stylish design.

Who it’s for: People with an active lifestyle who want all-day fitness tracking and useful smartwatch features.

Why we picked the Fitbit Charge 4:

There are good reasons why Fitbit is the top brand in the fitness-tracking market: Fitbit continues to build on its fitness bands with new features and designs, and the Fitbit Charge 4 is a perfect example of this.

The Charge 4 may not really change the design of the Charge 3, but it still offers a relatively sleek look, with a button-free design that helps make the band look nice and thin. The band is small enough to work well for any wrist size, plus the shape means that it’s relatively comfortable too. The display on the device may not be the most impressive out there, but it gets the job done, and you’ll get a satisfying haptic feedback for the home and back buttons.

Of course, easily the best things about the tracker is its full suite of fitness-tracking features, and the way it brings all the data it collects together in the app. The tracker can automatically detect workouts, and tracks menstrual cycles for women, which can be added as an option to the dashboard. From the app, you’ll be able to see all your fitness metric and workouts at a glance, as well as your sleep, if you use the sleep-tracking feature. New for the Charge 4 is GPS support — meaning that you’ll be able to physically track your workouts and their distance without having to take your phone on the road with you.

The Fitbit Charge 4 offers other features too. For example, it has a nice auto-stop feature to pause your workout at an intersection, plus it’s great at tracking goals and helping you achieve those goals without making it too easy to do so. It can receive text message and call notifications as well

Best fitness tracker for iOS: Apple Watch SE

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Why you should buy this: You want the absolute best fitness tracker and smartwatch for iOS.

Who it’s for: You own an iPhone, and would prefer a more watch-like design and many more features outside of just activity tracking.

Why we picked the Apple Watch SE:

The Apple Watch SE is much more than an activity tracker. It has a beautiful screen, runs apps, will make and receive calls, shows all your notifications, and will even time how long you’ve washed your hands for. Obviously, this high level of functionality affects the price, and the Apple Watch SE starts at $279.

Why did we highlight it when it’s much more than a fitness tracker? Mostly because Apple’s health software and activity tracking are superb, and incredibly easy to use too. There’s a wide range of workout tracking, GPS, a heart rate sensor, sleep tracking, and a swim-proof body too. The data it collects is easy to interpret, and the Activity Ring system for daily goals is simple and motivational.

It’s the little things that make the Apple Watch SE a great companion. The automatic hand wash timer is surprisingly accurate, the watch will remind you to stand up after periods of inactivity, there’s a relaxing mindfulness app called Breathe, and it has a menstrual cycle tracking feature for women as standard.

If you’re considering the Apple Watch SE and health is a top priority, maybe consider the Apple Watch Series 6 too. It has an ECG, SpO2 measurement, and a new optical heart rate sensor. Whichever one you choose, Apple’s offering is by far the best health and activity tracker for iPhone owners.

Best fitness tracker for kids: Fitbit Ace 2

Why you should buy this: The Fitbit Ace 2 is high on the fun factor, making it a no-brainer for kids on the move.

Who it’s for: Parents looking for a fitness tracker for the 12 and under crowd.

Why we picked the Fitbit Ace 2:

Fitbit nailed it with its kid’s fitness tracker, the Ace 2. We strapped two of the fitness trackers on our kids, and the pair survived being dropped, stepped on, lost in the backyard for a week, and more. The tracker has a soft band that fits comfortably on a kid’s wrist and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of sizes. We had no problem fitting it on kids ranging from 5 to 11 years old. The band is available in either Night Sky and Neon Yellow or Watermelon Teal and is replaceable if it breaks or your child wants a different color. The Ace 2 also is waterproof up to 50 meters, a must-have feature for kids who like to jump into the pool, pond, or ocean.

The tracker has a kid-friendly interface that tracks steps, active minutes, and sleep. You can choose between a variety of different clock faces from a simple digital watch face to animated faces that change as the child reaches their fitness goal. The spaceship animation was a favorite among my kids. The watch has several data screens that show the daily step count and active minutes. These real-time stats allow kids to track how much they move during the day and see whether they are close to reaching their goals. At night, kids can get reminders to go to bed and see how long they slept each night.

The watch syncs to the companion Fitbit app, either using the parent’s device or the child’s mobile device. The dashboard is customized for kids with an easy-to-use interface that shows the child’s stats with little to no social features. Kids can view messages from parent-approved friends, but there is no tie-in to any social network. If the child has a phone, then the watch can be configured to receive messages from these trusted contacts.

Best fitness tracker on a budget: Samsung Galaxy Fit 2

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Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 is affordable and offers all the basics you want from a fitness tracker.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a basic fitness tracker for steps, sleep, and overall fitness from a recognized brand.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2:

If you don’t want to spend much on a fitness tracker, it’s possible you won’t be preparing for a marathon, or cycling 100 miles every weekend. If that’s you, then a simple fitness band will suit you best, and they don’t get much more simple than the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2. It’s one of the most affordable bands you can buy, but don’t mistake the budget-friendliness for it being low-quality or feature-light.

The 1.1-inch AMOLED screen is bright and colorful, the band comes in several different colors for variety, and it’s comfortable to wear all day too. On the back is a heart rate sensor, the band tracks your steps and calories, plus it has a range of tracking options for different workouts too. All this is presented in simple-to-use software, which you interact with using the touchscreen and a single touch-sensitive button.

It’s water-resistant and can be used to track swimming, and has the option to monitor sleep patterns too. The band connects with your iPhone or Android phone and will show notifications on the screen, but using all these features does mean the battery will need recharging every ten days or so. If you don’t track sleep, or use the notifications, this can be extended.

While the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 doesn’t have GPS, a blood oxygen sensor, or an ECG, it doesn’t cost anywhere near those bands that do have these features. Instead, it’s cheap, pretty, reliable, and covers the basics very effectively.

Research and buying tips

Should you buy one now?

Now is as good a time as any to buy a fitness band. Battery life is improving, built-in GPS tracking is far more common, and heart rate monitors are making their way onto more devices to ensure accurate measurements. The tech isn’t likely to advance too dramatically, for now, so you’d likely get several years out of the options listed — if you stick with them.

The biggest detraction to buying a fitness band is that you may not use it enough to justify spending the money on pricier options like the Apple Watch. Those more expensive models are recommended for fitness buffs who are going to use them to analyze workouts and train competitively for races like triathlons or 5Ks. The rest of the bands on the list are suited better for a more casual crowd looking to monitor their fitness levels and maybe lose a little weight.

Are wrist fitness trackers accurate?

One of the biggest complaints people have with fitness trackers is their accuracy. Wrist fitness trackers are not 100% accurate in step count or heart rate tracking. Fitness trackers use sensors like an accelerometer or an altimeter to calculate step counts and stair climbs. These sensors are not fail-proof — they can and do make mistakes. Any movement of the wrist, when you are driving, for example, can cause the tracker to tack on steps or stairs when you are not walking. Sometimes you’ll miss out on steps especially when your feet are moving and your hands are still. We encounter this issue with missing steps whenever we use a treadmill desk. Ultimately, steps and stair count should be used as a loose guideline to gauge your overall activity level and not a step-by-step assessment of your day.

The same principle applies to heart rate tracking. When compared to a chest strap heart rate monitor, the wrist-based monitors fall short. They do a decent job of measuring your average heart rate but struggle to detect quick changes in heart rate. If you are going from a standstill to a sprint, the chest strap accurately detects the sudden increase in your heart rate. A wrist-based monitor, though, struggles to keep up with rapid changes and will often lag, showing the spike in heart rate a few seconds after it actually happens. For most people, this lag won’t be a deal-breaker, but it is a concern for athletes who are using heart rate tracking to gauge their effort during an exercise.

Do all fitness trackers need a smartphone?

Yes and no. Almost all fitness trackers require you to sync the data from the tracker to the app that collects the data and analyzes it for you. Most people sync to their tablet or smartphone, but you also can sync to your computer. Connecting to a computer is not as convenient as syncing to a smartphone but it can be done. Some smartwatches like the Apple Watch have Wi-Fi and cellular and can perform most functions without a smartphone. In the end, you’ll want a smartphone for convenience but you don’t necessarily need one.

Can fitness trackers measure blood pressure?

Fitness trackers can measure your heart rate, but most cannot measure your blood pressure. There are a handful of wearable blood pressure devices, but none of the major manufacturers like Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Polar, or Apple have integrated blood pressure into their products.

How long do fitness trackers last?

Fitness trackers can last up to five years. Problems with the battery charging and broken parts like the strap and the screen ultimately lead to their demise.

What is connected GPS?

While most smartwatches are equipped with GPS, only a few fitness trackers have GPS built into the tracker. GPS allows you to record the route that you run, cycle, or walk without needing your phone. Instead of onboard GPS, fitness trackers use connected GPS that relies on your phone to record your route. With connected GPS, the tracker connects to the mobile app on your phone and uses that app to track your GPS coordinates during an outdoors activity. If you forget to connect your watch to the app, your distance and pace will be estimated using movement data and not the more accurate GPS data from your phone.

How we test

We test fitness bands just like we test smartwatches. That means using them every day and testing out all the marquee features. We strap them to our wrists (no matter how silly they look) and walk around town with them, take them to bed with us, and hit the gym to test out the workout features. It’s also key to pair them with different phones and test the experience when the band is connected to phones different operating systems.

If a fitness band is water-resistant, we dunk it in water, and if it has GPS, we go on a hike. A fitness band’s companion app is also essential because it can mean the difference between getting fit or throwing your new band in the garbage.

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