If your resolution for 2020 is to get fit, a fitness tracker can help you achieve your goal. After testing over 100 fitness trackers, there is truly one tracker for everyone’s budget and needs. Some are strictly fitness trackers, while others sync with smartphones and offer several features.
Fitness trackers record your daily steps. They also monitor your sleeping habits and heart rate. Some will remind you when to drink water, and when you are holding your breath.
Best fitness trackers at a glance:
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 3:
There’s a reason why Fitbit is the top brand in the fitness band market: The company continues to improve its bands by slowly and steadily adding smartwatch features and streamlining design. The Charge 3 is the epitome of this trend in Fitbit’s lineup.
Fitbit’s Charge 3 tracker has a sleek look with a buttonless design that makes the band look thinner than it actually is. It’s an ideal size that is not too big for a woman’s wrist and not too small for a man’s. The concave shape hugs your wrist and is so light that you don’t even notice that you are wearing it. The band has a grayscale touchscreen display and a button with haptic feedback that serves as the home and back button.
The Charge 3 has Fitbit’s full suite of fitness tracking features including all-day heart rate monitoring, all-day step counting, SmartTrack to automatically recognize workouts, and even menstrual cycle tracking for women that can be added as an option to the dashboard. All these metrics can be viewed in the Fitbit app, which still has the best app interface for health and wellness tracking. Fitbit also recently enabled the pulse oximeter on the Charge 3 allowing people to track blood oxygen levels while they sleep.
The wearable also has a handy auto-stop feature that pauses your exercise when you encounter an intersection or have to tie your shoe. It also uses new goal-based exercise modes that let you set a goal and track how far or how long you need to go to complete it. On the smart notification side, the Charge 3 can receive and respond to text messages, answer or reject calls, and even get social media and email notifications. It’s as close to a smartwatch you can get in the fitness band form.
Read our full Fitbit Charge 3 review
Why you should buy this: You want a comfortable fitness band with a vivid display and reliable fitness tracking.
Who it’s for: Any Android user who’s teetering between a fitness band or a smartwatch.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Fit:
Samsung’s Galaxy Fit nails the basics absurdly well. As such, it’s an outstanding choice for the casual athlete looking for a reliable tracker. The first thing you notice is the Fit’s vivid and colorful 0.95-inch AMOLED display. Though small, the use of colors in the Gorilla Glass-encased screen makes it easy to distinguish between metrics while you are exercising. The Fit has a touchscreen interface that is responsive and easy to navigate. We wish you could tap on the screen to wake up the tracker, but that is a relatively minor quibble when weighed against its strengths. After all, you can easily raise your wrist or press the side button if you need to illuminate the display.
Fitness tracking is another highlight of the Galaxy Fit. There are over 90 different workouts you can add to the watch, and six that you can track automatically. This automatic detection was one of our favorite features. It allows you to start exercising without having to fuss with the watch and shows the data you need, like distance, pace, and elapsed time. We also appreciate the inactivity reminders that gently reminded us to get out of our chair and spend some time moving.
Priced at under $100, the Samsung Galaxy Fit is not only the best fitness wearable for Android users; it’s also one of the best values in a fitness wearable currently available.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Fit review
Why you should buy this: You want the absolute best fitness tracker and smartwatch for iOS.
Who it’s for: Any iPhone user who is looking for a full-featured smartwatch that also tracks fitness activity.
Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 5
For iPhone owners who have the money to spend, there is no question that the Apple Watch Series 5 is the best full-featured fitness tracker and smartwatch available. Like the iPhone itself, Apple’s wearable has a good deal of support from third-party developers, with every significant fitness app offering compatibility. The Watch also found a way to deftly mix features and fashion into a single wearable device, offering all-day battery life and a host of features that are tough to find on any competing device.
The chief upgrade for the Series 5 over the previous-generation Apple Watches is longer battery life and an always-on display that makes reading the watch dead simple. The latest Apple Watch also offers a faster processor and improved performance over the already outstanding Series 4.
We all know the Apple Watch delivers plenty of functionality, but it is more fitness-oriented features include GPS tracking, an altimeter that records changes in altitude, and onboard heart rate monitoring. It’s also waterproof down to 50 meters, offers support for a vast number of workout types, and even reminds you to stand after periods of inactivity. Throw in Bluetooth connectivity with wireless headphones and greatly improved Siri support, and you have a smartwatch that’s head-and-shoulders above just about anything else on the market.
All of this comes at a price. The Apple Watch Series 5 starts at $399 and goes up from there depending on size, the style of the band, and the inclusion of cellular connectivity. For those who already live in Apple’s ecosystem, this is just another extension of that platform, offering versatility and convenience in a stylish package.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 5 review
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 Facebook or any other social network. If the child has a phone, then the watch can be configured to receive messages from these trusted contacts.
Read our full Fitbit Ace 2 review
Why you should buy this: The Fitbit Inspire is a sub-$100 fitness tracker that’s high on features and performance.
Who it’s for: Budget shoppers who want a basic fitness tracker for steps, sleep, and overall fitness.
Why we picked the Fitbit Inspire:
The sub-$100 Fitbit Inspire is ideal if you’re looking for a budget fitness tracker — few fitness bands on the market deliver the same core features at this price. You can use the band to track your steps, workouts, sleep, weight, water, and stress (HR model only). It’s a step up from other affordable fitness bands that have limited tracking and a simplistic display. Speaking of the display, it is a perfect size for a stylish device. It is big enough to allow you to view incoming alerts and exercise statistics but small enough to not look overly big on your wrist.
It’s a no-nonsense wearable that helps you improve your fitness while looking great on your wrist. The tracker is so compact and lightweight that you hardly feel it on your wrist. It has a clean, rounded look which is a refreshing change from Fitbit’s older boxy designs. The Inspire model also uses Fitbit’s quick-change bands allowing you to change the look of the device in an instant. Want to go out to dinner? No problem. Just swap out the sports band for the classic mesh metal band before you hit the town.
Fitbit launched the Inspire as a series that include both the entry-level Inspire and Inspire HR. The most significant difference between the Inspire and the Inspire HR is the wrist-based heart rate monitor on the HR model. This feature adds $30 to the price tag of the device and enables advanced metrics like resting heart rate and stress management. With a price tag under $100, there is little reason not to recommend either the $100 Inspire HR or the $70 Inspire for someone looking to track their fitness with minimal investment.
Read our full Fitbit Inspire HR review
Why you should buy this: The Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro is waterproof up to 50 meters and can track basic metrics when you are swimming with the companion Speedo app.
Who it’s for: Fitness enthusiasts who want to jump into a lake or swim in the pool with their fitness tracker.
Why we picked the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro:
Like the Fit 2 before it, Samsung’s Gear Fit2 Pro is a sleek and lightweight fitness tracker that stands out for its in-water performance and stellar feature set. The Gear Fit2 Pro connects to the Speedo app which you can use to track your swim goals, your swim time, your pace, and the distance your swim in a training session. With a healthy dose of smartwatch capability, the option to store and stream music, built-in GPS, and water resistance, it’s a refreshing, cost-effective wearable. It does still feature the same, somewhat bulky design as its predecessor but that’s a minor nitpick on what is otherwise a powerhouse of a fitness tracker.
Featuring a 1.2-inch Super AMOLED screen with 320 x 320 resolution, wearers are treated to a stunning, crystal clear display. This is especially useful when scrolling through the wearable’s daily metrics of steps counted, calories burned, flights of stairs climbed, and the host of typical fitness data. It even offers up a Google Maps-type map after logging a run or bike ride via its built-in GPS, displaying the exact route taken. When listening to music either stored directly on the watch or via Spotify, the interface is easy to navigate, even while on the move. In addition to its subtle nudging feature, the Gear Fit2 Pro also offers accurate auto-tracking of a wide range of activities.
Fitness-tracking aside, Samsung’s inclusion of smartwatch functionality adds a welcome touch of versatility. Capable of sending notifications for Facebook and Twitter, phone calls, text messages, and phone calls, it even allows for quick response actions to be programmed directly on the wearable itself — though this is only compatible with calls and texts. Despite the fact it does offer some iOS support, only Android users have the option of sending responses.
Priced at $200, the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro is not only the best fitness wearable for Android users, it’s one of the best fitness wearables on the market in general. Its minimal design and comfortable fit perfectly compliment the suite of fitness tracking and smartwatch features, allowing it to easily stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
Read our full Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro review
Why you should buy this: The Garmin Vivosmart 4 has a pulse oximeter that can help you identify sleep disturbances.
Who it’s for: People looking to track the duration and the quality of their sleep.
Why we picked the Garmin Vivosmart 4:
The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is a very capable fitness tracker that stands out from the crowd because of its sleep tracking. Like most wearables, the Vivosmart 4 uses movement sensors and heart rate data to break down your sleep into stages. The tracker can tell how many hours you slept and you how long you were in REM, light, or deep sleep. It also records how restless your sleep was and how often you were awoken in the night. Its accuracy was uncanny; whenever we woke up tired, a glance at our sleep stats usually showed several periods of restlessness where we were waking up in the middle of the night and not even realizing it. The only thing missing was a sleep score, which is a single number that reflects the quality of your sleep and is available on competing watches.
Not only does the Vivosmart 4 track sleep stages, but it also has a pulse oximeter which measures blood oxygen levels throughout the night. These values can be used to help identify sleep disturbances like apnea. For most people, their blood oxygen levels stay well above 90% both during the day and at night when they sleep. People with apnea have periods of sleep where their oxygen levels dip below 90% due to an obstruction or some other physical condition that affects their breathing. In response to the low oxygen, their body jolts them awake causing them to wake up, change their position, and take a deep breath. This apnea episode can happen multiple times each night without the person realizing it.
Both this movement and the low oxygen levels can be detected by the Vivosmart 4 tracker. The tracker is not sensitive enough nor does it track the other parameters necessary to confirm sleep apnea. To get a medical diagnosis, you need an in-depth sleep study. The Vivosmart 4 can, however, provides you with valuable preliminary data that you can bring to your doctor. He or she then can decide if it is indicative of a sleep disturbance and worth further treatment.
Read our full Garmin Vivosmart 4 review
Research and buying tips
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.
Much depends on what you want to get out of it. If you don’t have some motivation and goals to go along with your new fitness tracker, then it may be tough 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.