Staying in shape — or just getting into shape in the first place — is hard work. It’s especially hard to do it all on your own, without any help. Some people buddy up with a partner, but you can turn to technology as well. A fitness tracker — either a fitness band or smartwatch — can remind you to exercise, monitor your activity level, and keep you honest. It’s the next best thing to having a personal trainer.
Choosing the right fitness tracker means considering a lot of options. Fitbit, the company that popularized the concept of wearing a fitness band, sells no fewer than 10 different models all on its own, and that’s just one of many companies in the fitness wearable business. It pays to shop carefully, because not all trackers are designed for the kinds of exercise you want to do, and some have extra features, like smartphone notifications and heart rate tracking.
The good news is that no matter which fitness tracker you choose, there’s a good chance it’ll cover all the basics pretty well. With a few exceptions, virtually all bands and watches count steps, estimate calories, track distance, and summarize your overall health and activity level.
But once you get past the basics, these wearables can be quite different. Not all fitness trackers have a heart rate monitor built in, which is something you probably want if you wear it while exercising. The Apple Watch Series 5 ups the ante with an ECG sensor. Some devices are waterproof — essential for tracking swim exercise — and not all can track stairs (they need a barometer for that). Some do a better job with sleep tracking than others, and like any mobile device, the longer your battery life, the better. Fitness trackers run the gamut with a battery life of less than a single day to as long as a month.
Finally, is the ability to get notifications from your smartphone important to you? Most fitness trackers have some smartphone features like notifications, but you might want a tracker that actually looks and works like a smartwatch.
Best Overall Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Inspire HR Activity Tracker
When you think about a fitness tracker, odds are good that you imagine something a lot like the Fitbit Inspire HR. It does all the things most people look for in a fitness tracker – it counts steps, distance moved, and has some sleep tracking features as well. In addition, it automatically recognizes when you’re doing a lot of common exercises, and can track that as well. (This model is waterproof and can track swimming.)
The “HR” stands for “heart rate” and has a full-time continuous heart rate monitor built in as well. With a great price, a five-day battery life, and the ability to do most activity-related tasks, this might be the best choice for a lot of people. The Fitbit Inspire HR has a fairly simple, understated design, which is unlikely to get in the way of your clothing choices. It comes in black and a small handful of more vibrate colors. It’ll behave as a watch, after a fashion – it doesn’t have an always-on display, but the small display can show the time and fitness info, as well as receive notifications from your phone.
So not only can you monitor your fitness data on the Inspire, but you can see the time, incoming text messages, and calls, and calendar alerts as well. No, it’s not a complete smartwatch, but it does most of the most common things you’d look for on your wrist.
Best Budget Fitness Band
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
Is it possible to have a great fitness band for well under $50? The Xiaomi Mi Band 4 is evidence that yes, you can. It has many of the most common features you’d get in a much more expensive Fitbit model. It does activity tracking, for example, with a half-dozen workout modes including treadmill, outdoor running, cycling, walking, and swimming (yes, it is waterproof as well). That said, the number of programmed workouts is a little limited when compared to other activity trackers that know a much broader range of activities. In addition, it counts steps of course, along with tracking distance and estimating calories burned.
You wouldn’t expect it at this price point, but the Mi Band 4 also includes a heart rate monitor, and has the ability to notify you with heart rate alerts if it senses anything anomalous. You can also use it for basic sleep tracking, though the band can’t record detailed data like the quantity of REM sleep you’re getting. For that, you’ll need to step up to a more premium band.
The inch-long AMOLED display is bright and colorful, and is easy to see even in bright sunlight. Even so, you get a generous battery life — it can go nearly three weeks between charges. It manages to last this long by keeping the display off except when you need it — you can configure it to turn on when you lift your wrist, or only when you tap the screen.
Best Budget Fitness Smartwatch
Not all fitness trackers need to cost a small fortune. While most fitness devices start over $100 and prices can easily climb as high as $300, the Amazfit Bip – while not bearing the most professional or reassuring name – is a solid, dependable and surprisingly feature-laden budget fitness tracker. It’s inexpensive enough that it almost qualifies as an impulse purchase.
Despite the low price, it’s a smartwatch with a wealth of fitness tracking capabilities. First of all, unlike most trackers and smartwatches, it has an always-on color display (thanks to a very low-power e-ink screen), which means you can actually use it as a watch without undue compromises. And the battery life can be measured in weeks, not days or (in the case of Apple) hours. You can expect to get between three and four weeks out of the watch between every charge – even more than a month if you disable some power-hungry features you don’t need.
As long as you’re not expecting a super polished, premium experience, the Bip has a lot to offer. It does all the basic fitness tracking, such as steps, distance, sleep monitoring, heart rate and more. Unlike most fitness trackers, it includes GPS so it can track outdoor exercises without relying on your phone at all – leave it home when you work out.
It also gets notifications from your phone, so you can monitor your texts and calendar appointments from your wrist just like with other trackers. But there are some compromises. When it comes to notifications, they’re not actionable, so to reply to a text, you’ll need to reach for your phone. And when it comes to fitness, there’s a fairly narrow menu of trackable exercises, and swimming is not on it (the Bip is water-resistant, not waterproof, so it’s best not to submerge it for very long anyway).
Obviously, the Bip is a mixed bag, but it’s one of the few budget trackers that includes an always-on display, heart rate monitoring, and GPS.
Best Apple Fitness Tracker
Apple Watch Series 5
Apple casts such a long shadow in the tech world that the company deserves its own category. After all, if you want to keep all your devices in the Apple ecosystem — and there are some huge advantages for doing that — then it pays to know which of the Apple Watches works best as a fitness tool. The latest edition of the Apple Watch, called the Series 5, is a fairly incremental update from the Series 4, which many Apple users remain happy with and haven’t found the need to upgrade from. That said, the Apple Watch Series 5 is the first model from Apple ever to offer an always-on display, which makes it a compelling option. It does this without reducing the battery life – you still get 18 hours or more between charges.
The fact that no Apple Watch, not even the new Series 5, can last for more than a full day without a recharge, means that it has no sleep tracking built in. That’s a serious disadvantage. Most other fitness trackers, and virtually all Fitbit models in particular, can sleep track. (If you really want to force your Apple Watch to monitor your sleep habits, there are third-party apps out there you can install.)
But if you can get past the lack of sleep tracking, you’ll be rewarded with a smartwatch that is very health and fitness conscious. It features female health-tracking, a full-time heart rate monitor, is waterproof for swim tracking and can track stairs (so your trips up and down flights of stairs don’t go to waste). The watch can even perform an ECG (electrocardiogram) on demand. The Apple Watch Series 5 also recognizes a slew of exercises and will start tracking them semi-automatically. Unlike Fitbit, which “just works,” Apple pops a notification on the watch when it senses a workout and asks you to allow it to start tracking. Likewise, it’s not always good at knowing when your exercise is over, and you’ll need to end the session manually most of the time. But it does work, after a fashion, and that’s something Apple could conceivably improve with software updates.
Want to try an Apple Watch but don’t want to spend over $400 on the Series 5? You can get all of these features except the always-on display with a much less expensive Apple Watch Series 4.
Best Fitness Tracker for Kids
Fitbit Ace 2 Activity Tracker
Most fitness trackers are made for adults, and that’s exactly what you’d expect. But not everyone is a grownup – what if you are looking for a simple fitness tracker for your kids? The Fitbit Ace 2 is made with children age six and older in mind. Not only is this a more affordable fitness band, but it disposes of features that kids don’t need.
The Ace 2 doesn’t have the ability to do cardio, calorie or heart rate tracking for example. Instead, it keeps things simple, with activity tracking that is limited to a step count and log of active minutes. It doesn’t track specific exercises, advanced sleep-tracking (though it does monitor the time slept), female health tracking or any sort of advanced insights. That’s because the goal here isn’t for a nine-year-old to stick to a fitness or weight loss plan. It’s to reward your kids for running around outside.
To that end, the Ace 2 is rugged – more so than most adult fitness trackers – and has a five-day battery life. And if your kids like the Ace 2, they might develop healthy lifestyle habits early and eventually graduate to a more adult fitness tracker.
Best Fitness Tracker for Runners
Garmin Forerunner 245 GPS Smartwatch
While many fitness trackers are good all-around health and fitness devices, dedicated runners might want to lean into a device that’s optimized for their particular sport of choice. Garmin’s Forerunner 245 is just such a fitness tracker. Shaped like a traditional round-faced wristwatch, it’s a GPS watch that has a deep and rich set of fitness tracking features.
First impressions are great. The Forerunner 245 has a bright, sharp and attractive display with a perfectly round face – there’s no notch or cutout like some smartwatches resort to. And it’s quite thin and light, making it feel more like a traditional watch than a high-tech device strapped to your wrist.
The Forerunner 245 automatically tracks a wealth of running and running-adjacent activities. Start to run, jump on a treadmill, cycle, row, or use an elliptical or stair stepper, and it’ll start to track the action. It also tracks yoga, walking, and a handful of other activities. It’s also waterproof and can track swimming. Of course, this is a GPS watch, so there’s no need to carry your phone with you when exercising.
And since you can leave your phone at home, Garmin added music support as well – you can store about 500 songs (that’s around 3.5GB of storage) on board, or play streaming audio through services like Spotify, Pandora or Deezer. Just connect a set of Bluetooth earbuds and you’re in business.
You’ll get about a week of use out of the Forerunner between charges, which means you can wear this tracker to bed. Yes, it has some cursory sleep tracking features, but if that feature is important to you, you might be better off with a Fitbit, which really does sleep tracking well.
Best Multisport Smartwatch
Coros is a familiar name to cyclists, and the Apex watch leverages that goodwill with a superb fitness tracker for someone who lives a cross-training lifestyle. The watch tracks a wealth of exercises — some indoor ones like cardio, spinning, and swimming, but also veritable catalog of outdoor activities that include biking, skiing, hiking, triathlons, and much more. The strength and training modes let you create a circuit featuring from over 200 included exercises, or you can design your own complex interval workouts. There’s even an option to download additional workouts from the COROS website. And it’ll do it for a little more than three weeks on a single charge.
One of the more innovative features in the Apex is the AI Trainer, which estimates the energy you have left after your workout and displays an estimated time until your body recovers to full stamina. Running or cycling? A navigation feature lets you follow a pre-loaded route on the watch, and the integrated GPS lets you get real-time alerts to stay on course. That’s not the only alerts the watch can generate. Even without an internet connection, the Apex warns you of approaching storms via the integrated barometer. And a sunrise/sunset tracker can keep you appraised about how much light is left in the day.
The actual watch design is a bit unusual, and you’re likely to either love it or hate it. There’s no touchscreen — instead, you’ll find a large knob and button. All the watch settings and screens are controlled by spinning the knob and pushing it to confirm, or using the other button as a “back” button. It’s clearly powerful and designed by people who truly understand what dedicated athletes need from a fitness tracker.
Best Fitness Band with GPS
Fitbit Charge 4 Activity Tracker
Fitbit’s Charge 4 looks like a lot of other fitness trackers; it’s a wristband with a rectangular display. The Charge 4 straddles the line between a band and a smartwatch in size, though – if you’re looking for a tracker with a somewhat oversized display, this might be right for you. The Charge 4 makes good use of the display with a sharp, monochrome screen. It shows time and basic fitness data, as well as getting notifications from your phone. Not only can you accept and reject calls, but you can see texts and calendar alerts as well. You can also send Quick Replies – short, custom and pre-configured messages without touching your phone. And it includes Fitbit Pay, which lets you use it to make digital purchases, like a smartwatch.
But the Charge 4 is first and foremost a fitness tracker. It keeps track of all the basics like steps and distance, and it also recognizes when you’re starting to exercise and tracks that for you as well. A feature new to the Fitbit family is called Active Zone Minutes, which tries to motivate you to keep burning fat or working at a high high rate or in cardio.
It’s also water-resistant and tracks swimming. If you’re a runner, you’ll appreciate a feature that pauses tracking when you briefly stop running. That means stopping at a traffic light doesn’t ruin your stats. There’s also a built-in heart rate sensor, which increases the fidelity of your fitness tracking. And it has integrated GPS, so you don’t need to bring your phone to track a run — but if you do bring your phone, you may appreciate that the band includes Spotify.
If you wear the Charge 4 to bed, you’ll be rewarded with some fairly in-depth sleep tracking. The tracker also has female health tracking capabilities and does all this for about a full week between charges.
Best Premium Smartwatch Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Ionic Smartwatch
The Fitbit Ionic is a good choice for a fitness tracker if you would like to frequently leave your phone at home – it’s a full-featured smartwatch and duplicates a lot of things you’d ordinarily do with an iPhone or Android device, and it does it with a five-day battery life.
Because this is a Fitbit fitness tracker, you can expect it to do all the usual fitness tracking – that’s a given. It tracks steps and distance, as well as sleep tracking, automatic exercise detection, and thanks to a waterproof design, swim tracking as well. Thanks to the larger watch-like display, the Ionic can also help you through exercise sessions with on-screen workouts.
The Ionic is Fitbit’s top-of-the-line fitness tracker and is priced to match that status, but it also has a few features you generally won’t find in many other devices. It has built-in GPS, for example. If you’re a runner, you can leave your smartphone at home and the Ionic can accurately track your route all by itself. It’s missing a few things as well, though. The Fitbit Versa 2, a similar but less-well-equipped smartwatch, has built-in Alexa voice assistance and an always-on display. Weirdly, both of those features are missing from this tracker.
Best Fitness Tracker for Hang Gliding (and other Esoteric Sports)
Garmin Vivosmart 4 Activity Tracker
You might think that Fitbit has the market sewn up on wrist-worn fitness trackers, and you’d be mostly right – that company has an extensive line of trackers at virtually every price point, which seems to leave very little air for other companies to breathe. But while Fitbit might be synonymous with fitness tracking in the minds of many people, companies like Garmin offer their own line of trackers, and some are excellent choices for managing your health and fitness.
The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is the latest version of the company’s successful wrist-worn tracker, and it tracks everything you’d expect it to, including steps and distance, as well as an estimate of your calories burned throughout the day. There’s also a built-in heart rate monitor and sleep tracking.
The display is a little smaller than what you’ll find on many trackers, but it’s framed with a stylish aluminum bezel, which adds a chic look to the device that is appealing for both men and women – few fitness devices that the effort to look like anything other than a hunk of plastic.
You get about a full week of battery life out of each charge, and the Vivosmart 4 goes above and beyond with the ability to track a large array of exercises – not just the ordinary stuff like biking, running, and treadmill, but pretty unusual activities like BMX, motocross, rafting and hang gliding. That’s right – hang gliding. Overall, the Vivosmart 4 tracks a greater range of activities and records more in-depth data than most fitness trackers on the market, making this a superb choice for people who are deeply invested in quantifying themselves and their activities.