Fitness trackers aren’t only for runners and keen gym goers, they’ve become great accessories to help anyone maintain a healthy lifestyle, and provide data on everything from sleep to heart rhythms. We’ve worn, tested, and reviewed more than 100 fitness bands and smartwatches, so we have a good grasp of which ones are best.
Here are the models that stood out the most, and the Fitbit Charge 4 is our top pick, due to its light and stylish design, long battery life, and basic smartphone connectivity features. It’s not the only one we recommend, so if a Fitbit isn’t for you, we’ve got plenty of alternatives. While this list concentrates mostly on fitness bands, smartwatches also do a great job of tracking fitness and activity, so if a more watch-like design appeals make sure to look at our best smartwatches list.
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 4:
There are good reasons why Fitbit is the top brand in the fitness-tracking market: Fitbit continues to release updated models with new features and designs, and the Fitbit Charge 4 is a perfect example of this. The design isn’t all that different to the Charge 3, so it still offers a relatively sleek look and a button-free design. 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.
The tracker has a full roster of workout and health tracking features, ranging from automatically detecting workouts, to tracking menstrual cycles for women. 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.
Theoffers 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 them without making it too easy to do so. It can also receive text message and call notifications from your phone.
Read our full Fitbit Charge 4 review
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 take 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 is 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’s more expensive at $399 upwards, but has an ECG, SpO2 measurement, and a new optical heart rate sensor too. Whichever one you choose, it’s by far the best health and activity tracker for iPhone owners.
Read our full Apple Watch SE 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.
Thesyncs 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 2 is a $100 fitness tracker that’s high on features and performance.
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 Fitbit Inspire 2:
If you’re told to picture a fitness band in your mind, the Fitbit Inspire 2 probably looks a lot like it, and its features are exactly what you’d expect too. In addition to the usual activity and workout tracking modes it will monitor your sleep at night, and has some interesting features like Active Zone Minutes, a specific goal to meet based around your level of weekly activity.
The design may look quite generic, but look closely and the sleeker body is smaller than previous models, and the strap itself can be quickly removed and swapped for versions in different colors or made from different materials. The Inspire 2 is swim proof and has a battery that will last up to 10 days. It connects with your phone and shows notifications, plus there are guided breathing exercises, and menstrual cycle tracking features too. There’s a heart rate sensor, but no built-in GPS or additional features like SpO2 measurements.
At $100 the Fitbit Inspire 2 is the most keenly priced model in the brand’s range, but if it’s still over what you want to pay, take a look at the Xiaomi Mi Band 5. It’s regularly available for around $40 through Amazon, and has essentially the same features as the Inspire 2. Just make sure you find the global version, rather than the China-only model.
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, theis 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 Withings ScanWatch measures blood oxygen levels to identify sleep problems, and has a great app for showing the data.
Who it’s for: Great sleep tracking in a really cool design.
Why we picked the Withings ScanWatch:
The Withings ScanWatch is ideally suited to sleep tracking. It collects data using the heart rate sensor and blood oxygen monitor, along with the accelerometer to track movement overnight, then collates everything into a very clear and logically laid out graph inside the accompanying app.
In addition to showing duration and sleep stages, it also looks at your breathing to interpret whether you may be suffering from sleep apnea. None of the information is difficult to interpret, and each night you’re given a Sleep Score, so you can work towards making improvements. The watch itself is light and the strap is very flexible, so it’s comfortable to wear overnight.
Sleep tracking is just one part of the ScanWatch’s health-focused toolkit. It has an ECG along with the heart rate sensor, plus it takes SpO2 levels, and has GPS onboard too. There’s plenty of fitness monitoring, but it’s relatively basic compared to models aimed more at athletes, but anyone familiar with a Fitbit will feel right at home. The watch is water resistant and is swim proof.
There are two case sizes, 38mm and 42mm, for the ScanWatch and prices start at $279. It’s classy and looks great on your wrist, and the accompanying app makes understanding the data collected very easy. It’s a great alternative to the Apple Watch SE if sleep tracking is important, as the feature is much better here than on the Apple Watch.
Read our full Withings ScanWatch 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.
If you’re waiting for a sale, take a look at our predictions for Prime Day smartwatch deals ahead of Prime Day 2020.
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.