Everyone knows that staying in shape helps control weight, reduces the risk of disease, improves mood and boosts energy. However, new research suggests that good physical fitness offers even more advantages than that. According to Harvard Health, exercise can actually change the brain on a deep level.
However, maintaining a personal fitness routine isn’t always easy. Kids, work, school and other responsibilities can sap our time and energy. Moreover, progress can be slow and hard to notice. It can take several weeks of intense effort– or perhaps even months– before the long-term benefits of a new exercise routine begin to be realized. This, together with the fact that people who begin a fitness routine after a long sedentary period often gain weight before they lose it, can be extremely disheartening.
If you find yourself lacking workout motivation, you may want to consider buying a fitness tracker. Fitness trackers can help you take a closer look at your body and how it’s changing over the short-term. Once you see that you really are making progress, you won’t give up as easily. Monitoring changes in heart rate, for example, can show you proof that your endurance improving. Fitness trackers can benefit you when you’re not at the gym as well, since they are equipped with activity monitors that remind you to stay moving throughout the day.
Here are the best fitness trackers you can buy:
- The Fitbit Charge 3 is a well-rounded fitness tracker that’s equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, innovative fitness widgets and an optional contactless payment feature.
- If sleep tracking and stress management are your main priorities, Garmin Vívosmart 4 may be worth a look.
- Samsung Galaxy Fit is tops when it comes to accuracy and its beautiful, easy-to-use interface is another key highlight.
- If you don’t like the idea of having to bring your smartphone with you when you go on a run, Garmin vívosport with its built-in GPS chip could be ideal.
- Xiaomi Mi Band 4 offers all the core features you’d expect to find in a fitness tracker, only it costs half as much as you might expect to pay for one.
The overall best fitness tracker
Fitbit Charge 3
The Fitbit Charge 3 shows evidence that Fitbit has learned a thing or two since releasing the second edition of their Charge line of fitness trackers. It’s lighter and thinner, plus it’s equipped with a new swim mode that tracks the number of laps you swim as well as the overall distance that you’ve covered while in the pool. Along with all the standard fitness tracker features you’d expect (pedometer, heart rate monitoring, etc.) it can also detect Sp02 and analyze the quality of sleep that you’re getting.
- Innovative interface. The handy inductive button vibrates when you use it, and the touchscreen controls are designed with ease of use in mind.
- Good battery life. The Charge 3’s rechargeable battery lasts a full 7 days.
- Lighter than the previous model. It’s significantly slimmer and 20 percent lighter than the Charge 2.
- Advanced tracking features. Sp02 monitoring, sleep analysis and connected GPS are some of the Charge 3’s best premium features.
- Thin, sleek design. The elegant look of the Charge 3 is a significant perk.
- Swim mode. There’s a new lap and distance tracking feature for swimmers.
- Optional contactless payments. The special edition of the Charge 3 supports Fitbit Pay.
- Pricey compared to competing fitness trackers. Other Fitbit bands are significantly cheaper.
- It sometimes doesn’t wake up right away. Sometimes you have to try several times to activate the interface.
In a nutshell
The Fitbit Charge 3 is the overall best fitness tracker on the market. It’s easy to use, lasts a long time on a single charge, plus it’s lighter and has more features compared to other fitness tracker brands. The optional contactless payment feature adds additional value.
The best fitness tracker for sleep and stress analysis
Garmin Vívosmart 4
Garmin Vívosmart 4’s feature set seems to cater to people who primarily workout indoors and are interested in cutting down on stress and improving their sleep habits. It offers above average stress and sleep analysis widgets, a reasonable price tag and a unique Body Battery feature that combines all of your health data into a single metric.
- Innovative Body Battery feature. This stat gives you a bird’s eye view of your overall health and energy level.
- Stress analysis. The Vívosmart 4’s heart rate sensors are sensitive enough to detect the subtle heart rate spikes that indicate the presence of stress.
- Sensitive sleep tracking. It measures not only sleep disturbances and cycles, but also SpO2 fluctuations.
- Stylish looks. The metallic trim around the display gives the Vívosmart 4 a classy edge.
- Reasonable price tag. It’s one of the least expensive fitness trackers out there.
- Above average battery life. You can get 4 days of use out of it with all the sensors on, and up to 7 days if you turn off the SpO2 sensor.
- Several color options are available. Style options include gray with rose-gold accents, berry with light gold, azure blue and silver, and black on black.
- No GPS. Since there’s no way to receive GPS input from your phone, it can’t accurately measure the distance you cover during your workouts.
- You can’t switch out the band. The unibody design makes replacing the band impossible.
In a nutshell
The low cost of the Vívosmart 4 comes at a price. Its makers decided against including a GPS feature. Instead, they decided to offer more precise sleep tracking compared to the competition as well as unique features like Body Battery and stress detection.
The most accurate fitness tracker
Samsung Galaxy Fit
Samsung’s Galaxy Fit is an affordable, user-friendly fitness tracker with great battery life. It’s also surprisingly accurate, especially given how inexpensive it is. The pedometer, heart rate monitor and sleep tracker features are precise enough to go toe-to-toe with their dedicated, single-function counterparts.
- Highly accurate. The pedometer, heart rate monitor and sleep tracker offer consistent performance and impressive accuracy.
- Good smartphone compatibility. Real Time OS lets you accept or reject calls as well as view text messages.
- Easy-to-use interface. Different watch faces display different health stats, and all the controls are intuitive and feel natural.
- Download additional widgets. You can use this fitness tracker to do things like monitor your caffeine intake, track your upcoming appointments and more.
- Automatically recognizes your workout activity. The Galaxy Fit switches among various workout modes (treadmill, walking, running, elliptical, rowing, and dynamic) automatically.
- One battery charge lasts 7 days. You can use the Galaxy Fit for an entire week on a single charge.
- Good value. The Galaxy Fit does its job well, especially considering its low price point.
- May look chunky on small wrists. It’s not as slim or trendy looking as some fitness trackers.
- You have to use two different apps to control it. Some features are controlled by Galaxy Fit, while others require you to use Samsung Health.
In a nutshell
Even though other fitness trackers have more to offer in the way of style and ease of use, Samsung Galaxy delivers when it comes to accuracy, consistency and battery performance. Its competitive price tag is another point that’s worth considering.
The best fitness tracker with a GPS feature
Most fitness trackers track where you go during your workout by connecting to your smartphone’s GPS. The advantage of this is that leaving off the GPS helps conserve battery life. In addition, GPS units are expensive and fitness trackers that don’t have one tend to be less pricey. On the other hand, having to carry two devices with you when you work out gets annoying fast. Since Garmin vívosport has its own built-in GPS unit, it’s a lot more convenient– and it’s not as expensive as you might think.
- Built-in GPS. The vívosport’s built-in GPS unit is one of its top features.
- Strength training widget. You can use the strength training feature to track reps, sets and rest times.
- Seven day battery life. With GPS on, the vívosport will run for eight hours straight.
- Emergency tracking. LiveTrack5 lets you get help if you find yourself in a crisis situation.
- Unique fitness age widget. This feature gives you an estimate of your overall fitness.
- Detects your fitness activity. MoveIQ switches among various workout modes automatically.
- Color display. The display is colorful and the intuitive screen layout makes it easy to read.
- The GPS is sometimes slow to connect. It occasionally lags when attempting to find a GPS satellite.
- No swimming widget. Even though the vívosport is waterproof, for some reason there’s no swimming mode.
In a nutshell
If you don’t like the idea of carrying two mobile devices with you every time you go out, this handy fitness tracker from Garmin offers an all-in-one solution. The GPS isn’t quite as quick as standard smartphone GPS units, but it seems to work well enough once it connects.
The best value fitness tracker
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
The Xiaomi Mi Band 4 is an incredible deal considering its more-than-competitive feature set. It costs less than half as much as many fitness trackers, yet it does a competent job of tracking steps and analyzing heart rates. Since its waterproof and has a swim tracking mode, you can even take it with you when you feel like doing some laps in the pool. The Mi Band 4’s bright, high contrast display is another notable plus.
- Very competitive sticker price. You won’t find a better fitness tracker at this price point.
- Accurate sensors. The Mi Band 4 tracks heart rate and counts steps with a high degree of precision.
- Swimming feature. Swim mode tells you approximately how far you’ve swam during your workout.
- Sharp, high contrast display. The display is bright and easy to read in any lighting condition.
- Compatible with Mi Band 3 wristbands. There are many styles and designs to choose from.
- Connected GPS. You can use your smartphone’s GPS to track your workout activities.
- Begin and end training sessions without a phone. Previous versions of the Mi Band required you to use your smartphone to initiate a training session.
- No multitasking during a session. You can’t use the stopwatch or timer once you begin a training session.
- The sleep tracker only provides basic data. Dedicated sleep trackers provide much better sleep tracking performance.
In a nutshell
If you like the idea of owning a fitness tracker but you the idea of spending a lot of money on one is a turnoff, the Mi Band 4 could be your best option. Even though it’s surprisingly inexpensive, it actually works quite well.
Buying guide for fitness trackers
Various fitness trackers have different ways of charting out where you’ve been during your run. Most require you to bring your smartphone with you when you go out for a jog, which is somewhat of a hassle. Some fitness trackers come with a built-in GPS unit. Other fitness trackers don’t use GPS at all and instead rely on pedometry to estimate how far you managed to go during a session.
Display quality and type
Fitness trackers with large, full-color displays may look nice, but they typically have poorer battery performance compared to fitness trackers that have smaller, more streamlined displays. Touch-sensitive displays can be convenient, but some touch controls don’t make much sense. Another factor to consider is the fact that touch-sensitive screens are often difficult to operate when it’s raining– and sweat can get in the way, as well.
Heart rate sensor accuracy
Some fitness trackers only give you a ballpark estimate of your heart rate, but others can go toe to toe with single-function heart rate monitor devices. The more heart rate sensors your fitness tracker has, the more sensitive it will be. Typically, you get six sensors, but some fitness trackers have more. Optical heart rate sensors can only read your basic heart rate, but electrical heart rate sensors can also output EKG data.
Almost all fitness trackers have a basic running mode, but some can be used while lifting weights or when you’re doing laps in the pool. Some fitness trackers can detect what you’re doing and switch modes automatically, while others require you to enter changes manually.
Emergency messaging and weather alerts
Emergency messaging features let you send out alerts to friends, family and emergency services. Some fitness trackers can send your GPS position to other devices so that your loved ones can keep track of where you are when you’re exercising.
Fitness trackers can typically last for about a week on a single charge. However, certain features– like GPS mode, for example– can reduce the amount of time that your battery will last. Configurable energy saving features let you get even better battery performance.
Style and wristband options
Established fitness tracker brands tend to have better style and wrist options compared to lesser-known newcomers. Many fitness trackers are designed to be backwards compatible with previous models.
Not all fitness tracker apps are created equal. That’s why it might be a good idea to find out what your prospective fitness tracker’s app looks like before you buy. If you don’t like the way your fitness tracker’s app works, you may be able to export your health data to a different health app like Google Health, Apple Health and others.
Manufacturers of basic fitness trackers often sacrifice processing speed and sensor quality to make sure the price of the device stays low. Common features include pedometry, heart rate monitoring and sleep analysis. Expect to pay around $50.
Fitness trackers that cost around $100 usually have brighter displays and more fitness widgets. Standard features among mid-range fitness trackers include GPS tracking, extended battery life and swimming mode.
Premium fitness trackers have more and better sensors, which allows for greater precision and a wider array of features. They also tend to look a bit nicer compared to mid-range and budget fitness trackers. You can get a good high-end fitness tracker for around $140.
Frequently asked questions
Q: How accurate are fitness trackers?
A: Since different fitness trackers use different types of sensors, accuracy varies from model to model. Usually, the more sensors a fitness tracker has, the more accurate it is. Fitness trackers that use nine different sensors to determine heart rate tend to be more accurate than those that use six, for example. The quality of the sensor matters, as well. You may not necessarily need perfectly accurate data if all you want to do is track your fitness training progress. Consistency generally matters more than accuracy.
Q: What’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker?
A: Smartwatches have more features, but they also cost more and have worse battery performance. Another difference is size and weight. Fitness trackers are generally lighter and slimmer than smartwatches.
Q: Can fitness trackers detect serious underlying health issues?
A: That depends on what kind of features your fitness tracker has. Fitness trackers with an EKG feature can detect heartbeat irregularities. If your resting heart rate is above 100 beats per minute, that could indicate the presence of a critical health issue as well.
- If you have a competitive streak, you may want to consider joining a challenge group online. Participants share their fitness data, encourage each other and discuss their fitness goals. Various fitness tracker brands host challenges and you can find challenge groups on Facebook and other social networks as well.
- Be sure to read your prospective fitness tracker’s terms of service agreement before you buy to find out how your personal data will be used. Responsible fitness tracker brands commit to deleting your personal data upon request and promise to never share your data with third parties without authorization.
- When you clean your fitness tracker, use plenty of water and a small amount of mild soap. Hand soaps, body soaps, dish soaps and household cleaners may cause skin irritation.