Count More Than Steps
There's never been a better selection of fitness trackers, but with choice comes confusion. Which tracker has the features that are right for you and the activities you do? Here are some tips and recommendations for choosing the best tracker for your needs.
Try Before You Buy
If you want to try a tracker out before committing to it, we recommend Lumoid, a service that lets you try three trackers for a week for $35. Check the fees, as they are subject to change.
Another way to try fitness tracking in general (but without a wearable) is to use a mobile app that counts your steps. This method is the most lightweight, and it could be of interest if you're a beginner. Some apps we like are Argus, Fitbit, and Moves.
If you run or bicycle, we recommend tracking your runs or rides with an app before going whole-hog and splurging on a tracker. Why? With some trackers, you still need to carry your phone to get accurate pacing, distance, and mapping, so you'll want to know before you make a purchase if you're okay with carrying your phone, or if you'd prefer a tracker with built-in GPS so you don't have to. A few apps we recommend are Runtastic PRO (for running), Cyclemeter (for bicycling), and Strava (for both running and cycling).
Set Your Spending Limit
In general, most fitness trackers cost between $50 and $250. If you pay less than $50, you will probably get a subpar product with poor accuracy (the Misfit Flash Link is a notable exception). In addition, less expensive trackers usually don't have a display, so you can't see how many steps you've taken unless you look at your smartphone.
More expensive trackers usually include built-in optical heart rate monitors and GPS, and often, these features are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts. Don't get suckered into buying a tracker with a heart rate monitor if your primary activity is walking; it's an unnecessary expense. If you walk and don't do much else, there are great options in the $49-$149 range.
If you do work out often, we highly recommend spending at least $149, as that's the price point where you'll start to see the features that are useful to very active users.
Choose Your Style: Bracelet, Clip, Watch
A very important question to ask yourself before choosing a fitness tracker is the type of form factor you want. Fitness trackers are usually bracelets, watches, or clip-ons. Most clip-on devices these days can also be worn on the wrist, but not vice versa. Bracelets and watches are hard to lose. Clip-ons can fall off or get thrown into the wash.
That said, bracelets and watches can get in the way when typing on a computer or washing dishes, for example. If you're bothered by having something on your wrist 24/7, you're probably better off with a clip-on. Additionally, wrist-worn devices are not always eye-catching accessories to your outfit.
Clip-on devices are smaller and more discreet when worn on a waistband, like the Lumo Run, or the front of a bra. These clip-ons don't have a display, meaning you have to rely on a smartphone to see your tracked activity.
Do You Want Heart Rate Monitoring?
Heart rate monitoring sounds like the best feature ever, but there are different kinds of heart rate monitors, and frankly, some people don't need it at all. A built-in heart rate monitor drives up the price.
Optical heart rate monitors are the ones built into the device itself. The Apple Watch Series 2 has an optical heart rate monitor, as does the Fitbit Charge 2, among others. Some very good fitness trackers don't have a heart rate monitor built-in, but can pair with a chest strap. Most every device from Garmin and Polar supports a chest strap (like the super Polar H7), and you can usually bundle one in when purchasing a tracker for an extra $40 or $50.
Finally, if you're interested in knowing your resting heart rate, you don't need to buy a tracker with an optical heart rate monitor to find it. Many smartphone apps, including Withings Healthmate, let you take your heart rate in about 15 seconds using the phone's camera. Check your pulse once or twice a day, and you're good to go. For more, see The Best Heart Rate Monitors.
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Will You Track Sleep?
Many fitness trackers record your sleep. When they do, they generally watch for movement using a three-axis accelerometer to a more sensitive degree than they do during the day. Some devices report graphs showing the times when you were in light sleep and deep sleep based on motion.
We really like the Jawbone line of trackers for sleep tracking, because you can connect the UP app to a companion app calledUP Coffee that tracks caffeine intake and correlates it with sleep. But Jawbone might be switching its focus to clinical services, so we don't highly recommend any of its trackers at this time.
Swimmers will want a waterproof tracker, but keep in mind that not all water-safe trackers actually track swimming. A couple that do are theApple Watch Nike+ and Series 2.
Runners will probably want a watch that shows time, distance, pace, and lap time, at the very least. If you want good accuracy for those metrics without having to carry a smartphone, you need a runner's watch with built-in GPS, such as the Garmin Forerunner 735XT. For more, see The Best Fitness Trackers for Running.
Also consider the display. Otherwise excellent devices like the Apple Watch Series 2 and Fitbit Charge 2 have screens that turn off after a few seconds. If you want to see your stats at all times, or simply use your tracker as a wristwatch, look for one with an always-on display. How you control the tracker is also important. If you like to run in the cold while wearing gloves, you may want to steer clear of devices that only have touch-enabled displays.
Cyclists have even more considerations. There's a difference between tracking how many miles you pedal and calories you burn versus monitoring your power and cadence. If all you want is the former, you can find a few fitness trackers that support bicycling as an activity, including the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive. More serious cyclists will want a device that can pair with additional bike equipment, like a cadence sensor, and should look at devices from sport-specific companies, like Garmin, Mio Global, and Polar.
The App Experience
A fitness tracker's app matters. Whether on your phone or on the web, the app is absolutely vital because it is where you make sense of the information the tracker collects.
Fitbit has one of the best apps and websites we've tested. It lets you record all kinds of data that many other companies don't, such as calories consumed, allergy severity, and stress level. Withings is also a favorite for providing a comprehensive account where you can measure your weight, glucose readings, and all kinds of health information.
If you want total body analysis, look for a system that incorporates a smart bathroom scale. Fitbit, Polar, and Withings do. Check out the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale, the Polar Balance, and the Withings Body Cardio. These send your weight directly to your account, so you can't cheat the system by entering a lower number. The QardioBase is another top choice, especially for pregnant women.
Smartwatch vs. Fitness Tracker
Several fitness trackers have some smartwatch functionality, and some smartwatches have fitness features, too. But a smartwatch is different than a fitness tracker, so make sure your heart is in the right place and you know which device you want. Fitness trackers put fitness tracking first! See our list of The Best Smartwatches for recommendations in that category.
With so many good fitness trackers on the market right now, and promising ones on the horizon, it's hard to contain them all in just one list. We've limited our picks here to trackers that have scored four stars or higher, but there are lots of other very good options out there that might be right for you. We update this list monthly, so make sure to check back for our latest recommendations. And for the very latest reviews, see our Fitness Trackers product guide.
%displayPrice% at %seller% With continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS, and broad appeal, the Fitbit Surge is the best all-day fitness tracker to date. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Fitbit Charge 2 does everything the Fitbit Charge HR can, along with new idle alerts, automatic activity tracking, guided breathing sessions, interchangeable bands, and the option to connect your phone for GPS. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Garmin Forerunner 735XT fitness tracker gives pertinent information to triathletes about their sports, including advice you don't often see, like recovery time. It's comprehensive and easy to use but will set you back a pretty penny. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Thanks to a smart balance of features and price, the $20 Misfit Flash Link is an excellent fitness tracker for first-time users. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Apple Watch Nike+ boasts sporty styling and some exclusive features that make it a solid alternative to the Series 2 smartwatch, especially for runners. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% With the Alta HR, Fitbit updates its most stylish tracker with continuous heart rate monitoring, better battery life, and smarter sleep tracking. Fashion-conscious self-quantifiers: This may be the device you've been waiting for. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Misfit Ray combines top-notch fitness and sleep tracking with one of the best-looking designs we've seen. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Garmin Forerunner 35 is a premium fitness tracker, and it includes the GPS and heart monitoring features not found in lesser-priced models. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% With some solid improvements over its predecessor, the Samsung Gear Fit2 is a powerful fitness tracker and a fairly functional smartwatch. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music fitness tracker provides continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS with route tracking, excellent battery life, and music streaming, all wrapped up in a lightweight, waterproof design. Read the full review
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