10 best fitness trackers
Here’s our pick of the fitness wearables that help you move more, sleep better and stay motivated
There was a time when fitness trackers were little more than fancy pedometers that encouraged you to count daily steps. But that’s all changed. These days, even the most low-budget fitness bands are like having a personal sports science lab strapped to your wrist.
You still get updates on how much and how often you move, but contemporary devices also reveal incredibly detailed insights into all facets of fitness, health and wellbeing. From heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking, to measuring how stressed we are, we have access to more information about our healthy – or not so healthy – habits than ever before.
There’s more choice too, with products that cater for a wider range of fitness needs such as everyday fitness-focussed devices from Fitbit and Withings, smartwatches from familiar faces such as Apple and Samsung, and sportier products from Garmin and Polar. The list of tech tools at our disposal to help us get in shape is long. All this competition means there are some great bargains to be had but it also makes picking the right tracker almost as tough as turning up to that 6.30am spin class.
So, how do you find your perfect fitness partner? Some factors to consider include cost, with prices ranging from as little as £20 for a budget tracker right up to £399 for a fitness-skilled smartwatch such as the Apple Watch 4.
Then there’s design, with the main choice between the more traditional tracking bands made popular by Fitbit, or a smartwatch that tends to come with a classic strap and larger screen.
You can expect to pay more for the smartwatch-style trackers as these tend to offer a broader range of general smart features beyond fitness tracking. This would include a built-in music player or streamed music, the ability to add new apps, customisable watch faces, phone-free calls and contactless payments.
Many of the mid-range classic band style trackers now offer built-in heart rate tracking so you can use them to optimise your workouts with heart rate zone training, get more accurate calorie burn stats and shed light on your overall fitness progression by monitoring changes in your resting heart.
If you’re after a device that’s as much about smart notifications as reminding you to move more often, then you should also pay close attention to the size and quality of the screen. Some smaller screen bracelet-style options will let you read but not respond to alerts, while touchscreen trackers such as the Fitbit Versa offers things like quick replies.
For sleep tracking, it’s worth checking if a device splits your stats into sleep stages so you can see how much light, deep and REM sleep you’re getting, and consider whether it tracks this automatically. Battery life varies widely with some of the simpler bands lasting up to seven days, while the smartwatches tend to need charging daily or every other day, depending on how you’re using them.
If you’re a semi-serious sporty type and you want something that can also cope with your running or cycling sessions, it’s worth checking if there’s dedicated workout tracking and if you get GPS built in. Some simply piggyback your phone’s sensors to provide key stats distance, speed and pace stats. Water babies beware: not all trackers are swim-friendly either.
If you’re really serious about sports, then you’ll probably be better off with also a dedicated running watch or a multi-sports watch that also tracks general activity rather than a fitness tracker with limited sports.
One final aspect that’s often overlooked is the partner app. This is where you’ll potentially spend a lot of time digging deeper into all of your data, looking for patterns and even getting tips on the areas you need to improve, so making sure you like the way the data is presented is key. Luckily they’re free to download so it’s smart to try before you buy.
With all of that in mind, we put the latest and best fitness trackers to the test to see how they fared for comfort, battery life, accuracy, range of features and, of course, value for money. Here’s our pick of the best fitness trackers you can buy right now.
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Garmin Vivosmart 4: £119.99, Garmin
With its giant range of sports watches and fitness trackers, Garmin has smashed it out of the park over the past few years and this latest slim line update to the Vivosmart is no exception.
In terms of design, it’s not a million miles away from the Fitbit Alta HR, with a basic but subtle style that’s lightweight and comfortable enough to be worn 24/7. Like the Alta HR, it also lacks built-in GPS, which might be a deal-breaker for some.
The Vivosmart 4’s bright screen automatically adjusts to the light, so it’s readable in all conditions, though at 6.6 mm x 17.7 mm, the amount of useful data you can see on your wrist is a bit limited. That’s a shame, because the range of fitness stats it collects is impressive.
In addition to the usual daily activity tracking, there’s also a built-in optical heart rate for keeping tabs on your BPM day and night, and a Pulse Ox sensor that estimates blood oxygen saturation, to add a layer of detail to your sleep tracking. You get VO2 Max as a guide to your fitness levels and a new Body Battery feature that assesses your energy levels to help you identify when you’re primed to be active or when you need to hit the sofa.
If you’re a regular in the weights section at the gym, you’ll also enjoy automatic reps, sets and rest counting, though it’s not always 100 per cent accurate. Those in search of calm can also monitor their mood with all-day stress tracking.
All your data is synced wirelessly and automatically to the hugely capable, but sometimes complicated, Garmin Connect app.
Unlike its closest rival the Fitbit Alta HR, the Vivosmart is waterproof to 5ATM, meaning you can take it for a dip in the pool. You also get an Alta-matching seven days battery life between charges.
Fitbit Alta HR: £119.99, John Lewis
The Fitbit Alta HR is an old-school fitness band with an updated sense of style and sophistication. The simple, slim line design – with five colour combinations – makes this a great choice for anyone who wants a comfortable and understated way to track their fitness. The addition of a built-in heart rate monitor also means it’s a far more serious fitness tool than its predecessor the Fitbit Alta.
The heart rate sensor provides heart rate zone training, more accurate calorie burn stats and resting heart rate tracking. Fitbit using the latter generates a Cardio Fitness Score so you can monitor your fitness progress.
Other neat features we loved included automatic workout recognition that spots when you start a session and what activity you’re up to, whether that’s walking, running or cycling. Swimmers are in luck, too, as this device is sweat, rain and water resistant, rather than just waterproof.
Fitbit’s sleep tracking has always been solid and the Alta HR doesn’t disappoint with automatic sleep tracking that splits your nightly zeds into stages. During the day, handy move reminders urge you to reach hourly step targets, plus you get all of your text, calls and calendars alerts, though these aren’t the easiest to read on the screen.
There’s a nicely competitive seven-day battery life, so you don’t have to charge it too frequently. All your stats sync wirelessly and automatically to the Fitbit app, which is also one of the best for ease of use, presentation and community, if sharing and competing floats your motivational boat.
Fitbit Versa: £159, Amazon
The Versa is the second fitness-focussed smartwatch in the Fitbit range and sports a much more pleasing Apple Watch-esque design than the square-faced, angular Ionic that came before. It’s also incredibly light, with a bright 1.34-inch colour display that’s crisp and easy to read.
Appearances are a little deceiving, however, as the Versa isn’t quite Apple Watch quality. That said, Fitbit has taken care with the Versa styling, including the ability to personalise it with interchangeable straps and customisable watch faces.
As with the Alta HR, there’s built in heart rate tracking on the wrist for deeper fitness insights across 15 sports modes. Sleep tracking is automatic and uses the heart rate monitor to accurately break your nightly rest into sleep stages, plus you get those useful hourly move reminders too.
Where the Versa starts to stand out is with health tracking features specifically for women that enables users to log periods, track your menstrual cycle and gauge ovulation.
Unlike the Apple Watch and other dedicated sports watches like the Polar Vantage M or the Garmin Forerunner 235, there’s no built-in GPS, so if you want to track runs and rides you’ll need your phone in tow. It is waterproof to 50m, however, and tracks swimming along with yoga.
The Versa also includes a free, three-session taster of Fitbit Coach, a premium service that offers personalised guided workouts and coaching plans to help you hit your goals.
Beyond fitness, the Versa’s smarts extend to call, text and app alerts from your paired smartphone and there’s also Fitbit Pay contactless payments. You can download third party apps, with Strava and Starbucks pre-loaded – just don’t expect a huge choice. It also comes with storage and wireless playback for 300 songs, though this feels a bit redundant when you’re running or cycling as you still need to carry your phone.
Battery life stretches to a healthy four days, making this is a solid, wallet-friendly alternative for Android users who want a smartwatch, but can’t use the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch 4: £399.99, Apple
It seems a little unfair to compare Apple’s flagship timepiece with the more traditional fitness trackers but if you’re considering the smartwatch end of the spectrum – and you’ve got the bank balance to back it up – the latest generation of the Apple Watch is unrivalled.
It’s undoubtedly the best looking device on this list with a clear, crisp colour touchscreen that’s now virtually edge-to-edge. The well-stocked app store is teeming with third party fitness tools for almost every activity, from mindfulness to Hiit training, and Apple’s own Workout and Activity apps continue to improve.
The addictive Apple Activity rings – that track your movement, how often you stand and your minutes of exercise each day – now come with a feature that lets you challenge your friends. While Apple’s Workout app offers neat sport-specific touches like automatic stroke detection for swimming, new metrics for running, such as rolling mile pace, and single tap transitions to make it easier for triathletes to track sessions that move between the water, two wheels and the road.
It’s serious health monitoring credentials have been boosted with the introduction of an Electrocardiogram, or EKG, sensor that takes reliable heart rate readings that can help spot potentially life-threatening heart anomalies.
Beyond fitness, its smart skills are also second to none, particularly if you opt for the cellular 4G version that enables a multitude of phone-free services, including calls, music streaming and contactless payments.
One complaint about this device used to be battery life, but you’ll now get at least 18 hours on a single charge depending on which of the Watch’s features you use.
Xiaomi Mi Band 3: £24.99, AppliancesDirect
The Xiaomi Mi Band series is all about delivering fitness tracking to those on tighter budgets. As such, it’s not the most robust and reliable fitness tracker, but if you’re looking for an activity band that does some of the basics well for under £50, this is it.
At just 20g, the third generation Mi Band is nice and lightweight, despite boasting a bigger curved OLED touchscreen display than its predecessor. Despite this upgrade, however, it can still be quite hard to read your stats in brighter daylight conditions and, like the Vivosmart, there’s not a huge amount of space for your data to be displayed.
While the overall design is very basic, it is quite comfortable, and with automatic activity tracking, built-in optical heart rate, sleep tracking and waterproofing, there’s a lot packed in considering its tiny price tag.
Heart rate tracking has been improved from the Mi Band 2, but is still far from infallible, particularly when you’re moving rather than sitting, and while the Mi Band will use its on-board sensors to estimate your distance during runs, the lack of GPS means it can be hit and miss.
Sleep tracking basics are covered with relatively reliable feedback on the total duration, interruptions and a breakdown for deep or light sleep.
With a 20-day battery life, it outlasts almost every other tracker on the list, too.
Withings Pulse HR: £119.95, Withings
After a brief hiatus where its products range was owned by Nokia, Withings is back and this update to the original Pulse tracker is among the first new products to hit the shelves. Furthermore, it’s definitely a strong competitor for the Alta HR and the Vivosmart 4.
The centrepiece of this tracker is a simple but effective OLED screen that creates a mashed-up future-retro feel. The overall design is slightly bulkier than some fitness bands but the soft silicone strap is comfortable, and at 45g the Pulse HR is still light enough, to be worn 24/7.
It’s also nicely faff-free with a single button to tap through your daily stats. And, when it comes to those fitness stats, the Pulse HR has a decent array.
There’s built in optical heart rate tracking for improved workout tracking, more accurate calories counts and better sleep tracking. The latter is tracked automatically with sleep cycle stats on the different phases, including light, deep and sleep interruptions, and a really useful Daily Sleep Score that gives you a target to aim for.
When it’s time to work out, the Pulse offers automatic tracking for more than 10 activities, including walking, running and swimming, and it also has tailored settings, for more accurate measurement of up to 30 different sports. Swimming is also covered with water resistance up to 50m.
As with the Fitbit Alta HR and the Garmin Vivosmart 4, there’s no built-in GPS, however, so you’ll need to piggyback your phone’s sensors for key workout stats for sports such as running and cycling.
Stats are automatically synced to the brilliantly simple and intuitive Withings Health Mate app. The Pulse HR also boasts a competitive 20-day battery life with normal use and five days in workout mode.
Fitbit Ace: £79.99, Argos
If you’re looking for a way to inspire the younger members of your family to be more active, the Fitbit Ace might be the way forward. Apart from being built for smaller wrists, Fitbit has made this look just like any normal fitness tracker.
The controls are simple to understand and there’s a bright and easy-to-read display. An adjustable bracelet makes it easy to find a comfortable fit, and with ten different clock faces to choose from, there’s a welcome opportunity for kids to add a bit of personalisation.
The features have been specially tailored for eight-year-olds and above, and while some of the functions you get on the adult trackers have been left out, you still get all the general activity essentials that you would on grown up Fitbits. This includes step tracking, total active minutes and move reminders to encourage kids to hit 60 minutes of activity each day. And when they do hit their goals, there are kid-friendly celebration messages and virtual badges to collect when they reach big milestones.
There’s a full suite of Fitbit sleep tracking for the kids too, including a silent vibrating alarm to rouse them from their slumber at the optimum time.
But, perhaps the best feature is the step challenges that let children go head to head with other selected users – including their parents – and compare stats with friends. Family members can also send messages and cheers for extra support.
A decent five-day battery life will take your kids through a school week. If we had one gripe, it’d be the fact the band is water resistant rather than waterproof, which could leave it open to swim-related mishaps. This device isn’t much cheaper than the adult version, either.
Moov Now: £69.99, FitnessNow
The Moov Now has been around for a while and there’s still no sign of an upgrade any time soon. However, despite its age, this fitness tracker is still one of the best tools for tighter budgets.
The first thing you notice is the lack of screen. That means you need to fire up your phone for any information on your activity and workouts. This is a drawback, but the design also makes it a hugely versatile tracker that can be strapped to arms and legs to enable different workouts, from running and cycling, to Hiit and boxing.
On the plus side, it’s waterproof, great for swimming, and lightweight and comfortable to wear. But, where the Moov really excels is in the way it gives you gentle coaching advice via the app so you can work out more effectively.
It uses a watch battery, so there’s no need to recharge, and that extended battery life, along with its small and super light build, makes it one of the more comfortable trackers to wear at night, meaning you’re more likely to make use of its skills as a sleep tracker, too.
The verdict: best fitness trackers
While the lack of built-in GPS might put off serious sporty types, for general health, fitness and activity tracking, along with a solid battery life, the Garmin Vivosmart 4’s innovative new features just edge it ahead of the brilliant Fitbit Alta HR.
If money is no object, by far the slickest designed, best all-rounder and most effective fitness tool here is the Apple Watch Series 4. But, it’s also at least double the price of any other tracker on the list. For those on a budget, the Moov Now – even though it’s now quite old – offers the best bang for your buck.
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