A lot of us what to get healthier as the new year starts, and feature-packed fitness trackers are here to help you live a more active lifestyle. But are they worth your hard-earned cash? We put dozens to the test, spending hours on the treadmill, running, biking, swimming — even sleeping — and found that the Fitbit Charge 3 ($150) is the best fitness tracker for most people.
The Fitbit Charge 3 is swim-proof, and has a larger, touchscreen display that responds instantly to swipes and taps. Fitbit plans to make the band's sleep-tracking capabilities even better with an SpO2 sensor that will be used to alert users if they experience breathing disturbances at night. The Charge 3 also includes the features we've come to expect from Fitbit, such as group competitions, detailed sleep analysis and a design that can be customized with easily interchangeable bands.
Those on a budget should consider the Fitbit Inspire HR, a $100 band that monitors heart rate, tracks sleep and offers connected GPS when you work out with your smartphone. Fitbit also makes a cheaper version of the Inspire, but that $70 tracker lacks a heart rate sensor for deeper insights.
To help you select the right fitness tracker for your needs, we’ve evaluated all of the latest models based on design, performance and ease of use. We also determine which fitness tracker has the best app for logging workouts. Here are our top picks—both high-end and budget—for the best fitness trackers.
Fitbit Charge 3
The best fitness tracker overall
Sizes: One size, with S, M, L bands | Battery Life (Rated): 7 days | GPS: No | Sleep Tracking: Yes | Swim-Proof: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Fitbit's Charge 3 is an upgraded, swim-proof fitness tracker, with a larger touchscreen display, an SpO2 sensor that will be used to diagnose breathing disturbances while sleeping and week-long battery life. It still requires a smartphone to connect to GPS, but overall it's the best fitness tracker for the money.
Read our full Fitbit Charge 3 review.
Fitbit Inspire HR
Best cheap fitness tracker
Sizes: One size, with S and L bands | Battery Life (Rated): 3 days | GPS: Connected to smartphone | Sleep Tracking: Yes | Swim-Proof: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Fitbit's Inspire HR automatically tracks sleep and a handful of workouts, and offers deeper insights about sleep stages and cardio fitness thanks to its heart rate sensor. (A cheaper, $70 version of the Inspire lacks a heart rate sensor, but that analysis is worth the $30 premium.) When connected to a smartphone, the Inspire HR uses the phone's GPS signal to more accurately log outdoor workouts. The Fitbit app remains one of our favorite fitness dashboards, especially with the inclusion of female health-tracking.
Read our full Fitbit Inspire HR review.
Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS)
Best fitness-tracking smartwatch
Sizes: 38mm and 42mm with S and L bands | Battery Life (Rated): 18 hours | GPS: Yes | Sleep Tracking: No | Swim-Proof: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
The Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS isn't the newest Apple Watch, but it's more affordable than the Series 4, and still has all the great fitness-tracking features baked into watchOS 5. You can track a variety of workouts, including open-water swims and laps in the pool, hiking, yoga and basics like running and cycling. The watch detects when you start a workout and gives you retroactive credit for the time you missed. If you want a fully featured smartwatch that lets you leave your phone at home while at the gym or out for a run, the Series 3 with GPS is the one to buy.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 3 review.
Garmin Forerunner 245
Best fitness tracker for runners
Sizes: One size, with adjustable strap | Battery Life (Rated): 11 hours(using GPS and heart rate) | GPS: Yes | Sleep Tracking: Yes | Swim-Proof: Yes (but no swim-tracking mode) | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Garmin makes the best running watches you can buy, and the Forerunner 245 is one of our favorites. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles, but this running watch is small and light with built-in GPS and a colorful screen that's easy to see in bright sunlight. Even better is that the Forerunner 245 has onboard music storage, so you don't need to carry a smartphone with you if you want to listen to tunes while you run. The 245 also calculates your V02 max score and offers a recovery advisor to let you know how long to rest between runs. This watch also lasts for about a week of workouts on a charge, which isn't bad for such a fully-featured GPS watch.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 245 review.
Garmin Forerunner 25
Best budget fitness tracker for runners
Sizes: One size, with adjustable strap | Battery Life (Rated): 8-10 hours (using GPS and heart rate), 8-10 weeks in watch mode | GPS: Yes | Sleep Tracking: No | Swim-Proof: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: No
If you don't need extra bells and whistles and you're on a budget, consider the Garmin Forerunner 25. It's an inexpensive, yet accurate, GPS watch that tracks distance, speed and pace, and it notifies you at every mile you run. With nearly 10 weeks of battery life in watch mode, the Forerunner 25 can also be your everyday timepiece, and will still work when you need it for those impromptu jogs.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 25 review.
How we test fitness trackers
For each new fitness tracker, we evaluate its hardware design and comfort; you need to be able to wear the device all day, and we’ve found that some larger trackers don’t fit well on smaller wrists. We also evaluate the features, including movement detection (such as step counting and sleep monitoring), distance calculations and when applicable, GPS and heart rate accuracy. We test how well a device pairs with its companion app, and evaluate the experience of using the two together.
We also look to see what features the device's app supports, such as coaching and diet tracking, and if it can sync data with third-party apps, such as MyFitnessPal. Lastly, we wear the device for at least a week to test the manufacturer's battery life claims.
Fitness trackers vs. smartwatches: Which should you buy?
A typical smartwatch has a touchscreen display that offers more information at a glance, in addition to an app store with third-party apps. You can install your favorite workout apps, respond to text messages, pay for purchases and handle lightweight tasks without pulling out your smartphone. Smartwatches also tend to have more sensors than slimmer fitness-tracking bands for tracking more vital stats.
MORE: Best Smartwatches
But there are trade-offs. Smartwatches as a whole tend to be more expensive and have shorter battery life than dedicated fitness trackers. The $199 Fitbit Versa, for instance, is a swim-proof touchscreen watch with 4-day battery life, solid fitness-tracking features and third-party apps, but lacks built-in GPS for more advanced workout-tracking. The Apple Watch Series 4 not only sports GPS, it also offers fall detection and an electrical heart rate sensor for taking FDA-cleared electrocardiograms. However, at $399, it’s much more expensive than basic fitness trackers.
If you can afford to spend more than $150 and use an iPhone, the $279 Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS offer more features than you can find in a fitness tracker. For Android users, the Fitbit Versa is worth a look.
Credit: Tom's Guide