Every year, a new crop of more stylish, more powerful and more feature-packed fitness trackers debuts with the promise of helping you live a more active, healthier lifestyle. But are they worth your hard-earned cash? We put every single one to the test, spending hours on the treadmill, running, biking, swimming — even sleeping — and found that the Fitbit Charge 3 ($150) is the best overall choice for the money.
The Charge 3 is now swim-proof, and has a larger, touchscreen display that responds to swipes and taps instantly. Fitbit plans to make the band's sleep-tracking capabilities even better with an SpO2 sensor that will be used to alert participants in the Fitbit Sleep Score Beta 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 trackers like the Fitbit Flex 2 ($60), which tracks your steps, sleep, and calories, and can even automatically recognize some types of exercises. We chose this device after evaluating a dozen cheap fitness trackers. The Fitbit Flex 2 lacks a heart rate monitor and a display, but its sleek, versatile design and powerful smartphone app make it perfect for fitness-tracking newbies.
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. Here are our top picks—both high-end and budget—for each category.
Latest News and Updates (November 2018)
- Huawei's $70 Band 3 Pro, a more affordable alternative to the Charge 3 and Vivosmart 4 that offers built-in GPS, is now on sale. Stay tuned for our full review of the budget fitness band. Huawei is also now selling the $30 Band 3e, which is a fitness bracelet that can be detached from its and and attached to a shoe.
- We just put Fitbit's new Charge 3 ($150; available now) to the test and found it's a solid upgrade from the Charge 2 and our top pick for best overall fitness tracker. Check out the full review of the Fitbit Charge 3.
- Garmin's Vivosmart 4 ($130; available now) is an obvious Charge 3 rival, but we found its fitness-tracking features less accurate. Read the full review of the Garmin Vivosmart 4.
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. 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?
IDC estimates that sales of fitness trackers are expected to flatten out over the next five years as smartwatches become more affordable with better battery life and performance.
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 2018
But there are trade-offs. 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 $399 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, 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.
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