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We’ve spent more than 150 hours walking, running, sleeping, grocery shopping, kettlebell swinging, and cycling (indoors and out) to learn everything there is to know about fitness trackers. After considering new options and testing 23 top-rated trackers over the past three years, we think the Garmin Vívosport is the best fitness tracker for people who want to track their activity levels and progressively monitor their workouts.
The Garmin Vívosport nails all the capabilities of a well-rounded fitness tracker by combining an always-visible colour display, responsive auto-activity detection with GPS, up-to-seven-day battery life, and accurate continuous heart-rate readings in a wrist-worn band that’s waterproof for swimming. It also has sleep tracking, stress-level detection based on heart-rate variability, and a strength-training mode that counts reps for you. Though trackers from Fitbit and Samsung include similar features, they don’t have the accuracy that Garmin set the standard for. The Vívosport can also receive smartphone notifications from virtually any app as well as the current weather, and can control your phone’s music playback remotely via Bluetooth. The Garmin Connect app, with a recently improved home screen, is compatible with iOS, Android and desktop computers, but it doesn’t have as many social networking users as Fitbit’s app. Still, given Garmin’s more capable hardware, we think it’s the best pick for most people.
The full-colour Gear Fit2 Pro is a sleek-looking gadget with many of the same features as our overall winner, and a few improvements to its predecessor, the Gear Fit2. It has a noticeably larger, more beautiful screen than the Vívosport with GPS, a heart-rate sensor, and automatic activity detection. It’s also the only tracker that lets you interact with some smartphone notifications: you can actually reply to texts and email with canned responses received on an Android phone. Unlike the Vívosport, you can also download additional fitness apps, including MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal, to activate directly on your wrist, and the Samsung can store up to 4 GB of music for online listening via Bluetooth headphones. But all these smart features come at the expense of measly battery life – with moderate use, you have to charge it almost daily. Like its predecessor, its outdoor workout modes begin without waiting for the device to lock onto a GPS signal, which means you could end up halfway through a workout without distance and route recording. Overall, the Gear Fit2 Pro is a slick and smart device, but the more reliable Vívosport is better for tracking fitness overall.
If you just want a simple way to monitor and track your daily activity (including workouts), nightly sleep habits, and get reminders to be more active, the Fitbit Flex 2 is a great choice – especially if all your friends are on Fitbit. Unlike most other Fitbits, it’s water-resistant to 50 metre, so you can track swimming and shower with it. However, it doesn’t have a screen – just five status LEDs to track progress toward your daily step-count goal. It also doesn’t track heart rate, but Fitbits in general continue to struggle with heart-rate accuracy, so we don’t see this as a major issue; it helps the Flex 2 maintain its slim profile and lower price. The Flex 2 syncs wirelessly to the Fitbit app on a smartphone or the Fitbit website on a computer to keep a record of your activity and link you to other Fitbit users – a real highlight, as research shows that friendly competition can be very motivating.
With no battery to charge and no pressing need to sync to a phone, the waterproof Garmin Vívofit 4 is the best option for basic tracking without the requirement to use a separate app. Although pairing it with a phone provides more information, such as daily activity logs and sleep tracking, the small screen is enough to get most of what you need at a glance: time of day, steps taken, steps needed to reach your daily goal (in case you don’t want to do math), distance travelled, calories burned, and “active minutes” (Garmin’s measure of sustained walks and other workouts). It also requires no charging, lasting up to a year on a replaceable watch battery. Despite its lower-tech approach to fitness tracking, it has some smarter features, like automatic workout tracking via Move IQ, inactivity alerts to get you going after a too-long sedentary stint, and a variety of workout timers and stopwatches.
For anyone who doesn’t want to wear something on their wrist, the Fitbit Zip is our recommendation. The tiny Zip is truly clip and go – it runs on a replaceable watch battery, so it requires no charging – and it has an easy-to-read display for you to check your progress at a glance. Costing at least $20 less than the other clip models, it’s the best value in the field. However, it lacks sleep tracking; if that’s important to you, upgrading to (and paying more for) the Fitbit One is your only solid option. Either gives you access to Fitbit’s very active social community to keep you going.
Why you should trust us
I’m a certified personal trainer (NASM-CPT), a running coach (USATF Level 1 and RRCA), and a regionally competitive runner. I’ve also covered fitness trackers for two-plus years and have watched them evolve since I got my first Fitbit (the One clip tracker) in early 2013.
Who should get this
The lines that separate a dedicated fitness tracker from a GPS running watch, a smartwatch, or even a smartphone have never been blurrier. Now you can find fitness trackers with GPS and push notifications, running watches with fitness tracking, and smartwatches with both. But as our testing reveals, a device that’s designed to do all of those tasks isn’t necessarily good at any of them.
Generally speaking, if getting information or advice on your overall activity level is your primary goal, a fitness tracker is your best bet. These devices typically provide at-a-glance feedback regarding steps taken (as well as reminders to get up and move), measure the intensity of your exercise, and report on the quality of your sleep. Taken together, these measures can help you make positive changes to your health. Because their batteries tend to last four to seven days between charges as opposed to the 18 hours or so you get from a smartwatch, they give you a more complete picture of your fitness level. Such devices also let you set up friendly competitions among your relatives and friends who have trackers of the same brand, and their ability to pass data to other health apps on your phone enhances the value.
If you’re more curious about your daily movements, or if you want a quick way to track a run, you may be satisfied with the tracking capabilities of a smartphone and apps. Unless you turn it off, your iPhone (5s or newer) tracks your step count automatically in the Health app, and Google Fit on Android can track your steps, too. However, a smartphone is less practical for providing the whole picture of your wellness efforts unless you carry it on your body constantly. And it can’t track your heart rate or sleep quality without additional hardware or software.
No matter which of these options you choose, exercise physiologist Brawner told us, “The most important thing is for people to be more active. If technology helps to motivate someone, then I am all for it. One trick doesn’t work for all.”
We want to be very clear that though some of our picks and many of the models we tested measure heart rate, these trackers are not a replacement for a medical device. In fact, Fitbit is named in a class action lawsuit for the inaccuracy of its heart-rate monitors. Nothing named in this guide is a substitute for a chest-band heart-rate monitor. If high heart rates are a health concern for you, don’t rely on a fitness tracker to help you toe that line.
How we picked and tested
Four new trackers have come across our radar in the last few months – Garmin Vívosport, Samsung’s Gear Fit2 Pro, Huawei Band 2 Pro, and Fitbit’s smartwatch, the Ionic – all of which fulfilled the criteria we’ve come to expect: daily activity (steps, stairs, sleep) and workout tracking plus onboard heart-rate monitoring. They also have GPS, which is becoming more standard in fitness tracking for accuracy in recording walks, runs and bike rides, as well as automatic activity detection to make a record of workouts without you starting a dedicated mode.
I set out to test these products both as a group and individually. To gauge step-count accuracy, I wore the four new bands simultaneously for two full days and compared their step-count readings with an older-model Omron pedometer, which won a Good Housekeeping test I once helped run.
To see how well each device captured distance travelled, I ran for 1 mile at a steady pace on a treadmill. My movements were even and consistent in this test, as would be expected in a steady-state run.
Because all of the new trackers have onboard GPS, I also did a few tests to gauge accuracy. First, I ran to the track without turning on a workout mode, to see how well they auto-detected, measured, and even located my run. Then, I ran four laps (1 mile) on a standard track using the outdoor running modes. Finally, I ran home, using the Strava app on my smartphone as a control for measuring the distance.
Having an idea of your resting heart rate – the slowest rate, measured in bpm (beats per minute), at which your heart pumps blood, a figure best taken before you get out of bed in the morning – helps you gauge improvements in your overall fitness. A resting heart rate that lowers over time is one indication that your heart muscle is getting stronger and more efficient at pumping blood. To get an idea of how accurate these recorded resting heart rates are, I wore all four trackers plus a heart-rate strap (connected to a smartphone app) to bed one night. I also used this test to compare the sleep tracking results across the products.
The other benefit to heart-rate tracking is the ability to quantify your training intensity during workouts. I performed two tests pitting each band against a Garmin chest-strap monitor: a five-minute steady-state treadmill run and a sequence of 30-second intervals of jumping jacks and recovery. For each, I recorded heart-rate readings every 30 seconds during the exercise and for 2 minutes of recovery following. From our conversation with exercise physiologist Clinton Brawner, we learned that the acceptable tolerance is no more than 5 bpm over or under the control. Even the newest trackers struggle with producing the accuracy of a chest strap.
The bottom line is, if heart-rate training is your primary aim, you’re better served with a chest strap monitor. Otherwise, relying on the talk test (checking that you can say a few sentences without excessive breathiness) or gauging effort based on how you feel on a scale of 0 to 10 may be a better intensity indicator for your workouts, regardless of what your wrist monitor is telling you.
Finally, I spent some quality time with each band individually, assessing comfort, user friendliness, and overall impressions.
A word on step count
The latest round of trackers as of fall 2017 were not only inaccurate in terms of step count against a control pedometer, but also imprecise: On the first day, a tracker might undercount, and on the second it might overcount.
What we’re coming to realise: These trackers aren’t as precise as pure pedometers. However, “step count” can provide a useful, relative snapshot of overall daily activity, even if the numbers are a little inaccurate. After all, wrist movements are consistent with leg movements only when someone is striding forward in a more or less straight line, which is not always how people move all of the time. And given that these devices’ ultimate intention is to encourage moving more in general, any basic step counter can do that. In order to set your own goals, we suggest you first determine your personal baseline by wearing your new device for a few days without making any concerted effort to change your usual habits, and then use those numbers to build on.
Still, we tried several ways to isolate arm movement from leg and hip movement, to see how different movements might be counted (or not counted) as steps.
I clapped along to Queen’s We Will Rock You (resisting the urge to also slap my thighs) to determine if arm movement minus leg movement registered as steps. This may be important for anyone who sits at a desk for long periods and doesn’t want their arm movement to register as steps while they’re sitting.
I also took the trackers for a five-minute stroll pushing a grocery cart around my local supermarket to see if they could capture my strides when my arms weren’t moving. This may be important if you want to get credit for stepping even if your arms aren’t moving, as when carrying something or pushing a baby in a stroller or, indeed, grocery shopping.
In the gym, I did a marathon set of 90 kettlebell swings to determine if arm-plus-hip movement logged any steps. The purpose of this is to see if a rhythmic, non-stepping activity might count as steps. All of the trackers counted kettlebell swings as steps, including the control hip pedometer, though because testing was done on different days, I subtracted the control number from the trackers’ total.
I also jotted down the step count for the trackers before and after two 10-minute bike rides (to the gym and home), to see if they recorded any steps while I pedalled. For the two trackers that have cycling auto-detection, I checked if these rides were recorded as rides.
Finally, to get an idea of a tracker’s ability to count pure steps, I jotted down the step count at the beginning and end of the 1-mile treadmill run I used to gauge distance-measuring ability.
The bottom line: As long as your arm movements generally match your leg movements, a wrist fitness tracker will do a pretty good job giving you a glimpse into how active you are – and how active it motivates you to become.
Our pick: Garmin Vívosport
The Garmin Vívosport has everything you’d expect from a good tracker, including next-level fitness features of onboard GPS tracking and activity auto-detection, both of which performed impressively and most consistently of all trackers in our tests. It has all the standard fitness tracker functions we’ve come to expect: step and stair counting, distance travelled, calories burned, and sleep statistics, as well as a relatively long battery life (up to seven days without GPS) and full waterproofing for wearing while you shower or swim. Though others have many of these attributes, the Vívosport’s reliability and consistency give it the edge over the rest.
One of the Vívosport’s significant advantages is that the developers managed to fit a GPS receiver and an HR monitor into such a small package – it weighs less and is thinner than the previous overall pick (the also-compact Vívosmart HR+), is significantly narrower than the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, and is downright demure compared with the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch.
The Vívosport is also by far the most reliable in terms of its auto-activity tracking, which Garmin calls Move IQ. You can set the running auto-detection to begin after as little as 1 minute of activity (Fitbit and Samsung record from, at shortest, 10 minutes) and I was amazed not only at how accurately it triggered on a run and auto-paused at any stop, but also that it was able to find a GPS signal and record a map of where I jogged, without me manually selecting a timed run activity. The Vívosport also auto-detects continuous walking (starting at 5 minutes) with GPS.
Using the GPS in a timed workout, you can get more detailed and accurate information such as distance and pace. GPS also informs some of the workout modes, which include run-walk intervals and a virtual pacer that alerts you if you’re moving slower or faster than your preset pace. The GPS proved accurate, though it took longer to connect (minutes rather than seconds) than many of the running watches out there, unless you have your smartphone with you – it can use the phone GPS to locate you much faster. Even without GPS, the Garmin’s distance-measuring capabilities (based on internal algorithms that take height and cadence into account) were excellent on our 1-mile treadmill test. The Garmin logged 1.05 miles, which was almost as accurate as the Samsung and Huawei but far more accurate than the Fitbit.
In terms of the heart-rate testing results, the Vívosport performed as well as its predecessor, the Vívosmart HR+, on the steady-state run (which is to say, pretty well) and was a bit less accurate on the jumping-jack interval test – findings that were also true for the Samsung device, which flat-out aced the steady-state run. On the flip side, the Ionic – like all Fitbits we’ve tested – as well as the Huawei tracker overshot my heart rate by a lot, recording in the 180s and even 190s when the chest strap showed 140s and 150s. Overall, if your heart-rate training predominantly requires you to hover around the same bpm in steady-state exercise, you’ll be happy with the Vívosport (or the Samsung), but if you want to use peaks and recoveries or you need to measure your heart rate more accurately for medical reasons, you’re still better off with a strap.
A new feature of the Vívosport, also found on the Vívosmart 3 but not the Vívosmart HR+ or on the three other new products tested, is a stress-tracking gauge, which uses heart-rate variability – the time interval between heart beats, which when erratic has been correlated to stress – to ascribe a current stress level and a weekly record. The Vívosport has a breathing exercise (which Fitbit also offers) to take a timeout if stress levels climb. Finally, Vívosport has taken a cue from the newer Garmin running watches and calculates an estimated VO2 max as a measure of overall cardio fitness. As someone who has had her actual VO2 max tested and found to be significantly higher than what the Vívosport displays, I would say that the Garmin’s number is best used as a baseline for improvement rather than as an absolute. It also has a built-in rep counter for strength training workouts, a feature also found in the new Samsung, and it seems to work relatively well. As a trainer, I’m happy to see strength training get its due in these devices, but to be honest, counting with your own brain isn’t exactly rocket science.
Like the others, it auto-detects sleep and provides a log of hours spent awake and in light or deep sleep, based on your movement. (Fitbit’s newer devices also use your heart rate to inform the sleep data.)
The touch-sensitive passive color OLED screen does the job and unlike the others is visible even without the backlight, which turns on by a flick of the wrist or touch of the finger. Though it’s not as nice to look at as the crisp, active OLEDs of the Fitbit and the Samsung, having the time – or whichever of eight homescreen options you’ve chosen – viewable without that millisecond lag cannot be underappreciated. It’s also much more readable in the sun than the others. Garmin claims the battery will last for up to seven days of activity tracking without GPS, though if you’re using the auto-detect settings and the timed workouts, you’ll no doubt see this diminish a bit.
Like the Samsung and the Fitbit, the screen views on the Vívosport are customisable, with displays showing step count, flights of stairs climbed, intensity minutes (a measure of workout intensity over the course of a week), calories burned, distance travelled, and heart rate (current and average resting). You can receive all manner of smartphone notifications – phone, text, calendar, email and social media, as well as notifications from basically any app on your phone that offers them. It has optional music controls, at-a-glance weather forecasts, and a handy “find my phone” feature that lets you play Marco Polo with your misplaced phone if it’s in Bluetooth range. Like its predecessor, it’s waterproof to 50 metres, as are the Ionic and the Gear Fit2 Pro, for worry-free use in the shower or pool.
The Garmin Connect app is in the process of getting a much-needed update. The new homescreen, currently in beta, has a much cleaner look, with rearrangeable tiles to prioritise what info you want to see first. You can still drill down into all the data to your heart’s content, add untracked workouts, or modify recorded activities, and much more.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
No app facelift, however, can correct Garmin’s major deficit to Fitbit, and that’s the latter’s enormous social community. When it comes to fitness, friendly competition is a great way to inspire improvement, and although Garmin isn’t hurting for users, the company doesn’t have the audience of step-count-focused users that Fitbit has. Garmin is making strides to change that by installing activity tracking in a number of its newer GPS watches, but its core audience still skews much more heavily toward enthusiast runners and cyclists.
The one other flaw in the Vívosport is that, with all its great sensitivity to collecting walking and running fitness data, I was disappointed that it didn’t auto-track the bike rides I took and capture them in the app, as it was supposed to (Move IQ is touted to support biking, swimming, and elliptical training). Further, the touchscreen itself is crazy sensitive. A brush of a sleeve can send it into a tailspin, cycling through the displays or even starting erroneous workouts. Luckily, this has a very simple fix: using the screen autolock, which requires a double tap to unlock. Finally, one tiny quibble is that the menus and commands to start and stop workouts aren’t nearly as intuitive as those on the Samsung or the Fitbit, though with practice, you get used to all the double-taps and swipes needed to make things happen.
Runner-up: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro
For a fitness band with smartwatch-like features, look to the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro. It incorporates movement auto-detection, multisport workout options, accurate heart-rate tracking, and GPS tracking for outdoor workouts. It has all the smartwatch notifications you might want, plus the ability to reply to text messages and emails with preprogrammed canned responses, and Samsung offers a growing library of downloadable apps to further customise the band. In addition, it’s gorgeous and oh-so-slick on the wrist. Unfortunately, its short battery life is a weak point, and you can’t use the canned responses for notifications if you’re using it on an iPhone.
Though others offer automatic activity tracking, Samsung’s version is a real highlight. After about 10 minutes of a sustained activity, the unit vibrates and the screen switches to a timer that indicates approximately how long you’ve been doing said activity, with a nice “Keep it up!” message. It registers that you’ve stopped within a minute or so, and rewards you with the words, “Well done! That was a great [walk/run/ride/workout].” It sounds cheesy, but we won’t lie: We missed it when testing other trackers that aren’t so cheerleader-y. The Samsung also has a pleasant way of goading you to get off your duff after a long period of sitting still; after 50 minutes of “inactive time”, a screen reminds you it’s “Time to get on your feet”. In comparison, the Garmin just says: “Move!” The Gear Fit2 Pro is waterproof and can be used for tracking swims. Not having to worry about taking it off when you shower or do dishes is a great improvement over the previous not-swimproof Gear Fit2.
We found the heart-rate functionality to be very good for a wrist tracker. It nailed the steady-state test, including heart-rate recovery once stopped – the only of the new trackers to do so. On the interval test, it captured both the peaks and recoveries, though not with absolute accuracy. If that’s important to you, wear a chest-strap monitor.
The Gear Fit2 Pro isn’t quite as capable as a full-fledged smartwatch, but it comes pretty close. It can be set up to play music from your phone within Bluetooth distance, including Spotify, with the ability to download a playlist to the new Pro for offline playing, or from the 4 GB of internal memory on the unit itself, which can be loaded from tracks saved to your phone. It can display notifications from any phone it’s paired with, and even respond to texts and emails with canned replies on Android. Finally, there’s also the option to download various apps from the Samsung Gear store, including those from Under Armour’s fitness suite such as MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun, and the Speedo app for swim tracking. I also downloaded a schedule app so I can see my calendar on my wrist.
We had some issues with the Gear Fit2 Pro’s GPS. Most GPS-enabled watches let you wait until the GPS signal is acquired – which can take minutes – before you start the workout timer. When you select an outdoor activity with location, Samsung starts a countdown from three, then tells you to start your workout, with no immediate acknowledgement that it has found a signal; later, possibly some miles into your run, it will tell you if it hasn’t. During the time it’s not connected to the satellites, it makes an estimate of distance traveled based on internal algorithms and my step cadence. For this measurement, it did a good job on my 1-mile treadmill test, so the estimating is probably okay, as long as you’re not a stickler on record-keeping. When the GPS does record, though, it is very accurate and even shows a cool graphic map of exactly where you went on the unit’s screen. Although the Fit2 Pro automatically recognised my run to the park, it didn’t acquire a GPS reading until I’d basically arrived there, about a mile in. However, when I began my 1-mile track run shortly thereafter, it had a lock on the signal and did a great job of recording both the track mile and the subsequent run home.
The Gear Fit2 Pro’s full-colour touchscreen offers a lot of viewing options. It’s dark unless the wrist is raised (to save power) but reacts quickly and reliably. You can completely customise which scrollable screens are shown, and screens for steps walked, floors climbed, and heart rate can be expanded for two weeks worth of history. It even has manual counter screens where you may keep track of your water and caffeine consumed, respectively, as well as a “together” screen that can show you if you’re ahead or behind other users in a step-count challenge; it’s a nice idea, if you happen to know anyone else who uses the S Health app (of the nearly 400 contacts in my phone, only two came up).
The Gear Fit2 has 17 workout modes for more detailed exercise tracking, but a few of those are for specific exercises like squats and lunges, which show a graphic of how to properly perform them, and count your reps as you do; these are cute, but largely extraneous. A small but notable improvement is that the “other workout” now tracks heart rate, which wasn’t the case with the first Gear Fit2.
As with Garmin, the Samsung app is also a bit of a weak point, at least compared with Fitbit. Perhaps we should say apps, as you need two: one to control the Gear Fit2’s settings and the other, S Health, to interpret and log your activity data (plus two more background “helper” apps if you have a non-Samsung Android). In a way, we didn’t mind that there were two – it made it easier to figure out how to change settings on the device rather than digging around in one app for that info. S Health suffers from the same problem as Garmin Connect: With so much customisability, it can make finding the data you want overly complicated. Still, it’s all there, for your data-drilling pleasure. Another disappointment is that though Samsung finally began offering an iOS app, you can’t reply to texts or emails from an iPhone, and some early iOS users in the Samsung store reviews report issues syncing the Fit2 Pro at all.
Another quibble is that the screen turns off even during workouts, and though it becomes visible again quickly with the flick of your wrist, there’s a slight delay that can be bothersome during a fast-paced workout. Though the Pro is equipped with continuous heart-rate recording, I wasn’t always getting regular HR readings in the passive mode. Finally, it’s lovely to look at, but only when you can see it. The screen gets a terrible glare in sunlight, making it very tough to read during outdoor activities.
The biggest flaw is the battery life. With moderate-to-heavy use, including smartphone notifications (but not always GPS), we had to charge the Gear Fit2 Pro about once a day, which is well below the up to three days claimed by Samsung for “typical” use.
In long-term testing the predecessor Gear Fit2, two of our testers experienced an issue in which the band refused to accept a charge from its charging cradle. Mentions of this problem happening both after months of use and right out of the box have also cropped up on the Samsung community message boards. In some cases, flipping the watch over on the cradle (button-side down) or shutting down the watch before charging allows it to connect. If neither of those methods work, the band is effectively bricked. A representative from Samsung told us that the company is “looking into each reported case to identify the specific cause. If it is identified as a warranty defect, Samsung will replace the unit”.
Budget pick: Fitbit Flex 2
The Fitbit Flex 2 embodies all that Fitbit excels at. The minimal form has no screen, and though its distance tracking and heart-rate monitoring are less accurate than other models, it has a big advantage over the competition with the vast social community that Fitbit has cultivated – an important factor, because research has shown social reinforcement to be one of the most powerful motivators in pursuit of fitness.
Instead of a screen, between one and five LEDs illuminate at a tap to show an estimate of how close you are to reaching your step-count goal. Without a screen, you lose out on instant feedback and even things like being able to see the time, and though those lights also can be set to go off in different colours when you’re receiving a call or text – Fitbit calls these “smartphone notifications” – they’re pretty subtle.
The Flex 2 does a decent job tracking all your daily activity from steps to sleep, though it lacks some of the higher-end details found in pricier trackers. It has automatic workout detection (what Fitbit calls SmartTrack) to record periods of increased activity for you to later categorize in the app. Flex 2 also knows when you’re not being active, sending out a soft vibration if it detects you haven’t moved in the last hour, but you won’t get the nice on-screen reminder most trackers have, as it doesn’t have a screen. Unlike most other Fitbits, the Flex 2 is waterproof to 50 meters. That’s good news if you want to track swimming workouts or wear it in the rain. Flex 2’s battery life is an estimated five days, on a par with many of the models tested. It also consistently overcounts steps, by a margin of nearly 30%, at least against our control pedometer. If you want to get a true 10,000 steps, you may want to aim for 13,000 with the Flex 2.
The Flex 2 lacks heart-rate monitoring, but Fitbit’s heart-rate technology continues to lag behind Garmin’s and Samsung’s accuracy, so there’s no reason to pay the premium for that functionality. Another flaw common to Fitbits we saw in our tests was a tendency to underestimate distance. The Flex 2 recorded only 0.73 miles of a 1-mile run.
The Flex 2 is slim and stylish, with a tiny removable tracking unit that can be worn in the included rubbery wristband (in two sizes), in optional bracelet or necklace accessories, or by itself tucked into a pocket or bra. However, the band that comes with the Flex 2 can be a total pain to fasten, often leaving me with sore thumbs as I pressed and pressed to get those little pegs into the holes.
Also great: Garmin Vívofit 4
When I tell people I review fitness trackers professionally, I often get asked which tracker is the least “tech-y”. The Garmin Vívofit 4 is the answer. Though you get more data from the Vívofit 4 if you have it synced to your phone – especially sleep tracking, which doesn’t appear on the unit itself – the beauty of this model is that you don’t have to. I could even see a non-smartphone/non-computer owner wearing it daily and writing the step count on a notepad. It’s also water-resistant to 5 atmospheres for swim tracking; although we haven’t swim-tested it, we have worn it in the shower and into the ocean with no problems so far. An exceptional one-year battery life with no recharging adds to its general never-need-to-take-it-off-ness.
The Vívofit 4’s always visible colour display provides at-a-glance time of day, today’s date, steps taken, steps needed to goal (in case you don’t want to do math), distance travelled, calories burned, and “active minutes” (Garmin’s measure of sustained walks and other workouts) – which can be customised via the Garmin app. Like most trackers, the Vívofit 4 also notices if you’ve been sedentary for too long and beeps to remind you to get on your feet. It also includes automatic workout detection that can detect a walk or a run in real time, and loads those and other activities (such as swimming, biking and elliptical) to the Garmin Connect app when in a paired smartphone’s Bluetooth range, should you choose to pair it.
Other nice-to-have features include a button-operated backlight to illuminate the small screen, a stopwatch, a workout timer in 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-minute increments, and a manual activity recorder for more accurate fitness tracking in the app.
Curiously, we found the distance measuring was subpar for a Garmin, recording just 0.87 of the mile run; the other Garmins tested all measured distances quite accurately, even without GPS. A number of Amazon shoppers complained about phone syncing issues and getting lemons that simply stopped working. Though we’re concerned about this, I haven’t had any problems in the couple of months I’ve worn my test unit, and Garmin’s PR department stated that the company has pushed a software update to correct the fast-draining battery issue.
Also great: Fitbit Zip
For a basic clip-on tracker that doesn’t have to be worn on your wrist, look to the Fitbit Zip. It couldn’t be simpler to use. Its passive LED display is always visible, unlike those of the Fitbit One and the discontinued Withings Pulse Ox, which both require a tap or a button press to light up. And with a tap, you can scroll through your stats.
The Zip also requires no charging, running instead on a replaceable watch battery that should be good for six months. It syncs wirelessly to the Fitbit app on your iPhone or Android handset, or to the Fitbit website on your computer. There, you can keep a record of what your tracker records, as well as join competitions against other Fitbit users, which can keep you going as you aim to improve your fitness.
The Zip wasn’t great at estimating distance on our treadmill test, but then again, none of the clip trackers – or the Fitbits, for that matter – were. The Zip allows you to set your stride length manually in the app, though, so you may have better results if you do that.
The Zip also doesn’t offer sleep tracking. For this reason, we think a wrist-based tracker that records sleep automatically is a better all-around choice for evaluating your z’s.
Finally, the Zip is not waterproof – none of the tested clip models are – so don’t leave it attached to your jeans when you toss them into the laundry.
Fitbit’s first foray into the smartwatch world, the Ionic, struggles to justify that label, with limited apps and no notification interactivity. As a fitness tracker, it struggles to justify its current Rs 22,000 price tag. It has many of the same capabilities as the Garmin Vívosport and the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro – automatic activity tracking, heart-rate monitoring, GPS tracking, and various timed workout modes – but none of the Ionic’s functions worked quite as well in our tests as those of the less expensive products. Further, although the onboard coached workouts are a nice-enough-to-have, beyond the first three short ones that come preloaded, a subscription to Fitstar costs additional cash.
The Garmin Vívoactive HR has 15 sport-related workout modes, which may appeal to the sport dabbler. But it’s a bit big for a simple fitness tracker, and many of those who would gravitate toward it may be better served by a dedicated biking or running device.
The Garmin Vívosmart 3 – which looks a lot like the Vívosport – appears to be Garmin’s answer to Fitbit’s design aesthetic, with its dark-unless-tapped-or-jostled screen. This felt like a miss, though, because the screen is finicky and slow to react. Otherwise, its onboard fitness-tracking features are nearly identical to the Vívosport, but without GPS.
The user-friendly Fitbit Charge 2, with its exercise automatic detection and motivating movement alerts, is a fine pick, especially if you want workout modes to log your exercise sessions manually or would like connected GPS to track runs or bike rides using your phone. But with the erratic heart-rate tracking technology, Fitbit isn’t for you if your exercise programme follows strict heart-rate zones. The updated sleep-tracking software (also available on the Ionic, Alta HR, and the Blaze) uses resting pulse rates to better inform how your night went.
The Fitbit Alta HR, an update to the Alta, has a trim appearance with many of the same features of its predecessor, plus onboard heart-rate monitoring. The Alta HR lacks a workout mode, relying instead on exercise-recognition software. This makes tracking your heart rate during a workout nearly impossible, but that’s just as well, as we found the Fitbit tracking software to be erratic and inaccurate during exercise. It seems to work just fine, however, when informing the sleep-tracking data.
We tested the UA Band, part of Under Armour’s heavily promoted HealthBox. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t measure up: in my two-day-long step-count tests, its accuracy was abysmal, though consistently so – 30% and 32% too low, respectively. It’s stiff and the fit is odd: too oblong for my wrist, so it creates pressure on the top and bottom yet is a little loose on the sides. Finally, the underwhelming PMOLED display looks fuzzy.
The TomTom Touch purports to measure body fat percentage and muscle mass along with standard fitness tracker metrics such as heart rate. However, it performed so poorly in our basic all-day step-counting tests – registering almost twice as many steps as our control on both days – that we’re setting it aside for now.
The Misfit Ray abstracts activity as “active points” that you earn by moving in a variety of ways, which it automatically detects. The smartphone notifications are not very helpful. But if you like its look or you’re an avid swimmer, it’s worth your consideration.
Fitbit Alta’s narrow screen is so small that the info it displays is truncated (step count is rounded up, for example). Its tracking results were similar to the Flex 2’s (not very accurate) and it’s not swim-ready, though you can wear it in the shower (unlike other Fitbits, which are merely splash-proof).
The Polar A360 simply didn’t measure up in either its tracking or other functions, and was particularly disappointing in its heart-rate measurements, especially because that technology, in chest-strap form, is what Polar is best known for.
The Fitbit One is a higher-end option for anyone who wants a clip-on fitness tracker that also records sleep. Unlike the Fitbit Zip, it has an altimeter for measuring stairs climbed. The One registered step counts a bit high on our tests and came up short when measuring a 1-mile run (0.87 mile recorded).
The Huawei Fit’s phone app doesn’t connect to a social network, and the touchscreen often misses the difference between vertical or horizontal swipes. Despite its larger, watch-face-shaped screen, notifications are still hard to read due to the strangely huge font. In spite of its lower cost, we think if your main goal is to track your activity, one of our top picks is a better bet.