Common sense says that complicated, feature-loaded fitness trackers aren't the best option for everyone. The more sensors and tracking capabilities you cram into a device the size of a wristwatch, the more it’s going to cost you. Not everyone needs to track their position by satellite, either. So this list explains how to find the best fitness tracker based on a few key but important capabilities.
The three different types of fitness tracker.
- Basic fitness trackers can count the approximate number of steps you take and calculate the distance you’ve traveled using that data. They’re best for those who want to log primarily distance-based workouts like walking and running. These are typically the only devices you can find under $100.
- Heart rate monitoring trackers do everything a basic fitness tracker can, but they also have sensors that can monitor changes in your heart rate. These are typically marketed to people looking to log the calories they’ve burned throughout the day. Since the sensors are fairly inaccurate, we don’t actually recommend relying on them outside of monitoring approximate long-range trends.
- Heart rate monitoring trackers with GPS can do all of the above, plus communicate with satellites to triangulate your position anywhere on the globe (provided you’re not inside). This makes them a smart option for cyclists, trail runners, or anyone else looking to log distances outside.
Quality trackers have these five things in common.
- Wireless syncing lets your device update its companion mobile app in real time, as you’re exercising.
- Activity notifications alert you when it’s time to move, and when you’ve accomplished your goals.
- Water resistance is mandatory for something you’ll be sweating in.
- Minimum one-year warranties demonstrate that the manufacturer is willing to back its product.
- Unisex designs so the device feels comfortable on any wrist.
Consistency is more important than accuracy
While absolute accuracy might be important in scientific or clinical settings, a fitness tracker’s real usefulness is in showing you your broader activity trends over time.
Think of it like a home scale: It doesn’t give your exact weight every time you stand on it, but if you consult it regularly, you’ll get a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re losing or gaining weight.
An imperfect fitness tracker can still be useful for keeping tabs on your activity levels and motivating you to stick to your goals.
So place more emphasis on the devices that delivered the most consistent data, rather than how closely the devices came to hitting an exact target number. Also, look at the overall usability of each device, assessing the quality of their apps, and how enjoyable and intuitive they were to actually use day to day — because the only way a fitness tracker is going to help you is if you actually want to use it.