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Fitness trackers

7 of the best fitness trackers because there are literally too many out there

Some help you focus on exercise, some on sleep quality, while others help you keep heart health in mind. Which arm candy tech (AKA wearable fitness device) best fits your goals? Best everyday tracker Fitbit Charge 4 With GPS and Spotify support, this tracker is an upgrade over the Charge 3 — and you can’t…

Some help you focus on exercise, some on sleep quality, while others help you keep heart health in mind. Which arm candy tech (AKA wearable fitness device) best fits your goals?

Best everyday tracker

Fitbit Charge 4

With GPS and Spotify support, this tracker is an upgrade over the Charge 3 — and you can’t argue with a week-long battery life and personalized cardio scores.

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By Leah Stodart

BEST FITNESS TRACKER DEALS THIS WEEK:


Exercise, am I right? Whether you’re reading this because you genuinely love working out or because your air fryer isn’t making you feel as healthy as you predicted it would, one thing’s for sure: A fitness tracker is a necessity.

The rhetoric around fitness has changed quite a bit over the past few years, and the self-care revolution can be thanked for it. Actively monitoring your fitness progression isn’t just for athletes or people training for their hometown’s 5K. It’s a factor of wellness that people are building into their daily groove, just like getting regular massages or keeping up with a skincare routine. 

NBC’s Nicole Spencer noticed the change in 2019, around the time that people make their New Year’s Resolutions, writing that “whether it’s exercising at home, optimizing sleep or even the quest for better skin, these trends reflect an awareness of the importance of putting in the time to get the benefits.”

It’s not just the time that you’re sweating that matters, either: Restorative exercises are on trend just as much as “before” and “after” pictures. These can be anything from quick meditation techniques to taking a day for rest or at-home yoga between intense days at the gym. Everyone has their own therapeutic methods, but the overall mentality is love yourself just as hard as you push yourself.

This type of mindfulness isn’t always easy, and the best fitness trackers are the ones that will keep you in check throughout your workout as well as the rest of your day. Most go past casual activity tracking to track your sleep quality, heart rate, body temperature, and even tell you if you’ve been exercising too hard — all of which can aid in optimal performance and overall health. The positive impact that these high-tech bracelets and other wearable fitness gadgetry can have on your lifestyle as a whole is pretty incredible.

What’s the difference between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch?

At this point in the game, most relatively nice fitness trackers will have a screen and can at least get calls, text notifications, and music streaming by syncing to your phone. Even the budget-friendly models will probably have some sort of health-conscious features past activity tracking, like a heart rate sensor.

The main tipping point will likely be how much you care about built-in GPS, or even fancier, cellular connectivity. Most general purpose fitness trackers won’t have either of those, and you’ll need to bring your phone with you if you want to use location services and track your mileage accurately. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 are essentially a mini smartphone on your wrist, and can map using GPS (or get on social media with 4G LTE, if you bump up to the cellular option) even if your phone’s at home. These connected watches can also download extra third-party apps for specific sports or apps like MyFitnessPal.

Here are the best fitness trackers for 2020:


Potentially life-saving ECG feature • Always-on Retina display • Menstrual cycle tracking and 90-day activity comparison with WatchOS 6 • Endless face and band colors • Distance tracking under water

Sleep tracking is still lacking

The Series 5 goes further than any watch has gone before with a one-touch ECG app and FDA-cleared precision.

1. Apple Watch Series 5

Apple’s cutting-edge tech blazes past competitors with ECG capabilities and 911 calls from anywhere.

  • Battery life:
    18 hours
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Both
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

A fifth Apple Watch wasn’t expected to make an appearance at the iPhone 11 event in Sept. 2019 — the groundbreaking Apple Watch Series 4 turned heads with its release just a year earlier.


The 2018 Apple Watch is still one of the best in class and is most known for its advancements on FDA-cleared ECG and heart rate monitoring. After the AFib-detecting KardiaBand garnered so much attention, Apple cut out the middle man and armed the Series 4 (and now Series 5) with an insanely accurate irregular heartbeat monitor that even impressed the American Heart Association in preclinical studies. If you can afford it, upgrading to cellular on the Series 5 is a really smart move. This enables you to call 911 from anywhere.


Possibly the most exciting physical upgrade is the always-on Retina display, which has been flooding Apple’s hypothetical suggestion box for years. This is splashed across the Series 5’s glorious bezel-less Retina display.


Apple’s WatchOS 6 welcomes other unprecedented health and fitness features as well. These include a menstruation cycle tracker, a new compass for better location-based services, decibel safety monitoring for headphone volume, and 90-day activity comparison, plus its own App Store. 


Sleep tracking and pregnancy tracking, unfortunately, are still in Apple’s blind spot, though third party apps will fill in where Apple misses the mark. Still, the ECG, fall sensing, and emergency SOS calling capabilities seem pretty priceless. If the watch detects something unsettling, it’s obviously up to the user to see a doctor — but even getting a warning like this from your watch could potentially save lives. 


Week-long battery life • Now with GPS and Spotify support

No music storage • App interfaces/controls are pretty limited • No pregnancy tracking

The Charge 4 is more capable than a general-purpose tracker but lacks some of the robust features you’d get with a full smartwatch.

2. Fitbit Charge 4

With GPS and Spotify support, this tracker is an upgrade over the Charge 3 — and you can’t argue with a week-long battery life and personalized cardio scores.

  • Battery life:
    7 days
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Just GPS
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

A quick “best fitness trackers” search on Google should give you all of the confidence you need to snag the Fitbit Charge 4. Though Fitbit has struggled to put out a true smartwatch contender, no other dedicated fitness tracker has as many complex health features packed into it as the Charge 4. If you want highly detailed tracking without having to buy an Apple Watch, the Fitbit Charge 4 is absolutely your best bet.


The Charge 4 has the usual step, distance, and calorie tracking that you’d expect, but Fitbit has really honed in on every aspect of working out and your overall health — not just the info you’re looking for to burn off that Taco Bell. It’s also equipped with a PurePulse to monitor your heart rate and get alerts for an abnormalities, guided breathing, as well as a VO2 Max rating to give a personalized cardio fitness score and an idea of your overall cardiovascular health. Your progress and personalized fitness score will be splashed across a touchscreen that measures 1-inch diagonally. 


You can’t expect your $150 Fitbit to do an electrocardiogram, but we were pretty impressed by its relative SpO2 sensor. This measures the amount of oxygen in the blood — technology that could let Fitbit track sleep apnea. Runners will appreciate the fact that the third Charge has finally incorporated key features, including built-in GPS and Spotify support. Smartphone notifications, meanwhile, can be synced through your phone pretty easily. Plus, only having to charge your tracker once a week makes it a reliable grab-and-go sidekick. Where it falls short is with its tracking capabilities for pregnancy. Though there is menstrual tracking, those expecting a child get left in the dust.


GPS and GLONASS mapping • Indoor and outdoor running settings

Occasional confusing app navigation • Heart rate isn’t accurate during interval training

Garmin has truly outdone themselves with the 235’s ultra-accurate GPS and four running settings.

3. Garmin Forerunner 235

From treadmills to off-trail distance training, Garmin’s running modes and meticulous GPS can keep up.

  • Battery life:
    11 hours
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Just GPS
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

As its name suggests, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a beast of a device made for those who take running very seriously. With Garmin Connect, runners can choose from four running settings and customize their workouts and goals to match their skill level. No other general purpose tracker will coach you through marathon training like this.


For indoor treadmill running, the built-in accelerometer comes in handy to keep track of distance and pace without the need of an extra device on your arm. Garmin’s Elevate heart rate technology is also notable to track workout intensity, with a colorful gauge that lets you know your rate in real time to let you know if you’re working dangerously hard. The VO2 Max sensor is especially helpful for athletes who are careful to not over-exert oxygen during a workout.


For outdoor distance runners, Garmin’s impressively fast GPS and GLONASS mapping (Russia’s version of GPS) will keep you company even on trails where regular mapping goes off the grid. Auto-pause, auto-lap, and interval training are also ready to rumble.


Aside from running settings, this persistent tracker assesses your heart rate 24/7, counts calories and steps, and reminds you to move if it senses that you’ve been sitting for over an hour. The watch’s huge touchscreen face lets you compare multiple metrics at once and is easily legible in bright sunlight. The Garmin Connect app, though a bit busy, provides an insurmountable amount of personal running data. You can compare your improvement from one week to the next, check your peak heart rate mid-run, and compare scores with others.


Digital rotating bezel makes for speedy navigation • Improved sensors for better sleep tracking • 4G LTE support

Not many third-party apps • ECG features still in beta mode

Despite the delay on the new heart features and fall detection, LTE support and the rotating bezel finally give Android users a genuinely great option.

4. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2

Samsung’s newest wearable is its first real Apple Watch competitor, featuring a digital rotating bezel and better sleep tracking.

  • Battery life:
    24-36 hours
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Both
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

We’ll be real: The first Samsung Galaxy Watch Active was a kind of a bust. To be fair, it was pretty jam-packed with features for how comfy and lightweight the design was. Unfortunately, the fact that most of those features really only worked with Android phones was too big of an obstacle to make it an Apple Watch or Garmin competitor.


All of that changed when Samsung announced the Galaxy Watch Active2, just six months after the release of the original. The digital rotating bezel is easily the most unique upgrade — unlike the mechanical rotating bezel, which was previously the Samsung wearable’s claim to fame, this one is touch-based and offers incredibly speedy haptic feedback. Spinning through your apps and different screens offers a more dexterous alternative to traditional scrolling, and combined with the gorgeous AMOLED display, it’s the touch of elegance that the original Galaxy Watch Active was missing.


The Active2 also sees a revved up list of connected features, like 4G LTE support (finally), improved YouTube and Twitter integration, and a built-in running coach with an advanced accelerometer. Switching from Spotify streaming, to Twitter, and back to your workout app will be made much smoother with a touch-based rotating bezel, and it’s the best way to take advantage of the watch’s new customizable faces.


Improved pulse sensors also allow the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to go where only the Apple Watch had gone before: fall detection, Afib notifications, and an ECG monitor will all be present once Samsung finishes clinical trials with the FDA (still pending as of May 2020). Still, it’s nice to know that these potentially life-saving features are on the horizon, and in the meantime, the upgraded sensors mean more accurate sleep, swimming, and activity tracking. 


One-of-a-kind body temperature sensor • App provides meaningful data with lifestyle suggestions • Comes in silver, black, and “stealth”

Doesn’t track heart rate during exercise

Unique sleep metrics like body temperature and pulse are built into this stylish, inconspicuous bling.

5. Oura Ring

This chic ring takes on sleep troubles with unique sensors for body temperature and pulse.

  • Battery life:
    Up to 7 days
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Neither
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

“The world’s most advanced wearable” is a pretty ambitious claim, but it was intriguing enough to garner nearly $700,000 on Kickstarter (about seven times its goal). Meet Oura: a health and wellness-tracking ring that’s creating some serious buzz online. This unsuspecting piece of jewelry is no thicker than a wedding band, but inside it lies some pretty incredible technology that could change the way you sleep — and, in turn, perform the next day.


You know how you can sometimes feel a heartbeat in your finger? Those are your palmar arteries, and Oura utilizes that pulse rather than the one on your wrist. It’s a more direct way to measure your blood volume, resting heart rate, and respiratory recovery, all of which can signal that your body should skip a hardass workout and rest instead. Just as notably, the Oura has an NTC (negative temperature coefficient) sensor that scans while you snooze to ensure that there are no weird temperature fluctuations. If you’re tossing and turning, these metrics may be able to uncover the cause.


The Motiv Ring is the Oura Ring’s closest competitor. With the Motiv Ring being as impressive as it is (and even Alexa-enabled), the Oura has been able to pull ahead of it with features for workout recovery optimization as well as an inactivity tracker to shake up a sedentary day.


In the absence of a display on the actual tracker, the Oura App provides a wealth of data in tangible details that explain what part of your routine is working as well as what’s not. The app tells you how your sleep quality could be affecting your workout performance the next day or how your low heart rate variability might mean you need to de-stress with an hour of yoga. It’s meaningful information that can help you make better lifestyle choices past how many calories you burned.


Better-than-decent sleep analysis • Great price for the features • Nice screen on an inconspicuous design

Half-baked running sensors

Beginners can avoid the intimidation factor of a smartwatch while still getting amazing sleep tracking.

6. Fitbit Inspire HR

For a low price, you can score a screen and must-have health features like sleep stage detection and workout recording.

  • Battery life:
    5 days
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Neither
  • Water resistant:
    Yes

Taking the initiative to make health and fitness a daily priority is a huge step on its own — and you don’t need to drop $400 on the new Apple Watch to legitimize your fitness journey. When the souped-up apps and connectivity on a smartwatch feel like overkill, the Fitbit Inspire steps in as the best entry-level fitness tracker. It’s packed with the fitness features that can’t be compromised, but keeps things laid back enough for beginners to ease into things.


For the style-conscious, the Fitbit Inspire is the closest to a regular bracelet you’ll get without giving up a screen. It’s thin and chic enough that you may even forget you’re wearing it. For those with big hands, a tracker with a bigger screen for swiping will be much less frustrating.


The Inspire comes in two versions: a regular one and one with a heart rate (HR) monitor. The latter is slightly more expensive but gives access to Fitbit’s Sleep Stages, which graphs your light, deep, and REM cycles on your Inspire’s screen and gives personalized insights on how to improve your patterns in the morning. The highly accurate sensor even notices that sitting still (like reading or chilling on the couch) doesn’t mean you’re sleeping.


Exercise and running tracking via the wrist is also acceptable enough as long as your workouts are relatively casual. The more advanced Charge 4 can tackle elevation with its altimeter and oxygen saturation sensor, but counting calories and setting cardio goals is just as good with the Inspire. Your phone’s GPS should sync seamlessly with the Inspire and makes up for the lack of built-in GPS. It can, however, show text and call notifications from your phone.


All-day stress tracking • Always-on touchscreen • Low price for some high-level HR metrics

Shitty distance tracking • Screen freezes easily

If you can give up robust exercise-tracking and built-in GPS, the Vivosmart 4 is a comforting companion for tense days.

7. Garmin Vivosmart 4

Surprisingly seasoned health features like energy and stress tracking come in this budget band, but the distance tracking sucks.

  • Battery life:
    4-7 days
  • Built-in GPS/cellular:
    Neither
  • Water resistant:
    No, but is swim- and shower-friendly

Ugh, life. The Garmin Vivosmart 4’s tracking suite dives into the aspects of health outside of your daily walks or training. There’s a lot packed into this little device that makes it helpful for people who aren’t runners or gym-goers, but not much in the line of actual workout or distance tracking. However, there’s something to be said for a wearable that’s just as useful for tracking non-physical aspects of health like sleep, stress, and energy.


The heart rate monitor measures your heart rate while it’s resting to give you a stress score, with a guided breathing feature designed to lower stress when the score is too high. A blood oxygenation sensor is also present, which the Fitbit Inspire HR (its most similar competitor) does not have. These make it especially handy to wear during potentially stressful situations like at work, on a plane, etc. Your scores are then compiled into general Body Battery level, which provides some genuinely helpful info about why your tank may be running low.


Other great metrics include a VO2 max fitness score, your fitness “age,” monitors strength training by tracking sets, reps, and rest times that can be reviewed on the app — a feature that many trackers don’t have. The band automatically syncs to your phone and uses Move IQ to know when you’ve started a workout.


Don’t expect the actual fitness aspects to be as sophisticated. It’s not uncommon for entry-level trackers to skip built-in GPS, and the Vivosmart 4 needs to connect to your smartphone’s GPS to track your run. Smartphone notifications can be seen if you don’t mind the squished display.

Listen, the fact that you’re even reading this is a step in the right direction to a healthy lifestyle. These trackers won’t do the work for you, but they can at least take the “I can’t even tell if it’s working,” doubts that a lot of us having about our progress. When you can see your results paying off in the numbers and how you’re improving week to week, you’ll be more inspired than ever to crush the hell out of your fitness goals. 

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