The best fitness trackers for 2021

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The best fitness trackers for 2021
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Fitness trackers aren’t only for runners and avid gym-goers. They are great accessories to help anyone maintain a healthy lifestyle, providing data on everything from steps to sleep to heart rhythms. We’ve worn, tested, and reviewed more than 100 fitness bands and smartwatches, so we have a good grasp of which ones are best.

Here are the models that stood out the most, and the Fitbit Charge 4 is at the top of the list, thanks to its lightweight body, long battery life, and basic smartphone connectivity features. We’ve got a host of great deals on Fitbits if one is at the top of your shopping list. And if you can’t justify the price of a Fitbit, we’ve got some cheaper alternatives to track your activity here.

While this list concentrates mostly on fitness bands, smartwatches also do a great job of tracking fitness and activity, so if a more watch-like design and greater functionality appeals, make sure to look at our list of the best smartwatches.

Best fitness trackers at a glance:

Best overall fitness tracker: Fitbit Charge 4

Why you should buy this: It has simple yet comprehensive fitness tracking features, a battery that lasts for a week, and a great accompanying app.

Who it’s for: People with an active lifestyle who want all-day health tracking.

Why we picked the Fitbit Charge 4:

There are good reasons why Fitbit is the top brand in the fitness-tracking market: Fitbit continues to release updated models with new features and designs, and the Fitbit Charge 4 is a perfect example of this. The design isn’t all that different from the Charge 3, so it still offers a relatively sleek look and a button-free design. The band is small enough to work well for any wrist size, plus the shape means it’s relatively comfortable too. The display on the device may not be the most impressive out there, but it gets the job done.

The tracker has a full roster of workout and health tracking features, ranging from automatically detecting workouts, to tracking menstrual cycles for women. From the app, you’ll be able to see all your fitness metrics and workouts at a glance, as well as your sleep if you use the sleep-tracking feature. New for the Charge 4 is GPS support — meaning that you’ll be able to physically track your workouts and their distance without having to take your phone on the road with you.

One thing to be aware of when buying a Fitbit is that, to unlock all the features and data, you have to pay a monthly subscription. Fitbit Premium costs $10 and includes guided workouts, more challenges, mindfulness, and access to more personalized data. Not everyone will need Fitbit Premium, but if you expect your use and requirements to change over time, it’s something to consider.

The Fitbit Charge 4 offers other features too. For example, it has a nice auto-stop feature to pause your workout at an intersection, plus it’s great at tracking goals and helping you achieve them without making it too easy to do so. It can also receive text messages and call notifications from your phone.

If you want a Fitbit that looks a little more like a smartwatch, we recommend the Fitbit Versa 3. It has all the same features, but matched with a better screen and a smartwatch-like design, giving it true 24-hour wearability. It’s more expensive at $230, though.

Read our full Fitbit Charge 4 review

Best fitness tracker for iOS: Apple watch SE

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You want the best value fitness tracker and smartwatch for iOS.

Who it’s for: You own an iphone and would prefer a more watch-like design and many more features outside of just activity tracking.

Why we picked the Apple watch SE:

The Apple watch SE is much more than an activity tracker. It has a beautiful screen, runs apps, will make and receive calls, shows all your notifications, and will even time how long you’ve washed your hands for. Obviously, this high level of functionality affects the price, and the Apple watch SE starts at $279.

Why did we highlight it when it’s much more than a fitness tracker? Mostly because Apple’s health software and activity tracking are superb and incredibly easy to use too. There’s a wide range of workout tracking, GPS, a heart rate sensor, sleep tracking, and a swim-proof body too. The data it collects is easy to interpret, and the Activity Ring system for daily goals is simple and motivational.

It’s the little things that make the Apple watch SE a great companion. The automatic hand wash timer is surprisingly accurate, the watch will remind you to stand up after periods of inactivity, there’s a relaxing mindfulness app called Breathe, and it has a menstrual cycle tracking feature for women as standard. It runs the latest WatchOS 7 software, which makes it easier to unlock your iPhone when wearing a mask by bypassing FaceID when the Apple watch is on your wrist.

If you’re considering the Apple watch SE and health is a top priority, maybe consider the Apple Watch Series 6 too. It’s more expensive at $399 but has an ECG, SpO2 measurement, and a new optical heart rate sensor too. Whichever one you choose, it’s by far the best health and activity tracker for iphone owners.

Read our full Apple Watch SE review

Best fitness tracker for kids: Fitbit Ace 2

Why you should buy this: The Fitbit Ace 2 is high on the fun factor, making it a no-brainer for kids on the move.

Who it’s for: Parents looking for a fitness tracker for the 12-and-under crowd.

Why we picked the Fitbit Ace 2:

Fitbit nailed it with its kid’s fitness tracker, the Ace 2. We strapped two of the fitness trackers on our kids, and the pair survived being dropped, stepped on, lost in the backyard for a week, and more. The tracker has a soft band that fits comfortably on a kid’s wrist and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of sizes. We had no problem fitting it on kids ranging from 5 to 11 years old. The band is available in either Night Sky and Neon Yellow or Watermelon Teal and is replaceable if it breaks or your child wants a different color. The Ace 2 is waterproof up to 50 meters, a must-have feature for kids who like to jump into the pool, pond, or ocean.

The tracker has a kid-friendly interface that tracks steps, active minutes, and sleep. You can choose between a variety of different clock faces from a simple digital watch face to animated faces that change as the child reaches their fitness goal. The watch has several data screens that show the daily step count and active minutes. These real-time stats allow kids to track how much they move during the day, while at night, kids can get reminders to go to bed and see how long they slept in the morning.

The Fitbit Ace 2 syncs to the companion Fitbit app, either using the parent’s device or the child’s mobile device. The dashboard is customized for kids with an easy-to-use interface that shows the child’s stats with little to no social features. Kids can view messages from parent-approved friends, but there is no tie-in to Facebook or any other social network. If the child has a phone, then the watch can be configured to receive messages from these trusted contacts.

Read our full Fitbit Ace 2 review

Best fitness tracker on a budget: samsung galaxy Fit 2

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The samsung galaxy Fit 2 costs $60, and offers all the basics you want from a fitness tracker.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a basic fitness tracker for steps, sleep, and overall fitness from a recognized brand.

Why we picked the samsung galaxy Fit 2:

If you don’t want to spend much on a fitness tracker, it’s possible you won’t be preparing for a marathon or cycling 100 miles every weekend. If that’s you, then a simple fitness band will suit you best, and they don’t get much more simple than the samsung galaxy Fit 2. At $60 it’s one of the cheapest bands you can buy, but don’t mistake the low price for it being low-quality or feature-light.

The 1.1-inch AMOLED screen is bright and colorful, the band comes in several different colors for variety, and it’s comfortable to wear all day too. On the back is a heart rate sensor, the band tracks steps and calories, plus it has a range of tracking options for different workouts too. All this is presented in simple-to-use software, which you interact with using the touchscreen and a single touch-sensitive button.

It’s water-resistant and can be used to track swimming, and has the option to monitor sleep patterns too. The band connects with your iphone or Android phone and will show notifications on the screen, but using all these features does mean the battery will need recharging every ten days or so. If you don’t track sleep, or use the notifications, this can be extended.

While the samsung galaxy Fit 2 doesn’t have GPS, a blood oxygen sensor, or an ECG, it doesn’t cost anywhere near those bands that do have these features. Instead, it’s cheap, pretty, reliable, and covers the basics very effectively. Alternatively, if you want to spend even less, the Xiaomi Mi Band 5 is regularly available for around $40 through Amazon and has essentially the same features as the galaxy Fit 2. Just make sure you find the global version, rather than the China-only model.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 review here

Best waterproof fitness tracker: Garmin Quatix 6

Why you should buy this: More than just another high-priced boating smartwatch, the Garmin Quatix 6 is the ultimate smartwatch for anyone who swims or spends time in the water.

Who it’s for: Fitness enthusiasts who want to swim with their fitness tracker, whether it’s in the pool or the sea.

Why we picked the Garmin Quatix 6:

Leave aside all the boating connectivity features of the Garmin Quatix 6, and you’re left with a comprehensive fitness tracking smartwatch with all the right features for swimmers. It’s suitable for all surface swimmers (it’s not a dive watch), and will measure distance, pace, stroke rate, and distance, plus swim efficiency (SWOLF) in open water and pool swimming activities.

The heart rate sensor works underwater, plus it’ll connect to an external heart rate monitor, and it has stroke detection for freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. The Garmin Quatix 6 is water-resistant to 10ATM, weighs 80 grams, has a 47mm case size, and a 1.3-inch screen. It connects to iOS and Android devices, has GPS, and a battery for up to 14 days use before recharging.

Apart from its excellent swim tracking, the Garmin Quatix 6 also connects to a wide range of Garmin boating equipment, including the autopilot and GPS transceivers. If that’s not enough, there’s also comprehensive tracking for other activities including cycling and running. Finally, it’ll show notifications from your phone, store and play music, and make contactless payments with Garmin Pay.

It’s not a cheap smartwatch, but the Garmin Quatix 6 is probably the most comprehensively equipped model for anyone who spends time in, or on, the water.

Read our full Garmin Quatix 6 review

Best fitness tracker for sleeping: Withings ScanWatch

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Withings ScanWatch measures blood oxygen levels to identify sleep problems, and has a great app for showing the data.

Who it’s for: Great sleep tracking in a really cool design.

Why we picked the Withings ScanWatch:

The Withings ScanWatch is ideally suited to sleep tracking. It collects data using the heart rate sensor and blood oxygen monitor, along with the accelerometer to track movement overnight, then collates everything into a very clear and logically laid out graph inside the accompanying app.

In addition to showing duration and sleep stages, it also looks at your breathing to interpret whether you may be suffering from sleep apnea. None of the information is difficult to interpret, and each night you’re given a Sleep Score, so you can work towards making improvements. The watch itself is light and the strap is very flexible, so it’s comfortable to wear overnight.

Sleep tracking is just one part of the ScanWatch’s health-focused toolkit. It has an ECG along with the heart rate sensor, plus it takes SpO2 levels and has GPS on board too. There’s plenty of fitness monitoring, but it’s relatively basic compared to models aimed more at athletes, but anyone familiar with a Fitbit will feel right at home. The watch is water-resistant and is swim proof.

There are two case sizes, 38mm and 42mm, for the ScanWatch and prices start at $279. It’s classy and looks great on your wrist, and the accompanying app makes understanding the data collected very easy. It’s a great alternative to the Apple watch SE if sleep tracking is important, as the feature is much better here than on the Apple watch.

Read our full Withings ScanWatch review

Best fitness tracker for bargain hunters: Honor Band 6

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a great combination of good design and strong functionality, that costs less than the competition.

Who it’s for: Someone who doesn’t mind doing some research before buying, and wants to get an excellent product for a low price.

Why we picked the Honor Band 6:

Do you consider yourself a shrewd bargain hunter? If so, there are a couple of excellent fitness bands available that may not be on everyone’s radar, but by picking one up you’ll have one of the most capable activity trackers on your wrist and not have paid much for it. Our pick is the Honor Band 6, which can be found for around $60 and is just the right mix of fitness band and smartwatch.

Equipped with a 1.47-inch screen the Honor Band 6 has more display than many rivals, and it helps it better show notifications, and make exercise data easier to read on the move. The case is light and slim so it fits under your cuff, and is comfortable enough to wear overnight. This is important because Band 6 uses Huawei’s comprehensive and data-rich TruSleep system for sleep tracking, and it’s great.

It has a heart rate sensor and a blood oxygen monitor (SP02) and a range of workouts it’ll track, although it’s not designed for hardcore sportspeople, more for the casual exerciser interested in improving. There are some concerns over step count accuracy, but this never seemed to affect completed workout data, and software updates may cure issues in the future. The overall software experience is pleasant, with swipes and taps needed to navigate the clear menus, all displayed in crisp, colorful detail on the screen.

Why do you need to be a bargain hunter to get one? The Honor Band 6 isn’t officially sold in the U.S., so you’ll have to use an import service or grab one from Amazon. It’s important to make sure the one you pick is the “global” model, and not a Chinese version, which has features that don’t work outside China. But other than this, it will connect to your iOS or Android phone without a problem, and as it’s sold officially in the U.K., it’s fully localized so you can buy with confidence.

The good news is if you can’t find the Honor Band 6, we recommend looking at the Xiaomi Mi Band 6 instead. It’s the same story regarding availability, so you won’t find it in retail stores, and you should ensure you buy a global version from Amazon or another online importer. It’s also sold officially in the U.K. The Mi Band has been around for years and has evolved nicely, with the Mi Band 6 having a larger screen and more sensors than predecessors, yet still with a compact body and low price. It’s equally as good as the Honor Band 6, but has a design that’s more fitness tracker than hybrid smartwatch/fitness tracker like the Honor band.

Yes, you’ll have to work a little harder than just picking up a Fitbit at the store to get one, but the saving on both of these is considerable, without any real compromise on functionality and design.

Read our full Honor Band 6 review

Research and buying tips

Should you buy one now?

Now is as good a time as any to buy a fitness band. Battery life is improving, built-in GPS tracking is far more common, and heart rate monitors are making their way onto more devices to ensure accurate measurements. The tech isn’t likely to advance too dramatically, for now, so you’d likely get several years out of the options listed — if you stick with them.

Much depends on what you want to get out of it. If you don’t have some motivation and goals to go along with your new fitness tracker, then it may be tough to justify spending the money on one. Smartwatches are a good alternative if you’re concerned about finding that motivation, as not only can most run apps that can help push you, but they have multiple other functions too, so you won’t feel like it’s wasted money if you don’t immediately meet any fitness targets.

Are wrist fitness trackers accurate?

One of the biggest complaints people have with fitness trackers is a lack of accuracy. Wrist fitness trackers are not 100% accurate in step count or heart rate tracking. Fitness trackers use sensors like an accelerometer or an altimeter to calculate step counts and stair climbs. These sensors are not foolproof — they can and do make mistakes. Any movement of the wrist, when you are driving, for example, can cause the tracker to tack on steps or stairs when you are not walking. Sometimes you’ll miss out on steps especially when your feet are moving and your hands are still. We encounter this issue with missing steps whenever we use a treadmill desk. Ultimately, steps and stair count should be used as a loose guideline to gauge your overall activity level and not a step-by-step assessment of your day.

The same principle applies to heart rate tracking. When compared to a chest strap heart rate monitor, the wrist-based monitors fall short. They do a decent job of measuring your average heart rate but struggle to detect quick changes in heart rate. If you are going from a standstill to a sprint, the chest strap accurately detects the sudden increase in your heart rate. A wrist-based monitor, though, struggles to keep up with rapid changes and will often lag, showing the spike in heart rate a few seconds after it actually happens. For most people, this lag won’t be a deal-breaker, but it is a concern for athletes who are using heart rate tracking to gauge their effort during an exercise.

Do all fitness trackers need a smartphone?

Almost all fitness trackers require you to sync the data from the tracker to the app that collects the data and analyzes it for you. Most people sync to their tablet or smartphone, but you also can sync to your computer. Connecting to a computer is not as convenient as syncing to a smartphone but it can be done. Some smartwatches like the Apple watch are available with a cellular connection and can perform many functions without a smartphone, but you will need to pay extra on your monthly phone bill to use this feature.

While a fitness band will work without a smartphone, you won’t get all the benefits of syncing the data with the matching app or be able to perform other functions such as easily updating the software.

Can fitness trackers measure blood pressure?

Fitness trackers can measure your heart rate, but most cannot measure your blood pressure. There are a handful of wearable blood pressure devices, but none of the major manufacturers like Garmin, Fitbit, samsung, Polar, or Apple have integrated blood pressure into their products yet.

How long do fitness trackers last?

Fitness trackers can last up to five years. Problems with the battery charging and broken parts like the strap and the screen ultimately lead to their demise.

What is connected GPS?

While most smartwatches are equipped with GPS, only a few fitness trackers have GPS built into the tracker. GPS allows you to record the route that you run, cycle, or walk without needing your phone. Instead of onboard GPS, fitness trackers use connected GPS that relies on your phone to record your route. With connected GPS, the tracker connects to the mobile app on your phone and uses that app to track GPS coordinates during an outdoor activity. If you forget to connect your watch to the app, your distance and pace will be estimated using movement data and not the more accurate GPS data from your phone.

How we test

We test fitness bands just like we test smartwatches. That means using them every day and testing out all the marquee features. We strap them to our wrists (no matter how silly they look) and walk around town with them, take them to bed with us, and hit the gym to test out the workout features. It’s also key to pair them with different phones and test the experience when the band is connected to phones with different operating systems.

If a fitness band is water-resistant, we dunk it in water, and if it has GPS, we go on a hike. A fitness band’s companion app’s reliability and ease of use are just as important because it’s certain frustration if it refuses to sync with your phone.

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