These Are the Best Fitness Trackers and Watches to Optimize Your Health
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If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t put a price on personal health. Whether you’re fending off a contagious pathogen or trying to shed a few pounds, a fitness tracker offers personalized data to optimize your daily life. But any wearable these days can tell time, hound you with notifications and set alarms. The best fitness trackers provide the right information to help you improve your workouts, track your sleep or just sneak in a few more steps. We’ve had our hands on countless models over the years to find the ones that work (and the ones that don’t). Although no tracker perfectly records every metric, these ones offer consistent, reliable and advanced features.
The Total Package: Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge 4 is similar in many ways to the Charge 3, but it includes built-in GPS so you can leave your phone at home. Though it lacks some of the more technical features found in other high-end wearables, it’s a master of the basics. Tracking is accurate and reliable, and the watch automatically records activity when you’re moving beyond a brisk walk. The OLED screen lacks color, but touchscreen controls deliver snappy menu navigation — a feature we love in the midst of a workout. When paired with Fitbit’s smartphone app, you gain access to a vast community of users measuring in the millions, so you’re never alone. The app also lets you dictate which notifications you’d like on your wrist, and syncs Spotify so you can “like” songs and browse playlists. Fitbit’s sleep-tracking software is some of the best we’ve used (it even records naps), and a single charge lasts up to seven days. With all these features for $150, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better all-around fitness tracker.
Best Fitness Tracker On a Budget: Fitbit Inspire 2
Think of the Fitbit Inspire 2 as the younger sibling of the Charge 4. Sleeker and slimmer, it still features a touchscreen display and plenty of battery life (up to 10 days’ worth), but there’s no built-in GPS or altimeter to gauge elevation. Instead, you’ll need to connect it to your phone’s GPS to measure pace and distance. Accuracy isn’t as reliable, but we still collected a lot of useful data from the built-in heart rate monitor. Food logging keeps track of the day’s calories, and goal-based exercises introduce the fundamentals of regular fitness. Wear it on your wrist or on your clothes with a clip (sold separately) to record daily movements and activities. The Inspire 2 is capable but it lacks a few premium features, making it the best fitness tracker for those on a budget.
Best Battery Life: Coros Apex
I first caught wind of Coros when an ultra-running friend praised their long-lasting battery life. Turns out, he wasn’t kidding. The Apex offers a staggering 100 hours of juice in UltraMax mode, 35 hours in normal GPS mode and 30 days under regular usage. Fit and finish are stellar, with a housing made from titanium alloy or stainless steel and sapphire glass that’s incredibly tough. One of our biggest gripes with even the best fitness trackers is awkward menu navigation, especially when we’re trying to work out, but the Apex ditches traditional buttons for a digital dial so we can focus on completing a run or the next set of reps. Its LCD display presents routes with bread crumb directions, sending alerts if we find ourselves drifting off course, and Coros Training Mode offers a network of workouts to share with others. Designed with features targeting endurance athletes and outdoorsmen, think of the Apex as a personal fitness coach on your wrist.
Best Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 745
If you’re a multi-sport athlete or a devoted runner, we recommend Garmin’s Forerunner series. Released in 2020, the 745 is a goldilocks watch that pulls specs from the pricier 945 and the more affordable 735XT. Embracing Garmin’s legendary GPS technology, it’s incredibly accurate over flat or technical terrain, even when a smartphone loses coverage. The housing is waterproof to record swims, and analysis tools allow you to optimize your workouts as race season draws near. We really appreciate the advanced sleep tracking, hydration monitoring and breathing timer to dial in our day-to-day health. Garmin’s Connect IQ app allows for greater personalization, from watch faces to widgets, and Garmin pairs with services like Strava and Tacx to expand training options. Some of us can’t stomach the idea of spending $500 on a fitness tracker, but the Forerunner series is competitively priced when you can’t commit to the big purchase.
Best Fitness Tracker for iOS: Apple Watch Nike Series 6
It doesn’t take much for us to recommend a watch that’s designed by Apple in collaboration with Nike, especially if you’re hooked on the iOS ecosystem. Truth be told, Apple launched two Nike-collab watches in 2020 (the Series 6 and SE) but we prefer the former because of the stronger specs. The Nike Series 6 is also identical to the original Series 6, but it comes with Nike sport bands and the Nike+ Run Club app preinstalled. At a glance, it offers faster charging times, blood-oxygen monitoring, ECG capabilities and an always-on display. Integrate it with Apple’s Fitness+ service, and you can manage workouts between your watch, iPhone and Apple TV. If you’re already the proud owner of your very own Apple watch, we probably wouldn’t recommend upgrading, but for those looking to buy one for the first time, this is as good as it gets. Just try not to focus so much on closing your rings.
Best Fitness Tracker for Athletes: Whoop Strap 3.0
We’re not recommending the Whoop strap so much as we’re recommending Whoop. That’s because the strap is actually free, but in order to wear it, you’ll need a subscription with Whoop that starts at $18 per month for an 18-month commitment, or $30 per month on a monthly basis. Its two LED sensors and accelerometer track heart rate, sleep habits and movement data, creating a profile to analyze health metrics and fine-tune your training. Made from elastane fabric, the band looks and feels like a bracelet, allowing you to wear it around the clock. Because it lacks a display, your relationship with Whoop is contained within the app, where a proprietary scale measures bouts of physical activity from 0 to 21. These numbers are thrown into an algorithm to assign the day a strain, also from 0 to 21, so you understand how exercise felt and how much power you can use tomorrow. Worn by professional athletes like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Thomas, Whoop is a fitness club for cool kids.
Best Outdoor Fitness Tracker: Garmin Instinct
This is like if the Casio G-Shock met the Apple Watch and they had a baby. The Instinct’s polymer housing is fiber-reinforced to boost durability and the screen is scratch-resistant so you can bang it around without worry. Built to U.S. military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance, its battery holds enough charge to help you escape an emergency situation or enjoy a backcountry hike (up to 14 days or 40 hours in GPS battery-saving mode). Inside you’ll find ABC sensors, three GPS systems, optical heart rate monitoring and even built-in stress tracking. We can sync it with Garmin’s Connect IQ app for notifications, or pair it with dog tracking devices for canine updates. Upgrade the screen with solar charging to further extend battery life when you’re away from home.
Best Fitness Tracker for Android: Garmin Vivoactive 4
For those of us that want to keep track of workouts in addition to everyday activities, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a smart alternative to a GPS running watch. The Vivoactive 4 monitors heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and sleep habits among other metrics, but it also keeps tabs on stress levels and hydration. We’re a fan of the different activity modes and exercise instructions, along with the ability to create personalized workouts. The touchscreen display is responsive, and tactile buttons next to the screen cycle between different modes and settings, giving the watch a traditional style. Though GPS comes standard, inactivity alerts and goal celebrations make this Garmin model fit the everyday fitness tracker mold.
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