Whether you’re considering buying your first fitness tracker or planning to upgrade your current one, it’s worth doing your research before you take the plunge. Fitness trackers used to be glorified pedometers, but now have the ability to record and estimate all kinds of metrics across almost every sport. This means you should be able to find a tracker that ticks practically every box you could hope for. If you’re new to this fitness tracking malarky, it’s worth asking yourself the following questions to help you work out what’s important to you. Or if you already have a budget in mind, jump to our top picks in three different categories:
- Entry-Level Fitness Trackers (Less Than £100)
- Mid-Range Fitness Trackers (£100-£140)
- High-End Fitness Trackers (£140 And Up)
Do You Even Need A Fitness Tracker?
The most important question of all. If you have a smartphone there are plenty of apps that will record your activities, often for free. Check out our list of the best fitness apps for running, cycling and workouts in case all your needs can be fulfilled without spending a penny.
How Much Do You Want To Spend?
Basic trackers now cost less than £50, but to get features that improve upon what any smartphone offers it’s worth spending up to £100 for a good entry-level option. Mid-range trackers that cost between £100 and £130 will have extra fitness capabilities like heart rate tracking. Top-end trackers, which can cost anything up to £600, will offer premium features like touchscreens and GPS tracking.
How Much Importance Do You Place On Looks?
Some fitness trackers, like the Nokia Steel or Misfit Phase, look exactly like watches; some have unique, stylish designs, such as the gorgeous Misfit Ray; and some look exactly like fitness trackers. If you don’t mind the last option then the fitness tracker world is your oyster, but if you want to look smart then your options are slightly more limited.
Do You Want To Track Everyday Activities Or Just Sport?
An everyday tracker will need to be stylish, comfortable to wear and will record steps, sleep and calories burned. However, it might fall short when it comes to dedicated sport tracking. If you’re only planning on wearing your tracker for sports then you can opt for something more garish but more feature-rich.
What Will You Be Doing?
If you enjoy a particular sport it’s vital to check your tracker is able to record it properly. Running, walking, and cycling are well covered by plenty of trackers, but if you’re into, swimming, HIIT sessions, Pilates or tennis, dig into the reviews to see if your chosen tracker will record that activity properly.
Do You Need Built-In GPS?
The addition of GPS tracking means your tracker will record speed, distance and elevation during outdoor activities like running and cycling accurately without forcing you to carry your phone – but it comes at a price. Cheaper trackers will use an accelerometer to estimate distance covered, with mixed results. If you do take your smartphone running then you might get by with something like the Fitbit Charge 2, which uses your smartphone’s GPS to offer accurate distance tracking.
Do You Need It To Be Waterproof?
If you swim regularly this is clearly a must. Many trackers offer some degree of water resistance, which means you can run in the rain or take a shower with them, but only a select few have the waterproofing required for swimming.
RECOMMENDED: The Best Waterproof Fitness Trackers For Swimmers
Do You Want To Track Your Heart Rate?
Decent heart-rate monitoring was once confined to the priciest fitness trackers but can now be found in even mid-range wrist trackers and cheaper devices that you wear on the chest or temple, and it’s a key feature for those keen on HIIT workouts in particular. It must be said it’s not always reliable, especially when tracking from your wrist. Some trackers will monitor your heart rate constantly, which has an effect on battery life but gives an overall picture of your health through metrics like your resting heart rate. Other heart rate trackers will only kick into gear during activities.
RECOMMENDED: The Best Heart Rate Monitors
Do You Want To Track Your Sleep?
Sleep is just as important as exercise and diet when it comes to your overall health. Many trackers now record how long you spend asleep and break that down into periods of deep, light and REM sleep, allowing you to gauge your sleep quality. This is a feature more likely to be found on everyday fitness trackers rather than dedicated sports watches. A good battery life is key to actually being able to use sleep tracking.
RECOMMENDED: The Best Sleep Trackers
How Often Are You Prepared To Charge It?
There is a wide variation in battery life on fitness trackers. Companies like Misfit and Nokia use watch-style batteries that last as long as eight months before they need replacing, while others use rechargeable options that need to be plugged in every night. Features like a fancy screen, GPS and heart rate monitoring will suck the life out of trackers rapidly, so if the convenience of not having to charge your device often is a priority, you’ll have to scale back your demands in other areas.
Have You Checked Out The App?
As important as the tracker itself is its app, because that’s mostly how you’ll interact with all the data it collects. Major players like Fitbit and Garmin have very in-depth features in their apps so you can spend hours analysing your data or connecting with friends.
Do You Need A Tracker With A Screen?
The quality of the screen on fitness trackers is very closely related to the price, so if you want a full colour touchscreen you can expect to have to cough up top dollar. It’s great to view all your stats on the go, especially during activities, but if you plan to have your phone with you to look at the app anyway you may view the screen as less important. Also, if you opt for a device without a screen you can get a more discreet, stylish model.
Do You Want Coaching?
Some trackers go beyond passive tracking of your activity and will actively coach you during your activities as well as planning out a training schedule. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend more: Moov, for example, has trackers for less than £100 that will coach you through activities like runs, bike rides and HIIT workouts.
Does It Play Nice With Your Favourite Apps?
If you get really into your fitness tracking you may very well start to favour certain smartphone apps like Strava, Runkeeper or Nike+ Run Club and build up a history of all your activities on them. Naturally, when you then get a new fitness tracker, you need it to link with these apps so you can continue logging your activities on them. Most of the time the link will be automatic and easy, but it’s worth checking that your shiny new tracker will actually communicate with the Strava profile you’ve built up over years of running and cycling.
Are You A Triathlete?
If you’re all about multi-sport activities then you’ll need quite a niche product that not only offers run, cycle and open-water swim tracking, but allows you to track a combination of them as one activity seamlessly. This means you’ll be heading for the top of the top-end market.
Entry-Level Fitness Trackers (Less Than £100)
A modest budget is no barrier to picking up an excellent fitness tracker, as these four entry-level options show. Whichever feature you value most, be it heart rate monitoring, a long battery life or a waterproof design, you can find an effective tracker for under £100.
Best Budget GPS Tracker: Huawei Band 2 Pro
Given the array of features it offers – including heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking – you might think the Huawei Band 2 Pro falls into the suspiciously cheap category at £80. We certainly had our doubts but when we tried it, we found that it delivered. This makes it an astonishing bargain, because any other tracker matching its feature set will set you back at least £100 as a minimum and more likely £130.
The built-in GPS makes the Huawei Band Pro 2 especially attractive to those who want to track runs and cycles accurately, and the sleep tracking adds new and useful metrics like deep sleep continuity. £79.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Hauwei Band Pro 2 Review
Best For Battery Life: Misfit Ray
The Misfit Ray is one of the smallest, lightest and most comfortable fitness trackers available, while its six-month battery life makes it one of the most convenient too. That means no worries about forgetting to charge it, or forgetting to strap it on in the morning because it’s charging.
It’s also waterproof so you can wear it in the shower or when you go swimming – it’ll even track your swims, counting duration, laps and distance swim (although you’ll have to pay an extra £7.99 for that functionality).
The Ray’s design is also flexible, with a host of watch bands, bracelets and necklaces already available and more to come. £49.99, buy on misfit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Misfit Ray Review
Best Entry-Level Swimming Tracker: Fitbit Flex 2
The Flex was Fitbit’s first wrist-based fitness tracker and the Flex 2 builds on the foundations laid by its predecessor. Like the original, the Flex 2 will track your steps, distance travelled and calories burned, as well as tracking your sleep throughout the night, plus it has an array of LEDs which will tell you how close you are to your daily step goal at a glance.
But the Flex 2 also adds some significant new features to the mix. The biggest addition is that it’s now waterproof and will track your swimming.
You might think that functionality sounds very much like the Misfit Ray and you’d be right. The biggest point of difference is that the Flex 2 doesn’t offer a six-month battery life, but it does last for a reasonably healthy five days. Whichever you choose, you’ll end up with a great entry-level fitness tracker. £69.99, buy on fitbit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
Best For HIIT: Moov HR
The only entry on this entire list that spurns the standard tracking location of the wrist in favour of the temple. Why Moov has done this is simple: the manufacturer believes it’s a more accurate location for heart rate tracking, and the Moov HR is all about heart rate tracking.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of HIIT but find it hard to motivate yourself to do it solo, or indeed don’t know how to do it, the Moov HR might be the perfect tracker for you. Strap on the headband, open the app, and you’ll be voice-coached through a variety of HIIT workouts. These include both circuit training routines made up of bodyweight exercises and some sport-specific HIIT workouts.
The Moov HR doesn’t focus on standard tracking metrics like steps and sleep – it’s all about ramping up the heart rate, and it’s very successful within this niche. The heart rate tracking is accurate, with no lag, and the circuit training routines in particular are well designed to push you to your max – if you start to slack, the coach will tell you to work harder so your heart rate climbs into a higher zone. £82.12, buy on moov.cc, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Moov HR Review
Mid-Range Fitness Trackers (£100-£140)
As you’ve seen, there are useful trackers available for less than £100, but step above that mark and you open up a new world of exciting features like heart-rate monitors as standard, smartwatch-style notifications and even basic screens. Get excited, people.
Best For Losing Weight: Fitbit Alta HR
The Alta HR packs all the features that make Fitbit trackers so popular into a slim package that rivals the Misfit Ray in the style stakes. The built-in heart rate monitor allows for more accurate calorie counts, better sleep tracking and your resting heart rate, as well as an estimate of your VO2 max (called the Cardio Fitness Score on the Fitbit app). The last two are excellent measures of your overall cardiovascular fitness.
The Fitbit Charge 2 (see below) has a larger screen, a few extra features and is only a little more expensive, but the Alta HR’s svelte shape is a major part of its appeal, and means you will feel comfortable wearing it all the time. £129.99, buy on fitbit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Fitbit Alta HR Review
Best Mid-Range Fitbit For The Gym: Fitbit Charge 2
Although we rate the smaller Alta HR as the more stylish of the two, the Charge 2 is hardly ugly, and the extra size is put to good use with a clearer screen and some notable feature additions. These include Connected GPS, which uses your phone to record the distance of outdoor runs and cycles more accurately than you get when just using the Fitbit’s accelerometer, and the ability to view your stats during your workout or set up and follow a simple intervals session, which you can’t do on the Alta HR. £139.99, buy on fitbit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Fitbit Charge 2 Review
Best For All-Round Functionality: Garmin Vivosmart 3
One of the best things about Garmin is that once a new feature has appeared on its high-end trackers, it usually trickles down to the brand’s cheaper wearables. The Vivosmart 3 is laden with impressive features, including automatic rep counting, estimates of VO2 max and fitness age, all-day stress tracking and automatic activity tracking, as well as being waterproof so you can take it swimming (although it won’t log specific swim metrics like strokes or laps).
It also has a built-in heart rate monitor for 24/7 tracking and a resting heart rate measurement, and it receives all manner of notifications from your smartphone – not just calls, texts and calendar entries but even notifications from third-party apps like WhatsApp. £129.99, buy on garmin.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
Best For Looking Like A Watch: Nokia Steel
The wearable formerly known as the Withings Activite Steel remains the best hybrid watch/fitness tracker available even after the name change. The Nokia Steel is stylish, has a massive eight-month battery life, and tracks activity (including swimming) and sleep automatically. Aside from doing some exercise, you don’t have to make any effort at all – the watch will quietly track your every move and sync all the info to the Health Mate app.
Nokia is set to release the Steel HR soon, which adds a heart rate tracker to the device and a small screen on the watch face. The latter might be useful for seeing more stats at a glance but rather ruins the aesthetics, so we reckon stick with the standard Steel. £119.95, buy on health.nokia.com/uk, check price on amazon.co.uk
High-End Fitness Trackers (£140 And Up)
The crème de la crème. These top-end trackers are the smartest you can get, with flashy screens, built-in GPS and the ability to provide in-depth stats on all your sporting pursuits. If you’ve fallen down a fitness rabbit-hole and have the moolah, these are your go-to options.
Best Running Tracker: TomTom Spark/Runner 3
The TomTom Spark 3 (also known as the Runner 3) is an excellent multi-sport watch. It’s waterproof and has built-in GPS as standard, and heart rate tracking and space for music in the more expensive options (Spark 3 Cardio + Music).
Runners in particular will enjoy the features offered by the Spark 3. As well as having all the key stats on your run available at a glance – average pace, current pace, time, distance, heart rate – the Spark 3’s Route Exploration feature maps your run in simple fashion on the watch, so you need never fear getting lost in a new place again.
The Spark also has many dedicated workout modes, so you can set up an interval run on the watch, or tell it to buzz at you if you stop running at a certain pace or fall out of your desired heart rate zone. It’s an unrivalled all-round package that makes the Spark 3 our favourite running watch. £119.99 Spark 3, £219.99 Spark 3 Cardio + Music, buy on tomtom.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: TomTom Spark 3 Review
Best All-Round Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 3
When it comes to smartwatch functionality the Apple Watch Series 3 is streets ahead of the competition, with a well-stocked app store, an easy-to-use wallet (a conduit for your bank cards, trains tickets, boarding passes, Tesco Clubcard and much more), storage for music and the capability to stream Apple Music. If you opt for the cellular version of the watch you can also make and take calls, send emails and stream music – all without your phone.
The everyday fitness tracking is also done brilliantly with the three activity rings system, which you will quickly become addicted to. When it comes to sports tracking, you can use the native app for everything, including swimming, or pick one of the many third-party apps. Unless you’re on Android or require very detailed sports tracking, the Apple Watch 3 is hands down the best fitness tracking smartwatch available. From £399, Apple Watch 3 GPS + Cellular, buy on apple.com/uk
RECOMMENDED: Apple Watch Series 3 Review
Best Smartwatch For The Seriously Sporty: Garmin Vivoactive 3
Although it offers NFC payments through Garmin Pay, the Vivoactive 3 can’t match the smartwatch features of its rivals – it doesn’t have space for music, the notifications are basic and the third-party app market is limited – but when it comes to pure sports tracking it does have the edge thanks to Garmin’s excellent native software and app.
You can properly customise your activity screens for running, cycling or whatever else to display the stats you want, as well as tackle guided structured workouts after creating them in the app. The Vivoactive 3 also offers automatic rep counting for your strength workouts, as well as VO2 max and a resting heart rate measurement so you can track your fitness over time. It’s not the smartest smartwatch available, but it’s the smartest Garmin, which is enough to make it an attractive option for runners in particular. £279.99, buy on garmin.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
Best Fitbit: Fitbit Ionic
The new Ionic offers perhaps the best user experience of any smartwatch, with a stunningly clear screen, automatic activity tracking including the new Run Detect – which even fires up the built-in GPS when you start pounding the pavements – space for music and four days of battery life. You can also take the Ionic swimming, (eventually) pay for things with Fitbit Pay, and get personal coaching from your wrist with a subscription to the Fitbit Coach app.
It’s not quite as sporty as the Vivoactive 3 or quite as smart as the Apple Watch 3, but it fits nicely between the two as an all-rounder that offers Fitbit’s excellent everyday active tracking and easy-to-use app. £299.99, buy on fitbit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
Best Fitness Tracker For Triathletes: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
If you’re a keen triathlete already, or have a sneaking suspicion that your newfound desire to track your activity will quickly escalate to multi-sport events, your options are somewhat limited unless you are willing to splash out at least £350. However, the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR does offer everything you need to track triathlons – including a dedicated multisport mode as well as open-water swim tracking – all at two-thirds of the price of most triathlon trackers.
While it’s not the most stylish of trackers, the black version is inconspicuous enough to wear at all times, and the Spartan Trainer does provide all the standard everyday stats you want including calories and steps. £219, buy on suunto.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review