While Fitbit was one of the first companies to go beyond simple step counting — giving insight into calories burned, sleep data and more — several brands have built an impressive fitness community around their products, allowing people to connect with others who are also on a mission to lose weight, get fit or improve their endurance and speed.
That’s why, over the course of a month, we tested eight highly rated, beloved fitness trackers. We ran. We walked. We lifted. We compared ease of use, build quality and accuracy. After a more-active-than-usual couple of weeks, we found one fitness tracker that tops them all:
The Fitbit Inspire 3 is the best fitness tracker for most people, offering comprehensive tracking, a vivid color display and a comfortable fit for less than $100.
Best fitness tracker: Fitbit Inspire 3
$99 at Amazon
Since first releasing fitness trackers in 2014, Fitbit has been considered the most accessible brand for all health warriors — from novices to experts.
The first thing you notice about the Fitbit Inspire 3 is the bright, color AMOLED screen, replacing the monochrome screen on the Inspire 2. Not only does this new screen make the tracker more appealing to look at, but it’s also easier to see your information in bright sunlight.
The new model comes with an always-on display capability, but be warned: It will drain your tracker’s battery much faster than the 10 days of battery life the Inspire 3 boasts. Without this feature, we got about 11 days of battery life on a single charge. With an always-on screen, Fitbit says you’ll get about three days.
Activity tracking is what Fitbit does best, and the Inspire 3 makes it easy. There are over 20 different workouts to choose from (including run, bike, swim and treadmill), though you can only have six workouts on your tracker at once. To swap them out you need to connect to the app, make your changes and re-sync the device. The Inspire 3 also uses what it calls Active Zone Minutes to help you better reach your workout goals. It monitors your heart rate and tracks how much time you spend in certain zones, taking age and fitness level into account.
The Inspire 3’s new health monitoring features make it a compelling health tracker in addition to a fitness tracker. It automatically tracks Sp02 (blood oxygen) levels throughout the day, and while it can’t take an ECG like the more expensive Fitbit Charge 5 or newer smartwatches, it will monitor your heart rate variability and alert you if it detects an irregular heart rhythm.
Once it syncs with the Fitbit app, you can access all this data and drill down for more info or timelines. In the app you can also manually track menstruation and blood glucose levels, and view historical data. The Inspire 3 also still offers the company’s comprehensive sleep tracking abilities with features to log your resting heart rate, sleep duration and blood oxygen levels to give you a good sense of your sleep profile.
With its entry-level price tag, the Inspire 3 lacks the smarts of a more expensive device. There’s no built-in GPS (though you can use your phone’s GPS to track a run via Bluetooth) and no contactless payments or built-in music service like Spotify.
But, If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, feature-rich tracker with battery life that will go for days, the Fitbit Inspire 3 with its color screen and 10-day battery life leads the pack. You also get useful features like stress management, two-minute relaxation sessions, reminders to get up and move and the “find my phone” feature for when you misplace your phone in the house. And, at under $100, it’s affordable, comfortable enough to wear all day and night and gives you access to meaningful data in its comprehensive Fitbit app.
How accurate are fitness trackers?
When working toward a specific health goal, a fitness tracker can prove vital, helping to self-monitor daily activities and provide motivation to stay in action. As certified fitness instructor DeBlair Tate, who provided guidance during our testing process, put it: “When your progress is tracked accurately and consistently, a pattern of results becomes clearer. It provides a sense of ownership for health and fitness goals. When you aim to reach those numbers daily, you gain that fulfillment of accomplishment that motivates you to create more goals.”
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But how accurate, exactly, are fitness trackers? We did notice some discrepancies in steps — up to 500 to 800 steps — when we wore two trackers at once. This was true regardless of brand. That’s normal, though, since technology and functionality are all different. As Keegan Draper, National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and fitness specialist for Mindbody, explained, wrist straps will differ from hip-mounted trackers and chest or arm straps.
In terms of steps, he says more accurate measurements would come from a hip-mounted step counter, whereas a wristwatch could pick up on other movements and track those. “It is very likely two different trackers give different step counts,” Draper noted. “But, overall, your daily fitness tracker will be relatively accurate, and having some sort of monitor and tracker is better than none.”
How we tested
- Accuracy: Though numbers will vary, as we explored above, to test accuracy, we wore two trackers at once and compared the results. We also compared the steps to the included pedometer in our phone and tested the built-in GPS to measure distance.
- Readability: While the numbers on all fitness trackers are fairly small, we noted how easy it was to read the screen — as well as how quickly we could glance at the screen to see our heart rate in the middle of a workout.
- Navigation: All of the trackers allow you to scroll to find steps, activity, heart rate and so on. We rated how easy this was to explore.
- Activity recognition: For many trackers, you can also select what type of workout you’re doing before you begin for better activity tracking accuracy. Some automatically recognize activities, so we tested that too.
- App usability: We rated how straightforward the app was, what it tracks and how it presented information.
- Ease of setup: When you’re buying a tracker to lower your heart rate and improve your health, the last thing you want is to be stressed. We looked at how easy and fast it was to follow instructions, download the app, connect to Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi and get started.
- Battery life: We recorded how long each device lasted on a full charge.
- Compatibility: Many fitness trackers require you to download their own app, and some allow you to sync with other apps, like Apple Health, Google Fit, MyFitness Pal, Peloton and many others. We looked at how many third-party apps each tracker could pair with.
- Overall comfort: The purpose of a fitness tracker is to wear it all day, and in some cases, all night. This means comfort is key. We rated on fit as well as how it felt during and after a workout, against sweat or in the shower.
- Design: We noted how aesthetically pleasing and diverse the tracker was, including how many colors and designs were available.
- Waterproofness: We took each of these trackers into the shower to ensure they held up to their waterproof and water resistance ratings.
- Warranty: We noted the warranty, if any, for each device and rated its offering.
Other fitness trackers we tested
Fitbit Inspire 2
$100 From $56 at Amazon
Our previous pick for best fitness tracker, the Fitbit Inspire 2 is a great under $100 choice for anyone who wants better clarity and more robust data about their health, fitness and wellness lifestyle. Its sleek build ensured it didn’t catch on clothing (or anything else) while working out, and the thin screen seemed less prone to bumps and scratches, so in a way it felt less shatterproof than others. Plus, with features to track your sleep strength training and cardio workouts, the Inspire 2 covers all the basic bases you need to keep your health in check.
Fitbit Charge 4
$135 at Walmart
In all transparency, the Fitbit Charge 4 offers every feature we liked about the Fitbit Inspire 2, but we found the design of this model to be less comfortable. The screen and the band are wider, which can feel bulky for someone with small wrists. If you’re on the fence about buying an Apple Watch, though, this is very similar in terms of alerts, connectivity to your calendar and messaging, so it could be a cheaper alternative. It is compatible with Spotify, so you can listen to music via Bluetooth headphones while exercising, but a premium membership is required.
The screen is more advanced than the Inspire 2, which we appreciated, but it’s also easier to scratch.
Garmin Vivosmart 4 With Pulse Ox and Heart Rate Monitor in Rose Gold With Gray Band
From $90 at Amazon
In terms of look and feel, the two Garmins we tested were similar to the Fitbit Inspire 2. They have thinner bands in various colors and feature the swipeable home screen. While we preferred Fitbit to track workouts and steps, Garmin was better for walks and runs, since it’s known for its GPS accuracy and its ability to help with pacing, from within the app. It even provides trails or loops you can follow in most cities.
Garmin’s app and interface are similar to Fitbit but feel clunkier and more difficult to navigate. There are various sections, including a daily screenshot, challenges you can give yourself, calendar reminders and more, but it doesn’t offer the same community-like feel or ease of scrolling as the Fitbit app.
The Vivosmart 4 does display reminders to breathe and relax if your resting heart rate seems to be going haywire, which is a valuable feature, particularly in today’s climate. And if you want your steps to be front and center, you can make them first on your menu — or, if you want activities, you can do that too. It’s up to you and fully customizable.
This tracker also claims to have more advanced sleep monitoring, including REM cycle and blood oxygen saturation levels via its Pulse Ox sensor. Ultimately, though, we found it uncomfortable to wear while sleeping and ended up taking it off halfway through the night, so we didn’t get an accurate read.
Garmin Vivofit 4
$80 at Amazon
This smaller and less expensive tracker offers many of the same apps and offerings as the Vivosmart, but it does have one standout quality that may be enticing for some: a button. Of all the trackers we tested, it was the only one to offer a button to navigate the on-screen menu. This isn’t a necessity, but for those who prefer something tangible, it could be a decision-making feature. Like all Garmin devices, this one also connects to Google Play, iTunes and up to 15 other apps, so you can easily integrate various subscriptions into your tracker. You can also get a weather reading if you’re trying to decide whether to do an indoor or outdoor workout. Our biggest gripe with this device, however, is its home screen, which we found to be the most difficult to read unless we were in total daylight.
Withings Hybrid Smartwatch Steel HR
$180 at Amazon
Of the seven fitness tracking devices we tested, this is the only one that could be mistaken for a watch. And for many people, this is a major selling point. Its screen offers a clock, a stopwatch and all of the info traditional trackers have, like heart rate, calories burned and other data. For small wrists, though, we found this device to be too large.
With Withings, you download its Health Mate app to receive information on your heart rate as well as to track your weight, activities and sleep. Like trackers, you can also receive text or phone alerts and connect it to Amazon Alexa to give verbal cues. To collect data on fitness, you scroll to place the tracker in “workout mode” and select from running, swimming and so on. As a bonus, it also claims to track Ping-Pong, windsurfing, kitesurfing and other unique activities. When you’ve finished sweating, you’ll see info on the duration of your activity and calories you expended. And its battery life is one of the most impressive we observed — even after wearing it for several days, it never fell below 70% charge.
It’s a solid choice for those who want a bit more out of their fitness tracker and are willing to spend a bit more.
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
$42 at Walmart
Though at first glance this fitness tracker looks very similar to its more expensive competitors, the experience doesn’t compare. When we were setting up the device, our internet browser detected a security risk and said the website was unsafe. Then, when we did download the app for Xiaomi called Mi Fit, it had significantly less information than the others we tested. You can see your steps, and you can select between walking, running and cycling, but the tracking features weren’t as reliable as others. Plus, the app heavily pushes the company’s “skins,” which are personalized home screens for the tracker, rather than focusing on health and wellness.
The tracker is comfortable to wear and has a sleek look (though the band is only available in black), but you need to remove the watch face to charge the device. It’s not a big deal and doesn’t take long, but it’s an added step that other activity trackers don’t require. While this isn’t the least expensive device on our list, we found it to have the fewest features — not to mention that its app and website seem unstable and should be updated to build trust with consumers.
Letsfit Fitness Tracker
$30 at Adorama
This tracker was the least expensive out of our pool, but we were impressed with its design and functionally. It’s the only tracker that doesn’t require you to set up a profile to begin using the device. That means you can take it out of the box, charge it for an hour and get started. It doesn’t have super-advanced data like the others we tested, but if you merely want to track your steps and your heart rate, it’s an affordable way to have a pulse on your health (no pun intended). You can download the VeryFitPro app to see your stats, but you can do so without giving your email or any information.
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