Choosing a Fitness Tracker: Which Should You Buy?

This year has been a little dramatic for most of us. From the announcement of the outbreak of the pandemic in December 2019, to compulsory lock-down in almost all countries from March 2020. We have had to stay at home and as a result, added some extra kgs.

However, the good news is that you can still get back in shape. If you’re looking to get fit again, then this post will point you in the right direction. No matter how much you exercise, fitness trackers can be a great way to help you get — or stay — in shape without having to invest in a full-blown smartwatch. An activity tracker can hold you accountable for how much you’re doing (or not doing) and help you get the most out of each workout. Many models include extra features such as a sleep tracker, calorie burn tracker, heart rate tracking and more. They’ll then share that data with an app to help you keep an eye on your fitness goal or goals.

Of the many fitness-orientated devices out there, the humble fitness tracking wristband is by far the most popular, mainly because they’re discreet, counting steps and tracking workouts with a minimal physical presence.

Choosing the Best Fitness Tracker

  • Fitness Tracker Vs. Smartwatch

These days, almost all smartwatches – such as the Apple Watch Series 5 or Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 – are also accomplished fitness trackers. They will allow you to monitor very much any physical activity, and will most likely keep track of your heart rate and sleep patterns at the very least. They will inevitably have large watch faces, Apple/Android app support, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, built-in GPS and many, many other jazzy features.

On the flip side, most fitness trackers are simple, with tiny monochrome displays. They will often track basic fitness information (steps taken, calories burned, distance travelled) onboard, but tend to require a permanent connection to a smartphone for in-depth analysis, GPS tracking and to display notifications.

  • Features to Look Out for

Look out for a fitness tracker that will track the basic fitness metrics: steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned. Most will also track a vast selection of sports, either automatically or otherwise. All will have an app that displays the collected fitness information and connects users to the broader community.

  • Crucial Extras

The following may not be present in all models, but they are worth looking out for:

1. Heart rate sensor: It’s becoming increasingly common to see fitness trackers with built-in heart rate tracking, but be sure to check just in case. Often, these models will be marked by an “HR” in the product name.

2. GPS: Fitness trackers tend to use something called connected GPS to track your route. In brief, this means that they rely upon a smartphone’s GPS signal, adding to the data your smartphone records rather than tracking your route outright. This means you cannot track your run without also taking your smartphone with you.

The alternative is built-in GPS, which means that the device has a built-in sensor. These wearables will track your run without needing a connection to your phone. Check before you buy – we list what kind of GPS our recommended trackers support in the Key Specs sections above.

3. Altimeter: To measure how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed over the course of a day (or more adventurously, how many flights of stairs the mountain you just climbed equates to), you’ll need an altimeter.

The Best Fitness Tracker to Buy

There are dozens of great trackers to choose from, but we’ve rounded up four of our favourite activity-tracking devices based on price, form and function. This list can help get you started on your search for a wearable device that monitors your activity and helps you achieve peak fitness.

In this list, we’ve concentrated on more basic, affordable fitness trackers, but there are also a couple of fitness-orientated smartwatches that we think are represent such good value that they’re worth considering.  

Fitbit Inspire HR

The best fitness tracker.

The Good

  • Lightweight and discreet
  • Solid five-day battery life
  • Useful perks like swim-proofing and guided breathing

The Bad

  • Tiny screen might not suit everyone
  • Notifications leave lots to be desired

Buy Now from Amazon or Konga

The Inspire HR is Fitbit’s low-cost, entry level tracker – but that doesn’t stop it from being a surprisingly powerful health and activity device that will suit plenty of people.

The Fitbit Inspire HR manages to combine heart based activity tracking, workout detection and powerful sleep monitoring into a small and discreet wrist band form. What’s more, with a generous screen, it will also display notifications and your goal data too.

You can pick up a regular Fitbit Inspire for less but, given that the extra money gets you a heart-rate monitor, connected GPS, VO2 max estimates and guided breathing sessions, upgrading to the Inspire HR feels like a no brainer. If all you’re after is a smart fitness band to do all of the above – as well as track your steps, sleep and general fitness level – the Fitbit Inspire HR is an easy recommendation.

Fitbit Charge 4

The best Fitbit fitness tracker.

The Good

  • Sleek, minimalistic design
  • Heart rate zone notifications
  • Compatibility with iOS and Android
  • Sleep tracking and analysis

The Bad

  • Low visibility in direct sunlight
  • No quick reply for messages on iPhone
  • Shorter battery life than the Fitbit Charge 3

Buy Now from Amazon or Konga

Fitbit Charge 4 is its best yet, with features like built-in GPS ever seen in much more expensive trackers. The Charge 4 also has some smart upgrades, like a Zone Minutes metric that encourages newbies to explore high-intensity exercise and an “outdoor workout” category for rambling hikes and golf games. Fitbit also has the best sleep tracking hardware and software.

This fitness tracker also behaves a lot like a smartwatch without the extra bulk. It checks all the boxes when it comes to fitness features, with better training tools for athletes than its predecessors and built-in GPS to track outdoor workouts independently of your phone. It also includes mobile payments and the option to reply to texts and messages if you’re an Android user.

Xiaomi Mi Band 4

A must have budget fitness tracker.

The Good

  • AMOLED panel
  • 50-metre water resistance
  • Automatic heart rate detection
  • Weeks-long battery life
  • Highly customizable

The Bad

  • Charging cradle is easy to lose

Buy now from Amazon or Jumia

For its price, the Mi Band 4 is the best value fitness tracker you can buy. It packs most of the features you’d get in a more expensive fitness tracker, like an AMOLED touchscreen that’s easy to see in sunlight, 24/7 heart rate and sleep tracking. Battery life is also second-to-none as you’ll get around two and a half weeks of use before you need to charge. The one thing it does miss out on is workout variety; it can only detect running, walking, cycling or swimming, so any other workout like Pilates or yoga would need to be tracked under the generic “exercise” type. And of course, you still get all the basics – steps, calories, sleep and exercise – and more detailed analysis via the Mi Fit app.

Garmin Vivosmart 4

The best Fitbit alternative.

The Good

  • Slim, small, and barely noticeable
  •  Long battery life
  • Cheaper than competing products
  • Body battery measurement is genius
  • While limited, the sports trackers are accurate.

The Bad

  • No GPS or connected GPS
  • Small touchscreen is irritating
  • Accelerometer can be twitchy.

Buy now from Amazon

Garmin is best known for its high-end running watches and sports-specific devices. The brand’s wearables do a great job at tracking fitness, as well as analyzing that data so wannabe athletes know when they should be resting or pushing harder.

Despite its age, the Garmin Vivosmart 4 remains an excellent fitness tracker. Alongside the usual slew of fitness tracking functions – including heart rate, step, calorie, staircase, sleep and stress tracking – the Vivosmart 4 introduces blood oxygen saturation tracking and broader “Body Battery” tracking. This last feature calculates your body’s overall resources and gives you an idea of when you should be working out – and when you should be resting.

Simply put, the Vivosmart 4 is a durable, well-rounded fitness tracker that suffers only from a lack of GPS. If a Fitbit doesn’t appeal but you don’t fancy compromising on features, you won’t find much better at this price.

Fitness Trackers Compared – Specifications

FeaturesFitbit Inspire HR
Fitbit Charge 4
Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Garmin Vivosmart 4
ScreenMonochrome OLEDMonochrome OLEDColour OLEDMonochrome OLED
Battery 5 Days7 Days20 Days7 Days
Replaceable StrapYesYesYesNo
GPSConnected OnlyBuilt inConnected OnlyNo
Heart rateYesYesYesYes
AltimeterNoNoNoYes
Sleep TrackYesYesYesYes
Blood Oxygen TrackYesYes
NotificationsYesYesYesYes
VO2 Max TrackYesYes
Workout TrackYesYesYesYes
Rating8777.5

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