The 14 Best Fitness Trackers, Watches and Bands In 2021
Staying in shape is hard work (and honestly, that can feel like a humble brag to anyone trying to get into shape in the first place). It’s especially hard to do on your own, without any help, coaching or encouragement. That’s why a lot of people turn to tech to keep themselves active and engaged in their personal health and fitness journey. A fitness tracker—whether it’s a fitness band or a smartwatch—can remind you to exercise, monitor your activity level during and after each workout and track your progress over time. The best fitness trackers are the next best thing to having your own personal trainer.
Choosing the right tracker can be daunting. Fitbit, the company that singled-handedly popularized the concept of fitness tracking, sells no fewer than seven different models on its own. And then there are fitness trackers from Samsung, Garmin, Amazfit and a dozen other companies. It pays to shop carefully, because not all trackers are designed for the kinds of exercise you want to do, and some have extra features, like smartphone notifications, heart rate monitoring, stress tracking and blood-oxygen level sensors.
No matter which fitness tracker you choose, there’s a good chance it’ll cover all the basics pretty well, but you might want extras like water resistance (great if you’re a swimmer), the ability to track stairs and built-in GPS so you don’t need to bring your phone along on a long run. We’ve rounded up 14 of the best fitness trackers you can buy today; no matter where you are on your fitness journey, there’s a model here for you.
Best Fitness Tracker Overall
Fitbit Inspire 2
The Fitbit Inspire 2 captures the flag as the best overall fitness tracker because it represents, in many ways, the template from which all other trackers are created. The Inspire 2 represents the culmination of everything Fitbit has learned about making wearables over the years, and includes pretty much everything the average person needs in a fitness tracker. It counts steps, distance and has sleep tracking features. It automatically recognizes when you’re doing a variety of common workouts and starts tracking—over 20 kinds of workouts in all. It’s waterproof to about 150 feet and you can wear it into a pool to track swim workouts.
The Inspire 2 replaces the older Inspire HR and, like most modern wearables, includes a full-time heart rate monitor. You also get an impressive 10-day battery life, but the coolest change in the new Inspire 2 is the lack of any buttons. You control the sleek, streamlined fitness monitor by squeezing the touch-sensitive side of the band.
It comes in three color colors and has some smartwatch-like features. It doesn’t have an always-on display, but the display is bright when you activate it and the screen can show the time and fitness info, as well as receive notifications from your phone. So not only can you monitor your fitness data on the Inspire, but you can see the time, incoming text messages and calls, and calendar alerts as well.
Best Samsung Fitness Watch
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
Samsung has a long history with making excellent fitness-focused smart watches, but traditionally, Samsung’s focus on building watches around its own Tizen OS meant that it played in a different pool when it came to app compatibility. The Galaxy Watch 4, though, breaks that mold. Running the new version of Google WearOS, which Samsung had a hand in developing, Samsung is bringing this watch back into the Android ecosystem.
Aside from the ability to run Android apps, the Galaxy Watch 4 is notable for a handful of other cool features. In addition to sensors that can track your Sp02, heart rate, blood pressure, ECG and sleep, the Watch 4 has an all-new body analysis tool. The watch uses a bioelectric impedance sensor that can estimate metrics like your body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass and body water (along with an indication of whether you’re in a healthy zone). It’s an exciting new set of data to review, though let’s hope that Samsung continues to make it more understandable and actionable over time.
The watch itself is slim, sporty and attractive. Samsung dispensed with the rotating bezel for navigating the interface, but you still get a digital rotating bezel (you can spin your finger around the edge of the screen). And of course there’s the usual fitness tracking capabilities, with nearly 100 workouts and sports activities the watch can track. One important caveat to keep in mind, though: This watch is designed to work with Galaxy phones. If you have any other Android phone, it’s better to look elsewhere.
Best Apple Fitness Tracker
Apple Watch Series 7
Like Samsung, Apple casts such a long shadow in the gadget world that the company deserves its own category—in fact, many people aren’t looking for “the best fitness tracker,” but the best fitness tracker from Apple.” And that makes sense; if you want to keep all your devices in the Apple ecosystem—and there are some huge advantages for doing that—then it pays to know which Apple Watch works best as a fitness tool.
With the release of the Apple Watch Series 7, the newest Apple Watch is the smart choice. Though Apple Watch models have offered just incremental updates from previous models in the last couple of year, the Series 7 is a substantially smarter choice than the two other models you can buy—the Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE.
The Apple Watch Series 7 is built around an always-on display, which it accomplishes without reducing the battery life—you still get about 18 hours between charges. In addition to heart rate monitoring and the ability to perform an ECG (electrocardiogram) on demand, it has an SpO2 sensor and an excellent sleep tracker. And while most fitness bands have sleep tracking now, only Apple has tightly integrated that with the iPhone’s alarm app and Do Not Disturb mode. All of this was in the Series 6 as well; the Series 7 adds a slightly larger display and faster charging (though the battery runtime remains unchanged).
In a nutshell, the Apple Watch Series 7 is very health and fitness conscious. It features female health-tracking, a full-time heart rate monitor, is waterproof for swim tracking and can track stairs. The watch recognizes a slew of exercises and will start tracking them semi-automatically. But unlike Fitbit, which “just works,” Apple pops a notification on the watch when it senses a workout and asks you to allow it to start tracking—whether you prefer the Apple or Fitbit approach is a matter of taste.
Want to try an Apple Watch but don’t want to spend $400 on the Series 7? You can get many of these features for around $280 by getting the Apple Watch SE instead.
Best Fitbit Watch
Fitbit offers a deep bench of products—both fitness bands and smart watches. The Fitbit Sense is the brand’s current flagship fitness watch, offering the most complete feature set in the Fitbit lineup. Of course, it has a price tag to match. If you don’t need everything the Sense has to offer, you can save a solid chunk of change by getting the more affordable Versa 3. But keep in mind that if you do, you’ll miss out on some health features like stress testing and ECG monitoring.
You’ll find almost every kind of sensor imaginable in the Sense, including Sp02, skin temperature sensing, ECG and sleep monitoring. Much of that works automatically while you sleep—the Sense measures your blood oxygen level and skin temperature at night to make some general assessments about your health. Of course, the watch has all the usual fitness and workout features, allowing it to track most forms of exercise along with step tracking and heart rate. The watch can even indicate when you should push a little bit harder during a workout to get the most out of your session.
The Sense has solid usability features like a bright and responsive color touchscreen and voice commands via Alexa and Google Assistant, and works with both Apple and Android phones. It also offers about 4-5 days of battery life between charges.
Best Fitbit for Women
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: the Fitbit Luxe isn’t “best for women” simply because the band comes in pink (actually, Fitbit calls it “orchid”), and it’s worth pointing out that pretty much Fitbit’s entire lineup is perfectly suited to both men and women. Don’t forget that Fitbit pioneered female-first features like mensural health tracking (which lets you follow your cycle, log your periods and analyze trends). But the Luxe stands out because it features all the usual core Fitbit features (like almost two dozen exercise modes, heart rate monitoring, sleep monitoring and step tracking, just to name a few) with a solid five days of battery life while being laser focused on aesthetics.
At its core, Luxe is a slimmed-down Fitbit that’s long and thin with a slimmer-than-average case. It’s bezeled in stainless steel, not plastic, and has a somewhat more fashionable look overall. Even better: You can swap out the band for a number of options that look great for after-work activities. Fitbit offers a number of accessory bands like a link bracelet, stainless steel mesh and a double-wrap leather strap that you just don’t tend to see in other fitness bands. So if you’re looking for a fitness band that is more reminiscent of jewelry than a smartwatch—but is still a full-featured fitness band—then the Luxe could be just what you are looking for.
Best Budget Fitness Band
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
Is it possible to have a great fitness band for well under $50? The Xiaomi Mi Band 4 is evidence that yes, you can. It has virtually all of the features you’d commonly get in a much more expensive Fitbit model. It includes all the usual basic tracking features, such as steps counted, distance and calories burned. And in addition, it does activity tracking with a half-dozen workout modes including treadmill, outdoor running, cycling, walking, and swimming (yes, it is waterproof as well). That said, the number of programmed workouts is a bit limited when compared to other activity trackers that know a much broader range of activities.
You wouldn’t expect it at this price point, but Xiaomi’s Mi Band 4 includes a heart rate monitor and has the ability to alert you if it senses anything anomalous. You can also use it for basic sleep tracking, though the band can’t record detailed data like the quality of REM sleep you’re getting. For that, you’ll need to step up to a more premium band.
The inch-long AMOLED display is as bright and colorful as any tracker that costs three times as much, making it easy to see in bright sunlight. Even so, you get a generous battery life—it can go nearly three weeks between charges. The display manages to last this long by not being always on. It turns on when you need it, and you can configure it to turn on when you lift your wrist or only when you tap the screen.
Best Budget Fitness Smartwatch
Amazfit Bip U
Not all fitness trackers need to cost a small fortune. While most start around $100 and prices climb north of $300, the Amazfit Bip U—while not bearing the most professional or reassuring name—is a solid, dependable and surprisingly feature-laden budget fitness tracker. It’s inexpensive enough that it almost qualifies as an impulse purchase.
Despite the low price, it doesn’t look cheap, and at a glance it could pass for an Apple Watch. Moreover, it has a wealth of fitness tracking capabilities. Unlike many trackers and smartwatches, it has an always-on color display. And you get more than a week of battery life, not just days or (in the case of Apple) hours. You can expect to get close to nine days out of the watch between every charge.
The Bip U does all the basic fitness tracking, such as steps, distance, sleep monitoring, heart rate and more. It also features an SpO2 sensor, meaning it can measure your blood oxygen level like the newest Apple Watch and other high-end fitness bands. There’s no GPS on board, though, so you need to bring your phone along if you want to track the details of your outdoor run. But the band can track more than 60 kinds of exercises and sports, including running, cycling, yoga, fishing, badminton and kickboxing. It’s also waterproof and tracks swimming.
You might appreciate the fact that this band monitors your stress level and makes breathing exercises to help you keep it under control. You also get notifications from your phone, so you can monitor your texts and calendar appointments from your wrist. Is the mobile app as polished as the software you get with Fitbit or Apple? No, not really. But the price difference is worth the compromise.
Best Fitbit for Kids
Fitbit Ace 2
Most fitness trackers are made for adults, and that’s exactly the way you’d expect things to be; few kids are preparing for a 10K or need to lose 10 pounds to be in shape for summer. But not everyone is a grownup, and there are some great reasons to help your kids stay engaged in physical fitness. So what if you are looking for a simple fitness tracker for your kids? The Fitbit Ace 2 is made with children age six and older in mind. Not only is this a more affordable fitness band, but it disposes of features that kids don’t need.
The Ace 2 doesn’t have the ability to do cardio, calorie or heart rate tracking, because no seven year old should be obsessing about any of those things—it’s just not healthy. Instead, Fitbit keeps things simple, with activity tracking that is limited to a step count and log of active minutes. It doesn’t track specific exercises, advanced sleep-tracking (though it does monitor the time slept), female health tracking or any sort of advanced insights. Again, the goal here isn’t for a nine-year-old to stick to a fitness or weight loss plan. It’s to reward your kids for running around outside.
And to that end, the Ace 2 is extra rugged and has a five-day battery life, so you don’t have to remember to plug it in every night like an Apple Watch. And if your kids like the Ace 2, they might develop healthy lifestyle habits early and eventually graduate to something more capable.
Best Fitness Tracker for Runners
The Whoop strap (now in its fourth iteration) has an unusual name and an equally unusual approach for fitness. For starters, the band is free—what you pay for is the service that takes the band’s data, analyzes it and gives you information about your strain (a measure of your daily cardio load), recovery (how well your body adapts to the load) and sleep.
Of course, you’re still sort of paying for the band, but it might not feel that way since you can subscribe to Whoop’s service for as little as $18 per month. That’s if you prepay for 18 months; other plans include an annual membership for $24 per month and a six-month plan for $30 per month.
The band itself has no buttons or display. You just wear it, and it automatically registers when you exercise—you need to check the app for the data and analysis. You get about five days of battery life on a single charge, and cleverly you can swap the dead battery for a fresh one without ever removing the band from your wrist.
In theory, Whoop does a better job of tracking your workouts with resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate rather than bands that rely on simpler metrics, and the software can give you personalized coaching that takes your personal fitness, strain and recovery factors into account.
Best Multisport Smartwatch
Coros is a familiar name to cyclists, and the Apex watch leverages that goodwill with a superb fitness tracker for someone who lives a cross-training lifestyle. The watch tracks a wealth of exercises—some indoor ones like cardio, spinning and swimming, but also a veritable catalog of outdoor activities that include biking, skiing, hiking, triathlons and much more. The strength and training modes let you create a circuit featuring over 200 included exercises, or you can design your own complex interval workouts. Add in the option to download additional workouts from the Coros website and and three-week battery life, and there’s a lot to like here.
One of the more innovative features in the Apex is the AI Trainer, which estimates the energy you have left after your workout and displays an estimated time until your body recovers to full stamina. Running or cycling? A navigation feature lets you follow a pre-loaded route on the watch, and the integrated GPS lets you get real-time alerts to stay on course. The helpful alerts don’t end there—even without an internet connection, the Apex warns you of approaching storms via the integrated barometer. And a sunrise/sunset tracker can keep you appraised about how much light is left in the day.
The actual watch design is a bit unusual, and you’re likely to either love it or hate it. There’s no touchscreen—instead, you’ll find a large knob and button. All the watch settings and screens are controlled by spinning the knob and pushing it to confirm, or using the other button as a “back” button. The Coros is clearly a powerful device designed by people who truly understand what dedicated athletes need from a fitness tracker.
Best Fitness Band with GPS
Fitbit Charge 5
The Fitbit Charge 5 might look like a lot of other fitness trackers and in fact has the same basic shape as the older Charge 4, but it’s gotten a substantial makeover and is now far and away Fitbit’s best fitness band. The usual rectangular display has been upgraded to a bright colorful OLED display and is sized to make everything easy to read—it’s almost as big as a smart watch. And despite the switch from monochrome to color display, you still get about a week on a single charge.
If you like the basics form factor of the Charge 5, you’ll appreciate the overall design as well. It’s now housed in an aluminum case and has an always-on display, so there’s no need to do anything just to read the screen. It has new sensors (including an electrodermal activity sensor that reads electrical changes in your sweat to measure your body’s reaction to stress) and includes GPS for phone-free running workouts.
The Charge 5 keeps track of all the basics like steps and distance, and it also recognizes when you’re starting to exercise and tracks that for you as well. A feature new to the Fitbit family is called Active Zone Minutes, which tries to motivate you to keep burning fat. It’s also water-resistant and tracks swimming. If you’re a runner, you’ll appreciate a feature that pauses tracking when you briefly stop running. That means stopping at a traffic light doesn’t ruin your stats. There’s also a built-in heart rate sensor, which increases the fidelity of your fitness tracking.
In addition to all the usual fitness data, the Charge 5 delivers notifications from your phone. Not only can you accept and reject calls, but you can see texts and calendar alerts as well. You can also send Quick Replies—short, pre-configured messages—without touching your phone. And it includes Fitbit Pay, which lets you use it to make digital purchases, something usually reserved for more traditional smartwatches.
Best Garmin Fitness Tracker
Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Apple Watch is the obvious choice for health and fitness fanatics who want a fitness tracker that’s tightly integrated with the Apple ecosystem, but is there a similar choice for Android? Sort of—there are any number of excellent Android-compatible fitness bands and smartwatches, but the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is perhaps the best premium option. It looks sharp, with an enormous face displaying an always-on screen that’s protected by rugged Gorilla Glass. And Garmin’s small touches pay big dividends. It’s hard not to love the on-screen animated exercise demonstrations when you work out, for example. You get some cool Pilates and yoga routines that are indispensable for checking your form.
Speaking of workouts, the Vivoactive 4 features a full-time heart rate monitor, respiration tracker and increasingly common SPO2 sensor. It tracks over 20 sports and exercises, and you can create customized training plans so your watch will coach you to prep for that marathon, for example.
You also get built-in storage for playing music while you work out and a large library of workout apps. Integrated sleep and menstrual tracking help you manage other aspects of health. You’re not going to use this for workouts 24/7, so Garmin also includes Garmin Pay (contactless payments akin to Apple Pay or Android Pay) and a battery that keeps the watch running for a formidable eight days of usage.
Best Fitness Tracker for Esoteric Sports
Garmin Vivosmart 4
You might think that Fitbit has the market sewn up on wrist-worn fitness trackers, and you’d be mostly right. The company has an extensive line of trackers at virtually every price point, which seems to leave very little air for other companies to breathe. But while Fitbit might be synonymous with fitness tracking in the minds of many, companies like Garmin offer their own line of trackers, and some are excellent choices for managing your health and fitness.
The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is the latest version of the company’s successful wrist-worn tracker, and it tracks everything you’d expect it to, including steps and distance, as well as an estimate of your calories burned throughout the day. There’s also a built-in heart rate monitor and sleep tracking.
The display is a little smaller than what you’ll find on many trackers, but it’s framed with a stylish aluminum bezel, which adds a chic look to the device that is appealing for both men and women. You get about a full week of battery life out of each charge, and the Vivosmart 4 goes above and beyond with the ability to track a large array of exercises–not just the ordinary stuff like biking, running, and treadmill, but pretty unusual activities like BMX, motocross, rafting and hang gliding. That’s right, hang gliding. Overall, the Vivosmart 4 tracks a greater range of activities and records more in-depth data than most fitness trackers on the market, making this a superb choice for people who are deeply invested in quantifying themselves and their activities.
Best Step Tracker
3DFitBud Simple Step Counter
Smart devices like fitness bands and fitness watches are all the rage, but not everyone needs a high-tech wearable. If the only thing you need is a simple step counter—and you absolutely don’t want any bells and whistles like heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, SP02 or VO2 max—then a step counter like this 3DFitBud might be perfect for you.
The 3DFitBud Simple Step Counter is among the least expensive devices you can buy. It lists for $40, which is admittedly in the same price range as some budget fitness bands, but it’s routinely on sale for about $25.
It comes with both a clip case and lanyard and you can wear it in a variety of ways—clipped to your pants, in a pocket or around your neck—and you can choose from among four colors. The large display clearly reports your step count and you can reset the counter with the push of a single button on the back of the device. The battery requires no charging and should last for about a full year before you need to replace it.
What can fitness trackers do?
Fitness trackers come in a variety of form factors—depending on the model, you can wear it like a bracelet or watch, clip it to your clothing, or even wear it like a ring on your finger. But no matter the exact appearance, fitness trackers all tend to offer the same basic set of features: They track your workouts and activity level, helping you to stay on a fitness plan and get (or keep) in shape.
The most basic fitness trackers are simply pedometers—devices that try to maintain an accurate count of your steps. But most modern fitness trackers to a lot more than that. These days, they’re often bristling with sensors which collect information to infer your fitness and health level. Here are the most common sensors in fitness trackers:
- Accelerometer. This measures motion, and is often the primary sensor used to ascertain activity levels.
- Altimeter. Many fitness trackers measure changing air pressure to infer that you are using stairs.
- Heart rate sensor. With the right sensors, your tracker can measure your heart rate, heart rate variability and even blood pressure (though these require FDA approval that no devices yet have in the US).
- Sp02 sensor. This measures the oxygen level in your blood.
- ECG sensor. An ECG sensor can perform an instant electrocardiogram, which measures your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. Generally, an CCG tells you if you have a sinus, or uniform, rhythm, or some other result. In no case can or should an ECG be sued to detect a heart attack, though.
All of these sensors, and sometimes others, can help you choose and track workouts as well as get a lot of supplemental information about your health and wellness. They can also track your sleep, stress level and other factors of good health.
What to look for in a fitness tracker
Most trackers automatically monitor your day-to-day activity and can record your workouts, either automatically or with a little manual help. Unless the only thing you need is a simple pedometer, consider these activity tracking features to be table stakes.
Not all trackers can recognize all exercises, though. If you want to track swim workouts, for example, be sure to look not just for a tracker that’s waterproof, but also one that explicitly supports swimming. Likewise, only a handful of trackers support really unusual sports and workouts—so if you’re into hang gliding or BMX, be sure to look into the Vivosmart 4.
It’s also worth pointing out that if doing stairs are a big part of your running regimen, first, congratulations. And second, be sure your fitness tracker can sense stairs, because not all have that ability. When it comes to basic workouts, the other major feature you might care about is GPS. If you work out indoors on an elliptical machine, this might be a nonissue. But if you frequently run outdoors and would like to leave your phone at home, a fitness tracker with integrated GPS can track your running route for you, no phone required.
Most modern fitness bands also track a variety of broader health and fitness attributes as well. We’ve already discussed features like Spo2, ECG and bioelectric impedance sensors, and these are generally far from mandatory—but increasingly, all but the most budget models are starting to sport these sorts of advanced sensors. Just keep in mind that a lot of the whole-body analytics you get from sensors like these are often not especially actionable; you might get a general sense of your overall health, fitness level or sleep quality, but it can be hard to know what to do to improve. Until that aspect of the software catches up tot the hardware, you can consider all of these advanced features pretty optional.
Last but not least, a lot of fitness trackers are merging their features with smart watches—so you will find trackers that can display notifications from your watch, respond to text messages, make purchases with digital cash and more. Do you need these kinds of capabilities? It depends on whether you like to keep your phone in your pocket and interact with just the device on your wrist.