The Best Fitness Trackers. Garmin vivosmart hr Band

The Best Fitness Trackers

best, fitness, trackers, garmin

After a new round of testing, we’ll soon be recommending the Fitbit Inspire 3. Fitbit’s Charge 5 will become our runner-up pick. And we still think the Apple Watch SE’s activity tracking is the best among smartwatches.

A wearable fitness tracker can help you monitor your steps, strides, sleep, and more. It can also dole out doses of motivation along the way, which might nudge you toward a specific goal. Since 2015, we’ve spent more than two total months running, walking, swimming, cycling, sleeping, and, in short, living with 35 different fitness trackers day and night to assess their accuracy, ease of use, and comfort. Although no tracker perfectly recorded every metric it attempted to (including distance traveled, step counts, sleep quality, calories burned, and heart rate), we’re confident that the easy-to-use, feature-packed Fitbit Charge 5 is the best option for most people who want to use a fitness tracker to monitor their movements and take steps toward improving their health.

How we tested

We paid close attention to battery life, comfort, ease of menu navigation, customizability, and app intuitiveness.

We wore each device for two days straight, comparing step-count data to that of a pedometer we know to be precise.

We performed two tests with each device using a chest-strap heart-rate monitor as a comparative control.

The best fitness tracker

A sleek, feature-packed activity tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5 records a range of activities accurately and automatically, includes built-in GPS, and has an app that makes it simple to use and customize.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

The Fitbit Charge 5 is among the most accurate for measuring steps and heart rate (although accuracy isn’t everything). It reliably detects, nearly always correctly identifies, and automatically begins to record workouts—running, walking, biking, swimming—after about 10 minutes of activity. The color touchscreen display is vivid and clear, even in bright sunlight, with easily identifiable icons allowing for unfussy menu negotiation. (Orienting yourself with all of its features, however, might take a beat.) Fitbit’s concise, straightforward app lets you parse daily activity data with ease and allows for linking to a robust network of other Fitbit users—which might help keep you motivated. (You can also opt in to the app’s Premium version, which usually costs 10 per month.) The Charge 5 has 21 activity modes, six of which you can add to your on-device favorites list via the app. Within the app, you can also determine which smartphone notifications you’d like to buzz on your wrist. The Charge 5 has on-wrist ECG (electrocardiogram) and built-in GPS, which allows for real-time pace and distance data without requiring a phone connection (though it was susceptible to unevenness, as GPS often is).

Battery life: up to seven days in watch mode, or up to five hours in continuous GPS modeSleep tracking: yes, including naps of over an hourWater resistance: yes, for up to 50 metersHeart-rate monitor: yesGPS: built in

Streamlined but still feature-rich

Compared with the Fitbit Charge 5, the Fitbit Inspire 2 has a slimmer silhouette and a battery that lasts three days longer. But it has a smaller, non-color screen and it doesn’t offer built-in GPS.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 80.

The Fitbit Inspire 2 has a slimmer profile than the Fitbit Charge 5. Its touchscreen display is bright and vibrant, though not color (the Charge 5’s is). The Inspire 2 does not have built-in GPS (which the Charge 5 does); it measures pace and distance on a walk or a run when connected to your phone’s GPS—meaning you’ll need your phone with you. Though we found the Inspire 2 to be less precise when recording all-day step counts, it performed solidly in our heart-rate tests. It has guided, on-wrist breathing sessions, which the Charge 5 doesn’t. Like the Charge 5, this Fitbit model offers about 20 goal-based exercise modes, and it tracks sleep stages (though alarms are programmable only in the app; with the Charge 5, you can set alarms on the device). You can wear the Inspire 2 on your wrist or on your clothes with a clip (sold separately).

Battery life: up to 10 daysSleep tracking: yes, not including napsWater resistance: yes, up to 50 metersHeart-rate monitor: yesGPS: when connected to a phone

For the fitness enthusiast

Winning points for accuracy and wearability, the Garmin Vívoactive 4S combines the best of sport and everyday wear for those who lead a workout-fueled life. It’s also a step closer to a GPS running watch than the Fitbit trackers we recommend.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

If you’re especially active and want to keep in-depth records of your workouts, consider the Garmin Vívoactive 4S. It’s a sporty, advanced fitness tracker with an emphasis on—you guessed it—exercise. The 4S is the smaller of Garmin’s two Series 4 offerings (it has a 40-millimeter screen, versus the Vívoactive 4’s 45-millimeter screen). It’s refined and highly wearable—the 4S is bigger than the two Fitbit models we recommend, but smaller than other watch-like trackers from Garmin and Polar (another brand we tested). Its color touchscreen is clear and responsive, albeit more muted than those of a few color-screen competitors. Buttons beside the screen make it easier to toggle between workout modes or to start and stop workouts, and workout-data screens display more than one metric simultaneously (our Fitbit picks show one at a time).

Battery life: up to seven days in watch mode, or up to five hours in music mode plus GPSSleep tracking: yes, not including napsWater resistance: yes, up to 50 metersHeart-rate monitor: yesGPS: built in

A smartwatch with fitness cred

A smartwatch first and foremost, the Apple Watch SE delivers engaging activity, workout, and health tracking. But its battery life is shorter than that of our other picks, its app is a little less detailed, and it lacks a few advanced features that may appeal to you depending on your goals.

Buying Options

If you want a true smartwatch with engaging activity and workout tracking, if you’re a fan of the Apple ecosystem, and if you can do without a handful of features that the more-advanced Apple Watch Series 7 (our top smartwatch pick for people with iPhones) has, the Apple Watch SE might fit the bill. Our budget pick for the best smartwatch for iPhone users, the Apple Watch SE has a bright, clear screen and intuitive controls. It measures activity by encouraging you to close a trio of rings each day, which is a visually engaging way to track your progress. The SE’s straightforward (if pared-down) Fitness app houses various workout and activity stats, although its sleep tracking isn’t as detailed as that of our other picks. Also absent is an always-on display, which can be a bummer during workouts. The Apple Watch SE performed at the top in our heart-rate accuracy tests and provided reasonable daily step counts and dependable GPS tracking. But its battery life lasts only up to 18 hours, while our other picks have batteries that stretch for multiple days.

Battery life: up to 18 hoursSleep tracking: yes, not including napsWater resistance: yes, up to 50 metersHeart-rate monitor: yesGPS: built in

The best fitness tracker

A sleek, feature-packed activity tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5 records a range of activities accurately and automatically, includes built-in GPS, and has an app that makes it simple to use and customize.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

Streamlined but still feature-rich

Compared with the Fitbit Charge 5, the Fitbit Inspire 2 has a slimmer silhouette and a battery that lasts three days longer. But it has a smaller, non-color screen and it doesn’t offer built-in GPS.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 80.

For the fitness enthusiast

Winning points for accuracy and wearability, the Garmin Vívoactive 4S combines the best of sport and everyday wear for those who lead a workout-fueled life. It’s also a step closer to a GPS running watch than the Fitbit trackers we recommend.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

A smartwatch with fitness cred

A smartwatch first and foremost, the Apple Watch SE delivers engaging activity, workout, and health tracking. But its battery life is shorter than that of our other picks, its app is a little less detailed, and it lacks a few advanced features that may appeal to you depending on your goals.

Why you should trust us

For earlier versions of this guide, we interviewed such industry experts as Jill Duffy of PCMag and Ray Maker of the website DC Rainmaker. Later, we spoke with cardiologist Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of Atlantic Health System Sports Cardiology at Morristown Medical Center, about heart-based biometrics and calorie calculations. We also checked in again with Clinton Brawner, PhD, a clinical exercise physiologist at Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, to continue our yearslong dialogue about heart-rate monitoring during workouts. We touched base with Dr. Susheel Patil, clinical director of the sleep medicine program at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. to ask some questions regarding sleep tracking, and we chatted with Andrew Jagim, PhD, director of sports medicine research at Mayo Clinic Health System, about tracker accuracy in general. We also spoke with physiologist Don Dengel, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, about heart-rate monitoring and exercise, and reached out to Dr. C. William Hanson III, professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, with some questions on device sensors.

Wirecutter senior staff writer Ingrid Skjong is a certified personal trainer and lifelong runner who has completed five marathons, dozens of half-marathons, numerous shorter races, and a few triathlons. She writes about all things fitness, from the Peloton Bike to yoga mats.

Amy Roberts is a certified personal trainer, running coach, and regionally competitive runner. She covered activity trackers for Wirecutter for more than three years, watching them evolve since she got her first Fitbit (the One clip-on tracker, now discontinued) in 2013. Amy and Ingrid also co-wrote our guide to the best GPS running watches.

Who this is for

Fitness trackers can give you a better idea of how and how much you move your body throughout the day and night. They’re for people who want to set goals to increase daily movement, exercise more often, and improve sleep habits. These trackers (and their apps) are also for people who want a place to log their diets, hydration, and menstrual cycles, and to keep tabs on their heart rate—all to gain a broader picture of their health. The differences among these trackers are principally in the number of sensors (and therefore features) they offer and, importantly, in how easy they are to use.

The lines that separate GPS running watches and smartwatches from dedicated fitness trackers are blurrier than ever. GPS watches can now track your activities all day and your sleep at night. Smartwatches can now capture your movement with automatic activity detection and built-in GPS. Some people may still prefer a dedicated fitness tracker for several reasons, though. For starters, fitness trackers are typically less bulky to wear than GPS running watches, and they usually cost less (though additional advanced features are beginning to raise prices). They can also run for up to a week between charges, whereas you generally need to charge a smartwatch daily. And the latest generation of trackers goes well beyond just counting steps and recording workouts: They include more smartwatch features—from interactive notifications to third-party apps—and additional sensors to provide more-granular detail on movement and sleep.

We want to stress that these trackers are not a replacement for a medical device. If you have concerns about the appropriateness of a new exercise routine or suspect that you may have a sleep condition, see your doctor. And if a high heart rate is a health concern for you, don’t rely on an activity tracker to help manage your condition.

How we picked and tested

Since the first iteration of this guide, in 2013, we’ve put 35 trackers through their paces, choosing new candidates for subsequent updates based on new releases, historical testing data, and customer and editorial reviews. Most of the trackers we’ve tested over the years have been wrist wearables, mainly from the biggest players, Fitbit and Garmin (though there are, of course, others in the game).

Throughout our testing, we aimed to answer the following questions:

How easy is the fitness tracker to use and live with? Because these devices are meant to be worn all day, every day, we put a lot of emphasis on comfort, wearability, and user friendliness—of both the device and its companion app. In living with each one, we considered:

  • Is the device comfortable to wear all day and to sleep with all night?
  • Are the device’s menus easy to navigate? Can you customize which workout types (walking, running, cycling, swimming) and data (step counts, calories burned, distance traveled) you want to see?
  • Is the app inviting to use?
  • Do the smartwatch features work well?
  • Does the battery last as long as promised?
  • Does the device struggle to sync with a phone?
  • Is the tracker waterproof (or at least water resistant), or do you have to take it off before showering or swimming?

How well does it track activities? To gauge how accurately the trackers recorded all-day step counts, we wore the devices in pairs, one on each wrist, for two days straight (we switched wrists on the second day). We also compared their step-count readings with the results from an Omron pedometer we knew to be reliable.

We tested how well the devices recognized activities and how those results appeared in the apps. We took at least one walk and one bike ride of 15 minutes or longer with each tracker, since most devices need 15 minutes or so of activity to trigger a recording. We noted everything we did each day, comparing the activity the trackers recorded against that written log. We then wore the devices to bed and compared their results against our actual going-to-bed and waking-up times (for sleep duration).

Since the devices we tested have built-in heart-rate monitors, we noted the resting heart rates they recorded to see whether those figures jibed with what we knew ours to be.

How well does it record workouts? For all of the devices, we tested how well they estimated distance traveled by walking a mile on a treadmill; all of the devices use algorithms to estimate stride length, which they multiply by the steps counted. (We also compared their step counts for that mile’s walk against those of our trusty pedometer.) For the devices with built-in GPS, as well as those that can borrow the GPS of a paired smartphone, we walked marked laps in two New York City parks. For our testing in 2020 and 2021 (without access to a treadmill, due to the pandemic), we walked a measured loop in Central Park and walked (or ran) a few known distances to see how they compared to the control measure.

For any device that tracks active heart rate during a workout, we performed two separate tests on the treadmill: a steady-state run of five minutes at an easy pace, and a six-minute walk-jog-run of two minutes at each pace. We compared heart-rate readings from the device against readings from an older-model Garmin with a chest strap, at 30-second intervals and for two minutes of recovery. For our 2020 and 2021 testing, since we didn’t have access to a treadmill, we performed these tests outside, missing the pace specificity that the treadmill provides but approximating the conditions the best we could.

During all of the treadmill and outdoor tests, we noted how easy (or difficult) it was to read the data display mid-workout.

How accurate is your tracker’s step count?

Fitness trackers collect and present all kinds of data, including the number of steps you walk in a day, the kinds of activities you do, the intensity of your workouts, and the quality of your sleep. But how accurate are they? It depends. While fitness trackers tend to measure some activities well, they measure others—including all-day step counts—quite poorly. (On that note, the often-lauded touchstone of 10,000 daily steps seems to be arbitrary at best, though moving more throughout the day is rarely a negative.)

Any device that you wear on your wrist is actually tracking the swinging of your arm, which pretty closely matches what your legs are doing when you are walking or running. But humans do a lot more than just walk and run, and these devices can and do perceive any movement your arms make (say, while you’re folding laundry or clapping your hands) as “steps.” In our tests, most of the devices inflated the number of steps we took by 15% to 30%, compared with the results we got using our pedometer. (If a simple pedometer interests you, we have a recommendation for that.) A couple of times, the devices logged steps before we even got out of bed. Conversely, if your legs are moving but your arms aren’t (when you’re pushing a grocery cart or a stroller, for instance), you might get shortchanged.

You can’t trust “all-day distance covered,” either. We often hear people proclaim, “My [insert wrist-worn device here] says I walked 10 miles today!” But these totals are based on step counts (which we know to be unreliable) multiplied by stride length—another imperfect estimate that the tracker makes. (You can measure and set your stride length in the device’s app, which will help somewhat.)

These devices can and do perceive any movement your arms make (say, while you’re folding laundry or clapping your hands) as “steps.”

We measured our overall step counts with each tracker over the course of two days, wearing the wristband devices on our nondominant hand to give them the best shot at accuracy. The percentages in the first column of the table below show the daily average of how much each tracker’s step count differed from that of our pedometer. We also wore each tracker for a mile-long walk on a treadmill (again wearing the wristband devices on the nondominant hand). The percentages in the second column show how far off each tracker was from our pedometer’s treadmill counts. The third column shows how far off each tracker was in measuring the distance (1 mile) that we walked during the treadmill workouts. For our latest rounds of testing, in 2020 and 2021, we didn’t have access to a treadmill, so we walked a 1.4-mile measured loop in New York City’s Central Park. (Results from this approach are marked with an asterisk in the table below.)

How much trackers overestimated or underestimated step counts and distance

All-day step countsTreadmill step countsTreadmill distanceAmazfit Band 5

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 6 (discontinued and replaced by the Apple Watch Series 7)

Apple Watch Series 5 (no longer available new)

Fitbit Alta HR (no longer available)

Fitbit Charge 3 (discontinued)

Fitbit Charge 4 (discontinued)

Fitbit Charge 5

Fitbit Flex 2 (no longer available)

Fitbit Inspire 2

Fitbit Inspire

Fitbit Inspire HR

Fitbit Luxe

Fitbit Versa

Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit Versa Lite Edition

Garmin Venu 2S

Garmin Venu Sq

Garmin Vívoactive 3

Garmin Vívoactive 4S

Garmin Vívofit 4

Garmin Vívosmart 4

Garmin Vívosport (discontinued)

Letscom ID130Plus Color HR (no longer available)

Mi Smart Band 4

Motiv Ring (no longer available)

Polar Ignite

Polar Unite

Samsung Galaxy Fit (replaced by Samsung Galaxy Fit2)

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Spire Health Tag (now available only to health-care customers)

Suunto 3 Fitness

Withings Pulse HR

Wyze Band

25.20% 0.07% -10.70%
21.15% -1.04% 2.82%
16.70% 0.62% 0.00%
15.90% 5.20% 7.00%
15.40% -1.06% 20.00%
17.39% -2.01% 8.00%
20.75% -0.04% 2.14%
5.90% -0.63% 0.70%
16.86% -1.06% 14.00%
32.70% -0.46% 7.10%
-6.40% -8.20% -13.60%
22.00% 1.10% 2.00%
11.63% 3.07% 7.04%
26.41% -0.60% 16.00%
90.90% -2.45% -0.70%
40.85% -5.35% -3.00%
13.75% -0.59% 0.00%
55.00% -0.61% 0.70%
9.90% 0.05% -21.00%
6.55% 0.04% -4.00%
6.86% 0.30% -16.00%
16.45% -0.15% 18.00%
14.09% 0.10% -21.00%
26.02% -0.25% 4.00%
7.35% -0.81% -3.00%
6.20% 0.69% 0.00%
18.70% -0.43% 5.00%
42.50% -25.60% 17.10%
27.60% -6.36% -10.00%
-1.69% -12.42% -15.00%
0.51% 0.05% -10.00%
-9.69% 1.96% 52.00%
8.44% -11.92% -7.00%
245.20% -7.50% -12.14%

Many wrist-worn fitness trackers inflate all-day step counts, in part because they register certain arm movements as “steps.” Asterisks denote tests done on a 1.4-mile measured loop in New York City’s Central Park, versus on a treadmill as in earlier testing.

Despite their accuracy shortcomings, fitness-tracker measurements do show trends from day to day and week to week, which is useful if you’re trying to be more active. And many devices do automatically recognize and record activities (say, a bike ride or an elliptical session at the gym) reasonably well, if not perfectly. Still, with any tracker, if you want the very best log, use a dedicated workout mode to record your session.

There are some other metrics you should approach with caution, however. You shouldn’t use the device’s active-heart-rate measurements for training purposes. A tracker’s GPS accuracy (whether it has its own onboard GPS or uses your smartphone’s) is okay but not perfect (GPS rarely is)advanced metrics—such as breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and A-fib (atrial fibrillation) detection—are best viewed as guides, not replacements for medical assessments.

Approach calorie counts with similar care, since most of the devices provide a tally of total calories burned that’s based in part on an estimate of your basal metabolic rate. The key word here is estimate. Andrew Jagim, PhD, director of sports medicine research at Mayo Clinic Health System and the co-author of a study on fitness-tracker accuracy, pointed out that each company uses its own proprietary algorithm to calculate that number. Some rely on heart rate, for instance, while others factor in accelerometer data. “Depending on which method that company or device follows,” Jagim said, “you could get quite different energy-expenditure estimates.”

How accurate is your tracker’s heart-rate data?

The accuracy of a fitness tracker’s heart-rate data often depends on what you’re doing at a given moment. Detailed heart-rate monitoring—and metrics based on various heart-rate data points—has become increasingly popular on many fitness trackers. Sensors record the wearer’s heart rate at rest, during activity, and throughout a night’s sleep. They record heart-rate variability (HRV) (the variation in time between heartbeats) and look out for irregular heart-rate rhythms with ECG (electrocardiogram) capabilities—though, again, both measurements are best viewed as guides rather than as diagnostic tools.

To capture most of that data, fitness trackers—and other wrist-worn devices, such as GPS running watches—use photoplethysmography, a technology that uses light (most often green, a color that blood readily absorbs) to measure changes in blood volume within the wrist. It is, of course, open to foibles. How a tracker is worn—how it’s positioned on the wrist, how tight the Band is cinched—can affect readings. Studies have been conducted on other factors, too, like whether skin tone, body hair, and even tattoos affect the accuracy of wrist-based heart-rate readings. (Findings are mixed.)

Heart-rate zones, which are typically based on percentages of a calculated maximum heart rate, help to determine the intensity of a given workout. Some trackers (like our top and budget picks from Fitbit) categorize specific heart-rate zones—“fat burn,” for example—but those labels can be misleading. “It’s important for people to understand that there is no zone where you burn 100% fat,” said physiologist Don Dengel, PhD, a professor at the University of Minnesota. “You are basically balancing between carbohydrate oxidation and fat oxidation. It’s never one or the other completely.”

Besides tracking heart rate to inform exercise, some trackers use HRV—as well as other factors, such as sleep and resting heart rate—to determine how recovered you are from workouts and daily activity. But depending on your training volume and goals, it might not be a critical piece. “Not to diminish people’s exercise habits,” said the Mayo Clinic Health System’s Jagim, “but most general fitness enthusiasts aren’t really training and exercising at levels high enough or intense enough where they’re going to have to be extra cautious or vigilant about what their recovery is.” Nonetheless, he pointed out that some recovery metrics, like HRV or resting heart rate, can operate as a “global measure of the amount of stress imposed upon a person.” An unusual trend—a consistent downward trajectory, for example—could indicate sickness or an overabundance of stress. “[They] can still be useful to guide an intuitive sense of how your body is doing overall,” Jagim said.

When viewed by an exercise physiologist, HRV is typically used to gauge autonomic nervous-system activity. “Using it for training,” said Dengel, “is an overextension of what HRV really is.” There are no set standards for HRV, so it “becomes difficult to try to interpret that information,” he continued. Dengel also noted that there are factors beyond training, such as certain medications, that can alter HRV, making it even trickier to interpret results in some cases.

Bottom line? “Most of [this data] should be looked at primarily as directional signals,” said Dr. C. William Hanson III, a professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Wear your chosen device regularly and pay attention to cumulative results versus isolated numbers. “You’ll be able to notice trends over time,” said Jagim, “and get more answers to your questions.”

Our pick: Fitbit Charge 5

The best fitness tracker

A sleek, feature-packed activity tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5 records a range of activities accurately and automatically, includes built-in GPS, and has an app that makes it simple to use and customize.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

The Fitbit Charge 5—the newest version of our long-running picks from Fitbit’s Charge series—is our top recommendation for daily activity tracking thanks to its relative ease of use, sufficient accuracy, and intuitive app. In our tests, it automatically and accurately detected activities (such as walking versus running). Its step-count accuracy ranked near the top of all the trackers we’ve tested, and it fared well when measuring distances and heart rates. Fitbit’s basic app was also the easiest to navigate, and one of the most useful. The Charge 5 tracks sleep solidly, too, managing to collect data from naps of at least an hour in duration (not all trackers do) in addition to longer stretches of z’s.

The color display is vivid and clear, even in glaring sunlight. (Fitbit says it’s twice as bright as the Charge 4’s grayscale screen.) You can choose from three brightness levels: dim, normal, and max. The touchscreen is responsive and fairly intuitive to use, allowing you to scroll through menus and make adjustments quickly and easily on the device itself (there’s a lot to negotiate, though—more on that later). The Charge 5 has an optional always-on display, which can be toggled on or off within various workout modes and in the settings. We recommend it for workouts. But while convenient, it will drain the battery life. (To set parameters, you can program a daily schedule.)

The Charge 5 has an aluminum case (an upgrade from the plastic case of its predecessor, the Charge 4) and a comfortable, flexible silicone Band with a peg-and-loop closure instead of a more traditional buckle. The Band can be swapped out for other options costing around 30. than 20 watch faces in the app let you customize the look of the thing.

You can choose which app notifications appear on the display, and you can clear the notifications individually or all at once, which is convenient. (Dismissing notification after notification can get very tedious very quickly.) If you use Android, you can reply to text messages with any of five preset messages and five emoji (which you can change in the app). If you use iOS, there are no options to respond to texts. If you use iOS, there are no options to respond to texts. The device allows for contactless payments (via Fitbit Pay), though we didn’t try it.

The Charge 5’s activity-tracking features performed well in our tests, quickly and automatically picking up our walks, runs, bike rides, and more after we put in 10 to 15 minutes of movement. (We confirmed with Fitbit that those initial minutes of activity are folded into the final duration.) As with all Fitbit models, the Charge 5 requires you to check the app to discover what activities it has recorded. (The device itself doesn’t list them; they populate the app’s exercise tab.) Your overall daily statistics, like steps, heart rate, and completed days of exercise, do show up on the tracker.

The Charge 5’s daylong step counts are some of the most accurate we’ve experienced. The tracker deviated from our two-day control step count by about 6%; on a controlled walk of a measured outdoor loop, it undercounted our steps by 18 strides. It wasn’t, however, impervious to inflation: One day, the device registered a handful of steps before we even got out of bed.

The tracker’s heart-rate monitor performed well on steady runs, but it struggled a bit on interval sets of walking, jogging, and running. (We typically conduct controlled step-count and heart-rate tests on a treadmill, but due to the pandemic, we took them outside.) The Charge 5 leans into heart-rate data from workouts with a feature called Active Zone Minutes. It is intended to track activity via time spent in three different heart-rate zones (“fat burn,” “cardio,” and “peak”), to give you an idea of how hard you’re working. If you don’t reach one of those three, the metric is recorded as “below zones.” (Given the margin of error with most wrist-based heart-rate data—and the hazy specificity of each zone—it’s best to view the numbers as guides.)

The zones are determined by age and resting heart rate. You can enter a custom maximum heart rate in the app using the standard equation (220 beats per minute minus your age), but there are more-accurate ways to calculate that number (including a more in-depth formula). You’ll get notifications during exercise as you move in and out of the specific zones. Depending on your workout, this can result in a lot of buzzes; we appreciate the ability to turn off the feature within a specific activity mode, such as running, walking, or cycling. Recorded workouts in the app will display the percentages spent in each zone. A chest-strap heart-rate monitor will give you more-accurate results, though Fitbit devices, including the Charge 5, aren’t compatible with any.

best, fitness, trackers, garmin

Streamlined but still feature-rich

Compared with the Fitbit Charge 5, the Fitbit Inspire 2 has a slimmer silhouette and a battery that lasts three days longer. But it has a smaller, non-color screen and it doesn’t offer built-in GPS.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 80.

The Fitbit Inspire 2 is smaller and lighter than our top pick, the Fitbit Charge 5. It’s also missing a few features, like a color display, an altimeter, and contactless payment. But if you want a simple-to-use tracker, this is a nice, low-profile choice that still delivers plenty. (Fitbit retired its Inspire and Inspire HR—the latter of which is our former runner-up pick—in 2020, replacing them with the Inspire 2.)

Along with its all-day heart-rate monitoring and resting-heart-rate data, the Inspire 2 offers sleep-stage tracking, connected GPS for real-time pace and distance for select workouts (the Charge 5 has built-in GPS), and more than 20 exercise modes (the same as the Charge 5). That’s in addition to basic all-day activity tracking, automatic activity recognition, and reminders to move. By choosing the Inspire 2 instead of the Charge 5, you’re giving up a color display, quick-text replies for Android devices, on-wrist ECG (electrocardiogram), and an oxygen-saturation (SpO2) sensor.

The Inspire 2’s backlit, grayscale OLED touchscreen is bright and clear, though we still found it a bit tough to see in especially bright sunlight—and it does not offer an always-on option (the Charge 5 and our upgrade pick do). The included silicone Band is soft and comfortable. To manually wake the screen or return to the home screen, you squeeze the sides of the device and then scroll through the menus. (Unlike the Charge 5, which includes vertical and horizontal swiping to access modes and menus, the Inspire 2 is all vertical.) The Inspire 2 promises a battery life of up to 10 days, three days longer than our top pick. After two days of continuous wear and activity during testing, the battery dropped to 81%, versus 69% for the Charge 5 in the same time span (this included the use of the Charge 5’s built-in GPS, though, which siphons energy).

Like that of nearly all wrist-worn devices, the Inspire 2’s step count isn’t totally accurate. It performed well in our measured outdoor walk, coming in about 15 step counts under the control (slightly ahead of the Charge 5). But its all-day step-count average was about 30% higher than the control, a greater deviation than with the Charge 5. As we’ve explained, devices you wear on your wrist track your arm swings, not your actual steps, so they tend to inflate the number of steps you take—sometimes significantly. For instance, the Inspire 2 seemed to rack up lots of “steps” while we folded laundry one day. It registered fast walks with a stroller as bike rides (something we’ve experienced with other devices too) and a workout heavy on kettlebell swings as a swim—an illustration of how fitness trackers can’t build in an algorithm for every possible movement. (In those cases, trust that you moved and don’t be as concerned with the data not lining up precisely.) But it automatically acknowledged and accurately recorded other activities—a 30-minute run, a 21-minute walk—with little issue. Because we couldn’t access a pool during the pandemic, we weren’t able to swim with the Inspire 2. It has no stroke-detection feature (the Charge 5 doesn’t either), but it does allow you to set the pool length for accuracy. It also performed solidly in our heart-rate tests. Like the Charge 5, the Inspire 2 offers a Daily Readiness Score (for Premium app subscribers only), which is calculated in part based on a combination of heart-rate variability and sleep and is meant to help determine the intensity of your next workout. In general, we find these scores to be vague.

As with the Charge 5, the Inspire 2’s sleep tracking reports what it labels as “light,” “deep,” and “REM” sleep; it also reports your time awake and total time asleep, and provides a sleep score. It does not, however, register naps of less than an hour. You need to “sleep” (trackers use your movement and heart-rate patterns to recognize snoozing) for an hour to trigger auto-detection and data, and for more than three hours to receive info on sleep stages. If you want to record a shorter siesta, you can add it manually from the sleep screen in the app. Unlike the Charge 5, which allows you to set alarms on the tracker itself, the Inspire 2 requires you to schedule alarms in the app (though you can turn them off or snooze them from the tracker).

Few fitness-tracker apps operate as nicely as Fitbit’s. Even if you use it only on a more-casual basis, we think its simple interface makes for a pleasant experience. (The Premium version, a subscription to which typically costs 10 per month, offers additional features, like deeper dives into specific metrics and a library of audio and video workouts.) You can choose from about 20 faces (the same as with the Charge 5) to customize the look of your display.

The Inspire 2 can be worn on your wrist or in a clip (sold separately for 20) on your clothing. Fitbit offers a one-year limited warranty on its devices.

Upgrade pick: Garmin Vívoactive 4S

best, fitness, trackers, garmin

For the fitness enthusiast

Winning points for accuracy and wearability, the Garmin Vívoactive 4S combines the best of sport and everyday wear for those who lead a workout-fueled life. It’s also a step closer to a GPS running watch than the Fitbit trackers we recommend.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

Fitness enthusiasts who are focused on precisely tracking specific workouts in addition to their everyday activities may find the Garmin Vívoactive 4S to be a more practical, streamlined alternative to a GPS running watch. The Vívoactive 4S monitors the basics (steps, heart rate) and the not-so-basics (stress, respiration), offers numerous activity modes and a hefty array of exercise instructions, and has the ability to create customized workouts—something the Fitbit trackers we recommend can’t do.

Its color touchscreen is clear and responsive, though it has a slightly muted palette compared with the color touchscreens on other trackers we’ve tested. The Garmin Venu 2S, another fitness tracker we like, has a similar look and feel to the Vívoactive 4S but offers several upgraded features, including a higher-definition color screen and a longer battery life (by three days). Two buttons beside the Vívoactive 4S’s screen allow you to toggle easily between workout modes (top) and general settings (bottom), as well as lap and back functions. Those buttons also add to the device’s running-watch-like feel. With inactivity alerts and goal celebrations, though, this Garmin model fits the fitness-tracker mold. The 4S is on the smaller side (40 mm); its sibling, the Vívoactive 4, is slightly larger (45 mm).

The Vívoactive is one of the most accurate trackers we found when it comes to steps and distance. It also did well on heart rate, performing at the top in our two (pre-pandemic) active treadmill tests—a good sign for on-the-go accuracy. On the workout front, the 4S has more than 20 exercise modes, including running, biking, yoga, swimming, and climbing; it also syncs to a host of Garmin-generated workouts (Razor-Sharp Abs, After-Work Yoga) in the Garmin Connect app. Once you’ve uploaded a workout to the watch, you can play it back, complete with animated demonstrations and a rep counter. We tried a few, and even though nothing beats solid verbal or tactile coaching cues when you’re learning or performing an exercise, the tiny cartoons can be a helpful guide. (You can also create a custom workout in the app and play it back on the watch, but without animation.)

We found the Vívoactive 4S’s automatic activity detection to be a bit uneven. While the tracker picked up a 30-minute run just fine, it designated a 26-minute, 1.4-mile fast walk as a run. It also recorded two “bike rides,” which were actually walks with a stroller. This isn’t the only tracker we’ve tested that mistook our pushing a kid for pedaling a bike (algorithms can get confused). So if you take stroller walks often, know that your step counts might be skewed.

The Vívoactive 4S not only encourages you to move but also promotes resting in equal(ish) measure. It monitors time asleep (“deep,” “light,” and “REM”), time awake, and respiration; in our tests its sleep times seemed to line up with what we logged. Like our other picks, it doesn’t automatically register naps. A feature called Body Battery purports to know when you should rest.

If you like controlling a good chunk of your life from your wrist, this may be the device for you. It offers many smartwatch-like features, such as Garmin Pay, the company’s contactless-payment system (which we did not try). Notifications come through clearly and legibly. The Vívoactive 4S also allows you to download playlists or individual songs (from Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer) and listen through paired headphones. We didn’t have access to either service, but we were able to control podcast playback on our phone from the watch—a handy feature when we were mid-workout. The battery fell to 48% after two days of continuous use, more drain than our other picks saw in the same time frame; predictably, training, using the music and GPS modes, and, say, putting the screen on the brightest setting will siphon energy.

In 2020, Garmin reportedly paid millions of dollars following a ransomware attack that took its services offline for several days. The company claims that no customer data was accessed or stolen, but the incident underscores the importance of security. Garmin offers a one-year limited warranty on its devices.

Also great: Apple Watch SE

A smartwatch with fitness cred

A smartwatch first and foremost, the Apple Watch SE delivers engaging activity, workout, and health tracking. But its battery life is shorter than that of our other picks, its app is a little less detailed, and it lacks a few advanced features that may appeal to you depending on your goals.

Buying Options

The Apple Watch SE, our budget smartwatch pick for iPhone users, is a solid choice if you want a dependable smartwatch on your wrist, prefer your health and fitness data to be tracked within the Apple ecosystem, and can do without a handful of features found on the more-advanced Apple Watch Series 7 (our top smartwatch pick for iPhone users). Available in two sizes (40 mm, which we tested, and 44 mm), the Apple Watch SE has a bright, clear screen; a comfortable Band; and a pared-down simplicity that makes for a pleasant user experience. While the SE has an altimeter for tracking flights climbed, it doesn’t have an always-on display, nor does it include an SpO2 sensor to measure blood-oxygen levels. The Apple Watch Series 7 does have those features, as does our top pick. Like previous Apple Watch models, the SE currently runs on watchOS 8.

All iterations of the Apple Watch, including the SE, measure activity by encouraging you to close a trio of rings—red for “Move,” green for “Exercise,” blue for “Stand”—each day. It’s a visually engaging way to keep tabs on things, but also one that has its share of critics. The watch allows you to set a goal of “active calories,” which is how it keeps track of your total daily movement. (To arrive at this figure, it estimates your basal metabolic rate and mixes in both the movement it detects and your heart rate.) Instead of focusing on step counts, the Apple Watch SE suggests minimum exercise goals (30 active minutes) and aims to get you on your feet at least once an hour for 12 hours of your day. These goals are customizable. If you want numbers, you can find step counts, flights climbed, hours stood, minutes engaged in exercise, and specific workouts logged within the straightforward Fitness app.

The SE triggers a timed workout mode for certain activities—walking, running, swimming, rowing, elliptical sessions—whenever it detects anywhere from three to 10 minutes’ worth of that activity. This feature worked well for us in testing. There are about 80 workout modes to choose from—everything from fencing to squash to fishing—so you can really get specific. We found that the watch measured step counts reasonably accurately, coming in about 21% higher than the control in our two-day all-day wear test. To record activities such as outdoor runs, walks, hikes, and bike rides, the SE uses either onboard GPS or the GPS from your phone, the latter of which saves battery life. (The Apple Watch ideally secures a GPS signal when you launch the Workout app; it doesn’t give a confirmation when it locks on a signal, though.) On our 1.4-mile measured-walk test, it came in at 1.46 miles and about 30 steps under the control total. It recorded a hilly, roughly 2-mile hike relatively accurately, including a fairly precise route map. On the same 3.1-mile run we did with the Fitbit Charge 5, the SE delivered a much less erratic map and a more realistic average pace. Overall, its maps are smooth. Like our upgrade pick, the SE has an altimeter to measure climbs. We haven’t taken a swim with it yet (we will soon), but the Apple Watch has traditionally performed very well for us in the pool.

The lack of an always-on display—or even an optional setting for one, which our top and upgrade picks offer—is a bit of a bummer when working out. But quick wrist-wake responsiveness means we didn’t find ourselves repeatedly gesticulating to see our numbers mid-workout. The SE nearly aced both of our heart-rate tests (our upgrade pick edged it out). Unlike the Series 7, it doesn’t have ECG (electrocardiogram) hardware, but unless you want to keep close tabs on your heart rhythm, you might not miss it. (The Fitbit Charge 5 has an ECG function.) The SE did notify us when our heart rate fell below our low-range heart-rate threshold during sleep.

Apple’s Workout app facilitates exercise on the watch, and the Fitness app allows you to parse workout and activity data on your phone. Both are pared down and intuitive, though workout-data screens can feel cluttered. (The phone-based Health app also gives you an overview of activity and workouts, as well as sleep data and vital stats such as heart and respiratory rates.) Fitness, Apple’s subscription-based workout-streaming service, features a variety of classes (including indoor cycling, strength training, treadmill, Pilates, and meditation) taught by a variety of trainers for 10 per month. The SE can connect to Apple TV (where Fitness is viewed) and will show your real-time stats as you exercise. Fitness subscribers can also tap into guided audio walks on the watch (called Time to Walk), each of which is hosted by a celebrity or well-known personality, from Dolly Parton to Naomi Campbell to Malcolm Gladwell.

The Apple Watch SE’s built-in sleep app is simple to set up and emphasizes adhering to a sleep schedule. But it reports relatively pared-down sleep metrics: time asleep, average time asleep, average time in bed, respiratory rate, and heart rate, with no sleep stages. (If you’d like to FOCUS on sleep alone, see Wirecutter’s thoughts on fitness wearables’ sleep-tracking capabilities and our guide to the best sleep-tracking apps.) If connected fitness is your thing, the SE syncs to compatible equipment—the Peloton Bike, Peloton Bike, and the Mirror, for example.

The projected 18 hours of battery life falls far below that of most designated fitness trackers, which often last for days (our top pick can go for up to seven days on a single charge). Know that with the Apple Watch, a daily charge is required—sometimes even midday, if you’d like it to last through a night of sleep. (We would occasionally charge it right before bed.) By the end of a day spent working at a computer and recording a spinning workout, a long walk, and chores around the house, the battery dropped to about 35%. Apple offers a one-year limited warranty on the Apple Watch.

What about privacy and security?

Health apps and wearables collect a raft of data, which isn’t regulated or legally protected in the same way that other health data (for instance, from a visit to a doctor) is (by HIPAA). And companies that are negligent with the data they collect don’t seem to incur financial penalties. If you’re intrigued by a device but privacy questions give you pause, you’re not alone. As part of our research, we reached out to the companies behind our picks and asked them to respond to a series of questions addressing what we think are important privacy and security considerations. “Rule of thumb: lack of response to specific questions about protecting user data is a red flag,” John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, told us in an email. “A company that cares about security should want to reassure users that they are in good hands.” Here’s what the companies told us.

What is required to sign up?

  • Fitbit: Name, email address, password, date of birth, gender, height, weight.
  • Garmin: Name (can be just first name or a nickname), email address, and password is required to generate a new account. When you add a device to your account, the app asks for height, weight, gender, and birthdate.
  • Apple: You need an iPhone and an Apple account, which includes name, email address, and phone number. You can optionally enter height, age, and weight.

Does it support two-factor authentication?

  • Fitbit:Yes, SMS.
  • Garmin:Yes, SMS and email.
  • Apple:Yes, SMS and phone call (required for all Apple accounts).

What user data does the app collect?

  • Fitbit: Device collects data that helps estimate metrics like steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned, as well as heart rate and sleep stages. (When the device syncs with the app, data from the device transfers to Fitbit servers.) Geolocation information (which can be denied or turned off in settings). Some Usage information and details on the devices and applications used to access services.
  • Garmin: When uploading activities from the device to the app, info collected includes activities and activity data (steps, distance, pace, heart rate, sleep, etc.). If sharing with third-party apps (like My Fitness Pal), info including calories consumed. If location-based services (like weather0 is chosen, the physical location of the device. When syncing, info including IP address, time, date, and geographic location.
  • Apple: If the user chooses to use the Activity and Workout apps on Apple Watch, certain data including heart rate, calories burned, location, and distance is stored and can be viewed in the Health and Fitness apps on iPhone.

What permissions does the app ask for?

  • Fitbit: Bluetooth access (for phone pairing), contacts (to find friends on Fitbit), location (mapping workouts and activities), camera (if adding a profile photo). Permissions can be controlled in the settings of the Fitbit app.
  • Garmin: Bluetooth access (for phone pairing), location (tracking workouts and activity), camera (if adding a profile photo).
  • Apple: If the user chooses to use Activity and Workout, the apps ask for permission to access heart rate, motion, and location data for use within the apps for functions like calculating calories and displaying a running route map.

Is data encrypted at rest and in transit?

  • Fitbit: Yes. Uses technical, physical, and administrative controls. Data is encrypted using at least AES-128 (advanced encryption standard) and other protocols like TLS (transport layer security) and DTLS (datagram transport layer security).
  • Garmin: Yes. Uses a variety of industry standard safeguards, personnel, and processes and evaluates its approach to security continuously.
  • Apple: Yes. Data is encrypted on the device with a passcode. Data is encrypted in transit on Apple Watch and at rest if the user chooses to sync with iCloud.

Is data that’s collected by the device or app shared with third parties for marketing purposes?

  • Fitbit: No. Data sharing does occur in specific situations, including when a user requests it, to partners or providers that help provide product and services (third-party customer support, billing), and if required by law.
  • Garmin: No. Data sharing does occur in specific situations, including when a user asks Garmin to share data with third parties, with third parties that provide services (order fulfillment, etc.), and when required by law in legal contexts.
  • Apple: No. Data sharing does occur in specific situations, including when a user requests Apple to share data with third parties, with third parties that provide services (for example financial offerings like Apple Card or Apple Cash), or when required by law.

Is data that’s collected by the device or app used internally for marketing or other purposes? If so, is it de-identified?

  • Fitbit: No. Users aren’t targeted with third-party ads. Fitbit advertises its own products and works with advertising partners that might use cookies and other technologies to provide their services.
  • Garmin: No.
  • Apple: No. Apple doesn’t use any health data for marketing or related purposes. There is an option for users to share data to help Apple improve the effectiveness of its health and fitness features, but the user must explicitly opt in to sharing.

Can you opt out of data sharing?

  • Fitbit: Yes. Via account settings and tools, users can manage personal information associated with their account. (For instance, rescinding access of third-party applications that were once connected to a device or limiting how information is visible to other Fitbit users.)
  • Garmin: Yes. Users can opt out of receiving notifications from Garmin, unsubscribe to marketing emails, choose what information other Garmin users can see (via account privacy settings), or delete (or not provide) additional details like location, preferred activities, gender, birthdate, height, and weight. Users can manage their data (view, delete, export) on the Garmin website and can access information including account details and permissions consent history.
  • Apple: Yes. If users decide to opt into sharing data to help improve Health and Activity features, they can choose to stop sharing data at any time.

Does the company participate in third-party security audits and/or bug bounty programs?

  • Fitbit: Yes. Fitbit utilizes in-house security oversight, third-party assessments, and a public bug bounty.
  • Garmin: Customers who believe they’ve identified a security issue can report it via a submission form on the Garmin site or via a public PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) key and a third-party encryption site.
  • Apple: Yes. Apple runs a public bug bounty and also uses third-party assessments to supplement its internal security program. Customers who believe they’ve identified a security issue can report it by sending an email to Apple.

What about a pedometer?

If you’d prefer to not share personal data or aren’t interested in the connected features of a fitness tracker, you may prefer a basic pedometer instead of a fitness tracker. A pedometer is designed to count steps and, depending on the model, other metrics like distance traveled. Instead of wearing a pedometer on your wrist like a watch-inspired fitness tracker, it can be clipped to your waistband, slipped into your. or carried in your bag.

We compared four pedometers: the 3DFitBud Simple Step Counter, the iGANK Simple Walking Pedometer, the Ozo Fitness SC 3D Digital Pedometer, and the Pingko pedometer.To assess accuracy and ease of use tested them against each other, a now-discontinued Omron Altiva pedometer, and the FitBit MobileTrack app. (We previously used the Altiva when testing fitness trackers.)

A dependable pedometer

This slim clip-on device is dependably accurate and has user-friendly features, like a 30-day activity log organized by date

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 22.

The Ozo Fitness SC 3D Digital Pedometer displayed the strongest combination of precision and user-friendly features, handily outperforming its competition. It measures daily steps, distance traveled, estimated calories burned, and minutes of movement. It takes things a step further with a 30-day activity log organized by date and a running tally of all metrics measured since its first use. This can help you take a big-picture look at your movement, which might help reveal useful patterns.

The Ozo has two buttons, which are used to toggle through screens. (It took us a few minutes to navigate the initial setup using the buttons; we followed the manual.) The device resets automatically at midnight each day (the other pedometers we tried require a manual reset), and it displays the time (a simple detail, but none of the other pedometers we tested do).

To test them on the go, we wore the pedometers all day on three separate occasions and took them for a spin around a 1.4-mile measured park loop. The Ozo strayed no more than 165 steps from the control in the all-day step-count assessments (its closest margin was 31 steps). On the park-loop jaunt, it overshot the control step count by just nine steps. It undercut the distance by a bit more than a tenth of a mile. The Pingko pedometer, the only other device in the test pool that measured distance, overshot the distance by the same amount. It’s not unusual to see disparities like this. Consider it a reminder that the data gathered from any device is best viewed as a guide and not an absolute.

To help bolster step-count accuracy, the Ozo allows you to enter a custom stride length (in inches). This is a measurement based on your actual stride versus a default number or one estimated using data such as height. There are different ways to calculate stride length; some devices will include instructions on how (Ozo offers a landing page to do so, though it requires entering a name and an email address). One way we’ve done it ourselves is to walk 10 steps at a normal pace, measure the full distance covered, and divide the length by 10. (You can also record several stride lengths and calculate the average.)

The Ozo comes with a clip and a lanyard (we clipped it to our waistband for testing). Its replaceable battery should last about a year, according to the manual. If you want something simpler, the ultra-spartan 3DFitBud Simple Step Counter measures only steps and did well in our tests. It requires a manual reset each day (the Ozo model automatically reboots), and there is no option to customize a stride length.

Other good fitness trackers

If you want a sleek tracker with a stylish edge and lots of premium features: The Garmin Venu 2S is a great choice. It has a similar look and feel to our upgrade pick, the Garmin Vívoactive 4S, but with some key upgrades. It typically costs about 70 more than the Vívoactive 4S; depending on your preferences and goals, it may be worth it. The Venu 2S—a smaller version (40 mm) of the Venu 2 (45 mm)—performed well in our testing, displaying strong and dependable onboard GPS, excellent heart-rate accuracy (on a par with our upgrade pick), and good step-count accuracy (though not quite as good as our upgrade pick). The Venu 2S has about five more workout modes (25) and three more outdoor-workout modes (hiking, indoor climbing, bouldering) than the Vívoactive 4S, as well as on-wrist high-intensity interval training workouts. It has a noticeably bright and clear screen, onboard music storage (up to 600 songs, versus the Vívoactive 4S’s 500), an always-on display, and a battery life of up to 10 days (three days longer than that of the Vívoactive 4S). We found it easy to wear, though you can’t dismiss notifications all at once (only one by one), and the easily customizable and scrollable home screen can feel cluttered when all metrics are displayed.

The competition

The Amazfit Band 5 performed well in our step-count test (though it under-measured the distance). It also performed pretty well in our active heart-rate tests. But it measured our resting heart rate at about 10 beats per minute higher than what we know is normal. We had trouble syncing the app to our iPhone, necessitating a restart several times. And though our phone’s Bluetooth would say the device was connected, the app would say it wasn’t. The screen is bright and vibrant. You can customize your watch face, but our basic choice felt small and hard to read. The app is also frustratingly complicated.

The Amazon Halo bases its activity monitoring on the American Heart Association’s recommendation that healthy adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity per week. Here, those 150 minutes translate to 150 points you can accrue, depending on whether you reach intense (2 points per minute), moderate (1 point per minute), or light (1 point per 20 minutes) levels of activity. The Halo has no display and no smartwatch features. Activities that raise your heart rate for more than 10 minutes appear automatically in the app, as do other metrics (heart rate and steps, which are found deep in the “activity” section). It tracks sleep (quality, stages, and an overall score). “Programs” within each section (done in conjunction with entities like the Mayo Clinic and Aaptiv) can help you incorporate calming music into your pre-bed routine or utilize planks for a total-body workout, among other things. But where this model really diverges from the pack is with its (optional) Body and Tone sections. Tone uses your phone’s microphone to record and analyze the tone of your voice throughout the day. Body takes a full-body scan with your phone’s camera to calculate body-fat percentage. Amazon assures that photos and recordings are deleted immediately (unless you want to keep them). But we felt increasingly strange about our voice being traced. And body-fat percentage is notoriously tricky to get right and requires some contextualization to tell a full story. It can also be easy to get unnecessarily obsessed with the number; a sliding scale that shows you what your body would look like at higher and lower percentages doesn’t help. In June 2021, Amazon added a “visual fitness assessment” to the Halo called Movement Health: A user performs five functional movements in front of their phone’s camera, gets assessed, and receives a custom program of “corrective exercises.” (We haven’t tried this.)

Now discontinued and replaced by the Apple Watch Series 7, the Apple Watch Series 6 performed well in our fitness-focused tests and was a fine choice as an activity tracker for those who have their heart set on the latest iteration. But the Apple Watch SE, our also-great pick in this guide, costs almost a third less and performs nearly as well (though it lacks some features of the Series 6 and Series 7, like an always-on display and an ECG function).

The discontinued Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit’s first foray into the world of true smartwatches, struggles to live up to that label. It offers few apps and doesn’t handle notifications well. While it offers onboard GPS, the feature doesn’t justify its higher price tag. In early 2022, Fitbit voluntarily recalled more than 1 million of its Ionic smartwatches due to an overheating battery.

The Fitbit Luxe, another new addition to the Fitbit family along with the Fitbit Charge 5, has a slim, jewelry-like profile, with optional accessories that feel more like bracelets and less like sporty bands. It did well in our all-day step-count test but wasn’t as strong when it came to heart-rate accuracy. We also had a few hiccups, like when the Luxe blacked out during heart-rate testing and we couldn’t get back to the display. It is comparable in size to (if not slightly larger than) our budget pick, the Fitbit Inspire 2, but the screen felt tighter.

The Fitbit Versa smartwatch series includes the Versa and the Versa Lite Edition (both of which we tested), as well as the Versa 2 and the newest model, the Versa 3. The Fitbit Versa Lite Edition performed solidly and was fine to wear, but it definitely felt more like a smartwatch than a fitness tracker. We had few issues with the exercise modes, automatic activity tracking, and heart-rate monitoring. This model performed solidly in most of our trials, too, but we found odd, niggling issues here and there. For instance, the Versa Lite detected a swim automatically after 10 minutes, but it wouldn’t allow you to add swimming to your custom exercise list. In comparison with the Versa Lite, the Versa 3 has a longer promised battery life (more than six days), an SpO2 sensor (to measure blood-oxygen levels), and built-in GPS. But we struggled with it. The battery fell to 25% after our second day wearing it. (It got stuck on an update at a certain point; we had to restart the watch, which may have contributed to the drain.) It grossly overestimated our step counts (90%), and the GPS took a while to connect and seemed to drop in and out during the course of a walk. It also didn’t fare well in our heart-rate tests.

As the name implies, the Garmin Venu Sq—a sibling of the Venu 2S—has a rectangular-shape display; in our tests, it had a tendency to overestimate our daily step counts by more than 50%. However, it fared well in other areas, including GPS distance tracking and heart-rate accuracy. Like the Venu 2S, you can’t clear all notifications at once, only one by one. Though that’s not a dealbreaker in our eyes, its accuracy issues still kept it out of the top spots.

The best thing the Garmin Vívofit 4, a former pick for basic fitness tracking, has going for it is that you don’t need to charge it, since it runs on a watch battery that’s good for a year. It also looks dated.

The Garmin Vívosmart 4, our former runner-up pick, combines a tiny, intuitive-to-use touchscreen with a sleek, easy-to-wear wristband. It doesn’t detect activities as reliably as we’d like, though, and it gets glitchy when wet.

Our former top pick for fitness trackers, the discontinued Garmin Vívosport offers onboard GPS in a slim fitness tracker. (However, if your aim is to track runs or bike rides seriously, you’re better off with a dedicated GPS running watch.) As an all-around fitness tracker, the newer Fitbit Charge 5 outperforms the Vívosport due to better automatic activity detection. A Wirecutter colleague who owned the Vívosport didn’t like the fact that the Band wasn’t replaceable (when it broke, she sent it back to Garmin and received a new device). She also noted that, one day last year, she noticed it was dead and wouldn’t charge.

Instead of using step counts as the primary stat, the Mio Slice claims to measure all-around activity with a proprietary “personal activity intelligence.” Even after testing it, though, we still can’t tell exactly what it does and doesn’t count.

The Mi Smart Band 4—a feature-stuffed fitness tracker at a reasonable price—was the talk of the town. It’s on to something, with highlights such as a bright, clear (if not tiny) touchscreen, more than 40 screen options, a claimed three-week battery life, off-board music control, smartphone notifications, and roughly 90 exercise modes (parasailing, anyone?). However, the app is confusing and tricky to navigate. In our tests, its connected GPS was fairly accurate on several walks and runs, and its swim data was thorough (including stroke detection and average strokes per minute). But its heart-rate accuracy was iffy. It didn’t detect specific activities automatically, and it occasionally told us we’d been sitting too long even though we’d been up and about for hours. Its messaging is worth mentioning, too. Linger in your chair, and you might get the following: “Sitting for too long is harmful for your health. It will increase the risk of various diseases such as diabetes and neck or back problems.” That’s not wrong, but we think most people would prefer a more upbeat tone.

With a sporty look and equally athletic feel, the Polar Ignite has integrated GPS, a color touchscreen, and quite a lot to offer. But the Garmin Vívoactive 4S, our upgrade pick, edged it out in overall accuracy and ease of use. The Ignite’s large face might deter some people from wearing it all day. In our tests, it had a strong step-count showing on both our GPS outdoor and treadmill walks. But this model didn’t fare as well when it came to accurate distance. Its FitSpark feature recommends onboard workouts based on recovery data. One morning we did a 10-minute core routine, which was a nice motivator; however, a few of the exercises in the lineup weren’t completely clear—and we are personal trainers.

Similar to the Polar Ignite, the Polar Unite has the sporty look of a fitness watch, and it can hold up to 20 sport profiles. It came out on the higher side of overestimating step counts and overshot the distance in our measured-loop walk by 17%. It does not auto-detect activity, and we had a hard time getting it to connect to our phone for GPS use. It was comfortable—its heart-rate sensor is flat, which is a nice touch. But it wasn’t as intuitive to use as our top pick, and its app is also trickier to navigate.

We loved the vivid color touchscreen and souped-up features (stress tracking, preset replies to phone notifications) of the Samsung Galaxy Fit—now the Galaxy Fit2. But we never fully fell for it. Although it’s compatible with Android and iOS, it requires two separate apps when you pair it with an iPhone (which we found cumbersome and a bit frustrating). It did well (landing in first place) when tracking the distance of our marked GPS walk, hitting the mark right on the nose. But it underperformed in our heart-rate tests.

Another former pick in this guide, the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro is a smartwatch-like activity tracker that plays almost as nicely with iOS as with Android (the main difference is that you can’t reply to texts on an iPhone). It’s a capable, attractive activity tracker, but it has one major drawback: short battery life. Samsung claims this tracker will run for three days, but we barely eked out two.

We love what Suunto is aiming to accomplish with the Suunto 3 Fitness watch—a workout-oriented companion meant to encourage you to follow a training plan and fit more exercise into your life. But it offers no detailed sleep tracking, no automatic activity detection, and no move reminders (although it will tell you if today is a workout day). And the button-only interface is confusing.

The Whoop Strap 3.0 (recently replaced by the Whoop 4.0) is an interesting outlier. It has no screen; it monitors recovery, “strain,” and sleep; and it imposes a required 30-a-month membership fee. It has an athletic vibe and a performance-optimizing bent, based on using your heart rate and heart-rate variability (the intervals between heartbeats) to determine whether you should FOCUS on recovery or activity on any given day. The strap itself (fabric, with a nonslip rubber strip within) fits like a dream thanks to flat, flush-to-the-wrist positioning; it also detects strain (elevated heart rate) automatically and offers more than 50 sports and activities to choose from. But even though we loved this model’s deep-dive approach, its lack of a screen (you have to review all data through the concise app) and basics (like step counts and notifications) may be dealbreakers for most people.

We’re fans of the minimalist aesthetic of the Withings Pulse HR; a reinforced polycarbonate surface coating gives the screen a cool, matte finish. The company, perhaps best known for its Smart scales, has built in a seemingly impossibly long battery life—20 days—which held up in our testing. (After setting this model aside for days without charging, we’d find it still juiced and ready to go.) Step counts were hit or miss, sometimes nearly spot-on and other times far off. And it didn’t perform as well in our active-heart-rate tests as we expected. Phone notifications scroll horizontally (like a ticker), which can be a bit inefficient for longer messages. And the exercise modes, though plentiful (40 to choose from), lacked detail. In the water, the Pulse HR counted strokes but didn’t allow for pool-length adjustment.

The Wyze Band, from the Smart-home company Wyze, underwhelmed us. It grossly overestimated our daily step counts and performed at the bottom of the pack in our heart-rate testing. It does not feature activity auto-detection and has just one activity mode (running). We ended up unintentionally hitting the haptic “button” on the color touchscreen; this sent us to areas like “reboot” (which we didn’t want). One of this model’s big sells is that it can operate Alexa and Wyze devices (a feature that, not having a Smart home, we did not try). But it also had a habit of disconnecting from our phone. The Wyze Band has a long battery life (10 to 14 days), but its activity-tracking features felt oddly secondary.

Thorin Klosowski contributed reporting. This article was edited by Tracy Vence, Ellen Lee, and Kalee Thompson.

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