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Fitness trackers

The Best Fitness Trackers Of 2021

Find the best fitness tracker for you with our buyer’s guide and run-down of Fitbit, Garmin, Apple, Huawei and Samsung models

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Whether you’re considering buying your first fitness tracker or planning to upgrade your current one, it’s worth ensuring you’re getting a device that fits your needs before you take the plunge. Fitness trackers used to be glorified pedometers, but now these smart gadgets have the ability to record and estimate all kinds of metrics across almost every sport and daily activity. This means you should be able to find a tracker that suits your lifestyle, and helps you monitor your health and achieve your sporting goals.

The cost of fundamental features like heart rate tracking and built-in GPS has come down considerably in the past couple of years, and both are now close to standard in devices under £100. There are even some choice cuts in the sub-£50 bracket that offer those features, but generally the best budget devices are to be found closer to £100.

Once you go above that mark you’ll find more advanced devices that offer greater insight into your training and can advise you how to improve your health and fitness, rather than just passively monitoring your stats. In the £100-£250 bracket you’ll also get better designs including bright touchscreens. Beyond £250 you’ll start seeing the very best smartwatches and sports trackers. Triathletes will need to go above this mark to effectively manage the demands of the sport.

There is a wide variation in battery life on fitness trackers. While a few devices use watch-style batteries that last as long as eight months, most opt for rechargeable batteries. How frequently they need to be recharged varies widely, however: smartwatches tend to have the shortest battery life and can need daily charging, while fitness trackers usually last five to seven days, and the best sports watches offer 35-80 hours of GPS battery life so they may only need plugging in every two or three weeks depending on how much you train.

If you’re new to this fitness tracking malarkey, we’ve included a run-down of the major features fitness trackers offer – with the benefits as well as limitations – so you can work out which could be useful for you. Or if you already have a budget in mind, jump to our top picks in three different categories:

Entry-Level Fitness Trackers (Less Than £100)

A modest budget is no barrier to picking up an excellent fitness tracker, as these four entry-level options show. Budget fitness trackers have improved hugely in recent years, and each of the options below provides everything you need to begin tracking your stats without breaking the bank.

Xiaomi Mi Band 5


RRP £39.99

If value is your main objective, it’s hard to find better bang for your buck than the Xiaomi Mi Band 5. Officially priced at £40, in truth it seldom sells for more than £30, which is frankly amazing when you consider what it offers.

A comfortable band that tracks your activity in the day and your sleep at night, this band combines a sharp 1.1in (28mm) AMOLED screen with great stamina, promising up to 14 days’ use on a single charge. The notable new features for the fifth generation are a barometer, REM sleep tracking, four new sport tracking modes and a new feature called PAI (Personal Activity Indicator). This is a simple way of tracking your activity: simply average more than 100 PAI points per week and, according to research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, you’re less likely to develop heart problems.

Huawei Band 4 Pro


RRP £69.99

The Huawei band 4 Pro offers something few other sub-£100 fitness trackers provide: built-in GPS. This means you can leave your phone at home and still get accurate speed, pace and distance data from your run or ride to pore over at your leisure.

It doesn’t stop there, though. With VO2 max and recommended recovery times based on your heart rate zone data, the Huawei Band 4 Pro’s features rival those of wearables more than twice its price. That’s even more impressive when you realise that it rarely sells for its already-generous £70 RRP.

Buy from Huawei | £69.99 (currently reduced to £44.99)

Fitbit Inspire 2


RRP £89.99 | Fitbit Inspire 2 review

While Fitbit still sells the excellent Inspire HR for £60, the Inspire 2 is well worth the extra £30 because the price includes one year of Fitbit Premium (usually £7.99 per month). If you’re buying a tracker to improve your fitness from a standing start, Fitbit Premium offers oodles of in-app workouts, training plans and guided programmes to follow, all of which will help you achieve goals such as sleeping better or reducing your sugar intake.

The device itself has an accurate heart rate monitor and offers Fitbit’s excellent sleep and activity tracking, including the Active Zone Minutes target (a far more effective goal for staying in shape than 10,000 daily steps). And the Fitbit app is among the best there is, with plenty of community features and friendly competition to inspire you to reach your fitness goals.

Buy from Fitbit | £89.99

Garmin Vivosmart 4


RRP £99.99

While few could deny that Garmin’s Vivosmart 4 is well overdue an update in its fourth year, it’s still a formidable fitness tracker with many features that also appear on its pricier siblings.

The Vivosmart 4 includes automatic rep counting, estimates of VO2 max and fitness age, all-day stress tracking and automatic activity tracking, and it’s waterproof so you can take it swimming. It also has a built-in heart rate monitor for 24/7 tracking and a resting heart rate measurement, and will even estimate your energy levels with the Body Battery feature.

Buy from Garmin | £99.99

Mid-Range To High-End Fitness Trackers

As you’ve seen, there are useful trackers available for less than £100, but step above that mark and you open up a new world of exciting features like heart-rate monitors as standard, smartwatch-style notifications and even touchscreens. Get excited, people.

Huawei Watch GT 2e


RRP £159.99 | Huawei Watch GT 2e review

The GT 2e looks like a smartwatch with its large colour touchscreen, but since it isn’t compatible with the Google Play store and so can’t get apps a more apt description would be fitness watch, especially since it has built-in GPS and 100 workout modes to pick from. The watch’s battery life is also impressive thanks to the divorce from Google, with Huawei’s own software allowing the GT 2e to run for over a week between charges even when using it frequently to track exercise, and having the screen and heart rate monitoring on all the time.

There is also music on the watch, but only for Android users – the iOS app doesn’t allow you to sync songs to the GT 2e. Everyone gets access to Huawei’s excellent sleep tracking, however, and runners in particular are well served by the sports tracking: there are 13 preset workouts to use plus in-depth training and fitness analysis through a partnership with Firstbeat, which provides the same data analysis on Garmin’s sports watches.

The result is a pretty impressive all-round watch, especially given that it costs £160 and is often reduced on Amazon. For that you get solid sports tracking, great battery life and sleep tracking, and a smartwatch-level screen. Not bad at all.

Buy from Huawei | £159.99 (currently reduced to £109.99 with free Huawei Smart Scaler)

Fitbit Charge 5


RRP £169.99 | Fitbit Charge 5 first-look review

The Charge 5 is the first in Fitbit’s popular line of bands to have a colour screen, and it’s also 10% thinner than the Charge 4, with a more appealing, rounded design. It adds new sensors that allow it to take electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements and an electrodermal activity (EDA) scan. It will also feature Fitbit’s forthcoming Daily Readiness Score. It has most of the features on Fitbit’s Versa and Sense smartwatches, but in a more compact design.

We have had some problems with the accuracy of the built-in GPS during outdoor activities, and you will need a Fitbit Premium subscription to get the most out of the Charge 5 (a six-month membership is included, then £7.99 a month). However, it is still a top-notch fitness tracker and the most feature-rich band Fitbit has ever made.

Buy from Fitbit | £169.99

Garmin Forerunner 55


RRP £179.99 | Garmin Forerunner 55 review

The Forerunner 55 is Garmin’s entry-level running watch, but that description undersells it because really it has all the essentials runners of all levels need to track their training, plus some useful extra features on top. It has built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor, offers structured workouts and guided training plans you can follow from your wrist, and tracks several other sports alongside running – though it doesn’t have a triathlon mode, which the Coros Pace 2 (below) does at the same price.

Compared with its predecessor the Forerunner 45, the 55 has several helpful new features for runners. These include Garmin’s Track Run mode, a recovery advisor which estimates how long your body will need to recover from its exertions. There are also suggested workouts each day, so you can outsource all the planning of your training to the watch. The 55 also gets a battery boost , offering 20 hours of GPS tracking as opposed to 13 on the 45. However, if those new features don’t excite you then it’s worth looking for the 45 in sales since its price often drops to around £120.

Buy from Garmin | £179.99

Coros Pace 2


RRP £179.99 | Coros Pace 2 review

This lightweight sports watch offers an awful lot for under £200, matching the features of Garmin and Polar devices that cost twice as much. The Pace 2 even outdoes them on the battery front, providing 30 hours of GPS and lasting a couple of weeks on a single charge.

If you’re a runner or a triathlete, this is the most full-featured budget sports watch you’ll find, with accurate tracking, training plans, structured workouts, running power measured from the wrist and the ability to connect to pretty much any external sensor. The Pace 2 will also track everyday activity like steps and calories, but it doesn’t have any smart features or the more fashionable design of devices from the likes of Fitbit and Apple.

Buy from Coros | £179.99

Polar Ignite 2


RRP £199.50

Polar’s sleep tracking – and what it does with the information it gathers –really makes the Ignite 2 stand out. It does the usual sleep duration and breakdown of light, deep and REM sleep, but also uses heart rate variability and breathing rate to assess your ANS charge (essentially how well your body recovered during sleep). It then uses this information to recommend a range of workouts for that day. It’s a unique and well-executed approach.

On top of that we found that it operates as a solid entry-level running watch with training plans for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon distances. It’s certainly the best for running among general fitness watches that cost close to £200. The touchscreen can be a little laggy and it lacks in smart features – including music storage – but if you like to exercise and could use some guidance, it’s second to none.

Buy from Polar | £199.50

Fitbit Versa 3


RRP £199.99

There are two major updates on the Versa 3. One is great: built-in GPS so you can track outdoor exercise more accurately. The other is pretty awful: Fitbit has replaced the button on the Versa 2 with a touch-sensitive panel that works about half of the time. Overall, though, we rate the Versa 3 more highly just because GPS is so useful and there are some handy minor updates like the addition of Google’s voice assistant. The Versa 3 can store and stream music to wireless headphones and has an always-on screen option and a good variety of sports modes, as well as the usual top-notch activity and sleep tracking you expect from Fitbit.

Buy from Fitbit | £199.99

Apple Watch Series 3


RRP From £199 | Apple Watch Series 3 review

This Series 3 launched in 2017 but in November 2019 Apple repriced it at £199, which meant its three-year-old feature set stood out – and still does – in the mid-range smartwatch market. The Series 3 doesn’t have the larger, always-on screen of the Series 6, but it is a terrific smartwatch that has Apple’s latest watchOS software, built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor and, most importantly of all, the choice of thousands of apps on the App Store.

Buy from Apple | From £199

Withings ScanWatch


RRP £279.95 | Withings ScanWatch review

If you prefer the look of an analogue watch but still want top-notch health tracking then the ScanWatch is the obvious choice. The understated, stylish design and slim build of the watch belie the clever tech it contains: it can track your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, and take a medical-grade ECG measurement. It will also record your activity and track your exercise and sleep too. While the sports tracking is basic compared with a dedicated watch, the detailed sleep tracking is up there with the very best.

A small circular screen on the top half of the watch face shows essential stats, with more detailed information available in the partner Withings Health Mate app. It syncs seamlessly with the watch and explains clearly what the watch records, so you can interpret what’s good or bad. To top it all off, the battery lasts 30 days on a charge, so the illusion of an analogue watch isn’t undone by daily trips to the charger.

Buy from Withings£279.95 | Withings ScanWatch review

Smartwatches And Sports Trackers

The crème de la crème. These top-end trackers are the smartest you can get, with flashy screens, built-in GPS and the ability to provide in-depth stats on all your sporting pursuits. If you’ve fallen down a fitness rabbit-hole and have the moolah, these are your go-to options.

Coros Apex


RRP £269.99-£299.99 | Coros Apex review

The Apex looks like a £500 multisport watch and has most of the key features of one too, yet it only costs £269.99 for the 42mm version and £299.99 for the 46mm. The battery life clocks in at a massive 35 hours of GPS on the larger version (25 hours on the 42mm) and the Apex offers detailed tracking of running, cycling and swimming, including a nifty Stamina stat for running that estimates how much energy your body has left. However, it does lack other sports modes, customised workouts are restricted to a simple intervals mode, and we have found the heart rate monitoring to be a little spotty while running. Still, given the price, this a stand-out option for triathletes and keen runners who don’t want to splash out big bucks on something like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.


Buy from Coros | £269.99-£299.99

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music


RRP £299.99 | Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review

This is our top recommendation for a running watch. It has all the essential features runners of any level need, plus handy extras like breadcrumb navigation and music playback, including the ability to wirelessly sync with a Spotify Premium account. The 245 Music will track your runs, guide you through structured workouts and training plans, and advise on the training effect of your runs, including estimating how long you should spend recovering. There are better, more expensive Garmins, but in truth those are overkill for virtually all runners – wonderful, delightful overkill, but overkill nonetheless.

Buy from Garmin | £299.99

Apple Watch Series 7


RRP From £369 | Apple Watch Series 7 first-look review

There is simply no better smartwatch available. The Apple Watch Series 7 offers brilliant everyday tracking through the addictive activity rings system, as well as solid native sports tracking, the widest range of third-party apps like Strava, music streaming, and an easy-to-use wallet that can store cards and tickets.

The most notable upgrade on the Series 6 is clear the moment you see the new watch, which has a 20% larger screen than its predecessor. It’s also a more durable watch with a thicker, crack-resistant screen and a higher dustproof rating.

If you can do without the always-on screen, and the ECG and SpO2 readings, consider the Apple Watch SE (from £349) instead.

Buy from Apple | From £369

Polar Vantage V2


RRP £449 | Polar Vantage V2 review

It can be difficult to differentiate between Polar’s three most high-end sports watches: the Grit X, Vantage V2 and original Vantage V have had a range of features shared out between them in a not-entirely-logical manner. However, if you simply want the best of the best then the V2 is it. It boasts all of Polar’s best sports tracking and training analysis features, and has the best design to boot.

Along with turn-by-turn breadcrumb navigation and FuelWise – a feature that helps you to plan your nutrition for exercise sessions of over 90 minutes – the V2 also offers unique running and cycling fitness tests, as well as a simple jump test you can use to check how the muscles in your lower body have recovered each day.

Polar’s Nightly Recharge gives an impressive degree of insight into how well you’re recovering each night too, and you get suggested workouts each day based on that recovery. The battery life is listed at 40 hours of GPS and seven days of use, though we found with real-world use we had to charge it every four to five days.

If you’d prefer a chunkier, cheaper watch with most of the above features bar the fitness and leg recovery tests, the Grit X is available for £380.

Buy from Polar | £449

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro


RRP £599.99 | Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review

If money is no object, the Fenix 6 Pro is the best sports watch available today, offering runners and triathletes unparalleled detail on their training as well as smart features like music and colour maps that allow you to create routes on the fly. With the Fenix 6 range Garmin also introduced its smart PacePro feature, which can help runners pace their events perfectly based on mile or kilometre split targets that take into account the hills in that section, plus your overall time goal.

Buy from Garmin | £599.99

Fitness Tracker Features Explained

Step counting

Before heart rate monitors became standard, keeping track of your steps was the reason you’d wear a device all day, rather than just strapping one on for a workout. An accelerometer in the device senses movement and software translates certain movements into steps. It’s an imperfect method to say the least, as anyone whose fitness tracker has buzzed to celebrate a step goal while you’re sitting on the bus will know.

That’s not to say counting steps is pointless. Movement – steps or otherwise – is good and more movement is better, and it’s the little encouragements and challenges to induce you to move more and move regularly that can be beneficial to your health.

Heart rate monitoring

It was once a feature restricted to high-end trackers, but most wearables now offer 24/7 optical heart rate tracking.

With heart rate tracking comes a wealth of other information, including an estimate of your VO2 max and resting heart rate, both of which are good measures of your overall cardiovascular fitness. High-end sports trackers also use heart rate tracking to provide info on the effect of your training session and how long you should spend recovering afterwards.

Optical tracking is usually pretty accurate during day-to-day life, but is more hit and miss during exercise, especially intense workouts. That can be especially problematic when certain tracker brands offer training sessions to follow that rely on you working on certain heart rate zones. Getting a tight fit with your tracker can help, but don’t expect miracles – if you want more accurate heart rate tracking it’s wise to link your device to a chest strap via Bluetooth or ANT+ if possible.

ECG Measurements

There are several fitness trackers available now that can take a medical-grade electrocardiogram (ECG) measurement from your wrist, which you usually do by holding your finger against one part of the device for 30 seconds. These ECG scans can detect atrial fibrillation, ie an irregular heartbeat – a common condition, but one that you will want to get checked out by your GP if a device does detect it.

Watches with the ability to take an ECG reading also often be able to monitor your heartbeat proactively to detect abnormally low or high heart rates, or prompt you to take an ECG if they spot any signs of an irregular heartbeat.

ECG-enabled fitness trackers require a CE mark in the UK and Europe, which means some devices that can technically do it don’t actually offer the feature yet while this certification is pending. Those that already have a CE mark include the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Sense, Fitbit’s Ionic and Versa smartwatches via a third-party app FibriCheck, the Withings ScanWatch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 and Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Stress Tracking

Fitness trackers that have the ability to measure your heart rate variability – the time between your heartbeats – can use that info to rate how physically stressed you are. The higher the variability in this time the better, because it means your body is in relax mode, whereas low variability means your body is in action whether that’s because you’re digesting food, processing alcohol or just heading into an important meeting.

This state of physical stress is completely normal, but it does need to be balanced with downtime, which is usually when you’re asleep. Devices with stress tracking use your heart rate variability to give you a stress score, usually a simple number out of 100, which can be helpful in identifying whether you’re giving your body the chance to relax and recover regularly.

Sleep tracking

Sleep is just as important as exercise and diet when it comes to your overall health. Many trackers now record how long you spend asleep and break that down into periods of deep, light and REM sleep, allowing you to gauge your sleep quality.

This information can be useful if you pay attention to what might be responsible for a bad night’s sleep (eg booze) or a good one (eg no booze), but there is a limit to how useful this information can be. It’s not like steps where you can actively try harder to get more. However, the better devices can help nudge you towards better habits, allowing you to set reminders for a consistent sleep schedule.

GPS tracking

The addition of a GPS chip in the device means your tracker will accurately record speed, distance and elevation during outdoor activities like running and cycling. Cheaper trackers will use an accelerometer to estimate distance covered, with mixed results – see the perennial “fitness tracker doesn’t accurately track a marathon” story that comes out before the London Marathon every year. That exposé uses an accelerometer, while virtually every runner in the London Marathon will be using a GPS tracker. Some trackers offer an in-between option that connects to your smartphone and uses its GPS signal to offer more accurate tracking, which obviously means you need to have your phone on your person throughout your session.

A device with built-in GPS capability will be far more accurate in measuring distance than an accelerometer’s estimate, but it’s still not perfect. A manufacturer may decide to take readings less frequently to save the battery, which is why when you zoom into a map of your tracked route it can look as if you’ve passed through a building. Since a GPS signal is reliant on line of sight between your device and a satellite, it also means clouds and running in built-up urban areas can skew readings. If you’re committed to exceptionally accurate tracking, look out for trackers that offer compatibility with other satellite tracking systems – that’s GLONASS, the Russian equivalent of GPS, or Galileo, the EU’s satellite system.

Customisable workouts

Having an intervals mode on your fitness tracker is useful for guiding you through all types of workouts, if only because it will stop you extending your rest sections beyond what they should be. You’ll find a simple intervals mode on most mid-range fitness trackers, but for more complex customisable workouts you’ll need to spend upwards of £150 on a sports watch. On running and triathlon watches you’ll also often have the ability to set up more complex workouts, with work periods based on targets like distance, heart rate or pace, rather than just time.

Some sports watches will go beyond that and actually make suggestions for the training you should do each day. Polar watches have this ability through the FitSpark feature, which analyses how well you recover at night and then suggests workouts based on how fit you are to train that exact day. Garmin also offers suggested workouts in its top-of-the-range multisport watches, such as the Forerunner 745 and 945, and the Fenix 6 range.

Navigation

If you’re keen on exercising outdoors then navigation is a great feature to look out for. It will not only stop you getting lost mid-run, hike or ride, but it’ll also help you to explore new places and avoid repeating the same routes near your house until you’re thoroughly bored with them. You can find basic breadcrumb navigation – where you get a line showing a preloaded course and pointer to show your position – on watches that cost from £200, while watches with full maps and on-the-go route mapping cost over £500.

Swim tracking

Almost all trackers offer some degree of water resistance, which means you can run in the rain or take a shower with them, but if you’re a keen swimmer you need not only a fully waterproof design, but also a dedicated swim tracking mode – some of the cheaper swimproof Fitbits merely offer automatic recording of time in the water.

We recommend settling for nothing less than the ability to track your laps in the pool automatically. More advanced watches will also offer stroke recognition and record stats like stroke rate and SWOLF, the latter a measure of your efficiency in the water.

Triathletes will also want an open-water swimming mode that uses a device’s GPS. This is something you’ll rarely find outside dedicated multisport watches that cost at least £250.

Play music

Having space for music on your tracker provides one more reason to leave your phone behind when exercising. Most smartwatches offer this feature now, and while all can stream stored tracks, some – like the Apple Watch – can handle their own data connection through either WiFi or, if you’re happy to pay a monthly data fee to a mobile network, a 4G sim.

We think the ability to sync with streaming services wirelessly is a key feature to look out for here. Being able to transfer over your favourite exercise playlist via wires is useful, but you can end up listening to the same music over and over again because let’s face it, plugging things in is a pain. If you can link to Spotify (which Garmin, Samsung and Android watches do), Apple Music (Apple Watch) or Deezer (Fitbit) and update that playlist wirelessly it’s much easier to put new tracks on your watch. However, you’ll need a premium account for those streaming services to use this feature, no matter which watch you use.

NFC payments (contactless)

With the ability to make payments from your watch, you can also leave your wallet behind when exercising outdoors. Smartwatches from tech companies like Apple and Samsung have got this down, having partnered with all the big banks when bringing payments to smartphones, but Santander is the only high street bank working with Garmin and Fitbit. More challenger banks are signed up, though, and there are third-party services available that are the digital equivalent of pre-paid debit cards.

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