Some people confuse fitness watches with smartwatches, but they are not quite the same thing. Smartwatches are primarily an extension for your smartphone – allowing you to receive notifications and control apps from your wrist.
Fitness watches are different. Their primary purpose is to collect 24/7 health data and deliver this in a useful format. You can then use this data to monitor your health and set fitness goals. Although all fitness watches share a common goal, they are not created equally.
Fitness watches differ in terms of accuracy, design, and the types of activities they can track. They also range in price from £30 to £500+. This leaves most people feeling confused about which fitness tracker to choose.
Which Fitness Watch Should I Choose?
Fitness watches (or fitness trackers) fall into 3 main categories: basic, mid-range, and advanced/sport-specific:
- Basic fitness watch – These simple fitness trackers are usually in the design of a thin wristband. They have a motion detector sensor (3-axis accelerometer) to track activities and calories. The better models also have connected GPS.
- Mid-range fitness watch – In addition to the above, mid-range fitness trackers have an infrared sensor. This collects cardiovascular data such as heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), and respiration rate (RR). This means they can measure cardio fitness, stress, sleep duration, sleep quality, and predict Vo2 max.
- Advanced/ sport–specific watch – These do everything already mentioned but with more accuracy. Certain watches are also tailored toward specific sports such as swimming or hiking. For example, some advanced fitness trackers use built-in GPs and a barometric altimeter to measure distance and elevation whilst hiking. Cheaper fitness trackers can only achieve if they tap into your phone’s GPS.
Before making your choice, you should consider what health data you are interested in measuring. Do you want to track one sport with absolute precision? Or are you quite happy to receive reasonably accurate data on a range of daily activities? Do you want to track your sleep quality and stress levels throughout the day? Or, are you simply interested in counting the steps you’ve walked and the calories you’ve burned?
Whatever your priorities are, here are 5 of the best fitness trackers to consider (1 basic, 1 mid-range and 3 advanced)!
1. Best Basic Fitness Watch: Withings Move
At around £60, this fitness tracker is not going to break the bank. Though it is a “basic” tracker, it would be great for someone who is new to health tracking.
So, what type of fitness data can you track with the Withings Move? The motion sensors in this watch will automatically track walking, running, swimming and hiking. If you don’t mind carrying your phone with you, this watch will also track distance and elevation data. Along with activity tracking, the Health Mate app tells you how many calories you’ve burned and allows you to set health goals.
- Incredible battery life (18 months)
- The Health Mate app is very intuitive and provides easy-to-understand health data.
- It has the appearance of a conventional watch so you can wear it with workwear and eveningwear. This means you can track your total daily steps – not just your gym workouts!
- There is no heart rate monitor, so you won’t be able to track HR changes or calculate Vo2 capacity. Although this device claims to measure sleep, sleep trackers with HR monitors are more effective at measuring sleep quality. So, if you are particularly interested in sleep tracking you should consider a device with a heart rate monitor.
2. Affordable Mid-Range Health Tracker: Fitbit Inspire HR
At around £79, the Fitbit Inspire HR is only slightly more expensive than the Withings Move, but it offers quite a lot more in terms of functionality because it has a heart-rate monitor. The heart rate sensor will provide you with useful cardio insights and help you accurately track your sleep.
- This watch tracks heart rate data as well as movements, so it can provide more sophisticated cardio and sleep data than the Withings model.
- The watch is waterproof up to 50m so can be used for swimming
- Smartphone notifications
- Connected GPS
- The watch is quite informal so not necessarily suitable for a formal environment. Having said that, some people like the sporty and sleek look.
- This Fitbit device is not as accurate as some advanced devices (see below), but this is reflected in the price.
3. Advanced Fitness Tracker for Hikers: Garmin Vivosport
At around £125, the Garmin Vivosport is more expensive, but it offers exceptional value for money. Not only does it have in-built GPS, but it also uses infrared technology to capture your heart rate, and a barometric altimeter to capture elevation. If you enjoy hiking, biking or running outdoors, the Garmin Vivosport will track your workouts with precision.
- Good quality hardware that will track your routes, elevation, heart rate, sleep and stress.
- You can receive smartphone notifications if you pair your phone with the device.
- In-built GPS for a great price.
- It’s not great at measuring gym workouts (stretches, weightlifting etc.)
- Though it is waterproof, it doesn’t track lengths in the pool.
4. Best Fitness Watch for Swimmers: Samsung Gear Fit 2 (Pro)
It can be hard to find a fitness watch that is truly suitable for swimmers. Though many watches claim to be waterproof, swimming with the watch may run the battery down or cause other unexpected damage. Similarly, although many trackers can capture open swims, few can record lane swims in a pool. The Samsung Gear Fit 2 (pro) is both reliably waterproof and can track lane swimming via the Speedo Swim App. It is a little more expensive than the watches already mentioned (approx. £179) but worth the investment if you are a keen swimmer.
- Tracks swims effectively (it’s reliably waterproof), as well as other activities.
- Smartphone notifications
- Built-in GPS
- 4gb storage for music
- Battery life is 1-2 days – some comparable devices last up to 5 days.
- It has automatic activity tracking, but it sometimes struggles to detect stair climbing (this is an issue with quite a lot of fitness trackers).
5. Most Accurate Sports Watch: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
When it comes to data accuracy, Suunto watches are close to perfection. Suunto can be considered a trailblazer in this industry because they began making precision navigation watches for the army in the 1930s. The watches aren’t cheap, but they are certainly worth the investment. If you haven’t heard of Sunnto, it’s probably because their products are quite specialist; the watches are typically aimed at athletes, but any sports enthusiast would benefit from this great piece of technology.
If you enjoy outdoorsy activities like running and hiking, you can rely on the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR to track your routes, elevation, heart rate and calories with extreme precision.
- Unrivalled precision and accuracy.
- Built-in GPS
- A built-in altimeter to accurately track elevation without the need for a smartphone (great for hill/mountain sports).
- Comes in at under £200, which is great value considering how accurate this device is.
- A bit bulky and masculine for some people’s tastes.
Remember, your ideal fitness watch should be practical and useful but not overloaded with unnecessary features. That’s why it’s so important to know what you are looking for in a fitness tracker before parting with your cash. Hopefully, the information in this article will guide you towards the best value fitness watch for you.
Last Updated on December 31, 2019
A highly experienced writer, with expertise in health and technology.
Rachael had a masters degree in psychology (with distinction) and a bachelors degree in English literature (with first-class honours) from reputable UK universities. Rachael has worked for two years as a research associate and reporter for a high-profile UK media company.