Your Guide to Fitness Trackers

In our high-tech, fitness-focused world, wearable exercise trackers have become as common a sight as watches (and, in many cases, they are watches). This might have you wondering: What's the widespread appeal?
 
In a word, accountability. People who measure and analyze their activities—from workouts at the gym to walks to the mailbox—tend to get better results. Out of all SparkPeople members, those who connected a fitness tracker to their account lost 30 percent more weight than those who did not, and they also earned 20 times more SparkPoints. When you connect a tracker to SparkPeople, you get seamless access to all of your tracked data—including activities and food intake—in one place.
 
If you haven’t yet joined the step-counting craze, it’s not too late—in fact, now is a great time to get started, as there are more features, options and price points on the market than ever before. If choosing one seems daunting, don’t worry. Below is a breakdown of the most common trackers so you can wear what’s right for you.

Questions to Answer Before Choosing a Tracker

  • Do you need a fitness tracker or a smartwatch? Although their features can overlap, fitness trackers and smartwatches are two different types of devices. This article discusses standard fitness trackers, which focus on counting steps and measuring activity and heart rate.
  • How much do you want to spend? You can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $250+ on a good fitness tracker. Although there are some lower-budget options, the old adage "you get what you pay for" rings true here, especially for a product where accuracy is so important. Many of the bottom-dollar trackers don't have a digital display, so you have to check your phone to monitor your progress.
  • What form of tracker do you prefer? Most of today's models are watches and bracelets, although there are also clip-on styles that attach to clothing or shoes. In general, bracelets and watches tend to stay put more reliably, and clip-ons are easier to lose. However, some people don't like the look or feel of a band around their wrist all day long. If you like the design and style of your tracker, you'll be much more likely to wear it consistently.
  • Do you want a display screen? Some bands are equipped with digital display screens, and some require you to check your smartphone or computer for data. Among the ones that do have displays, the quality and detail of the screens will vary.
  • Do you need heart rate monitoring? Devices with heart rate monitoring are a bit more expensive. Some trackers, such as the FitBit Surge and Apple Watch, monitor your heart rate 24/7 regardless of activity level, while others only kick in while you're working out. If you already have a heart rate monitoring chest strap, you can purchase a tracker that will pair with the strap.
  • Does it connect with SparkPeople? To unlock the full potential of your SparkPeople account, we recommend getting a fitness tracker that is compatible with our site. These include FitBit, Misfit, Jawbone and Garmin. It’s quick and easy to connect a tracker to SparkPeople.
  • What apps will you be using? Many fitness trackers come with a built-in app for collecting and displaying information. If you're already using an app, such as SparkPeople Mobile, you'll want to get a compatible device. And, of course, you'll need to make sure the tracker supports your phone and OS. For easier syncing, look for Bluetooth compatibility.
  • Do you want to track your sleep? You already know that healthy sleep is integral to your overall well-being. Many fitness trackers will monitor your sleep patterns and indicate when you're in a light and deep sleep throughout the night.
  • Will your tracker get wet? If you plan to swim or shower while wearing your tracker, or you participate in outdoor activities, you'll want to choose a waterproof device.
  • How long will you use the device between charges? Battery life is an important feature to consider when choosing a fitness tracker. If you don't want to have to remember to charge it every day, you might want to spend a little extra for a model with extended battery life.
  • Do you need a sport-specific tracker? In this article, we'll cover all-purpose trackers that count steps and monitor heart rate throughout the day. If you're looking for more precise performance measurements for swimming, cycling, running or another activity, you might consider investing in a sport-specific device.  

Best Fitness Trackers for 2017 


With so many brands and models on the wearables market, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Below, we've compiled quick summaries of some of the most popular devices, as reviewed by PCMag and Wareable.
 
FitBit Charge – MSRP $114.99
 
Worn on the wrist as a bracelet, the FitBit Charge boasts a slim profile that won't get in the way of your daily activities. It offers all the basic tracking functions, but may not meet the needs of advanced athletes seeking sophisticated measurements.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, miles, activities, sleep, calories burned
  • What It Doesn't Track: Heart rate
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: High-quality OLED display, silent alarms, caller ID for incoming calls on a connected phone, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: Water-resistant, not waterproof
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
FitBit Charge 2 – MSRP Starts at $129
 
As the new and improved version of the best-selling FitBit Charge, the FitBit Charge 2 has all the same features as its predecessor, along with several new bells and whistles:
  • SmartTrak activity tracking: The Charge 2 will automatically detect and track any sustained activity, such as walking, jogging or hiking. 
  • Idle alerts: When you've been sitting too long, the Charge 2 will remind you to get up and move.
  • Guided breathing sessions: In the new Relax mode, the tracker will guide you to match custom breathing patterns designed to return your heart rate to normal and to restore a sense of calm.
  • GPS compatability: You can connect the Charge 2 with your phone's GPS to track your distance and pace.
  • Interchangeable wrist bands: Swap out colors to match your everyday style
FitBit Flex 2 - MSRP Starts at $59.95

Released in August of 2016, the Flex 2 offers a sleek, low-profile design. It's the first of the FitBit family to be fully waterproof, so you can track your pool laps or wave riding with peace of mind. It also offers interchangeable designs ranging from the classic rubber wristbands to more elegant bangle-style bracelets.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, miles, hourly activity, active minutes, sleep, calories burned (automatic tracking of common exercises)
  • What It Doesn't Track: Heart rate, GPS
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Swim-proof, idle alerts, smartphone notifications
  • Cons: No heart rate monitor or GPS, no option to customize notification lights, automatic tracking only works for common exercises
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
FitBit Charge HR – MSRP $128      
 
For just $14 more, the FitBit Charge HR delivers all the functionality of the basic Charge along with a continuous optical heart rate monitor, packaged in the same slim, sleek wristband. When it comes to all-day activity tracking, it's hard to beat the value of the FitBit Charge HR.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, miles, activities, sleep, calories burned, heart rate
  • What It Doesn't Track: GPS tracking
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: High-quality OLED display, silent alarms, caller ID for incoming calls on a connected phone, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: Water-resistant, not waterproof
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website 
FitBit Surge – MSRP $237.84
 
The FitBit Surge is a clear leader among all-day fitness trackers. The touch-screen watch pairs cross-activity tracking—everything from weight lifting to yoga—with continuous heart rate monitoring for comprehensive and accurate reporting. It even boasts built-in GPS technology, which comes in handy for mapping running and cycling routes. Some might find its larger size cumbersome, although it does fit comfortably with a secure closure.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, miles, activities, sleep, calories burned, heart rate, location
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Notifications of calls and texts, high-quality OLED display, built-in GPS, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: Water-resistant, not waterproof; limited push notifications; limited battery life when using GPS; automatic computer syncing
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
FitBit Alta - MSRP $99.95

Designed for sleek style, this thin and unobtrusive wearable automatically recognizes and tracks your regular workouts. Customizable reminders allow you to work toward hourly "mini goals" throughout the day. Overall, this is a good middle ground between budget trackers and high-end devices.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, hourly activity, stationary time
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Slim, lightweight design; clear, user-friendly app
  • Cons: Not waterproof; no GPS functionality; no heart rate monitor
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
FitBit Alta HR - MSRP $129

For those who love the regular FitBit Alta but want a built-in heart rate monitor, this upgraded version fits the bill. Another added bonus with the HR is advanced sleep tracking capabilities. According to PC Mag's review, the FitBit Alta HR "comes closest to hitting the sweet spot between form and function."
  • What It Tracks: Steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, hourly activity, stationary time, sleep
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Slim, lightweight design; clear, user-friendly app
  • Cons: Not waterproof; no GPS functionality
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
FitBit Blaze – MSRP $149.95
 
The newest addition to the FitBit family has been described as a more polished version of the FitBit Surge. Designed to look more like a smartwatch, the FitBit Blaze complements professional attire as well as athletic apparel. This powerful device automatically starts tracking activity without any manual input. The large, full-color touchscreen displays cross-activity tracking and continuous heart rate monitoring.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, sleep, calories burned, location, heart rate 
  • What It Doesn't Track: Location
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Interchangeable straps, large LCD color touchscreen, phone notifications, on-screen workouts from Fitstar, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: Inability to pair with third-party apps, no GPS
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website 
Huawei Fit – MSRP $83.57
 
Lightweight and stylish, the Huawei Fit automatically tracks daily activities while doubling as an entry-level smartwatch. However, its software isn't as robust as its FitBit and Samsung competitors.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, calories burned,  distance covered, sleep, heart rate
  • Compatible With: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Displays notifications from phone; shower- and swim-proof; week-long battery life
  • Cons: No GPS; lack of social features; touchscreen not user-friendly; display difficult to read indoors
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and website
Garmin Vivofit 2 - MSRP $56.99
 
Catering to budget-minded fitness enthusiasts, the Garmin Vivofit 2 features a backlit display that monitors all the basics, sans heart rate. It automatically sets daily goals based on your previous activity, providing more of a customized tracking experience. The Move Bar notifies you of long periods of inactivity.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, time, date, distance, sleep, calories burned
  • What It Doesn’t Track: Heart rate
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac
  • Additional Features: Stopwatch, automatic syncing, great battery life, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: Automatic syncing is spotty, no smartphone notifications
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and web app 
Garmin Vivosmart HR - MSRP $155.90

The Garmin Vivosmart HR is a powerful wristband tracker covers all of the important functions, along with a few extra bells and whistles, at an affordable price point. Vibration alerts remind you when it’s time to move, and also notify you of texts, emails and phone calls. The Vivosmart’s rugged, waterproof design stands up to all-weather wear, although some may find it a bit chunky.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, sleep, stairs, distance, time, calories burned, heart rate
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac
  • Additional Features: Notifications from smartphone, remote control of music, waterproof materials, built-in alarm clock, SparkPeople compatibility
  • Cons: No interaction with notifications
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and web app 
Garmin Vivomove Sport - MSRP $67.95

Garmin's first foray into the fashion watch arena, the Vivomove has the stylish appearance of an analog watch, yet it automatically tracks steps and sleep. It offers an affordable price point, continuous step progress indication and an excellent battery life, but it comes up a bit short on syncing and notifications.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, distance, calories burned, sleep
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac
  • Additional Features: Swim- and shower-proof; step indicator; operates for one year on a replaceable battery
  • Cons: No vibration alerts; can't be used with other Garmin devices; no heart rate sensor; no smartphone notifications
  • Syncs With: Mobile app and web app
Runtastic Orbit – MSRP $51.45

Poised to compete with the FitBit Charge, the Runtastic Orbit is a powerful tracer of basic health and fitness data. Unlike the Charge, the Orbit offers fully waterproof construction and can switch from band to clip-on form.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, distance, sleep, calories burned
  • What It Doesn't Track: Heart rate, weight, stairs, food/calories eaten
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: High-quality OLED display, waterproof, dual form
  • Cons: No weight or calorie counting, requires a smartphone, no altimeter
  • Syncs With: Mobile app 
Withings Activité – MSRP $215

An activity tracker masquerading as a high-end analog watch, the Withings Activité won't cramp your daily style—but it doesn't quite complement athletic wear. And it's hard to justify paying the higher price point for a device that lacks a heart rate monitor and push notifications.
  • What It Tracks: Time, activity, sleep
  • What It Doesn't Track: Heart rate
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Changeable leather and silicone straps, waterproof materials
  • Cons: No push notification capability, no display, requires mobile app, no ability to edit activities, inaccurate sleep recordings
  • Syncs With: Mobile app
Withings Activité Pop – MSRP $49.99

This more affordable, somewhat sportier version of the Activité offers the look of a high-end analog watch along with basic activity tracking. For about the same price as the Withings Activité Pop, you'd get more value from the Garmin Vivofit 2, which also includes a heart rate monitor.
  • What It Tracks: Time, activity, sleep
  • What it Doesn't Track: Heart rate
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Waterproof materials, various color choices
  • Cons: No push notifications, no display, requires mobile app, no ability to edit activities, inaccurate sleep recordings
  • Syncs With: Mobile app
Mio Alpha 2 – MSRP $79.99
 
If you need a comfortable, rugged wristband to track your runs and heart rate, the Mio Alpha 2 is worth a look. It combines reliable accuracy, comprehensive data coverage and a robust battery life. The indicator lights let you know your current heart rate zone, a unique feature in this market.
  • What It Tracks: Distance, time, pace, laps, calories burned, heart rate
  • What It Doesn't Track: Location
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Easy-to-read LCD display, ample customization options, indicator light for heart rate zones, chronograph, countdown, Bluetooth syncing
  • Cons: No GPS
  • Syncs With: Mobile app 
Mio Fuse – MSRP $73.50
 
A great choice for runners and cyclists, the Mio Fuse combines robust activity tracking with a built-in optical heart rate monitor. The comfortable wristband is waterproof for worry-free swimming and showering. Lighting and vibrations indicate your current heart rate zone.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, distance, time, pace, laps, calories burned, heart rate during workouts
  • What It Doesn't Track: Sleep, stairs
  • Compatible With: Android, iOS
  • Additional Features: Easy-to-read LCD display, integration with other devices, indicator lights and vibration for heart rate zones, automatic activity detection
  • Cons: No idle or silent alarm, requires use of smartphone, not great for measuring resting heart rate
  • Syncs With: Mobile app
If you’re ready to fast-track your fitness and weight loss goals, connect your SparkPeople account to a compatible tracking device. You’ll have all of your latest activity data at your fingertips, giving you the knowledge and motivation you need to succeed. Already using a tracker? We’d love to hear about your experience.

This article was updated on 8/30/16 to include new products and features.
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Member Comments

Thank you for the information. I'm still doing research before I make the investment. I have an Omron pedometer that was just delivered today and I need to set it up. Report
The Garmin Vevofit does track heart rate you just need the chest strap to do it

I have both the Vivofit and the 3

I to don't take it off night or day
Report
thanks Report
Vivofit 2 is great! I just leave it on all day and night. Very motivating to keep me moving. Report
I'm really happy with my fitbit flex 2 for now. It's my first tracker following my pedometer on my android phone. Next I'll upgrade to one with a heart rate monitor like the Alta HR. Sleep tracking is important to me too. I'm curious about the spark tracker I've read about in the comments wish they'd make a comeback new and improved with ALL the bells and whistles! Just a thought. Report
Fitbit ruined my Fitbit Flex with a software update last summer. It just didn’t work and always needed a charge. My Apple Watch 3 is awesome! Report
LNPAVOLKO
Love my Garmin Vivofit 2 Report
The Gamin Vivofit 2 is also waterproof and can be used to track swimming activity. Report
Here’s the thing. I had a Fitbit Flex (still do but don’t use it). I tried a Charge but it irritated my wrist. Fitbit allowed me to return it and I have been enjoying an Alta. Now I want an Alta HR. What’s next? Report
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. - John Wooden ~ 1/5/18 Report
great. Report
Like TCANNO, I use a Garmin. Report
I'm very interested in getting a tracker of sorts but Haven't found one that will be accurate when not worn on wrist. Report
THANKS Report
I have a Fitbit Zip ($50) my daughter got me and I love it. I hook it to my jeans waistband every morning and connect with computer (have to be within 20 feet of computer). It is connected electronically with SparkPeople and shares the information. It is run by batteries. I am 71 years old and don't need all the extra info, just steps, miles, etc. Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.
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