How to find the best smart watch or fitness tracker
Choosing a new smart watch or fitness tracker can be both exciting and overwhelming. After all, there are smart watches for kids, women and men made by Samsung, Apple, Garmin, Kogan and so many other brands. Whether you're new to the world of smart wearables, or you want to find a waterproof smart watch or cheap fitness tracker, the information below can help point you in the right direction.
Should I get a smart watch or a fitness tracker?
Smart watches and fitness trackers are both wearable devices that strap onto your wrist. Fitness trackers mainly keep track of a user’s activity while the device is worn. While smart watches can also track activity, they perform a more diverse range of functions than a fitness tracker.
In a nutshell, a smart watch should be your preferred pick if accessing smartphone-type apps and features on your watch appeals to you.
Put a fitness tracker on your horizons if your main priority is tracking health and fitness stats. If you’re attending a personal training program or a fitness bootcamp, an activity tracker is a good way to track your results as you progress.
Thanks to the popularity of both types of wearables, you might not have to choose between them at all, as there are several crossover models of smart watch and fitness tracker available.
Hybrid models are more expensive, but if you have the money and will genuinely use the features they offer regularly, they can conveniently condense what you need into a single, wrist-sized smart device.
If you know you'd use one type more than the other, there are more affordable smart watches, as well as good cheap fitness trackers.
Smart Watches at a quick glance
The main hook of smartwatches is that they’re convenient. Displaying detailed data, they let you navigate apps without having to fish your smartphone out of your pocket.
A smartwatch can be a handy substitute to your phone when the larger device is tricky to handle. For example, if you don't have pockets to house your phone, or your hands are full taking care of kids, a smart watch can let you make digital payments or calls.
Smart Watch Pros and Cons
- Stay organised and up-to-date with social media notifications, emails and text alerts. Some pricier smartwatches are more interactive, letting you make calls and reply to texts. On some advanced models you can dictate a reply to your smartwatch, which it transcribes as a ‘smart reply.'
- Pre-installed apps are usually offered aplenty, including weather, calendar apps, camera, voice memos, and music.
- Third party apps are available to download on most Android smart watches. For example, if you’d like better fitness tracking functionality on your smartwatch, you can add fitness apps such as FitnessPal and Strava. For music lovers, you can download music apps like Spotify and connect using your , to enjoy your favourite tunes during your workout.
- Can be expensive - especially premium smart watches with all the bells and whistles.
- Larger and bulkier than a regular watch and most fitness trackers, which can decrease the comfort factor during workouts.
- Can be complicated to operate - while this doesn't apply for all smart watches, some can be complex and not especially user-friendly.
- Limited range of fitness features compared to a fitness tracker.
- Conditional internet connectivity for some models that are solely reliant on a Bluetooth connection. If this is the case, a smart watch cannot operate as a standalone device.
- Limited third party apps are offered for download by some non-Android brands, e.g. Apple Series 5.
Are fitness trackers worth it?
While regular exercise is ideally the best way to keep fit, the hectic pace of modern life means that sometimes workout plans fall through. A fitness tracker can be a good way to measure daily activity, even if this involves climbing a few flights of stairs or walking to and from the train station. It can provide the boost of motivation you need to slowly increase your exercise regimen.
On the flipside, while seeing your stats improve as you progress through your fitness plan should theoretically be positive and helpful, sometimes it can be distracting or even stressful.
Remember to invest in a device offering a majority of features you’ll actually use, and keep in mind that raw data is objective. It doesn’t measure the psychological effort it takes to exercise after a long period of time. Sometimes the proof of success can be found in making the effort to show up and take care of your body and mind by exercising.
Fitness trackers at a quick glance
While this guide focuses on wearable fitness trackers that look like wristwatches, fitness tracking devices also include titanium motiv rings and basic trackers that clip onto clothes.
A wearable fitness tracker monitors your health using various functions. It will store and report data related to your activity and workouts on its screen. Some models let you connect your tracker either to your smartphone via Bluetooth, or directly to your computer via syncing. These let you view stats on other devices.
Even a cheap tracker will count your daily steps, as well as monitor your sleep patterns and sometimes, calorie intake and heart rate.
Fitness Tracker Pros and Cons
- Cheaper and more affordable than both smartwatches and GPS watches, with lower-priced models starting around $40.
- Custom-built for monitoring fitness, fitness trackers can help you set an intention and stick to it, as you’re less likely to be distracted by social media or other modern entertainments.
- Specific sport and multi-sport tracking in more advanced models features built-in programs for swimming, circuit training, rowing or golf, for starters. If you engage in multiple exercise types in one session, multi-sports tracking lets you track a workout from start to finish.
- Streamlined designs often make fitness trackers light and comfortable to wear, especially compared to some bulkier smartwatch models.
- Playing music can make your workouts easier and more fun, with the help of Bluetooth headphones. For example, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music lets you store hundreds of songs for offline listening via Spotify Premium.
- Single minded about fitness, which can of course be a plus point, but keep in mind that many activity trackers can't receive smart notifications, play music or download apps.
- Limited functions compared to a GPS watch.
- Can be more expensive if you're seeking an activity tracker for a specific sport, e.g. golf, but will rarely, if ever, use the bulk of remaining features.
Smart watch and fitness tracker features
Multiple models of both smart watches and fitness trackers are equipped with the features below. Choose the ones that best suit your lifestyle and purposes.
Appearance and design: Digital or analogue - Smart watches and fitness trackers are fitted with a large, interactive screen and a digital display, or an analogue operation, for a more traditional watch design.
You can either access smart displays on a changing ‘second screen,’ for example using a such as the one on the . Other analogue models integrate their smart features onto the one screen, for example the (pictured, right). Other models yet will show their data via a smartphone app.
Smart jewellery - These fashion-forward wearables are , making them look more like bracelets than watches. The data is transferred to smartphone apps, somewhat mitigating the functionality of a smartwatch and making them less convenient.
Removable wrist bands - If you like matching your watch with your outfit or occasion, more premium models can come with the option of purchasing bands with different colours like or . The same versatility applies to watch materials, such as or .
- Activity reminder: Alerts you when you haven’t moved for a while.
- Alarms: Can make audible sounds, or silently vibrate against your wrist. This can be particularly useful if you need to wake, but don't want to disturb anyone still sleeping.
- Takes into account any height changes that increase the degree of difficulty while exercising. For example, if you’re running or walking up a flight of stairs, the altimetre will adjust the results according to the increased effort you expend.
- Battery life: There are two options; rechargeable USB batteries that last for a couple of days, or five days on more premium models, or replaceable batteries that can last from six months to a year.
- Make sure your phone is equipped with at least Bluetooth 4, for it to be Bluetooth-compatible with your new smartwatch.
- Calorie counter: Records your calorie intake, and can show the number of calories lost depending on the steps you’ve taken in a given day.
- Display and screen size: Some models, with their larger screens and easy-to-navigate, interactive visual displays, make it easier to view instant stats. LCD, OLED and screens are available.
- Distance counter: Measures the distance you’ve travelled, based on how many steps you’ve taken. This feature is made more accurate by a GPS function.
- Food tracker: Lets you record foods eaten throughout your day.
- GPS-enabled tracking: More accurately tracks the distance you’ve covered and your speed, based on your locations. An exercise recognition function detects your form of exercise, as well as suggested routes you can follow.
- Helps you monitor the level of effort exerted during exercise. Some models will remind you to take mindful breaths from time to time.
- Milestones: Remind you to reward yourself when you’ve reached a milestone, e.g. 10, 000 steps.
- OS (Operating System): Check that your smart watch or fitness tracker is compatible with your smartphone, for example, Apple smart watches will only pair with iPhones, and Galaxy smart watches can also be selective.
- Price: Smart watches cost between $50-$5000, but you can get an . As a point of reference, the Apple Watch Series 5 costs $649 (Fun fact: the most expensive smart watch is the TAG Heuer Connected Modular at $US180,000!)
- Session tracker: Calculates the number of calories burned in an exercise session.
- Sleep tracking: Measures your level of activity (i.e. lack of restfulness) as you sleep. Most fitness trackers are equipped with this feature, though some need you to wear the band and switch on sleep mode before you sleep.
- Step counter: This is similar to an included pedometer, and also allows you to enter your height and weight for higher accuracy.
- this is particularly useful if your smart watch is equipped with a voice assistant, or if you prefer to take calls on speaker.
- Voice assistant: such as can provide you with hands-free information while on the go.
- Voice coach: is a smart watch or fitness tracker’s answer to a personal trainer, offering motivation as well as workout info such as distance travelled and heart rate.
- Water-resistance: The level of water-resistance depends on the model, and ‘sweat-proof’ is the basic minimum required. There are range from being only splash-proof to being safe to wear in the shower. can be worn while swimming to 50m.
We hope this guide has helped you decide whether a smart watch or fitness band can help make your life and exercise goals easier. For related accessories that could also help, you can also browse our reviews of and .