The best fitness trackers to keep you healthy
Knowledge is power when it comes to fitness. If you’re embarking on an exercise regime for 2018, knowing how far you’ve run, how long you’ve swum and even how well you’ve slept can help you keep tabs on your improvements over time.
From identifying areas you might need to work on, to the odd gentle nudge to move more, the latest raft of fitness trackers pack more sensors, tracking more stats and workout inspiration than ever before.
The good news is these insights don’t have to come at a heart-rate raising cost (even if it can track that for you). Here are the best fitness trackers you can buy right now for every budget and sport.
WIRED Recommends: Fitbit Alta HR
Pros: Great battery life
Cons: Not waterproof
Designed to look more like jewellery than a tracker, the Alta HR is available in six colour ways from understated black to pink and rose gold with special editions and accessory bands available to buy separately.
But it’s not just a pretty face, underneath its stylish exterior you’ll find plenty of solid fitness tracking features and a battery that’ll last up to a week on a single charge.
Steps, calories, heart rate, sleep – including how long you spend in the different sleep states such as light, deep and REM – automatic activity tracking and smartphone notifications allow you to track your complete day.
And there’s no slacking off. Fitbit’s app lets you set personal goals and the band sets you mini-goals such as 250 steps an hour, along with timely reminders to get up and be active when you’ve not moved for a while, something studies have shown is beneficial for overall health.
From £100 from fitbit.com
Best for fitness tracking in a smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 3
Pros: Swim-proof and full phone-free tracking
Cons: Not compatible with Android phones, phone functionality only with EE contract
The latest iteration of Apple’s smartwatch allows you to leave the phone at home (if you opt for the LTE cellular version) and still make and answer calls, ask Siri questions, get smartphone notifications and stream tracks from Apple Music, but it’s the fitness features we’re interested in, and it’s pretty much got everything you need.
With GPS and an altimeter you can track distance on runs, hikes and cycles and also see elevation, as well as monitoring stairs climbed throughout the day.
It’s swimproof for both indoor and outdoor swims, tracks your heart rate and cleverly pairs with compatible gym equipment to ensure your indoor cardio workout stats are in sync.
There’s motivation to keep moving, too, thanks to the three Apple Watch activity rings – move, exercise and stand – that show how active you are throughout the day, send prompts to get you off the sofa and give rewards you with a little animation every time you close the rings, get a new personal best or achieve a milestone.
One of the great updates in Series 3 is that the watch now features activity metrics and workouts for wheelchair users, making it one of the best mainstream trackers for those with mobility issues.
From £329 from apple.com
Best for Android users: Samsung GearFit2 Pro
Pros: Includes GPS and heart rate monitoring
Cons: Expensive for a fitness band
An update on 2016’s GearFit 2, the latest tracker from the Samsung stable has undergone a few tweaks to earn itself the Pro label. The main difference is that it can now withstand 5ATM of water pressure, meaning you can wear it in the pool and shower, and it comes with the Speedo On app pre-installed to track your swim training stats.
A solid, good-looking touchscreen fitness tracker with a shed-load of features including GPS – usually only available on smart watches – it automatically recognises and tracks activities such as running or power walking, monitors sleep and heart rate, will show smartphone notifications and comes with in-built music storage.
So as long as you’ve got bluetooth headphones you can leave your phone at home when you’re working out. However, if you’re not much of a swimmer, you might want to look at the older GearFit 2 as it comes with many of the same features at a lower price.
£209 from samsung.com
Best for gym sessions: Garmin Vivosmart 3
Pros: Waterproof, counts reps
Cons: No GPS
A waterproof touchscreen tracker that you can wear in the shower, pool and when you sleep, this slim Garmin Vivosmart 3 band automatically monitors your activity, so it knows not just how many steps you’ve taken, but when you’re swimming, running or training without you having to tell it.
It even uses the in-built heart-rate monitor to give you a stress rating (show that to your boss when they pile on more work).
Where it really comes into its own though is in the gym. If you want to keep track of your strength workouts, the Vivosmart has a special strength training function to count reps, sets, exercises, work and rest times and you can rifle through the data in much greater detail on the increasingly capable Garmin Connect app.
We also found the VO2 max estimate useful. Put simply, VO2 max is a measure of how effective your body is at getting oxygen to your muscles during exercise, a good indicator of aerobic fitness.
Garmin uses this data to give you an estimated fitness age, which it’s nice to see get lower as you get fitter. Hopefully. While it’s not as accurate as a lab-grad VO2 max test, this ability to turn back the ageing clock is good motivation to move more.
From £129.99 at garmin.com
Best for style: Nokia Steel HR
Pros: Looks like an everyday watch
Cons: Measures limited stats, no GPS
If you want a discreet looking tracker this could be it. With one eye firmly on the fashion stakes, no one would ever know the Nokia Steel HR is anything but a traditional analogue watch.
With a choice of leather, woven and silicone bands in a variety of colours and a choice of face size and colour, you can customise to your own taste, making it as well suited to the office as the gym.
Water-resistant to 50 metres – meaning it’s swim-friendly – the Nokia Steel continuously monitors heart rate and recognises automatically when you’re running or working out, displaying the stats on the face.
You can scroll between number of steps, distance and calories burned by pressing a button on the side. You’ll also see progress towards your daily goal on a smaller dial below.
This good, basic heart-rate monitor might not be suited to serious exercisers or those who want really granular workout stats, however, as there’s a limit to what you see on the watch.
For more in-depth analysis of things such as heart-rate zones and how long you were training in each, alongside sleep stats and activities, you’ll need to head to the app rather than glance at your wrist.
£169.95 from health.nokia.com
Best for boxing fitness: Hykso
Pros: Highly accurate punch speed, rate and velocity data
Whether you spend time in the ring or use boxing or MMA for fitness, Hykso is one of only a handful of boxing trackers designed to help both pro and amateur fighters train smarter not harder.
Co-founded by US boxer Tommy Duquette, Hykso comes in the form of two small sweat-proof trackers that fit inside your wraps.
With a barely-know-it’s-there feel, when you train they send real-time data to an app on your phone including punch rate, speed, punch type – defined as left and right straight (jabs and crosses) and left and right power (hooks and uppercuts) – and intensity.
You can compare this data to other fighters to see where you stand and identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as logging your regular drills to see how you’re improving.
Unlike old-school punch counters you may have seen in the boxing gym, Hykso won’t count arm movements from skipping, battle ropes, jacks and blocks as punches, so the data is about as accurate as you can get. It’s not cheap but if you’re after serious stats, these things pack a punch.
$150 from hykso.com
Best for swimming: Moov Now
Pros: Bargain price, six-month battery life
Cons: Unable to see data without phone
When it comes to waterproof fitness trackers for swimming, you’re usually looking at a pretty high price point, but the affordable Moov Now offers swim tracking alongside audio coaching and cadence monitoring on the run, rep counting for online workouts and cardio boxing and cycling data, so there’s no need to splash out.
Wear it in the pool and it automatically tracks your laps, time, distance, pace and stroke with all the data synced to your phone so you can analyse how you’re improving and check out your time per lap.
The app also provides handy pro tips after your workout, suggesting areas to work on when you next hit the pool.
The main issue compared to more expensive trackers, though, is that the data isn’t visible on your wrist, only in the smartphone app. As it’s unlikely you’ll want to leave your phone poolside, you’ll have to wait till you’re back in the changing rooms to see how you did, but if this is your first foray into swim tracking it’s a bargain way to do it.
$59.95 from welcome.moov.cc
Best for GPS: Fitbit Ionic
Pros: Great GPS pick up
Cons: Limited smartwatch features
If you prefer a larger watch face to the small screen of a fitness tracker, then the Fitbit Ionic with its hi-res 1.42in screen and sharp graphics fits the bill.
The Ionic, Fitbit’s first smartwatch, launched in 2017, and while there have been some criticisms about the limited smartwatch features, such as the lack of banks supporting FitBit Pay in the UK and small number of available apps (more are promised for 2018), the fitness features are as good as you’d expect from a brand with a wealth of experience in trackers.
It’s lightweight with a heart-rate monitor, sleep tracking, automatic activity detection and offers a selection of workouts available to follow from the watch screen (you can access more with the paid FitBit Coach app).
The watch is also waterproof for swim tracking (although it doesn’t have automatic stroke detection) and the built-in GPS antenna means you pick up satellites fast rather than having to hang around waving your wrist in the air before you go for a run or bike ride.
You can also store around 2.5GB of motivational music enabling soundtracked workouts without your phone.
Battery life is impressive – around four days depending on what you’re using it for – but you may find the retro styling a bit Marmite.
And watch this space: Rather like Nike’s collaboration with the Apple Watch, an Adidas version of the Ionic is coming later this year.
£250 from fitbit.com