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Best Fitness Tracker

By: Angela Stringfellow on September 01, 2017

Editor's note:
The Fitbit Charge 2 offers the best combination of features and functionality for almost any activity tracking need. Those who prefer a more basic, discreet fitness tracker will love the clip-on Fitbit Zip. And if you just need a super simple pedometer, Omron is a great choice.

Fitbit Charge 2 Review
Best Reviewed

Best activity tracker

If you're looking for a feature-packed activity tracker, experts and users agree that the Fitbit Charge 2 can't be beat. It tracks your steps, activities, calories burned and heart rate, plus it monitors your sleep quality. The Charge 2 reminds wearers to get up and move throughout the day and also has call, text, and calendar alerts. One feature that really sets the Charge 2 apart is its personalized, guided breathing sessions based on the user's heart rate. Like all Fitbits, the Charge 2 syncs with the Fitbit app for viewing complete stats and connecting to the Fitbit community.

Buy for $149.71
Fitbit Zip Review
Best Reviewed

Basic fitness tracker

If you're looking for a simple fitness tracker that you don't have to wear on your wrist, the Fitbit Zip clips securely to your clothes or waistband and tracks steps, distance and calories burned. It's water-resistant and has a simple digital display for viewing the time and your daily stats. For more detailed data, the Fitbit Zip syncs with the Fitbit app, so users can compete with friends and track progress over time. Users say the Zip is hassle-free and easy to use, running on a 3v coin battery that requires no charging and lasts for about six months.

Buy for $96.98

Fitness trackers can improve your overall health

Long hours spent sitting at a desk can make getting enough exercise challenging. Enter the fitness tracker: a small wearable device that records every movement -- and can even remind you to walk around after you've been sitting too long. While these devices count steps and tally distances, many also track other activities such as bicycling, climbing stairs or swimming. Many even estimate how many calories you've burned, take your heart rate and record how long -- and how well -- you sleep. A key feature of fitness trackers is that they can upload this data to your computer, tablet or smartphone, where you can see your overall activity and chart progress toward fitness goals.

If you're considering a fitness tracker, consider the type of activity you commonly do, what data you want to track and whether the tracker is compatible with your computer or smartphone. Don't forget to think about comfort and design, since fitness trackers are intended for near-constant wear. And if you're looking for other equipment to help you lead a more healthful lifestyle, be sure to check out our reports on heart rate monitors and treadmills, as well as our report on running shoes.

The best activity trackers

Whether you want to casually count your steps or track intense workouts with in-depth data, there's a fitness tracker that can do it. Nearly all are sweat-proof and sync with your phone to let you see your activity levels, adjust your goals and even compete against friends. A few high-end trackers even include limited smart-watch functions such as text and email notifications.

Fitbit, one of the top names in fitness trackers, consistently lands at or near the top of most expert roundups. Among its trackers, the Fitbit Charge 2 (Est. $150), an updated version of the original Fitbit Charge HR, receives the best feedback from users, who say it's comfortable to wear and feature-packed. The Charge 2 tracks steps, activities, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes and sleep, and it monitors your heart rate continuously. Experts praise the Charge 2's relax feature -- guided, personalized breathing training to beat stress, based on the wearer's heart rate -- and the ability to get call, text and calendar alerts through your fitness tracker.

On the downside, the Fitbit Charge 2 isn't water-resistant, so it's not suitable for tracking activities like swimming, but it does have automatic exercise recognition, detecting select exercises such as running, hiking and biking, tracking your stats even if you forget to log your activities. Users can also connect the Charge 2 to their smartphone's GPS to get real-time running stats and get a map of their route after a run.

Where Fitbit really shines is its thorough, easy-to-use app. Fitbit trackers sync via Bluetooth to your smartphone, or to your computer using a wireless dongle. Stats update continuously and automatically, so you don't have to think about the process. The One is also compatible with the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale (Est. $130), and linking a Fitbit with the scale offers an extra tool for managing weight loss. Fitbit trackers are also compatible with free fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal, SparkPeople and MapMyFitness, to name just a few.

If you're looking for a more affordable tracker, the Fitbit Flex 2 (Est. $60) is also well-received by users and pros alike. Unlike the Charge 2, it's water-resistant up to 50 meters, making it a good choice for those who incorporate swimming into their fitness routine or simply don't want to worry about remembering to remove their tracker before hopping in the shower.

Reviewers say the Fitbit Flex 2 is discreet, mostly because it's a slimmer band with no display screen, and it doesn't monitor heart rate, which adds bulk. Like all Fitbit trackers, the Flex 2 syncs wirelessly with the Fitbit app on your smartphone or the Fitbit website on your computer, giving users access to the popular Fitbit community. The Fitbit Flex 2 earns good reviews from most users on retail sites like Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, although there are a few detractors who report problems syncing their trackers to their mobile devices, and some say they wish the battery held a charge longer -- it requires charging every two to three days, users say. A few others complain that they have trouble getting the battery to charge at all after five to six months of use.

If having access to the Fitbit community isn't a concern, the Garmin Vívoactive HR GPS Smart Watch (Est. $200) is a solid contender for those who want a fully-featured tracker. Experts praise its wealth of features, including all-day activity tracking, built-in heart rate tracker and the ability to set any smartphone notifications to display on your tracker. It also has multiple sport profiles for easily logging your activities, and it's water-resistant up to 50 meters, so it can be worn in the shower and while swimming -- although it doesn't have a swimming activity mode. It's GPS-enabled, which experts say is ideal for those who want to map their runs without having to carry their smartphones along. It's a bit larger than many fitness trackers, which some users find "clunky," while others say it's a worthwhile tradeoff for its many features. 

Users like the Garmin Vívoactive HR's high-resolution color touchscreen, which is designed to be readable in bright sunlight. However, some users say that it's difficult to read in low lighting conditions -- unless you adjust the backlight settings. A number of reviewers say they have difficulty connecting to (or staying connected to) the Garmin Connect app, and some say that the app is complex to use. There are also some reports of crashing fitness trackers, and a few users say their Garmin Vívoactive HR stopped working after about a year. That said, several users praise Garmin's customer service for replacing their defective units free of charge. The previous Garmin Vívoactive (Est. $170), with an optional chest-strap heart rate monitor, is also still available, and it earns slightly better feedback from users, although we did read some similar complaints about connectivity and durability issues.  

Basic fitness trackers

Basic fitness trackers get the job done if you're looking for a simple (and more affordable) device that can track your daily steps. Where they differ from more advanced activity trackers is features: Cheaper models omit heart-rate monitors; large, vivid displays; and exercise-specific modes that allow more detailed tracking. But for those on a budget or who just want to track their steps, these basic fitness trackers cover the essentials -- and sometimes more -- at a reasonable cost. 

The Fitbit Zip (Est. $50) is a standout in the basic fitness tracker category. This simple, clip-on fitness tracker tracks your steps, distance and calories burned, plus it connects to the popular Fitbit app, allowing you to set goals, earn badges, view your progress, and share and compete with friends. It's water-resistant and clips securely to your clothes or waistband. While it doesn't have the same advanced display as the Fitbit Charge 2, it does have a simple digital display; just tap on the display to view the time and your daily stats, or login to the Fitbit app to view your full tracking details.

Experts praise the Fitbit Zip for its simplicity and ease of use, although they do note that it doesn't track sleep or floors climbed. Reviewers like the fact that the Zip's replaceable battery requires no charging; it runs on a 3v coin battery that will last about six months. Users say this clip-on fitness tracker is hassle-free, durable, accurate and perfect for anyone who doesn't want to wear an activity monitor on their wrist -- some users say they simply carry it in their pocket.

If you prefer a fitness tracker that you can wear on your wrist, reviewers say the Garmin Forerunner 15 GPS Watch (Est. $85) offers several useful features at an affordable cost. It tracks distance, pace and calories burned, and like the full-featured Fitbit Charge 2, it reminds wearers when it's time to move. It's also GPS-enabled, making it a good choice for runners and joggers. A chest-strap heart rate monitor is optional -- for about $25 more -- for those who want a fitness tracker with heart rate monitoring capabilities.

Users say the Forerunner 15 is user-friendly and straightforward, although some wish the battery lasted longer when using GPS tracking (it lasts for about eight hours in GPS-tracking mode and up to five weeks in standard activity tracking mode). It's also water-resistant up to 50 meters, so sweat and rain aren't a concern, and you can wear it in the shower or for a swim without worry.

Reviewers love the Garmin Connect app, which allows you to view your runs on a map when you upload your data. One common gripe mentioned by reviewers, however, is that while there are several display screens, it's not possible to view your total distance and pace on the same screen during a run. Another downside is that it's not Bluetooth-enabled, meaning you have to connect it to your device with a cable to upload your data or enter it manually. Finally, if you want to track distance indoors, such as on a treadmill, you'll need to purchase the Garmin Foot Pod (Est. $50) -- which attaches to your shoelaces -- separately.

Anyone who simply wants to track steps without worrying about syncing data to their phones will get by just fine with a traditional pedometer. Reviewers say the Omron HJ-325 Alvita Ultimate Pedometer (Est. $25) is one of the best, reliably counting steps without other unneeded features. Like most traditional pedometers, the HJ-325 does not connect wirelessly to smartphones or computers. Several reviewers actually prefer this, saying they like the simplicity of keeping things separate. The device can be clipped on your pocket or looped around the wrist with an included lanyard, and reviewers say it's small enough to be unobtrusive no matter how it's worn.

The HJ-325 tracks steps, distance and calories burned. Most reviewers are pleased with accuracy, though some say it's not as reliable as its predecessor, the still-available but much pricier Omron HJ-112 Digital Pocket Pedometer (Est. $90). The HJ-325 easy to use, most owners say, with large buttons, a clear display and a counter that resets automatically at midnight. It has a seven-day memory. The battery compartment can be unlocked without any tools, and users are happy with battery life, which the manufacturer says should be at least six months.

Expert & User Review Sources

There is no shortage of expert opinions on fitness trackers. The best, from sources including ConsumerReports.com, TheSweethome.com and Reviews.com, methodically test each device using the same methods and give head-to-head comparisons. Editors at PCMag.com also conduct hands-on testing, naming the 10 best fitness trackers in a feature-by-feature comparison. Also helpful are in-depth roundups and reviews from tech-savvy sources including Wareable.com and CNET.com. For a clearer picture of durability and functionality in real-world conditions, we also examined user reviews from sources including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and DicksSportingGoods.com.

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