Best Fitness Watches
Is it a watch, a fitness tracker or other smartphone?
Innovation has certainly made wearable tech part of everyday life. For anyone looking to improve their fitness, fitness watches provide added information and motivation to keep moving and pushing harder each and every day.
Fitness watches are convenient and cost effective compared to medical office technology. They allow you to track various fitness metrics that you would otherwise need to see a doctor or fitness specialist for data collection.
Keep in mind, not every fitness watch is a smart watch. Not every smart watch is a fitness tracker. And some athletes like older designs that give just basic information but withstand the punishment of serious physical challenges.
Choose a fitness watch based on overall activity tracker needs or find a specialized watch to help with specific fitness goals, activities or sports. Accuracy and reliability are essential when choosing a fitness watch. It needs to do more than just tell time accurately.
If you track fitness metrics, having a fitness tracker that gives real-time and accurate data is a fundamental reason most people are buying a fitness tracker. And while a fitness tracker doesn’t need to be stylish, it won’t hurt to have a watch that goes from the office to the mountains.
10 Best Fitness Watches
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
Garmin is a leader in GPS technology and innovation. Garmin fitness watches are no different when it comes to integrating a lot of technology into a small device.
Race predictors for serious cyclist and runners with additional attachments and pairing. Running dynamics metrics measure cadence and ground contact time to help stay on pace.
A good investment for serious athletes who want to as much information as possible to improve results. The Garmin Forerunner 920 XT is a fitness watch that will provide results for years.
- Advanced training metrics
- Lightweight waterproof design
- High-end cost
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Suunto is a brand known for dive computers and precision instruments including dive watches. The brand history lends itself to integrating technical data into durable wearable tech.
Push features for incoming weather keep you safe and healthy. Bike power support is available via Bluetooth Smart.
Designed by those and for those who love being out in the elements. The Suunto is a smartly designed fitness watch for everyone from the weekend warrior to a career triathlete.
- Advanced training metrics
- Lightweight waterproof design
- High end cost
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
Samsung is a leader in smartphone technology and has created a series of smart watches to match performance and reliability. The S3 has improved on earlier S2 as Samsung has fixed most glitches.
Smart phone push notifications included texts and email. Analog watch face is always on, giving the S3 a traditional watch look.
A good fitness watch effective in many outdoor conditions including sand and extreme temperatures. The Samsung S3 syncs with both Android and iPhone smartphones.
- Steel bezel for easy smart watch toggling
- Traditional and stylish appearance
- Water resistant, not waterproof
Apple 7000 Series Smart Watch
Apple is known for its sleek efficient designs and smart technology. The Apple wearable tech continues to improve in both function and design.
Various color finishes make it a stylish accessory for work or play. Access to the plethora of apps the App Store offers.
The Apple Series 7000 Smart Watch is everything you want in a smart watch, integrating phone, text and fitness needs into a sleek design. For all this watch offers, it doesn’t have a rugged design for hardcore athletes.
- Optional colors to match your personality
- Multiple fitness sensors and other health apps
- Susceptible to screen damage
Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch
Fitbit is the leader in fitness trackers and has crossed over to the smart watch market. For those who love the original Fitbit series, the new smart watch design delivers more than ever.
Various color finishes make it a stylish accessory for work or play. Access to the plethora of apps the App Store offers.
The Fitbit Blaze gives the stylish looks of the Apple Watch with the reliable data known expected from the Fitbit line of activity trackers. Expect more smartphone features as Fitbit integrates more apps with the tech.
- Reminders to Move keep you active
- Interchangeable bands and watch face for personalization
- Very large watch face
Huawei Watch 2
Huawei is an emerging Chinese brand, currently considered in the top 3 for smartphone and wearable tech. Huawei is aggressively seeking to improve its products to be more competitive on the Android and iOS platforms.
Download additional Android health apps for extra fitness tracking. NFC and Google assistant to pay on the go without your phone.
A stylish smart watch with many features for a mid-level fitness buff. Ceramic bezel gives a real watch look with a rugged design for moderate activities on land.
- Voice activated coaching metrics
- Lots of features and metrics for price
- Syncing apps not always reliable
Ticwatch 2 Smartwatch
Mobvoi is a startup without a long track record in the fitness watch market. Initial testing is positive with bugs being addressed with updated firmware.
Customizable alarms with an easy to swipe round screen that fits better than most square smart watches.
The Ticwatch 2 Smartwatch delivers fitness tracker metrics for a fantastic value. Make sure you have the latest firmware updates to reduce any connectivity or real time data issues.
- Customizable bands and watchfaces
- Android and iOS compatible
- Connectivity issues
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio
The TomTom brand started in 1991 as a Dutch start-up for PDAs and has morphed into a global brand for wearable tech.
Stores up to 500 songs and includes Bluetooth headphones. Audio feedback gives real time performance information.
The TomTom Spark 3 offers the plethora of fitness tracking metrics but isn’t always reliable with real time data. Some might be disappointed with a toggle button instead of a touch screen.
- Toggle button rather than touch screen effective when sweaty
- Android and iOS compatible
- Slow GPS pinning
Fossil Q Founder 2.0 Touchscreen
Fossil is name brand for watches and accessories. They understand fashion and style but have integrated wearable tech nicely into the brand. Look for improved fitness function with future designs.
Change straps and dials easily to match different wardrobes. Voice activated commands with Android devices.
The Fossil Q Founder is a basic activity tracker in a stylish Fossil watch design. Perfect as an everyday fitness tracker with basic smart watch integrations.
- Fashionable analog face
- Android and iOS compatible
- Phone integration glitches with updates
Casio G-Shock Mudmaster
Casio G-Shock is known for durable activity watches. For a reliable watch in almost any adventure, G-Shock continues to prove why it’s a leader in the sports watch industry.
A digital compass for navigation through tough terrain. The double LED light illuminates the watch at night for improved readability.
The G-Shock Mudmaster is an old school sports watch that will take some serious abuse and continue to provide reliable data. While many athletes love the G-Shock brand, this is not a true activity tracker.
- Reliable and durable in any condition
- Altimeter and barometer for wilderness adventuring
- Doesn’t track standard activity metrics
Criteria for Evaluation
Pricing and brand recognition
A fitness watch is an investment. Even lesser known brands will cost a couple of hundred dollars. Plan on spending anywhere from $180 to $600 when shopping for a fitness watch. Don’t assume that just because something is a big brand name like Apple, Fitbit or Garmin, that the fitness watch meets your needs.
Most brands have a background in either smartphone tech, GPS tracking or standard watches. As they integrate into fitness watches, some brands will be better than others at certain functions.
Set a budget and shop wisely. Even the most expensive brands have deals on Amazon that include free shipping.
Functions and fitness measurements
Determine what functions are most important to you. Common functions include heart rate monitor, calorie tracker, movement tracker and GPS location. But these certainly aren’t the only functions relevant to all fitness activities.
Let’s take a look at some of the metrics and ancillary functions your fitness watch may have.
Heart Rate Monitor: Keeping track of the number of heartbeats per minute helps you know if you maximize your cardiovascular workouts. Know that heart beat metrics are less accurate the farther from the heart you are and rarely give true beats per minute (bps) reading during the activity. Heart rate is still a great function to keep you moving in the right direction of fitness, closing in on more consistent and accurate data.
Movement Tracker: Everyone has the friend who is counting daily steps. You can opt to measure movement throughout your day to keep yourself making more discipline activity choices like taking the stairs or walking to the park instead of driving. At the same time, you can focus on the movement during an activity. Many devices will track movements ranging from walking, running, biking and swimming.
Caloric Consumption: Don’t we all want to know exactly how many calories we burned so we don’t feel too guilty with that Friday cheat-day dessert? Once again, realize that your fitness watch isn’t an exact measurement but should be within 10 percent. The fitness watch is using an algorithm to calculate these numbers based on your age, gender and height/weight basics. Metabolisms do vary which is another reason for the accuracy range.
GPS Location: Fitness trackers use GPS to determine your location. This is great to map out your running route, making sure you ran the distance you intended. It also can be a fundamental safety feature for hikers and adventurers to not only help keep you from getting lost, but help others find you if you do.
Sleep Tracker: Sleep trackers monitor your sleep cycles. Not getting enough REM sleep means you are probably waking up and still feeling tired. Understanding how long it takes for you to move through each sleep cycle and how much sleep you actually are getting help you adjust habits such as reducing caffeine or changing your bedtime.
Attachments: Some fitness watches also allow for more accurate and more metrics with attachments. Heart rate chest straps and VO2 monitoring are common attachments for serious athletes seeking performance data. Skin temperature and perspiration are additional metrics with armbands. These additional metrics help you ensure your body is maximizing oxygen consumption and sweating effectively to keep your core body temperature regulated properly.
Waterproof: Not every fitness tracker is waterproof. This feature is a must for those who spend time at the beach, lake or pool. Most people don’t need a dive watch. Having a waterproof watch to 30 meters is normally plenty to cover their lifestyle needs with some fitness watches extending to 200-metere depths.
Battery Life: Just like your smartphone, your fitness watch’s battery life will depend on how many functions are working at any given time. Usually, GPS mode sucks the battery life out faster than other metrics. Ideally, your fitness watch should get through the day of activity and still have 20% battery life. The fitness watch should also be easy to charge.
Ease of use & reliability
Technology is no help if you can’t use it. Fitness watches have a lot of integrations, but if something is too hard to use, it probably won’t get used at all. Some people are just techier than others.
This is why a fitness watch that has smartphone integration should easily sync with your phone. Apps and push notifications should work seamlessly between phone and watch. The apps themselves should be easy to use and easy to read on the fitness watch.
As a fitness tracker, the information to should be accessible quickly and easy to understand. Real-time data and GPS tracking make the fitness tracker a better tool for athletes to monitor progress.
It should be easy to toggle through apps and get the data needed at any given moment. Fitness watches should have adequate battery life when in fitness mode.
Of course, as with anything new, there are always questions. Part of the ease of use means there is a reliable body of support, either through customer support at the company or a large body of peer-reviewed support. Getting accurate answers quickly builds is important for any technology product.
Does the watch cross over for daily use?
Watches have once again become a serious fashion accessory. Fitness watches are no exception and are not an inexpensive investment. Additionally, you might be keeping a fitness watch on all day and night, tracking everything from your walk to the grocery store to your sleep habits.
As such, style and customization are important features to consider. For most, it is a secondary feature to the metrics and functions of the fitness watch. But a stylish fitness watch ensures it will still be worn for a big pitch meeting rather than sitting on the dresser at home, measuring no metrics at all.
Additionally, when the fitness watch is in smart watch mode, users want to get calls, texts and emails notifications. If these functions don’t work well, then the smartwatch features become a battery-sapping waste, not to mention extremely frustrating.
Additional features to consider
While athletes have been training for decades without the use of high-tech metrics, more information helps fine tune workouts and maintain the motivation to push harder. Using your fitness watch isn’t going to make you a better athlete.
Setting realistic goals and using the fitness watch to measure your progress is what makes you a better athlete. Before you even buy a fitness watch, develop a fitness plan.
Are you trying to lose weight? Do you want to run your first 5K? Are you a conditioned athlete trying to shave off 10 seconds per pool lap? Do you plan on exploring new mountain biking terrain? Will your activities be on land or in water – or both?
Setting your goals and your motivation will give you clarity on how to best use your fitness watch. Once you have these clearly laid out, you can select the proper fitness watch for your needs and goals. As many coaches will tell you, winners keep score.
Your fitness watch helps you keep score against your daily progress. Don’t only compare yesterday to today. Set benchmarks such as 30 or 90 days to see where the real progress is. Use that to motivate yourself and set new, more challenging goals.
And if you find yourself stuck, find a support group (either in person or online) to share your goals and results with. Accountability partners, coaches, and friends are important factors in any successful fitness regime.
Q: What do fitness watches do?
A: Fitness watches seem to be Inspector Gadget do-all gizmos to help with all fitness needs. While the options vary, and we are yet to find one that will blend the protein shake for you, expect at the very least for fitness watches to track steps and distance.
Most fitness watches are equipped with GPS and can also remember routes and trails for training metrics. A rudimentary heart rate monitor and calorie tracker also help maximize workout output by keeping you on track for cardio workout.
Some fitness watches have a sleep tracker, perspiration, skin temperature and blood oxygen levels.
Q: What does a sleep tracker do?
A: We’d like to convince you that the sleep meter helps you burn more calories while sleeping, but that would be just plain crazy. What isn’t crazy is monitoring sleep patterns, making sure you are properly cycling through the sleep cycles. Sleep trackers do just that.
Sleep trackers monitor when you hit different sleep cycles and how long you stay in them. Know when you are in light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep along with total sleep. This information helps determine if you really are getting enough quality sleep; if you aren’t, you may want to make some lifestyle adjustments.
Q: What’s the difference between a smart watch and an activity tracker?
A: An activity tracker, also known as a fitness band, specifically measures fitness metrics. Yes, it may tell the time as well, but it is designed to measure movement, heart rate, and calories.
A smart watch is designed to pair with a smartphone and has many other integrated features and apps beyond fitness. It received text and email notifications. It notifies you of phone calls and integrates with Bluetooth technology.
A technology builds, higher end smart watches and activity trackers merge, becoming more similar with each generation. Even as the two mesh together, there are differences in durability with smartphones still being vulnerable to extreme athletic activities.
Q: How to choose fitness watch?
A: Once upon a time, the only ways to measure fitness was to either get on a scale and weigh yourself or time your workout to see if you ran the mile or swam a lap faster. But there are times that athletes plateau with these metrics. This can be demoralizing to long-term goals. Having other ways to measure success is where the fitness watch helps athletes and lay-people alike.
Choosing a fitness watch starts with knowing what your fitness goals are and what your budget limits are.
If your goal is simply keeping track of time and counting laps, you don’t need much more than your dad’s old Timex that “takes a licking but keeps on ticking.” However, more and more people seek advanced technology with more information tracked.
Determine what key features you need. You might not need a watch that is waterproof, just water resistant. If you only run around a track, you might not need a fitness watch that tracks elevation gain designed more for hikers and trail runners. Are you concerned about your sleep patterns, or do you just want to know if you’ve hit your target heart rate and improved your resting heart rate.
Q: How do fitness watches calculate heart rate?
A: Fitness watches use one or more sensors to capture data and computer algorithms to interpret it. For example, many heart rate monitors use a LED light that shines through the skin and calculates the refraction of light. Blood absorbs light, thus the heart rate is calculated in this process called photoplethysmography based on changes in light differences.
Q: How do fitness watches calculate calories?
A: Fitness watches take into account your height, weight, age and gender and use this information with step count, heart rate and potentially perspiration to estimate the calories burned during activity.
As with other metrics, calories burned is an estimated metric on fitness watches. They aren’t 100% accurate, just as your calorie counter is not 100% accurate in telling you exactly how many calories are in the brownie. But both bits of information certainly help in maintaining a healthy balance between caloric intake and calorie usage.
Q: What is a route tracker?
A: Route trackers use the GPS in your fitness watch to see where you are in your normal running, biking or hiking routes. It records your pace so you can see how you fare from one day to the next on the same route. Some trackers integrate buddy systems that let friends and family see each other in real time during a training session or a race.
Q: What fitness watch is right for me?
A: With so many options available, choosing the right watch is a very personal choice. First look for a fitness watch that meets the fitness evaluation metrics you want to track. Once you find the fitness watches with the metrics you want, look at the style and cost to finalize the perfect watch for you.
If you are tracking activity 24 hours a day, you’ll probably want a device that offers as many extras as possible such as the smart watch. However, for those looking to use a fitness watch only during training durations, you’ll want to make sure the metrics measured are applicable to your training and as accurate as possible.
Q: Are fitness watches gender neutral?
A: Yes. Most fitness watches don’t some in men or women’s models. That being said, certain fitness watches and smart watches have sizing options that allow a more tailored fit on smaller wrists. Look at the product specs to determine if the fitness watch is one-size-fits-all or has other options.
Q: Do fitness watches really work?
A: Yes and No. We aren’t trying to be coy in this answer, but yes, fitness watches collect and track data. While data such as heart rate, core temperature and calories burned are not 100% accurate, regular use will calibrate to your workout specifics.
At the end of the day, the fitness watch should serve as a reminder for fitness goals. When you are conscious about caloric intake versus what it takes to burn those calories, you are better able to adjust your daily habits. Additionally, if you find yourself on a Netflix binge, a fitness tracker will remind you to get up and get active.
Higher end fitness watches with attachments help individuals or athletes with specific training goals monitor metrics more accurately. The most common attachment being a heart rate monitor attached to the chest for more accurate detection compared to the wrist.
Q: Which is a more accurate heart rate monitor, strapless or chest-strap model?
A: Chest-strap models use Bluetooth technology and send data to the monitor. Strapless monitors use information on a sensor touching the wrist.
While a strapless monitor is more comfortable than having something constrained around your chest during activity, the chest-strap is more accurate. This is true for fitness watches and any medical device capturing heart rate because the information is more accurate closer to the heart. Unknown variable can affect the accuracy of information at the wrist.
Even with the chest-strap monitor, your doctors EKG is still a more effective method of monitoring heart rate.
Q: Are all fitness watches waterproof?
A: No. Don’t just jump into the pool or lake because you assume that your fitness watch is waterproof. All will be water resistant, ready to deal with the sweatiest of wrists, but if you need something for swimming laps in the pool or training for a triathlon, make sure you list that as a required feature for your fitness watch.
Q: How do I maintain my fitness watch?
A: Of course you will have general maintenance for your fitness watch like any other watch. You’ll need to charge your fitness watch regularly, especially on days when you are tracking a lot of metrics or using GPS for extended periods of time.
As with all watches, watch faces are vulnerable to scratching and shattering. On fitness watches with touchscreens, this is an even bigger issue. A protective screen helps reduce potential problems.
Because your fitness watch is using ever-changing technology, updating the firmware as instructed helps prevent glitches and bugs from interfering with accurate data collection. That being said, if the watch doesn’t update when the phone does, you may be stuck with limited features on the fitness watch.
There is no “best fitness watch” on the market. Features and benefits range from real-time activity measurements, smartphone features and even whether or not it sync completely with your other tech.
Finding the best fitness watch for you means establishing fitness goals, setting a budget and determine what type of tech syncs with your existing technology. A fitness watch is an investment and its also something you’ll more than likely be wearing beyond your workout sessions, so make sure you like the look and feel of it as well. Once you find the watch for you, spend time to learn how to use it properly so you get the most out of your workouts and your investment.