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Published May. 30, 2021

If you lead an active lifestyle or simply want to keep better track of your health in real-time, a fitness watch is a necessary addition to your everyday wear. The best fitness watches allow you to focus on what you’ve set out to do, whether that be running, cycling, swimming, or hiking. Depending on pairing compatibility, you can download your favorite songs to onboard storage or take control of smartphone apps like Spotify. With detailed monitoring of your distance, steps, calories burned, and heart rate, you can gain insight as to where you can maximize your efforts—or even perhaps get a better night’s sleep. 

What to consider when shopping for the best fitness watch 

Whether you prefer running outside, spinning, or playing group sports like baseball, purchasing a fitness watch can be a great addition to your accessory collection. With sleek and customizable styles, you can wear your watch day to day no matter your activity. But before you buy a wearable designed to help you prioritize your health, you’ll need to prioritize the features and uses that are your must-haves. 

Are you focused on a particular workout, like running?

While many trackers are fitness omnivores—monitoring workouts of all stripes—running comes with challenges particular enough to warrant a specialized device, or devices. The best running watch will offer easy access to your favorite playlists so you’re not distracted by having to skip song after song. Along with measuring important metrics such as steps taken, heart rate, and distance traveled, more-advanced devices offer training and recovery tips based on your VO2 max (a measure of how well your body uses oxygen), which will allow you to maximize your efforts. 

Do you need extra encouragement to push yourself? 

Some of us need a nudge to push workouts to the next level. Many offerings, if they notice a dip in performance or heart rate, will encourage you to work harder with a little buzz when it’s time to step up your intensity. Others include access to fitness communities that put you in touch with both peers and professional coaches, both of which can offer up inspiration or exercise routines to keep you motivated or mix up your routine if you get bored. 

Do you want to leave your phone at home? 

Burlier wearables have tech on board that lets you untether from a phone without losing functionality. Onboard GPS tends to hike up the price of a fitness watch, but it lets you explore new trails without getting lost and will keep a precise record of your routes—all without a handset weighing you down. For runners and cyclists, these maps can help you see where you ran fastest, where you struggled, and help you understand why. Some trackers also have onboard storage, making it easier to tote tunes phone-free. 

Is sleep tracking a priority? 

There are some days when you wake up ready to greet the day and others where you just want to pull the covers back over your head. It can be hard to know what the difference is between a good night’s sleep and a rough one, but the best sleep tracker watch can help you get to the bottom of it. Most fitness watches monitor your heart rate and movement, which is closely related to sleep cycles. Once the device’s algorithmic smarts crunch all that information, it’ll help you understand why and when you are waking up, then you can take action to resolve the issue. Some watches even come with meditation apps like Breath or Calm built in. 

Do you want more advanced health metrics? 

More health-conscious individuals may want a watch that not only tracks your fitness activity, but one that can also offer a deeper understanding of your health beyond heart rates and calorie burns. An Apple Watch, for instance, includes sensors to keep track of your cardiovascular health by measuring your blood oxygen levels and taking electrocardiograms.

How much does price matter?

If it’s not a priority to respond to text messages and phone calls, then you don’t need to spend a lot. Even cheap fitness watches will track the basics (think steps and heart rate), and many will also monitor and analyze your sleep cycles.

The best fitness watches

With so many brands and products available, there is bound to be a watch that aligns perfectly with your wants and needs. The good news is that you might not have to only choose one must-have feature, since most smartwatches run the gamut of fitness-tracking features—though some handle particular needs, like running or sleep tracking, better than others. 

Best sleep-tracker watch: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Connect to Disconnect

The built-in sleep tracker offers important insight on how to improve your sleep. Amazon

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When it’s time to hit the hay, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2’s display will automatically dim to fit the environment. Built-in sleep tracking provides valuable insights, such as how much light, deep, and REM sleep you’re getting throughout the night. With this info, you can make changes to your schedule, if need be. Additionally, the free Samsung Health App includes access to Calm, a meditation app that helps keep an eye on stress levels and offers guided sessions to help you chill. On top of slumber monitoring, it includes a standard raft of activity tracking goodies and heart-rate monitoring, which will alert you if the watch detects an irregularity. 

Best running watch: Garmin Forerunner 245 

Running on Time

When paired with a compatible accessory, this watch offers advanced running metrics. Amazon

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The Garmin Forerunner 245 watch plays DJ, so you can focus on your run: It can either sync up with devices running music-streaming apps such as Spotify or Deezer (premium membership required) or store up to 500 of your favorite songs in its onboard storage for easy access to your playlists. In order to improve your form, this watch can tap into cadence, stride length, ground contact, and balance data provided by Garmin’s Running Dynamics waistband clip ($70) and HRM-Run/HRM-Tri heart-rate monitor ($130). You also have access to free training from a coach via the Garmin Connect online fitness community. There are also some other really great Garmin smartwatches, if you decide this one isn’t for you.

Best fitness-tracker watch: Fitbit Versa 3

Built-In Trainer

Track your pace and distance during your favorite activities with the built-in GPS. Amazon

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The Fitbit Versa 3 is a very smart watch. This device auto-detects more than 20 different types of exercise—from biking to weight-lifting—and maps progress on an intensity map in the Fitbit app. The watch also includes GPS and an altimeter, allowing it to monitor progress more accurately than most other trackers. The simplest to understand: A Fitbit-specific metric called Active Zone Minutes will use your resting heart rate to evaluate your workout effort and will give you a buzz to step up your intensity. It’s also a great smartwatch: Using built-in Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you can get news and set alarms or reminders via voice activation. If you’re looking for something slightly different, check out the Fitbit Inspire 2 fitness tracker.

Full FitBit Versa 3 review here.

Best overall wellness watch: Apple Watch Series 6 

Game-changing Technology

No matter which way you choose to move, this watch will be “watching” so you can review your fitness trends on the Fitness app. Amazon

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While the Apple Watch Series 6 may be a splurge purchase compared to other trackers on this list, its top-shelf feature set makes it worth the cash. The wearable measures your blood oxygen levels and takes electrocardiograms right from your wrist to keep extremely close tabs on your cardiovascular health. Of course, it’ll do the basics like track your daily activity and measure your workouts—even if they include swimming. On top of that, you can answer texts, phone calls, use Apple Pay, and listen to music all from your watch.

Best budget fitness watch: YAMAY SmartWatch

Great Affordable Option

With a solid battery life—it only takes two hours to charge for seven- to 10-day use—you won’t have to worry about your watch dying when you need it most. Amazon

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At just $45.99, the YAMAY SmartWatch has all of the features to make it a competitor of the top brands. With a large touchscreen with an aluminum alloy frame, it’s light to wear and sleep in yet sturdy enough for everyday use. Whether running, cycling, or ping-pong is your activity of choice, the YAMAY SmartWatch’s 13 exercise modes track your steps, distance, and calories burned. It’s compatible with Android and iOS devices via the OnlyFit app to receive notifications—but you can’t reply or make outgoing calls from the device itself. 

FAQs

Q: Should I get a fitness tracker or a smartwatch?

Fitness trackers and smartwatches often have overlapping features, but they are two different animals. Smartwatches pair with a smartphone to receive message notifications and other alerts, but they tend to be larger. Fitness trackers, on the other hand, are designed specifically with tools to monitor your activity—such as sleep, heart rate, pace, and distance—and tend to be more svelte. Some fitness trackers will send pings from your phone, but communication is not a priority. 

Q: Is it worth getting a fitness watch? 

A fitness watch brings together the best of a fitness tracker with the connectivity of a smartwatch. It can track important information in real-time—such as calories burned, steps taken, distance, and sleep cycles—and motivate you to maximize your workouts. With the numbers and details provided, you can track your progress and make the necessary changes to improve your health and ensure you’re getting the best workout for you. Most of the devices will include smartwatch functionality like syncing with music apps and pinging text alerts. 

Q: What is the best budget fitness tracker? 

If all you want in a wearable is basic fitness tracking, a dedicated device may be best. Key features to look for are heart rate and sleep monitoring, 24/7 activity tracking, and, sometimes, GPS. At just $25, the LETSCOM Fitness Tracker, offered in 10 colorways, has these basic features plus more—it provides multisport tracking so you can get more specific measurements depending on your activity of choice. It will also pair with a compatible smartphone to receive notifications and once connected. A rare bonus: It even takes photos.

Related: Get a full workout without leaving the house with the best home gym.

The final word on the best fitness watch

The best fitness watch will track your activity metrics, as well as enhance your chosen exercise and provide insight as to where improvement can be made. Whether you want your fitness tracker to monitor your health specifically or want a watch that does that in addition to acting as a smartwatch, there is no shortage of great products available.  

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