Wearable tech – it's the new big thing! Everyone's either wearing a fitness watch or searching for the best one to suit their lifestyle needs. Gone are the days when it was just about having a heart rate monitor and activity tracker. Now, there's such a massive variety of options across brands, styles and features that figuring out how to pick a fitness watch has become increasingly overwhelming. Here are some things to bear in mind:
Why do you want a fitness watch?
This answer should be at the heart of your decision. Is it because you want to shed calories? Lead a healthier lifestyle? Track workouts? Or just look trendy. The first step in choosing the best fitness watch for you is deciding which features are most important.
Fitness watches are designed to complement your lifestyle and you're more likely to get more out of a watch that already suits your goals and routines.
Smartwatch vs fitness watch — what's the difference?
Fitness watches are becoming more and more advanced, and the line between fitness watches and smartwatches is starting to blur. The key difference is that a fitness watch is built with your health in mind from the start, whereas many smartwatches support fitness tracking as extra features, but they are not core to the product.
A smartwatch might be a good choice if you feel like you'd use the additional features like email and social media, or the ability to answer calls and texts; while you're out exercising. They are also more customisable with the ability to install the third-party apps of your choice.
However, they're generally more expensive, bulkier and have shorter battery life due to all the demands that are constantly being placed on the tech. If you're looking for a device geared specifically around your fitness and wellbeing, it might be better to choose a fitness watch that has the exact features that you need.
Because we want you out there tracking and kicking your fitness goals, we've done the research for you. Let's get started on our fitness watch comparison!
Best basic fitness tracker
If you're new to the world of fitness watches, you're probably not going to need the more specialised features yet. It might be a good idea to start with something basic and upgrade once you have a better idea of what you need.
The Inspire HR is an inexpensive, easy-to-use and stylish tool to help with everyday fitness. The HR stands for "heart rate" because it offers constant heart rate monitoring, which is useful for tracking your fat burn and cardio, but also for measuring your sleep patterns. It includes other lifestyle features like food logging and counting calorie burn. Plus, it's waterproof, so you don't need to take it off in the bath or shower.
This watch boasts an incredible one-year battery life, which adds points for convenience. Like the Inspire HR, it tracks steps, calories burned and sleep and is water resistant. However, it also offers a built-in alarm and countdown timer (combining some classic watch features with its new tracking technology) and a weather widget.
Best fitness watches for running enthusiasts
Whether you're a true runner at heart; or you simply run to keep fit, you'll want a watch with built-in, accurate GPS (and a battery life to support it!) so you don't need to carry your phone with you in order to know exactly where you are and how far you've gone. You'll also be interested in advanced metrics specifically for runners, like oxygen levels, stride length, and estimated recovery time.
The Garmin Forerunner range of fitness watches offer built-in GPS, optical heart-rate monitors, Safety Tracking, and excellent battery life. These are three of our favourites:
This is a simple to use, comfortable watch with a clear display, built-in GPS and fantastic battery life. It's perfect for the casual runner and comes with the Garmin Coach 2.0 to help you set and track your fitness goals.
You can use the 24/7 optical heart rate monitor to measure the intensity of your workouts and to ensure you're getting enough sleep.
Everything is better with music. If you agree, then you might want to consider the Forerunner 245 Music Watch, which lets you stream up to 500 songs straight to your Bluetooth headphones and flip through them with a simple button system. Despite the name, music isn't all this watch has to offer. It also comes complete with training features that use collected data to provide tailored guidance and personalise your workout.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the beefiest of the Forerunner range and it's built to help serious runners reach their full potential. It includes all the features of the 45 and 245, along with two-week battery life, more on-board memory for storing songs, GarminPay for wireless payments, and a Corning Glass DX lens.
If you're serious about monitoring your performance, this watch displays steps, calories burnt, distance travelled, heart rate, intensity minutes, VO2 max, and includes MoveIQ for automatic exercise tracking of activities.
Best fitness watches for swimming
If you're a swimmer, the watch will absolutely have to be waterproof, but not all waterproof fitness watches support swim tracking. You'll want to look for something that has auto stroke detection, automatic sets and SWOLF scoring.
This fitness watch is designed for both the pool and open water. It monitors underwater heart rate, distance, pace, stroke count and type, and distance per stroke, but also comes with a few advanced features specially for swimmers like creating custom workouts and drill logging.
The watch also includes a bunch of benefits outside of the water that will make it worthwhile in the off season, such as stress tracking and advanced sleep monitoring. The display is visible in the water and in full sunlight and the watch has a battery that can last up to seven days.
Don't let the name fool you, this premium watch offers more than just running monitors. In addition to all the features we mentioned when recommending it for runners, it also has data screens dedicated to open water and pool swimming and can even identify different stroke types.
Track your distance, pace and stroke count and set specific swimming drills in the Drill Log.
Best fitness watches if you simply love the outdoors
You don't have a favourite sport; you love everything, as long as you're under the wide sky with fresh air in your lungs. If this is you, then you might want to look at a multisport watch or a watch designed for adventure.
If you enjoy a wide range of sports, you'll need a wide range of sensors. The Casio G-SHOCK GBDH1000-1D Heart Rate Monitor Sports Watch includes five separate sensors, measuring heart rate, bearing, altitude/barometric pressure, temperature and accelerometer readings. The high-definition LCD display allows you to keep an eye on these readouts at all times, day or night.
G-SHOCKS are known for their durability, which is an extra plus when you're constantly on the field, in the pool or on the track.
What do you get for the athlete who does everything? A watch that offers built-in activity trackers for everything, of course. The Forerunner 935 features built-in activities for running, cycling, swimming, hiking, trail runs, paddle boarding, rowing, strength, cardio, golf and more. It's our top choice for the triathlete, as, in addition to the running monitors found in many watches, it includes a number of features geared specifically towards cyclists — such as a Vector power meter to monitor your cycling dynamics and the ability to pair the watch with bike lights or radar.
The Garmin Fenix 6 and its big brother, the 6S, are known for their fantastic battery life, which can last up to 120 hours in max battery GPS mode. The Fenix has been tested to US military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance. It is comfortable and unobtrusive and boasts a large, sunlight-visible display and topographic maps. This, combined with Garmin's leading-edge GPS and emergency alert and incident detection systems, make it the ideal fitness watch to take out into the wilderness.
However, that's not to say that it's resting on its laurels when it comes to tracking your fitness goals. It has a plethora of sensors, complete with acclimation, to help you track your training, no matter where you are or what you're doing.
Best all-rounder fitness watch
Still undecided? The original market leader, Fitbit, is still a good bet with well-featured, comfortable and stylish watches that won't break the bank. These watches offer a little of everything.
The Fitbit Versa 3 is an advanced fitness tracker and smartwatch combo that has an all-day activity tracker with automatic activity recognition, a built-in GPS and a 24-hour heart rate monitor. It's also packed with some pretty nifty tech, like Amazon's Alexa, Spotify playlists, and Fitbit Pay for contactless payments.
If you're looking for more of a personal lifestyle monitor, The Sense includes all the technology of the Versa 3, but is also able to track your stress levels, the temperature of your skin, and has a Sleep Score sleep tracker to help you understand your sleep habits.
Best fitness watches for children
Kids have active bodies and minds. Running, climbing and exploring is a part of healthy development, and a fitness watch can couple that physical development with mental development and security.
The Vivofit Jr 3 is built to last and comes complete with educational resources and interactive features. One such feature, that might particularly appeal to parents, is the ability to manage chores and reward their completion. Kids can pick their favourite display and colour scheme and the watch is available in a number of styles, ranging from Marvel's Black Panther to Disney Princesses.