The best fitness trackers go way beyond just counting steps. From checking stress levels and sleep quality, to giving real-time feedback on your heart rate so you can get in the fat-burning zone, they’re a must-have for anyone looking to improve their health, fitness and wellbeing.
Research has found that fitness trackers and smartwatches can help you make positive lifestyle changes and create healthy habits. A study by the University of South Australia (opens in new tab) found that people who regularly used a fitness tracker walked 40 minutes more a day than people who didn’t (about 1,800 more steps). This resulted in an average weight loss of 2.2lbs over five months.
As well as tracking steps, the latest high tech fitness trackers are packed with features to help you monitor and improve your health. And if you’re wondering, how accurate are fitness trackers (opens in new tab) or how fitness trackers monitor your sleep (opens in new tab), then we’ve answered these questions in our online articles.
We’ve also put the Live Science team to work rigorously testing and reviewing the best fitness trackers so that we can tell you which ones deserve a coveted spot on your wrist (or finger, in the case of the futuristic Oura ring).
Our experts tested everything from the best fitness tracker for sleep, the latest Apple Watch Series 7 (opens in new tab), the Withings ScanWatch Horizon (opens in new tab), the luxe Garmin Fenix 7 (opens in new tab) and the best Fitbits including the Fitbit Sense (opens in new tab).
Read on to find out what we thought of the best wearables on the market, whether you’re looking for a cheap fitness tracker or fitness band or the latest smartwatch where money is no object.
Best fitness trackers
The Apple Watch Series 7 is generally considered the default smartwatch, the obvious choice if you have the money to spend. That risks glossing over what makes it so special.
This is the only watch series that has a committed enough following to foster a truly vibrant app scene. Digging around in the App Store to find fresh yoga, mindfulness and gym apps is actually worthwhile, although if you are happy to pay a subscription and like working out from home, do check out Apple’s own Fitness+ service.
It plays video workouts on your TV or iPad, with on-screen stats recorded by the watch. The Apple Watch Series 7’s heart rate accuracy is also best-in-class – and its on-board GPS is reliable too.
Apple’s baked-in fitness software is well-suited to casual fitness fans, while the near-peerless support for third-party platforms means the hardcore exercisers are catered for too. There’s only one big drawback, which is battery life. You need to charge an Apple Watch Series 7 every day, or every other day.
This is far more upkeep than a fitness tracker that is not also a smartwatch. Many people will prefer living with a watch that does less, but lasts longer between charges.
- Read our full Apple Watch Series 7 review (opens in new tab)
A Garmin Fenix 7 is the best fitness tracker to get if you want the most comprehensive set of built-in exercise features available. These stand out when you bring other hardware into the mix.
The Fenix 7 series can connect to heart rate straps and foot pods, bike turbo trainers, and even Garmin’s bike lights. You can download continents’ worth of maps to the watch’s internal memory and plan hike, bike and run routes so you can leave your phone at home.
It lets you download music and podcasts from some of the most popular music services, including Spotify and Deezer. And the MiP screen only becomes clearer in bright sunlight, so tracked outdoor sessions won’t kill the long-lasting battery.
Its heart rate and GPS accuracy are great, and the presentation of stats like training load and VO2 Max seems tailored for the fitness enthusiast.
A Garmin Fenix 7 may be a bit much if you just want to track 5km runs a couple of times a week. It’s not light and it’s not cheap. The bulk isn’t ideal for sleep tracking, so consider Garmin’s Versa 2 if you like the sound of Garmin’s style but would prefer something smaller.
That said, Garmin’s watches are less intimidating than they once were. The Fenix 7 has a touchscreen and a quick swipe up from the watch face gives you a neat run-down of all your important daily stats. It has encyclopaedic features, but works well for casual all-day tracking too.
- Read our Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar review (opens in new tab)
The Garmin Epix 2 is much like the Fenix 7, but it swaps that watch’s practical but dated-looking MiP screen for a much brighter, sharper and prettier OLED. It adds colour and gloss, perfect if you want a serious fitness tracker with a smartwatch-style sheen.
None of the core features are traded away. The Epix 2 software still has best-in-class depth and breadth, particularly handy for use without a phone. Downloadable maps, the ability to program routes on the watch itself and sync music to its internal storage: these make the Epix 2 feel more like a fitness computer than other trackers. Like other top-end Garmins, you can download additional apps too, although the library is limited.
Should you buy this over the Fenix 7? It’s a bit nicer to use indoors, when just acting as a watch or giving you structured workout instructions in the gym. There is a battery life sacrifice, though. The watch lasts around six days with the screen lit the whole time. This rockets to 16 days in the mode that only lights the display when in use, but the Garmin Epix 2 just isn’t as enjoyable to use like this.
We’re not going to complain too much about roughly a week between charges when that’s the best Fitbit offers, and it is leagues ahead of the Apple Watch. Cost is the only major issue here, with a starting price a lot higher than the Fenix 7. It’s tricky to justify when much cheaper watches have OLED displays that look just as good. Still, it’s a killer fitness tracker if you have the money to spend.
- Read our full Garmin Epix 2 review (opens in new tab)
The Fitbit Sense is our favorite model from Fitbit, thanks to its combination of features and sleek AMOLED display. It’s relatively well-priced, too, regularly discounted to $229.95/ £219. While you won’t get all the high-end features found on Garmin watches – there’s no downloadable maps and the GPS functionality isn’t as impressive – you do have some other tasty extras, such as the EDA scanner. This measures ‘stress’ by basically reading how sweaty your hands are – if the model senses that you’re feeling hassled, it will suggest some meditation practices.
The watch also comes with an ECG scanner, which offers some insight into your heart health and will give you alerts if your heart rate is unusually high or low. When we tested it out, we found that the heart rate monitor was fairly accurate when compared to the Apple Watch Series 7 model.
Like a lot of other modern wearables, the Sense has a ‘Daily Readiness’ score that guides you on how much you should push yourself at the gym. Been working out too much and not sleeping enough? It’s likely the tracker will tell you to skip exercise and rest for the day. This score adapts as the tracker gets accustomed to your patterns.
We liked the overall design of the watch too; it’s not so clunky that it feels uncomfortable to wear during sleep. The large screen makes the display easy to read, even in sunlight, and we were impressed by the six-day battery life. Our only real issue with the tracker is that it doesn’t allow you to download and listen to music, unless you’re specifically using the Deezer or Pandora app.
- Read our full Fitbit Sense review (opens in new tab)
We reckon that the Charge 5 is the best Fitbit for most people. If you have your heart set on a Fitbit, you just have to decide whether you’d prefer this or the bigger, more expensive Fitbit Sense.
This model is much smaller. It’s a band, not a watch. And you don’t get the downloadable apps available on Fitbit’s Versa and Sense — like Spotify, for example. If you want to go for a run and listen to music, you’ll have to use your phone if you’re using a Charge 5.
However, the sheer amount of stuff Fitbit packs into the Charge 5 is impressive. It has full GPS, for phone-free route tracking. It has the EDA stress sensor Fitbit introduced in the Sense watch, and even an ECG sensor. This analyses your heart rhythm to check for abnormalities, using hardware completely separate from the optical heart rate reader on the back.
It’s rare to see a fitness tracker this small that is so comprehensive in the stats it can gather, and Fitbit’s sleep tracking is among the best around. However, to see the Fitbit Charge 5 at its full strength you’ll need to sign up for Fitbit Premium. It costs $9.99/£7.99 a month and the watch includes a 6-month trial. While a Charge 5 works fine without it, fitness plans and even blood oxygenation readings sit behind this paywall.
- Read our Fitbit Charge 5 review (opens in new tab)
The Whoop 4.0 bucks nearly every trend going. The wearable dismisses a shiny touchscreen in favour of a discrete “sensor suite”, the usual watch-like buckle is substituted for a woven, elasticated strap, and the step counter which won the likes of FitBit so many fans has been omitted entirely.
Instead, what you get is continuous monitoring of an array of health metrics including heart rate, skin temperature and heart rate variability, as well as in-depth sleep tracking. This data is used to produce three digestible daily scores; strain, sleep and recovery.
Having trialled the Whoop 4.0 for a month, we found this alternative approach had both benefits and drawbacks. The lack of a screen or in-built GPS isn’t well-suited to endurance activities as we were unable to track or check their pace during running sessions. However, the discreet, screenless design felt durable and showed no signs of damage after being smacked with a kettlebell or submerged during a wild swimming session.
The simplified strain, sleep and recovery scores allowed us to train smarter at a glance (taking rest days when needed to boost our recovery) while the well-presented app provided plenty of in-depth data for stat fiends to sink their teeth into.
Also, when following the recommendations of the sleep coach on when to go to bed and how much sleep we needed, we were able to improve our recovery score and felt noticeably fresher the following day.
- Read our full Whoop 4.0 review (opens in new tab)
The Amazfit GTR 3 is a fitness tracker that looks a lot like a smartwatch. It has a super-sharp 1.39-inch OLED screen similar to the display of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, which is a lot more expensive.
Its outer casing is aluminium, and it has a rotary crown controller similar to the Apple Watch Series 7’s. The back of the watch face, which sits on your wrist, is plastic. But this just sums up what the Amazfit GTR 3 is all about. Amazfit tries to pack in features and higher-end style where you’ll notice it, and leaves out more expensive parts where you won’t.
It has full GPS, provides blood oxygenation readings and has an optical heart rate reader with six light-sensing photodiodes. Amazfit packs in a dizzying 150-plus workout modes, menstrual tracking, Amazon Alexa support, 5ATM water resistance and fantastic battery life of up to 21 days (6 days if you use the always-on screen mode).
The message is clear: the Amazfit GTR 3 does a lot, for not all that much money. It’s important not to expect stellar depth or accuracy, though. The heart rate sensor is not as good at tracking interval workouts as an Apple Watch or Garmin Instinct 2, and unlike the “Pro” version of the GTR 3, you can’t load this watch up with music for phone-free workouts.
- Read our Amazfit GTR 3 review (opens in new tab)
The Withings ScanWatch Horizon is described as a “hybrid smartwatch” rather than a bona fide fitness tracker, prioritizing style and health metrics over sport-specific monitoring. Though ardent athletes may be deterred by this approach, the sartorial elegance of the watch is sure to make it popular with anyone who wants to look good while keeping close tabs on their wellbeing.
You see, at first glance, the ScanWatch Horizon just looks like a (very aesthetically pleasing) diver’s timepiece, complete with a rotating bezel and stainless steel case. But a push of the crown reveals a disguised circular PMOLED display within the top half of the watch face. Rotate the crown and you’ll find everything from your daily step count and distance covered to an on-wrist ECG function and blood-oxygen saturation scan. There’s also a small analogue dial in the bottom half of the face that lets you know the percentage of your step goal you’ve completed that day – a thoughtful feature that we thought looked and worked brilliantly.
As alluded to earlier, the watch’s fitness tracking functions don’t dive to the same depths as the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7 and Whoop 4.0; feedback doesn’t go much beyond your heart rate and estimated calorie burn. It doesn’t have an in-built GPS, relying on being linked to the Health Mate app on a phone to track your route, and it’s on the heavier side (72g) for hardcore workouts.
However, the stainless steel case and sapphire screen showed no signs of damage after being bashed by barbells and submerged in the ocean, the app is delightfully simple to operate, and our tests found Withings delivered on its impressive battery life claims (up to 30 days).
So, if you’re after a smartwatch you can just as easily wear to a wedding as a sweaty gym session, with metrics to help you understand your health and motivate you to move more, the stylish Withings ScanWatch Horizon could be the wearable for you.
- Read our full review of the Withings Horizon ScanWatch (opens in new tab)
Not every fitness tracker is worn on your wrist. The Oura, now in its third generation, is a ring. There’s no outward sign this is a tracker at all, as all the sensors sit on the inside. The outside is titanium, a light and tough metal.
You don’t do anything with the Oura as such, not physically. There are no buttons. You simply wear it and let the ring do its thing. This may appeal if you want to wear a normal watch and don’t fancy filling your wrist up with wearables. The Oura ring harvests an impressive amount of information for its size too.
It records your heart rate all day and night, works out your heart rate variability, takes a note of your skin temperature, and can calculate your blood oxygenation level. The Oura counts steps too, of course. Passive activity tracking is its most impressive feature. Loads of wearables do this, recognising when you go for a run or walk, but the Oura also quietly snags location information from your phone to provide maps of your routes when you get back home.
There’s no screen here, but the Oura approach is all about offering meaningful advice in the phone based on the data the ring collates. It’s actionable stuff like avoiding high-intensity exercise one day because your HRV is a bit low, or taking some time to actively unwind before bed. You do have to pay for this, though. Access to Oura’s software costs $5.99/5.99 Euro a month following the six-month trial included with the ring itself.
Editor's note: This item is currently in the process of being reviewed. Once it has been tested, this guide will be updated accordingly.
Fitness trackers do not have to cost a fortune. A few companies produce ones cheap enough to be considered almost “pocket money” buys, and the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 is one of the very best.
How much you get for your money here is quite remarkable. The Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 has a large lozenge-like 1.57-inch OLED screen. It’s sharp, colourful and bright enough to appear clear outdoors — far better than the relatively dim monochrome display of the more expensive Fitbit Inspire 2.
The touchscreen interface is responsive too. You might expect glaring shortcomings at this price, but what limitations there are do not spoil the fun of using a Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6.
And the bad bits? The Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 does not have GPS, but it can connect to your phone during runs for full stats and maps. You don’t get the guided workouts of a pricier fitness tracker either, and smart features pretty much begin and end with phone notifications.
However, it does an awful lot for the price, including capturing blood oxygenation readings. Even the heart rate recording feature is responsive and reasonably accurate, although you don't get the same kind of performance here for interval workouts as in an Apple Watch Series 7.
Editor's note: This item is currently in the process of being reviewed. Once it has been tested, this guide will be updated accordingly.
How we test fitness trackers
You can trust our recommendations when it comes to picking the best fitness trackers; each product on this list has been tried and tested by our expert fitness team. We gathered a range of top wearables and put them through their paces, wearing them for a variety of activities including running, swimming, gym sessions, HIIT workouts, and more.
We looked at the features, feedback and metrics on offer from each one, from the industry-standard step-counters to more detailed data like heart rate variability and blood oxygen saturation. Other factors considered included their design, comfort and performance, with our experiences in each area used to decide a final score out of five stars.