Fitbit has become a proprietary eponym, like Kleenex or Xerox. While they may have started out as relatively simple activity trackers, the wearable devices have evolved considerably over the past decade or so—and with them the fitness tracker and smartwatch industry as a whole. You can still find plenty of basic fitness watches that are intended to be worn all day and mostly forgotten about until you want to check your stats and activity. But you can also get much more full-featured smartwatches or GPS-enabled fitness trackers that can guide and monitor you through a range of sports and activities. Many of these wearables can also now even stand in for a smartphone, and do things like receive texts, play music, and make payments.
However, that means choosing one to put on your wrist is more difficult than ever. We’ve curated some of the best current Fitbits here to aid you in your decision-making, whether you’re just looking for an everyday fitness tracker or something more advanced for training and exercise.
Things to Consider
As the fitness tracker and smartwatch market has grown, so have the capabilities of the range of Fitbits. How much you want to get out of the one you buy will correlate closely to how much you’ll have to pay. Something like the Inspire below gives you a touchscreen, GPS, Bluetooth, heart rate and activity tracking, watch face options, and not a ton more. The Ionic, on the other hand, has all that but doesn’t need to connect to a phone for GPS, has a much larger screen, boasts onboard workouts, and can store songs directly—further reducing the need for a phone. So if you’re looking for a model to be your daily wrist-based companion and replace an analog watch, it’s worth investing. Something that you only need for tracking workouts, steps, or sleep quality can be had for cheaper.
How We Chose These Fitness Trackers
To select these devices, we relied on our own testing experience and previous Popular Mechanics coverage and use of fitness trackers and smartwatches. We also surveyed the market and took into account customer reviews, as well as professional reviews from trusted publications like Wired, Ars Technica, and PC Magazine.
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The standout in Fitbit’s smartwatch lineup packs a serious punch. It takes everything the Versa Lite (below) has and adds a few notable features, like onboard GPS. That means you can see pace, distance traveled, and speed all on your wrist, even when your phone is at home.
For some this might not be a big deal. But if you prefer to ride, hike, or run without a phone bouncing around, it’s a difference maker.
The Ionic also has a durable Gorilla Glass 3 screen but packs it in a sleeker, more intense case. You can also get the Ionic Adidas edition, which will give you training regiments and coaching straight from the brains of Adidas.
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest in tech, though, be warned, neither the Ionic or the Versa is capable of making a phone call.
Best for Monitoring Everyday Health
Fitbit is billing the Sense as an overall wellness-monitoring watch. And the tracker is packed with sensors to track things like skin temperature, blood oxygen levels, and sleep quality. The Sense compiles the stats that could indicate your stress levels and sleep quality and, through a variety of apps, gives you scores so you can see trends over time. It also gives you tools to act on those scores. We’ve turned to the Relax app and its guided breathing exercises toward the end of the day.
New to Fitbit watches is the ECG app, which can help keep track of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm irregularity. Devices like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch have this same tracking ability, but at higher prices.
We liked how the interface was intuitive and easy to use—a good thing, considering you mostly navigate through the Sense’s settings and functions by swiping. The only physical “button” is a spot on the left side of the watch that you use to return to the home screen or activate a shortcut that you set. One gripe we had is that, as righties, we wore the watch on our left wrist and would sometimes hit that shortcut when we bent our wrist backward, accidentally starting the workout tracking.
But the always-on screen is easy to read. And though you could likely wear the Sense and still get much out of it even if you never wore it to work out, it’s still a capable fitness watch, with 20 exercise modes. And each allows for customization, like setting the watch to buzz when you enter certain heart rate zones.
Built-In GPS On a Budget
Fitbit Charge 4
Fitbit’s long-awaited update to the Charge 3 now has built-in GPS, a notable upgrade for a $150 tracker. Using GPS drains the battery in four hours, so it’s not ideal as a primary activity tracker for dedicated cyclists or ultrarunners, but it should suffice for most casual athletes. (And while Fitbit claims a maximum battery life of one week, we maxed out at three days). You can load all sorts of activity types onto the device, although it only stores six at a time. Other new features include contactless payments with Fitbit Pay, Spotify control (use the watch as a remote for a Spotify-streaming device), a Sleep Score (to track the quality of your sleep) and Sleep Intervals (to prevent the device from bothering you at night). The small touchscreen is decently responsive to inputs with wet and dry hands, but sometimes feels inconveniently small.
The screen doesn’t get bright enough in direct sun, either, leaving you to squint or find a shady spot before you can navigate the tracker. But apart from the lackluster battery life while using GPS and a sometimes tedious screen, the Charge 4 stands apart as a capable, affordable, GPS-enabled fitness tracker.
Fitbit Versa Lite
Fitbit’s original Versa is still a solid option if you’re looking for a full-featured and (relatively) affordable alternative to the likes of the Apple Watch. But the company’s newer Versa Lite will save you even more money if you don’t need quite all those tricks.
You still get plenty of fitness capabilities, including heart rate and sleep tracking, but loses out on some more advanced features like on-screen workouts and logging of swim laps and elevation (not to mention on-board music storage). The features the watch retains, combined with its price, makes it a favorite of Wired, which gave the Versa Lite second place in its review of fitness trackers.
*The price above is for the white color of the watch. The gray, pink, and blue cost $230, $189, and $209, respectively.
Fitbit Charge 3
The predecessor to the Charge 4 above, the Charge 3 tracks metrics like floors climbed and 15 different activities (including swimming), as well as piggybacks off your phone’s GPS to display your pace and distance.
The Charge 3 also has a number of coaching features—including guided breathing exercises for some midday relaxation—and female health tracking to log symptoms and predict ovulation and fertility windows. And there are smartwatch features like Fitbit Pay for easy transactions from the wrist and notifications with real information in them, like how far away your Uber is.
Plus, it comes with five quick replies to respond to texts. You can change and personalize them to reflect what you might actually say.
Best Tracker for First-Timers
Fitbit Inspire 2
The Inspire is an entry-level tracker that packs a lot into an inconspicuous package. Built-in GPS and real-time heart rate zone notifications are the banner-worthy new features of this second-generation model that necessitated the final upgrade: better battery life. We’ve averaged about a week between charges, though our GPS use has been inconsistent. Our test sample has somewhat spotty connectivity, and we didn’t always take the time to restart the device—the reliable, quick fix—once we were out the door.
When working properly, the new features provided helpful coaching insights. A series of vibrations alerted us when we were in fat burn, cardio, or at peak rate, so we knew when to push the gas and when to pull back during workouts. Afterward, analyzing how our pace and heart rate changed along our route map gave us an idea of where to improve. Given the Inspire’s modest screen size, the small type will be hard to read for some folks, including us when we glanced at our stats mid-run. Still, there’s no question the Inspire is a good value, especially if you’re looking to start or get back into a fitness routine and want a basic tracker to keep you accountable.
Fitbit Flex 2
This is the ideal tracker if you don’t want another glowing screen in your life. It doesn’t have a watch face, but rather five LEDs that display your progress throughout the day. If you want more specific data, open the app to see your exact numbers for steps, distance traveled, active hours, stationary time, and active calories.
The Flex 2 is for those who already wear a wristwatch but want to add fitness tracking. The band is the slimmest Fitbit makes, and you can remove the core of the fitness tracker and put it in other cases like bangles and pendants in a variety of styles and colors.
The watch is also waterproof, so it can track your swimming and it will recognize other activities like running and begin automatically tracking. Finally, there’s a slew of non-fitness features, like sleep tracking and vibrating alarms for texts and calls.
Get your kids in on the fun of tracking fitness and encourage them to get the 60 minutes of activity that the CDC (and Michelle Obama) recommends. Reminders throughout the day tell kids to get up and move, so they won’t disappear for hours playing Fortnite… maybe.
Multi-day battery life means your kiddo can wear it night and day, which also allows sleep tracking to create healthier sleep habits, an essential part of development. But it’s also fun; celebration messages come up when they hit their daily goal, the Ace awards badges for big milestones, and it can interact with other Aces to compete for virtual trophies and send messages of encouragement.
All the information also goes to a family version of the Fitbit app where the child can check in on trophies and the parents can check in on sleep and activity levels.
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