Choosing a Fitness Tracker
Many consumers swear by fitness trackers for motivation to work out, as well as accurate and easily accessible overviews of their exercise habits and overall health. Recent years have seen a flood of these dedicated activity tracking devices, and some notable shakeups in market leaders as multi-use smartwatch sales have gone up and Apple has risen in prominence in the wearables segment. With so many options for shoppers to choose among -- some with price tags well over $300 -- we've saved some of the legwork for value-conscious consumers and scoured expert reviews, user feedback, and product specifications to find the best fitness trackers under $60.
Whether you're new to the game and looking for a first fitness tracker or a long-term user looking for a more fully-featured but still affordable fitness tracker as an upgrade to your current device, there should be something here that fits both your needs and your budget. We've even rounded up a few pricier picks for those willing to spend a bit more for a "smarter" or more accurate device.
Pricey vs. Cheap Fitness Trackers.Even the cheapest activity trackers typically track steps taken throughout the day, distance traveled, and estimated calories burned, acting more or less like high-end pedometers. A few of the best inexpensive models can also track sleep patterns or heart rate, and most pair with a mobile app to provide deeper insight.
The more wallet-friendly models generally focus on activities such as walking, running, and cycling, and a select few can give users feedback on swimming and other workout activities, as well. Climb up the price ladder and you'll find models with even more advanced capabilities, like GPS fitness trackers favored by runners and devices that can deliver smartphone notifications, play music, or do double duty as smartwatches while still maintaining a fitness focus. Some high-end fitness trackers come in ring or pendant form, with crystal-encrusted displays, for users who are as fashionable as they are fitness-minded.
In fitness tracker reviews, experts and consumers say that simply strapping on an activity monitor encourages longer and more frequent workouts, as well as increased mobility throughout the day -- enough to recommend giving one of these wearables a try. However, for many users the novelty fades, and a high-priced, super-loaded band can end up gathering dust on a dresser. This guide focuses primarily on entry-level fitness trackers, so buyers who ultimately don't use them won't be plunged into ice-cream-binging despair over wasted money.
Fitness Tracker Brands.Fitbit has long been the leader in fitness trackers. It's well-known for its wide range of products at a variety of price points, particularly user-friendly interface, and robust community support system. Other popular brand names in the value segment include Misfit, Moov (born out of a crowdfunding project in 2014), and Garmin, a favorite of serious sports enthusiasts. The latter tends to produce bands that are a bit more feature-rich and less likely to be priced in the Cheapism range. Another cheap fitness tracker brand that is gaining increasing recognition in the United States is Xiaomi. Famous for bands that provide a surprising number of bells and whistles at incredibly low prices, the Chinese upstart has unseated FitBit to take the top market share for global sales of wearables in 2017. Some of the best known names at the mid-to-high end of the market are Nokia (which has taken over Withings and its line of fitness trackers), Samsung, TomTom, and Polar.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Fitness Tracker Reviews: What We Considered
In our research, we read fitness tracker recommendations on tech-focused sites such as PCMag, TechRadar, and Wareable, as well as expert assessments from BestReviews, CNET, and Wirecutter, where they conduct testing of many of the most popular models. We also carefully considered consumer reviews on e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Best Buy to see how the products fare in everyday usage. Some reviewers have owned several different devices over the years and offer insight into a specific model's strengths and weaknesses in comparison to competitors. More often than not, though, fitness tracker reviews come from first-time buyers, so these must be read with a discerning eye. Although reviewers recognize that our picks are much cheaper than high-end activity monitors, they often don't cut them any slack. A lower price tag may mean fewer features but shouldn't mean worse performance. Overall, users rate our top bands highly.
Tracking Capabilities.Although just about every activity monitor tracks the basics (steps taken, distance traveled, and estimated calories burned) some add more to the mix. Sleep tracking has become a common feature; all the models we've chosen provide insights into how users are passing their nights. Some models also adjust automatically to different types of workouts. They tell users how many stairs they've climbed and how many minutes they're active during the day. More expensive fitness trackers with GPS reveal exactly how far users have run or cycled and the pace at which they've traveled.
Built-in heart monitors, which increase accuracy when tracking calories and help wearers target heart-rate "zones" when exercising, are a much-sought-after component in trackers these days, but they're rare in the cheap segment. This accounts in large part for the amazing success of bands from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, which somehow manages to equip cut-rate activity trackers with this capacity.
Bands from innovator Moov are able to track a wider range of motion, so they can analyze specific workouts -- from the more common running and biking to swimming, boxing, and circuit training -- while pairing with a smartphone app to offer real-time "coaching" on form and performance. The company has also created its own line of heart-rate-based monitors that includes not only a strap device but a sweatband that tracks heart rate at users' temples.
Accuracy.What good is an activity tracker if it can't track activity accurately? Reviews are mixed when it comes to step count or distance accuracy on the inexpensive devices we researched. Most trackers provide a good general picture, although no two are likely to generate the exact same numbers. Inaccurate readings often seem to result when users don't realize they can, and need to, calibrate a tracker to their step length or alter the device's sensitivity. The accuracy of a clip-on fitness tracker also varies based on where it's worn. It should be as close to the body as possible, hooked onto a belt, bra, or pocket.
Readings provided by built-in heart-monitoring systems also shouldn't be considered exact. In a 2016 lawsuit, Fitbit conceded that the heart-rate monitors on some of its more expensive models couldn't claim 100-percent accuracy. Still, the company countered that its devices are better than the monitors found on gym equipment, which provide active-heart-rate stats without the benefit of resting-heart-rate information. If heart-rate monitoring is extremely important to you, consider purchasing a dedicated strap for that purpose. Many third-party products can be readily paired with fitness trackers.
The cheap fitness trackers recommended here use information such as age, sex, weight, height, and the amount of time the wearer has been active to reach an estimate of calories burned. Some consider only steps taken, while others let users go back and specify what form of exercise they were doing, which can increase accuracy. A heart-rate monitor within a device can further improve the accuracy, but calorie numbers should never be taken as gospel. When a Women's Health reporter wore three activity trackers at once, she found that while calorie counts were fairly consistent among the devices during regular daily activities, they fluctuated greatly when put to the test of a rigorous spin workout. Regardless, she concludes that calorie counts can be motivational and, worn consistently, a fitness tracker can, at least, offer a good gauge of how different activities affect your usual caloric burn.
Data Collection and Presentation.Even the most accurate fitness tracker is pointless if you can't interpret the data the device collects. With some activity monitors, users can easily glance down and see specific stats on a display. The convenience of that screen, which allows the tracker to double as a watch, accounts for a good portion of the cost. The least expensive trackers, when they have visuals at all, rely on more rudimentary signals like LED lights that change pattern or color to indicate progress toward daily goals.
Reviewers often speak to a tracker's ability to motivate them to be more active, and how effective a device is on this front has a lot to do with its interface. Most fitness trackers use a proprietary mobile and/or web app to give users detailed access to the data the device has collected. The option to set goals and track progress throughout the day, try to complete a new challenge, or compete against others online can inspire extra effort. Most fitness trackers include all three of these elements and some also display or send motivational messages during the day or provide alerts when users have been idle too long.
Fitbit's ecosystem is lauded by reviewers as among the most enjoyable, interactive, and educational. Fitbit's web interface and online portal offer ample insight into users' physical activity, along with a large support community. Fitbit also emails weekly reports containing fitness stats and notification of badges earned for accomplishing milestones. Even reviewers bullish on the more specialized Garmin brand admit that, for all the boons of its hardware, Garmin just can't match the user-friendly features of Fitbit's universe. Garmin manages to brings fun to kids' fitness trackers, however, with colorful designs and goal-oriented challenges that earn rewards.
Trackers from Fitbit, Garmin, and many others also have the ability to sync with third-party apps such as Strava, Runtastic, MapMyFitness, and the popular calorie counter MyFitnessPal. Although the latter app is helpful on its own, experts agree that incorporating data collected by a tracker makes MyFitnessPal an even better tool for people trying to lose weight.
Beware trackers that have closed ecosystems, as this can certainly limit functionality and ease of use, particularly if software issues hinder syncing with proprietary apps or membership fees are required to access data online.
Syncing.Some trackers require users to connect to a smartphone or computer and press a button to upload all the data they've gathered. Our top picks use Bluetooth to sync wirelessly when they're within range of a compatible device. In most cases this happens automatically, but some require the push of a button. Although automatic syncing is a more seamless process, it may drain the battery more quickly.
Keep in mind that not every tracker can connect to every device. It's important to check the packaging or company website to see if a fitness tracker supports your phone, computer, or tablet. Fitbit trackers tend to offer the most flexibility: They wirelessly sync to a multitude of Apple, Android, and Windows mobile devices and to computers via a USB dongle. Even if a tracker has wide compatibility, there might be differences in app design and features based on the platform.
Water Resistance.The best cheap fitness trackers are designed to motivate wearers to work up a sweat, so they are also designed to resist moisture. Water-resistant bands should withstand a splash or a run in light rain but are not suited to being fully submerged. Consumers who want the added convenience of being able to confidently wear the device in the shower or track swimming have more limited options.
Comfort.Fitness trackers are meant to be worn all day, and sometimes all night, so it's important they be lightweight, comfortable, and unobtrusive. Most cheap fitness trackers take the form of either a clip-on or a bracelet. Many users favor wrist-worn devices that double as watches, while clip-ons are often lighter and less noticeable. Which to choose is a matter of personal preference and, for some, style. Many activity monitors can be worn either way; for example, some house a small, removable disc or insert that can be placed into a clip, on a wristband, or in a pocket. The versatility is handy, especially for tracking more localized movements -- for example, clipping to a shoe or using an ankle band during a run. On the flip side, these tiny trackers can fall off, be misplaced, or accidentally be thrown into the wash.
Although the packaging might claim that a device is easy to slap on and forget about, fitness tracker reviews provide more insight into reality. An example of what can go wrong is the Fitbit Force, a popular model that was recalled because it caused skin rashes on some wearers. The good news is that most reviews are positive when it comes to the comfort of the devices we recommend, most of which are quite lightweight. Users with particularly sensitive skin might find that a replacement band or switching from a wristband to a clip-on is required for ultimate comfort.