These models from Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, and other brands help you understand your workouts, and more
By Allen St. John
If you want to keep an eye on your progress toward your fitness goals or simply need a little extra incentive to get up and moving, a fitness tracker can be a very useful tool.
At a very basic level, it can help you log your daily step count or certain metrics associated with running, swimming, or high-intensity strength training. It can also track your heart rate and other fitness variables that allow you to tailor your workouts for increased efficiency.
Our testers report that today’s fitness trackers tend to be quite accurate at counting steps and monitoring heart rate. And if you’re new to wearable devices, you’ll find they’re generally easier to use than a smartwatch. They’re also less expensive.
We have more than 20 models in our current ratings (available to CR members) with a variety of functions and at a variety of prices. Some boast smartwatch-like features such as GPS (which helps you track the distance of your workouts without using a phone), built-in music storage, and notifications for emails, texts, and phone calls.
All the trackers were purchased at full retail—no freebies for us—and scored by the trained testers in our dedicated labs on a variety of performance metrics from ease of use to heart rate accuracy.
Here’s a look at some of the top-rated models.
Fitbit Inspire 2
The Inspire 2 is a great option for the budget-conscious consumer. It’s lightweight and slim, and it offers GPS functionality, so you can leave your phone behind when you go out for a run.
Our testers report that the Fitbit Inspire 2 is easy to use and quite accurate at counting steps, but other models do better when it comes to heart rate accuracy. The claimed battery life is respectable at five days. The model also makes good on Fitbit’s claim of water resistance of up to 164 feet.
Garmin Forerunner 35
While technically a fitness tracker, this model has more of a watchlike vibe. You get a 1.3-inch monochrome display that shows you your step count and real-time heart rate, plus built-in GPS.
The advertised battery life is nine days, and in our labs the Garmin Forerunner 35 made good on its water-resistance claim of 164 feet. It also received top marks for accuracy in tracking heart rate and counting steps, and our testers find it quite easy to use.
Fitbit Charge 5
The Fitbit Charge line has always featured great general-purpose fitness trackers, and the Charge 5 is no exception. The styling—sleeker than earlier versions and complete with a full-color display—is just as suitable for the office or a nice dinner as it is for the gym. And the model adds some features commonly found on smartwatches, including stress monitoring and an ECG (electrocardiogram) function that can alert you to irregular heart rhythms.
The Charge 5 earns solid test scores in key categories and works in concert with Fitbit’s smartphone app to let you track your fitness progress over time and compete against family members and friends in fitness challenges. Access to Fitbit’s full functionality requires a subscription to Fitbit Premium for $10 per month. Claimed battery life for the Fitbit Charge 5 is seven days, but I found in a real-world evaluation that this fitness tracker needed to be plugged in after about two-and-a-half.
Samsung Galaxy Fit2
Without built-in GPS or sophisticated fitness features like ECG or blood-oxygen monitoring, the Galaxy Fit 2 is quite basic, but on the plus side, it’s budget-priced, too.
The color screen is bright and attractive, and the slim profile makes the device feel more like a bracelet than a watch. The Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 receives our top rating for counting steps, and our testers also find the heart rate accuracy to be above average. The model has a claimed battery life of 15 days, and it survived a dunk in our tank at a pressure equivalent to 164 feet.
Amazfit Band 5
If you’re a walker who wants a very cheap, very basic fitness tracker, the Amazfit Band 5 should be on your shopping list. The model offers sleep and stress tracking capabilities, but doesn’t have built-in GPS or the ability to load a music playlist.
Our testers find the Amazfit Band 5 quite easy to use, and they report that it counts steps quite accurately. For heart rate monitoring, however, the Amazfit ranked near the bottom of our ratings, so if you’re a serious athlete who relies on those metrics, you may need to buy a more expensive model.
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