Rundown of the Top Fitness Trackers and Activity Monitors of 2017
Which fitness tracker is the best? We took 13 of the highest ranked fitness trackers and put them through a series of grueling challenges — burning some calories in the process. We evaluated how likely it was for these to make a positive impact on your health and fitness, how easy each one was to use, the ergonomics and comfort level of each tracker, as well as the quality of the display. We took thousands upon thousands of steps, did high-intensity cardio workouts, compared their accuracy against a heart rate monitor, and monitored our sleep to determine which tracker is the best you can buy.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Fitness Tracker
Read full review: Fitbit Blaze
Best Fitness Tracker with GPS
Read full review: Fitbit Surge
Best Bang for the Buck
Fitbit Charge 2
Read full review: Fitbit Charge 2
Best for Outdoor Activities
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Read full review: Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Best Clip-On Fitness Tracker
Read full review: Fitbit One
Analysis and Test Results
Exploding in popularity in the past few years, fitness trackers and other wearable pieces of technology have become one of the new hot items. These are designed to improve your fitness by measuring your progress towards various goals and maximize your motivation by integrating you into a community of like-minded individuals. We spent a substantial amount of time researching these trackers, comparing specifications and features, and reading through user reviews and experiences to determine what qualities the best fitness tracker would have, and design a testing regimen to crown the award winners. You can see the final results of our tests in the table below.
We split our testing process into five distinct metrics: Fitness Impact, Health Impact, Ease of Use, Ergonomics, and Display. Each model of tracker received a score in each metric, and these were combined to determine the overall score. We detail exactly what each tracker did well and where it struggled in the following sections.
The most important metric in our test, and the primary reason that many people will purchase one of these products is to improve their fitness. We rated the products on how the community could motivate you, as well as what activities and workouts each device could track. While health and fitness are arguably the same thing, or at the very least substantially intertwined, we focused primarily on how well each tracker did at recording physical activities in this metric, leaving things like diet and sleep tracking for a separate metric.
We manually counted how many steps it took to walk a mile course with a mechanical tally counter, then compared it to each tracker on the same course.
After multiple trials for each tracker, we computed the average % error. We also tested the tendency to record false steps off random arm movements. Finally, we checked how each tracker did at monitoring a high-intensity cardio workout, a cycling workout, and if any models had special features focused on other physical exercises.
The Fitbit Surge was the top-scoring model in this metric, earning a 9 out of 10. This model has a built-in GPS, so it is exceptionally accurate at measuring distance walked or ran, as it is actually measuring it, not estimating off a step count. This built-in GPS is a great feature, as the ever-increasing size of smartphones has made it less and less convenient to bring these devices with you while working out, making it a challenge for those addicted to tracking every adventure they take. A fitness tracker with a built-in GPS allows you to still generate detailed maps and tracks of your day while leaving your large smartphone at home. This model did a good job at counting steps, but it wasn't the most accurate, averaging about 0.9% off the true count in our tests. This model also does a great job for tracking cycling, measuring the top speed, average speed, distance traveled, duration, and elevation changes.
We particularly liked that you can pause recording in the middle of a workout to take a quick break, then resume again when you are ready.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+, Fibit Blaze, and Fitbit Charge 2 all finished in a tie for the second highest fitness impact score with an 8 out of 10. These four models all won awards, and particularly excel at tracking physical exercises. The most accurate step counter out of all the wrist-mounted models we tested was the Vivosmart HR+, averaging a minuscule 0.2% discrepancy. However, this model was substantially more prone than the others to pick up false steps off random arm movements. The HR+ also has a built-in GPS module, making it perfect for tracking cycling or long runs.
Both the Blaze and the Charge 2 can connect to your phone to add GPS capabilities — a great feature, but only if you are ok bringing your mobile device along with you. Both of these models have similar recording metrics for cycling, or with other workouts. In addition, the Blaze does have Fitstar — three part workouts that last about 20 minutes if you need some added inspiration. We also found that the Blaze was slightly more accurate than the Charge 2 when it came to counting steps, about the same as the Surge.
Next in the rankings was the Fibit One and the Fitbit Charge HR, both earning a 7 out of 10. The One was the highest rated clip-on fitness tracker that we tested, its score buoyed up by its phenomenally accurate step count, averaging only a 0.1% discrepancy — the most accurate of our testing.
Unfortunately, this model can't really track cycling or other cardio workouts, forcing you to enter data on the app after you have completed the activity. This model can track how many flights of stairs you climb a day. The Charge HR is exceptionally similar in fitness performance as the Charge 2, but it lacks the ability to pair with your phone's GPS, thus bringing down its score slightly.
Following these two trackers was the Garmin Vivosmart HR and the Polar A360, each earning a 6 out of 10. The Vivosmart HR is the non-GPS version of the HR+, performing similarly, but losing some accuracy at counting steps. This model also lacks a ton of the cycling metrics, only monitoring your heart rate and timing the durations of the activity. This model also tracks flights of stairs, but it was slightly more inaccurate than the Fitbit's in our tests, adding a phantom flight of stairs. The Polar wasn't as accurate at step counting, lacked lots of customization available to other models, and only tracked basic stats: calories burned, heart rate, and duration. However, this model does have a ton of training profiles you can add for a whole host of activities, such as kitesurfing, table tennis, or backcountry skiing, though it is worth bearing in mind that the Polar doesn't change what it tracks for each activity, just logs that you did a different exercise.
Rounding out the bottom of the pack, our last 4 trackers all scored 5 or below. The Garmin Vivofit 3 is limited to tracking steps and timing activities, lacking the sensors for heart rate or stair climbing, enough to merit it a 5 out of 10. The Misfit Shine 2 earned the same score, similarly only tracking duration and steps, but it has a few more activities that you can classify your physical activities under in the app than the Jawbone UP Move. The Jawbone earned a 4 out of 10, getting docked for its inferior step counts that were incredibly unreliable. It was either dead on or way off, with no middle ground. Finally, the Striiv Bio 2 finished last, with a dismal 3 out of 10. It tracked steps accurately, but that's about all it did, proving unreliable at tracking anything else accurately.
Finally, we looked at the companion apps for each manufacturer, as different models utilize the same app. The Fitbit app led this category with its weekly emails including your stats for the previous 7 days, as well as your top 3 friends on the step count leaderboard. The app has non-competitive "Adventures", where you can digitally walk along a path to a point of interest, using your steps. There are also competitive challenges you can undertake against yourself or your friends.
Next was the Garmin Connect app, having a simpler set of features allowing you to track your progress over the past 7 days, month, or year, and allows you to opt into weekly challenges with people in your step range. The Jawbone app followed, allowing you to view your trends and duel with your friends, but lacking even more functionality than the Fitbit or Garmin apps. Rounding out the bottom were the apps from Misfit, Polar, and Striiv — each of these apps only allowed you to view your past progress, not really allowing you to challenge your buddies at all.
The next highest weighted metric in this product category is the health impact of each tracker. To assess this, we started with whether or not the tracker could monitor heart rate, and how accurate it was compared to a chest strap heart rate monitor. Then, we looked at what aids in dieting each model could provide, what other lifestyle changes it could help you implement, and whether or not it could track sleep and wake you, as well as it there were any other health-specific features.
The Charge 2 and the Blaze led this metric, both earning a 7 out of 10. These models both have automatic sleep tracking, as well as a vibration wake alarm to gently wake you and leave your partner undisturbed. Our tester felt that the sleep stats reported by these trackers were very close to his recollections of the night, in terms of number of times woken up. The Blaze and the Charge 2 were off an average of 23 and 16 bpm from the chest strap heart rate monitor, with larger discrepancies occurring the more active — and higher your heart rate was.
You can scan or search for food to help maintain diet in the Fitbit app, as well as monitor hydration. These models both offer reminders to move every hour if you have been too sedentary, and the Charge 2 has the unique feature of guided 2 or 5-minute breathing sessions to help you relax.
Trailing slightly behind the leaders, the bulk of the trackers all earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric, including the Alta, Charge HR, Surge, Vivosmart HR, Vivosmart HR+, Misfit Shine 2, and Polar A360. All of the Fitbit models were excellent at aiding in tracking caloric intake, though only the Charge HR and the Surge had the capabilities to read your heart rate. These models were both less than 25 bpm off the chest strap, on average. The Alta lacks this ability, but does vibrate to alert you that it is time to get up and move.
The HR and the HR+ were much more inaccurate than the Fitbits in our test, averaging 51 and 31 bpm off, respectively. These models also require you to use a third-party app, MyFitnessPal to track your diet, rather than their companion apps. However, these model has the best reminders to get up and move, with a movement bar on the left side of the screen that builds up the longer you have been stationary, requiring a proportional amount of exercise to remove it. These models both have automatic sleep tracking and can act as an alarm clock.
The Misfit Shine 2 lacks heart rate monitoring, though you can use the app on your phone to estimate it, and requires you to use the same third-party app to monitor calories, MyFitnessPal. This model does offer movement reminders with a customizable duration, anywhere between 20-120 minutes in 20-minute increments. The Misfit can also track your sleep, initiated through a button press. The Polar A360 was actually the most accurate at monitoring heart rate in our tests, averaging only 6 bpm off of the chest strap — definitely making this a model to think about if heart rate is your main priority, though you may just be better served with a chest strap monitor if that is the case. The Polar uses MyFitnessPal as well to track calories, and lacks any sort of movement reminders.
The Fitbit One and Garmin Vivofit 3 both earned an average 5 out of 10 when we evaluated their health impacts. Both lack heart rate monitoring, with the One more effective at tracking calorie intake, and the Vivofit 3 better at reminding you to get up and move — the One completely lacks this feature. These also will both track your sleep, with the Vivofit 3 being automatic, and the One needs to be triggered with a button, and placed in its specific, sleep tracking wristband.
The Striiv Bio 2 and the Jawbone UP Move both scored somewhat poorly in this metric, earning a 4 and a 3, respectively. The Bio 2 measures heart rate, but was the least accurate out of our testing, averaging 61 bpm off of the chest strap. This tracker lacks an alarm to notify you to move, and requires you to use MyFitnessPal to track dieting. You initiate and stop sleep tracking through the app, and it gave us an endless amount of problems. The Up Move does not monitor heart rate in any way, or remind you to get up and move around. This model can track sleep using the included wristband, though it's not automatic, and requires the same third-party app to count calories.
Ease of Use
Next, we analyzed how easy each tracker was to use. These products are meant to be worn daily, and something that is difficult to use isn't exactly conducive to wearing on a daily basis. We evaluated the battery life, how intuitive the device and app was, how difficult it was to sync data from the device to the app, how hard it was to put on the device, and whether or not it was water resistant.
Three trackers led this set of tests, the Charge HR, One, and — surprisingly — the Shine 2. The Shine relies on a coin-cell battery, lasting for a claimed 6 months, but does require you to change the battery when it dies, rather than re-charge it. This model syncs well, taking only 6-8 seconds, and happens as soon as the app opens up. The app shows you your fitness stats by day, week, or month, and shows a little graph.
There aren't really any menus to navigate on this device, as it only has a ring of LED's, as a display. The Shine 2 is waterproof to 50 meters, and it is easy to put on. The Fitbit One, a clip-on model, lasts for up to a claimed 10-14 days, and requires 1-2 hours on a proprietary charger to completely re-charge. This model syncs quickly, like all Fitbits, within 2-10 seconds. The Fitbit app is extremely user-friendly and intuitive, displaying your stats, as well as your standings in the leaderboards. The One has a one-button interface, pressing once to navigate through the menus, and holding to initiate sleep tracking. This model is only water-resistant, rated for being sweat, rain and splash proof. The Charge HR is very similar to the One, but has a much shorter battery life, only lasting for up to 5 days. This model's band has a nice stiffness to it, making it easy to put on.
The main bulk of the trackers closely followed, with the *Alta, Blaze, Charge 2, Surge, and Vivofit 3** all earned a 7 out of 10. The Fitbit models sync quickly, and have the easiest to use and most intuitive app, clearly displaying all the relevant information.
The Vivofit 3 uses a coin-cell battery, lasting for up to one year before needing replacement. This model is rated to up to 5 ATM of depth, and the single button interface made it easy to navigate through the menus. The Garmin app isn't quite as intuitive as the Fitbit, with the sheer amount of information causing it to be slightly overwhelming at first. This model was also the most reliable and easiest to pair out of the Garmins.
The Surge lead the pack of Fitbits in terms of battery life, lasting up to 7 days, but only if the GPS is turned off. While using the GPS, the battery life is reduced to 10 hours. The other Fitbits last for up to 5 days, and all use a proprietary charger. The Blaze and the Surge were both equally easy to navigate through the menus on the device, much better than the slightly finicky Alta and Charge 2. None of these four models are waterproof, only water-resistant, and only the Alta gave us some difficulties with its clasp when putting on.
Both the Vivosmart HR and the Vivosmart HR+ earned a 6 out of 10, losing a few points for their shorter battery life and slightly overwhelming app. These models last for up to 5 days, with the HR+ only lasting for 8 hours with the GPS enabled. As mentioned above, the Garmin app is a little confusing, and we found that these two models tended to have some syncing issues in our tests, always displaying some sort of error. There weren't many on-device menus to navigate through on this pair of trackers, but they were straight forward in their simplicity. Both of these are easy to put on, and rated to 5 ATM of depth.
The Jawbone UP Move, Polar A360, and Striiv Bio 2 all were of average difficulty, earning a 5 out of 10. While the Jawbone has a great battery life of up to 6 months on a coin cell, it was very finicky to connect with the app and the app was overly complex and unintuitive for such a simple device. The Jawbone has no menus to navigate on the device — lacking a screen — and is rated as splash-proof only. The A360 has a good battery life of up to 14 days, but takes around a minute to sync data with your phone. We struggled a little to put this model on, and it is only rated for accidental splashes. The Bio 2 has a claimed battery life of up to 30 days, but we found it depleted extraordinarily fast in our tests. This tracker's app also felt a little outdated, and only had minimal useful information.
Ergonomics was a much simpler test for these products, split into three aspects: comfort, aesthetics, and profile design — the likelihood that the fitness tracker would become snagged when performing various common tasks, such as putting on a windbreaker or a backpack.
The One led this category, meriting an 8 out of 10. This model is a clip-on tracker and is small and light enough that it is altogether too easy to forget that you are wearing it. This made it exceptionally comfort. As a small rectangle, it's not visually stunning, but is by no means hideous, and is almost impossible to become snagged when clipped in your pocket. While you do wear it with a wrist strap for sleeping, most people aren't putting on jackets or backpacks in bed, so no snags there, either.
Next, the pack of the Alta, Vivofit 3, UP Move, Shine 2, and Bio 2 all earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. These models all have a relatively low-profile, making it easy to put on a backpack or a light jacket. The clip-on UP Move was the most comfortable and least obtrusive of this bunch, closely followed by the low-profile Shine 2. These were followed by the remaining three models: Alta, Vivofit 3, and the Bio 2 — all which had slightly higher profiles and were larger.
The Alta is, in our opinion, the most visually stunning of that group, available in an attractive variety of colors. The Vivofit 3 and the Bio 2 are pretty run of the mill for these products, both small, black rectangles. The UP Move comes in a few colors, but is essentially a small disc clipped to your pocket — so there is not too much potential for a striking fashion statement. The Shine 2 received mixed views from our panel, with people either loving it or hating it, but it's ultimately up to you if it matches your style.
Next was the Vivosmart HR, Vivosmart HR+, and the Charge 2, all earning a 6. These models were all similarly comfortable, though the HR+ has a larger profile due to the built-in GPS module. These three models were all equal when we tried to put on a backpack or jacket, only experiencing some slight snags. The Garmins were equal and average when it came to appearance, but the Charge 2 really stood out as being visually striking.
The A360, Blaze, and Charge HR all were about average in ergonomics, deserving a 5. The A360 is mediocre across the board, along with the Charge HR. The Blaze is the closest to a smartwatch out of the bunch, with a larger, higher-resolution display and interchangeable bands to match any style. However, this model is quite large, and wasn't the most comfortable, especially for those with more petite wrists. However, this tracker definitely qualifies as visually appealing.
Finally, the Fitbit Surge rounded out the bottom of the pack in this metric. This model is large. Period. It has the larger profile common among the built-in GPS models and is of about average comfort to wear. It comes in a handful of colors, and like other models, a rectangle of molded plastic — making neither stunning or ugly. What really sets this model back is its elevated profile, which managed to get caught on everything throughout our tests.
The final rating metric that we looked at for this category was the quality of the display. We evaluated the clarity of information displayed, whether or not the tracker could substitute for a watch, how visible the screen was in different lighting conditions, its responsiveness, what notifications could be displayed, and what other information was shown on subsequent screens. All of these models enter a sleep mode when you are not adjusting settings on them to conserve power, so we defined responsiveness as how easy it was to wake up the device to initiate a workout or look at your progress, and how easy it was to control the device through the touchscreen and buttons.
Five models tied for the top score in this set of tests, all earning a 9 out of 10. The Blaze, Surge, Polar A360, Vivosmart HR, and Vivosmart HR+ all have exceptionally nice displays, with a distinguishing factor being how easy all of these models were to read in direct sunlight. While all of these models can receive text and call notifications, both of the Vivosmart models from Garmin are able to receive email notifications as well.
The two models from Garmin and the A360 were also slightly more responsive than the Fitbit models, something to consider if you become easily frustrated by a finicky tracker. This primarily presents itself by not being able to wake the device up, or by having a touchscreen that is unresponsive to commands. This can actually be a surprisingly differentiating factor between models, as the less responsive ones were incredibly infuriating over time.
Next up, the Fitbit Charge 2 scored an 8 out of 10, mainly getting knocked down by its lack of visibility in bright sunlight, but sharing all the other features that the top scoring models had. The Charge 2 also has calendar event notifications, to ensure that you never miss an appointment. The predecessor to the Charge 2, the Fitbit Charge HR earned a 7 out of 10. This model has a much smaller screen, but is very responsive, both to button and touchscreen presses. This model shares the similar problem of not being quite as easy to read in sunlight, and lacks text notifications, only calls.
Tying with the Charge HR, the Fitbit Alta and the Garmin Vivofit 3 both earned 7 out of 10 as well. This Alta does a much better job at notifications, displaying text, call, and calendar events, but is dismal at responsiveness. This model requires the most delicate of touches in a specific spot to cause it to wake, and caused us an endless amount of frustration. The Vivofit 3 is highly responsive, and extremely visible in bright light, but to our dismay, lacks any sort of backlight, making it impossible to see in the dark. This model also lacks any notifications.
Next, the Fitbit One scored a 6 out of 10, with its small, but alright display. This model displays the time, but no date. This model is clip-on — not really designed to be a watch substitute, so the display is less watch-like, instead showing a flower graphic to represent your current progress towards your fitness goals. The screen is responsive but shows no notifications.
Finishing out the bottom of the pack in this metric was the Jawbone UP Move, Misfit Shine 2, and the Striiv Bio2. Both the Misfit and the Jawbone lack traditional screens, foregoing them in favor of a ring of LEDs. While this severely limits the amount of information conveyed, these models still convey the current time and progress. These models are responsive, and the Misfit will vibrate when you receive a call or text. The Striiv showed the time and some fitness stats, but it was very hard to read — the worst out of the bunch, and was incredibly unresponsive. This model supposedly can receive notifications, but we couldn't successfully get it to work. This model does show your step count, distance, calories burned, and active time on further displays.
Buying Advice guide, or at our How We Test page for a more in-depth look at exactly how we came to these scores.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
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