The Best Fitness Trackers for 2020

Our former top pick for fitness trackers, the Garmin Vívosport offers onboard GPS in a slim fitness tracker. However, if your aim is to track runs or bike rides seriously, you’re better off with a dedicated GPS running watch. As an all-around fitness tracker, the newer Fitbit Charge 3 outperforms the Vívosport due to better auto activity tracking.

The Garmin Vívosmart 4, our former runner-up pick, combines a tiny, intuitive-to-use touchscreen with a sleek, easy-to-wear wristband. It doesn’t detect activities as reliably as we’d like, though, and it gets glitchy when wet.

Another former pick in this guide, the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro is a smartwatch-like activity tracker that plays almost as nicely with iOS as with Android (the main difference is that you can’t reply to texts on an iPhone). It’s a capable, attractive activity tracker, but it has one major drawback: short battery life. Samsung claims it will run for three days, but we barely eked out two.

We loved the vivid color touchscreen and souped-up features (stress tracking, preset replies to phone notifications) of the Samsung Galaxy Fit, but we never fully fell for it. Although it’s compatible with Android and iOS, it requires two separate apps when you pair it with an iPhone, which we found cumbersome and a bit frustrating. It did well (landing in first place) when tracking the distance of our marked GPS walk—hitting the mark right on the nose—but it underperformed in our heart-rate tests.

For basic tracking in a small package, we used to recommend the screenless Fitbit Flex 2 as a budget option, but it has been discontinued. At this writing, though, you can still buy this model, new or used, online. Like the Charge 3 and Inspire HR, the Flex 2 tracks your movement automatically, and it does a pretty good job of recognizing and measuring activities. However, because it has no display screen, if you want to get any information about those activities you have to go to Fitbit’s app or website. The Flex 2 can tell you roughly how close you are to your step goal and remind you to move if you’ve been sitting too long, but you have to learn how to read its code of blinking LEDs and vibrations. The Flex 2 has the slimmest wristband of any tracker we tested; the battery life, though, is shorter than that of our picks, and it lacks a heart-rate monitor.

Simpler and more affordable than most of the competition, the Fitbit Inspire—sibling of the Fitbit Inspire HR, our runner-up pick—is a no-frills fitness tracker with a digital display. The Inspire offers a basic lineup of features and a simple touchscreen interface, but unlike the Inspire HR, this model doesn’t offer heart-rate monitoring, and the sleep tracking is less robust. We think it’s worth paying a little more for the Inspire HR, which delivers a slightly more luxe feel (the Inspire’s strap is a bit inflexible) and upgraded features.

The Fitbit Versa (no longer available) offered a mix of smartwatch and activity tracker features, and we found its large, squared-off touchscreen attractive and easy to navigate. But it had fewer activity settings than the Vívoactive 4S, and its app offerings were not robust enough for it to compete as a smartwatch.

The Fitbit Versa Lite Edition performed solidly and was fine to wear, but it felt more smartwatch-light than fitness tracker. We had few issues with the exercise modes, auto tracking, and heart-rate monitoring. It performed solidly in most of our trials, too, but we found odd, niggling issues here and there. If you like laps, take note—the Versa Lite will detect a swim automatically after 10 minutes, but it will not allow you to add swimming to your custom exercise list.

The Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit’s first foray into the world of true smartwatches, struggles to live up to that label. It offers few apps and doesn’t handle notifications well. The only feature it has over the Versa is onboard GPS, which doesn’t justify its higher price tag.

The best thing the Garmin Vívofit 4, a former pick for basic fitness tracking, has going for it is that you don’t need to charge it, since it runs on a watch battery that’s good for a year. But it costs more than the equally basic Flex 2 and offers fewer features—although it does have a display. It’s also dated-looking.

We’re fans of the minimalist aesthetic of the Withings Pulse HR; a reinforced polycarbonate surface coating gives the screen a cool, matte finish. The company, perhaps best known for its smart scales, has built in a seemingly impossibly long battery life—20 days—which held up in our testing. (After setting it aside for days without charging, we’d find it still juiced and ready to go.) Step counts were hit or miss, sometimes nearly spot-on and other times far off, and it didn’t perform as well in our active-heart-rate tests as we expected. Phone notifications scroll horizontally, like a ticker, which can be a bit inefficient for longer messages. And the exercise modes, though plentiful (40 to choose from), lacked detail. In the water, the Pulse HR counted strokes but didn’t allow for pool-length adjustment.

We love what Suunto is aiming to accomplish with the Suunto 3 Fitness watch—a workout-oriented companion meant to encourage you to follow a training plan and fit more exercise into your life—but it offers no detailed sleep tracking, no automatic activity detection, and no reminders to move (although it will tell you if today is a workout day). The button-only interface is confusing.

The Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 4—a features-stuffed fitness tracker available for just $40—has been the talk of the town. It’s on to something, with highlights such as a bright, clear (if not tiny) touchscreen, more than 40 screen options, a claimed three-week battery life, off-board music control, smartphone notifications, and roughly 90 exercise modes (parasailing, anyone?). But the app is confusing and tricky to navigate. In our tests, its connected GPS was fairly accurate on several walks and runs, and its swim data was thorough (including stroke detection and average stroke per minute), but its heart-rate accuracy was iffy. It didn’t detect specific activities automatically, and it occasionally told us we’d been sitting too long even though we’d been up and about for hours. Its messaging is worth mentioning, too. Linger in your chair, and you might get the following: “Sitting for too long is harmful for your health. It will increase the risk of various diseases such as diabetes and neck or back problems.” Not wrong, but we think most people would prefer a more upbeat tone.

The Whoop Strap 3.0 is an interesting outlier. It has no screen, it monitors recovery, “strain,” and sleep, and it imposes a required $30-a-month membership fee. It has an athletic vibe and a performance-optimizing bent based on using your heart rate and heart-rate variability (the intervals between heart beats) to determine whether you should focus on recovery or activity on any given day. The strap itself (fabric, with a nonslip rubber strip within) fits like a dream thanks to flat, flush-to-the-wrist positioning; it also detects strain (elevated heart rate) automatically and offers more than 50 sports and activities to choose from. But although we loved this model’s deep-dive approach, its lack of a screen—you have to review all data through the concise app—and basics like step counts and notifications may be a dealbreaker for most people.

With a sporty look and an equally athletic feel, the Polar Ignite has integrated GPS, a color touchscreen, and quite a lot to offer, though the Garmin Vívoactive 4S, our upgrade pick, edged it out in overall accuracy and ease of use. The Ignite’s large face might deter some people from wearing it all day. In our tests, it had a strong step-count showing on both our GPS outdoor and treadmill walks, but didn’t fare as well when it came to accurate distance. Its FitSpark feature recommends onboard workouts based on recovery data. One morning we did a 10-minute core routine, which was a nice motivator, but it wasn’t completely clear what a few of the exercises in the lineup were—and we’re personal trainers.

Instead of using step count as the primary stat, the Mio Slice claims to measure all-around activity with a proprietary “personal activity intelligence.” Even after testing it, though, we still can’t tell exactly what it counts and what it doesn’t.

The Letscom ID130Plus Color HR (no longer available), an Amazon best seller, did an okay job at basic activity tracking in our tests, but its interface was too glitchy and not user-friendly enough for us to recommend it, even at its very low price.

Non-wrist wearables

A close up of a person wearing three non-wrist fitness trackers
We also tested a range of non-wrist wearables, including a ring, a clip-on, and tags you stick to your clothing. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The Motiv Ring takes activity tracking from the wrist to the finger. The titanium-covered band is chunky but not uncomfortable, and its raw step count in our treadmill test was better than those of the Fitbit models and almost as good as those of the test-topping Garmin trackers. But we found that its sleep tracking was far less detailed than that of our picks, and it lacks timed activity modes, smartphone notifications, and reminders to move. It’s also expensive, and it can go for only three days between charges.

Spire Health Tags are plastic heart-rate-enabled trackers measuring 2 by 1¼ inches and about ¼ inch thick. You stick the Health Tags to the inside of your clothing; they come in multipacks so you can distribute them throughout your wardrobe. We hardly noticed them once they were in place. The companion app is the only way to view your data, though, and we found it confusing to navigate. We liked the presentation of the sleep-tracking data best, as it included bar charts and tallies of minutes we spent awake and at different depths of sleep. So far, the app is only for iOS, but the company says an Android version is coming.

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