Your buying guide to the best fitness trackers in 2017
Fitness trackers, which are also called activity trackers, activity monitors or fitness bands, are like high-tech pedometers that can count your steps and then estimate the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned. See also:
The biggest brand in the market is Fitbit, so we’ve also rounded up the best Fitbit trackers, but below you’ll find more general advice, and the best trackers from any manufacturer.
You can use fitness trackers to monitor your activity, but the general idea is that they spur you on to exercise more, helping you to get fitter and/or lose weight.
Some fitness trackers have a display that shows you steps and calories information, and often the time too, and they tend to be worn on the wrist like a watch or clipped onto your clothes.
You might also be able to add friends that use the same brand of fitness tracker to compete against, but not every fitness tracker offers this. Pitting yourself against others can be extremely motivational.
Bear in mind that fully fledged smartwatches also offer fitness tracking but it tends to be basic so very few have made it into this chart. If you like the idea of tracking activity with a smartwatch that also does other cool things like notifications and apps, check out our best smartwatch chart.
You might also find historical data in the app that will tell you whether you’re improving.
All basic fitness trackers should be able to monitor steps, distance covered, calories burned and active minutes. Some might also have a clock so you can tell the time, although some are simply a series of LEDs that give you an approximation rather than the exact time.
More advanced fitness trackers will add features like sleep tracking, a built-in vibrating alarm, a barometer to measure height climbed, heart-rate monitoring, session recording for various sports and more.
Few are completely waterproof, but virtually all can withstand sweat and rain. We’ve also rounded up the best activity trackers for swimmers in case you want one that can withstand water pressure better.
Some also have built-in GPS, but that’ll add to the price tag and take from the battery life. Without it, though, keep in mind that you’ll need to take your phone with you on a run to accurately record distance and the route you took.
Batteries in non-GPS fitness trackers can range from a few days to several months depending on their power source and they type of tracker you opt for.
As well as the fitness tracker itself, the app it uses is a crucial piece of any activity monitor. For some, the software can even be more important than the hardware.
Why? The software provides extra features, such as the ability to compete with friends, track food and drink intake, monitor your weight and more.
Conversely, some apps can be limited or poorly designed which could discourage you from using the fitness tracker at all. Among the best apps are Fitbit’s, Jawbone’s and Misfit’s.
How much should I spend on a fitness tracker?
The cheapest trackers worth buying can be found for as little as £20-£40, with the most expensive (such as the Apple Watch 2) costing over £350. That means there’s something in the chart below which will fit your budget.
You should also read our pick of the best fitness tracker deals to help find the best price.
The Fitbit Charge 2 is a worthy upgrade to the extremely popular Charge HR. It will appeal to both the casual get-fit user and the more serious fitness freaks, although runners might prefer a tracker with built-in GPS. Users will love the larger display and interchangeable wristbands, plus the updated fitness features. It boasts most of the features a serious keep-fit enthusiast demands, and can connect with a smartphone GPS for runners who want to track their pace and lap times. Fitbit has more minimalist or fashion-conscious wristband trackers (Flex 2 and Alta, both of which lack the Charge 2’s heart-rate monitor and associated benefits such as Cardio Fitness ratings) but the Charge 2 has it all and still looks more chic than the average activity tracker. It remains our favourite mainstream activity tracker.
Read our Fitbit Charge 2 review.
The new Apple Watch Series 2 takes the main complaints about the original – slow operation, lack of GPS, lack of official waterproofing, short battery life – and solves or at least improves them systematically. If you’re into fitness tracking with a sprinkling of notifications and superb integration with the iPhone, this is an almost perfect wearable for you… although, being greedy, we’d still like an even better battery life, and the price remains pretty steep. We thought long and hard about whether to give the Apple Watch Series 2 five out of five, and it was a close-run thing. But those two issues are still, just, keeping it from a perfect score. Great wearable, though, and the only one we’ve seen that feels like it has any chance at all of taking wearables into the mainstream.
Read our Apple Watch Series 2 review.
The Alta HR is Fitbit’s most stylish heart-rate tracker to date. It lacks an altimeter for stair and hill climbing stats, but its 24/7 heart-rate monitor will help you get fitter, lose weight, and better monitor your sleep. You get the core Steps, Distance, Calories and Sleep measurements, and automatic exercise recognition functionality. We love the Activity Reminder prompts which help you get more active during the day. Caller ID and the ability to read texts on your wrist are also big plus points. You really don’t need to wear a separate watch and you’ll hardly know you’re wearing the Alta HR as it’s so comfortable and lightweight. We think the Alta HR is worth the extra £30 over the standard Alta for both its heart-rate monitor and watch-like strap buckle. It challenges the Charge 2 as our favourite Fitbit.
Read our Fitbit Alta HR review.
The Fitbit Alta is a mid-range activity tracker for the everyday fitness fan, which is a real winner when it comes to slim, chic looks and a range of fashionable accessories. It tracks the basics (Steps, Distance, Calories and Sleep), plus boasts Caller ID, Text and Calendar notifications, and is cheaper than the more fully featured Fitbits such as the Charge 2, Blaze and Surge. Its higher-end sibling the Alta HR adds a heart-rate monitor if you want to dive deeper into your health, fitness, sleep and weight-loss metrics. But the Alta is a stylish tracker that will appeal to people who don’t want a giant sports watch on their wrist, or need a huge array of stats in the app.
Read our Fitbit Alta review.
We’d recommend the Misfit Ray. It’s really good-looking and the choice of colours makes it even more stylish to suit each individual, haptic feedback is a real boon and it compares really well with rivals in the same price range. Battery life is excellent and the app is intuitive too. You’ll find that you’re motivated to get out there and get fit in no time.
Read our Misfit Ray review.
With a new OLED screen the Xiaomi Mi Band 2 offers better value than ever. We’d like to see better integration with third-party apps, but at this price the Mi Band 2 is impossible to fault.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Band 2 review.
The Fitbit Surge is an activity tracker for the serious fitness enthusiast. We’re not saying a more casual user wouldn’t appreciate its good looks and features, but the level of functionality and price put it properly in the market for the power user. The larger, swipeable display is a revelation of on-wrist stats. If you wish to wear a tracker and your regular wristwatch then the Surge may be too large, and you should consider other more minimalist bands. The everyday user who wants a tracker to push them to exercise more is catered for with the Fitbit Flex 2 and Charge 2. If you’re just interested in the heart-rate monitor you could consider the cheaper and very capable Fitbit Charge 2, but if you want to see dedicated heart-rate stats during performance-based workouts, and map your routes with built-in GPS the Fitbit Surge has it all.
Read our Fitbit Surge review.
The Fitbit One is accurate, has great battery life and tracks pretty much everything you’d want it to. The proprietary charging cable is a pain, but it’s a minor quibble about what it otherwise an excellent activity tracker.
Read our Fitbit One review.
The Moov Now is one of the most interesting activity trackers we’ve tried. It puts workouts and coaching first and the basic activity and sleep tracking second, and that’s obvious, but not necessarily a bad thing. The voice coaching itself is motivating, but it’s the levels, achievements and personal bests that’ll keep you coming back for more. It’s a shame that the activity and sleep tracking is so limited, so if that’s what you’re looking for in an activity tracker you’ll want to look elsewhere, but for runners and cyclists of any level and for people who enjoy quick workouts at home, £59.99 will go a long way here.
Read our Moov Now review.
Misfit Shine 2
Overall, we’d recommend the Misfit Shine 2. It’s an all-rounder with some added perks including the haptic feedback for notifications and calls, which we’ve found enormously useful. Comparing it with rival Fitbit we think it’s been priced well, and not having to think about the battery life too often is a huge boon, meaning you’ll rarely have to take it off.
Read our Misfit Shine 2 review.