5 things to consider when buying a fitness tracker

Fitness trackers have a lot to offer, but how do you know what matters? We explain some of the most important things to consider before making your buying decision.

Whether you’re looking to improve your body composition, motivate yourself to be a little more active, or keep track of your general health and fitness, there are plenty of reasons for buying a fitness tracker. But choosing one isn’t necessarily straightforward. 

The fitness-tracker market is highly competitive, and what’s perfect for one person may not be quite right for someone else. Certain features aren’t available on every device, and the best budget fitness trackers vary considerably in price.  

There is no one fitness tracker that’s right for everyone. So if you aren’t sure which one will be most suitable for you, here are some essentials that are worth considering, to help you narrow down your options. 

The Fitbit Inspire 3, Garmin Vivosmart 5, Fitbit Charge 5, and Polar Unite fitness trackers on a wooden backgroundCredit: Saga Exceptional

1. Budget

How much are you prepared to spend?

There are some very decent devices, such as the Honor Band 7 or Huawei Band 7 that are available for under £50. And at the higher end, premium devices from brands such as Fitbit or Garmin will often cost more than £100 (although the Fitbit Charge 5 and Garmin Vivosmart 5 are sometimes available on sale for less than £90). 

We’d recommend working out what you’re willing to spend and sticking to your budget. Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean that the fitness tracker won’t do everything you need, and there are some occasions where a cheaper device may offer specific features that aren’t found on some more expensive models. Talking of which… 

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2. Features

Which features matter to you?

While setting your budget is important, it’s also important to spend some time working out what features you would consider essential in your new fitness tracker.

Do you, for example, want to accurately track outdoor exercise, such as running, walking or cycling? If so, then you might want to look for a fitness tracker with built-in GPS, such as the Xiaomi Smart Band 7 Pro, or Fitbit Charge 5. 

If you don’t care about tracking outdoor activities, then you may be able to find a device that does everything else you need, without paying for a feature that isn’t necessary. 

The Xiaomi Smart Band 7Credit: Saga Exceptional

This is just one example. You might also want to consider which ones offer smartwatch features, if being able to respond to text messages via your device is important. As an aside, if smartwatch features matter, then you might want to consider whether a fully fledged smartwatch is the more suitable choice. 

Most, if not all fitness trackers will track basic metrics such as steps, distance, calories, sleep and a variety of sports. Many will also offer heart-rate and blood-oxygen monitoring. Some offer stress tracking, and others have features that will tell you how ready you are for exercise – for example, Garmin’s Body Battery, or Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score. 

Deciding which of these features are nice-to-haves, and which are must-haves, will help you narrow down your options, as well as potentially helping you set your budget.

3. App support

The app is crucial to the overall experience

While the fitness tracker captures all your data, it is the supporting app that helps you to interpret it all. In our view, a good supporting app makes an enormous difference to the overall fitness-tracker experience – a poor app that is hard to navigate or doesn’t display your information clearly will massively reduce the benefits of having a fitness tracker. 

There’s plenty to consider too. Some apps, such as Garmin Connect, offer vast swathes of data, so will appeal to people who enjoy drilling down into the numbers.

Others, such as the Mi Fitness app, are a little more basic, and may suit people who just want the minimum. Certain apps supply more support and insight than others in terms of explaining what the numbers mean and how you might go about improving them. 

With the Fitbit app , there’s also the choice of paying for Fitbit Premium, to get access to a variety of recipes, workouts and mindfulness tools. For some, this may be valuable extra support. But before committing to it, we’d make sure that the features you will get are going to be useful to you. Despite offering so much content, we actually found Fitbit Premium irritating. 

4. Design

Does it look good, and is it comfortable to wear?

You’re likely to be wearing your fitness tracker most of the time, so it’s important you choose something you’re going to enjoy having on your wrist. And there’s plenty to think about in design terms when it comes to buying a fitness tracker. 

Most fitness trackers come in a lozenge-style shape, with a rectangular display. But there are a few alternatives, such as the Polar Unite or the Xiaomi Smart Band 7 Pro, which look a little bit more like a smartwatch. 

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Xiaomi Smart Band 7 ProCredit: Saga Exceptional

Other factors to think about include: 

  • Size – do you want something with a larger display, such as the Amazfit Band 7, or would you prefer something more delicate, like the Fitbit Inspire 3? Some will weigh more than others, depending on the materials used to make them.  
  • Screen – we’ve already highlighted screen size. But it’s also important to think about how clear the display is, and how easily you can read it. While most fitness trackers have colour displays, the Garmin Vivosmart 5 is an example of one that is still black and white, which some people may prefer. Some fitness trackers will offer a wider variety of customisation options, too, so if you like being able to change the face that’s on display, that might be worth considering. Finally, most fitness trackers use touch screens for control, while a few have a physical button to help navigate them.  
  • Band – think about the kind of strap that comes on the fitness tracker. Is it removable, so it can be swapped for something else? Does it use a traditional watch strap mechanism, or a button-style clasp? Some are easier to put on and take off than others. The worst of them can be quite uncomfortable.  

Design is a matter of personal preference, and some are definitely more about function over form. But others, such as the Fitbit Luxe (RRP £109.99, Amazon), are very much designed as fashion accessories.

5. Accuracy

Performance needs to be good enough for you

Regardless of cost, looks or how good the app is, the foundation it is all built on is its performance. In other words, how accurately can your fitness tracker record all that data? If it’s wildly inaccurate, it’s virtually useless. 

As such, it’s essential when buying a fitness tracker to make sure it’s accurate. Now, to be clear, we don’t necessarily mean every metric needs to be perfect (we’re yet to test any device that is flawless in this respect). But more importantly, it needs to be accurate enough to meet your needs.  

What that means will probably vary from person to person. Some may want the numbers to be as close as possible to reality. Others may be content with numbers that are in the right ballpark, offering a sense of how they are doing.

You may also find that some devices are extremely accurate in, say, heart-rate tracking, but less accurate at step counting. It’s worth deciding which data matters most to you and finding the device which is best in that respect.  

Conclusion

Work out what matters most

There is as yet no perfect fitness tracker that does everything flawlessly. But there are lots of incredibly good devices offering all the features and performance someone may want or need.

It’s a case of working out what matters most to you, then finding the device that best fits those needs. 

The five factors we’ve highlighted will help you work out what your priorities are when buying a fitness tracker. 

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Steven Shaw

Written by Steven Shaw he/him

Updated:

Steven Shaw has been a freelance writer for a variety of outlets, most notably TechRadar. His degree in Medieval History prepared him less adequately for his career than you might expect, but the years spent working in technology focused retail were much more helpful.

Outside of work, Steven is passionate about health and fitness, and particularly enjoys high-intensity interval training, weight training, and increasingly, spending time recovering. Steven loves reading, films and a wide variety of sports. A particular highlight was watching Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar batting together in an exhibition match.

He wishes he could travel more. He can also tell you a lot about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Carolingians. Most of his non-work time is spent with his young children, who are the living embodiment of high-intensity training.