New Year’s resolutions slipping off target? David Phelan picks ten fitness trackers that can lend a hand
This is it, the year you’re going to get fit. Perhaps you’ve bought a new gym membership or upgraded your running shoes.
Well, technology can help, too. Fitness trackers work on the principle that knowledge is power and that a little encouragement can go a long way. So, if your first resolution is to walk more – to hit 10,000 steps a day, say – then a tracker can keep you informed on how your day is going. If it looks likely that you’ll just miss that target, it can notify you, with a gentle hint that a brisk 15 minutes will get you there.
Some trackers buzz when you hit all of your goals. Others help you to set up competitions with friends to spur you on. Many are waterproof, so you can count your laps in the pool, and some enable you to make calls and use apps – very useful if you’ve left your phone at home. As well as counting steps, they can measure your run with GPS, work out the calories burnt and even monitor your sleep.
Here we take a look at the latest trackers and smartwatches, the latter of which incorporate tracking capabilities but usually come with extra features and more stylish looks. None of them can exercise for you, but they will remind you how well you’ve done and help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
Apple Watch Series 4
The latest Apple Watch is not just the most beautiful smartwatch yet, from any brand, it’s also the best fitness gadget Apple has released. Central to its operation is the Activity app, which comprises Stand, Exercise and Move rings that make up the central display of the watch. The goal is to complete each ring during the day – fill the Stand ring by getting up at least once every hour, 12 times in the day; the next by managing 30 minutes of brisk exercise; and the Move ring by hitting your calorie target each day.
Then there is the built-in Workout app, which spots when you’re out for a run and will ask if you want the exercise recorded. It can also count your calories when you’re meditating, practising yoga or engaged in a host of other sports (the watch is waterproof so can be used to monitor swimming, too).
Another app, Breathe, helps you to focus on your breath to de-stress, while sleep tracking is available via third-party apps. You can choose from models with wifi connection to your iPhone, or wifi plus 4G, which allows you to use your mobile network, even without the phone nearby – note that you have to have an iPhone to do this (and this version only works overseas if you have your iPhone with you). The battery easily lasts one full day.
From £399, apple.com/uk, or available on contract with EE and Vodafone.
Samsung Galaxy smartwatch
This is Samsung’s most accomplished smartwatch yet; its screen looks like an analogue design with an outside bezel to scroll through settings. It tracks 40 exercises – some, such as walking, running, cycling and rowing, are launched automatically as you do them – and it also has decent enough sleep tracking. Like the Apple, it comes in two versions, one with Bluetooth connectivity to your phone and one that links straight to the mobile network. The watch works with Samsung phones, other Androids and iPhones, although it is best teamed with a Samsung Galaxy. Battery life is up to four days (the always-on screen option halves that).
From £280, samsung.com/uk. The 4G version is exclusive to ee.co.uk, £20 plus monthly subscription.
Fitbit Versa smartwatch
The Versa is Fitbit’s most recent full-featured smartwatch. At first glance, it’s similar to the Apple Watch, although it is thinner and lighter. You can swim with it, as it’s waterproof to 50 metres, and, like the Apple and the Samsung Galaxy Watch, you can store music on it and listen to your most inspiring playlist through Bluetooth headphones. It doesn’t have built-in GPS, so you’ll need your phone to track your runs accurately. Battery life is up to four days.
Fitbit Charge 3 tracker
If you only need fitness tracking rather than a full-on smartwatch then Fitbit’s Charge 3 is pretty hard to beat. As well as being waterproof and attractive to look at, with an easy-to-read monochrome display, it scores highly for being a comfortable fit on the wrist and, because it’s made of aluminium, it is especially lightweight. Like many of the gadgets here, it has a heart rate sensor built in and, as with the larger Fitbit Versa above, it will automatically recognise when you’re starting a run, a swim (it’s water resistant to 50 metres) or other such activity.
Withings Steel HR smartwatch
This elegant, dressy watch has a real dial and a small OLED screen at the top of the face, so it doesn’t look like a tracker. A smaller dial counts your steps, resetting to zero each morning, while the top display shows calories burnt. Small and light enough to wear at night, its sleep tracking is exceptional and, when connected to a phone, it will show notifications from apps and messages. Other selling points are that it’s waterproof and has a heart rate sensor. Note that there is no GPS, so use alongside your phone for accurate run tracking. The battery lasts up to an impressive 25 days.
Withings Pulse HR tracker
The newest Withings tracker can monitor more than 30 sports, encompassing everything from volleyball to yoga. As with the Steel HR, there’s no GPS, so pair it to your phone for accurate outdoor run monitoring. In this set-up, it can also deliver notifications to your wrist – when someone texts, for instance. It’s clever enough to know from your movements when you’re going from deep to light sleep, so can rouse you at the optimal moment in your sleep cycle, ensuring you wake refreshed – the tracker’s alarm system (the Steel HR also has this feature) can wake you by vibrating. Battery life is this brand’s forte; in this case, up to 20 days.
Garmin Vivomove HR smartwatch
Attractive and effective, this is a proper analogue watch with hidden fitness smarts and a screen for notifications, although it lacks the second analogue dial reporting your steps achieved as seen on the Withings Steel HR. The heart rate monitor operates 24/7, the watch is waterproof and it tracks steps, calories, distance and more. It can even monitor your stress level, let you know when it’s elevated and offer a relaxation timer. The battery lasts around five days with features such as the heart rate on; longer with them turned off.
Moov Now tracker
There’s no screen on the Moov Now but it offers exceptional accuracy and a keen price. To check your stats, you must refer to the app on your phone. There’s one button – to start an exercise, for instance. It has workout tracking, with visual help on your phone to guide you and tips to improve performance, but no heart rate monitor. It gives information about how you’re running, but for the most detail you need to swap it to your ankle using the supplied second strap. Overall, it’s good for tracking your exercise, and great for providing the motivation to improve it. Battery lasts up to six months (it uses a replaceable watch battery).
Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro tracker
This is also very much a tracker rather than a smartwatch, but it has a colourful screen and is comfortable to wear. Speedo, MyFitnessPal and Endomondo apps are installed to help you get started. Although it’s a Samsung gadget, it works with other Android handsets and iPhones thanks to the Samsung Gear app. It can automatically detect when you start working out on the treadmill, walking or cycling, although sleep tracking is not as advanced as on the Withings or Fitbit trackers. In-built storage means you can download music to listen to through wireless headphones. Battery life is about three days, less if you use the GPS a lot.
Xiaomi Mi Band 3 tracker
This highly affordable tracker is lightweight and fun to use. The monochrome screen has a reasonable display and is easy to read in all but bright sunlight. Although the design is basic, it is comfortable and you can keep it on in the shower or pool. It somehow manages to include a heart rate monitor, even at this price, although there’s no GPS and, while it does have sleep tracking, it’s no match for Fitbit in this regard. It’s similarly basic in its fitness tracking capabilities but can certainly keep you informed of your steps, which can be enough. Battery life is about three weeks.