Fitness trackers are excellent gifts for those that want to, well, track their health and exercise. Whether the person you’re shopping loves to run, swim, or lift, a fitness tracker is sure to be a great boost to their workouts and help them get a better overview of their health.
It’s worth noting that this article is focused on fitness trackers, not fitness-focused smartwatches. Fitness trackers specifically focus on health and exercise-related features instead of having an abundance of smart features like smartwatches do.
What to Look for in a Fitness Tracker
There are a few general things to consider when selecting the right fitness tracker.
- Build Quality: A fitness tracker will be put through a lot during its life. As such, you want to make the build quality is up to snuff. Waterproofing is basically a necessity for a tracker at this point and all the ones on this list have it. They’re all certified for being worn while swimming or in the shower, so there won’t be any problems there. You also want to make sure the tracker can survive some bumps and falls. After all, exercising isn’t exactly a gentle activity most of the time.
- Features: This mostly pertains to health and exercise tracking where you’ll see a lot of the same features across most trackers. Sleep, heart-rate, and step tracking are all fairly standard things to see in a fitness tracker. Some impress with more in-depth versions of those though, and even introduce new forms of tracking that use location data or advanced monitors for stuff like stress levels and or other forms of exercise. A few smart features like managing music or paying with the tracker are also nice additions.
- GPS: Some trackers will have a built-in GPS, some won’t—simple as that. While most trackers that lack a GPS can rely on smartphones to fulfill that functionality, that means the user has to carry around their phone with them when working out, which isn’t always comfortable.
- Battery Life: A dead battery on any device is never fun, but the last thing someone wants is for their fitness tracker to die mid-workout. Having a long battery life is also extremely important for sleep tracking, as the tracker will be running throughout the night. Most fitness trackers will last a while though, usually ranging in the 7- to 10-day range on a full charge.
- Ecosystem: Garmin and Fitbit are the two largest players in the world of fitness trackers currently, and as such, all of the picks on this list aside from one are from those two companies. Each tracker has its features and advantages that may draw you towards it, but there’s some larger scale stuff you need to be aware of before choosing. Namely, the companies’ ecosystems or companion apps. Basically, what you need to know is that Fitbit’s app (iOS/Android/Windows) is easier to use but loses out on some in-depth tracking tools because of it. There is a premium subscription ($13.49 a month/$106.99 a year) which adds in more in-depth features. On the other hand, Garmin’s app (Android/iOS) is much more robust and features loads of data tracking and options for the user to mess around with.
The Smart Tracker: Fitbit Charge 4
The Charge 4 is Fitbit’s highest-end fitness tracker, and it’s outfitted with a ton of health, exercise, and smart features. It’ll track all the standard health stuff like sleep, heart rate, and daily calorie expenditure, but exercise tracking is where things get more interesting. You can target certain heart-rate ranges, track how many steps you take, how many floors you walk up/down, monitor cardio-fitness levels, and receive notifications to remind you to take a break while exercising or the opposite—to move around if you’ve been too stationary.
One of the bigger features of the Charge 4 is the built-in GPS. This is Fitbit’s first tracker with a built-in GPS, and it’s great to see this feature arrive in such a sleek package. GPS allows users to tracks runs and such without the need to carry a phone. It also allows users to see specific GPS-related heatmaps and the like.
When it comes to smart features, there’s nothing mindblowing, but it’s all useful stuff to have. You can receive notifications from your phone, pay for stuff using Fitbit Pay, manage Spotify music, and install various compatible apps. Some of these features will need to be set up in the Fitbit app (iOS/Android/Windows), which is also where you can pool exercise and health data from the tracker in an easy-to-read environment. Overall, the Charge 4 is the smart Fitbit tracker for users who want smart features without a full smartwatch.
The Charge 4 will last for up to 7 days depending on the use. (The internal GPS used for certain tracking features drains it quickly.) It’s also available in two colors: black and rosewood.
A Basic Tracker with a Focus on Fitness: Fitbit Inspire 2
The Inspire 2’s smaller screen and lower price means it loses out on some features compared to the Charge 4, but it’s still a great fitness tracker. Health-wise, the Inspire 2 still features all the stuff you’d expect like sleep-tracking, heart-rate monitoring, and calorie expenditure. The Inspire 2 is also outfitted with a lot of the same exercise tracking as the Charge 4, such as target heart-rate zones, monitoring of cardio-fitness levels, and a pace/distance tracker for walking/running.
There’s no internal GPS here, meaning for any form of location-based tracking the user will need to bring their phone around with them. You can see a full list of tracking features on the Inspire 2 on Fitbit’s website and can even directly compare it to the Charge 4.
You also lose out on some smart features in the Inspire 2 like Fitbit Pay and Spotify management, but they’re not all gone—you can still receive notifications and install compatible apps. Like the Charge 4, you can pool all of the data the tracker collects with the Fitbit app (iOS/Android/Windows).
The Inspire 2 can last up to 10 days on a full charge. It’s also available in three colors: black, rose, and white.
The Smartest Basic Tracker You Can Buy: Garmin vivosmart 4
Switching over to Garmin’s side of things, the vivosmart 4 focuses on being slim and practical. It covers all the health monitoring you’d expect, including heart rate, sleep, stress levels, and even blood-oxygen levels with the Pulse Ox sensor. It’ll track steps, calorie expenditure, floors climbed, and how intense your exercise session was as well.
The vivosmart 4 also features some smart features like notifications, weather forecasts, and music management. The app Garmin Connect (Android/iOS) allows you to gather all of the health data in one spot, and has some other useful features like setting goals or completing challenges.
You can expect the tracker to last about 7 days on a full charge. It’s available in four colors as well: gold, rose gold, silver, and black.
A Full-Featured Tracker: Garmin vivosport
The vivosport is pretty similar to the vivosmart 4, but it has an internal GPS. So, it’s going to be particularly good for runners who want to track their time and pace over an area without hauling their phone around. Besides that, the vivosport features most of the same tracking and health features as the vivosmart, but it does miss out on some stuff like stress level and abnormal heart rate alerts due to the missing Pulse Ox sensor. You can see a full comparison of the two trackers on Garmin’s website.
The vivosport also features 7 days of battery life (or eight hours in GPS mode) and a full-color display. You can get it in three colors: fuchsia focus, slate, and limelight.
The Budget Pick: Wyze Band
If you’re looking for a tracker on the lower end of things price-wise, the Wyze Band offers an impressive experience for the money. The Wyze Band tracks sleep, heart rate, and general activity levels throughout the day, which can all be seen in the Wyze app (iOS/Android). But besides those basic tracking features, the Band also includes a surprising amount of smart features as well.
You can customize your home screen, manage Wyze’s smart-home devices, receive notifications on the tracker, and it even has Amazon Alexa built in. It is lacking an internal GPS and the ability to use your phone’s GPS in any way, but that’s acceptable for the price. It will also last for up to 10 days on a full battery. It’s a great deal for those new to fitness trackers or just don’t feel they need anything too fancy.