The most telling thing about the success of fitness trackers is that we’ve stopped calling them ‘trackers’ and mostly just call them ‘my watch’. Sleek, affordable and capable of integrating with other devices and platforms to dazzling effect, they strive to be your motivational buddy, your step counter, your coach and your cheerleader.
Compared to the pithy digital watch of only a few years ago, the fitness tracker is a wonder. Depending on specification, they can command your phone to play music through your headphones, set and adjust your fitness goals, monitor your sleep patterns and read your messages.
Sales soared over lockdowns as we yearned for fitness and freedom. Now they’re as much a part of life as posh coffee or a streaming binge. Truth be told, they’ve all reached a fairly standardised level of reliability now, so it’s mostly a matter of price, specification, aesthetics and connectivity.
We’ve taken four big sellers and looked at what they offer, and how well they cater to a walker's or trail runner's needs:
Best in test - Fitbit Charge 5
Best value - Amazfit Band 7
Best for ruggedness - Garmin Vivosmart 5
Best for simplicity - Huawei Band 7
The best fitness trackers
1. Fitbit Charge 5
Best in Test
Fitbit nailed the art and science of the friendly, encouraging, motivational tracker years ago,
- Up to 7 days of battery
- The “keep it up!” messages can be irritating
Amazfit specialises in high-spec devices at bargain bin prices. The Band 5 easily rivals the
- Great value
- Long battery life
- Amazon Alexa built-in
- Lacks quality of more expensive rivals
3. Garmin Vivosmart 5
Best for ruggedness
From the off, the Vivosmart 5 felt more dedicated to rugged outdoor use than its peers, thanks to
- Easy to use
- Slightly fussy app
Best for simplicity
There’s plenty to like about the Huawei Band 7. It’s clear, straightforward, accurate and fun,
- Good lifestyle functions
- Easy and intuitive to use
- No GPS
- Feels a bit fragile
Key features to look for in a fitness tracker
GPS: Not many fitness trackers come with built-in GPS. It's a real bonus point if they do. Some can offer GPS tracking via smartphone connectivity as an alternative.
App connectivity: Fitness trackers have their own-brand apps, but you'll also want to check if you can also integrate other fitness apps too, such as Strava.
Battery life: The longer the better, naturally. When brands give an average battery life figure, it pays to check what the criteria are because it's often a very optimistic result.
Waterproofing: The standard waterproofing for fitness trackers is water resistant down to 50 metres (5ATM). But some vary, so it's a feature to check.
Screen size: There's a balance to be had here. Bigger screens offer better ease of use, but too big and the fitness tracker becomes bulky. This is subjective thing, because peoples' wrists are different sizes.
Toughness: This largely relates to the materials used. For example, a silicone strap offers better flexibility and therefore durability and longevity than a TPU one.