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Best Fitness Tracker 2019 – Real World Group Test

July 30, 2019

7:57 am

If you’re into fitness in 2019, it's worth having the best fitness tracker to record all your exercise.

However, with so many wearables seemingly offering the same things – including run tracking, heart rate monitoring, calorie counting, brilliant comfort, great companion apps, and incredible battery life, not to mention a host of smart features – choosing between them can be incredibly confusing.

Here at Tech.co, we’re helping separate the wheat from the chaff by pitting six of the best and most popular fitness trackers against each other. We looked at the latest and most popular Apple Watch, Polar’s new hardcore Vantage M watch, two Garmin Forerunner models as well as the quirky Vivosmart 4, and Fitbit’s ubiquitous Charge 3.

So which is the best? All told, our favorite wearable is the Garmin Forerunner 645 – its hyper-accurate distance tracking, comfy strap, and impressive battery life make it a great choice for anyone looking to get fit. You’ll need deep pockets, though – it starts at $399.99.

If you’re looking at the cheaper end of the market, we’d get a Fitbit Charge 3. The Charge 3 isn’t exactly faultless, but for budding fitness junkies, it’s a good place to start.

Garmin Forerunner 645

Fitbit Charge 3

Polar Vantage M

Garmin Forerunner 245

Apple Watch Series 4

Garmin Vivosmart 4

garmin forerunner 645 smallfitbit charge 3 smallpolar vantage m smallgarmin forerunner 245 smallapple watch series 4 smallgarmin vivosmart 4 small
VerdictArguably the best sports watch on the marketOne of the best fitness trackers, perfect for get fit newbiesA hefty, serious wearable designed for athletesA running watch par excellence, but limited as an all-rounderIf you can afford it, it's the best choice for iPhone usersA quirky, wellness-focused wearable that won't suit everyone
Price$399.99$149.95$279.99$299.99$399.00$129.99
Overall score4.5 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars3.5 stars
Comfort and design4.5 stars4 stars3.5 stars4 stars5 stars3 stars
Ease of use3.5 stars4 stars3 stars3.5 stars5 stars3 stars
Value for money3.5 stars4 stars3.5 stars3 stars3 stars3.5 stars
Accuracy4 stars3 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars
Battery life5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars2 stars4 stars
Buy nowClick hereClick hereClick hereClick hereClick hereClick here

 

Read on to find out all about the models we put to test, or skip ahead to the one you care about:

The Best Fitness Trackers for $100-150

While you can get a decent fitness tracker for less than $100, you’ll be unlikely to find one as good as the Fitbit Charge 3 or Garmin Vivosmart 4 for less. However, despite their similarities in price and appearance, the Charge 3 and Vivosmart 4 are quite different devices.

The Charge 3 is a typical fitness tracker – you get heart rate tracking, sleep tracking, mirrored notifications from your phone, waterproofing (without swim metrics), and a week-long battery life. If your typical exercise consists of hitting the gym once or twice a week, and maybe going for a run or two – or if you want to track your everyday activities, like walking on your commute to work – the Charge 3 should suit you down to the ground.

The Vivosmart 4, on the other hand, is designed to offer a more holistic look at your overall health, rather than giving you detailed stats on your weekly workouts. As a result, you can check your stress levels, benefit from more advanced sleep monitoring, and calculate something which Garmin calls your “Body Battery” score – basically an examination of your energy levels over the course of a day.

So which is best?

Fitbit Charge 3 vs Garmin Vivosmart 4 – Comfort and design

Both the Charge 3 and Vivosmart 4 riff on the classic fitness tracker design – lightweight, slim, silicone bands available in a variety of colors, housing small monochrome screens.

Neither are bad-looking, but both failed to completely win over our testers:

“From a fashion point of view, I think it [the Fitbit Charge 3] looks quite slick and stylish. I barely notice it when wearing it. The screen is quite small, though, which does make it difficult to see anything while running – especially with glare from the sun.”

fitbit charge 3 front medium

The Fitbit Charge 3

“The Vivosmart 4 had a very basic design. It’s relatively pleasing on the eye, but certainly aimed at a ‘girly’ audience who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a fitness watch. It’s relatively comfortable, though the strap holes leave quite a significant dent mark in my wrist, even when the watch isn’t done up that tight.”

Fitbit Charge 3 vs Garmin Vivosmart 4 – Ease of use

Given how similar they look, our testers found similar ease of use concerns with the Charge 3 and Vivosmart 4:

“I've found that the Charge 3 doesn't respond that well to touch when you have sweaty fingers, which isn't great since it's built for exercising – it does respond, but it sometimes takes a few extra taps or a second attempt at swiping.”

“The Vivosmart 4’s screen isn’t great for seeing in the light when I was out running. The touchscreen navigation is annoying – it uses a mixture of up and down swipes, side swipes, buttons, and double clicks. I understand this is because the screen is so small.”

However, they fell in love with Garmin and Fitbit’s companion apps:

garmin vivosmart 4

The Garmin Vivosmart 4

“Garmin’s app was easy to download and has a user friendly lay out, with all the functionality options and results there straight away. The best part of the watch was the companion app – it was very easy to see what had been achieved that day.”

“I quite like the Fitbit app – it's really easy to see all your information and history, and adapt the settings of your watch.”

Find out more – Which Fitbit Should I Get?

Fitbit Charge 3 vs Garmin Vivosmart 4 – Battery life

The Charge 3 and Vivosmart 4 have pretty impressive battery life specs – almost certainly as a result of their underwhelming screens.

The Vivosmart 4 claims to give seven days’ battery, and our testers certainly found that to be the case. Similarly, Fitbit also claims that the Charge 3 will last a full week, and our tester – who exercised “almost every day” – was never caught short with a dead device.

Fitbit Charge 3 vs Garmin Vivosmart 4 – Which is the best fitness tracker?

Deciding between these two is hard – the Vivosmart 4 is a bit cheaper, but offers a more compelling look at your overall health. Its mindfulness features, ranging from breathing exercises to stress checkers, are likely to appeal to anyone looking for a better relationship with their mind and body.

However, the Charge 3 is probably the better device for fitness junkies. If you prefer crushing it at the gym to checking your stress levels, the Charge 3 should be right up your street. However, if you’re really keen on getting fit, it might be worth moving up a pricing tier.

The Best Fitness Tracker and Sport Watch for Under $300

Now we’re getting serious. With watches that cost less than $300, but more than $150, you’re looking at more advanced multisport tracking – swimming, cycling, etc. – as well as standalone GPS.

We tried Garmin’s Forerunner 245, which goes big on running features. Built for serious runners, the 245 promises to study your form through its “Running Dynamics” feature. It also offers V02 Max metrics and gives tips on whether on whether you’re stretching yourself with the amount of running you’ve done recently. The 245 is built for serious runners.

We also had a look at Polar’s Vantage M watch, which offers swimming metrics, 24/7 activity tracking, cycle tracking, heart rate zones, and more. If you’re a regular triathlete, or just love variety in your workouts, the Vantage M would be a great choice.

Despite the slightly wider range of applications for the Vantage M, it costs $279.95 – $20 less than the Forerunner 245.

Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M – Accuracy

This really is the litmus test for an advanced sports watch. You can get away with some iffy metrics on a sub-$100 tracker, but not here.

Pleasingly, on our standardised 10km running route around North London, we found that the Forerunner 245 and Vantage M were pretty close to the mark. The Vantage M recorded a run of 9.93km, while the Forerunner 245 recorded 10.05km.

The Vantage M did have some GPS issues when running outside in wooded areas, although it was bang on the money when it came to swimming.

The Forerunner 245 was also pleasingly accurate when it came to cycling and swimming.

Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M – Comfort and style

This is where the Forerunner 245 and Vantage M start to lose marks. With an array of sensors and long battery lives (seven days for the Forerunner 245 and five days for the Vantage M with continuous heart tracking), these are both bulky devices.

“The strap [on the Forerunner 245] is comfortable enough, but I have quite slim wrists, so it was quite bulky. Despite this, I think it looks smart – just not as subtle as an Apple Watch or Fitbit. I didn’t mind it for running, but wouldn’t want to wear it every day.”

polar vantage m medium

The Polar Vantage M

“[The Vantage M] is a very lightweight watch that sits well on the wrist. When running, it’s pretty comfortable and doesn’t rub. I’m not a fan of the white version, but I think the black version looks pretty good. Considering its a sports watch, the thickness of the watch face is a bit annoying, and I’ve knocked it on a few occasions. I’m also not a fan of this style for road cycling. It’s also got a really wide bezel that seemingly does nothing. It seems strange to make the watch face this needlessly large.”

Unsurprisingly, neither of these watches are designed to be the last word in style – they’re functional devices first and foremost. However, the Vantage M’s serious bulk might be enough to put you off – it’s not the kind of device you’d want to live with day in, day out. The Forerunner 245 is still large, though, so it’s probably worth trying both on before deciding which to spend your hard earned cash on.

Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M – Ease of use

While both of these watches feature large faces with buttons protruding on each side, our testers were not keen on the Vantage M:

“I’m not a fan of the buttons around the edge of the watch for going forwards, back, up, and down. The watch face seems big enough to have incorporated some kind of touch screen, and I think this would make the day-to-day use of the watch better. I find scrolling the various menus difficult, and pressing the buttons on my wrist often pulls out some of my arm hairs!”

The Forerunner 245, though, seemed to be an easier device to live with:

garmin forerunner 245

The Garmin Forerunner 245

“It’s really easy to see everything on the screen while exercising. The screen is well backlit, and the menu uses different colors to make it easier to look at. I struggled a bit to get to grips with the menu layout at first, but once I’d worked it out, it was really simple to navigate.”

When it came to companion apps, however, Vantage M’s Polar Flow seemed to have the edge:

“I think the Polar Flow app is quite good. It's got a good breakdown of activity in an easy to view graph of daily/weekly/monthly activity. The real advantage of this app is the detail you can go into regarding your recorded training. However, it is slightly annoying that I have to actively press a button to sync the watch to the app. It's quite slow in doing so as well, but it's not a massive deal breaker.”

“I really like the Garmin Connect app because of the whole range of stats you can access. Any keen runners will definitely have a lot of fun geeking out with all it has to offer. However, purely from an ease of use point of view, it isn't quite up to scratch. The app was easy to install and fairly easy to pair with the watch, but the interface itself is not the most intuitive, especially compared to running apps like Strava.”

Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M – Battery life

Battery life for these devices is huge – after all, you don’t want to be halfway through a marathon when your sports watch dies. Garmin claims a battery life of seven days for the Forerunner 245, and 24 hours with GPS turned on. Polar, meanwhile, reckons you’ll get five days without heart rate and GPS, but 30 hours with both turned on.

So, do they live up to their claims?

The answer is yes – the Garmin gave our tester almost a full week, while the Polar managed six days. Of course, our devices are pretty much brand new, and these figures might decline over time – but they should be more than good enough for most users.

Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M – Which is the best sports watch?

As was the case with the Garmin and Fitbit earlier, it all depends on what you want.

If you are a serious runner, and we mean serious, you should get the Forerunner. Its wider range of running features will give you a few extra insights, which might help you push yourself that little bit further.

However, if you’re more of a triathlete and are looking for exceptional accuracy and metrics across a wider range of sports, we’d buy the Vantage M and put our spare $20 towards a new pair of trainers.

The Best Sport Watch Over $300

If you’re happy to spend over $300 on a wearable, it’s almost certain that you’re looking at an Apple Watch. And we understand – they’re pretty great. Unless you have an Android phone, in which case they’re useless. That’s right – in 2019, you still need an iPhone to use an Apple Watch.

So, if you have an iPhone, is there a better alternative to an Apple Watch? And, if you don’t have an iPhone, are you actually missing out by not being able to own the most popular watch in the world (according to Apple, for what that’s worth)?

We put the latest-generation of Apple Watch up against Garmin’s Forerunner 645 to find out.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Forerunner 645 – Comfort and design

You’d be forgiven for thinking this one is a certain victory for Apple. After all, everything the company makes looks great, right?

However, our testers found the Forerunner 645 to be just as alluring as the Apple Watch:

“The Forerunner 645 is one of the nicest sports watches I have seen – it actually looks more like a regular watch than a sports watch at first glance. There’s a great choice of straps, and you could easily wear it daily even if you’re not doing any activities.”

apple watch series 4

The Apple Watch Series 4

The Forerunner 645 is, genuinely, a great-looking watch. It doesn’t have the heft of other serious sports watches, with a small (but still useable) face and shiny silver bezel. All in all, it’s a classy-looking device.

The Apple Watch looks great, especially with its now slimmer bezels – but you knew that already.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Forerunner 645 – Ease of use

Your choice here comes down to one question — do you like buttons or touchscreens?

The Apple Watch has the best touchscreen display of any one wearable in this test (and possibly of any on the market).

“[The Apple Watch’s screen] is very accurate and sensitive to the touch. The scrolly wheel thing [the Digital Crown to Apple aficionados] clicks as you scroll through, making it easier to use, and it can display a huge amount of information on any watch face you choose.”

If you prefer buttons, however, you’ll like the Forerunner 645:

garmin forerunner 645

The Garmin Forerunner 645

“I like the buttons around the watch, but they do take a bit of time to get used to. I almost deleted some activities by pressing the wrong buttons. However, the screen is big enough so it is easy to read all the information you need – even while doing exercise.”

On balance, the Apple Watch’s top-drawer touchscreen probably gives it the edge over the Forerunner 645 and its penta-button set up.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Forerunner 645 – Accuracy

On our standardised 10km route, the Apple Watch recorded a distance of 10.02km – the most accurate in our test. The Forerunner 645 wasn’t far behind, though, recording 9.90km.

While our testers were using both the watches for other activities, they generally found the heart rate readings to be on the money. Like the Polar, though, we did find some issues with the Forerunner 645 in wooded areas.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Forerunner 645 – Battery life

This is one area where the Garmin pulls streets ahead of the Apple Watch.

While the Apple Watch can barely manage much more than a day of use, the Forerunner 645 can get through a week without GPS. Our testers also managed to squeeze in a good amount of exercise before having to charge the Forerunner 645 again.

We’re also not convinced that an Apple Watch would last a marathon distance, which for a sports-oriented watch at this price point is a big black mark.

Sure, having to charge your watch every night isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but it doesn’t give you a lot of wiggle room for long days and nights. And having to wear a dead watch on your wrist is a pretty pointless exercise.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Forerunner 645 – Which is the best multisport watch?

If you’re serious about exercise tracking, we’d recommend the Garmin. That extra battery life is a boon for anyone looking to really push themselves as an athlete.

If you want a watch that looks great, and is capable of very impressive sports tracking – and you have an iPhone, and maybe some Beats wireless headphones – you’ll be pleased with the Apple Watch.

But are you losing out if you don’t have an iPhone? Not in our mind. Yes, the experience might not be as completely seamless as that between the iPhone/Apple Watch – but with music storage and built-in Bluetooth connectivity, the Forerunner 645 offers a brilliant alternative.

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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.co with a range of experience in the world of tech publishing. Tom covers everything from cybersecurity, to social media and website builders when he's not reviewing the latest phones, gadgets, or occasionally even technology books.