The Best Fitness Tracker

Just keep moving

The 30-Second Review

The best fitness trackers are the ones that anyone — from a couch potato to a professional triathlete — can comfortably wear all day, every day, and actually use to get consistent, accurate statistics about their activity level. (And then, theoretically, improve their fitness based on that information.) We looked at over 70 fitness trackers, evaluating each one's sensors, software, accuracy, battery life, band comfort, and all-around usability to find our top picks.

78
Contenders
3
Top Picks
Best Overall

One of the most accurate trackers we tested, the Surge has a user-friendly interface and sensed the widest range of movement. It also has a huge social component, letting you compare stats even with people not using a Fitbit. ($250)

Best for Endurance Training

For anyone who loves getting nitty-gritty with data. ($250)

Best Basic

Mio Fuse
Simple, accurate, and completely waterproof. ($99)

A fitness tracker on your wrist can tell you your current heart rate, how many calories you’ve burned, how far you’ve walked, and even how many steps it took you to get there. Some can measure how you sleep, sync with your phone, and let you share stats with friends and rivals online. The one thing it won’t do is make you any healthier. You have to do that. But knowledge is power: Applying the information a good fitness tracker provides to make a few healthy changes — like walking a little farther each day, or using the stairs instead of an elevator — can help you reach your fitness goals faster than you would without.

Our Top Pick

Fitbit Surge Track your activity easily, accurately, and consistently.

A good fitness tracker should offer easy access to all the information you need about your daily routine — and help you make informed decisions on ways to improve that routine. It’s that simple. So to find the best fitness trackers, we looked for the ones that made it as painless as possible without sacrificing statistical accuracy. The Fitbit Surge topped our list: It performed well in our accuracy tests across multiple types of exercises and body movements, and it was easy to use straight out of the box, with a just large-enough built-in display. It costs a not-cheap $250, but we think it’s worth it.

If you’re an endurance athlete looking to take your training to the next level — or a data nerd who loves to get dirty with stats — our runner-up, the Garmin Vivoactive HR (also $250), is your best choice. From heart-rate tracking to elevation changes, to all-day activity monitoring, the sheer volume of accurate data it pumps out will give you the most to work with to better your training, especially for activities like running and biking.

If you’re worried about information overload (or you plan on going swimming with your tracker) try the Mio Fuse, our budget pick. At $99, it’s the cheapest option of all our top picks — and the most basic — but it’s still accurate, dead simple to use, and completely waterproof.

Group photo of Best Fitness Trackers

From left: Garmin Vivoactive HR, ASUS VivoWatch, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band 2, Xiaomi 1S Band, Polar A360, and Mio Fuse

Our Picks for the Best Fitness Tracker

Best Overall

Fitbit Surge Accurate and comfortable, the Fitbit Surge is also extremely easy to use.

The Surge was one of the most accurate fitness trackers we tested, and at $250 was about average in price for high-end fitness trackers. Using its GPS-tracking feature, it measured the actual distance our testers traveled the best, tied for second in heart rate monitor accuracy, and ranked fourth overall in our step-counting test, behind our other two top picks.

That fourth-place step counting finish doesn’t sound so good, does it? It consistently undercounted our steps by about 10 to 15 paces from what our testers actually walked during each 100-step test. But honestly, we didn’t mind so much: It’s not a significant deviance from the exact number, and if anything, you’ll know you always walked a little extra to reach your goals. The Surge is also decent-looking and comfortable to wear, feeling more like a normal watch than a small computer strapped to your wrist. Our testers had no reservations or complaints about wearing it all day, and the battery lasted about seven days before needing to be recharged.

Close-up of Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker

Fitbit is almost synonymous with the term fitness tracker at this point, but it turns out that it has that reputation for a reason. Fitbit’s software, especially its mobile app, was by far the best of any of the trackers we tested. It doesn’t gather quite as much different types of data as our other top pick, the Garmin Vivoactive HR, but Fitbit’s software does a much better job organizing that information. We were impressed by the common-sense, clean workout interface, and the Fitbit app is well-organized and inviting, analyzing and displaying information in digestible, usable ways. It was by far the easiest and most intuitive interface to get to know.

Screenshots of Fitbit app for Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker

Fitbit’s app offers easy-to-read stats as well as challenges if you and your friends want to get competitive.

The selectable watch faces were also easy to navigate. You can choose from a number of workouts on the tracker itself; get text notifications; and easily check steps, mileage, and heart rate. All of our other finalists could perform these tasks, but the Fitbit’s interface was the most straightforward for each function. For example, one of the Fitbit’s watch face options (called “Flare”), elegantly shows your activity over an hour. Parts of the hour in which you’ve had a higher heart rate will display higher on the interface — a cool feature that allows you to keep tabs on your hourly activity without much effort, and isn’t available through any other fitness tracker.

Close-up of watch face on Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker

Spokes on the Surge’s watch face radiate outward as you move during each hour. Longer spokes denote higher levels of movement. In the example above, the spokes highlight a bevy of activity starting just before 1:15.

The Surge has both the basic and the bonus features you’d want: It has a dependable Bluetooth sync and an iOS/Android app that incorporates features like real-time calorie tracking, and it allows you to track various categories of exercise, from weightlifting to biking. Its accelerometer and heart rate monitor automatically account for increased activity from actions like housework or gardening, too, and credit those activities toward your fitness goals. Another bonus: You can receive and read text messages directly on the device.

Robust social features let you form groups with friends who use fitness trackers (Fitbit or not) to keep track of consecutive days of workouts, and mileage, among other metrics. It’s more than fun: Academic studies have shown that social pressure is a great way to keep yourself accountable for working out. The Surge will also send you push notifications or emails of its “badges” — an ever-growing list of fitness goals that the device will help you track. Don’t get too excited about those badges. Dr. Rubenstein is “skeptical of many of these apps whose makers claim that they’re going to make a difference in your lack of desire and willpower and discipline. I don’t like anything that presumes to motivate people and change their health habits.” Still, it’s a feature unique to Fitbit’s platform that provides positive reinforcement — which can’t hurt.

Best for Endurance Training

Garmin Vivoactive HR A comfortable, sleek design that delivers a massive amount of fitness stats.

Garmin is another brand leader in the fitness tracker industry, and the Vivoactive HR demonstrates why. Our tests found it to be highly accurate, coming in second in all three of our accuracy tests.

The app is great at showing the nitty-gritty — granular details that highly motivated, dedicated athletes will crave. If you want to analyze what parts of a run made your heart race, you can; the app automatically generates “heart rate over time” charts for each of your workouts. If you want to map your run, Garmin can do that, too, using dedicated software. Not even the Fitbit Surge can do that. Garmin also lets you export your workouts to a third-party app for further deep-dive analysis.

Close-up of Garmin Vivoactive HR Fitness Tracker

But all that customizability means the typical user interested mostly in general health and the effectiveness of their workouts will probably find the Vivoactive HR as confusing as we initially did.

The app isn’t the most intuitive: It easily told us how many steps we had walked over the course of a week, but we struggled to find data on one specific spin workout that we were looking for — turns out, it had already been aggregated into the “cycling page,” and we couldn’t find out how to isolate the workout from the rest of that category from the same week. We had to call a friendly customer service rep for help to make it work.

The Vivoactive HR’s interactivity with our iPhones was a bit overwhelming, too: It displayed push notifications from all of one of our tester’s iPhone apps, including Gmail, ESPN, and The New York Times. To change the settings, we had to remove the offending apps one by one. The Fitbit Surge’s lone text message notifications were a minimal blessing by comparison.

UI Close-up of Garmin Vivoactive HR Fitness Tracker

Over time, the Vivoactive would likely become intuitive and useful, but all our testers agreed it’s a little hard to get a handle on at first.

Like the Fitbit Surge, the Vivoactive HR also offers social features, but only with fellow Garmin owners. That might make for a lonely rivalry unless you can convince your friends to join the Garmin family.

The Vivoactive HR won serious bonus points with testers for being extremely comfortable, lightweight (1.67 oz to the Surge’s 1.8 oz), and smart-looking. It has a well-lit, colorful touch display, and the breathable, slip-proof band was the best of any we tried. No matter how much we jostled, it never slipped — it’s a great feature for serious runners or bikers who exercise in all weather. And the battery lasted a full eight days on a single charge (as long as the power-sucking GPS tracking is disabled).

Best Budget Option

Mio Fuse Simple, effective, and pretty cheap.

The Mio’s simplicity, $99 price tag, and accuracy put it in striking distance of our top two contenders. It can count your steps and monitor your heart rate accurately — and that’s it. But that’s all many need to keep an eye on base levels of activity. If you’re not training for marathons or regularly biking centuries, you might not need GPS tracking, calorie counting, or social media integration. That’s why the Mio Fuse cruises easily into the budget pick slot — it doesn’t have the same breadth of features that the Fitbit and Garmin do, but the features it does have work exceedingly well for less than half the price.

Close-up of Mio Fuse Fitness Tracker

The Mio Fuse was the most accurate tracker we tested in the two data-collection areas it could compete in: step counting and heart-rate monitoring. (There’s no onboard GPS sensor, so it’s automatically disqualified there.) The only feature unique to the Mio Fuse when compared to the rest of our top finalists is that it’s 100 percent waterproof to 30 meters, making it the perfect pick for swimmers, surfers, or rowers. Just be sure to put it into “workout mode” first, so the right motion sensors in the device will actually pick up your activity. The regular step counter won’t work if you’re not actually walking.

UI Close-up of Mio Fuse Fitness Tracker

There’s no touchscreen (which helped the battery last seven days on a charge), and a no-frills app just counts steps over weeks or days and tabulates average heart rates over given time ranges. But if you already have good exercise habits and just want to make small tweaks, or if you simply want to keep tabs on your baseline level of daily activity, the Mio is hard to beat.

Did You Know?

Fitness trackers collect their data from four main types of sensors.

Pedometers, or step counters, track how many steps you’ve taken each day, and are pretty common. Different sensors like gyroscopes, accelerometers, and pendulums are all commonly used to accomplish the same task: counting how many steps you take.

Accelerometers measure changes in motion — they determine whether you’ve started or stopped moving. All accelerometers measure on two axes: back and forth and side to side. Some have a third axis that measures up and down movement, too, which is helpful for weightlifters who need fitness trackers to count vertical motion.

Heart rate monitors are a fairly recent addition to fitness trackers, but allow you to keep tabs on your level of exertion throughout the day.

GPS sensors, which come in only the most expensive fitness trackers, track distance traveled without relying on a pedometer or accelerometer. The tracker constantly triangulates your position with satellites instead. It’s great for sports like running, biking, and hiking, where a normal pedometer might be less accurate.

Our top picks have all of these sensors, except the Mio Fuse, which lacks GPS-tracking capabilities (but costs less than half the amount of the other two on account of it).

But each brands' sensors are, essentially, all the same.

Fitness trackers are marketed specifically to different niche user groups, such as swimmers, runners, and dieters. But, really, they all do the same thing: track your movement. They all use the same base-level sensor technology listed above (Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike all get their sensors from the same company, for example). Some just do it more accurately than others, are more user-friendly, and look a little cooler while doing it.

The main difference between any two fitness trackers, besides how they look and feel on your wrist, lies in the proprietary algorithms each trackers’ software uses to interpret the raw data the sensors pick up. That’s why getting our hands on the top contenders and seeing how they actually performed in the field was so important.

Fitbit is in trouble over its heart rate monitors

Fitbit is currently being sued because, as plaintiffs claim, its heart rate monitors aren’t accurate. The plaintiffs aren’t exactly wrong: As our tests showed, the Fitbit heart rate monitor was off by more than two beats per minute — but none of the top contenders were totally accurate.

One could argue the disgruntled plaintiffs are missing the point: No company’s fitness trackers’ heart rate monitors are going to be 100 percent accurate, ever. Optical heart rate monitors are not nearly as accurate as chest straps, and even commercial chest straps aren’t as accurate as what you’d find in a hospital or a professional sports training facility. Monitoring systems that maintain that level of accuracy and still fit into something the size of a watch would be prohibitively expensive. Just take your heart rate readings with a grain of salt — and if you require a system that is perfectly accurate, you’ll be better of talking with a doctor.

The Bottom Line

The best fitness trackers will allow you to accurately keep tabs on your daily activity — whether that’s walking around the house or biking 100 miles. They’re great tools to get a sense of the overall trends in your health and workout regimen over time, but remember: any real changes in your level of fitness will come from your own actions.

Take Action

Best Overall

Fitbit Surge Track your activity easily, accurately, and consistently.

Tabulate your own data. The data you collect from a fitness tracker is most useful if you have a large store of it. Try jotting it down daily or weekly before deleting it. You’ll be more able to identify trends over the long term if you can look back over time and do your own analysis.

Find an exercise you like and stick with it — or switch it up when you get bored. A full one-third of people who buy fitness trackers stop using them within six months, and that number increases to half over the life of the device. A fitness tracker won’t encourage activity or a healthy lifestyle if you can’t find exercise you enjoy to go with it.

Just breathe. It’s interesting that despite the amount of focus fitness trackers place on heart rate, it’s an autonomic response largely beyond your control. Intense exercise can raise it, but it’s important to remember to focus on lowering it, too. Long, measured, and deep breaths can actually help lower your heart rate and drop stress levels on the cool down — which, in turn, helps cut down on injury and speeds recovery.

Wearable devices enable you to make changes, but they don’t cause them. The Journal of American Medicine concludes: “The gap between recording information and changing behavior is substantial, however, and while these devices are increasing in popularity, little evidence suggests that they are bridging that gap.” All this just confirms that you are the biggest factor in improving your level of fitness — not what’s on your wrist.