Should You Buy a Smartwatch or a Fitness Tracker?
WEARABLES

Should You Buy a Smartwatch or a Fitness Tracker?

By YourCareEverywhere @YourCareE
 | 
December 23, 2015

Cost, usability, and your needs are going to be important factors in your decision.

While fitness bands and trackers are designed explicitly for catching your fitness data, smartwatches do everything, usually performing functions like connecting to a smartphone and displaying notifications, alerts, and text messages; fielding phone calls; browsing the internet; and playing music, videos, and games. Some have better health and fitness tracking mechanism than others.

As a consumer, you need to decide if the price of a smartwatch versus a relatively cheaper fitness trackers is worth it. Watch wearers might opt for the smartwatch, and there are some nifty models on the market, while serious (or not-so-serious) exercisers might want to go for fitness trackers that don’t come with all the bells and whistles of a smartwatch, especially if you don’t want to be bothered by Twitter notifications or text messages during your workout (and some fitness trackers will tell you the time, if that something that matters to you).

Always keep in mind: Smartphone technology is pretty advanced, but the wearable market is “in the stone ages.”

RELATED TOPIC: Best Fitness Trackers for Your Budget

Smartwatches

If you’re going this route, you can look at models that fit iOS or Android Wear, or gadget makers who go outside the traditional smartphone world with their own operating systems. Always keep in mind that whatever you buy today is pretty much obsolete the moment you open the box, but if you have to go there here are a few options.

Apple Watch

If you buy the Apple Watch, you’re going for a cool factor over more workman-like products, such as Android Wear, Pebble, and other smartwatches. (More on those later.) Stylish but pricy, it does a decent job of tracking your fitness, but it’s not the best of the bunch.

First, some of the bad. For starters, you’re going to get a day out of the battery, at best; if you use the fitness functionality a lot, you can burn down the battery in about three hours. Other models out there have much better battery life, some lasting weeks (they’re makers claim). It’s water-resistant but not waterproof, so you can wear it in the shower but swimming isn’t the brightest idea. It doesn’t have a sleep tracker. And there’s no intuitive way to review past workouts, although you can see a basic graph showing when you were active or inactive during your day.

What’s cool about the Watch is it automatically detects that you are exercising and calculates your calorie burn. That’s fine if you’re not serious about fitness. But if you are, you can turn on the Workout app and measure pace and distance. One drawback is you have to manually start recording your exercise with Workout; it would work better if the device recorded your workout automatically. Unlike some other models, the Watch doesn’t have a built-in time interval feature that tells when it’s time to slow down or pick up your pace. You’ll need a third-party app for that. You’ll also need to bring your phone on your run so notifications will work. For now. Apple says third-party apps will gain access to the watch sensors soon.

Garmin Vivoactive

Vivoactive combines the best of three worlds — smartwatch, activity tracker, and sport watch. It not only tracks the pace and distance of your run, walk, swim, or golf game, but also alerts you on the track, fairway, or in the pool when you’ve got an incoming work call or email. If that call or email summons you into the office, the thin, lightweight design will tuck neatly under your suit jacket and double as a wristwatch. The Vivoactive can’t measure heart rate, but you can pair it up with an optional chest strap (for an additional cost) if you need that functionality. All of your data automatically uploads to your smartphone, where you can access it via the Garmin Connect app. You’ll get about 10 hours of battery life in GPS mode — better than most of its competitors. Yet you need to keep an eye on remaining battery life because the watch won’t warn you when it’s almost dead, and it could conk out on you in the middle of a run or swim.

Samsung Gear S2

A little less pricy than the Apple Watch, a little more pricy than Pebble Time, the Gear S2 is Samsung’s best attempt at a smartwatch for fitness yet. One of the reasons is it works with most Android phones. The battery life, about three days, is better than most smartwatches. And it appears to offer more as a fitness tracker than Android Wear or Pebble watches.

While it does not have GPS (more on why that’s significant soon), it does have Bluetooth and WiFi, which helps you receive messages if you want to exercise without your phone (and WiFi is in range). The 1.2-inch screen is bright and sharp. Gear S2 automatically tracks walking, running, and cycling. Nike+ comes installed on the watch. It can check your heart rate periodically or continuously, depending on your choice. The step counter is accurate. S Health, Samsung’s activity tracking app, shows your goal progress on your phone, running all the time or not; your preference. With the tap of the finger you can track a glass of water or cup of coffee. The watch will even pester you if you’ve been sitting too long.

One major drawback is Tizen, Samsung’s platform. It’s doubtful developers will make a lot of apps if they’re already spending time and money developing them for Android and iOS. Samsung does, however, offer an app for your Android phone so you can test drive the watch before you drop some serious coin on it.

Fitness trackers

For most people, the price of a fitness tracker will at least be a factor in their decision. You can spend as little as $30 (and get what you pay for), or more than $300 (you’re entering smartwatch price range here), which may be overkill. It just depends on how many bells and whistles you want, and your comfort level with technology.

Some other important considerations are the look of the tracker, compatibility with your other devices, battery life, connectivity (GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi), and whether it’s water resistant or waterproof. If you are specifically looking for support in your dieting goals, you’ll want to make sure that the associated app provides the kind of tracking and data that will keep you motivated. If you’re already using fitness apps, you’ll want to make sure the device is compatible.

Jawbone UP2

The newest version of the Jawbone UP2 is a simple activity tracker. It doesn’t track your heart rate, and it doesn’t have a display, but what it lacks in on-board technology, it makes up for in its robust app, which features “smart coaching” to keep you motivated. The more you wear the band, the more it “learns” about you, enabling the smart coach to provide increasingly personalized advice to keep you on track in meeting your weight and fitness goals.

The device itself is small and light with a nifty design. It looks like a piece of jewelry. You’ll need to have your phone constantly handy to see your progress and check in with your coach. If you are a runner or cyclist you’ll need to have your phone anyway to track distance and pace. Fortunately, Jawbone syncs with a ton of third-party apps. It’s not waterproof, though, so swimmers should look elsewhere.

In addition to activity tracking, the app offers mood, food, and drink tracking. Again, if you prefer a more robust calorie tracking app, Jawbone syncs with many. You can also customize your goals, set alerts to get up and move, join communities, and challenge friends.

The device does vibrate to get your attention. You then need to look at your phone to get the message. The device syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth Smart and has a battery life of about 7 days. The app is available for both Android and iOS. 

Mio Fuse

The Mio Fuse has an optical heart-rate monitor and is advertised as being for people who are on the sporty end of the exercise spectrum. The thing that makes this activity tracker unique is your choice of programming in three or five heart-rate levels indicated by different colors of the display. It also gives you a little buzz on your wrist as you move from one heart-rate zone to another, so if the device is covered by your sleeve you can still get a general idea of what training zone you’re in.

Like Garmin’s Vivosmart, the Fuse has a separate function for tracking your heart rate and pace during your workout. And the heart-rate monitor will work with an app like Strava, for example, when you go for a run or a ride.

The Fuse also does all of the usual functions, tracking your daily steps, calories, distance, pace, time, and progress toward your goals, which you can view in the Mio GO app. The app can be customized to adjust the target heart-rate zones, and you can make other adjustments for how the device displays data from within the app. It also plays well with others, supporting a wide range of other fitness- and calorie-tracking apps.

The Fuse is also fully waterproof, making it a good choice for swimmers. The battery life is about seven days. It’s compatible with Android and iOS phones and tablets, syncing via Bluetooth Smart or ANT+, but you can’t download the app to your computer.

Moov Smart Multi-Sport Fitness Coach & Tracker

Moov doesn’t just track your workouts – it also acts as a wearable trainer, offering real-time feedback to help you improve your performance. Three sensors in the band record your motion, and use those measurements to give you continuous advice, both through a talking voice and live charts on the app. Just like a human trainer, Moov will tell you if your form is poor or your stride is too short, and then give you tips to improve your performance and prevent injuries. It also offers progressively harder workouts so you don’t get stuck in a fitness rut. Moov has apps for running, fitness walking, swimming, cycling, cardio boxing, and the 7-minute workout. Its battery is relatively dependable, lasting for about two weeks without a recharge (assuming your routine involves an hour-long workout four days a week). 

Updated:

December 23, 2015

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