Best fitness tracker 2021: track your health stats on your wrist

The best fitness trackers and fitness bands have all the perks: built-in heart rate sensor, GPS, fancy apps and more

The best fitness tracker can help you get and stay in shape, motivate you to exercise and keep track of your body metrics
(Image credit: Fitbit)

What is the best fitness tracker? It's certainly more than just a cheap fitness band and a good place to start if you're thinking about investing in your health. Nowadays, the best fitness trackers are capable wearables with built-in optical heart rate sensors and GPS, plus great companion apps where you can keep tabs on your health stats.

Better still, even the best fitness trackers cost less than a running watch, not to mention a smartwatch. For example, the best fitness band on our fitness tracker guide, the Fitbit Charge 4, costs quarter as much as an Apple Watch 6, yet it has built-in GPS, an optical heart rate sensor, tracks steps, sleep and exercises automatically, to mention a few key features.

After many years of doing very little beyond counting steps, makers of trackers and bands now realise that many consumers want more useful feedback on how fit they are and how to get fitter. They are addressing this with – it must be said – varying degrees of success.

To cut a long story short, if you're seriously interested in fitness, you might be better off getting a multisport watch such as the Garmin Forerunner 745, or the Suunto 7, as these smartwatches are useful when cycling, hiking, at the gym and even, in a few cases, swimming. For everyday health and fitness tracking, fitness trackers will do just fine.

Most people will prefer to get the Fitbit, and if you want to get the best Fitbit tracker, we recommend getting the aforementioned Fitbit Charge 4. If you want something more smartwatch-like, the Fitbit Versa 3 is a great option. For the best deals on fitness wearables, check out our best Fitbit deals and best Garmin watch deals roundups: prices there are always up to date (and cheap).

The best fitness trackers, in order of preference

The Fitbit Charge 4 is T3's top choice for best fitness trackersT3 Awards 2021 winner badge

(Image credit: Fitbit)

1. Fitbit Charge 4

The best fitness tracker

Battery life: 7 days
Wrist heart rate: Yes
GPS: Yes, built-in
Reasons to buy
+GPS and Active Zone Minutes give it a more serious air than previous Fitbits+Excellent app+Good for multiple sports+Decent heart-rate tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Mildly annoying capacitive 'button'

The Fitbit Charge 4 is the best fitness tracker you can buy and a big step forward for Fitbit. Admittedly that step forward feels a little late, as it's only now adding features that users have begged for, for years and which Garmin has also offered in its fitness trackers for years. But then, God keeps a special place in Heaven for late converts to the path of righteousness. So thank you, Fitbit.

Most significantly, Fitbit Charge 4 includes GPS for tracking runs, rides, hikes and egg-and-spoon races. And second most significantly, there is a new system for tracking intense exercise, which sits alongside the usual Fitbit fare of counting your steps. 

The GPS can take a while to acquire a satellite lock – although to be fair I do usually start running in something of a GPS blackspot – but once it's in business the accuracy of it is very good. It's up there with expensive Garmin watches, in fact.

The heart rate tracking is also not bad, once you figure out the best place to wear it – usually this seems to be just a little further up the arm than you'd expect, in my case. It's certainly good enough for running although if you want to start doing push-ups and pull-ups, it really struggles to keep reading your pulse reliably. This is true of all wrist heart rate trackers but the Charge 4 seems to struggle more than most, and I can only assume that's just down to it being physically smaller and narrower.

The Active Zone Minutes feature gives you a daily and weekly score for activity above and beyond going for a walk. This is exclusive to the Charge 4, which is a little surprising. Other devices continue to use the ostensibly similar but actually somewhat more primitive 'activity minutes'. 

Also exclusive to the Charge 4 is that it will automatically choose your heart rate zones for you, based on your age and what it perceives as  your fitness level. This should become more accurate, the longer you use the Charge 4. 

With your heart rate zones established, Active Zone Minutes works quite well. It scores you one point for every minute spent in the 'fat burn' zone and two points for every minute in the more intense 'cardio' and 'peak' zones. So the longer and harder you workout, the more points you earn. 

This also means you can go for a leisurely walk that lasts for 17 hours and you will, in all likelihood, earn ZERO Active Zone Minutes points. Although of course you will tot up lots of steps, as the Charge 4 has not ditched more gentle metrics such as steps, calories burned and estimated distance travelled. 

Personally, I find Active Zone Minutes far more useful. Yes, it is pretty much exactly the same system that Garmin has used for years, but Fitbit's devices and app are just more enjoyable to use than Garmin's. And imitation is flattery, right? 

If you're into sleep tracking, the Charge 4 is also very well endowed with features. An overall 'sleep score' attempts to rate your night's efforts at dozing, and those with a Fitbit Premium account can see a detailed breakdown of how long they spent in the various stages of slumber, from light to deep to REM to, er, awake. So that's nice. (If that's your priority, allow us to direct you to our best sleep tracker guide for some more options.)

Perhaps more useful is a blood oxygen tracking feature that could alert you to health issues such as sleep apnoea. The Charge 4 is not a medical device so it won't literally 'alert' you via any messaging. However, if you look at your nightly blood OX graph and note wild variations in its level, this could mean it's time to see the doctor.

Not everything about Fitbit's attempt to marry its new, more serious approach to it's long-standing quest to count all of the world's steps works. And serious runners and cyclists are still better off with a more serious watch, probably from Garmin. There are however a lot of people in the middle of the step-counting audience and the marathon-running one, and Charge 4 caters for them very well, at a more than reasonable price.

And that is why the Charge 4 has scooped the 'Best Fitness Tracker' prize at the T3 Awards 2021.

The Fitbit Versa 3 is the best fitness tracker/smartwatch hybridT3 Award

(Image credit: Fitbit)

2. Fitbit Versa 3

The best fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid

Battery life: 6+ days
Wrist heart-rate: Yes
GPS: Yes, built-in
Reasons to buy
+Excellent app+Choose from two voice assistants+Active Zone Minutes+SpO2 sensor
Reasons to avoid
-There is a tiny bit of screen lag-'Inductive' button is not perfect by any means-Heart rate and GPS accuracy could be improved still

The Fitbit Versa 3 is a very enjoyable fitness smartwatch. It offers more functionality and better looks than most fitness trackers, but it’s maybe not quite as smart and precise as the Apple Watch Series 5. That comparison might not be fair, though, as the Fitbit Versa 3 offers great functionality for much less than the Apple Watch 5.

The Versa 3 is a well-rounded offer from Fitbit and comes with built-in GPS, an in-app workout intensity map, PurePulse 2.0 optical heart rate sensor, and the Active Zone Minutes feature to monitor your fitness activities, even when you're not actively logging workouts. The heart rate sensor and built-in GPS could be more accurate, but they are more than adequate for everyday sports activities.

The Fitbit Versa 3 also has a built-in speaker and microphone to take quick phone calls, send calls to voicemail and adjust call volume straight from the wrist – although you will look like a ‘special’ agent if you know what I mean.

Considering the asking price, the Fitbit Versa 3 is definitely a great buy. Should you find one for a discounted price  – which will inevitably happen sooner or later – we recommend getting one, even if you already have a Versa 2.

The Garmin Venu 2 is the best premium fitness trackerT3 Award

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Venu 2

The best premium fitness tracker

Battery life: up to 6 days
Wrist hear rate: Yes
GPS: Yes, built-in
Reasons to buy
+Great battery life+Large AMOLED screen+New Elevate sensor seems to work well+Touch controls work seamlessly
Reasons to avoid
-Muscle Map feature is not super useful-You're supposed to wear it 24/7 for the algorithm to work accurately-Comparatively expensive

The AMOLED screen of the Garmin Venu 2 really brings the widget view of the Garmin OS to life, including the animations when you hit new milestones such as your daily step goals. I'm usually not the biggest fan of touchscreen wearables, but I'll make an exception for the Venu 2 as it works really well here.

Not all new features are mind-blowing, but some of them are pretty interesting, especially considering that these extra features were added on top of the existing one found in other Garmin wearables, of which there were plenty already. You really can't complain about getting more bang for your bucks.

Speaking of price: the Garmin Venu 2 is not a particularly cheap tracker/smartwatch, although it's way cheaper than some other smartwatches that are less capable than the Venu 2.

If you aren't keen on having a dedicated sports wearable wrapped around your wrist and appreciate a good looking smartwatch that has actually useful health and fitness features, you'd be silly not to give the Garmin Venu 2 a go. From now on, it'll be my preferred fitness smartwatch for sure.

The Garmin Venu Sq is a cheap yet versatile fitness trackerT3 Award

(Image credit: Garmin)

4. Garmin Venu Sq

Cheap Garmin fitness tracker for the win

Battery life: up to 6 days
Wrist hear rate: Yes
GPS: Yes, built-in
Reasons to buy
+Built-in GPS and optical heart rate sensor+'Liquid crystal' display with optional always-on mode+Good GPS battery life (14 hours)
Reasons to avoid
-Display in comparatively small

The Garmin Venu Sq is a decent fitness smartwatch, especially considering the asking price. Some corners have been cut to keep the price down, but nothing really spoils the experience all that much.

The "liquid crystal" display is a bit on the small side, but at least it's responsive and bright. The sensors are precise and use Garmin's algorithm that's proven to give accurate readings, especially during high-heart rate exercise sessions. The interface of the Garmin Venu Sq will be familiar to people who used Garmin watches before, but even if you didn't, you could rest assured you won't get lost in obscure menus.

Would we recommend the Garmin Venu Sq over other fitness smartwatches such as the Fitbit Versa 3? We would, especially for active people who don't require the oversimplified, gamified health system of Fitbit and a watch that tracks a variety of health metrics in an Apple Watch-like body.

The price might not be much lower than the asking price for the Versa 3, but it's still somewhat cheaper, which might make the difference to some people. Regardless of the lower price, the Venu Sq has many premium features such as built-in GPS, blood oxygen/stress monitoring and sleep tracking. And measures it all with relative accuracy too.

The Huawei Band 6 is a brilliant fitness tracker with a handsome displayT3 Award

(Image credit: Huawei)

5. Huawei Band 6

Not too shabby!

Battery life: up to two weeks
Wrist heart rate: Yes
GPS: Yes, connected
Reasons to buy
+Funky watch faces+Beautiful AMOLED display+Long battery life+Plenty of health and wellness features on board
Reasons to avoid
-Only connected GPS

Probably the best thing about the Huawei Band 6 is that it doesn't try to be a running watch or a smartwatch. Instead, the Huawei Band 6 does its best to be the best fitness tracker, and as a result, it ends up being one. Sure, it's slimmer and more band-like than full-blown multisport watches, but when compared to other fitness trackers, its best features really set the Band 6 apart from the competition.

First and foremost, we must talk about that '148% bigger' 1.47" FullView AMOLED screen, which might sound huge at first, but it really isn't that big. That said, it's bigger than those narrow slits of displays cheap fitness trackers have, and it's not just bigger but also looks brighter and more featureful than standard fitness band displays. There are plenty of funky watch faces to choose from that further emphasises the band's colour and brightness: our favourite was the one featuring the weird-looking cat with a duck on its head. Perfect.

But the Huawei Band 6 has way more to offer than just a bright screen. It can track heart rate 24/7, just like big-league smartwatches, with relative accuracy thanks to its TruSeen 4.0 heart rate monitoring technology that "uses an optical lens and AI-based data processing" to provide more accurate readings. The HR readings are certainly not as all over the place, but wearing the Band 6 correctly is essential in getting those readings right. And even so, since this is wrist wearable, it might not be super accurate anyway. It seems more than adequate for tracking heart rate when resting (a.k.a. not working out), though.

As well as that, the Band 6 is also capable of 'all-day' SpO2 monitoring. The whole idea of blood oxygen monitoring is a bit puzzling as we don't think many people have issues with it (at least we hope so), but having this as an extra feature onboard is definitely not a problem.

Other sensor-based features include TruSleep 2.0 Sleep Tracking: sleep tracking on the Huawei Band 6 seems accurate enough, not to mention the robust sleep analysis section in the Huawei Health app. TruSleep can even give you customised sleep reports, as long as you wear the band for sleeping more than twice a week.

Battery life is pretty good, although not mind-blowing. The lack of onboard GPS helps battery longevity; this task is delegated to the smartphone, which you're supposed to carry around with you if you want the Band 6 to draw a map of your runs after your sessions in the Huawei Health app. Even without the phone, the Band 6 can track distance travelled and with relative accuracy, to our surprise. We wore it for a run with the Polar Vantage M2, and the Band 6's split reminders weren't far off. 

Talking about running: the Huawei Band 6 has 96 workout modes, can estimate VO2 max, suggest recovery time and give you performance stats/training effect estimations, which really isn't too bad from a fitness tracker. The Band 6 didn't show any big swings in either heart rate or pace readings during our test runs, which is really all we can ask for from a fitness band.

In conclusion, the Huawei Band 6 is an amazing fitness band, especially considering the price. For many casual athletes, the Band 6 will provide more than enough functionality with great accuracy. Mid-range fitness trackers don't get much better than this. 

The NURVV Run is a smart running insole with built-in GPS for a different fitness tracker experienceT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: NURVV)

6. NURVV Run Insoles

Smart running insoles with built-in GPS

Battery life: up to 5 hours
Wrist heart rate: N/A
GPS: Built-in
Reasons to buy
+Provides excellent running metrics+Footstrike Coach is very useful if you suffer from over- or under pronation+Built-in GPS+Doubles up as a fitness tracker
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Physical hardware is a bit fiddly to operate

The NURVV Run insoles are a different kind of fitness tracker than your average wrist wearable. I would mainly recommend it to runners – it's a running insole, after all – as they can provide some exciting new metrics for runners, things they could only check before by attending a running gait analysis session. The NURVV Run sensors make these data sets available for every run, every day and not only that, but they also measure and score this information, making it easier to understand.

This data doesn't come cheap, though: you have to pay roughly as much for the insoles as for a Garmin Forerunner 245, and for some, a Garmin watch is still a more reliable source of data. But thanks to the constant app updates, the NURVV run is getting there, and soon, runners will need to seriously consider whether they should get the NURVV or a running watch. Not to mention, you can already connect a heart rate monitor to the NURVV pods and feed heart rate data straight into the NURVV App, the combination of the two effectively replacing a running watch.

Not just that but even in itself, the NURVV Run system can provide data no running watch will ever will (possibly), such as pronation and footstrike, and recommend ways to improve them, should you want to. That said, much like in the case of other fitness wearables, all the data presented to athletes should be taken as a recommendation at best as opposed to gospel. If the app recommends running more, but you don't feel like you want to, you definitely shouldn't.

The hardware could be more refined, especially the pods/cradle system, as the current iteration seems quite fragile. Thankfully, NURVV is very hands-on with all this, and customer reps are happy to help if you have any issues with the hardware or the software.

The Polar Ignite is an adaptive trainer with great accuracyT3 Award

(Image credit: Polar)

7. Polar Ignite

Adaptive trainer with great accuracy

Battery life: up to 5 days
Wrist heart rate: Yes
GPS: Built-in
Reasons to buy
+Integrated GPS+Useful sleep and training insights
Reasons to avoid
-No NFC or music storage-Feel a bit too plasticky

The Polar Ignite is a great fitness tracker, mainly aimed at runners, but it can track a million other fitness activities like backcountry skiing and fitness dancing. As well as tracking your activities, it can also monitor sleep and keep an eye out on your heart rate throughout the day too.

Thanks to the built-in GPS, there is no need to carry the phone with you when you go out for an outdoor run. Recording an exercise is as easy as pressing the button on the side and tapping the icon of the desired activity; it shouldn't take you longer than two seconds to start working out.

Wrist-based HR trackers aren't the most precise, but the Polar Ignite does a good job to give you an estimate based on your fitness levels, age, sex, etc. It can also measure VO2 Max with the 'Fitness Test' feature.

The metrics monitored by the Polar Ignite are more than enough for most serious amateurs, people this fitness watch was designed for. Not only it gives you stats after the exercise has been finished on the watch face, once synchronised with the Polar Flow app, but you can also analyse your training in even more depth.

You can also track your sleep with the Polar Ignite. The only issue is – and this is something all fitness trackers have in common – is that wearing a tracker 'snugly' is not comfortable in the long run.

The Polar Ignite is by no means the cheapest tracker on this list, but given the range of features, it's a worthwhile investment.

The Fitbit Inspire 2 is a dainty fitness tracker with long battery lifeT3 Award

(Image credit: Fitbit)

8. Fitbit Inspire 2

Dainty fitness tracker with long battery life

Battery life: up to 10 days
Heart-rate monitoring: Yes
GPS: Connected
Reasons to buy
+Long battery life+Free 1-year Fitbit Premium membership included+Active Zone Minutes+Sleep tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Does lack some more advanced features-No GPS

The Fitbit Inspire 2 was announced simultaneously as the Fitbit Sense and the Fitbit Versa 3 and got little attention, although it deserves more. This cheap fitness tracker not only has an optical heart rate sensor but also comes fully equipped with features such as the Fitbit Active Zone Minutes and SmartTrack.

Plus, included in the price is a 1-year Fitbit Premium membership, which would cost more than the fitness tracker itself. You can look at the Inspire 2 as a free fitness tracker when you subscribe to Fitbit Premium. A free fitness tracker with an OLED screen that is.

The Fitbit Inspire 2 has great battery life too: it can go for 'up to' 10 days in between charges, and since it uses connected GPS, tracking activities outdoors won't drain the battery more either (you will need to carry the phone with you, though). And of course, the Inspire 2 makes full use of the excellent Fitbit App: in the app, you can set up goals, check sleep stats and more.

The Withings ScanWatch is the best hybrid watch fitness trackers with ECGT3 Award

(Image credit: Withings)

9. Withings ScanWatch

The best hybrid watch fitness trackers with ECG

Battery life: 30 days
Heart-rate monitoring: Yes
GPS: Connected
Reasons to buy
+Premium feel+Multi-wavelength PPG sensor (heart rate/SpO2 sensor/breathing disturbances)+Sapphire glass lens+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Automatic activity and sleep detection is a bit off-Sensor accuracy could be improved

The ECG and sleep disturbance sensors on the Withings ScanWatch are accurate enough to receive the CE marking in the EU, so one can hope they are actually exact. The ECG readings can be exported as a PDF and sent over to doctors, too, if needed.

The ScanWatch can rate your sleep through the Health Mate app and give you a Sleep Score, just like how the new Fitbit Sense can provide you with a Stress Score. Both devices essentially gamify health and hopefully make complicated health metrics more digestible to everyday users.

The Withings ScanWatch is not perfect: on a couple of occasions, the automatic activity detection mistook driving a car as cycling and sitting on the sofa as sleeping. We assume as more people will feed data into the algorithm by wearing the watch and correcting these mistakes manually, the more precise the system will get eventually.

If you dislike the modern look of the Fitbit Sense and prefer a smartwatch with a more timeless design wrapped around your wrist, the Withings ScanWatch might be the perfect choice for you, even if you haven't got any heart or sleep issues.

The Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 is the best fitness tracker for kidsT3 Award

(Image credit: Garmin)

10. Garmin Vivofit Jr 3

Best fitness tracker for kids

Battery life: '1+ years'
Heart-rate monitoring: No
Reasons to buy
+Looks like a ‘real’ watch+'Gamifies' exercise+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Dark screen-Quite pricey

The Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 sits somewhere in the middle of the market for price and features – and it does everything quite well. Although the screen is nice and colourful, it's also a bit dim and challenging to read when the light conditions are not optimal.

The watch packs in loads of features but lacks a touchscreen and it’s nicely built and looks quite attractive, but isn’t as sleek as the Fitbit or as impressive as Vodafone’s Neo, for example. In short, it lacks the ‘wow factor’ and may be a little middle of the road for gadget-fiends.  

However, if you have a child who loves Marvel or Disney, or you really, really hate charging gadgets, this watch will be a big hit, and like Iron Man, will blow the competition away.

The Samsung Galaxy Fit2 is a no-frills, budget fitness trackerT3 Award

(Image credit: Samsung)

11. Samsung Galaxy Fit2

Bloatware. And lots of it.

Battery life: up to 15 days
Wrist heart rate: Yes
Reasons to buy
+AMOLED display+Tracks sleep+Stress tracking
Reasons to avoid
-The amount of bloatware you need to install on the phone in order to use the Fit2 is ridiculous

In a saturated market such as fitness trackers, the Samsung Galaxy Fit2 doesn't stand a chance. It's not a bad fitness tracker: the Fit2 has a handsome looking AMOLED screen, recognises five different exercises automatically, tracks sleep and has a long battery life.

What we don't understand why is it essential to download and install three different apps and drivers to connect the Fit2 to the phone in the first place? Not to mention the annoying software update reminders which will just appear out of nowhere when one unlocks the phone. Like, whoever allowed the Samsung app to pester the users with these updates, without ever giving permission to do so?

Phone-related issues aside, the biggest issue of the Samsung Galaxy Fit2 is that there are cheaper and more capable fitness bands on the market today from established brands such as Huawei, to mention one. These bands offer more functions (e.g. built-in GPS) and better specs for less. The Fit2 is really only recommended to people who are brand-loyal to Samsung and can't imagine wearing a non-Samsung fitness tracker.

Two people running up the steps in a stadium wearing fitness trackers

(Image credit: Fitbit)

Fitness trackers: what you need to know

So, walking 10,000 steps per day is absolutely better than walking none, but it won't turn you into Sir Mo Farah.

Tracking your sleep may give you some interesting insights, but it won't necessarily help you sleep any better. I've tried to address those shortcomings by picking out the bands that try to do more, rather than just literally being step counters.

Fitness trackers have issues around accurately calculating how many calories you've burned, how much distance you've covered and what your heart rate is, particularly during vigorous exercise.

Perhaps worst of all, most older fitness trackers made no effort to tell you how fit you are, or offer any ways to get fitter. Brands are finally addressing this, largely through estimating your VO2 Max during regular workouts. This gives you a base score for how fit you are, which can be rewarding or terrifying, depending on where you sit on the scale.

Is Fitbit or Garmin better?

For those who're planning on tracking everyday fitness activities and don't want to spend a boatload of money, we would recommend getting a Fitbit fitness tracker or smartwatch. Most Fitbits are cheaper than Garmin's wearables and track fitness stats with admirable accuracy.

If you're getting ready for a race, whether it's a running or cycling competition, Garmin watches would be able to help you in training and recovery more efficiently than Fitbits. The Garmin ecosystem is geared towards athletes and able to provide training insights/tips, something you won't be able to access when using a Fitbit fitness tracker.