• Fitbit Charge 3

  • Garmin Vívosmart 4

  • How We Tested

  • What’s Important in a Good Fitness Tracker

  • Other Fitness Trackers We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Our Favorite Fitness Trackers of 2019

Fitbit Charge 3
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser
Best Overall
Fitbit Charge 3

All of our testers chose the Charge 3 as their hands-down favorite fitness tracker for its mix of good looks, easy-to-navigate device menus and companion app, and plethora of activity- and sleep-tracking info.

Testers rated the setup “super-easy” for getting the device and app up and running. Once in use, the Charge 3 makes itself known, with hourly reminders to move and a 250-step countdown to hit before you sit back down. The Charge 3, like the other Fitbits and Garmins we tested, also automatically detects sustained activity, based on the movement patterns and heart-rate data the watch records, giving you credit for it in the app. Walks, runs, and bike rides especially are chronicled pretty accurately within a minute, plus or minus. However, it’s not foolproof: an apparently vigorous laundry folding session gave me credit for “sport.” There’s also no indication that anything is tracking on the device so you won’t know if it worked until later, and our testers didn’t initially know where to find this information in the app (it's under “Track your exercise”).

If you prefer not to rely on the device to automatically recognize your workouts, you can turn on an exercise mode, selecting from seven on the watch that you preset from about 15 options on the app. The Charge 3 has “connected GPS,” which means that if you want mapping and more accurate paces for your walks, runs, and bike rides, you’ll need to bring your phone along, unlike running watches, which have a built-in GPS chip. The Charge 3’s screen stays dark unless you raise your wrist, which can have an annoying split-second lag if you want to scope your stats mid-workout and it turns off very quickly, so you may not see everything you want in that glance.

Fitbit offers an extensive and active community centered around step-focused challenges, something that no other fitness-tracker company has had the same success replicating. Having a social aspect to help you set and meet goals can be a driving factor for sticking to your wellness plans, and the community is a selling point for Fitbit fans. (During our testing, Google announced it was acquiring Fitbit, which has raised privacy concerns regarding how the tech giant might use all health data accumulated from its vast network. Until the sale is final, we just won't know, but it's something we're keeping an eye on.)

Testers reported that the Charge 3’s sleep tracking seemed to record accurately, though one commented that “moving around and whatnot gets in the way.” Other user-friendly health features include a breathing activity for stress reduction, menstrual cycle tracking, a hydration log, a food log with a searchable database of common foods, as well as pay-to-play workout, meditation, and other wellness programs.

The Charge 3 has some smartphone features, including notifications, which you can customize or turn off entirely if all that buzzing gets on your nerves. You may reply to texts from the watch using preset canned replies and emojis, but if you want voice-to-text to reply in your own words, you should consider a smartwatch.

For a similar range of features with a larger screen, the Fitbit Versa Lite may be your preferred pick (see below). In general, though, our testers preferred the smaller overall size of the Charge 3, particularly for sleeping, despite the compromise to the display.

Garmin Vivosmart 4
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser
Best Value
Garmin Vívosmart 4

We recommend the Garmin Vivosmart 4 for those who are just getting into fitness tracking, who prefer an even smaller band, or who want to spend a little less for a device.

This ultra-tiny tracker—which testers reported was easy to set up—has a whole lot under the hood, including many of the goodies in the Fitbit Charge 3. These include hourly reminders to move, automatic activity and sleep tracking, and some smartphone notifications. What’s more, the Vivosmart 4’s automatic activity detection triggers an actual workout mode to begin once a preset number of minutes of walking or running is detected, which one tester remarked was great feedback. As with Fitbit, the details of what is auto-recorded are pretty well buried in Garmin’s app (in the “Calendar”), but the Vivosmart 4 also offers dedicated exercise modes—up to 11 that you preset in the device from the app—that you may turn on and off to deliberately record your workouts for greater detail and ‘credit’ in the Activity section of the app. The Vivosmart 4, like the Charge 3, also has connected GPS for mapping and pace recording during walking, running, and biking activities, as long as you bring along your phone.

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 offers a few additional features that Fitbit doesn’t have. Namely, it uses heart-rate reserve (HRV) as a measure of stress, and indicates when you might want to take a breather. It also records a Pulse Ox measurement during sleep, which could flag a dip in blood-oxygen level to bring to your doctor’s attention if you suspect you may suffer from sleep apnea.

On the downside, the Garmin sleep tracking overall isn’t as good as Fitbit’s: All testers remarked the Vivosmart 4 would sometimes identify quiet resting or reading in bed as dozing, therefore inflating their sleep records. Garmins in general are also not designed to record naps as separate sleep events, which Fitbits do. Vivosmart 4 also estimates a “body battery” reading, which is supposed to give you an idea of your energy level, though testers found it no more useful than a simple self-assessment of how they were feeling. The Vivosmart 4’s smartphone notifications can be annoying, especially for iPhone users who cannot limit which apps send notifications from the phone to the wrist—it’s all or none (Android notifications, however, may be customized in the app). You also can’t reply to texts on the device itself.

The Garmin app, like Fitbit’s, includes menstrual tracking and hydration tracking and a partnership with MyFitnessPal for food tracking. It also connects users in a community for challenges and social support, but Garmin’s community is nowhere near as robust as Fitbit’s in terms of general activity tracking. (It provides much better support for runners and other endurance athletes, who are Garmin’s bread and butter anyway.) Therefore, if you really want a budget-minded Fitbit, the Inspire HR (more below) offers barebones activity tracking features and an entry key to the Fitbit universe.

How We Tested

Garmin Vivosmart 4 on a bike
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

The Tester

As a managing editor at Reviewed, I oversee our health and fitness coverage, and as a multi-certified fitness pro, I have a vested interest in providing product recommendations that actually get people moving and making better lifestyle choices, rather than encouraging them to buy into the latest fad that will end up collecting dust or shoved in the back of a drawer. I believe a fitness tracker to be that sort of good-idea purchase, provided it’s actually worn and the wearer buys into the idea that “step count” as a measure of activity level is a valuable motivator to get off their duffs and move more. (While I’d love to turn the world into gym rats or marathoners, I’m not alone in thinking committing to just moving more is the best gateway into fitness—the US government agrees with me.)

The Tests

Our four testers in our Cambridge, Mass. office tested the eight trackers over the course of four weeks. They wore the devices in pairs on the same wrist for the first few days of each week, taking notes on the setup, look, and feel of the devices and apps. They compared the data each recorded for step count, sleep, and other activity to compare against each other and against the reality of what they did, in terms of how much they walked or exercised and how much they slept. For the remainder of the week, they chose one device of those two to test more extensively, wearing it 24/7. In the meantime, I did my own in-the-weeds assessments, familiarizing myself with the newest devices and comparing features across the group.

We based our rankings on how easy and enjoyable the device was to use, wear, and integrate the information captured into improving one’s activity and sleep habits. Collectively, the testers’ responses to the extensive survey—which asked them to rate everything from the setup to the comfort of the watches themselves when worn 24/7 to the ease of finding health data in the companion apps—surfaced one unanimous winner in the Charge 3.

Why We Didn’t Stress About Accuracy

In my years of covering the fitness tracker category, I’ve learned that data accuracy is not the most important attribute in evaluating these products. No matter how advanced the technology, the step count in a device worn on the wrist is simply not going to match the movements of the legs. And that’s ok: As long as you see your “step count” improve over time, the product is serving its purpose. Well, unless you’re, say, a piano player (lots of hand movements) or someone who often pushes a stroller (minimal hand movements—in that case, move the tracker to your belt or pants pocket while you walk).

Further, while all of the devices we tested include heart rate monitoring, that data when accumulated from an extremity isn’t going to be as good as what is captured by chest heart-rate strap, so if you need to monitor your exertion by heart rate, you need a device that’s compatible with one of those (of the fitness trackers we tested, only the Garmin Vivoactive 4 has that capability).

Garmin Vivosmart 4 versus Fitbit Charge 3
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

What’s Important in a Good Fitness Tracker

Regardless of how much these devices cost (and the associated techie bells and whistles you may get by spending more), there are a few core attributes that are essential for worthwhile activity tracking. Namely:

  • Ease of use, both in navigating the device menus and finding your data on the app
  • A battery that doesn't need constant recharging and lasts long enough to track 24/7 for at least several days
  • Data that seems in sync with how much you walked, worked out, and slept—and that is consistent day to day and week to week in how it records that data
  • Adequate motivation, in the forms of: reminders to move and get ready for bed; workout modes that enhance recordings of exercise sessions; and opt-in challenges and/or an online community to keep you on track toward your goals

Other Fitness Trackers We Tested

Fitbit Versa Lite Edition

The smartwatch-like Fitbit Versa Lite has very similar activity-tracking guts to our top pick Charge 3, though it (inexplicably) lacks stairs climbed and swim tracking, despite being water-resistant. Along with the larger display, you get access to the Fitbit smartwatch apps, including Strava, Pandora, and scaled-down versions of Yelp and the New York Times (with a subscription). One of our testers preferred the large, square-ish display over the narrower one of the Charge 3, but others thought the Versa Lite felt large, and one got annoyed at the screen flashing brightly when she was trying to sleep (a do-not-disturb option is buried in the app and watch menu to eliminate that frustration).

Garmin Vívoactive 4

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is more a multisport watch than a fitness tracker, with its top attribute being the seemingly endless menu of fitness activity modes, its built-in GPS, and the access to free race-training programs via the Garmin app. Our testers were split on how much they liked it, with some raving about its sleek looks and larger-than-most screen, and others feeling annoyed they couldn’t figure out how to change the default analog clock face to something digital. (It’s possible, but the setting is buried in the many, many menus.) It could make a good running watch, as long as you don’t mind navigating via its touchscreen, though a lot of runners hate those as a matter of course, as they can be too easily accidentally triggered.

Fitbit Inspire HR

The budget-minded Fitbit Inspire HR was designed by the company initially for use in its partnerships with corporate wellness programs, and to me it shows: It’s noticeably plasticy and cheap-looking, with a ho-hum monochrome display. Still, if all you want is a simple Fitbit device for tracking the basics on its superior app, and that includes no-reply phone and text notifications, it’ll do. An even less expensive version of the Inspire without heart rate is also available, which can be fine for step-count and fitness purposes—but without the heart rate, you lose out on the deeper data in the sleep tracking.

Withings Pulse HR

Setting up the Withings Pulse HR was a bear for our Android phone users in particular: Syncing to the app kept failing for me on my Samsung Galaxy S10e and I had to restart the whole setup process from scratch more than once. The Pulse HR worked well enough as an activity tracker, but just doesn’t measure up to the ease of use of others; more than one of our testers compared it to a low-rent Fitbit. The only attribute it has going for it is the claimed 20-day battery life, more than double what others claim, though we didn’t do long-term battery tests to compare.

Samsung Galaxy Fit

As a Samsung phone user, I was excited to see what the new Galaxy Fit could do, especially because it touts “you won’t have to worry about disruptive battery discharge when tracking your activity”—a real problem with Samsung watches I’ve tested in the past. All told, it did a fine job for me as a fitness tracker, but I missed the “smart” features, such as the ability to reply to text messages, which (ironically) were responsible for the battery drain in the older models. Our iPhone-using testers had lots of trouble with the Galaxy Fit, which requires two apps (one, Galaxy Wearable, for pairing the device to the phone, and a second, Samsung Health, for parsing the activity data) and a couple of them gave up entirely on making it work.

Misfit Vapor X

The Misfit Vapor X is a good-looking device and runs on the Google Wear OS platform, making it more a smartwatch than a fitness tracker. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work at all as a fitness tracker, and the other testers who were able to set it up complained about the “constant” notifications that drained the battery at an alarming rate. One tester had it die during a workout she was trying to record and another said it died overnight when he wore it to bed, which ended up not mattering anyway: The Vapor X can’t track sleep without installing a third-party app.

Meet the testers

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts

Managing Editor, Lifestyle and Emerging Categories

@twitter.com/Amy3Ro

At Reviewed, Amy edits and writes articles on health, beauty, fitness, fashion, pets, and more. Previously, she worked for Wirecutter, Good Housekeeping, Refinery29, Men's Fitness, Women's Health, among other print and online publications. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University.

See all of Amy Roberts's reviews

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