Guidemaster: The best fitness trackers you can buy in 2020


Enlarge / A different band can change the entire look of the Inspire HR.

Valentina Palladino

Update: To help all the readers out there considering health-related New Years resolutions, we’ve been testing the latest and greatest fitness trackers in recent months in order to update our Fitness Tracker Guidemaster. We originally put together our list of favorites in January 2018, but below you’ll find our recommendations updated to include the best devices you can get in 2020.

The smartwatch hasn’t swallowed up the fitness tracker yet. While many are intrigued by the powers of the Apple Watch, Wear OS devices, and the like, old-school fitness trackers still have their uses—and they’re usually much easier on your wallet, too. The goal of the humble fitness band remains the same as it was when these devices were new: track daily activity in all its forms, from daily steps to intense workouts, from heart rate dips and spikes to the calm waves of sleep. Most of today’s fitness trackers haven’t changed much aesthetically, either. They’re still, by and large, wristbands.

With so many devices sharing the same basic goals and set of features, it can be hard to deduce which tracker is right for you. But from our testing, there are some fitness trackers that stand out among the rest—some for their thoughtful applications, others for their versatility, and some for their focused approach to fitness training. We’ve looked back at the fitness trackers we’ve reviewed and selected the best devices that are most likely to help you get and stay in shape.

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The short version

  • The best fitness tracker for most people is the Fitbit Inspire HR because it does a lot for a low price of $79. It improves upon our original favorite, the Fitbit Alta HR, with a slightly larger touchscreen and a more user-friendly OS that brings some of Fitbit OS (the company’s smartwatch software) over to the fitness band design. Not only is the screen easier to use because it’s a full-on touchscreen (as opposed to a tap-only screen), but you can also do things like set timers and alarm and change up the clock face. The Inspire HR does everything the Alta HR did, which means it’s a solid daily activity and sleep tracker that monitors workouts, be it manually or through SmartTrack, well. While it doesn’t have the seven-day battery life that the Alta HR had, its solid five-day battery life means you’ll only have to charge it once per week. We like that the Inspire HR gives you all the essential features a fitness tracker should have at a great price, in addition to accurate, all-day heart rate monitoring.
  • The runner up is another Fitbit device—the Charge 3 fitness tracker. Again, Fitbit expands upon the abilities of a more affordable tracker to make the Charge 3. In this case, the Charge 3 does everything that the Inspire HR can do plus more—key among those things is track stairs climbed using an embedded altimeter. The Charge 3 also lasts a bit longer than the Inspire HR with its seven days of battery life. If you’re willing to spend about $50 extra, you can get the special edition Charge 3 which has NFC for Fitbit Pay as well, giving you NFC technology to pay for a cup of coffee or groceries after a workout without having your wallet handy.
  • The best tracker for newbies is Moov Now, a unique motion tracker that you can wear a variety of ways—on your wrist, strapped to your ankle, in boxing gloves, and others. The tracker is simple enough, but paired with Moov’s mobile app it becomes a powerful fitness tool. The app gives you real-time audio coaching for a number of activities including running, biking, boxing, swimming, and more. If you’re new to working out and haven’t found the best type of exercise for you, Moov Now can both track your progress and help you decide how you like to exercise.
  • On the flip side, the best tracker for gym-goers (or just the more dialed-in athletes) is Garmin’s Vivosmart 4. Exercise recognition makes this band stand out—it’ll identify certain exercises like crunches and barbell lifts as you complete them and even keep count of your reps. Like other Garmin devices, the Vivosmart 4 also has special features like pulse ox and all-day stress monitoring, VO2 max and Body Battery calculations, and more. There will be some athletes who prefer a more capable fitness smartwatch, but for those that want something more subdued that they can wear all day long and track exercise and daily activity, the Vivosmart 4 is the one to get.

Best overall

Fitbit Inspire HR

Valentina Palladino

Specs at a glance: Fitbit Inspire HR
Price $78.98
Heart rate monitoring Yes, continuous
GPS Connected only
Water resistance Swimproof
Smartphone alerts Yes (call, text, and calendar)
Sizes One size (includes small and large bands)
Battery life  Five days

While we still have love for the Fitbit Alta HR, our previous favorite, the new Fitbit Inspire HR has replaced it in Fitbit’s lineup. Thankfully, it’s just as good as the Alta HR and comes in at just $79. Almost everything we loved about the Alta HR still stands in the Inspire HR—the tracker with interchangeable bands tracks all-day activity, sleep, continuous heart rate, and workouts including swimming.

Fitbit improved the workout-tracking experience in the Inspire HR by giving it a slightly larger touchscreen than the tap-only screen on the Alta HR. Combined with Fitbit’s refined fitness tracker OS, the Inspire HR feels a bit more smartwatch-like than the Alta HR ever did.

Not only can you pick and choose which exercise you want to track using the touchscreen, but you can also set timers and alarms and choose from a few different watch faces to personalize the device. The device can receive smartphone alerts as well. While the Inspire HR can’t do everything the Fitbit Versa or Versa Lite can do, Fitbit distilled some of the most important smartwatch features down so they could work properly and conveniently on the Inspire HR.

The Inspire HR also has Fitbit’s SmartTrack feature, which automatically tracks certain workouts after a period of time, and its connected GPS feature, which lets you use the band in tandem with your phone’s GPS to map outdoor runs and bike rides. The continuous optical heart rate monitor on the module’s underside not only measures your pulse during workouts, but it also keeps track of it at night and that data helps Fitbit’s software measure your time in various stages of sleep.

While the Alta HR lasted about seven days on a single charge, the Inspire HR lasts around five days. We wish the battery lives were comparable, but five days (with nighttime sleep tracking) is still stellar in comparison to most smartwatches. Fitbit’s software is also top-notch—not only are the Android and iOS mobile apps friendly and easy to use, but the company has added numerous new features over the past year or so including guided workouts with Fitbit Coach, menstrual health tracking, social exercise challenges, and more. We’re still waiting for Apple Health integration, but in the meantime, the $79 Inspire HR remains the best fitness tracker for most people.

The Good

  • Solid all-purpose fitness and health tracker at a great price.

The Bad

Fitbit Inspire HR product image

Fitbit Inspire HR

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Runner up

Fitbit Charge 3

Valentina Palladino

Specs at a glance: Fitbit Charge 3
Price $99.95
Heart rate monitoring Yes, continuous
GPS Connected only
Water resistance Up to 50 meters
Smartphone alerts Yes
Sizes One size (includes small and large bands)
Battery life  Seven days

The Fitbit Charge 3 has all of the features that the Inspire HR has, plus a few extras. It’s slightly wider than the Inspire HR, but that doesn’t make it hard to wear. It tracks all-day activity and sleep comfortably, and uses your input as well as Smart Track technology to record workouts.

In terms of activity, the Charge 3’s included altimeter is an important differentiator between it and the Inspire HR. An altimeter allows the Charge 3 to track floors climbed, so if you feel particularly accomplished when you take the stairs instead of the elevator and want your wearable to reflect that effort, the Charge 3 is the better device of the two.

Fitbit also included an SpO2 monitor in the Charge 3 which should track blood oxygen levels and allow Fitbit’s software to learn more about your sleeping habits (when Fitbit actually enables the sensor).

If you’re willing to pay a bit extra, you can get the Charge 3 Special Edition which includes NFC technology for Fitbit Pay. The company’s contactless payment system lets you hold your Charge 3 up to an NFC reader to pay for things like coffee, groceries, and the like. If you’re ever out on a run and forgot your wallet, you can still pay for things using Fitbit Pay.

Like the Inspire HR, the Charge 3 also has Fitbit’s connected GPS feature so you can map outdoor workouts if you have your phone with you. The gap between the Inspire HR and the Charge 3 isn’t a big one, but those that value battery life and want option to get NFC payment tech in their fitness tracker should opt for the Charge 3.

The Good

  • Good fitness tracker that tracks floors climbed and has a longer battery life than the Inspire HR.

The Bad

  • No on-device music controls.
Fitbit Charge 3 product image

Fitbit Charge 3

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)



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