The best fitness tracker 2021: watches to help you keep healthier habits

Asia's Tech News Daily

A fitness tracker will help you develop healthier habits by giving you gentle encouragement to take a few extra steps, go for a run, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and get a little more sleep. It’s all about making small changes that can add up to make a big difference to your health over the long term – and we’re here to help you choose the right one.

© Provided by TechRadar Woman resting against a wall, checking her fitness tracker

When we test fitness trackers, we wear them all day and night to see not only how much data they gather and how accurate it is, but also how comfortable they are to live with. The best fitness tracker is the one you’re happy to wear every day, and comfort and looks are both important factors. We also take fitness trackers for a variety of workouts (both in the gym and outdoors) and test their heart-rate-monitor”>heart rate monitoring and location tracking against dedicated sports watches to see how they compare. 

Right now, the Fitbit Luxe is our top-rated fitness tracker. It’s slim, lightweight and attractive enough to wear around the clock, giving you a fully rounded picture of your health. It also has a high-res display that shows fitness data in impressive detail, plus remarkably accurate heart rate monitoring to track your workout intensity.

The best fitness trackers

The Fitbit Luxe is our number one fitness tracker thanks to its excellent health monitoring tools, stylish design, and the strength of the supporting Fitbit app and ecosystem. 

The Luxe tracks everyday activity, sleep, heart rate, respiration and workouts, and when we put it to the test, we were particularly impressed by the accuracy of its heart rate monitoring, which was on a par with much more expensive running watches. Your daily data is all presented on a super-sharp color AMOLED display, which presents an impressive amount of detail in a very small space.

The Luxe is also Fitbit’s best looking fitness tracker to date, with a stainless steel case and buckle, and a choice of either a soft silicone band or a gold-toned stainless steel bracelet by jewelry designer Gorjana. In our tests, it was comfortable to wear all day and night, which allowed us to build up a complete picture of our activity and sleeping habits.

Fitness trackers work best when worn every day so they can build up a full picture of your habits and lifestyle, and the Luxe is one that you’ll genuinely want to.

The Luxe even comes with a free trial of Fitbit Premium, which lets you get even more out of the watch, including more detailed historical data, a wider range of workouts and meditation sessions in the Fitbit app, and the ability to create a personal health report that you can share with a family member or doctor.

There’s no on-board GPS though; instead the Luxe needs a connection to your phone, which is its only real drawback.

Read our full Fitbit Luxe review

The Fitbit Charge 5 is a fitness tracker built with gym-goers in mind. It boasts on-board GPS so you can track walks, runs and bike rides without carrying your phone, and can start monitoring them automatically when it detects that you’re on the move. It also has dedicated tracking modes for a wealth of indoor activities, from weightlifting to spinning, and you can pick your five favorites for quick access at the touch of a finger.

There’s also an EDA (electrodermal activity) sensor, which tracks changes in the conductivity of your skin as it’s affected by adrenal activity. It’s a novel way of keeping tabs on stress, and was previously only found in the top-end Fitbit Sense.

The Charge 5 has an ECG app too, which you can use to monitor for signs of atrial fibrillation that should be investigated by a doctor (though this feature wasn’t available when the fitness tracker began shipping in September 2021).

It’s all capped off with a bright, crisp color AMOLED display, which is a huge upgrade from the monochrome memory-in-pixel screen of the Charge 4.

The Fitbit Charge 5 isn’t quite perfect (we particularly miss the ability to control our Spotify playlist from our wrist during a workout) but it’s a top-notch fitness tracker and well worth considering if you’re starting to take your exercise seriously.

Read our full Fitbit Charge 5 review

Oura is an unusual fitness tracker – a smart ring that can be worn on any finger all day and all night – but it works extremely well. Like the Fitbit Luxe, its jewelry-style design means you’ll be happy wearing it for any occasion, which helps it build up a complete picture of your health.

Oura is all about balancing activity and rest to make sure you strike the right balance. The ring not only tracks your movement throughout the day, and syncs all the data to the thoughtfully designed Oura app, it’s also the best sleep tracker we’ve tested to date.

That’s partly due to the fact it’s worn on the finger rather than the wrist, where the blood vessels are much closer to the surface and can be more accurately measured, and partly because it takes much more frequent readings than a watch, so there’s no need for software to estimate missing data. Want to know the exact moment you fell asleep, not just when you started trying to drift off? Oura can tell you, and give you personalized tips on how to sleep better in future.

Occasionally we found that our data took longer than expected to sync in the morning, but otherwise the Oura ring is tough to fault.

Read our full Oura review

If you’re aiming to develop healthier habits, and want a device that will give you a gentle nudge to get there, the Fitbit Inspire 2 could be the best fitness tracker for you. It’s not overly complex, but has all the essential features to keep you moving and motivated, and is extremely simple to use.

It’s controlled entirely through its responsive touchscreen and single side button, and will monitor your activity and heart rate all day (with alerts when you hit your goals). There are over 20 workout modes, and several will start tracking automatically when the fitness tracker detects that you’ve begun exercising.

All of your data is collected together in the extremely user-friendly Fitbit app, where you can see patterns over time, set new targets and (if you subscribe to Fitbit Premium) find a whole library of video workouts to follow at home.

There’s no color screen or on-board GPS for mapping out runs, but the Inspire 2 is a pleasure to use, and ideal for beginners.

Read our full Fitbit Inspire 2 review

The Amazfit Bip may look more like a smartwatch than any of the other devices on this list, but as it runs its own software and has a very big focus on fitness, so we’ve decided to include it in our list of the best fitness trackers.

The Amazfit Bip’s design has clearly been influenced by the Apple Watch (there’s no denying that), and it comes packed with tons of features including GPS, an accurate heart rate tracker, multi-sport tracking, sleep tracking, and estimated VO2 max so you can keep tabs on your fitness over time. 

If you’re looking for a more watch-like design, the Bip will be up your street. It’s lightweight too and other highlights include the always-on display and strong battery life that should last around a month depending on your usage.

Unfortunately, during our tests we found that the watch didn’t pause its tracking automatically during workouts when we stopped to stretch or cross a road. That means you’ll need to make sure you hit the button yourself to halt and restart the activity when you’re ready to carry on. It’s a small complaint though, and compensated for by the watch’s excellent performance elsewhere.

Read our full Amazfit Bip review

Taking over from the Huawei Band 2 Pro is the Huawei Band 3 Pro. This is one of the best fitness trackers you can buy if you’re on a strict budget, costing around the same as the Garmin Vivosport 4 below, and it has impressive specs considering how much it costs.

The Huawei Band 3 Pro comes with GPS, making it a good choice for outdoor activities, and is also suitable for use in the pool thanks to its water resistant design and dedicated swimming mode. 

In our tests, we found the color display easily readable even in direct sunlight, allowing you to check your workout stats at a glance, and the heart rate monitor proved accurate, giving results comparable with a much more expensive dedicated sports watch.

The GPS could be quicker at locking on (Garmin devices perform better in our experience, no doubt due to the company’s long investment in location tracking), but once it established a connection, it proved accurate even in built-up areas. If you’re looking for an affordable entry-level device for your first foray into the world of fitness tracking, the Band 3 Pro should definitely be on your shortlist.

Read our full Huawei Band 3 Pro review

Although it’s now been superseded by the Fitbit Charge 5, the Fitbit Charge 4 is an excellent fitness tracker, particularly for runners. There’s built-in GPS, Fitbit Pay for contactless purchases (ideal for grabbing a bottle of water during your run), and you can control your Spotify playlist from your wrist without breaking your stride. It’s an impressive feature set for such a small and affordable device.

The Fitbit Charge 4 also includes a new feature called Active Zone Minutes. This is a measure of any activity faster than a brisk walk, and is based on recommendations from various health organizations. It’s essentially a simple type of heart rate training, encouraging you to spend time at different levels of exertion based on your age and fitness (as measured by the watch).

The Fitbit Charge 4 lacks the color screen of the Charge 5, but its icons and menus are well laid out and easy to understand. Whether you’re looking for sleep tracking, the weather forecast or breathing exercises, it’s only a couple of swipes away. Slim, neat and packed with features, the Charge 4 bridges the gap between activity bands and serious running watches, and is truly a fitness tracker for everyone.

Read our full Fitbit Charge 4 review

The latest addition to Xiaomi’s rapidly expanding line of excellent fitness trackers, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 is super affordable, and packed with many features you’d expect to find on a much more expensive device. Not only does it monitor steps, heart rate, and workouts, it also offers a pulse oximeter for tracking blood oxygen saturation, plus all-day stress tracking.

The display is super bright, and in our tests we found it super responsive to even the lightest of touches – essential with a screen this small.

It’s just a shame there’s no on-board GPS for tracking runs, walks and bike rides. As with the Garmin Vivosmart 4, above, it works well enough piggybacking on your phone’s positioning system, but it means you can’t leave your handset at home when working out. Otherwise, this is one of the best fitness trackers around if you want to minimize bulk and weight.

Read our full Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 review

The Honor Band 5 is one of the cheapest fitness trackers you can buy right now, and still manages to deliver an impressive set of features to monitor your everyday health and wellbeing.

One of the most useful features is the sleep tracking, which not only monitors your sleep stages throughout the night, as many fitness trackers do, but also gives you practical advice to maximize your sleep time.

Its step tracker produced almost identical results to a more expensive Fitbit device, and there are dedicated workout modes for walking, running, cycling, cross-training, rowing, and swimming. You won’t receive as much data as you would from a Garmin device, but you’ll see your time, distance, speed and heart rate stats clearly presented in the mobile app once you’re done.

As you’d expect from a budget fitness tracker, there’s no on-board GPS for monitoring your location during outdoor cardio workouts. We also found that its screen was sometimes a little laggy compared to higher-end devices, not responding quite so quickly to taps and swipes, but at this price it’s hard to complain.

Read our full Honor Band 5 review

The predecessor of the Fitbit Inspire 2, the Fitbit Inspire HR has stood the test of time, and is still one of the best fitness trackers around if you’re in the market for something discreet that looks smart and covers the essentials.

As its name suggests, the Inspire HR tracks your heart rate throughout the day (a feature missing from the original Fitbit Inspire), along with daily steps and nightly sleep stats.

There’s the usual range of dedicated workout modes, albeit without on-board GPS. The swim tracking is particularly noteworthy; the Inspire HR has a water-resistant design, and is capable of monitoring swim lengths, duration, distance, and pace during pool sessions.

All your workout stats and daily activity data (including step counts) syncs with the Fitbit app on your phone, where you can track your progress, connect with friends, and work towards achievements. It might be simple, but the Inspire HR has a lot to offer if you’re aiming to make small lifestyle changes that’ll add up over time.

Read our full Fitbit Inspire HR review

What is a fitness tracker?

A fitness tracker is a device (typically a wristband) that monitors statistics such as your heart rate, the number of steps you take each day, and how long you spend working out. Most fitness trackers have several dedicated modes for recording different forms of exercise, and some also have GPS for tracking your location during runs, walks and bike rides. Most fitness trackers also monitor how long you spend sleeping, and in each sleep stage.

All this data is sent to an app on your smartphone, where you can track changes over time. Most apps give you virtual ‘awards’ for achieving particular goals, such as taking 10,000 steps per day, or going to bed on time.

Why do you need a fitness tracker?

It can be tough to break old habits and develop new ones, and a fitness tracker can help give you the encouragement you need. Tracking the number of steps you take each day and aiming for a particular target might be simple, but it can push you to make simple changes (like getting off the bus a stop earlier, or walking short distances rather than driving), which can add up to make a significant difference over time.

What makes a good fitness tracker?

A good fitness tracker is one that you’ll wear every day, and will help you build up a complete picture of your health. With that knowledge, you can start to make small tweaks that will help you sleep better, lower your resting heart rate, improve your fitness, and generally feel better.

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