This year's crop of fitness trackers have not only seen big improvements in terms of what they can do on the wrist, but also in the software and apps that accompany them.
These apps are important for building a more comprehensive overview of your fitness beyond your daily calorie burn and heart rate activity. That includes putting your data into context, but it also means chatting to third-party apps and other devices you might also be using.
But just how do these fitness tracker apps compare? We've put the major fitness tracker platforms side by side, highlighting the pros and cons of each, to give you a clear idea of what they offer, and whether they're right for you.
Best fitness tracker app for beginners: Fitbit
Compatibility: Android, iOS, Windows Phone
2017 has seen Fitbit change up its stable of devices, cutting some of the fat and making way for the new Ionic smartwatch. As Fitbit's wearables have learned to track more, the companion app has evolved to put this data in context. The layout is clean, colourful and easy to navigate, giving you an easy at-a-glance overview of your day.
Challenges and coaching
Some of the best things about Fitbit's ecosystem are the challenges and integration with FitStar, which has now morphed into Fitbit Coach. Challenges get you competing against friends on digital versions of real-life hikes around Yosemite or on New York marathon courses, the goal being to complete the same distance before your pals do. There are solo adventures too along with challenges like Weekend Warrior and Workweek Hustle, encouraging you to move more by pitting you against friends and family.
Fitbit Coach is a separate app, but worth a look for its personalised video and audio workouts that integrate with your Fitbit account. There's a free tier plus a premium tier that costs $7.99 monthly and gives you access to a bunch more workouts and features.
Fitbit reigns supreme in sleep tracking right now. Any fitness tracker you pick up these days will offer some level of sleep tracking, but this year saw Fitbit rising above the rest with the introduction of Sleep Stages and Insights, harnessing its heart rate tech to get a more in-depth and accurate idea of how well you're sleeping. Insights offer feedback on your sleep behaviour, surfacing tips as it gets to know you better. The trackers monitor sleep automatically, but all the information is viewed in the app.
Apps, apps, apps
Until very recently Fitbit hadn't done much in terms of third-party app support, with just a handful available for the Blaze including Strava and MyFitnessPal which let you share your data across.
Rated: Best Fitbit trackers
But Fitbit has just opened the door for developers to build apps for Ionic, opening the door to endless other integrations. The first of these are now out and there are more to come, including Nest and Lyft.
No Apple Health/Google Fit integration
The main drawback of Fitbit's app is that it doesn't play too well with Google Fit and Apple Health. There are some makeshift workarounds for this if you go looking, but we'd prefer to have them working nicely, as many other devices and ecosystems feed into these two major platforms. We'd also like to see more third-party app support, beyond what's coming with the Ionic, letting Fitbit's lineup of trackers work with more favourites.
Lack of support for third-party devices
There's not a lot by way of other devices that integrate with Fitbit's ecosystem. There is support for the Withings smart scale, but the data share is very limited here. Naturally Fitbit wants you to buy one of its Aria smart scales, which meld much better with the platform.
Best fitness tracker app for sports lovers: Garmin Connect
Compatibility: Android, iOS, Windows Phone
We used to moan a lot about the Garmin Connect app; it was messy and slow as hell. But it's just been given a refresh that makes it much more enjoyable to use. It's still not as clean as Fitbit's, but we no longer dread opening it, so that's something, right? As well as presenting your day's activities, heart rate, stress level and previous night's sleep, you can dig deeper into those workout stats than rivals like Fitbit allow.
There's a reason Garmin is top dog when it comes to sports tracking: the app is good at breaking down the specifics of your workouts. You'll be able to see lap breakdown, speed, pace, cadence, heart rate and more, making it a good fit for more serious athletes.
Making workouts and training plans
Another great set of tools at Garmin users' disposal are the workouts and training plans, which can be created on Garmin's browser program or in the phone app, and then downloaded to the wearable. These are pretty self-explanatory, letting you set a schedule of specific routines and even build interval workouts. Maybe to prepare for an upcoming marathon, maybe just to give you a little more structure.
Garmin Connect IQ
Connect IQ is Garmin's app store, a place where developers can share apps that breathe more life into Garmin's IQ-compatible wearables. From apps that do interesting things with heart rate data or simply clock faces that give you more at-a-glance info. As you need a full display, though, only some of the watches are IQ-compatible, and none of the smaller fitness trackers.
Sleep tracking is lacking
Garmin trails the competition when it comes to sleep tracking, which is a particular shame considering how sleep relates to exercise. Garmin has a big opportunity to go deeper here, but right now it's lacklustre – and often inaccurate. For example, Fitbit will tell you if running before bed is having a negative impact on your sleep. We'd like to see Garmin do something similar.
Insights still quite basic, but improving
Garmin soaks up a hell of a lot of data, but we do wish it would give us more useful insights into the numbers. Garmin has a feature called Insights that does a little of this, but we'd like to see more guidance surfaced to the front page like some other apps do. Isn't that what Garmin is all about?
Still not massively user friendly
While the app has seen a big improvement, it's still not as easy to use as some of its rival platforms. Fine when you're familiar with it, but for first-timers diving in, navigating to where you want to go isn't always as obvious as it should be.
Best fitness tracker app for heart rate data: Polar Flow and Polar Beat
Compatibility: Android, iOS
Polar's platform is made of two smartphone apps, Polar Flow and Polar Beat. For day-to-day fitness tracking you'll be using the Polar Flow app as this is where all of your data lives. It's also where you can set sports profiles, create training plans and see a feed of all your sleep and activity information. Flow exists as a browser version too.
Data sharing with popular fitness apps
Polar connects up with some of the biggest platforms out there. In the app settings you can connect it to Apple Health, Strava, Nike+, TrainingPeaks and MyFitnessPal. That's not everyone, but it certainly hits some of the most popular fitness apps around. With Strava for example, you can set it up so workouts from Flow or Beat sync straight to your Strava account.
Right now Polar's Beat app is still the heart rate tracking app to, well, beat. That's all you're going to use it for, but it really gives you an insight into your heart rate like no other app out there right now, and naturally it syncs with the Polar Flow app as soon as your run/bike ride/downhill skiing session is over.
Rated: Best Polar watches
You can pair any Bluetooth heart rate sensor and get real-time readouts on your phone during exercise, all while tracking your route through the phone's GPS. The data share with with Polar Flow makes it all the better. If you're getting serious about your workouts and use a Polar device, it's a good place to live.
Google Calendar/Apple Calendar sync
Once you've created training targets, you can tell the app to sync these with your Google or Apple Calendar, making the whole process just a little bit easier – and we're not complaining about that.
A neat trick Polar has added is the ability to start and stop GoPro recordings from the V800 watch, while integration with the H10 chest strap means you can display your heart rate data onto the video.
Connecting with friends through Polar is doable on the desktop app, but not something that can be done on your phone. When it comes to connecting with friends and the wider fitness community, Fitbit does a better job here.
Best fitness tracker for simplicity: Misfit
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Misfit has always been about striking that balance between fashion and function, something that echoes through its whole ecosystem. The main app doesn't go as deep as Garmin, but remains focused on daily steps and calorie burn, with basic tracking of workouts like running and swimming. If you want to go deeper on cycling, the original Flash can be worn on the foot and used with the Misfit Cycling app to track rotations per minute. Meanwhile you can pick up the Swimmer's Edition of the Shine 2 to track lengths and swim distance.
Like Fitbit, the Misfit ecosystem makes it easy to connect with other users. In the app you can simply tap 'Find friends' and search through Twitter, Facebook and your contacts book. One of our favourite features is the global scoreboard, which also lets you connect with users around the world.
Interesting app integrations
Like Fitbit, there's a handful of apps you can connect to your Misfit account, some of which are pretty neat. For example the Nest app will track when your tracker alarm goes off and adjust the thermostat to your perfect morning temperature. There's an IFTTT app, and Swim I/O which doesn't require the subscription cost of Speedo but logs your pool sessions. If any of you are using WeChat, you can pair them up so your Misfit data is displayed on your profile for added bragging rights. Sadly there's no Strava support, but there is MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun and RunKeeper – and Apple Health/Google Fit.
Lack of depth
The new Misfit Vapor is the first tracker from the company to include heart rate. GPS too, for that matter. But until now, distance has been measured with accelerometer guesswork, and post-workout analysis has all been very surface level. Fine for smashing those step goals, but it's very basic.
No third-party device integration
Without the ability to pair, say, third-party heart rate sensors or power meters with the app, you can't really go beyond what Misfit offers in-house with its own trackers and the handful of apps it offers to play with.