Best fitness tracker guide: The top activity bands you can buy now

Eat, sleep, walk, repeat with these top activity bands

The best fitness trackers, activity bands and watches are now much more than just basic step-counters. They are now 24/7 wellness devices, with an emphasis on heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, sports tracking, and they can even help to detect health problems like heart arrhythmia and sleep apnea.

The right fitness band for you will be based on your individual needs and how active your lifestyle is. Some will just look for step counting and reliable sleep tracking, others want GPS for running, advanced resting heart rate data and VO2 max data. The good news is that there's something out there for everyone.

Don't get too hung up about getting the best fitness tracker for iOS or Android – all these play nicely across both operating systems.

Whether you need a fitness tracker for swimming, something that works with Apple Health or packs in GPS, we've picked our top rated trackers you need to look out for.

UPDATE: We've overhauled our roundup of the best fitness trackers, removing older wearables and adding in new categories to help you choose. That meant our previous top fitness tracker, the Charge 2, was replaced by Wareable Tech Awards Wearable of the Year winner, the Alta HR.

What is the best fitness tracker?

Fitbit Alta HR

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

The Fitbit Alta HR was our fitness tracker of the year at the 2017 Wareable Tech Awards, thanks to the amount of tech crammed into such a tiny device.

Sure, it's not the most technically complete device – and it's not waterproof – but it's still powerful. Heart rate monitoring steals the show and Fitbit really makes it count, with metrics for resting heart rate displayed alongside progress towards your daily step and sleep goals.

The heart rate monitor also allows for a deeper understanding of your sleep, with Sleep Stages offering a glimpse of deep, light and REM sleep time – and should help pick up periods of awakeness too. We've found Fitbit's sleep tracking to be top of the class in our testing.

For most people, the Fitbit Alta HR is a top fitness tracker.

  • Sleep tracking
  • 24/7 heart rate monitor
  • Step tracking
  • Customisable bands
  • Smartphone notifications
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $149.95, fitbit.com

Fitbit Alta HR
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Best waterproof tracker for swimming

Moov Now

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

If you want the best tracker for the pool, things don't get much better than Moov Now. It's waterproof to 30m, but focuses on coaching.

Start a swim session via your smartphone in the locker room, and when you return you'll get feedback on your stroke type, rate, distance and efficiency, as well as lap times and an overall indicator of your pool stamina.

The only real downside is that there's no built-in screen to view performances in the pool in real-time – for that you'd need to look at something like the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, but there's a trade-off in accuracy.

Moov Now also works as a discreet all-day fitness tracker, it has great training modes for running and swimming, and there are still plans to offer heart rate in the pool through the Moov HR – a separate module that slots inside a swimming cap to measure heart rate from your temple. Clever stuff.

  • 3 ATM (30m)
  • Stroke detection
  • Distance and efficiency in pool
  • Run and cycling coaching
  • All day step and sleep tracking
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $59.95, moov.cc

Moov Now
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Best fitness tracker for sleep monitoring

Fitbit Charge 2 (and Alta HR)

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

The Charge 2 is Fitbit's most powerful band, and the extra chunk over the Alta HR offers more in-depth fitness tracking and breathing training.

But along with the Alta HR, its sleep tracking blows away its rivals. The improved heart rate technology can take a look at your deep and light sleep, and track the amount of REM sleep you're getting. You need a good balance of these stages to feel rested, and that's what Fitbit's new devices focus on.

But that's not all. What tips these two devices over the line is the extra emphasis on insights. The Sleep Insights feature compares your data to people of your age and gender. Sleep Schedules also enable you to set bedtime alarms, and prompt you not to get into bad habits, such as screen time before slumber.

  • Sleep Stages via heart rate
  • Sleep Insights
  • 24/7 heart rate
  • VO2 Max data and step tracking
  • Guided breathing exercises
  • ConnectedGPS if you pair with a smartphone
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $149.95, fitbit.com

Fitbit Charge 2
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Best tracker for HIIT, Crossfit & weights

Garmin Vivosmart 3

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

As well as the standard fitness tracking features, the Vivosmart 3 also includes an onboard heart rate monitor for 24/7 bpm data, VO2 Max testing (which is a great metric for those who like HIIT classes such as Crossfit), and automatic exercise detection, so you won't miss out if you forget to start tracking a session.

For those who really push things hard, the heart rate variability (HRV) stress scores are a great metric so you know when to take a rest.

The Vivosmart 3 also packs in Garmin's Move IQ software and rep counting for those who like to lift weights, and is one of the few trackers to include these metrics. The decent accelerometer-based run tracking slightly makes up for the missing GPS support as well, if you're not too bothered about pinpoint accuracy.

  • Automatic exercise detection
  • VO2 Max
  • Rep counting for gym exercises
  • Heart rate variability stress scores
  • iOS and Android

Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

Current price: $139.99, garmin.com

Garmin Vivosmart 3
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Best fitness tracker with heart rate

Nokia Steel HR

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

We've always had a lot of time for the Nokia Steel HR, from when it was first built under the Withings brand – and our enthusiasm hasn't diminished now it's moved under Nokia.

The key thing here is the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, which in our testing was a top performer. It's designed for 24/7 wear, and will take a reading from your wrist every minute. But the fact that it's combined into such a beautifully designed watch, and still manages 25 days of battery life, is a huge boon for Nokia.

The swim tracking isn't quite a world beater and there's no GPS – although you can take it for a run to get credit for your efforts via the heart rate monitor, with a guesstimate of your distance.

The Nokia Health ecosystem is pretty robust – though not up to Fitbit levels – and the step and sleep tracking do an admirable job. In short, the Nokia Steel HR is a superb fitness tracker that gets the thumbs up from Wareable.

  • Automatic exercise detection
  • Continuous heart rate monitoring
  • Dedicated run and swim tracking
  • 25 day battery life
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $179.95, nokia.com

Nokia Steel HR
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Best fitness tracker watch/hybrids

Garmin Vivomove HR

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

Another Wareable Tech Award winner, the Garmin Vivomove HR is a powerful fitness tracker hidden inside a decent-looking analogue watch. While it doesn't quite manage to look as classically designed as the Nokia Steel HR, the hidden screen works harder on the Garmin, and smart notifications are much easier to read.

In terms of tracking the heart rate monitor rules the roost, offering 24/7 tracking, a focus on stress via heart rate variability (HRV) and resting heart rate tracking.

You can also track runs (albeit without GPS), strength training and open sessions, which will appeal to gym goers.

Plus, everyone can get behind the 14 days of battery life, and 5ATM (up to 50m) water resistance, which make it a winner in our eyes.

  • 24/7 heart rate
  • Hidden screen
  • Stress tracking
  • 50m water resistance
  • Tracks gym workouts
  • 14 day battery
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $199.99, garmin.com

Garmin Vivomove HR
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Best budget fitness tracker

Misfit Ray

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

Stylish and sleek, you can pick the Misfit Ray fitness tracker up for less than $50, making it a serious bargain.

The Misfit Ray offers steps and sleep tracking, all within Misfit's sleek and clean app, and will alert users to messages and calls from a paired smartphone. You can also add advanced swim tracking but that requires a $10 in-app purchase to make the Ray more pool-friendly.

As far as activity tracking goes, the Ray will count your steps, measure distance walked and estimate calories burned via a 3-axis accelerometer, as well as track activities such as cycling, yoga and dancing. There's no heart rate here, however, nor GPS.

  • Step and sleep tracking
  • 50m water resistance
  • Six month battery life
  • Basic notifications
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $99.95, misfit.com

Misfit Ray
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Xiaomi Mi Band 2

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

If you're looking for more features with substantially less design, the Mi Band 2 is a decent option. It boasts an OLED display to check in on your stats, and for the sub-$50 price, it still manages to pack heart rate monitoring on to the wrist.

The app experience is a bit wonky sometimes, and some of your alerts might be in Chinese now and again. But if you're looking to get the most tech for the least money, this is probably your best bet.

  • HR tracking
  • Steps, sleep
  • Smart alarms
  • Incoming call alerts
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $33.49, mi.com

Xiaomi Mi Band 2
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Best clip-on fitness tracker

Misfit Shine 2

When the Misfit launched the Shine back in 2012, it proved that you can count your steps without wearing an ugly piece of plastic around your wrist. But what we really love about the Shine 2 is its versatility.

It ships with a clip and strap, and you can change the settings to attach to shirts, waistbands, shoes and pockets, meaning buggy-pushing parents can get credit for their walks – a common request in Wareable's comments and forums.

But where the Shine 2 really impresses is data accuracy. When we put the Shine 2 up against a GPS running watch there was 0.1km difference in the readings, and the same goes for step and sleep data too. It works in the pool and can track basic swims, the only downside is that there's no heart rate tracking.

  • Step tracking
  • Works as a clip on
  • Sleep monitoring
  • Swim tracking and 5ATM water resistance.
  • Six month battery life
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $79.99, misfit.com

Misfit Shine 2
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Best kids' fitness tracker

Garmin Vivofit Jr. 2

Yes children now have fitness trackers too – but perhaps the best out there is the Vivofit Jr.2. Made in collaboration with Disney, the bands are loud, fun and feature Star Wars or Micky/Minnie Mouse designs – and there are some Marvel ones too.

There are two sizes: a stretchy band for kids 4 to 7, or an adjustable strap with a buckle for those 6 years and older.

But the key feature is that these bands aren't just about making kids get up for a walk. The companion app features a game, levels for which can only be unlocked by activity in real life (clever, right?)

You can also set chores reminders and rewards when they're completed. The band will ring and vibrate and remind your child what they need to do, and completing a chore will earn virtual coins, which can be redeemed with the adults for agreed-upon rewards.

  • 5ATM water resistance
  • Suitable for kids 4 and older
  • Step tracking
  • Access to mini games based on activity goals
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $99.99, garmin.com

Garmin Vivofit Jr.2
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Best fitness tracker with GPS for runners

Garmin Vivosport

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

The follow-up to 2016's Wareable Tech Awards fitness tracker of the year, the Garmin Vivosport is a fitness tracker with GPS and heart rate tracking built-in.

You can place the band into running and cycling mode to get a GPS tracked workout – the only downside being the difficulty in reading live stats on the tiny 72 x 144 monochrome screen.

It's water resistant to 5ATM (up to 50m), which means it will survive a dip in the pool, and it features the same rich mix of heart rate enabled metrics, including heart rate variability stress scores, resting heart rate, VO2 Max and fitness age estimates. Essentially, if you like running and gym work, but are looking for a band over a dedicated GPS running watch, the Vivosport is one of the best options out there.

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart rate
  • Sports modes
  • Advanced heart metrics
  • Seven days of battery life
  • Notifications
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $199.99, garmin.com

Garmin Vivosport
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Best fitness tracker for women

Fitbit Alta HR

Best fitness tracker 2017: 12 top activity bands selected for your needs

Choosing a fitness tracker for smaller wrists isn't as tough as it used to be – and you no longer have to scrimp on proper health tracking to get something that isn't pig-ugly.

Instead of choosing some barely smart pedometer, we've highlighted the powerful Fitbit Alta HR as a good fit for women. It's one of the most powerful fitness trackers, with heart rate tech and a small screen as standard, all packed into a slim band.

But it's the effort that Fitbit has made to customise the Alta HR which we really like. A host of bands, clasps and designs make it a real looker, and it's easy to switch bands for something less sporty. Naturally, ignore black plastic and choose the metal or leather bands for a style boost – and check out the huge array of third party Alta HR bands to save yourself some cash.

  • Huge array of official and non-official straps
  • Step, sleep tracking
  • 24/7 heart rate
  • Resting heart rate
  • iOS and Android

Current price: $129.95, fitbit.com

Fitbit Alta HR
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16 Comments

  • synergy1 says:

    Fitbit's software does not support me accessing their software if I'm using a VPN.  Before I buy again I need to know if that functionality exists and where.

    Thanks

    Bob

  • rdlindg says:

    Don't know anything about these monitors. All I need is "step counting" and want it to be waterproof. Need suggestions on what brand/style would be adequate.

  • MicheleKayJones says:

    I need a tracker/watch that works for laps in the pool as well as counting steps.  I don't need GPS, but want something that really works with as long as possible battery life. Heart rate monitoring can be an option but not required.  What is your recommendation?

  • Kkar says:

    What about Polar A360? 

    It seems to be also a good choice, have anybody comments or experience if comparing to those others?

  • davidbaskey says:

    How about a band which is not only a fitness tracker.....but a Health Monitoring device?

    There is a Band which captures real time the following: Blood Pressure ECG/EKG Breath Rate Heart Rate Distance covered, steps taken, calories burnt, sleep analysis (as existing in any other band in the world) Remote Monitoring [ This band helps one remotely track the vital stats of even the loved ones. Also, this sends notification to guardians incase any vitals go beyond normal level - life saving feature] Panic Button - This functionality helps send SOS message to loved ones and guardians incase of any danger or life threatening situation with GPS coordinates. Future updates that will be available on the same device will be

    Blood Sugar Blood Alcohol Blood Oxygen Body Temperature Mosquito Repellent With all these features, which are available in NO OTHER Band in the entire world, makes this the BAND OF THE FUTURE!!

    Do we have a taker??

  • PeteyD says:

    The best "Fitness Device" I have bought recently does not actually track anything. It was the FX-Sport VRX headphones [on the ear style]. They have an integtrated 8GB mp3 player [sound is great] and arrive preloaded with hundreds of workouts in all sorts of categories. I mean there are workouts for everything and lots of them. Even multi-week running programs. They also have real trainers on there [male and female] talking you through any workout you choose. You can still listen to your own music as the workout instructions play over your own tunes. No wires, no need for my phone and I am getting pushed by a real trainer. I have never trained better or harder.

  • scubababy907 says:

    I absolutely love my MOOV Now, and MOOV Sweat. I bought the Moov Now 2 pack so that I could do their cardio boxing coached workout and get feedback from both sides of my body. The heart rate monitor is accurate and comes along with a nice selection of HIIT workouts that are great for beginners through athletes, and it will track your heart rate during the regular workouts tracked by Moov. They have settings for treadmill runs, outdoor runs, and indoor and outdoor cycling. They're also WATERPROOF and fantastic in the pool! This is an incredible, comprehensive fitness app. It tracks your sleep and calories burned as well. The only thing it doesn't do is tell time, but who needs that?! :) Very reasonably priced. The batteries in the Moov Now last a while and are pretty easy to replace once you get the knack of getting the sensor open. The Sweat is rechargeable! Super convenient. 

    Check it out: http://moov.refr.cc/scubababy907

  • thebounder says:

    As a lot of folks here i really like the FITBIT bands ... but have had NOTHING but issues with them .... the fact that their customer service replaces them easily enough does not warrant my shelling out $150 a time for something that doesn't last 4 months .. the Garmin looks viable ... why o why o why don't APPLE make a simple wearable without all the fancy watch functions .. i would be there in a moment 

  • Floyd says:

    I'm 65 and retired, I have set a goal  for myself in January,  bot a fitbot flex and so far I've lost 33 pounds only 90 pounds to go. I'm thinking of up grading to the fit bit charge 2.But I started reading about the garmin voviomin (not sure of spelling) I'm not sure witch display application would work best I really like the fit bit app. I keep track of every thing good intake,water,steps calories etc. And have friends on fit bit. If I switch to garmin and I transfer all my information or lose it. 

  • Wolfattwilight says:

    Which tracker is best for heavy duty training and day to day? i work at an engineering company and have had bad luck when it comes to trackers, they always break or crack or gets damaged somehow. 

  • PornchaiChantha says:

    Wearables have become such a cultural norm that it seems as if people have them just to have them. I know heart-rate is important to know, but I really don't think half of people who purchase wearables did so for the heart-rate updates. 

    I think the development of wearables could have more influence on cultural norms, future of fashion then fitness and health. Thoughts?

  • munirkiron says:

    Excellent article James. However, I am using the Moov Now, it seems oka for my two mont experiences. 

    • j.stables says:

      Thank you! We love Moov in the Wareable office

  • MP05 says:

    I've think the garmin vivosport is by far the most advanced tracker in the lightest, smallest package. The one criticism people make about it, is the small size of the screen, but in reality it is very clear even in really bright sunlight. 

  • geefore says:

    Hi! I am looking for a fitness tracker, basically for 24/7. I don't want one that look like a watch, and want it to has heart rate monitor, sleep monitor and vibration wake up alarm, workout tracking, waterproof and for iOS. GPS is not essential but don't mind including. Is there any model you would suggest? Most models seem to have one feature and miss another.

    • j.stables says:

      Gear Fit2 Pro fits the specs, also Garmin Vivosmart 3 looks a good shout also.

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