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Who Needs the best Workout Watches ?
If you’re trying to lose weight, or ramp up your exercise regimen, there’s a good chance the best workout watches will help. If you’re already a big time runner and you’re looking for something to track time and distance, a workout watch is not going to have the accuracy you’re looking for.
But for the average person who is just looking for something to make exercise both easier to track and a little fun, a workout watch is a great way to go. In general, a workout watch will measure how much you walk in the day. Many will measure your active heart rate while you exercise, but most do it poorly. (Our top pick does it the best.)
If you have one of the newer smartphones—iPhone 6, Moto X, Nexus 6—then there are apps available that will do pretty much everything that a workout watch will do.
The one thing smart phones won’t do may be the most important, and that’s to get you to exercise more. There is actual science that suggests those who wear workout watches are more likely to exercise more than those with similar exercise goals who don’t have a best workout watch. In addition, there are a number of models that will enable you to sync your results with those of your friends and family to encourage a little friendly competition, and really, there’s nothing like competition for motivation.
Should I Upgrade?
If you’ve bought a workout watch in the last few years and you’re not specifically looking for one of the new features, you probably don’t need to think about upgrading just yet. The one workout watch to rule them all really hasn’t been invented yet.
The FitBit Charge HR
The bottom line is that the FitBit Charge HR is the best workout watch we could find. Here’s why:
- The core functionality of the workout watch is to count steps and the FitBit Charge HR just does it better than the other workout watches on the market.
- The heart rate monitor is a feature many people want and the FitBit Charge HR delivers…mostly. The heart rate function is fairly accurate when the wearer is going about normal daily activities. It lags a bit, though, when the user’s heart rate gets high. If you need an accurate heart rate monitor during exercise, a chest strap is still the only way to go.
- The wrist band. Yes, the wrist band. It sounds like a silly thing, but when you’re putting something on your wrist, comfort is a factor. If you’re not comfortable wearing it all day, it’s not going to do you any good. At the same time, when you’re spending over $100 dollars on something, you don’t want to lose it when it falls off your wrist. The band for the FitBit Charge HR is the best combination of comfort and security that we found.
- Size is another comfort factor. The other workout watches that included a heart rate monitor were a lot more bulky than the versions without the monitor. Not so with the Charge HR. It’s larger than the basic FitBit Charge, but only by a tiny bit, certainly not enough to make it uncomfortable.
- The battery life on the Charge HR is easily a day or so longer than the battery life on any of the other workout watches with heart rate monitors.
- The automatic sleep tracker is an excellent addition. Many workout watches include a sleep tracking function that requires the user to push a button when you go to sleep. Not so the Charge HR. You won’t get the kind of sleep data you get during a sleep study, but you will get some decent information on the duration and quality of your sleep.
- There’s a silent alarm you can set that will cause the watch to vibrate. Whether you want to use that as your sole alarm clock or not is something you’d have to figure out, but it’s a handy feature to have.
- The Charge HR has an altimeter, which isn’t true of all workout watches, and which makes the Charge HR much better at judging stairs than most workout watches.
- Finally, the FitBit ecosystem is mature. If you don’t like the assortment of display options, there are third party apps that will probably suit what you need.
While the FitBit Charge HR isn’t the perfect workout watch, it’s the best we could find at doing what most users need it to do. And at about $150, it’s fairly affordable.
Of course, the best workout watch doesn’t exist, which means the Charge HR has some flaws. Here’s what they are:
- The Charge HR is not completely waterproof. It can handle the sweat from a workout, but you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t see a shower, and if your chosen workout is swimming, you’re going to want to look elsewhere.
- The distance calculations have a tendency to be inaccurate. Some workout watches have a GPS unit included that give a much more accurate measure of distance, as well as tracking the route. If you’re a hardcore runner, the Charge HR probably isn’t your best bet.
- The Charge HR—and wrist worn trackers in general—aren’t very good if you participate in contact sports. There’s just too much arm movement for the tracker to get accurate data. So if you’re playing football, basketball, hockey, soccer, or really anything where you’re moving your arms independently of your body, you’re going to want to look at a clip on model rather than a wrist model.
- A lot of people with iOS devices are looking for a workout watch that is compatible with Apple’s Health app. The FitBit Charge HR isn’t, and at least as of late 2014, FitBit indicated that they have no plans on integrating any time soon.
The Other Options
– The Runner Up
The runner up to the FitBit Charge HR is actually the basic FitBit Charge. It offers almost all the same features that the HR does but, of course, without the heart rate monitor.
The most important feature that the HR has that the basic model doesn’t, isn’t actually the Heart Rate monitor, but the wrist band. While the HR has a watch style band that is both comfortable and secure, the Charge has a band with a clip that’s less secure.
– If You Need Something Waterproof Workout Watches
If swimming is your workout of choice, your options are going to be limited because there are very few workout watches that are fully waterproof. Most can handle the sweat of a good workout, but few can handle full immersion.
If that’s something that’s going to be important for you, you’re going to want to look at the Garmin Vivosmart for about $170. It can handle pools, showers, and oceans, has a OLED display that can be read in both light and dark rooms, has an automatic sleep tracker, silent vibration alarms, and Bluetooth syncing.
It lost out to the Charge HR as our overall best pick because it’s significantly less accurate at measuring steps, often detecting steps when the wearer is simply waving his or her arms.
– The Pocket Workout Watch
Some folks don’t like having things on their wrists, or simply don’t want to have a workout watch in addition to a regular watch. If that’s you, there are clip designs that are intended to be clipped onto clothing rather than worn on the wrist.
These models tend to be more accurate in counting steps as they are less confused by hand movements, but they don’t benefit from the additional encouragement offered by having something on your wrist to remind you to move. Also, they’re much easier to lose and, of course, feature no sleep tracking.
If this is for you, our choice is the FitBit One. It’s part of the FitBit ecosystem so when you sync it to your phone or computer you have a wide array of options. It can’t give you the O2 and Heart Rate readings of the Charge HR, but if you’re looking for something that’s not hanging on your wrist, it’s where you want to go.
– If Sleep Tracking is Your Primary Goal
If sleep tracking or data analysis are your top priority, you’re going to want to look at the Basis Peak that comes in at about $200. Not only does it have an automatic sleep tracker, but the myriad sensor array on its predecessor was judged to be roughly equivalent to what you would see from a real sleep lab. The sensor on the next generation device can’t be worse, right?
And the data, great googly moogly, the data. In addition to steps, distance, and calories, the Peak features a heart rate monitor, skin temperature and perspiration sensors so you can track when you’re really working out.
The problems with the Peak come in two things. All those sensors are hard on battery life so you’re going to have to recharge it more than most of the other options. Also, while you have a great quantity and variety of data, the accuracy is often lacking and one has to question whether inaccurate data is better than no data.
– A More Stylish Option
Most workout watches aren’t terribly attractive. If you live and work in a situation where looking good is important, there are some options for workout watches that get the job done while putting style first.
The Withings Activite and Activite Pop are both stylish, and they both have the basic functionality you’re looking for in a workout watch.
They both track steps, and both feature automatic sleep tracking and silent alarms.
They don’t have screens the way most workout watches do. Rather, they have dials like a traditional watch would. One shows the time, the other shows the number of steps taken, and it’s only once the watch is synced that you can look at more complex data.
The Activite checks in at $450 and it that makes you blanche, the Activite Pop is essentially the same watch made with lesser materials and will only set you back about $150.
The Rest of the Field
– The Garmin Vivofit
This is not a bad workout watch, and at $90 it’s less expensive than most, but with no backlight or automatic syncing, it feels a little lacking. If you don’t care about those things and you’re looking for a waterproof tracker, it’s a viable option. Just know, however, that the next generation is coming soon.
– The Jawbone UP24
The battery is excellent, allowing you to go a full two weeks without a recharge and it features both idle alerts and silent alarms. It shares data with third party apps which is nice, but it has no display which makes immediate feedback a non starter. Also, there are some questions about the financial stability of the company.
– GPS Trackers
There are a number of models that include a GPS unit in the workout watch so you can not only track steps and distances, but the particular route you’re walking or running as well. These include the Garmin Forerunner, which retails at about $140, the Polar M400 at $170, and the Polar V800 at $360. These are best suited to serious runners as they track a limited number of daily activities.
There are best workout watches for everyone. We’ve given you a number of options here and if you haven’t found what you’re looking for in this article, I hope we’ve at least given you a head start on what you’re looking for.