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The Best Fitness Trackers

We’ve spent more than 150 hours walking, running, sleeping, grocery shopping, kettlebell swinging, and cycling (indoors and out) to learn everything there is to know about fitness trackers. After considering new options and testing 23 top-rated trackers over the past three years, we think the Garmin Vívosport is the best fitness tracker for people who want to track their activity levels and progressively monitor their workouts.

The Garmin Vívosport nails all the capabilities of a well-rounded fitness tracker by combining an always-visible color display, responsive auto-activity detection with GPS, up-to-seven-day battery life, and accurate continuous heart-rate readings in a wrist-worn band that’s waterproof for swimming. It also has sleep tracking, stress-level detection based on heart-rate variability, and a strength-training mode that counts reps for you. Though trackers from Fitbit and Samsung include similar features, they don’t have the accuracy that Garmin set the standard for. The Vívosport can also receive smartphone notifications from virtually any app as well as the current weather, and can control your phone’s music playback remotely via Bluetooth. The Garmin Connect app, with a recently improved home screen, is compatible with iOS, Android, and desktop computers, but it doesn’t have as many social networking users as Fitbit’s app. Still, given Garmin’s more capable hardware, we think it’s the best pick for most people.

The full-color Gear Fit2 Pro is a sleek-looking gadget with many of the same features as our overall winner, and a few improvements to its predecessor, the Gear Fit2. It has a noticeably larger, more beautiful screen than the Vívosport with GPS, a heart-rate sensor, and automatic activity detection. It’s also the only tracker that lets you interact with some smartphone notifications: You can actually reply to texts and email with canned responses received on an Android phone. Unlike the Vívosport, you can also download additional fitness apps, including MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal, to activate directly on your wrist, and the Samsung can store up to 4 GB of music for online listening via Bluetooth headphones. But all these smart features come at the expense of measly battery life—with moderate use, you have to charge it almost daily. Like its predecessor, its outdoor workout modes begin without waiting for the device to lock onto a GPS signal, which means you could end up halfway through a workout without distance and route recording. Overall, the Gear Fit2 Pro is a slick and smart device, but the more reliable Vívosport is better for tracking fitness overall.

If you just want a simple way to monitor and track your daily activity (including workouts), nightly sleep habits, and get reminders to be more active, the Fitbit Flex 2 is a great choice—especially if all your friends are on Fitbit. Unlike most other Fitbits, it’s water-resistant to 50 meters, so you can track swimming and shower with it. However, it doesn’t have a screen—just five status LEDs to track progress toward your daily step-count goal. It also doesn’t track heart rate, but Fitbits in general continue to struggle with heart-rate accuracy, so we don’t see this as a major issue; it helps the Flex 2 maintain its slim profile and lower price. The Flex 2 syncs wirelessly to the Fitbit app on a smartphone or the Fitbit website on a computer to keep a record of your activity and link you to other Fitbit users—a real highlight, as research shows that friendly competition can be very motivating.

With no battery to charge and no pressing need to sync to a phone, the waterproof Garmin Vívofit 4 is the best option for basic tracking without the requirement to use a separate app. Although pairing it with a phone provides more information, such as daily activity logs and sleep tracking, the small screen is enough to get most of what you need at a glance: time of day, steps taken, steps needed to reach your daily goal (in case you don’t want to do math), distance traveled, calories burned, and “active minutes” (Garmin’s measure of sustained walks and other workouts). It also requires no charging, lasting up to a year on a replaceable watch battery. Despite its lower-tech approach to fitness tracking, it has some smarter features, like automatic workout tracking via Move IQ, inactivity alerts to get you going after a too-long sedentary stint, and a variety of workout timers and stopwatches.

For anyone who doesn’t want to wear something on their wrist, the Fitbit Zip is our recommendation. The tiny Zip is truly clip and go—it runs on a replaceable watch battery, so it requires no charging—and it has an easy-to-read display for you to check your progress at a glance. Costing at least $20 less than the other clip models, it’s the best value in the field. However, it lacks sleep tracking; if that’s important to you, upgrading to (and paying more for) the Fitbit One is your only solid option. Either gives you access to Fitbit’s very active social community to keep you going.

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