If you’re looking for a great fitness watch, you first need to determine which type you need. There are basically two kinds of devices for two kinds of people:
- People who do workouts (running, cycling, swimming, etc.)
- People who go on walks and do activities, but don’t do “serious” workouts
Don’t take this as an insult. I’m just directing you to the best product for your needs.
This article is split into two sections so I can recommend the best products for these two different types of people. I start with the workout watches, but if you’re in the second group, you can jump ahead to the fitness trackers here.
The best fitness watches for workouts
Here are three excellent fitness watches for people who do actual workouts. I’m presenting three to satisfy different price ranges: low, medium, and high-budget.
Best low-budget workout watch: The Garmin Forerunner 230
If you don’t want to spend lots of money but you want an excellent sports watch for workouts and daily fitness tracking — you can’t do better than the Garmin Forerunner 230.
If you did some research on the Forerunner 230, you would quickly realize that Garmin categorizes this model as discontinued. But, Garmin certainly hasn’t stopped selling it on Amazon, and even though it’s on the way out, it’s still by far the best low-budget workout watch you can buy.
What makes it appealing? It comes with excellent workout modes for running and cycling (both indoor and out). But, because this watch has access Garmin’s Connect IQ apps, you can use the 230 for a wide range of other sports (such as swimming indoors with the Pool Swim app).
The 230 is an extremely versatile sports watch, but it also acts as a basic fitness tracker and smartwatch. You can easily connect it to your phone via Bluetooth and use it to read messages and notifications, count steps, and receive weather information. This may not sound like a big deal, but being able to glance at your watch and decline an incoming call without taking your phone out of your pocket is pretty great.
If you want bleeding-edge tech, you won’t get it with the 230. But, what you do get is an extremely capable multi-sport smartwatch at a comparatively low price. There is a version of this watch with a built-in heart rate monitor called the Forerunner 235. It’s pretty much identical to the 230 (except the 235 isn’t “discontinued”), but it costs over $100 USD more. You can get an inexpensive heart-rate chest strap for the 230 and have similar functionality.
Best medium-budget workout watch: The Suunto Spartan Trainer
If you didn’t like that the Garmin 230 is essentially last year’s tech, you’ll love that the Suunto Spartan Trainer is a brand new model. This watch stands out because it’s a fully capable multi-sport watch at a very appealing price. With the aforementioned Garmin 230, you can download additional apps to get swimming modes, but the Spartan Trainer comes with them out of the box.
It may look a bulky in photos, but it’s actually noticeably smaller and more lightweight compared to other Suunto sport watches. The size of the Trainer is just right to appeal to males and females. Plus, it’s got a wrist-based heart rate monitor built in.
This watch comes with over 80 activity types, so no matter what sport you want to track, it is likely in there. It has nearly identical functionality as the recently released Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR watch (except that the Trainer doesn’t have a touchscreen, which is not an issue), which is a $500 USD watch. If you’re a triathlete on a budget (bless your heart), getting this watch is a no-brainer.
Not everything is perfect on the Spartan Trainer. The watch bands can’t be changed. It connects to Bluetooth sensors only, so it’s not compatible with ANT+ gear (however, it is fully compatible with the Stryd running power meter, which is awesome). The screen isn’t large. But, this is still a super nice workout watch at a very attractive price.
Best high-budget workout watch: The Garmin Forerunner 935
If you’re looking for the best workout watch you can get, I recommend the Garmin Forerunner 935. If you mainly just run, this watch may seem like overkill as it has so many features that appeal to multi-sport athletes. But, if you’re a competitive runner who wants an edge — this is the watch to have. I explain why below.
It may seem like I have a bias for Garmin watches. Four out of the six devices I suggest in this post are all Garmins. I’m not playing favorites. Garmin has been committed to making advanced sports watches for a long time, and this tenacity gives them an edge over their competitors. The Forerunner 935 is proof.
If you’re a long-course triathlete, the 935 is the watch to have. Same goes for long-distance endurance runners. Long battery life, data accuracy, and flexibility in options are what make this the best choice. This is one of the only watches that enables you to use the Stryd running power meter as its source for cadence and distance, while using the GPS features of the watch. For competitive runners, this is the ultimate knock-out punch.
The 935 is essentially a Fenix 5, the most recent top-of-the-line workout watch from Garmin, except that it’s a little bit more lightweight — which makes it both superior and less expensive, which is one of the reasons why I am recommending it as the “best.”
If you like the 935 but you wish it looked a littler fancier so you could wear it for sports, business, and dress-up attire, I recommend using the Fenix 5X. The regular Fenix 5 and the smaller, female-friendly Fenix 5S are also fine choices, but unfortunately, those two models are not compatible with the Stryd running power meter, whereas the 5X works just fine with it.
Hey… What about the Apple Watch?
The Apple Watch is outstanding, but not for workouts. When you get sweaty, you don’t want to fiddle with its touchscreen for operation. At the end of a workout, it doesn’t show you much data at all — you need to open the mobile app to see it. Plus, Apple makes it difficult (or impossible) to share your workout data with third-party training platforms, which is a deal breaker for most serious athletes.
If you want an Apple Watch, you should get one. Just don’t expect it to be the greatest sports watch in the world. It is a great fitness tracker, though, which is why I recommend it in the second part of this post.
The best fitness watches for activity tracking
Here are “three” very good fitness trackers. They satisfy different price ranges: low, medium, and high-budget.
Best low and medium-budget fitness tracker: The Garmin Vivosmart HR
See what I did there? My recommendation for both the low and medium-priced fitness trackers is essentially the same exact model. The Garmin Vivosmart HR is a wrist-worn device with a built-in heart rate monitor and a display, so you can periodically check it throughout the day to see how active you’ve been.
The low-priced option is last year’s model, the Vivosmart HR. Even though it’s “older” technology (12-months old, may as well be in a nursing home, right?), it’s still an outstanding device to own, and you can get one for less than $100 USD, which makes it a great deal.
If you want the latest and greatest tech from Garmin, go for the new Vivosmart HR+, which comes in Black, Blue, or Purple (pictured above). One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if there is an option for a purple one — always get the purple one.
You need to pay around $70 USD more for the “+” version of this fitness tracker. The major difference with this model is that it has GPS. If you want to draw maps of your adventures without having to carry a smartphone around with you, then built-in GPS is worth having.
Why am I recommending the Vivosmart HR over everything else out there? My sister recently asked me which fitness tracker to get, and I told her to get this one (she opted for last year’s model). I asked her how she liked it a few weeks later, and she told me that it changed her life. She looks at it to see how active of a day she is having, and if the numbers are low, she makes a point of being more active. She also loves that it counts the number of stairs she climbs.
In addition to fitness tracking, the Vivosmart HR can also connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can read notifications and screen incoming calls.
Hey… What about those $60 Fitbit things?
I am not a fan of inexpensive fitness trackers that don’t have a display. The idea is that you’re supposed to wear the device, and then periodically open the smartphone app throughout the day to see how you’re doing. This is too much friction, in my opinion. If you get sick of hunting for and opening that app, you’ll stop tracking your fitness. This is no good. This is a list of “the best” products, after all. You’ll only find quality recommendations here.
Best high-budget fitness tracker: Apple Watch
The Apple Watch isn’t the ideal device for everyone (there’s a certain percentage of the population that is permanently committed to hating Apple and everything they do). But, if you want a fitness tracker that goes above and beyond, and you happen to own an iPhone, you should definitely consider getting an Apple Watch.
People who own this device often talk about their “rings.” You can see them in the image above. The Apple Watch encourages you to take more steps, stand up more, and breathe, and it uses these colorful graphical rings to motivate you. It may sound simple, but people seem to like it a lot.
With this gadget you get state-of-the-art fitness tracking, but you also get what is universally considered as the greatest smartwatch on the planet. The list of useful things it does is immense. It’s the only smartwatch that can reply back to text messages you receive on your iPhone (every other device can only show you incoming texts, not reply).
So, which Apple Watch should you get? A basic, aluminum Series 1 model should suit most people’s fitness needs. If you want to record the map of your runs, hikes, or bike rides without requiring you bring your iPhone along, step up to the Series 3 GPS. If you want to go for it, get the Series 3 with LTE. Get AirPods while you’re at it. I personally don’t think it’s worth it to pay more for an Apple Watch with a stainless steel case.
NOTE: This post will be updated whenever a better option arrives!
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Garmin Forerunner 230 - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Garmin Forerunner 235 - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Suunto Spartan Trainer - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Garmin Forerunner 935 - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Garmin Fenix 5X - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Garmin Vivosmart HR - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Garmin Vivosmart HR+ - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Apple Watch - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr