Best Smart Watches for Training Tracking Reviewed
It wasn’t that long ago that watches only told the time. Fancy versions could tell the date as well. Then, even more recently, watches became uncommon. Cell phones made them unnecessary and they were relegated to the realm of business meetings and formal affairs. Now the trend has swung back the other way and it is odd to see someone without a watch, once again thanks to cell phones. Smartwatches are one answer to the modern problem of hyperconnectivity as well as the increased push for people to take better care of themselves. The best smartwatches combine the need to streamline communications with the information necessary to properly track and change a person’s health profile.
- Apple Series 3 GPS
- Highly Versatile
- Lots of Available Apps
- Fitbit Charge 2
- Connects to Multiple Devices
- Offers Guided Exercise
- Aeifond Bluetooth Watch
- Multi Device Compatible
- Lifetime Guarantee
As important as it is to step away from the phone now and then without losing complete touch, this list is more interested in the other function of these wearable trackers. Whether they count steps or take a turn in the pool, these devices have become indispensable for athletes and exercisers of all ages and experience levels. They have made it easier to take an honest stock of habits both good and bad as well as collect information necessary for trainers and medical professionals to help us live our best lives.
10 Best Smart Watches
1. Apple Series 3 GPS
Most people who purchase wearables are looking for two things. They want a fitness tracker and they want push notifications to appear on their wrist so that they don't have to pull their phone out every time they think it's gone off. The Series 3 offers a fair bit more than that with its app compatibility. There is a range of apps in the App Store that are compatible with the Series 3 in more than just a passing fashion.
Along with a wide range of compatible apps, the Series 3 is designed to provide additional utility for its user. A built-in heart rate monitor keeps track of important vitals while a pedometer and the built-in GPS help anyone active and mobile keep track of their distance and general activity level.
Cost and Value
This is a device that packs a lot of function into a relatively small package. It will cover iPhone users on everything from screening phone calls to push notifications to track their health and fitness goal progress. But, on the flipside of that, it will only help iPhone users. The Apple watch is only compatible with Apple devices and will not work for anyone with an Android phone. It is one of the more expensive products on this list but it will only serve a portion of the available market and that is going to be a dealbreaker for many buyers.
- Lots of Apps
- Heart Rate Monitor
- Very Versatile
- Only Compatible with iPhones
2. Fitbit Charge 2
The main point of wearable fitness trackers is to record the wearer's progress as they strive to reach their fitness goals. Trackers are, in large part, passive and this includes most Fitbit models. The Charge 2 was designed with a different role in mind, however. The device comes pre-programmed with a few guided exercises, including breathing exercises intended to help the wearer calm down in stressful situations. This feature might seem odd, but it can be very helpful for people with heart conditions who need to avoid high levels of stress.
Fitbits are not limited to a specific brand of phone. They will connect just as easily to an Apple product as they will to an Android. This might seem like a fairly basic requirement for a smart device but there are some on the market that only attach to one or the other. And while this might not be an issue in the short term, anyone who changes phone brands would lose access to their tracked data and would have to buy a new wearable that will pair with their phone brand. This is not the case with the Charge 2. Someone can go from an Android to an iPhone and back without risking the loss of their information or the usability of their wearable so long as their new phone is on Fitbit's list of compatible devices.
Cost and Value
Fitbit does not come cheap, though it is not the most expensive brand on this list. Part of their products' cost is the name brand of Fitbit. But the name doesn't just mean a slightly higher price. Fitbit products offer the promise of quality, both for the product and for the customer service. There is inherent value to that quality. As long as buyers are on the lookout for fakes and make sure that they wear the device properly as the heart rate monitor is a little touchy, this product is certainly worth the investment.
- Provides Guided Exercise
- Very Versatile
- Connects with Multiple Device Types
- Heart Rate Monitor is Spotty
3. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
Most people see GPS as a useful tool when taking a road trip or when you move to a new place. It isn't really a necessary thing for the vast majority of sports or fitness-achievement methods. But there are come niche groups within the fitness community that are a bit more adventurous than others. They roam far and wide, often in places where getting lost could be very dangerous. GPS is an absolute must for these sorts of fitness enthusiasts and the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier has them covered.
It also bears mentioning that anyone who travels for business, does transportation or delivery of any kind will benefit from the GPS as well. It is much easier to check a GPS display on the wrist than it is to drive, ride a bike, or carry something while checking for the same information on a phone or similarly bulky device.
Many wearables on the market at the moment are locked into one app for the reporting. If they connect to other apps, the interfacing is likely to be limited. The Gear S3 Frontier is an exception to this rule. It will connect to many apps that appear in the app store of whatever device they are connected to. This gives the device a greater range of versatility and increases its use for the wearer which, in turn, means more value per dollar.
Cost and Value
The Gear S3 Frontier's price is at the high end of this list's price range. Among the more expensive brands, it falls somewhere in the middle. Part of that price is the Samsung brand name. And while it might add a little bit of cost, the Samsung name also means quality. Samsung has also taken care to pack a lot of features into their wearable and these further soften the blow of the price. The Gear S3 frontier can connect to a variety of apps, carried built-in GPS and even has a traditional watch face available as a screen saver. It is stylish and sleek which means it will also blend in with just about any outfit. Samsung's customer service and tech support leave something to be desired, at least based on their reviews, but that is the worst that can be said for this device.
- Built-In GPS
- Wide Array of Apps
- Connects to Multiple Device Types
- Bad Customer Service and Tech Support
4. Garmin Fenix 5S
Most wearables aren't rated for water. They can handle a light sweat but will not handle a trip through the shower, for example. This downfall has left a fairly high number of athletes and fitness enthusiasts unable to enhance their workouts through the use of wearables. Garmin clearly saw that gap in the market and designed their device to fill it almost perfectly. 100 meters is roughly equivalent to 325 feet for those who don't use the metric system. This means that the Fenix is rated for swimmers, pool divers, and snorkelers, though most serious open-water divers or diving-pool divers will not be able to use this wearable.
Great Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors are the bread and butter of wearables. They are one of the first things that wearables were intended to track. With this in mind, it is a little bit surprising how many companies have less than ideal track records with the heart rate monitors in their wearables. Garmin is, thankfully, not one of those companies. The heart rate tracker in this device is fantastic. It takes accurate and regular vitals, then stores them in an easy to read and easy to access format.
Cost and Value
Garmin's Fenix is an absolutely fantastic example of what a wearable can be. It covers very nearly every kind of athlete and fitness fan, including those that usually cannot use wearables. Their heart rate monitoring is top-notch and the display is easy to read. The design itself is at once basic and classic which allows it to blend in with nearly any casual outfit without attracting attention to the fact that it is a fitness tracker. These traits, unfortunately, come with a fairly high price point. Some of Garmin's other models have a more reasonable price, but they are not rated to 100m of depth. It's a tradeoff that will appeal to some buyers more than others, but it an important point to keep in mind.
- Easily Readable Display
- Great Heart Rate Monitor
- Rated to 100m Water Depth
- Beware Fakes
- Bluetooth is Spotty
5. Fitbit Flex 2
Most smart wear is, obviously, not waterproof. Taking the wrong device for a swim, or even into the shower, can result in the loss of a hefty investment. The Flex 2, on the other hand, bypasses all of those issues. It is specifically rated for swimming and use in the ocean or the shower. Fitbit uses the terms "swim-proof" and "life-proof", respectively, and the terms are apt. The product likely should not be worn on a dive, but it is still more versatile than other water-phobic products.
Automatically Connects to FitBit App
The stress of pairing devices has caused more people more headaches than anyone is likely to admit. Fitbit designed the Flex 2 to work a little more smoothly, likely in the hopes of reducing that same stress for their customers. The Flex 2 should connect automatically to the Fitbit app and begin uploading information regularly. The device has no display of its own, making the app indispensable, however.
Cost and Value
There's a little bit of extra price tacked onto Fitbit's products due to the brand name. But the rest of their price is rooted squarely in the versatility and quality of their products. Not only is this device easy and intuitive to use but it is rated for use by swimmers and is cleared to be worn in the shower. It is compatible with any device that can host the Fitbit app and the worst that can be said about it is that it has little versatility for the price given that it is not a whole-use device.
- Rated for Swim and Wetwear
- Automatically Connects to FitBit App
- Usable with Most Devices
- Very Limited Versatility
6. Garmin Vivoactive
Wearables have absolutely swept the fitness world over the last few years, but one of the niches that they've completely missed is that of swimming. Water and electronics generally don't mix well as anyone who has had to sink their phone into a container of rice will tell you. But the information gathered by wearable trackers is just as useful to swimmers as it is to anyone else. Garmin clearly saw this opening in the market and has done the best to fill it with their Vivoactive model. Swimming is actually one of the recommended activities that it can track, giving it a leg up on nearly all of its competitors
Heart Rate Monitor
The primary function that most people look for in a wearable is the ability to track the wearer's heart rate. Accuracy can be hit or miss with some companies which are made clear by a quick search through most aggregated reviews. Garmin does not seem to have an issue with their heart rate monitoring, however. Their customers are generally happy with the product's reliability which is important when something like heart rate is tracked, particularly when it is being tracked for medical reasons.
Cost and Value
Garmin offers high-quality products packed with features and, in this case, rated for activities that most wearables are not suited for. But they are also aware of what those features are worth. This product is far from the most expensive item on this list. It is, in fact, just about in the center of this list's price range. Swimmers will likely find the added cost worth the investment since they will be able to wear this device into the pool, but it may not be worth the cost to users who do not intend to get their device wet. It is also important to buy directly from Garmin or a licensed reseller because fakes are unfortunately common on the market at the moment.
- Rated for Swimming
- Strong Heart Rate Monitor
- GPS Capable
7. Suunto Spartan Ultra
Despite the bad press it sometimes gets, GPS tracking can be an incredibly useful tool in a fitness tracker. It can help runners or walkers keep track of their distance and routes, keep hikers safe, and give bicyclists a better idea of the routes available to them without getting their phone out and risking damage to it. This device allows users to access all of that information easily and safely from their wrist, letting them get back on track faster and more safely.
Even the most dedicated fitness fanatic will have days where nothing seems fun or interesting. It feels like a chore just to get up the energy to work out at all and the added pressure of thinking up a routine can be enough to derail a workout altogether. Suunto's solution to this problem is to supply pre=programmed routines along with the purchase of their wearable. Users can access the routines right from the watch and have a program up and running in moments, helping them avoid the slump that might knock them off their game entirely.
Cost and Value
Suunto is, without a doubt, the most expensive company on this list. Their product is almost double the next highest price listed here. Some of their features certainly make the price seem worth it, such as 80 different pre-programmed sports modes to choose from, guided routines pre-loaded on the watch, a long-lasting battery, and GPS tracking for those feeling particularly mobile or adventurous. The device certainly is not for every budget, but the sheer versatility of it is definitely something that needs to be considered before dismissing it out of hand.
- GPS Tracking
- Preloaded with Multiple Activity Profiles
- Connects to Most Devices
- Relatively Unknown Company
8. Letsfit Fitness Tracker
At this point, it is common knowledge that the amount and quality of a person's sleep has a direct impact on their fitness and health. It can be hard to get good sleep in today's high-demand world and it is even harder to get quality strength for any length of time. This is probably why Letsfit included a sleep tracker in their wearable's programming. There is an off kind of encouragement that comes from seeing even one good night of sleep recorded in the log and then seeing the effects of that sleep the next day.
Multiple Sport Modes
Different activities can lead to different reactions and calorie burn in the body, even if the activities seem similar on their surface. These differences can cause a fitness tracker to log inaccurate calorie-burn counts, step counts, or heart rate reactions. While the occasional mistake isn't that big of a deal, a consistent issue in tracking can lead to inaccurate goals being set or concerns being raised. Letsfit programmed something of a solution to this problem into their fitness tracker. The device has several sports profiles to choose from so that the wearer can set the tracker to whatever mode best suits their needs at any given time.
Cost and Value
Letsfit didn't take the title of Best Value but it was a very close race. Their fitness tracker is one of the most affordable products on this list and, indeed, on the market. That low price becomes almost unbelievable when the additional features like sleep tracking, waterproofing, and sports modes are taken into account. The only real drawbacks are that this device is only a fitness tracker, which may not appeal to some customers, and the need of a specific Letsfit app to access most of the device's information and features.
- GPS Connected
- Multiple Sports Modes
- Sleep Quality Data Available
- Requires a Specific App
9. Aeifond Bluetooth Watch
Buying a wearable can seem like a high-risk investment. The risk of breakage or malfunction is fairly high and there is no guarantee that the buyer will like the specific device they have purchased. Aeifond takes most of the risk out of the purchase by offering a 100% lifetime satisfaction guarantee. If their customers are ever dissatisfied with their purchase, the item can be returned or exchanged by contacting their customer service department.
There is a unique kind of frustration that strikes when an accessory is not compatible with the product it was meant to accompany. This frustration is even acuter when the accessory is its own complex product and a potential financial investment. Some wearable buyers can attest to this frustration when they discovered that their new purchase was not compatible with their phone. Aeifond's wearables should avoid this pitfall through their open compatibility range. Customer service should be contacted if there is any question about compatibility but the company has made a point of mentioning that this device can pair with most phones.
Cost and Value
Aeifond took the title of "Best Value" for this list, which is its own testament to the value of this product. It is worth mentioning, however, that few devices in this price range come with the kind of satisfaction guarantee that Aeifond offers. Some customers have complained about their purchases not working upon arrival, but that will be easily fixed thanks to the satisfaction guarantee.
- 100% Satisfaction Lifetime Guarantee
- Compatible with Multiple Device Types
- Some Arrive Broken
10. Marc Jacobs Riley
Many fitness wearables simply record whatever vitals they are programmed to monitor. Marc Jacobs felt that their customers deserved to be a little more hands-on with their fitness goals and designed their device to accept custom goals that are centralized on the device itself.
Wearables are so new that the best way to wear them is still up in the air. Some people feel that a traditional clock face should be visible whenever the user is not actively using the device. The other most common opinion is that the face should either show what the device is doing or otherwise be blank without the nod to traditional clocks. Regardless of which opinion their customers hold, Marc Jacobs has designed a stylish band and minimalist clock body that can please either camp with a variety of home screens.
Cost and Value
This is, surprisingly, not the most expensive watch on this list. It does come with a fairly high price tag, however. Part of that cost is the Marc Jacobs name, of course. It is a name that means quality and taste, but it is a high-price brand name regardless. The watch's versatility and aesthetic easily explain the rest of the price, as does its built-in customizable features.
- Customizable Goals
- Very Versatile
- No GPS
Choosing the best smartwatch is a much more personal decision than most people realize. Aesthetic, features, and privacy concerns all have to be weighed before a product can be selected. Skipping this self-reflection is likely to lead to a device that does not meet the needs of the wearer. But if the buyer takes a little time to ensure that they are choosing the right product, there is a good chance that this device can be life changing. It may be as simple as encouraging someone to walk more because it is fun to count the steps. Or it may be as complex as providing the information needed for an insomniac to finally crack their sleep code. Small changes that lead to bigger answers, all thanks to a smartwatch.
Criteria For Evaluating the Best Smart Watch
- Heart Rate Monitor
The basic aspect that all the wearables on this list had to have was a heart rate monitor. Some are better than others. Some display the information directly while others require an app. But all of the devices have a heart rate monitor as the focal point of their viability on this list and in a training setting.
GPS is not a particularly common smart device feature outside of smartphones. Most people don’t need GPS on a wearable so long as their phone is close at hand. For those who do, however, GPS connectivity has been specifically noted to make it easier to find the best watch to take with them on an off-trail adventure.
- App Connection
Basic vital monitoring is a good place for a fitness tracker to start but it quickly falls flat if there is no other usability to support the records. Several of the wearables on this list were designed with broad-spectrum usability in mind. These devices allow their wearers to receive push notifications, check messages, and take calls all from the device on their wrist rather than from their phone.
- Water Resistance
Swimmers have long been ignored by the wider wearable market. Most devices on the market aren’t even rated to run under the tap when someone washes their hands, let alone withstand submersion during a swim. Products that were rated for swimming or general water resistance are clearly marked in the list above to make choosing a device easier for those buyers who have been struggling with the issue. Depth ratings and water resistance level vary from product to product, so it is important that the specific type of intended use be taken into account.
Wearables are, by and large, not cheap. They are an investment in a particular lifestyle as well as a certain approach to fitness. This investment means that it is absolutely key for buyers to go in with a clear idea of what they want their tracker to do and then browse from there. Devices with more versatility tend to cost more but the price tag is worth it for those who need or want that kind of flexibility. Less versatile devices may be more budget-friendly and will suit those who want a dedicated fitness tracker instead of a broad-spectrum device.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I wear my device into the pool/shower/ocean?
A: For the most part, no. Some devices are intended for use in water but those are clearly marked. Unless it specifically states that the device is approved for water use on the project’s webpage, do not wear any smart device into water whether it’s washing one’s hands under a tap or swimming.
Q: Can I change the way my device looks?
A: Many smart devices can be customized with wristbands and face casings that change their appearance. Not all devices have this capability, however. A good way to be sure is to search for customization options for the device prior to buying the device itself.
Q: How easily will this device break?
A: Durability changes from device to device, but most wearables can stand up to the daily grind of modern life without risk of breaking.
Q: What do I do with the information from my device?
A: This depends on what type of information the device is tracking. Heart rate logs can be useful to doctors for a variety of reasons. Trainers might find them useful in ensuring their clients are working out hard enough (but not dangerously hard). Other information, like step counts and calories burned, can help people keep an honest record of how active they are.
Q: Is my information safe with a wearable device?
A: Some wearables can make their paired devices more susceptible to being hacked. There is a link below to resources on the topic and security information should be covered in the paperwork that comes with any wearable device.