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Best Activity Tracker: 6 models tested

ByDaniel HesselUpdated October 21, 2019

How we did the test

We used the activity trackers, or activity bands as they're also called, in everyday life as they're intended to be used. Where they can record sleep, we slept with them on, and where they can record different types of exercise, we tested that too. The actual step counting has been checked on a fixed, but varied route, and where the trackers have built-in pulse meters, they have been checked too, against a GPS watch with a separate pulse strap.

During the test we focused on a number of parameters that we feel are particularly important.

  • Accuracy: How accurate is the step count? Is the step count low, or does it overestimate the steps taken? The same thing applies to sleep and pulse. For pulse measurement, how often the pulse is taken is also important.

  • Functions and apps: Can the band show notifications from your telephone? How is your collected data presented both on the unit and in the app? What can the band do in addition to the basic functions? Is the app easy-to-use and does it give you tips on how you can improve?

  • Design and battery life: An activity trainer you need to keep charging will eventually end up being forgotten about and left in a drawer. A good activity trainer lasts for about a week's use, during which time you should simply be able to forget that you're wearing it. Consequently, the design is also important. The band has to be comfortable to wear all the time, not get in the way and quite simply blend into your everyday life.

1. Garmin Vivosmart 3

Full of functions in a reasonable format

GPS: No Screen resolution: 64 x 128 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 18.5 x 9.8 mm, 197/223 mm (Small/Large) Weight: 20.4/21.5 g (Small/Large) Watertight/Depth: Yes/tolerates swimming Battery life: Up to five days Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart, Ant+ Altitude meter: Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes

Garmin Vivosmart 3

The Garmin Vivosmart 3 demonstrates very well exactly how many functions an activity tracker can have. It gives you step counting, an altitude meter (measured in the number of flights of stairs), a built-in pulse meter and automatic sleep logging. The pulse meter is also used to measure stress levels in a brilliantly simple way. By connecting it to your mobile, you also get notifications straight to your wrist. There are many additional functions built into the activity tracker too, such as a stopwatch, VO2 max measurement (with an external pulse strap) and lots more besides. But Garmin have succeeded in a tricky balancing act by displaying the most important functions in the interface without overloading it.

Clear screen but short battery life

The Vivosmart 3 is intended as an effective activity tracker that can do more than it first appears. This is also obvious from the design, which is certainly sporty but still sufficiently discreet that it doesn’t shriek “fitness fanatic”. The band is also relatively small and light, but unfortunately doesn’t have the best battery life (five days) in this class. The screen is clear most of the time, although telephone notifications are sometimes a bit messy if they’re very long.

If you want to use the band for training, it covers the most common forms of exercise, but there’s no measurement for swimming, which is a shame as this is quite common in the competitors’ similar trackers.

The app does most things

With a minimal display, the majority of settings are done in Garmin’s app, which continuously synchronises data with the band. One fun function here is the opportunity to challenge your Garmin-using friends in step competitions. Other than the motivation you get from an activity tracker (and reminders when you've been sitting still for too long), the weekly competitions with your friends are a fantastic way to encourage yourself into an extra walk or run.

The Garmin Vivosmart is generally a useful gadget that will suit anyone who’d like the option to explore their exercise data a little more without wanting to go the whole way to a full-scale GPS watch.

Neat formatlots of functions in the appmany built-in functions in the band
No swimming measurementmediocre battery life

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Amazon.co.uk

2. Withings Move

Normal watch with smart insides

GPS: No Screen resolution: No Dimensions (WxHxD): 195x38x13 mm Weight: 45 g (depending on bracelet) Watertight/Depth: Yes/50 m Battery life: up to 18 months Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Altitude meter: No Compass: No Vibration alarm: No Pulse measurement: No

Withings Move

The Withings Move is an activity tracker that looks like a normal watch. The only thing that reveals it’s anything more is the second analogue dial on the right-hand part of the watch dial. This shows a value between zero and 100, and is simply a measurement of how close you are to achieving your step count for the day.

Unbeatable battery life

Unlike Withings’ more expensive watches and many of its competitors, it doesn’t have an advanced display or lots of functions or exercise forms – and no pulse meter either. With their Move, Withings have put everything into a design that looks like a normal analogue watch and what’s probably the longest battery life yet for an activity tracker – up to 18 months. For obvious reasons we haven’t been able to test that particular claim completely, but when it’s time for a battery replacement you do it in the same way as when a normal watch needs a new battery.

Of course you’ll miss a number of advanced functions that other trackers can be equipped with, but that’s actually the point here. And it doesn’t mean there are too few functions. It has step counting and does a very good job. It also measures sleep and can, if you press the single button, start an exercise session.

Not much for training

Training sessions are a bit different. The watch can act as a timer without really displaying anything, while it simultaneously uses your telephone to capture GPS data. The watch also kicks in when you begin running without starting a session, and can even record simpler data for swimming.

It works, but on a very basic level.

The linked app is intended for you to use the watch together with Withings’ scales and other health gadgets. But even with only the watch in the system you get a good overview of how you’re moving and sleeping.

The Withings Move is an attractive watch with an elegant solution for activity tracking. It also has a fantastic battery life. Sometimes you don’t actually need much more than this.

Extremely long battery lifeattractive designeasy to use app
Only simple exercise functions

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Amazon.co.uk

3. Garmin Vivofit Jr

Smart fitness for children

GPS: No Screen resolution: 64 x 64 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): Standard (up to 145 mm wrist), X-large (up to 175 mm wrist, openable) Weight: 17.5 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: Up to one year Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Altitude meter: No Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: No

Garmin Vivofit Jr

An activity tracker is a great source of motivation to move more and counteract sedentary behaviour. The adult world has a whole bunch of them and now it’s time to connect the younger generation too.

It can sound a little cruel to keep track of your child’s exercise during the day through an app. But at the same time sedentary behaviour is a growing problem in all age groups and Garmin have really thought about how the Vivofit Jr can provide added value.

For instance, the packaging can be reused as a piggy bank. The tracker is a simpler model with a black-and-white but clear screen. A single button changes between different views and new bands can be purchased in a number of different colours and patterns. One disadvantage is that the band has no buckle, but is instead semi-elasticated. This makes it easier to put on and take off for small fingers, but at the same time the fact that it slips around on thinner wrists is annoying. You can change to a band with a buckle, but the fixed one feels very large for the stated age range of 4-7 years. The battery is a watch battery type that lasts for up to a year. Just like other Garmin bands, the wearer gets a reminder if they’ve been sitting still for too long and a notification when they’ve reached the day’s activity goals.

Smart app for children and parents

The band is synchronised with a special app and not with Garmin’s normal one. This is where a lot of the target group adaptations come in. Parents and children have different account levels (with support for more than one parent). The children’s part displays simplified data on how many steps have been taken, total points and even a game that you can unlock more of by taking more steps and collecting more points. The parent’s part also shows this data, but contains tasks too. These can be teeth brushing, making beds or similar things and as these are ticked off, the child’s account earns coins that can be used in the game. The disadvantage is that you can’t top up the activities, so if the child has cycled for an entire afternoon, for example, it doesn’t make much difference on the activity tracker.

Useful but expensive

The Vivofit Jr can feel a bit expensive for what it does. But the app with the motivating game, the tasks and the parent/child modes are well thought out and useful. If you want to encourage your child to move more and simultaneously motivate them to help out around the house, this is quite a good product – but if your child is happy just seeing their number of steps there are cheaper options.

Well thought out appapp also works as a task manager
Fixed band sizecan feel a bit clumsy

Find deal at

RunnerInn

4. Garmin Vivosport

Because we can

GPS: Yes Screen resolution: 72 x 144 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 9.7x19.3 mm Weight: 24.1/27 g (small/large) Watertight/Depth: Yes/no information (should cope with swimming) Battery life: up to 8 hours with GPS Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+ Battery life (standby): up to 7 days Altitude meter: Yes Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, built-in or with pulse strap

Garmin Vivosport

How many functions can you expect from a compact activity tracker? Garmin seem to have approached this one by asking “how much we can squeeze into it?”

In many ways, the Vivosport looks like a lot of other activity trackers – confusingly like Garmin’s simpler Vivosmart devices. It’s a rubberised bracelet with an oblong and relatively simple screen. It’s made to be discreet but simultaneously a bit sporty, just like pretty much the entire category of activity trackers.

The big difference is on the inside, because the Vivosport is one of few activity trackers with built-in GPS. Competitors like Fitbit often boast about their GPS functionality, but this is usually only the tracker picking up the GPS signal from your phone. Here it’s inbuilt from the start and even if it isn’t the fastest receiver in town it’s very welcome in an exercise context.

Almost like a GPS watch

Running and cycling are the sports that benefit from GPS tracking, but there are a handful of other sports to choose from that don’t require GPS data, such as indoor running or strength training. Unfortunately there’s no functionality for swimming, something that many competitors at least attempt to measure. However, you can connect a separate pulse strap if you want.

Overall you get really good step counting, altitude and sleep measurement and synchronisation with your phone for both exercise data and mobile notifications. The tracker also keeps track of your pulse and uses it to determine how stressed you are.

Small format makes it hard to navigate

The disadvantage is, of course, that the tiny screen neither contains much information nor makes the system very easy to navigate. If you use the GPS part the battery level also goes down very quickly, which isn’t surprising given the format.

This also means that, for the Vivosport 3, the answer to the question “how much we can squeeze into it?” doesn’t depend on desire or opportunity, but instead on the execution. Because even though there a lot of functions in a neat package, overall it’s a bit too much for the system to handle well.

GPSreliable connectiondetailed activity tracking with GPS
Not easy to navigateshort battery life in GPS modeno swimming function

Find deal at

Amazon.co.uk

5. Xiaomi Mi Band 3

Simple functions with amazing battery life

GPS: No Screen resolution: 128x80 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.9x17.9x12 mm Weight: 20 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/50m Battery life: Up to 20 days Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Altitude meter: No Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, inbuilt

Xiaomi Mi Band 3

The Xiaomi Mi Band 3 follows the same trends as Xiaomi in general. In other words impressive specifications for a really good price. Here you get an activity tracker that at least on paper has the same functions as trackers that are three times as expensive.

Long battery life

You don’t need to charge the Mi Band 3 very often. Xiaomi states 20 days as the battery life, and we’re almost inclined to agree with this. It goes down a bit if you exercise often, but you can easily get through a week without charging it.

The design is very discreet. But it’s quite thick. This means that it easily gets stuck in your sweater sleeves and so on. It also makes it a problem for sleep measurement, because it’s uncomfortable to wear in bed.

As a step counter it does its job and agrees with our reference counter pretty well. To save the battery there’s only one mode for the pulse meter, and this measures once every 30 minutes. This works, even if it isn’t as detailed as the competitors.

Limited notifications

You can also get notifications from your phone, although these are limited. Phone calls, texts, WhatsApp and Instagram are supported, but nothing more.

Navigation is simple – you do everything via short or long presses on the single button or by swiping on the little touchscreen. Which is perfectly acceptable given both the unit’s price and size.

The price tag in particular is reflected in the tracker’s functions. The Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is most suited for people wanting to keep track of their steps and “record” the odd exercise session. You won’t get any more detailed history, analysis, friend functions or sharing in the app and the built-in exercise types pretty much consist of “run” and “other”. This is a bit of a shame, particularly because Xiaomi boast that the unit is watertight down to 50 metres, but without any way of measuring swimming.

The Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is a product that puts price first. If you just want to log steps to a mobile app you’ll find this tracker useful, provided you can get on with the thickness.

Long battery lifemeasures steps and pulse well
Quite thick and clumsyfew functions in both app and tracker

Find deal at

OnBuy.com

6. Garmin Vivomove HR

Really attractive indoors, useless outdoors

GPS: No Screen resolution: 128x64 pixels Dimensions (WxHxD): 43x43 mm Weight: 40.8 g Watertight/Depth: Yes/5 Atm Battery life: up to 5 days (14 days for just the analogue watch) Wireless technology: Bluetooth Smart Altitude meter: No Compass: No Vibration alarm: Yes Pulse measurement: Yes, inbuilt

Garmin Vivomove HR

The Garmin Vivomove HR is a really advanced activity tracker disguised as a normal analogue watch. The lower part of the watch face contains a screen that’s completely hidden until it’s activated. When you need it the screen lights up to display simple data... And the hands move temporarily so they aren’t in the way of the screen, which we think is really clever!

Stylish watch

As a watch, the Vivomove HR is really attractive, if a little bit bigger and thicker than a normal analogue watch. The thickness comes from the HR part of the name, because on the back it has a built-in optical pulse meter that keeps track of your heart rate throughout the day. This is a measurement that can also be translated into how stressed you are and calculate your VO2 max – in other words your oxygen uptake ability. Alongside this you get step and sleep measurements and notifications from your telephone. The little screen is touch sensitive, so you can easily change between different information screens or music controls.

Unusable outdoors

Other than counting “intensive minutes”, there are minimal exercise functions. You can choose between strength training and condition, but that’s it. And this is a bit stingy, because other, simpler trackers can do more than this.

But the biggest disadvantage is a result of the attractive design, because the concealed display is completely unreadable in normal sunlight. This makes the Garmin Vivomove HR an attractive and functional activity tracker indoors, but unsuitable for outdoor use.

Attractiveneat display solutiongood tracking functions
Display unreadable in sunlight

Find deal at

Amazon.co.uk

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