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    Updated on Apr 10, 2020. Posted on Apr 10, 2020

    Fitness Trackers That Will Basically Turn You Into A Cyborg

    These can track everything from steps and calories to stress and breathing...

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    When it comes to fitness, we could all use a little pep talk. While there’s no device out there that’ll suddenly make you swole as heck, strapping on a fitness tracker can help you take control of your health in unexpected ways.

    Broadway Video, IFC Original Productions / Via giphy.com

    Just ask Mike Ishraetel, PhD, a former professor of exercise and sport science who’s consulted on sports nutrition for the US Olympic team. Ishraetel told us that as a whole, fitness trackers won’t give you pinpoint accuracy, “but the good news is that they don’t need to be absolutely accurate to make excellent use of them.”

    Most trackers, he continued, will be several hundred calories off on any given day. And really, the same can be said about steps, heart rate, and sleep tracking. “But over weeks and months, they are reliable enough to make sure you’re moving enough to support any weight- or fat-loss goals.”

    In other words, just wearing a fitness tracker won’t do much, but using a tracker to set activity and fitness goals can make you more conscious of how you’re feeling and more engaged in your overall health.

    With all this in mind, we set about to find the best fitness trackers, looking at everything from ease of use to how well it tracked various activities, from counting steps to recording workouts. We also took into account look and feel, especially for folks who aren’t necessarily fitness buffs (because our testers certainly were not). Below, the best fitness trackers for everyone at three different price points.

    Editor's Note: We're currently updating these picks! Check back soon for more.

    FitBit Inspire HR

    No other level-entry band offered a better range of capabilities than Fitbit’s Inspire model. As a brand that’s synonymous with health and fitness tracking, Fitbit has spent the past decade motivating folks to get up and move. And in many ways, the Inspire HR feels like a culmination of years of figuring out what the aspiring fitness buff wants — all packaged in a wearable that’s more lightweight and affordable than anything that’s come before it.

    Before we proceed, we should note that Fitbit peddles two versions of the Inspire — with or without the heart rate sensor (hence the “HR”) — and our testers agreed that the Inspire HR is a much better buy. Not only does it offer more nuanced readings, like advanced calorie and sleep tracking via the 24/7 heart rate monitor, it also comes with a higher-quality band.

    With so many other Fitbit models, why this one, you ask? Great question! We believe that at $100, the Inspire HR nails all the basics — heart rate monitoring, step counting, and sleep tracking — in a sleek, streamlined wearable. While budget trackers at this price point are troubled by clunky designs, the Inspire HR is delightfully small and comfortable (with swappable bands, if that’s your thing).

    A slight flick of the wrist or pressing of the left-hand side button causes the OLED touchscreen to light up, displaying the time and your heart rate. To get to exercise modes and other stats in more detail — including steps walked, distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate — you simply swipe up and down. That said, the Inspire HR is meant to be basic, so there isn’t much you can do on the watch itself — any information other than surface-level stats needs to be checked on the app.

    The Inspire HR’s peewee size does have some trade-offs, like a tiny touchscreen that could be a little strenuous to read at times. The upside is a fitness tracker that’s so low-profile you may forget it’s on you, which especially comes in handy for wearing it to bed and effectively tracking z’s. The Inspire HR does this well, with the ability to analyze your sleep stages (light, deep, or REM sleep).

    But what about exercise itself? The Inspire HR claims it’s able to automatically recognize when you’re walking, running, biking, or swimming, but it’s not always accurate. After one of our testers sweated for an hour on a recumbent bike, for example, the app registered the exercise as swimming. So you can’t rely on the Fitbit to always get it right (luckily, you can just adjust the exercise in the app). Additionally, the Inspire HR tracks up to 15 different exercises, from yoga to kickboxing. You can also add in a custom exercise if you need to.

    In terms of other features, our testers also loved the Inspire HR’s simple but effective guided-breathing mode, which has the device buzzing to let you know when to inhale, and again to exhale — perfect for a brief meditative moment.

    In terms of battery life, the Inspire HR is respectable at up to five days on a single charge. If you’re doing intensive workout tracking every day, you’ll definitely be charging it once every five days. But if your version of exercise is lifting 2-pound hand weights while binge-watching Euphoria, then you’ll probably be able to charge it every 10 days or so. If you’re looking for the absolute best battery life in this price range, there’s the Xiaomi Mi Band 4, which runs you about $40 and has a 20-day battery life. But what time you save charging, you sacrifice in functionality. The Xiaomi only features four exercise modes and doesn’t have the same robust online community as Fitbit.

    If you’re looking for even more personalized info, you can sign up for the Fitbit Premium program, which goes deeper into your fitness and sleep stats and uses your data to create insights and offer recommendations. But even without all the added benefits of a premium membership, the Fitbit Inspire HR proves it’s worth the money. It’s impressively discreet and easy to use, and offers enough basic learnings to help most people make meaningful changes in their lives.

    Get it from Amazon for $97.

    Withings Steel HR

    There’s no denying that fitness trackers have a certain sporty look. Usually featuring black rubber bands and digital displays that scream stats at you in unsightly fonts, most are a reminder that wearable companies are born from the tech world. This wouldn’t be an issue if fitness trackers were designed solely for exercising, but that’s only half the story.

    Enter our midrange winner: the Withings Steel HR, which has all the functionality of a fitness tracker but can pass itself off as a classy, everyday timepiece. At first glance, the Steel HR looks like your standard watch (available in 36mm and 40mm sizing), featuring an analog clock with hour and minute hands, but that pretty face also houses a heart rate sensor.

    Our testers were fond of how unobtrusively the Withings Steel HR displays data and health metrics, even though a few docked points for readability. Every stat you might want to check can be viewed through the small digital display on the watch face. While the circular display is indeed tiny, pressing the side button navigates to stats like steps, heart rate, calories burned, and distance walked.

    Holding the same button longer activates the Steel HR’s workout mode, which allows you to cycle through activities like walking, running, cycling, swimming, or “other.” All in all, the Steel HR can track up to 30 activities, which can be programmed via the app. Launching into a workout activates the Steel HR’s continuous heart rate mode, which means it’s taking measurements every second. Otherwise, for day-to-day readings, it’s important to note that the Steel HR measures heart rate every 10 minutes and sends updates to the HealthMate app every half hour.

    Despite only refreshing its heart rate reading every 10 minutes, we found the Withings reading to be fairly accurate. We wore our budget and high-end picks, the Fitbit Inspire HR and Garmin Vivoactive (both of which offer continuous heart rate monitoring), at the same time as the WIthings Steel HR (yes, it looked ridiculous), and their heart rate readings were within one beat of each other.

    Similar to Fitbit’s offerings, Withings accommodates step and fitness goals through its companion smartphone app. As far as fitness-tracker apps go, HealthMate boasts one of the most straightforward interfaces, letting you easily understand and find stats when you need to. The Steel HR is also able to track sleep hygiene based on duration, number of interruptions, and whether you got light or deep sleep. The HealthMate app is also what you’ll be visiting post-workouts to check on intensity and heart rate zones.

    Also like our $ pick, the Steel HR doesn’t have built-in GPS and must be connected to your smartphone in order to track your path. That is, in a word, annoying, and means you’ll need to carry your phone with you to benefit from location-based features. Hardcore runners or fitness junkies are better off going with our $$$ pick, which offers built-in GPS (not to mention much more in-depth fitness tracking than any other tracker we tested).

    We’ll be the first to admit that the Withings doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as other fitness trackers on the market. But it’s hands down the best alternative to your run-of-the-mill fitness band. What it lacks in slick functionality is more than made up for in looks and style. And unless you have specific and intensive fitness goals in mind, this tracker will do the job and then some, and look a helluva a lot better than most doing it.

    Get it from Amazon for $141.

    Garmin Vivoactive 4

    If you’re a health and wellness buff looking for a fitness tracker that can go the distance, it’s best that you saddle up with a brand that can get you there with confidence. Garmin knows GPS, and it knows fitness trackers. The Vivoactive 4 is one of Garmin’s latest and greatest, and has a bevy of exciting features that make — dare we say it? — keeping track of your overall health fun.

    First, the basics: Garmin has something for everyone when it comes to GPS smartwatches, whether you’re a runner or an avid golfer. The Vivoactive 4 is a multisport offering that’s jam-packed with extras aimed to please both casual and super-active users alike. It does everything you’d expect from a premium hybrid smartwatch and fitness tracker — heart rate monitoring, preloaded and custom workouts, and built-in music playback — all with a level of accuracy (especially for pace and distance) that’s backed by Garmin’s GPS sensor technology.

    The Vivoactive 4 separates itself from its predecessor, the Vivoactive 3 (which we also tested), in a couple of ways, the chief among them being size. The Vivoactive 4 is available in two sizes: a 40mm and 45mm version, which makes it accommodating to more folks. Another development is a second physical side button, which gives users better navigational control, especially during workouts. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to use a touchscreen when you’re sweating bullets.

    In terms of looks, the Vivoactive 4 is a stylish combination of a traditional watch and a fitness tracker. The color display is outfitted with a stainless steel bezel that you might find on a fancy timepiece, but also comes standard with a silicone band, which can wick away sweat. In addition six finishes (hello, rose-gold bezel!), you’re able to switch up the watch faces and customize much of the onscreen menus to your liking, which definitely cannot be said about most fitness trackers.

    From a fitness-tracking standpoint, the possibilities are endless. In addition to the optical heart rate monitor and onboard GPS, the Vivoactive 4 has tracking sensors for days: an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, thermometer, and all-day pulse oximeter. The device comes stocked with 20 workout modes, and you can make your own via the app. And activating each mode is as easy as swiping on the screen and long-pressing the side buttons.

    Beyond tracking all the workouts and providing in-depth analysis, the Vivoactive 4 really excels at tracking day-to-day activity. There’s stress monitoring with the option of receiving “relax reminders” when it senses you’re in a high-stress mode. There’s something Garmin calls a “body battery” reading, which measures how much you’ve “charged” and “drained” of your daily energy (by analyzing your restful and active periods). It even tracks respiration by counting the number of breaths you take per minute throughout the day (our testers also loved Garmin’s guided breathwork feature). Respiration rate is another fitness marker: The average adult apparently takes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute, and the fewer, the fitter. When taken together, the Vivoactive’s cadre of stats gives you an incredibly complete picture of your health.

    And that’s even before you start factoring in its extensive range of optional apps and widgets via the Garmin IQ app.

    The IQ app integrates seamlessly with the Vivoactive and offers dozens of potential add-ons and upgrades to the watch. Looking to take full advantage of the on-board music storage? Download Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer. Want to check on the weather for your next run? Get a weather app. If you’re a fishing fanatic, you can record your catches with a hunting and fishing widget. The Vivoactive also has contactless payment, which we consider a true lifesaver: You won’t have to schlep your wallet around when you’re out for a run if you need to pick up something from the store on the way home.

    As you might conclude, the Vivoactive 4 packs in a lot of information and stats, and it all can get pretty overwhelming, especially for anyone who’s never played around with a fitness tracker. While it’s certainly built for advanced users in mind, it’s customizable enough to fit various wants and needs. The pulse oximeter, for example, which tracks the oxygen in your blood, is a nifty feature, but one that might not be necessarily useful for most folks. Many of our testers elected to turn this feature off, which simply meant one less stat to monitor and, in turn, better battery life.

    Speaking of battery life: Garmin says its battery can last up to seven days while in smartwatch mode, and up to five hours when using it with both the music and GPS cranked up. As battery life is dictated by personal usage, we found that the battery life on average tends to be closer to four days — for instance, using it to track exercise around an hour a day. Luckily, the watch clearly displays the remaining battery life, so you should never be left mid-run without juice.

    Overall, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 garnered high marks from us for the breadth and depth of its tracking, which, honestly, may not be necessary or desired for fitness novices. But if you’re looking for a sleek device with tons of opportunities for customization, the Vivoactive 4 won’t disappoint.

    Get it from Amazon for $333.