Smartwatches and fitness trackers have had a surge in popularity over the past few years. Since then, companies have been fighting to develop new features to make theirs the most innovative and sought after. The latest models come with a plethora of features, but how do you figure out which one is best for you? What’s more, the ones with the most features can also feature a hefty price tag. If you’re thinking of making the jump to a smartwatch, here are a few things to consider before making a big purchase.
Most smartwatches feature some sort of basic activity tracking (steps, heart rate monitor, calories burned, etc.), which are likely to fit most people’s needs. However, if you’re looking to track activity for a specific sport/hobby (i.e. running, swimming,) you’ll need to look into some specific features. This is where dedicated fitness trackers come in: they may have features that more basic smartwatches may not have in addition to generally being more specific or precise when it comes to those features.
Let’s have a look at what kind of features might be useful for you:
For your fitness needs
Running: The first feature to consider would be a GPS sensor: useful to not only track your route, but also track distance and pace. Some smartwatches have GPS or offer higher end options with GPS, but otherwise you may have to rely on the GPS sensor in your smartphone. If you don’t want to lug your phone around during your runs, consider a watch with a dedicated GPS tracker. Another useful feature is a cadence tracker. This tells you your steps per minute, an important measure to track when running at an intermediate to advanced level. Your cadence should ideally be between 170-190 steps per minute while running.
Possible brands if this is important for you: Garmin , Suunto, Apple Watch (with GPS)
Hiking: Same as with running, a GPS tracker is a useful tool to have when hiking. However, you might want a few additional features to make the most out of your hikes, such as a compass and an altimeter (to measure altitude and vertical distance climbed). For longer hikes, a barometer is also useful to measure atmospheric pressure; a drop in pressure indicating adverse weather is coming up, such as rain or a storm. If your hikes also include canoeing or kayaking, make sure your watch has a waterproof rating to avoid any unfortunate surprises.
Possible brands if this is important for you: Garmin, TomTom, Suunto
Swimming: Obviously, start with ensuring your watch has as a great waterproof rating. But more specifically to swimming, you’ll want a device that has stroke detection. Depending on the feedback you’d like to have, look into the accompanying app for your device: tracking the stroke type, stroke rate, distance, and laps. Just a warning though: some of the best swimming-focused fitness trackers may not feature a screen on the device, so you may have to rely on post-workout data analysis as a trade off for data accuracy.
Possible brands if this is important for you: Garmin Forerunner, Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa, TomTom
Tracking gym sessions: If you’re a gym-goer, you’ll want to look for features that focus on the type of workout you do (ex: weight lifting vs. HIIT – high intensity interval training). Some watches detect an increase in activity which automatically start tracking your workout, while some others detect the number of repetitions as you lift weights. If you participate in high intensity workouts (like Crossfit or high intensity interval type of training), a watch with a pulse oximeter (which measures blood oxygen levels) and a heart rate sensor would be a great choice.
Possible brands if this is important for you: Atlas Wristband 2,Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, Suunto
For your health/medical needs
Heart rate: Practically all smartwatches and fitness trackers feature heart rate monitors, some more precise than others. However, if you need to follow your HR for medical purposes (e.g. rehab following a heart attack), we recommend going with a chest strap monitor rather than a smartwatch or wrist-bound fitness tracker. Though they’re constantly improving, smartwatches are still nowhere near as accurate as a chest strap monitor, and your doctor/health professional will likely need you to stay within a safe heart rate range while exercising. Please make sure to follow the directives given to you by your healthcare provider above all else. For general fitness purposes, smartwatches and fitness trackers are good enough to follow changes in heart rate throughout your workouts.
Possible brands if this is important for you: Fitbit, Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, almost all!
Sleep: Most smartwatches also feature a sleep monitoring system that can tell you how much sleep you get per night, as well as how much time you spend in each phase of sleep such as REM sleep (one of the most important phases of sleep). Some smartwatches are more accurate than others; so if tracking your sleep is a focus for you at the moment, consider researching watches with accurate sleep tracking. A condition worth noting would be sleep apnea. If you’re subject sleep apnea, we suggest looking into a watch with a blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) sensor. An SpO2 sensor detects breathing abnormalities throughout your sleep and will help you keep track of this over time. Otherwise, consider the form factor of sleep trackers: they can come in the form of watches, rings, pads that you slip under your mattress, etc. Essentially, just make sure that the shape or size doesn’t get in the way of your sleep. You may also want to look into battery life, perhaps staying away from watches that require daily recharging if you also plan on wearing them throughout the day as well
Possible brands if this is important for you: Fitbit, Garmin Vivosmart 4
There are a number of different activity trackers and smartwatch options for you to explore if you’re looking to keep track of your activity on a day to day basis. These trackers can be a great way to stay motivated and accountable to your goals. Depending on what features are important to you, different brands or models may be better suited. We recommended researching different options to find what’s best for you!
Disclaimer: We do not endorse any specific brand or make of smartwatch/activity tracker. The brands provided are only a few possible options to guide your research.