Best Exercise Watch 2017 – Review and Comparison
While wearables in general have suffered from dropping sales and less interest among consumers, dedicated exercise watches are still quite popular. Brands like Garmin and Fitbit have continued to produce some of the best fitness watches and trackers in the market.
For those planning to invest in an exercise watch, finding the right one can be a headache. There are numerous brands and models, all offering a dizzying set of features.
To help you make the right buying decision and to help you choose only the features that you need, we have compared among the many options available in the market and reviewed the top five below. These are some of the best exercise watches and workout wristbands you can buy today.
1. Fitbit Charge 2
If you are looking for an affordable exercise monitor wristwatch, the Fitbit Charge 2 is a great choice. The features and functionality are pretty basic – for example, it has no GPS – but it is good enough for most users.
Like most fitness trackers, the Charge 2 will monitor your steps throughout the day. It will also track the distance you have walked, number of active minutes during the day and number of calories burned. All this information is displayed on a large OLED screen that is crisp enough for use even in glaring sunshine.
But that is not all the Charge 2 tracks. A PurePulse heart rate monitor keeps track of your heart rate throughout, not just when you need it.
The watch comes with a discreet reminder to move, encouraging you to take at least 250 steps every hour. You can also set it to wake you up with a silent alarm in the morning. Using the accompanying app, you can even set up a healthy sleep schedule and keep track of your goals.
Aside from everyday fitness monitoring, you can also use it to track a variety of sports from running to yoga, biking and weights. The watch will automatically detect which activity you are doing and record it in case you forget to log it.
All the basic features of a Smartwatch are of course present including time and call/text alerts.
- Long battery life of up to five days.
- Always-on heart rate monitoring and activity tracking.
- A helpful companion app is available.
- No GPS, though you can connect with your phone’s GPS.
- Not water resistant so you cannot use it to track your swimming sessions.
2. Samsung Gear Fit2
The Samsung Gear Fit2 comes with the classic luxury touch of Samsung products. A curved super AMOLED 1.5-inch display captures your attention immediately. At a resolution of 432 x 216 and with a color touchscreen, the display is crisp and bright. The screen features Gorilla Glass 3, making the Gear Fit2 perfect for rough outdoor activities.
Under the food, the Gear Fit2 has most of the features you would expect:
- First up is a heart rate monitor. Under normal conditions, it will check your heart rate every 10 minutes. But during a workout session, it switches to continuous heart rate tracking.
- The second main feature is the in-built GPS. There is no need to carry your phone with you. The watch will accurately monitor your steps, distance, speed and other metrics.
- It also has an auto-tracking feature, where it immediately recognizes which activity you are doing and gets to work monitoring your performance.
The Gear Fit2 works with both Android phones (Android 4.4 and higher) and iPhones (iPhone 5 and later). When connected to your phone, it will display text/call alerts as well as calendar notifications.
You can also connect to Spotify on your phone and enjoy music during your workout. But if you do not have your phone with you, the watch has a standalone music player and internal memory to carry your favorite tracks with you.
Given its friendly price range and the number of features it carries, the Samsung Gear Fit2 is one of the best exercise tracking devices you can get.
- Affordable (less than $200 or £170) especially for a watch with GPS and heart rate monitor.
- Can play music even when not connected to a smartphone.
- Crisp display.
- Comes with a companion app (S Health) to help you set goals and challenge others.
- Not water proof, so cannot be used for swimming.
- The heart rate monitor can at times, be erratic in its accuracy.
3. Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin is one of the biggest names when it comes to fitness tracking. The Forerunner 235 is one of our best exercise wearables thanks to a combination of style, powerful features and ease of use. This watch mostly appeals to those who want some style along with their fitness monitoring and don’t mind paying good money for it.
Its all-day tracker monitors your steps, sleep, calories, distance and active time. A fairly accurate built-in heart rate monitor keeps track of your heart rate throughout the day, not just during workouts. All these metrics are displayed on the high resolution and crisp color display.
The watch uses a combination of GPS and GLONASS to give you a more accurate reading of your route, speed and distance. This can be especially helpful when you are biking or running in off-road locations.
The smart notifications feature ensures that you are always aware of emails, texts, calls and other notifications coming through your phone. With the accompanying Garmin Connect app, you can access more features and added functionality.
- Packed with powerful features including 24/7 heart rate monitor and GPS+GLONASS.
- Audio prompts to keep you updated even in the midst of an intensive workout.
- Access to Garmin Connect app and Connect IQ store.
- Rated as waterproof meaning you can shower or swim with it.
- All these features do not come at a cheap price. (costs over $300 or £200)
- Heart rate can be a bit flaky especially when you are doing short bursts of activities rather than a sustained workout.
4. TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music
If the Garmin Forerunner 235 feels a bit too pricey or is just not what you are looking for, a great alternative is the TomTom Spark 3 fitness watch with music and a whole host of other powerful features.
It is made mostly for runners but can be used for other sporting activities as well. While it can also track daily activity and even sleep, those two functions are not given much attention next to other sports tracking features. Buy the TomTom Spark 3 if you want to track serious workouts rather than your daily activities.
One of the best features of the watch is route exploration. Using the built-in GPS, you can track where you are running and easily find you way around new locations. You can even upload routes from source like MapMyRun and then follow it during your run.
The optical heart rate monitor built into the watch keeps track of your heart beats during activities and will tell you when you are in the right zones. While the monitor tends to get off kilter now and then, it is surprisingly accurate compared to most other fitness watches.
Another great feature is the internal music memory. You can upload up to 500 songs though you will need a pair of Bluetooth headphones to listen to them.
- Contains a powerful GPS tracker, a hugely beneficial feature for outdoor activities.
- The heart rate monitor is more accurate compared to most fitness trackers.
- It is waterproof meaning you can use it to track your swim sessions.
- Internal storage for music is a big plus.
- Could use improved activity and sleep tracking features.
5. Garmin Vivoactive HR
The Vivoactive HR is perfect for those who are looking for a cheaper Garmin alternative to Forerunner 235 but still retain GPS and heart rate monitor. Vivoactive HR provides multisport tracking in activities like running, biking and swimming (it is waterproof).
When it comes to the design, the watch loses some marks. Compared to the Forerunner 235, it is dull and the bland square display does not do it any favors. This is probably not the fitness watch you would wear to the office. The display is also quite low-resolution compared to Forerunner 235, hence the dull look. On the upside, this results in longer battery life.
Under the hood, the Vivoactive HR has everything you need for daily activity and sports tracking. An Elevate heart rate sensor delivers continuous heart rate readings to the touch screen. It is fairly accurate though not at the level of a chest strap. There is also GPS, though GLONASS is missing. This keeps accurate track of your activities including distance, speed and time.
The Vivoactive HR is truly a multisport tracker with monitoring support for swimming, running, cycling, swimming, rowing and even golfing. In addition, it will track your daily activities and provide you with metrics such as calories burned, number of steps and distance.
- Comes with GPS and a heart rate monitor for better and more powerful activity tracking.
- Multisport support.
- Fairly long battery life. (13 hours with GPS on and 8 days with GPS off)
- Relatively poor display.
- Lacks GLONASS, making it less accurate especially for off-road activities.
Choosing the Best Exercise Watch
So many choices, so many features and so many price points to choose from. How do you find the best exercise bracelet or watch for your needs and pocket? Here are the 5 most important considerations to make during the shopping process.
1. Determine your budget
Do not go shopping without first determining how much you are willing to spend. There is no point getting disappointed when you find a great fitness watch that is too pricey. Set your budget range first.
The lowest range is $100-$190 (or £80-£150), though you can also get sub $100 exercise wristbands and bracelets. For something more powerful and feature-packed, set a mid-range target of $200-$290 (or £150-250). In this range, you will have plenty of options to choose from. You will likely find what you are looking for here.
For watches designed for professional athletes and super accurate tracking, plan to spend nothing less than $300 or £250+. Here you will find high-end brands like Garmin and Apple.
2. Determine your needs
What do you want from your exercise watch? Do you want it to monitor your daily activities, workout sessions or a combination of both? Some fitness trackers are designed for daily activity monitoring, collecting metrics such as steps, calories and distance.
Sport and workout specific watches tend to have more features and will collect more comprehensive metrics. You can also get a fitness watch that does both, though its sports monitoring functions will not be as powerful.
3. Know the basics
As exercise trackers and watches have become more common, there are certain features that have become basic. For instance, an in-built heart rate monitor is available even in low-cost watches.
Activity and sleep tracking are also basic essentials. Be sure to research on the heart rate tracking accuracy of the specific watch you want to buy. Wrist-based heart rate monitors tend to have accuracy issues.
For mid-range and high-end watches, GPS is non-negotiable as is water proofing and multisport tracking.
4. Check on compatibility
Do not buy a fitness tracker only to find that it does not connect to your smartphone. Most watches need to connect to a phone to deliver important alerts during your workout and upload collected data. So remember to check compatibility before you buy.
5. Companion app
Companion apps are tremendously helpful when it comes to fitness watches. They provided added functionality beyond what a fitness tracker can do. For example, you can access your metrics and see how you are doing over time. You can set goals and track your progress towards achieving them. You can also connect with other people and even challenge each other.
Before you buy a certain watch, check that it comes with a well designed and helpful companion app.
When used properly, exercise trackers can help you get fit, lose weight and become healthier. Instead of simply recording your activities, many fitness watches today come with proactive features such as reminders and goal tracking that push you to get more active.
If you have never used a fitness watch before, perhaps it is time to invest in one. Start with our list of top five recommendations and remember the important considerations to make as you shop for the best exercise watch.
Which of the above fitness watches fits your fitness needs? Leave your comment below.