Two out of six fitness watches in our first fitness watch test are good enough to qualify as Which? Best Buys. We put multi-sport watches from Garmin and Polar, ranging in price from £210 to £425, through their paces.
That’s not all – as well as revealing two Best Buys, our tests also highlighted a few that fall down in terms of accuracy and calorie counting. Several watches overstated the calories burnt, which could inadvertently lead to you overeating. Others were rubbish at correctly reading your heart rate, making it impossible if you’re trying to train harder and push yourself further in particular activities.
We were surprised to learn that a number of watches claim to have built-in altimeters to measure the altitude, but don’t include a traditional altimeter instrument. Instead the watch calculates your ascent and descent using data from GPS and maps. Some also claim to track swimming, but they can’t tell you stroke rate and detailed information, only the distance or number of lengths you’ve swum.
Be sure to read our full fitness watch reviews to avoid ending up with a watch that isn’t right for you.
How we test fitness watches
To see how well these fitness watches fare, we try them out in a variety of different scenarios. Our testers walk, run, cycle and swim with them, as well as wearing them day to day to see how well they register normal daily activity.
The accuracy and the performance of the in-built GPS is put to the test, as well as the heart rate monitor and any other functions. Consistency is as vital as accuracy with fitness watches. So every test is repeated multiple times to see if it reproduces the same results in terms of tracking distance, steps and heart rate.
Should I buy a fitness watch or a fitness tracker?
Fitness watches and trackers alone can’t get you fit, but it’s been shown that monitoring your activity encourages you to be significantly more active. Fitness trackers are much lower in price than fitness watches. They both help you to keep track of your daily activity, exercise and health, but fitness watches have many more features. All but one of the watches we tested had a wrist-based heart-rate monitor, and one watch even included an altimeter, barometer and three-axis compass to help with outdoor navigation.
Every fitness watch we tested has in-built GPS. This means that you can go for a run or a cycle without your phone and accurately record your pace and distance. In comparison, fitness trackers don’t generally have GPS and they typically estimate distance using your steps and an accelerometer.