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Smartwatches on the rise: is this the end of the fitness tracker?

Fitbit smartwatch sales nearly doubled in first few months of 2018 – and more people would now buy one over a fitness tracker

According to the latest Fitbit sales report, smartwatches accounted for 30% of the brand’s revenue in the first few months of 2018 – double the amount of the three months before that. So why this sudden rise, and does it spell the end of fitness watches and activity trackers?

It’s unsurprising that Fitbit has seen a greater rise in revenue generated by its smartwatch offerings over its fitness trackers, given that this is where there focus has been over the past six months with the launch of the Fitbit Ionic and the Versa smartwatches.

Aside from the Ace, which is designed for kids, the last Fitbit activity tracker – the Alta HR – launched more than a year ago in early 2017. So is Fitbit right to put all its eggs in its smartwatch basket?

Read on for more, and take our interactive quiz to find out if a smartwatch is the best wearable for you.


Still not convinced? Read our guide on whether to buy a fitness tracker or a smartwatch.

How popular are smartwatches?

The smartwatch market had a slow and shaky start. According to a recent report by Mintel, though, these wrist-worn gadgets are beginning to catch on.

Sales of smartwatches increased by 23% in 2017 compared with 2016, while fitness tracker sales increased by 14%. Not only that, 32% of people who were asked would consider buying a smartwatch, compared with 29% that would buy a fitness watch and 27% that would opt for a clip-on activity tracker.

The increase in popularity is mirrored by the results for Fitbit. It reported that the Versa smartwatch had the highest number of sales in North America of any of its devices in the first week of availability, and that it expects smartwatches to grow as a percentage of its revenue. So should you jump on the smartwatch bandwagon?

How do smartwatches compare with fitness watches and activity trackers?

We put all wearables through the same tough tests so that we can directly compare the results. When it comes to battery life, rechargeable smartwatches lag behind with an average of just five days between charges, and one smartwatch lasted just 29 hours.

Despite their advanced sensors, rechargeable fitness watches actually outlast both activity trackers and smartwatches, with an impressive 12 days of battery life on average.

We’ve found activity trackers and fitness watches that lasted for more than three weeks during our testing too – enough time to forget where you’ve put the charger.

We put every wearable through their fitness paces both in and out of the lab. In the table below, we reveal the average percentage difference between steps taken and what the different types of device showed.

Activity trackers and smartwatches, for example, would show 9,500 steps when you’d actually reached your 10,000 step goal while walking. We also test devices during everyday activity, which includes tasks such as sweeping and unloading the dishwasher.

The good news is that we’ve found activity trackers, fitness watches and smartwatches that tracked steps with no error. But we’ve also found devices that over or understated step count by more than 35%. The table below shows the average accuracy for different activities based on the type of wearable.

Walking Running Everyday activity
Activity trackers -5% -2% 13%
Fitness watches -4% -1% 9%
Smartwatches -5% 0% 15%

If distance tracking is important to you, our special report with a London Marathon twist reveals if your fitness tracker is lying to you.

Is this the end of the fitness tracker?

In some important areas, our tests show that fitness watches and activity trackers appear to still have the edge on smartwatches. But this may not be the case for long.

The rise of the hybrid smartwatch, the fact that fitness-specialist brands such as Fitbit are getting involved, and improved versatility driven by developments such as Android’s Wear OS, mean that dedicated fitness watches and activity trackers could well eventually become a thing of the past.

Smartwatch Best Buys – browse the best smartwatches we’ve tested and see if you agree.

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