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How to set up a fitness tracker or smartwatch

By Hannah Walsh

Our expert advice will guide you through the set up of your fitness tracker or smartwatch. Our five top tips will help you get the most from it, too.

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A fitness tracker or smartwatch could help you begin or further your fitness journey, including tracking your steps, distances travelled, and even providing motivational prompts to keep you on the right track. If you're new to the world of wearable technology, you may be wondering where to begin with your shiny new device. That's where we can help.

Follow the process in this guide for a seamless and stress-free set up – you'll be ready to go in no time at all. Or if you're all set up, take a look at our five easy tips for getting the most from our fitness tracker or smartwatch – from how to wear it and clean it, to improving the accuracy of the tracking.

If you haven't yet bought your perfect device, head over to our list of the best fitness trackers or best smartwatches to find the models we have made Best Buys from our independent tests. 

How to get started with your fitness tracker or smartwatch 

Charge it up 

Some fitness trackers and  smartwatches come with a USB charging cable and an AC adaptor plug to connect it to the mains for charging. Others are supplied with just a USB charging cable, which can be used with an AC adaptor plug that you already own – such as the one for charging your smartphone or tablet – or by plugging directly in to a USB port on your PC or laptop.

There are three main types of connection between the USB cable and your device. Some fitness trackers and  smartwatches have a micro USB slot, so it's simply a case of plugging it it. Others come with a magnetic charger that connects to magnets on the back of the device, or a clip that holds the watch or tracker in place while charging. 

If your device has a screen then a symbol, such as a battery, will appear to show it's connected and charging. Those without a display often have an LED light to indicate that the device is charging – check your manual to find out. We test the battery life and rate the charger for every fitness watch or tracker, so you'll know how often you'll need to charge and how easy it is to do.

Install the app on your smartphone 

All fitness trackers and  smartwatches will pair with a companion app on your smartphone. Most are compatible with both Android smartphones and iPhones. 

You'll need to navigate to Google Play or the App store on your phone, search for the companion app – for example the Fitbit app or Garmin Connect – and click install. 

Set up an account 

Once you've installed the app, you'll be prompted to set up an account or log in if you already have one. This may involve creating a username and password, selecting your device from a list and entering biometric data such as height and weight. You'll also be asked to agree to any terms and conditions.

Pair with your phone 

Now it's time to pair your fitness tracker or watch with your smartphone, which allows you to view your health and fitness data via the app. If your device can receive smart notifications, then pairing will set up this feature too. Make sure your device is near your phone, and that your phone is connected to the internet. You'll also need to ensure your Bluetooth is switched on on your mobile, which can be found in the settings menu.

If the pairing process doesn't start automatically, then look for an option for pairing or setting up your device on the app. The best companion apps will give you clear onscreen guidance to help you through the pairing process. 

A common pairing process is a four digit pin – this will appear on the display of your device, and you'll simply need to type it on the screen of your smartphone.

To turn on your Apple Watch, press and hold the larger button on the side of the bezel until the Apple logo appears.

Install the app Apple Watches, such as the Apple Watch Series 4, are designed to be paired with an iPhone. The Apple Watch app will already be installed on all iPhones.

Pairing Pairing should begin automatically, but if it doesn't then navigate to the app and click to open. A graphic will be displayed on the the screen of your Apple Watch, which is then scanned using the camera on your iPhone. You'll then need to sign in using your Apple ID, which all iPhone users have.

Personalising your watch You can now begin to adjust the settings on your Apple Watch to suit you. Some settings, including screen brightness, text size, watch faces and app layout can be controlled from the device itself. Others, such as setting up location services, controlling the notifications you receive, and switching on Siri must be done via the app. You should also set a passcode for your watch, particularly if you plan to use features such as Apple Pay contactless payment. This is done using the app.

You can now start learning how to use your Apple Watch. Follow the set-up wizard on the app, or check out the manual for guidance on the gestures needed to navigate to different menus. Alternatively, scroll down for our tips and tricks for getting the most from your smartwatch.

Tizen is the operating system for Samsung smartwatches, and can be used with both Android smartphones and iPhones.

Install the app There are two companion apps for Samsung smartwatches that need to be installed on your smartphone - the Samsung Gear and Health apps. Those with a Samsung smartphone will find these pre-installed, but others will need to locate them on the App Store or Google Play.

Pairing You'll need to use the Samsung Gear app to start the pairing process. If you don't have an account then you will need to create one, and then follow the guidance on the app. Once the Gear app is paired, you are prompted to go through a similar process for the Health app.

Personalising your smartwatch There is a dedicated settings menu on Samsung smartwatches that lets you adjust a whole host of settings. You can also add biometric data, install and uninstall apps, and search the internet.

You can now start learning how to use your Tizen smartwatch. Follow the wizard on the watch for the basic gestures for navigation around, or see the guidance in the manual to find out more about other functions. Alternatively, scroll down for our tips and tricks for getting the most from your smartwatch.

When it comes to Wear OS smartwatches, there are plenty of devices from multiple manufacturers on the market - including Fossil, Kate Spade, LG and Misfit. You can find out more about Google's smartwatch platform by reading our how to buy the best Wear OS smartwatch guide.

Install the app You may need to pair your Wear OS smartwatch with multiple apps on your smartphone. As standard, you'll need at least the Wear OS app, which can be installed from the Google Play store. Details for any other apps can be found in the quick-start manual that comes with your device - for example, the Ticwatch range of smartwatches require the Ticwatch app for presenting health data, or the Kate Spade app, which unlocks additional watch faces.

Pairing To start the pairing process, simply open up the Wear OS app and then follow the onscreen instructions. You may need to go through a similar process with any additional apps, too.

Personalising your smartwatch The Wear OS app doesn't have many options for changing settings on the smartwatch. Wear OS smartwatches come with a standard selection of apps pre-installed, such as Google Maps.

Customising your device For example, installing or uninstalling additional apps, changing watch faces, or managing brightness and text size settings may be done from the watch itself, or from another companion app. This will depend on the smartwatch you have, so you'll need to check your manual or follow guidance on the app.

You can now start learning how to use your Wear OS smartwatch. Check out the manual for guidance on the gestures needed to navigate to different menus, and how to use the different functions. Alternatively, scroll down for our tips and tricks for getting the most from your smartwatch.

Staying active with a fitness tracker or smartwatch 

Now that you're setup and paired, it's time to get active. Familiarise yourself with your fitness watch or trackers controls and features by reading the manual. You'll most likely find a button to cycle through the onscreen menus, which may display steps, heart rate or calories burned for example. This is sometimes combined with other buttons with different functions, or a touchscreen.

For those wearables that just have a touchscreen you'll need to learn the different gestures – for example swiping up, down or tapping – for navigating around by reading your manual. A handful of devices don't have a screen or buttons on the side of the bezel, and communicate with the user through a series of lights – it can take a while to learn what each of these means so you'll need to keep your manual handy.

Getting the most from your fitness tracker or smartwatch 

We've found fitness watches and activity trackers that were inaccurate at tracking steps, distance and calories burned - including devices that over or understated distance calculated by step count by more than 30%, and overstated calories burned by more than 100%. Picking a Best Buy fitness tracker or smartwatch will ensure you're getting an accurate device, but you can give it a helping hand too.

1. Enter biometric data to improve accuracy 

On the smartphone app, look for options to add additional biometric data. On more advanced trackers, you may be able to do this on the device itself too. Adding your weight can help with calories burned calculations, and height or stride length will improve the accuracy of step count or distance calculated using steps. 

2. Wear it correctly 

It's important to position your fitness watch or activity tracker correctly, particularly if it has a heart-rate monitor built-in. Follow the guidance in the manual or during the set-up on your smartphone for positioning your device, including choosing whether you plan to wear it on your right or left wrist if you are given this option. Generally a tracker should be worn just above the wrist bone, and tight enough to stop it slipping around.

3. Set goals and link up with friends 

Some of the best fitness watch and activity trackers we’ve seen include customisable goals, competing against friends online, earning ‘badges’ and receiving weekly emails and workout summaries. Setting these up will help you to track progress, and stay motivated. 

4. Run updates 

Running any updates on your fitness watch or activity tracker, and on the companion app, is important. Updates will fix bugs and introduce new features, as well as ensuring you get any privacy or data updates.

5. Keep it clean 

It's important to keep your fitness watch or activity tracker clean, particularly after you've been exercising or wearing it for long periods of time. If you don't then the band could become smelly and, possibly, result in a rash on your wrist and your device relegated to a drawer. 

Most fitness trackers or smartwatches have a plastic or rubber strap – to clean these, simply wipe with a damp cloth and use a mild soap to remove any oil or dirt. It's also important to make sure that you dry the band and your skin properly if you wear your device in the shower or pool, or while sweating, and to leave it off to give your skin a break every so often.

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