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How to set up a fitness watch or activity tracker

By Hannah Walsh

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

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A fitness watch or activity tracker 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 watch or activity tracker – 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 best fitness watches and activity trackers to find the best from our tests. 

How to get started with your fitness watch or activity tracker

Charge it up Some fitness watches and activity trackers 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 watches or activity trackers 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 watches or activity trackers 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 watch or tracker 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.

Time to get active

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.

Five tips for getting the most from your fitness watch or tracker

1. Enter biometric data to improve accuracy: 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 watch or activity tracker will ensure you're getting an accurate device, but you can give it a helping hand too.

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 watches or activity trackers 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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