Should I buy a fitness tracker or a smartwatch?
By Hannah Walsh
The difference between smartwatches and fitness trackers boils down to whether you want a wearable device that's designed to help you communicate and deliver notifications, or one that keeps track of exercise and health.
A smartwatch makes it easy to view and respond to emails, texts, calls and social media notifications on your wrist. Fitness trackers focus on health and activity monitoring, such as how many steps you've taken, how far you've gone, the calories you've burned, and what your heart rate is.
To help you pick the right type of wearable, you can use our online tool - below. Simply select fitness tracker or smartwatch, and then explore the features on offer by clicking on the information spots. If you're on a mobile device, you'll need to scroll down to the 'features' tab at the bottom of your screen to explore.
Why choose a fitness tracker?
Fitness trackers tend to have one function in mind: your health. This kind of wearable will focus on your every step, metre travelled and calorie burned and encourage you to be a little bit healthier and do a little more each day. However, not all fitness trackers are up to the job - our tests have uncovered ones that make it impossible to track your progress. You can find out more about how we test fitness trackers.
Our tests have uncovered fitness trackers that make it impossible to track your progress.
Some fitness trackers are cheap and basic, while others have more features – such as a heart rate monitor. The best will link up to an easy-to-use app, which may be essential for keeping you motivated.
A good fitness tracker will be comfortable to wear, no matter which activity you're doing or how much you sweat, so our tests include a panel of users who get to grips with the devices over a series of weeks and rate the comfort during different activities.
Most fitness trackers aren’t really built for notifications and communication. Some synchronise with your phone to display incoming texts, emails and social media notifications, but the small screen of a tracker makes messages hard to read and responses tricky to compose.
We've tested fitness trackers from Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit, Jawbone and more, and have found plenty of great performers for every need and budget. Head over to our fitness tracker reviews to find out about all the models on test.
Why choose a smartwatch?
Smartwatches put phone functions on your wrist. The best push text messages, emails, phone call notifications, calendar appointments, social media updates and even road directions directly to your wrist. Most will let you dictate text or email responses and web searches, while some will let you make phone calls via your watch. All of this means that battery life can be quite short, particularly when compared to the best fitness trackers.
Some smartwatches offer basic activity tracking while others rely on exercise apps, but health tracking is still an 'added extra' for most smartwatches. Despite this some do offer more advanced fitness functions, such as the Apple Watch Series 2 which has built-in GPS and is waterproof up to 50 metres. There are smartwatches that do a decent job of tracking activity too - we put every smartwatch through our dedicated fitness tracking test to see how it matches up. You can find out more about how we test smartwatches.
Do any devices offer the best of both worlds?
There's an increasing number of fitness trackers offering more advanced notifications, and smartwatches with built-in activity tracking capabilities. That's why we put fitness trackers and smartwatches through some of the same testing, to find out if any devices can perform well in both functions.
So if you want a smartwatch that also tracks your heart rate, or a fitness tracker that delivers easy to read notifications, you can be confident that our tough tests will weed out those that aren't up to the job.