Should I get a Garmin or a Fitbit or ? I’ve been asked about this a lot. There isn’t a simple answer. Activity trackers and GPS watches vary greatly. Finding the best one for you depends a lot on what you do, what you wear, and what motivates you.
I’ve been able to try out a bunch of different devices over the years. This post has all the details I wish I could give people when they ask. So before you splurge on a $hiny new gadget for yourself or a loved one, here are some things to know.Running watches and activity trackers are not meant to be nightstand decor. Read before you buy! Click To Tweet
Know you have options.
The menu of wearable sports tech just keeps exploding, making it harder to know which device is best for you. All of these brands have a hat in the ring of fitness wearables.
Fitbit – Garmin – Nike – Jawbone – Polar – Apple – TomTom – Timex – Vktech – Vcall – OUMAX – RIVERSONG – Under Armour – Misfit Wearables – LifeTrak – Coosa – EIISON – Skechers – TINCINT – Suunto – Pyle – Bushnell – Magellan – Soleus – Castle – GBD – Bellabeat – Striiv – Samsung – and more!
You can even get a GPS tracker for your dog. I reviewed one here.
Know the difference:
Activity Tracker vs GPS Device
Many devices look similar, but there are two major categories in fitness wearables; activity trackers and GPS-enabled devices (typically watches but not always). Nowadays, many popular devices are a hybrid between the two.
GPS devices are for performance.
First of all, you should know that GPS (Global Positioning System) uses a bunch of satellites in orbit around the earth. At any given time, a GPS-enabled device on earth should be “visible” by 3 or 4 of these satellites. Using a fancy process called trilateration, the satellites are able to pinpoint your exact location, altitude, distance and speed if you’re moving, etc. Got it? Ok, tech lesson over.
GPS devices are pretty darn accurate and you want one if you’re training for a race. Used to be only serious athletes wore these mini-computers on their wrist. Not anymore. With more affordable tech and smaller designs, runners and cyclists of all levels enjoy geeking out over their stats. GPS devices are typically worn only during your workout (all-day wear designs are becoming more popular). Current and/or average pace is the #1 feature during a workout, followed by overall distance. After your workout, seeing your paces for each mile and a map of your route can be helpful.
Activity trackers are for lifestyle.
Again, this is important to know so bear with me on the mild tech talk. In contrast to a GPS device using external satellites, most activity trackers use internal accelerometers to track movement in all directions. Some also include other sensors (gyroscopes for orientation, altimeters for altitude, bioimpedence sensors for heart rate and respiration, etc.) to provide more data on your body’s activity. How your activity is interpreted, however, varies between brands which is why your Fitbit steps may not agree with your Garmin steps (if you’re like me and you wear both…along with a Misfit Shine 2).
Activity trackers provide a myriad of interesting stats but they’re not 100% accurate. However, the data is useful for showing you overall trends and comparing stats day by day (e.g. “Fitbit says that yesterday I walked 8,000 steps and today I walked 10,000. Whether or not the numbers are accurate, the point is that I’ve improved today.”) Most can track steps, floors, distance, sleep, and calorie burn and you want one if your goal is improving your daily activity level. You’d typically wear an activity tracker 24/7 (but maybe not in the shower). They are helpful for self-awareness and motivation.
Know the optional features.
Not all have the same combo of features. Some features you may want or not want (data overload is a thing). Here are some features to consider:
Heart Rate Monitor – Floors (climbed) – Sleep Tracking – Movement Reminders – Multi-Sport Modes – Lap Swim – Custom Intervals – Preprogram Workouts – Timer – Stopwatch – Cadence – Call/Text Notifications – Music Control – Wireless Syncing – Personal Records – Goal Alerts – Touch Screen – Backlit Display – Waterproof or Resistant – Programmable Alarms – Calendar Alerts – Silent Alarms – Gamification*
Every brand has their own take on the features listed. For example, some have a HRM as a built-in feature to the device and some provide that option through a blue-tooth synced accessory, like a chest strap. So keep that in mind. If any additional features are must-haves for you, you’ll want to pick a device that makes that feature easy to use.
*Gamification is the integration of digital rewards like badges or points and/or access to a digital community for challenges and social media sharing designed to engage and motivate you.
Know your style.
Are you cool with recharging a device every 3 to 5 days? Do you prefer data that syncs wirelessly so you never have to plug a device into a computer? If you wear long sleeve tops with thumbholes, would it irritate you if your device didn’t fit underneath very well?
Remember, you’ve got options. Take some time to narrow down your deal breakers. For example:
- I need a GPS running watch with a wrist-based HRM. I’d prefer one that auto-syncs but if I have to plug it in to get my data…I’ll live.
- I need an activity tracker that is small and waterproof or at least resistant. If it can also give me call/txt notifications, I’d really be in heaven, but it’s not a deal breaker.
You may need to try on your friend’s devices or visit an REI to see some in person. Thinking about these things before you buy will help prevent you from having an expensive nightstand decoration!
Scroll down for some recommendations.
A few recommendations.
You can spend anywhere from $50 to $1,500 on wearable fitness technology. I’ve listed a few recommendations below with some Amazon Affiliate Links, so…thanks in advance.
For the New Runner
I’d go with a Garmin Forerunner. Probably a Forerunner 15 (a bit cheaper) or Forerunner 25 (for some extra bells and whistles). They are reliable, easy to use, and don’t overwhelm you with stuff you don’t need. You get your pace/distance, workout history, and they’ll let you know when you’ve hit a personal record. They even do a little activity tracking for you.
For the Minimalist
Want something smaller that saves time by auto-syncing data and doesn’t have a bunch of extra accessories? I’d go with Fitbit Flex 2 or Jawbone UP3 for an activity tracker. For a GPS watch, the Forerunner 35 takes up more wrist-space but gives you heart rate without needing an additional strap. There is also the Polar M200 if you want to try something new.
For the Discreet
If you want an off-the-wrist GPS device for running, I believe there’s an app for that on your smartphone. For activity trackers, the two below give you steps, distance, calories and the battery lasts for months. Just be careful they don’t end up in your laundry (yup, that happened to me).
For the Aesthetic
Fashionable off the wrist options include the Bellabeat Leaf (read some reviews first as this is a new and unproven brand) and the Misfit necklaces (an optional accessory) which requires a Misfit Shine or Shine 2. Misfit also has a Swarovski Crystal necklace if you need bling.
For the Social Sharer
Benefit from the positive side of social media and online communities! Fitbit has the most active online community I’m aware of. You can sync with MyFitnessPal, connect with others and see where you are on the step leaderboard. They have 7 devices to choose from (activity trackers and GPS-enabled) plus a wi-fi smart scale (which I love) that auto-updates my deets for me. I’d like to get a Charge 2 because it also has call/txt notification.
For the Detail Driven
You want all the bells and whistles with serious performance data. If you’re an advanced-mode kind of athlete, these devices promise a lot of wow. I’ve yet to try them myself but I’d love too (hint hint, husband).
For the Trend-Setter
You adopt the new and cutting-edge before it’s cool. You get bored with “tried and true” and are motivated by creative alternatives. You’ve probably already backed Actofit, pre-ordered the AIO Sleeve, and taken the Lumo Run out for a test drive. You know more than me.
Do you have a favorite?
What do you love most about your favorite activity tracker or GPS enabled device?