The best fitness watches provide a mix of style, functionality, and loads of health data, but how can you know which one will fit your lifestyle? You can’t always rely on pricing alone, and some of the newer watches may not have enough features to warrant an upgrade. Here’s what to look for when buying a fitness watch, along with the top 5 picks we recommend this year.
The Best Fitness Watches
Of all the fitness watches available today, these 5 take the top spots:
- Apple Watch Series 6
- Samsung Galaxy Active 2 Smartwatch
- Garmin Forerunner 245
- Casio Men's 'G-Shock' Quartz Resin Sport Watch
- Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch
Best Fitness Watch Reviews
Fitness watches come in all colors and sizes with a range of health apps and sensors. This list includes the top features from the best watches available.
The Apple Watch Series 6
is pricier than fitness trackers with comparable features, but it seamlessly integrates into the Apple lifestyle. If you choose the model with “GPS” only, you won’t need to connect it to a cellular plan to use the text, talk, and Apple Music features – as long as your iPhone is nearby. The “GPS + Cellular” model allows you to leave your iPhone at home and use your watch as a cellular device.
It has some of the most sophisticated tech tools on the market, including a blood oxygen sensor and an ECG detection app, which are upgrades to the previous versions of the Apple Watch. Other tools include a sleep monitor, activity monitor, heart rate monitor, and fall detection. It’s waterproof so you can wear it when you swim or enjoy other water sports. The “always on” display is handy, too.
While this stunning watch boasts great features and a range of colors, finishes, and interchangeable bands, the battery life isn’t the best. It maxes out at around 18 hours, so you need to charge it during the day and before going to bed at night if you want to enjoy the full sleep-tracking benefits. It charges quickly, but you may get frustrated at this inflexibility compared to simpler fitness trackers that last for days. Fall detection is also hit and miss for users, making it more of a nice-to-have and not something to stake your life on.
If you’re an Apple Watch loyalist who wants ECG and O2 sensing, the Apple Watch Series 6
is a sensible choice with enough new features to make it worth upgrading from older models.
If you’re an Android user, you may have your eye on the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 Smartwatch
. This is a sleeker smartwatch than many on the market. Users rave that it actually looks like a classic watch, with a number of bands to choose from and a watch face that digitally changes to match your outfit. Just snap a pic of what you’re wearing, and the app will find a complementary color.
Battery life is typically longer than a day, making it a great option for those who want to avoid the inconvenience of charging every night. It offers the updated features you’d expect from a smart watch, including ECG, heart rate, and sleep tracking. It doesn’t have an oxygen sensor or fall detection. However, if you calibrate it with a standard blood pressure cuff, you can use the sensors to track your blood pressure, an uncommon feature on the market today.
The Active 2 is advertised as waterproof, but users report problems after exposing it to water. If you need a watch you can submerge regularly, consider an alternative.
With 7 standard activities and the ability to add more, you’ll enjoy easy integration with all of your Google apps, compatibility with Apple products, and an option for cellular data. This gadget almost has it all. Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 Smartwatch
is half the price of the leading competitor, making it a smart buy for Android or Apple fans.
The Garmin Forerunner 245
has an athletic, durable appearance, which means it’s less about fashion and more about keeping up with your active lifestyle. It features a silicone strap for easy cleaning and Gorilla Glass on the face to withstand drops and dings. With a focus on music and training functions, it combines some of the best app compatibility so you can get feedback on length stride, vertical ratio, and speed while you listen to music from Spotify and other streaming platforms. Speaking of music, it can hold up to 500 songs.
Garmin aims to provide the best training experience by offering free adaptive training plans. These allow you to track and share your progress with the online community. The incident-detection features only work during select activities, but can alert loved ones to your whereabouts in case of an emergency.
The coaching features tell you when to push, slow down, and adjust your approach. It also monitors heart rate and oxygen levels and is reliably waterproof.
This watch lacks many of the perks that the big smartwatch brands offer, like sleep trackers and meditation recommendations, and it costs as much as some watches with optional LTE capabilities. If you’re serious about training for the next run, however, you can’t beat the 7-day battery life when in smartwatch mode (not using GPS and music continually). The Garmin Forerunner 245
is a must-have for pro runners and serious hobbyists alike.
The Casio Men's 'G-Shock' Quartz Resin Sport Watch
is not really a “smartwatch” at all, but it is one of the best-made sport watches available now. It’s priced well under $75 and comes with many of the features you want in a rugged timekeeper and some high-tech extras.
Notable assets include shock resistance and water resistance up to 200 meters. Plus, the included CR2016 battery will last for up to 2 years. The electro-luminescent backlight makes it easy to see in day or evening conditions, too. It even has a pre-programmed calendar that’s set for the next 18 years. You can also start and stop the watch to time events and set alarms for when you need them.
The downsides include the fact that it’s not equipped with WiFi, GPS, or cellular features. It may just be a watch, but it’s a proven performer that will stay on your wrist through just about everything. It’s also made in the USA and trusted by first-responders everywhere. If you want a no-nonsense watch that won’t stop working, the Casio Men's 'G-Shock' Quartz Resin Sport Watch
is for you.
Do you want the perks of a smartwatch without worrying about data or service plans? The Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch
has got you covered. It has the appeal of an expensive watch with a more competitive price. The watch has all the goodies you’d expect, too, including 24/7 heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, step counts, and calorie tracking. Just switch between the preset sports type modes to tell the watch if you’re cycling, swimming, strength training, etc. It will use that data to track your performance and provide you with the related info you need.
This watch has an incredible battery life, promising up to 35 hours in full GPS and nearly 30 days when used as a regular activity watch. The route navigation and checkpoint features have made it a favorite among mountain athletes and those who take their workout to new altitudes. You’ll stay fully informed as you climb thanks to the barometric altimeter, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and thermometer.
This is a beautiful watch that only lacks cellular capabilities. But if you’re looking for fitness features, and not another way to answer a text, the Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS
topples the competition.
What to look for in a fitness watch
Today’s fitness watches are loaded with features, but not all of them offer the same perks. What do you really need, though? It may depend on your fitness goals. At a minimum, consider these essentials before you buy.
1. Water resistance
You may not be a triathlete or go for more than an occasional dip in the pool, but having some protection against water is ideal for an active wearer. Most watches can handle some occasional dampness, like that from sweat or a rainy mist. Still others are designed with regular swimming in mind and will give you complete waterproof functionality even at depth. Check the warranty to see how water damage is treated. If water wrecks your coverage, consider a pass.
2. More advanced health sensing
Heart rate is a standard monitoring feature in modern fitness watches. The same goes for sleep tracking, which is essentially a movement tracker that keeps the rest phases in mind when sensing. More high-tech features include ECG tracking, which can display your heart rhythm and rate at a glance. While you’ll pay more for things like oxygen sensing and blood pressure monitoring, those with health concerns may find the extra cost worthwhile.
3. Cellular/GPS data optional
If you just want a watch or an elevated fitness tracker, you don’t really need access to cellular or GPS data. Most smartwatches come with GPS capabilities, and a few let you upgrade to cellular data. This allows you to access data from your phone plan to use the watch like a mini-smartphone when you leave your phone behind. If you need a “watch as a phone” or you want to avoid the added data cost, look for a watch with GPS only.
4. Battery life
Some of the more feature-filled watches drain their batteries more quickly than you may want. Unless you want to schedule your recharge time between workouts and sleep, look for a watch that provides a day or more of charge with regular use. Or make sure it lets you switch between modes or turn off features to save battery life.
Better watches let you use them as just a watch when you need to make it last, then kick into full GPS and data mode when you’re near a charging station. If you don’t buy a watch with those features, consider how and when you’ll charge and the accessories you need.
What is the best fitness watch for you?
The Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch is the best fitness watch on our list. It does everything you’d expect from an athletic tool and skips some of “smartphone” features, which are more communication wants than training needs. It tracks your heart rate, your steps, your sleep, and more while reminding you of the essentials, like when to fuel up on a run.
With an incredible suite of measurement tools like barometer and gyroscope, it provides a lot of the same info you would get from a smartphone, such as weather and directions. And you get it all without ever connecting to a cell plan or wireless network.
This fitness watch is beautiful, functional, and outranks the rest on the sheer number of applicable training features. Be sure to connect it to your online communities so you can share your training stats, receive coaching recommendations, and much more. The Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch is stunning and ready to take you up the next mountain while ensuring you stop to enjoy the moment.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.