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The Best Fitness Trackers for Running

Run Circles Around Other Trackers

Many runners have found that even some of the best fitness trackers[1] don’t know how to keep up with their active lifestyle. Many trackers count steps, measure sleep, and even vibrate when a push notification appears on your phone, but they can’t calculate pace time or anything else a runner needs to know. But there is a special class of fitness trackers just for runners, hybrid devices that are half running watch and half daily step counter.

We’ve rounded up the very best. While running watches can easily cost upwards of £200 (and above), not all of them do. We looked for a few devices at the lower end of the price spectrum, around the £100 mark, but also some of the higher-end models that cost a lot more.

As you can see from the chart above, there’s a big range so you can find something that meets your needs, matches your style, and helps you get through all those miles. We’ve also taken into consideration some of the essential features any runner would want from a tracker, and whether it offers heart rate monitoring, smartwatch features like push notifications, good battery life, and more.


Runners’ watches usually have a sporty look, which isn’t ideal for something you want to wear 24/7. They often have a chunky face and a silicone wristband that can withstand sweat.

That’s not what you want as eye candy on your arm when you’re out networking over cocktails. However, a few hybrid fitness tracker-running watches actually do have a more sophisticated look than many others. The Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Nike+, and Garmin Forerunner 35 come to mind.

They have sleeker bodies and more attention to detail, such as stainless steel clasps, that elevate the look. You can swap the bands, upgrading to leather when the occasion calls for it.

The Essentials

A few essential features runners look for in a tracker are the ability to accurately track total running time, distance, pace, and lap time. It certainly helps if the watch comes with GPS, as stats for outdoor runs are much more accurate when GPS is used to calculate them.

Having GPS also means you can usually see the route of your run after the fact. Some of the trackers shown here measure a whole lot more than that. The Garmin Forerunner 735XT, a triathalon watch, also captures ground contact time, stride length, and estimated recovery time needed after a workout.

When worn with a compatible chest strap, it even estimates VO2 max estimate and lactate threshold. It’s by far the most expensive watch on this list, but you do get some very advanced information about your runs with it. When you’re not running, you expect a tracker to keep an eye on your steps and sleep.

Most of the devices on this list include a sleep tracker.

Heart Rate

Don’t get suckered into buying a runner’s watch with built-in heart rate monitoring before you learn what it does and how it works. There are different ways heart rate monitors (HRMs) are used and implemented. Some trackers have an optical HRM built right into the device.

This reads heart rate through your wrist. Devices that don’t have a built-in optical HRM–like the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the Polar M400–still work with a connected chest strap any time you want heart rate data. A chest strap HRM is one that is typically only worn during exercise.

It wirelessly (via Bluetooth or ANT+) connects with a compatible running watch so that you have real-time heart rate data while you’re in motion. With an optical HRM, you never have to put on a chest strap if you don’t want to, although trackers with optical HRM usually still support chest straps. The reason is that many athletes still prefer chest straps because they are more accurate.

The other major distinction is whether the optical HRM offers continuous heart rate monitoring or only during activity. Continuous monitoring lets you see your heart rate at any moment, making it easy to look up your resting heart rate every day. Continuous HRMs tend to eat up battery life, however.

More importantly, you need to ask what you’re going to do with your heart rate data. Many people simply don’t need to know their heart rate while they’re driving or cooking dinner. They can’t act on it any meaningful way, and it doesn’t tell them much about their health or state of being.

Every so often, people believe they will use continuous HRM to monitor stress, and if that’s the case, fine. But that means you have to notice a rise in heart rate and then act on it, and no tracker on this list is equipped to help you with that chore. The point of having heart rate information with a runner’s watch is to use it for heart rate training during exercise.

And in that case, heart rate data is very valuable. But a lot of people are lured into buying a device with continuous HRM without thinking about what they will do with the data. Be sure you really think about it before you buy a device that’s more expensive and has a shorter battery life just because you believe you want to know your heart rate all the time.

For more, see the best heart rate monitors[2] we’ve tested.

Push Notifications and Apps

Push notification support is surprisingly abundant among hybrid devices. Typically what happens is that the tracker vibrates when a notification appears on your phone, and the first few lines of the message show up on the tracker itself. The Garmin Vivoactive is a favorite for push notifications because you can read more than just the first few lines if you scroll through the alert.

The Vivoactive also has the benefit of tapping into Garmin’s app store, ConnectIQ. Compared with the Apple App Store and Google Play, Garmin’s store is tiny. But having an app store at all means you can add custom widgets and screens to your device.

There is a screen, for example, that shows multiple time zones of your choice around the world.

Battery Life

Battery life is a big deal among fitness trackers. You want a device to last more than a day or two, and if you’re preparing for a long race, you need to feel reassured that your tracking won’t poop out at mile 25. The battery life estimates above are for general step-counting mode.

Once GPS is enabled, battery life changes dramatically. But all the devices here have a long enough battery life during activity to last a long race…maybe not an ultramarathon, though. The Forerunner 735XT is the exception.

There’s an option to turn off the optical HRM to extend the battery life for up to 24 hours while still getting all the benefits of the GPS. With the optical HRM running, you can expect to get about 14 hours, which is still plenty of time for a triathlon.


Other considerations when buying a running watch and fitness tracker are whether it’s waterproof or simply splash resistant, if it offers remote music controls, and what other activities you can track with it. In the in-depth reviews linked from this article, you’ll find those details, as well as our own hands-on assessment of how well the devices fair in real-world conditions.

Swimming more your thing? See our favorite waterproof fitness trackers[3]. And if you want to keep track of your weight, check out the best smart bathroom scales[4].

Featured Fitness Tracker Reviews:

  • [5]

    MSRP: £249.95

    Bottom Line: With continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS, and broad appeal, the Fitbit Surge is the best all-day fitness tracker to date.

    Read Review[6]

  • [7]

    MSRP: £149.95

    Bottom Line: The Fitbit Charge 2 does everything the Fitbit Charge HR can, along with new idle alerts, automatic activity tracking, guided breathing sessions, interchangeable bands, and the option to con…

    Read Review[8]

  • [9]

    MSRP: £169.99

    Bottom Line: Garmin is one seriously trusted name among data-loving athletes, and its Forerunner 15 is the best hybrid sports watch-activity tracker we’ve tested.

    The price is right, too.

    Read Review[10]

  • [11]

    MSRP: £449.99

    Bottom Line: The Garmin Forerunner 735XT fitness tracker gives pertinent information to triathletes about their sports, including advice you don’t often see, like recovery time.

    It’s comprehensive and ea…

    Read Review[12]

  • [13]

    MSRP: £249.99

    Bottom Line: The Garmin Vivoactive is a smart activity tracker that can keep pace with even the most active lifestyles.

    From its integrated GPS to its dedicated app store, there’s a lot to like in this s…

    Read Review[14]

  • [15]

    MSRP: £99.99

    Bottom Line: The clip-on Lumo Run tracks runs and coaches you on how to improve, making it a great value for intermediate level runners.

    Read Review[16]

  • [17]

    MSRP: £199.95

    Bottom Line: If you’ve already mastered the basics, the Polar A360 is an advanced fitness tracker that gives concrete recommendations on how to improve your health.

    Read Review[18]

  • [19]

    MSRP: £249.99

    Bottom Line: The TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music fitness tracker provides continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS with route tracking, excellent battery life, and music streaming, all wrapped up in a lightwe…

    Read Review[20]

  • [21]

    MSRP: £229.95

    Bottom Line: The Polar M430 is a great fitness tracker for runners, but a bit too pricey and sporty for more casual use.

    Read Review[22]


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Apple Watch Series 3 versus Samsung Gear Sport

The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS and Samsung Gear Sport are two of the latest devices from smartwatch giants Apple and Samsung but, in this battle of the heavyweights, who comes out victorious? The results are in, and we can tell you the top smartwatch contender. This pair of smartwatches enter the metaphorical boxing ring with similar prices – there’s only GBP30 between them.

The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS[1] (38mm) is the pricier of the two and costs GBP329, while the Samsung Gear Sport[2] is GBP299. If you want the larger-faced 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 GPS, you’ll need to spend GBP359 – GBP60 more than the Samsung. They’re both health and fitness focused, but have a full range of smart features too.

In terms of key specs, how do they match up – and is there anything that sets these two apart? Below we take a look at exactly what each has to offer. Best Buy smartwatches[3] – find out which models beat the competition in our tough tests.

Apple Watch Series 3 GPS (38mm) Samsung Gear Sport OS compatibility iOS Android & iOS Display size (mm) 36 30.5 Display resolution (pixels) 340 x 272 360 x 360 Weight (g) 50.24 66 Dimensions (mm) 38.6 x 33.3 x 11.4 44.6 x 42.9 x 11.6 Battery life claim 18 hours Four days


They could barely be more different to each other in terms of looks.

The Apple Watch Series 3 has the rectangular bezel that the range has become known for, while the Samsung Gear Sport has a round watch face sat on a rounded-square surround, plus a rotating bezel. When it comes to the size of the case of each watch (including the bezel and measured diagonally), there’s very little in it. The Samsung Gear Sport feels a little bulkier, mainly due to the rounded-square surround of the face, and the fact that it’s heavier than the Apple Watch: the Gear Sport tips the scales at 66g, against the 50g Apple Watch Series 3.

You’ll be wearing these devices every day, so you want to be able to customise the look to suit you. The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS is only available with an aluminium bezel, unlike the Cellular version which can also be bought in stainless steel, with variation in silver, black or rose gold. It comes with a silicone sports band as standard, which comes in silver, pink, grey or black.

You can then choose from a range of bands, including woven nylon, leather or stainless steel, although these cost extra. The Samsung Gear Sport is only available with a blue or black silicone band.

Smart features

These are both advanced devices, and will let you receive and respond to texts, calls, emails, social media notifications and calendar alerts straight on your wrist. Neither have built-in LTE connectivity, unlike the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular and the Samsung Gear S3.

When it comes to on-board storage for storing apps and music, the Watch is the winner with 8GB versus the Gear Sport’s 4GB. While they both have a raft of smart features, what’s important is how they deal with them. One of these smartwatches scored five stars for the smooth way it manages smart notifications, and the ease with which you can deal with these.

Health and fitness tracking

Both devices have plenty of on-board sensors for health and fitness tracking, including built-in GPS and a heart-rate monitor, plus a water resistance rating of up to 50 metres.

They will both track steps, distance covered and calories burned, as well as a wide range of exercises. Using the Gear Sport, you can set goals for steps taken, floors climbed, calorie consumption, and even water or caffeine intake. The Watch only lets you set a move goal, which is based on the number or calories burned through an activity.

Both watches will notify you when a goal is met, and you’ll get an encouraging message such as ‘good work’ too. You can add third-party apps for particular fitness tracking functionality, such as Strava or MapMyRun. The App Store has the advantage over Samsung’s Tizen when it comes to the fitness apps available – there’s still a lot of choice and you’ll find most of the well-known health and fitness apps, but Apple has far more.

One health metric that the Apple Watch doesn’t track is your sleep. Given the battery life claims, you may well be charging your device overnight anyway, but this feels like a bit of an oversight considering even basic fitness trackers can capture sleep data. We know that the accuracy of health and fitness tracking data is important, as it helps you to track your improvements.

But how did these devices perform in our tough fitness tracking accuracy tests? We reveal all in our full reviews. More interested in fitness?

Find out whether to buy a smartwatch or a fitness tracker.[4]

Battery life

In this contest, the Samsung Gear Sport delivers a knockout punch to the Apple Watch Series 3.

Despite the number of features on offer, Samsung claims you’ll get around four days of battery life per charge, while the Series 3 promises just 18 hours – meaning you’ll need to charge it once a day, depending on usage.

To find out how both devices performed in our full testing, you’ll need to check out our full Apple Watch Series 3 GPS[5] and Samsung Gear Sport[6] reviews.


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The Best Fitness Trackers of 2018

Count More Than Steps

There’s never been a better selection of fitness trackers, but with choice comes confusion. Which tracker has the features that are right for you and the activities you do? Here are some tips and recommendations for choosing the best tracker for your needs.

Try Before You Buy

If you want to try a tracker before committing to it, we recommend Lumoid[1], a service that lets you test-drive three trackers for a week for £35.

Check the fees, as they are subject to change. Another way to try fitness tracking in general (but without a wearable) is to use a mobile app that counts your steps[2]. This method requires the least commitment, and could be of interest if you’re a beginner.

Some apps we like are Argus, Fitbit, and Moves. If you run or bicycle, we recommend tracking your runs or rides with an app before going whole-hog and splurging on a tracker. Why?

With some trackers, you still need to carry your phone to get accurate pacing, distance, and mapping, so you’ll want to know before you make a purchase if you’re okay with carrying your phone, or if you’d prefer a tracker with built-in GPS so you don’t have to. A few apps we recommend are Runtastic PRO (for running), Cyclemeter (for bicycling), and Strava (for both running and cycling). The Coros Linx Smart Helmet[3] is another interesting solution for cyclists that integrates your phone’s GPS to track your rides and uses bone-conduction audio to let you hear directions, music, and phone calls without blocking your ears.

Set Your Spending Limit

In general, most fitness trackers cost between £50 and £250.

If you pay less than £50, you will probably get a subpar product with poor accuracy. In addition, less expensive trackers usually don’t have a display, so you can’t see how many steps you’ve taken unless you look at your smartphone.

More expensive trackers usually include built-in optical heart rate monitors and GPS, and often, these features are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts. Don’t get suckered into buying a tracker with a heart rate monitor if your primary activity is walking; it’s an unnecessary expense.

If you walk and don’t do much else, there are great options in the £49-£149 range. If you do work out often, we highly recommend spending at least £149, as that’s the price point where you’ll start to see the features that are useful to very active users.

Choose Your Style: Bracelet, Clip, Watch

A very important question to ask yourself before choosing a fitness tracker is the type of form factor you want. Fitness trackers are usually bracelets, watches, or clip-ons.

Most clip-on devices these days can also be worn on the wrist, but not vice versa. Bracelets and watches are hard to lose. Clip-ons can fall off or get thrown into the wash.

That said, bracelets and watches can get in the way when typing on a computer or washing dishes, for example. If you’re bothered by having something on your wrist 24/7, you’re probably better off with a clip-on. Additionally, wrist-worn devices are not always eye-catching accessories to your outfit.

Clip-on devices are smaller and more discreet when worn on a waistband, like the Lumo Run, or the front of a bra. These clip-ons don’t have a display, meaning you have to rely on a smartphone to see your tracked activity. The Motiv Ring, meanwhile, brings fitness tracking to your fingers.

It tracks many of the same metrics as wrist-worn models in a discreet form factor that looks like jewelry. And don’t forget about Fido. That’s right, there are even trackers out there specifically for pets[4].

Do You Want Heart Rate Monitoring?

Heart rate monitoring sounds like the best feature ever, but there are different kinds of heart rate monitors, and frankly, some people don’t need it at all.

A built-in heart rate monitor drives up the price. Optical heart rate monitors are the ones built into the device itself. The Apple Watch Series 3[5] has an optical heart rate monitor, as does the Fitbit Charge 2, among others.

Some very good fitness trackers don’t have a heart rate monitor built-in, but can pair with a chest strap. Most every device from Garmin and Polar supports a chest strap (like the super Polar H10[6]), and you can usually bundle one in when purchasing a tracker for an extra £40 or £50. Finally, if you’re interested in knowing your resting heart rate, you don’t need to buy a tracker with an optical heart rate monitor to find it.

Many smartphone apps let you take your heart rate in about 15 seconds using the phone’s camera. Check your pulse once or twice a day, and you’re good to go. For more, see The Best Heart Rate Monitors[7].

Will You Track Sleep?

Many fitness trackers record your sleep.

When they do, they generally watch for movement using a three-axis accelerometer to a more sensitive degree than they do during the day. Some devices report graphs showing the times when you were in light sleep and deep sleep based on motion. There are also dedicated sleep trackers out there that attach to your mattress, like the SleepAce RestOn[8].

But we haven’t found them to offer an appreciable advantage over wrist-based trackers, which have the advantage of doing a lot more than simply tracking your rest. If you don’t like the idea of wearing something on your wrist to bed and need a new mattress, you can always spring for the Eight Smart Mattress[9].

Go Sport-Specific

Swimmers will want a waterproof tracker[10], but keep in mind that not all water-safe trackers actually track swimming. A couple that do are the Apple Watch Nike+ and Series 3.

Runners will probably want a watch that shows time, distance, pace, and lap time, at the very least. If you want good accuracy for those metrics without having to carry a smartphone, you need a runner’s watch with built-in GPS, such as the Garmin Forerunner 735XT[11]. For more, see The Best Fitness Trackers for Running[12].

Also consider the display. Otherwise excellent devices like the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Charge 2 have screens that turn off after a few seconds. If you want to see your stats at all times, or simply use your tracker as a wristwatch, look for one with an always-on display.

How you control the tracker is also important. If you like to run in the cold while wearing gloves, you may want to steer clear of devices that only have touch-enabled displays. Cyclists have even more considerations.

There’s a difference between tracking how many miles you pedal and calories you burn versus monitoring your power and cadence. If all you want is the former, you can find a few fitness trackers that support bicycling as an activity, including the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive. More serious cyclists will want a device that can pair with additional bike equipment, like a cadence sensor, and should look at devices from sport-specific companies, like Garmin, Mio Global, and Polar.

The App Experience

A fitness tracker’s app matters.

Whether on your phone or on the web, the app is absolutely vital because it is where you make sense of the information the tracker collects.

Fitbit has one of the best apps and websites we’ve tested. It lets you record all kinds of data that many other companies don’t, such as calories consumed, allergy severity, and stress level. Withings is also a favorite for providing a comprehensive account where you can measure your weight, glucose readings, and all kinds of health information.

If you want total body analysis, look for a system that incorporates a smart bathroom scale[13]. Fitbit, Nokia (formerly Withings), and Polar, and do. Check out the Fitbit Aria 2, the Polar Balance, and the Nokia Body Cardio.

These send your weight directly to your account, so you can’t cheat the system by entering a lower number. The QardioBase 2 is another top choice, especially for pregnant women.

Smartwatch vs. Fitness Tracker

Several fitness trackers have some smartwatch functionality, and some smartwatches have fitness features, too.

The Fitbit Ionic comes close to blending both worlds, but at the moment it still lags far behind the Apple Watch in terms of third-party app support. Ultimately, a smartwatch is different than a fitness tracker, so make sure your heart is in the right place and you know which device you want. Fitness trackers put fitness tracking first!

See our list of The Best Smartwatches[14] for recommendations in that category.

Other Options

With so many good fitness trackers on the market right now, and promising ones on the horizon, it’s hard to contain them all in just one list. We’ve limited our picks here to trackers that have scored four stars or higher, but there are lots of other very good options out there that might be right for you. We update this list monthly, so make sure to check back for our latest recommendations.

And for the very latest reviews, see our Fitness Trackers[15] product guide.

Featured in This Roundup

  • [16]

    MSRP: £249.95

    Bottom Line: With continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS, and broad appeal, the Fitbit Surge is the best all-day fitness tracker to date.

    Read Review[17]

  • [18]

    MSRP: £149.95

    Bottom Line: The Fitbit Charge 2 does everything the Fitbit Charge HR can, along with new idle alerts, automatic activity tracking, guided breathing sessions, interchangeable bands, and the option to con…

    Read Review[19]

  • [20]

    MSRP: £149.95

    Bottom Line: With the Alta HR, Fitbit updates its most stylish tracker with continuous heart rate monitoring, better battery life, and smarter sleep tracking.

    Fashion-conscious self-quantifiers: This may…

    Read Review[21]

  • [22]

    MSRP: £299.95

    Bottom Line: The Fitbit Ionic is an ambitious and promising smartwatch with a focus on fitness and accurate tracking, but its success will depend on the growth of its app ecosystem.

    Read Review[23]

  • [24]

    MSRP: £199.99

    Bottom Line: The Garmin Forerunner 35 is a premium fitness tracker, and it includes the GPS and heart monitoring features not found in lesser-priced models.

    Read Review[25]

  • [26]

    MSRP: £99.99

    Bottom Line: The clip-on Lumo Run tracks runs and coaches you on how to improve, making it a great value for intermediate level runners.

    Read Review[27]

  • [28]

    MSRP: £99.99

    Bottom Line: The Misfit Ray combines top-notch fitness and sleep tracking with one of the best-looking designs we’ve seen.

    Read Review[29]

  • [30]

    MSRP: £199.99

    Bottom Line: The Motiv Ring is a subtly stylish fitness tracker that puts lots of features and functionality right on your finger.

    Read Review[31]

  • [32]

    MSRP: £179.99

    Bottom Line: With some solid improvements over its predecessor, the Samsung Gear Fit2 is a powerful fitness tracker and a fairly functional smartwatch.

    Read Review[33]

  • [34]

    MSRP: £249.99

    Bottom Line: The TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music fitness tracker provides continuous heart rate monitoring, GPS with route tracking, excellent battery life, and music streaming, all wrapped up in a lightwe…

    Read Review[35]


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