Whether you are training for a marathon or working out for the first time in months, a fitness tracker can give you helpful health data. They’re incredibly advanced, with GPS tracking, heart rate monitors and workout insight tools built-in. To make finding the right fitness tracker for your lifestyle easier, we tried nearly a dozen different models and spoke with experts about what separates the best models from the rest.
How we picked the best fitness trackers
We spoke with health and fitness experts to better understand how these trackers, which you may find in watch, ring or band form, can improve your exercise and wellness journey. Here is what we kept in mind, based on their advice:
- Comfort and wearability: A fitness tracker is only useful if you wear it. It can have the most advanced tools, but those features are meaningless if you don’t regularly wear it, says Dr. Koyya Lewis-Trammell, associate professor of kinesiology and health promotion at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
- Compatibility: Not every phone is compatible with every fitness tracker — the Apple Watch only works with an iPhone, for example. We included options that are compatible with both Apple and Android devices, so you can find a suitable option.
- Data tracking: Fitness trackers collect different kinds of biometric data and present it in different ways. We chose products that collect a range of fitness insights. Some monitor basic activity like steps and heart rate, while others display more complex analysis including workout effectiveness and body fatigue.
How we tried fitness trackers
- GPS tracking: GPS, or Global Positioning System, is what maps your outdoor activity and enables reporting on your mileage, speed and elevation. For each watch, I noted how quickly each tracker connected to GPS and how accurate the data was.
- Comfort: I wore each tracker day and night (I even slept with them) to check if they interfered with any hand-heavy activity like cooking, cleaning, weight training, cycling, typing or gaming.
- Features: Besides compatibility, one of the biggest differentiators for fitness watches is their features. I paid particular attention to the sleep tracking, heart rate details and live workout stats of each product.
- Battery life: I tried each tracker for at least a week. Throughout that period, I paid attention to how many times I needed to charge the device.
The best fitness trackers of 2024
Our top picks are a mix of expert recommendations and products our team has personally tried for at least a week. We reached out to and received products from every brand on our list so that we could try as many options as possible. All of our top picks come in various sizes or styles.
Best for Apple: Apple Watch Series 9
The Apple Watch is the one smartwatch that always stays on my wrist. The previous Series 8 watch won our 2023 Select Wellness Award for the best fitness tracker for iPhone users, and this latest model adds new features that make it even better.
It has a large always-on display and narrow bezels (the frame that borders the screen) which make it easy to read and swipe through notifications, even while running. It easily syncs with Apple apps like Health and Fitness to show data about your workouts, health and sleep. It can also take calls, send texts, make requests via Siri voice assistant and more.
The Series 9 has faster speeds, a brighter screen, improved Siri functionality and a new gesture called “double tap.” When you raise your wrist and pinch your index finger and thumb together twice you can answer calls, open incoming notifications, control music and more. In cold-weather, “double tap” is much faster than peeling off my gloves and pulling back my long-sleeve layers to touch the watch’s screen. You can learn more about this feature in our Apple Watch Series 9 review.
A minor drawback of the Series 9 is the battery life, which lasts up to 18 hours — less than competitors’ smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch 6 and the Pixel Watch 2.
In Apple’s product lineup, the Series 9 sits between the premium Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the more budget-friendly Apple Watch SE in price. It comes in two sizes, 41mm and 45mm, with many watch band options.
Display size(s): 41mm, 45mm | Display type: Always-on touchscreen | Weight: 31.9g (41mm), 38.7g (45mm) | Battery life: Up to 18 hours, fast charging | Built-in GPS: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, with EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 50 meters | Compatible with: Apple iPhone
Best for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6
Named the best smartwatch for Android in the NBC Select Giftable Tech Awards, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 has a sleek design, easy-to-customize screen and comfortable fit, says former associate commerce editor Nishka Dhawan. Its circular touchscreen is lightweight, colorful and responsive. You can customize watch faces directly on the watch itself or through Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app — I used it to create multiple faces with custom stats, colors, fonts and layouts in minutes.
The watch has two buttons, which by default act as a home and a back button. (You can reprogram them to do other actions like open a specific app or show your most recently used ones.) I love physical buttons on smartwatches because touch controls are not always ideal when I’m doing outdoor activities in bad weather, like hiking or running in the rain.
Like the Apple Watch Series 9, it can handle smartphone tasks including sending texts, answering calls, receiving notifications and tap-to-pay. I used it to pay for groceries and public transportation with no issues.
It comes in two sizes, as well as a more expensive “classic” version that has a rotating dial around the bezel of the frame that can scroll through screens.
Display size(s): 40mm, 44mm | Display type: Always-on touchscreen | Weight: 28.7g (40mm), 33.3g (44mm) | Battery life: Up to 40 hours | Built-in GPS: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes (not including naps) | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, with EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 5 feet for 30 minutes | Works best with: Samsung and Android phones
Best for beginners: Fitbit Charge 6
Many Select team members use or have used Fitbit fitness trackers, and love them because they are easy to use and lightweight. Take the Fitbit Charge 6: it is one of the lightest, lowest-priced trackers on our list.
Despite rarely using Fitbit products, I felt comfortable swiping through the Charge 6’s touchscreen menu after only a few minutes. The screen and stats are bright, colorful and easy to navigate. It tracks basic fitness and health data like steps, heart rate, sleep quality, exercise distances, pace (if outside) and more.
Another strength of the Fitbit Charge 6 is the battery, which lasts up to seven days, according to the brand. With a few workouts and the always-on display, I averaged three to five days on one charge. New to this model are smart features via Google apps, including turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps, tap-to-pay with Google Wallet and YouTube Music controls. It also has a button on the left side that returns you to the home screen.
The data tracking is a little less robust than some of our other picks, though. When running, the Charge 6 did not show me cadence, stride length, ground contact time and vertical oscillation — advanced metrics found on pricier options like the Apple Watch 9. The brand also locks some data insights like sleep score and daily readiness score behind its Fitbit Premium subscription plan, which costs $10 per month.
The FitBit Charge 6 requires a Google account to use.
Display size(s): 26mm | Display type: Touchscreen | Weight: 15g (without band) | Battery life: Up to 7 days | Built-in GPS: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes (not including naps) | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, with EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 50 meters | Works best with: Fitbit app (Apple or Android)
Best battery life: Garmin Forerunner 255
If you are an avid athlete, consider a fitness tracker from Garmin. This model stands out from the competition with its incredibly long battery life — I wore it for a full week and did not need to recharge.
When getting ready for an outdoor run or bike ride, the Forerunner 255 connected to GPS within seconds while other trackers took minutes. It has multiband GPS, which means it can communicate with two GPS satellites at the same time, leading to faster, more accurate mapping.
It also has ample fitness and training features, such as adaptive workout plans, running power data, recovery time estimates and more. I didn’t take advantage of all the tools, but a few I used daily was its morning report feature and performance condition feature. The morning report told me how well I slept, my recovery scores and suggested workouts, while the performance condition feature gave me an assessment of my pace and heart rate at the start of runs. Both helped me develop a better workout routine.
This watch has a serious learning curve, however. There is no touchscreen — you control it with the five buttons along the sides of the watch. While I enjoy the precision of using physical buttons, it took a while to get used to it, since most other fitness trackers have touchscreens.
Display size(s): 41mm, 46mm | Display type: Not touchscreen | Weight: 39g (41mm), 49g (46mm) | Battery life: Up to 14 days | Built-in GPS: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes (not including naps) | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, no EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 50 meters | Works best with: Garmin app
Best for metrics: Whoop 4.0
For in-depth data analysis, consider Whoop 4.0, says Rhys Athayde, co-owner and director of fitness and operations of Ghost Williamsburg, a private gym and training studio in New York. Whoop is not a typical fitness watch. It doesn’t track step count, stairs climbed or active minutes, nor does it show the time or display notifications because it doesn’t have a display. It is a small tracker built into a stretchy polyester and nylon band that’s comfortable to wear while working out or sleeping, in my experience. You can look at the collected health and fitness data through the Whoop app.
Whoop tracks metrics like heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature and more. Analyzing that data, it assigns scores to your body strain, recovery and sleep through its mobile app. This showed me how hard a workout session was on my body rather than how far or fast I went. Looking at these strain, recovery and sleep metrics, I found myself thinking more about the quality of my workouts rather than the quantity.
To use it, you have to pay for the Whoop subscription service, which is $30 per month or $239 per year — the brand gave us a membership for the purpose of this story. For serious athletes who love data, it is a worthwhile option to consider.
Display size(s): N/A | Display type: N/A | Weight: 18g | Battery life: Up to 5 days | Built-in GPS: N/A | Sleep tracking: Yes (not including naps) | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, no EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 10 meters (for 2 hours) | Works best with: Whoop app
Best smart ring: Oura Ring 3
For minimalists who want data analysis on basics like sleep and recovery, Athayde recommends the Oura Ring 3. Like most of our other picks, it tracks heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature and more.
The Oura Ring 3 is more for health tracking than activity tracking. The app mostly focuses on sleep and recovery, with accurate tracking of heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate and more, says Athayde. But for runners, cyclists and swimmers, the Oura Ring isn’t a substitute for a true fitness watch — it cannot show you data like pace, distance or heart rate zone as you work out. For those who want informative health data without the form factor of a fitness watch, the Oura Ring is a good option.
It comes in two styles, six colors and a range of sizes. While you can use the Oura Ring without a subscription, you will only be able to access limited data solely for the current day, according to the brand. A monthly subscription costs $6 a month.
Display size(s): N/A | Display type: N/A | Weight: 4-6 grams | Battery life: Up to 7 days | Built-in GPS: N/A | Sleep tracking: Yes (not including naps) | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, with EKG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 100 meters (up to 12 hours) | Works best with: Oura app
How to shop for a fitness tracker
Beyond looking at compatibility and price, our experts’ recommend keeping the following in mind when shopping for your next fitness tracker:
Both Lewis-Trammell and Athayde say that comfort and wearability are the most important factors of any fitness tracker.
Because trackers come in so many shapes and sizes, I recommend going in-person to try a few different models and see what feels most comfortable to you.
Athayde recommends the Oura Ring, but points out that if you don’t typically wear (or sleep in) rings, you should probably look elsewhere. Similarly, if you don’t generally wear watches, you might find a tracker like the Garmin Forerunner uncomfortable and may be better off with a smaller, lighter tracker like the Whoop. “Ultimately, you’re looking for a device you’re going to wear long term so that it can provide you with the most accurate data,” says Athayde.
Identify your goals and needs
You don’t need to be an athlete or avid gym-goer to benefit from the data fitness trackers provide, says Athayde.
Think about what metrics matter to you before looking at the price tag, and shop according to what you need. If outdoor sports are your thing, Garmin may be your best option. If you want your fitness data in addition to mobile notifications and texting, a smartwatch like the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy is a good fit. What’s best for you depends on your daily habits and larger goals, according to our experts.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Koyya Lewis-Trammell is an associate professor of kinesiology and health promotion at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
- Rhys Athayde is the co-owner and director of fitness and operations of Ghost Williamsburg, a private gym and training studio in New York.
Why trust Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC select who covers technology and fitness including recent stories on earbuds, running shoes, and cycling. For this piece, he interviewed fitness and health experts to get a better understanding of fitness trackers and the benefits they can provide. He also tried top-rated fitness trackers and smartwatches. He spoke with other members of the Select team about their experiences with the fitness trackers they use and have used previously as well.