Fitness tracker reviews: Which one will help you get fittest the fastest

You unwrap your shiny fitness tracker from its box, strap it to your wrist, then excitedly wait for it to transform you into a lithe gym junkie who rolls effortlessly out of bed every day for a 5:30am workout.

Except… it doesn't work like that.

Why a fitness tracker won't make you fit

"Should I get a fitness watch?" is a question I'm regularly asked, and my answer is always the same: no gizmo is going to do any hard work for you. If you don't want to get fit — really, truly, genuinely want it — a device that makes you feel guilty for not hitting your workout goals will probably end up in your sock drawer.

But, on the bright side: if you do want to get fit, a fitness tracker can help keep that fire burning. I've found that knowing how many steps I'm taking each day, or how many calories I'm burning in a workout, is a powerful motivator to keep going.

That said — these devices are nice to have, but not must-haves. "I can't afford a fitness tracker!" is no excuse for not exercising.

Another common question is "Which fitness watch should I get?" I've recently tested some of the major players:

Apple Watch Series 5 (from $649)

It's made by Apple, so of course it's expensive. But if you've already forked out for an iPhone, this is your best choice — the two devices sync together seamlessly.

One of this watch's cleverest health features are its Activity Rings, a way of displaying three important daily metrics at a glance: How many calories you've burned, how much time you've spent exercising, and how much time you've spent standing.

The rings are a gloriously simple feature that complement the hundreds of other apps and functions on the Watch — it's really more of a smartwatch that also does fitness-tracking stuff.

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Fitbit Versa 2 ($329.95)

On the other hand, the latest gizmo from Fitbit seems more like a fitness tracker that also does smartwatch stuff. It's terrific at things like measuring workouts and step counts, but I didn't get as much use out of it outside the gym as I did the Apple Watch.

What Fitbit does really well are its native health apps, which make it simple to stay on top of your data across multiple devices. A big selling point of the Versa 2 is built-in sleep tracking, which purports to tell you how much time you spend each night in light and deep sleep. 

To be honest, I'm sceptical of this technology — sleep experts have warned me it's not sophisticated enough to accurately track sleep phases, so it can potentially make you anxious about non-existent sleep problems. Treat the sleep data as an interesting novelty, rather than hard facts.

If battery life is a dealbreaker, opt for the Versa 2 — it lasts days (whereas an Apple Watch has to be charged every night).

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active ($349)

This one feels far more basic than its competitors in terms of both its design and the software. I found it harder to learn to use (and far less useful) than either the Apple Watch or the Versa 2, but maybe Samsung/Android natives will pick it up faster.

A plus of this model is that, with its round rather than rectangular face, it's arguably a little more flash than the Apple Watch or the Versa 2.

That's something to be aware of for all these devices: they tend to look more like kids' toys than fashion pieces, as your more stylish friends will be quick to point out.

According to Sam Downing, the secret to wellbeing is just to keep it simple. A qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Sam is also a writer focusing on everyday health.

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