Christmas 2015: 10 best fitness trackers and smartwatches

Keep on top of your health and exercise goals with clever wristwear

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The Independent Online

Trackers can’t get you fit. But since it’s been shown that people monitoring their activity are significantly more active, they can certainly help. The problem with all wearable tech is that every time you take it off, you may not put it back on again, so it’s important to find one that’s comfortable and attractive as well as powerful.

Pre-empt New Year’s resolutions by choosing a tracker now but, be warned, only give one as a gift if you’re sure it’ll be welcome. There are two main types: trackers that just focus on steps, calories and even sleep, then smartwatches, which tell the time, of course, track activity and more. These extras include apps for showing text messages, giving map directions, even translating your speech. The Microsoft, Apple and Sony offerings below are smart watches. 

1. Microsoft Band 2: £189.99, Amazon

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Microsoft’s new smart band is crammed with sensors and a bright, sharp curved display which shows the time, steps and more. It has GPS built in, which allows great accuracy outdoors. Heart rate and sleep monitoring also feature. The Microsoft Health platform aggregates huge amounts of information such as skin temperature, UV light and more. It’s very accurate and versatile, is compatible with Android, Apple and Windows phones and only loses marks for not being very comfy. Up to two days’ battery life.

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2. Jawbone UP3: £94.99, Amazon

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The UP3 lacks a screen so it’s no watch replacement. Consequently, it’s amazingly light: you barely notice it’s there. The UP iPhone/Android app is comprehensive and useful. The UP3 tracks your sleep in greater detail than rivals and can even vibrate to wake you when you’re going from deep to light sleep – the best way to wake refreshed. This Smart Alarm function is excellent. It also measures heart rate just before you wake, a good long-term indicator of health. Up to a week’s battery life.

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3. Fitbit Charge HR: £99.99, Argos

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Fitbit is the tracker market leader and is known for its efficient, accurate monitors. This model has a continuous heart rate sensor – it’s also available without this sensor but this one is better. The small display shows the time as well as steps taken plus notifies you when a call comes in on your phone when it’s nearby. It monitors sleep automatically, as does the UP3, but lacks Jawbone’s Smart alarm. The battery lasts five days or so. 

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4. Withings Activité Pop: £119.99, Currys 

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Unlike others here, this is an analogue watch with real hands and two dials so the time is always visible. The bigger dial tells the time, the smaller one progresses from 0 to 100 per cent of your step target. It updates the time from your Apple or Android smartphone so it automatically changes when you’re abroad. It’s waterproof so you can swim or shower in it. The conventional watch battery inside lasts eight months. Simple but highly effective.

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5. Apple Watch Sport: from £299, Apple

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If you want a smartwatch that handles health tracking, none is better than this. The Sport models look great and the LCD display is super-sharp and colourful. There are scores of fitness apps available but the core ones (Activity and Workout) offer in-depth information with superbly simple interfaces, and the heart rate monitor adds extra data. There are thousands of non-fitness apps, too. You’ll only be able to use it if you have a companion iPhone (5s or later), though. Battery lasts a full day.

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6. MyZone MZ-3: £129.99, MyZone 

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This is a clever way to make sure that you’re only competing against yourself. Instead of measuring steps and calculating calories, the waterproof MZ-3 chest strap measures your heart rate as you work out. So it creates a level playing field by rewarding effort rather than fitness levels. In some health clubs (ask at yours before you buy), your effort data appears onscreen as you work out, and is also streamed to your mobile phone either while you exercise or afterwards, if the phone is absent. The battery lasts months between charges, and it's compatible with a range of Bluetooth devices and existing fitness apps.

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7. Jawbone UP2: £89.99, Jawbone

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The UP2 has just been released in an improved design with a more elegant clasp that makes it lighter than ever. It has the same brilliant Smart Alarm of the UP3, though the sleep tracking isn’t quite as detailed. There’s no heart rate monitor here and like the UP3 there’s no time display, but this is a highly efficient, accurate tracker. The UP3’s Smart Coach app offers in-depth analysis and suggestions like a recipe for an energising breakfast when it sees you slept badly. The battery lasts up to 10 days.

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8. TomTom Spark Cardio & Music: £189.99, John Lewis

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It’s no surprise that TomTom’s sports watch contains GPS. There’s also a clear display to show the time and more, extremely accurate heart rate monitoring and even music playback to keep you motivated while you’re working out (you will need Bluetooth wireless headphones for the music bit, however). The TomTom computer-based app shows your run on a map, assuming it was outside. The battery lasts a week without GPS, or just a few hours with it on. A version without heart or music features is also available.

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9. Sony SmartWatch 3: £149.99, Very

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Easily Sony’s best watch yet, the GPS built in here means you can exercise outside without your phone and still get accurate running data. Like many Sony gizmos, it’s waterproof, though this means the charging socket is under a fiddly rubber flap. It uses Google’s Android Wear platform and connects to Android phones. A clever transflective screen means the time is always visible, reducing battery drain. It lasts a couple of days between charges. 

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10. Fitbit Surge: £147.99, Amazon

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The top-of-the-range Fitbit is stuffed with sensors and is aimed at keen athletes. The heart rate readings are continuous and workout summaries are comprehensive calculating calories burnt, distance covered and even floors climbed. The watch receives text and call notifications and measures sleep, though there’s no smart alarm feature. Heavier than some, it’s an effective and very accurate smartwatch. Built-in GPS improves outdoor activity accuracy. Around five days’ battery life.

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Verdict

The most accomplished gadget here is the Apple Watch Sport and it’s easily the best designed. Its fitness tracking accuracy is excellent and simple to use. But it’s not cheap. The best buy is the Jawbone UP3 because it has sophisticated sensors, a great support app, snazzy design and decent value. The UP2 is almost as good, and cheaper. For simple tracking and more conventional design, the Withings Activite Pop is great value. For fitness newbies, the MyZone MZ-3 has a lot going for it. 

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