If you’re undecided between buying a fitness tracker or a smartwatch, I’m going to explain how they differ and what the pros and cons are. I wanted to do this post last year in a different format but I’ve settled on this simple one.
A fitness tracker is usually smaller than a smartwatch with core features to track your steps, workout, heart-rate, calories, etc. Its primary function is tied to daily activity and fitness, and it is not an extension to your smartphone.
A smartwatch is an extension to your smartphone that syncs with it and displays calls, texts, app notifications, calendar entries, etc. It also supports fitness tracking features, but it’s not the primary function of the watch.
|Typically smaller, B&W screen||Large colour display (eg: OLED)|
|Longer lasting battery life||Battery life is limited due to screen|
|Could be clipped on/worn as an accessory||Variety of bands to dress up or down|
|Limited to no apps||Offers smartphone related apps|
|Typically no built-in GPS||Has built-in GPS tracking|
|Lightweight, compact in size||Bulkier due to larger display|
|Some models are waterproof||Not all models are waterproof|
Fitness trackers: Fitbit, Garmin
Fitbit and Garmin are two of the most popular fitness trackers in South Africa. When it comes to choosing a brand, it’s a personal preference. I like the Fitbit interface and find it user-friendly, but never liked the Garmin one. That said, I did experience bugs with the Versa. These options are great if you want to start tracking your steps, check your calorie count (like if you want to go on a calorie deficit to shift weight) or log your workouts. Some of the entry-level and mid-range ones are a great place to test the waters. It’s available in a variety of options.
Fitness Bands: Huawei Band, Galaxy Fit, Honor Band, Mi Band
A fitness tracker with extra phone features. These bands are made by smartphone manufacturers if you want that extra bit of syncing between your phone content to it. Some have advanced screens and let you check calls and messages. This is recommended if you have any of these phones and prefer to get this info from your phone without forking out for a smartwatch. The best of both on a budget.
Smartwatches: Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, Huawei Watch GT
If you use either Apple, Huawei or Samsung and want a smartwatch primarily, these are the ones to get, with the addition of tracking your fitness. Keep in mind, not all will be waterproof to swim. But the core function being an extension to your smartphone. The Apple Watch is good if you’re on iPhone, as it has a variety of Watch apps, like the ability to call an Uber from your wrist. Some Android watches are compatible with iOS but take it from, do not buy a Huawei Watch for your iPhone because you don’t get the full features that are reserved for Huawei users. It is best to stick to the same brand of smartphone you have for the best experience and all features.
Hybrid fitness smartwatches: Fitbit Versa, Garmin Vivo, Galaxy Watch Active
If you want smartwatch features for your fitness tracker, these are the ones to get. Granted some apps may be limited when compared to the above smartwatches due to their platforms, they are an excellent option and sometimes it can be one particular feature that catches your eye. For me as a Fitbit Versa 2 wearer, I can’t live without the contactless payments from Fitbit Pay, which works with FNB. I’ve been using it since 2018 when it launched, and cannot go back; been extremely useful during the pandemic because it’s so gross to touch a keypad.
Other: Suunto, Polar, Volkano
I don’t have experience with these trackers so cannot vouch for them but Suunto is good for running, so if that is your priority, perhaps best to get that. The other brands could be linked to Vitality and that’s why you’d consider them. Just read reviews online before deciding. I’m not a fan of getting obscure brands because what if you need support, replacement parts and it’s non-existent here?
Other other: Random brands on Takealot
There are tons of products on Takealot if you search smartwatch, fitness tracker, fitness band, smart bracelet, etc. They are usually cheap – and I’ve never heard of them. I can’t vouch for them. My advise over the years remains the same: you get what you pay for.
Brands I’ve used
I’ve tested smartwatches from Samsung, Huawei and Apple. All have their pros and cons, but ultimately work best with the same phone you have. Usually when I test them, I also wear my Fitbit on the other hand and sometimes there can be minor discrepancies with things like calories burned. I am always aware that all these products are close enough, but never fully accurate as for example, wearing a chest strap when working out.
I have an Apple Watch lying around that is too old to update (the original one, before Series 1; yes I’m an early adopter), but I use the Versa 2 daily. I love fitness tracking and the quantification of my days and cannot live without Fitbit Pay, but for now I am testing the new Charge 4, which also supports Fitbit Pay. Look out for my review that will go into the Financial Mail. Just to also add: as much as I love Fitbit, I’ve also had to put up with the bugginess and syncing issues on my previous ones.
Some of these brands have smart scales that you can sync with your fitness data. My personal preference is the Huawei Smart Scale that I bought at the end of 2018 when I began my nutrition and fitness journey. It can be synced to other apps and I’m still obsessed with it.
This blog post have been overdue for a year. I hope you found it useful. I am currently testing the new Fitbit Charge 4; stay tuned for a review.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 13 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org