The best fitness watches cater to all manor of needs, because no-one wants to wear multiple watches (one for the time, one for exercise tracking, and an Apple Watch for when you watch to show off).
However, this category of tracker is much more diverse than our relatively simple list of the best fitness tracker bands.
The borders between them are blurred, but the five fitness watches we recommend below all meet a few important criteria. For our money, the Huawei GT 2 is the choice that ticks the most boxes for most people, with great tracker technology and excellent battery life - even if at first glance it's not what you'd expect from a fitness watch.
You'll find this pick in our top five recommendations further down this page, or read on for a more detailed explanation of what to look for. While you're searching for a great watch, check out our guide to fitness gifts for Christmas, featuring more smart kit, training aids and wellness gifts.
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How to choose the best fitness watch
There are three main types to consider. The semi-smart fitness watch is the kind we recommend to most people.
These are made by Samsung, Huawei and Fitbit, and were initially made as a response to smartwatches that only last a day off a charge. They last up to two weeks, have bright and colourful screens, and both GPS and heart rate sensors for the full fitness watch experience.
You won’t get as many apps or features as a full-fat smartwatch, but basics like notifications, weather reports and support for music cover what we want day-to-day.
If you want more smart features, Google Wear OS and Apple watches are the ticket. These aren’t fitness watches per se, but are just as good as the dedicated kind when you put them to the test.
Some people find these full-on smartwatches a bit fiddly, as they have more complicated interfaces, needed to fit in their many features. And, the main drawback, they only last a day to a day and a half before needing a rest on the charger.
If, on the other hand, you want to get as far from a smartwatch as possible but still own one of the best fitness watches around, you want what is known as a hybrid watch. These look much more like an analogue watch, but have extra tech inside to count your steps and, in some cases, record your heart rate.
Garmin, Skagen and Withings are the brands to investigate if you like the idea of a fitness watch that looks just like an ordinary analogue one.
Only a single hybrid watch has made it into our best fitness watch list below, but largely because it captures more metrics than most. The Skagen Hagen/Connected and Garmin Vivomove series watches are lovely in their own right. Just want to track steps? Pick the one that suits your tastes best.
The issue with these hybrid watches is they have, at most, a very basic screen and no GPS. Those who run a lot likely want this location-tracking tech as it lets you see maps of your workouts, and tracks distance much better than a motion sensor.
Got an idea of what you want from the best fitness watch for you? Here are our top models to choose from...
You may mistake the Huawei Watch GT 2 for something else when you first see it. This is a low-fuss, easy to use watch with excellent fitness tracking, good water resistance and the ability to store around 500 songs it can fling over to your Bluetooth headphones. However, at first glance it seems the very picture of a fancy smartwatch. It isn’t really one. The Huawei GT 2 sticks to the smart basics. It doesn’t have an app store, so you’re stuck with the weather, music and fitness apps, plus a few others, that come preinstalled.
In return you get superb battery life of up to two weeks, and likely still around a week even if you go for a few long GPS-tracked runs. Given you can still receive notifications and take calls with the thing, do you need anything more? Well, there’s one missing feature you may want. The Huawei GT 2 does not have a Spotify app. Any music or podcasts have to be transferred over to the watch itself, although it can also act as a remote for tunes played on your phone.
Samsung likes to be number one. It makes many of the most popular TVs and phones, and the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is its latest attempt to challenge the Apple Watch. It’s a lovely looking thing, topped with curved glass whose outer ring acts as a digital bezel you flick around to wind through the interface. There’s a feature most other fitness watches lack too, an echocardiogram. This monitors the electrical impulses from your heart rather than just tracking its bpm, to look out for unusual rhythm.
The Active 2 is a 'do everything' contender, with downloadable apps and stacks of faces. You pay for this in money, as the watch is more expensive than simpler models, and battery life. It lasts around two days between charges. A more demanding wrist buddy than some.
The Withings Steel HR is elegant, with slim silver hands and a separate dial to show how close you are to reaching your daily step count. This is our hybrid watch pick, offering the soul of an analogue watch with added tracking skills.
The dark circle is home to a simple display that shows your heart rate. There’s no particularly advanced fitness tracking here. The Withings Steel HR automatically recognises when you start working out and then files away the data in the phone app, but does not have any form of GPS for truly accurate distance measurements. Check out the pricier Steel HR Sport if you want Connected GPS. The pay-off is 25-day battery life. And if you’re not bothered about seeing heart rate readings you should buy the standard Withings Steel instead. It just counts steps, but looks oh-so-stylish doing so. It’s also much cheaper and the non-rechargeable battery lasts six months.
Next up in our ranking of the best fitness watches is the Garmin Vivoactive 4S. Garmin simmers down the style of its ultra-high-end runner’s watches in the Vivoactive line. You end up with something that looks less imposing, and a little more stylish, that you operate with a touchscreen rather than side buttons. This watch still leans heavily on the fitness side, though, so is better for those who exercise a lot and like to see stats after a run or bike ride.
The Vivoactive 4 has a memory-in-pixel LCD screen, which looks exceptionally clear in daylight but has to use a front light at night, a bit like an old digital Casio watch. It’s practical, but not glossy like an OLED display. You only get fairly basic smartwatch features, but one of the most important are here. You’ll see notifications and a Spotify app lets you download playlists for listening phone-free while you run.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is hands-down the sweetest-looking fitness watch around. Its rounded contours, bright colours and friendly style make this perhaps the least nerdy tech-packed watch you’ll find. Fitbit drops the tech obsession with looking sleek and serious in every area, and will almost certainly put a smile on your face.
The Versa 2 has most of the core fitness feature we look for too. There’s a heart rate scanner, it’s waterproof to 50M and has room for around 300 songs. You can leave your phone at home while you go for mind-cleansing walk. There’s a 'but', a significant one. The Fitbit Versa 2 does not have full GPS, only Connected GPS, so if you want to map your runs you will still have to take your phone.
The Motorola Moto 360 is the latest WearOS watch at the time of writing. WearOS is Google’s smartwatch operating system. You can’t mistake one of the key pros here. The Moto 360 is a beautiful watch, particularly if you go one of its leather straps rather than the more practical silicone.
WearOS lets you use virtually endless watch faces, and install far more apps than any of the other picks here. It handles notification well and lets you reply to messages with Google-suggested snippets. Fitness features like GPS, a good heart rate scanner and swim-ready water resistance are present too. However, the Moto 360 is fiddlier to use because of all that scope, and does not feel as immediate. That said, you can customise one of the bezel buttons to launch the Google Fit Workout tracker app if you like. As with every WearOS watch, the Moto 360’s battery life may sting. At a day to a day and half between charges, upkeep is similar to an Apple Watch.