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Fitness tracker vs. smartwatch, which is better for you?

Fitness tracker vs. smartwatch, which is better for you?
Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com Dreamstime.com

Fitness goals can be difficult to measure. You can watch your weight, time your workouts, and see how you feel overall, but an assist from the right technology can help you assess your progress and keep you motivated at the same time.

Paying for a personal trainer can add up to big bucks, but thanks to technology you can have a personal trainer wherever you go.

The most convenient fitness-tracking tech can be worn right on your wrist or tucked into your workout clothes, but which gadget is right for you?

Your big choice is going to be between a dedicated fitness tracker or a smartwatch.

Trackers and watches: What’s the difference?

Fitbit is the most famous maker of fitness-tracking devices, though you can also pick up trackers from companies like Garmin and Misfit. When it comes to smartwatches, the Apple Watch gets the most attention, though there are Android-compatible smartwatches out there, notably the Samsung Gear S3 or Gear Sport.

Fitness trackers do exactly what they sound like: they measure various aspects of fitness, including your heart rate, calories burned, distance covered, and sometimes even sleep quality. Smartwatches are more general purpose devices that can track fitness, but also get your text messages, alert you to notifications, and run a variety of apps.

Let’s look at two leading contenders:

Fitbit Alta HR

The Fitbit Alta HR is a recent addition to the company’s line-up and it’s the slimmest Fitbit yet. You can wear it on your wrist all day (and night if you like) for continuous heart-rate monitoring so you can track calories burned and compare the difference in your heart rate from when you’re resting and when you’re working out. It's smaller than a smartwatch and will appeal to people looking for a low-profile fitness monitor.

Apple Watch

Apple launched its first smartwatch in 2015 and the wearable has gotten some upgrades since then. The company calls its new Series 3 the “ultimate sports watch.” You can take it swimming, track your running routes with GPS, pump some tunes into your ears, set fitness goals, watch your heart rate, pair the watch with compatible gym equipment, and get a workout summary. All that and it acts as a general smartwatch, too.

This is why Kim Komando ordered a Series 3 Apple Watch.

The price equation

When deciding between a tracker or a watch, the first thing you will notice is the price difference between the two gadgets. The Fitbit Alta HR costs $150, while an entry-level Apple Watch Series 1 starts at $250. If you want the latest Series 3 with GPS capabilities, then you’ll need to spend at least $330.

If you’re on a tight budget and $150 still seems like too much, then check into a more affordable device like the $60 Fitbit Flex 2, which is also waterproof and works well for workout warriors who swim or train in challenging outside conditions. If your workout gadget decision is based purely on budget, then look into a fitness tracker.

Battery life

Smartwatches aren’t known for outstanding battery life. Most people take them off at bedtime and let them recharge overnight. The Fitbit Alta HR, though, says it can last up to a week on a charge, meaning you can leave it on at all times and use it as a sleep tracker as well. Compare that to the latest Apple Watch’s 18 hours of battery life, though heavy use of the watch’s GPS or cellular features can really eat into that time. If you're the kind of person who forgets to charge up your devices, you might find a smartwatch frustrating.

Extend your smartphone battery life with these crucial tips.

Bottom line

If you’re totally fitness-focused and don’t care about all the extra bells and whistles of a smartwatch, then save the money and get a dedicated fitness tracker.

If you’re an iPhone user and love the latest and greatest gadgets, then the Apple Watch Series 3 is calling your name. If you’re an Android person, then your best smartwatch bet will likely be the $300 Samsung Gear S3 or Gear Sport, both of which can handle run-tracking with GPS and use the Samsung Health platform to measure your fitness and weight-loss efforts.

Still not sure? An entry-level Fitbit will get you started with fitness tracking for a small investment. If you find it helps to motivate your workouts and you desire more advanced features, then you can start shopping for a higher-end model or a smartwatch as an upgrade.

Technology is great, but the ultimate goal is a better you. You still need to get out and run, hit the gym, go for walks, or join a team. If a fitness tracker or smartwatch helps get you to your goals, then it's a smart investment for your health.

Are you being tracked on your fitness tracker?

Your privacy is important, whether you’re using a laptop, phone, fitness tracker or all three.

Click here to learn how to avoid being tracked on your portable gadgets.

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