Wearable devices are becoming more popular than ever. But ironically, the words “fitness tracker” and “smartwatch” are becoming more and more confusing. People have a hard time understanding how these product categories differ—a problem that leads to customer dissatisfaction and wasted money.
Both fitness trackers and smartwatches have a place in this world. But we will try to find the one that fits your wrist.
Almost every component of a fitness tracker revolves around health and exercise. Fitness trackers use unique sensors to record your heart rate, sleep, workouts, stress level, and more. They have easy-to-use programs that encourage healthy habits, are usually swim-proof, and often last several days for a fee.
Fitness trackers must connect to your phone to provide detailed health and fitness readings. The fitness tracker screen can show your heart rate and step count, but it’s too small for graphs or charts.
Also, most fitness trackers rely on the user’s smartphone for GPS functionality. Some people won’t need GPS tracking, but it’s useful for cyclists or runners who want to look back on their path and see where they’ve slowed, speeded up, or reached an interesting heart rate. (Some fitness trackers come with built-in GPS, which saves you having to use the phone while running.)
But in recent years, fitness trackers have become “smartwatch-like”. It’s not uncommon for a fitness tracker to display notifications for texts or calls, for example, and NFC contactless payment support is usually built into high-end fitness trackers.
And some fitness trackers are like smart watches! For example, the Fitbit Sense has a large, full-color touchscreen. But as you’ll learn in a minute, there’s more to a smartwatch than a big screen.
Smart watches expand the capabilities of your smartphone
The smartwatch uses advanced features to expand the capabilities of your phone. Smart watches are uniquely focused on communication, smart home control, and work-related tasks. They often support a large number of apps, including things like Spotify or Google Maps, which you can control from your wrist.
Your average smartwatch uses a large color touch screen. And if you pay extra, it may support cellular connection. This allows you to walk without your smartphone and still stream music, receive calls or texts, or perform most other tasks.
By the way, health and fitness are a big part of this equation. Smart watches can track your exercise, sleep, and heart rate. Expensive units like The Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch tend to offer the same fitness-focused features as a proper fitness tracker. In addition, they are usually waterproof for swimming and offer guided exercises for a small monthly fee.
But health and fitness are rarely the main selling point of a smartwatch. And in fact, fitness trackers do perform well in this area — they tend to last several days for a cost, and of course, they often sell for less than $100. Compare that to the average smartwatch, which needs to be charged every day and can cost several hundred dollars.
Years ago, the difference between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch was very clear. The fitness tracker was a great pedometer, while the smartwatch was an extension of your smartphone.
But we’ve reached a point where fitness trackers and smartwatches perform similar tasks. You can receive text messages or make contactless payments on Fitbit, for example, and every self-respecting smartwatch has advanced health and fitness sensors.
The increasing demand for large screen fitness trackers has also muddied the waters. We now have products like the Fitbit Sense, which has a large screen and offers a very limited set of “smartwatch features”. I tend to call the Fitbit Sense a fitness tracker, but I wouldn’t understand if a journalist or reviewer called it a smartwatch – the difference isn’t always obvious.
Having said that, don’t get caught up in terms like “fitness tracker” or “smartwatch”. These words are useful when trying to describe the functionality of a device, but they never paint a complete picture.
For some people, choosing a smartwatch or fitness tracker is a simple task. If you only care about health and fitness, a Fitbit Charge Easy to recommend. And if you’re interested in taking calls or controlling Spotify from your wrist, there’s always an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, which practically act as fitness trackers.
But your needs may not be very clear. Maybe you want to get the best fitness experience possible with some of the smartwatch’s features – powered by products like Fitbit Sense or Garmin Venu. These devices make the line between a “fitness tracker” and a “smartwatch”.
Heck, you can even ditch this binary system for a third option; Hybrid smart watch. In simple terms, a hybrid smartwatch is just an analog watch with basic “smart” features. I’m a huge fan of Withings ScanWatch, as it keeps track of things like exercise and heart rate without becoming a huge distraction.
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