Portable devices are more common than ever. But ironically, the words “fitness tracker” and “smartwatch” have only gotten more confusing. People have a hard time understanding how these product categories are different, a problem that leads to dissatisfied customers and wasted money.
Both fitness trackers and smartwatches have a place in this world. But let’s try to find which product belongs to your doll.
Fitness trackers prioritize health and exercise
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 contain easy-to-use software that encourages healthy habits, are typically swim-resistant, and often last for days on a charge.
Fitness trackers need to connect with your phone to provide detailed health and fitness readings. A fitness tracker’s 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 route and see where they slowed down, sped up, or hit an interesting heart rate. (Some fitness trackers come with built-in GPS, which saves you from carrying a phone while running.)
But in recent years, fitness trackers have become more “smartwatch-like.” It’s not uncommon for a fitness tracker to display notifications for text messages or calls, for example, and NFC contactless payment support is usually included in high-end fitness trackers.
And some fitness trackers look like smart watches! The Fitbit Sense, for example, has a large, full color touch screen. 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
A smart watch uses cutting-edge features to extend the capabilities of your phone. Smart watches place a unique emphasis on communication, smart home control, and work-related tasks. They often support a ton 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 can even support cellular connectivity. This allows you to go for a walk without your smartphone and still stream music, take 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 a smartwatch’s main selling point. And, in fact, fitness trackers have a big advantage in this area: They tend to last for days on a charge and, of course, often sell for less than $100. Compare that to the average smartwatch, which it needs to be charged every day and can cost several hundred dollars.
The distinction is not always clear
Years ago, the difference between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch was pretty clear. A fitness tracker was a glorified pedometer, while a smartwatch was an extension of your smartphone.
But we’ve reached a point where fitness trackers and smartwatches accomplish similar tasks. You can receive texts or make contactless payments on a Fitbit, for example, and every smartwatch worth its salt contains advanced sensors for health and fitness.
The growing 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 selection of “smartwatch features.” I’m inclined to call the Fitbit Sense a fitness tracker, but I wouldn’t mind if a journalist or reviewer called it a smartwatch – the distinction isn’t always clear cut.
That said, don’t get too hung up on terms like “fitness tracker” or “smartwatch.” These words are useful when it comes to describing the functionality of a device, but they never paint a complete picture.
Which one should you buy?
For some people, choosing a smart watch or fitness tracker is a simple task. If you only care about health and fitness, it’s easy to recommend a Fitbit Charge. And if you like to take calls or control Spotify from your wrist, there’s always the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, which pretty much double as fitness trackers.
But maybe your needs are not so simple. Maybe you want the best possible exercise experience with some smartwatch features; that’s where products like Fitbit Sense or Garmin Venu come into play. These devices walk the line between “fitness tracker” and “smart watch.”
Heck, you could even ditch this two-party system for a third option; the hybrid smartwatch. In simple terms, a hybrid smartwatch is just an analog watch with basic “smart” functions. I’m a big fan of the Withings ScanWatch, as it tracks things like exercise and heart rate without becoming too distracting.