If you’re thinking about buying a fitness tracker with heart rate monitor, this is your ultimate guide to help you decide which model to buy.
Wearable tech has come a long way in just over a decade.
GPS running watches and heart rate monitors were once exclusively for either elite athletes or the very wealthy but you can now buy a fully featured fitness tracker with heart rate monitor for less than the cost of your weekly groceries.
I’ll be focusing on the best fitness trackers with heart rate monitor and GPS.
You’ll find out why I don’t think it’s worth buying a fitness tracker which lacks in either heart rate monitor or GPS.
I explain my experience of owning numerous fitness trackers over the years. What I appreciate about them and what I don’t.
I’ll share with you the one make of fitness tracker whose equipment I will never buy again – it may surprise you!
Finally, I’ll give you a rundown of what I consider to be the best fitness trackers with heart rate monitor and GPS currently available.
Types of Fitness Tracker: Watch or Band?
There are two form factors that fitness tracker manufacturers tend to stick to: watch or band.
The watch based fitness tracker appeals to those who are looking for a more traditional watch appearance and who may value having a larger screen above the small form-factor of a band.
Watch based fitness trackers generally look like any smart-watch and don’t advertise the fact that the wearer is pursuing a fitness regime. This may appeal to the more self-conscious buyer who is perhaps just starting out on a new fitness program.
The band based fitness trackers are smaller than their smartwatch counterparts. But their small size doesn’t make them less conspicuous given that they are synonymous with fitness trackers.
The split of design between band and smartwatch came about as a result of the limitations of cramming a GPS receiver into such a small device. For a long time, a bulky dedicated running watch was the only way to go for those who wanted a wearable device that could accurately track distance covered.
But here we are in the third decade of the 21st century and technology continues to improve exponentially and you can now have your cake and eat it! Well, perhaps leave the cake, but you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to fitness bands which feature a GPS receiver.
The decision between watch or band, comes down entirely to personal preference now that fitness bands are stuffed with GPS receivers, heart rate monitors and plenty of other sensors – just like their smart watch counterparts.
What to Look for in a Fitness Tracker
If you’re about to buy a new fitness tracker, what are the features that you should be looking for? Let’s dive in to the elements that are essential to ensure you make the right purchase.
Fitness Trackers with Heart Rate Monitor & GPS are essential
Don’t buy a fitness tracker that doesn’t have both a heart rate monitor and GPS. Even if you don’t use the GPS functionality all the time, there will be occasions where you will want to use the feature and regret not having it available to you.
The main advantage I have found in having a fitness tracker with a heart monitor and GPS is that I can go for a run and leave my phone behind.
This may not seem like such a big deal, especially during the colder months when you’re likely to be wearing clothes with sufficient pockets to carry your phone.
But in the summer you will appreciate not having to lug your phone around with you in order to use it as a GPS receiver every time you go for a run.
It’s also useful to be able to track those spontaneous long walks in the countryside or when on holiday, exploring somewhere new.
More importantly however, GPS tracking allows you to:
- accurately track your fitness improvements when running or cycling over time.
- challenge yourself to beat your best time on your 5k / 10k / favourite cycle route etc.
- be honest with yourself and avoid cheating or complacency.
- understand or analyse your heart rate for a specific part of your route.
Properly tracked workouts can become a key driver in improving your fitness and maintaining motivation.
GPS is definitely a feature I would recommend you insist upon when choosing your fitness tracker.
In 2019 I stayed in a fabulous spa resort that had a great gym, swimming pool and outdoor infinity pool. It was great to be able to get the most out of my fitness tracker during the gym workout but then keep it on as I hit the outdoor pool and jacuzzi.
Not only did that mean I wasn’t worrying about damaging the watch in the event I forgot to take it off, but I also kept the uninterrupted record of my heart rate. Something which is useful when looking at post-exercise recovery rate.
Look for waterproof ratings of 5ATM, IP67 or better to know that you have a swim proof fitness tracker .
Most fitness trackers will prompt you to download their specialist app to get the most out of the metrics they are tracking. Good software is essential in order to give you meaningful insights into your health.
Thankfully, most fitness band manufacturers have been in the game for several years and have refined their software with each new generation of device they release.
However, do check to make sure that the accompanying app that goes with the device you intend upon buying, is compatible with your smartphone.
To do this, browse some reviews on the model your looking at buying to discover the name of the software, check your app store on your phone for that software and make sure:
- it’s available; and
- users with your handset aren’t reporting any issues with the app.
This step could save you some hassle later on down the line.
Good Reviews – But Check the Bad Ones Too!!
This sounds obvious doesn’t it? However, it often happens that I impulsively buy something that had mainly 5 star reviews, only to find that it’s junk because of one or two specific issues.
When looking back at the reviews to see if anybody else has encountered the same issues, I find in the one and two star reviews countless users reporting exactly the same problems.
If only I had checked the 1 and 2 star reviews before making the purchase. If I had seen a common fault being reported, I would have abandoned the particular model and move on to another.
So don’t be impulsive, check the reviews.
Fitness Trackers I’ve Owned
Fitbit Charge HR
Ah, my first fitness tracker and the model that catapulted Fitbit to the top of the wearables sector back in 2015. I loved its minimalist approach and was amazed by its clever user interface.
I still think it’s a testament to awesome software design that they could get so much functionality out of a screen resolution of just a few monochrome pixels!
This was the device that alerted me up to just how inactive I was. The alerts to get up and move were useful and I loved the sleep tracking feature, basic as it was.
This device had no GPS and I really found myself wanting that feature for both walking and running, so it wasn’t long before I traded up.
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
This was precisely the upgrade I was looking for!
It did everything that the Charge HR did but also featured inbuilt GPS. No more having to stick my phone in a pocket or wear an armband phone holder!
I found the Garmin software to be excellent, with lots of deep insight into my fitness and health.
There was just one problem: the GPS took an age to locate satellites.
Costing me around twice as much as I’d paid for the Vivosmart HR+, I was certain that this was going to prove to be the ultimate fitness tracker.
Its main features were:
- heart rate monitor with increased accuracy
- Built in GPS
- Fitbit Coach with inbuilt workouts
- SpO2 sensor here to monitor blood oxygen levels
- 5ATM water resistance for swimming
- Full smartwatch functionality
Wow, that’s a hefty feature list for a fitness tracker. I’ll tell you how I got on with the Ionic in the next section, but suffice to say I no longer own the Ionic.
In 2019 I found myself looking for a budget fitness tracker and picked up an Amazfit Bip. I needed a basic fitness tracker with heart rate monitor and GPS. The Amazfit Bip fitted the bill.
As for all the other features I had become accustomed to, I would have to forsake them, as I wasn’t in a position to spend another £300 on a cutting edge device.
The Bip cost me around £60. Yes, that’s not a typo. £60.
So what did I get for so little money:
- Heart Rate Monitor
- IP68 Waterproof (has withstood swimming on many occasions)
- A battery life that lasts around 3 weeks (seriously – and that includes 3 GPS tracked runs per week!)
- User friendly, informative software.
More than that though, the Bip works brilliantly and is cheap enough that I’m not wincing each time I clang it against a kettlebell!
Why I Could Never Buy a Fitness Tracker Made by THIS Company
So have you guessed which Company I’m about to rant about? yes, that’s right, Fitbit!
My Ionic bricked after a software update – I’d only had it for around 6 months. Fitbit customer support didn’t want to know – no offer of a refund or replacement. I may as well have flushed £300 down the toilet!
The review sections of Amazon reveal that I’m not the only to be left with a dead but expensive chunk of aluminum!
But Don’t Write Them Off
I loved the Fitbit Charge HR and despite the hurt from my experiences with the Ionic, I remain interested in Fitbit’s products and can see that their value and quality seem to be improving.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider their offerings?
The Top 3: These are the Best Fitness Trackers with Heart Rate Monitor and GPS
To be totally honest, if you’re in the market for a fitness tracker, it would be petulant of me to ignore the market leader just because I had a bad experience. Plus, there are plenty of people who swear that FItbit have the most accurate heart rate sensors.
All of the best fitness trackers I have identified are available via Amazon and if I were about to buy, I would be torn between these three options.
Huawei Band 4 Pro
I consider this to be the best budget fitness tracker on the market. It has all the benefits of the Amazfit Bip mentioned above, but has extra sports tracking.
Unlike the Bip though, it can be used to track rowing workouts. It is also unbelievably cheap.
Get one while you can as it has been on the market for a while now and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it phased out or replaced. You can buy one in a pink-gold colour even cheaper here.
Fitbit Charge 4 Special Edition
I can barely believe I’m recommending a Fitbit after my bad experience, but the Charge 4 Special Edition really is a classy fitness tracker with a unique woven strap (much easier on the skin than non-breathable rubber straps).
It features all the must-have items I discuss above but also tracking for all sorts of other areas of personal well being. These include water consumption and menstruation cycles.
I’ve also been very impressed by Fitbit’s software which is exceptionally user-friendly. The bright, high-quality screen is a bonus too. I could definitely be tempted back to fitbit.
Garmin Instinct Rugged Outdoor Smartwatch
Ok I know, I’m definitely crossing the line from fitness band to smartwatch and I’m certainly climbing the price spectrum too, but I love this rugged fitness tracker, which has a seriously impressive feature list, which includes:
- Heart rate monitor
- Waterproof to 100m
On top of all these features, I was shocked to learn that this fitness tracker also boasts battery life of up to 2 weeks!
Yes, it’s expensive compared to its rivals here but in terms of features, battery life and durability, you’ll struggle to find anything that can compete.
Track Your Success
Let me know in the comments which fitness tracker you use and which model you consider to be the best fitness tracker with heart rate monitor and GPS. Do you agree with my shortlist?
Until next time.