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Your guide to buying the best smart watch-cum-activity tracker today

With too many options in the market, choosing the right smart watch with activity tracker can be daunting. Here's a guide to help you

Getting a smart watch-cum-activity tracker is a good investment as it tracks your runs, sports and workouts sessions without having to be charged regularly
Getting a smart watch-cum-activity tracker is a good investment as it tracks your runs, sports and workouts sessions without having to be charged regularly (Unsplash/Luke Chesser)

Activity trackers were thriving till Apple Watch came in, inspired a thousand clones, forced sports focused activity trackers to up their game and changed the world as we know it. A purely “smart” watch is useless without activity tracking, while an activity tracker that does only that without integrating with your phone has no place in 2023 except in museums and vintage stores. With so many options at multiple price points, it can be quite daunting as to which device to pick to track your exercise, runs, swims and sports, while keeping track of your heart health, sleep and other health indicators. 

Let’s start with the latest Apple Watches. If you are a member of the Apple universe and looking to upgrade, you will get either the Apple Watch Series 9 (a decent upgrade on previous generations of watches) or the Apple Watch Ultra 2, which features minor upgrades and doesn’t really make a case to ditch last year’s original Apple Watch Ultra. Chances are Apple fans have probably placed their orders already. Congratulations on your new Apple Watch, the rest of this story is for the rest of the world. 

There is no denying that Apple Watches are the best smart watches out there today but they are also, without any doubt, not the sharpest activity trackers and our complaints about their battery will easily outlast their battery life. So, if your primary aim is to track your runs, sports and workouts sessions without having to charge your watch once every 18 hours, your choices are either the Google-owned FitBit, a Garmin or a Coros. 

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Both the FitBit Versa 4 and FitBit Sense 2 claim a battery life of 6 days and both are jack of all, king of one. They are also priced lucratively with Versa 4 coming for Rs. 20,499 and the Sense 2 tagged at Rs. 24,999 before any offers are applied. They also perform well in activity tracking as well as tracking your runs, rides, swims and other sports and last, on an average, for up to three years. Though FitBits work with iPhones, they are more compatible with Android devices allowing you to use many more features.

Coros is the rising star in the world of GPS-capable activity trackers and are particularly popular among endurance athletes of all kinds. Having the fastest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, endorse your device also catches the right kind of eyeballs. The Coros Pace 3 is priced enticingly at $229 and will soon be available in India. This is exciting news because the Coros has a battery life of 24 days, which is better than a comparable Garmin device such as Forerunner 255, has similar running, cycling, swimming and strength training metrics, and is significantly cheaper. The catch in buying a Coros in India is that unlike Garmin, it doesn’t yet have a significant presence in the country.

That leaves us with the most popular sports tracking watch brand in the world, Garmin. Garmin recently launched its first Forerunner series watches with an Amoled touch screen—the 265, 265S and 965. While the 965 is a great watch, it is prohibitively expensive at Rs. 67,490 and hence doesn’t make the cut. The 265 and 265S cost Rs. 50,490 and are as good as the 965 barring a handful of advanced features like maps. 

Garmin has worked on its algorithm and now apart from endurance sports, its watches come preloaded with plenty of popular sports such as football and racquet, exercise routines such as walking, Pilates, HIIT, strength training, core workout among others. Both 265 and 265S also have the triathlon mode. This is a good watch and if only the battery lasted longer than a week, it would have been great. 

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Having used most of these devices, I feel the best, both in terms of performance and value for money, are last year’s Garmin Forerunner 255 and 255S priced Rs, 34,990 onwards. If having music on your GPS watch is a deal breaker, then I recommend the 255 Music and 255S Music which retail at Rs. 40,626 onwards. The Forerunner 265 is nothing but a Forerunner 255 Music with an Amoled touch screen. In terms of sports and health tracking, all four 255 models are capable of doing everything that the upgraded 265 devices do and have the added advantage of almost double the battery life and significant savings. 

While the 255 devices are still more expensive than a Coros, they are more readily and easily available. As far as tracking health and sports are concerned, the sensors on this one are excellent and using the multi-band GPS, it does a great job of tracking your activities and health.

The best part about using the Garmin is the fact that its companion app lets you not only analyse a whole lot of data (for eg. you get information related to your stride length, cadence, heart rate, ground time and vertical oscillation and much more for your runs), it also lets you design and customise your own workout. And if you aren’t experienced enough to make your own workouts, you could use the Garmin AI coach that can draw up a 10k and half marathon training plan for you. I have used this feature to train for a half marathon and it has been rather intuitive and effective. Of course, it is no match for a real coach who I can chat with and complain about pains, aches and heat in banter.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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