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Which fitness tracking smartwatch should you choose?

Apple, Garmin and Fitbit make some of the most popular fitness smartwatches. But which one is right for you?

Choose your smartwatch according to the specific fitness metrics you want to track. (Photo: Istockphoto)
Choose your smartwatch according to the specific fitness metrics you want to track. (Photo: Istockphoto)

It was the Jawbone UP, with its soft rubberized band that curled beautifully around the wrist, that made step- and sleep-tracking all the rage about a decade ago. The company that pioneered wearable tech might be no more, but it inspired others, ranging from Apple to Xiaomi, to make fitness, heart rate and sleep tracking standard features in smart watches. Three excellent options, in terms of performance, are Apple, Fitbit and Garmin. Despite all three boasting big sales figures, and tracking almost the same basic fitness parameters, they cater to very different needs and perform very different tasks. Here’s the lowdown on the three brands, so you make an informed choice.

Apple Watch Series 6.
Apple Watch Series 6.

Apple

Since the release of the first one in the summer of 2015, the Apple Watch has successfully disrupted the traditional watch market. Sample this: the top five watch brands in the US by dollar sales in 2018 were Apple, Rolex, Fitbit, Patek Phillippe and Samsung, according to the US-based market research firm NPD Group.

The Apple Watch is extremely versatile with apps developed specifically for it, and the watch face itself is highly customisable. Aimed at tech-savvy iPhone users initially, the Apple Watch added GPS in 2016, roping in more fitness enthusiasts who liked to track more parameters than just the basics (steps, heart rate and sleep): such as their recreational runs, hikes and cycle rides. Its health feature and reminders add to its reputation as a great multi-tasking watch which not only tracks your activity but also your well-being: for example, the watch warns you when it notices irregular heart rate patterns. The latest, Apple Watch 6, also has ECG capabilities and can measure the user’s blood oxygen level, a very useful function in these covid-blighted times. And if you have an e-Sim, the Apple Watch basically becomes a smart phone on your wrist; you can use it to make calls even when you don’t have the iPhone on you.

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Perfect for: iPhone users who like an extension of their phone on their wrist while being able to see their step count, heart rate, etc. and track the occasional short runs and cycle rides. It is perfect for the fitness enthusiast who prefers the cool image that Apple products seem to carry at the moment, and is willing to pay the extra money.

What experts say: Apple watch’s appeal has much to do with the branding, its design, accessories (the straps are great) and functionality, says Nitin Nair, editor of WatchTime Middle East. “Apple isn’t the best fitness tracking smart watch. None of the serious athletes I know use it. But in terms of appeal, design and wearability, it’s way ahead of the others,” added Nair.

From 20,900 for Apple Watch 3; from 29,900 for the Apple Watch SE and from 40,900 for the Apple Watch Series 6.

Garmin FR245.
Garmin FR245.

Garmin

Garmin makes navigation devices for the motor, aircraft and shipping industries. Diversifying into wearables that track runs, hikes, swims and rides was a logical step. The company’s smart watches track the usual parameters like distance, route, time, heart rate and steps. However, what makes them extremely popular is that they also measure advanced metrics such as ground contact time, altitude gain/loss, steps per minute, heart rate zones and race time predictors during activities like running, swimming or hiking. As a smart watch, it connects seamlessly with both Android and iOS through the Garmin Connect app and lets you see notifications and also answer phone calls. It has evolved from its older, bulky iterations and now offers sleek models with touch screen and music capabilities and come in a wide price range. Given its early start in the sports metrics field, its basic fitness tracking algorithms are highly developed and reliable with smaller error margins. Its top end models also have limited navigational features.

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Perfect for: This is for those the serious recreational and professional athletes who run, swim and/or cycle or plan to do so and need to track their performance. For beginners, the FR45 (FR stands for Forerunner) would suffice while the seasoned runners, cyclists and triathletes should opt for the FR245. The Fenix series is an outdoor watch which can additionally be used for trekking and climbing.

What experts say: Garmin is perfect for people who take their sport seriously because of the detailed data it throws up for analysis, says Shailja Sridhar, age category winner at the Airtel Delhi Marathon and other races. “But it isn’t appealing enough for someone interested in recreational activities. The colours are not attractive and the designs are basic,” she added.

From 21,090 for the FR45; from 31,900 for FR245 and 1,21,900 for the Fenix 6X Pro Solar Titanium.

Fitbit Versa 2.
Fitbit Versa 2.

Fitbit

Alongside Jawbone, Fitbit was an early starter in the wearable technology game. While Jawbone couldn’t keep up, Fitbit has done well with smart products that score well on both looks and performance. Somewhat similar in its form factor as the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Versa has a rectangular dial with heart rate sensors underneath, while its default screen settings for tracking steps and daily activities are similar to the Apple Watch’s coloured concentric circles. The currently available model Fitbit Versa 2 does not have in-built GPS, which the upcoming Versa 3 will fix. The Fitbit Sense (not currently available in India) comes with both GPS and health features such as a temperature reader, ECG capabilities and round-the-clock heart rate monitoring. The algorithm that calculates daily steps, distance covered and calories burned is not as accurate as either the Garmin smartwatches or the Apple Watch. A big plus is the fact that it works perfectly with both Android and iOS devices via its app. Another attractive feature is its price.

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Perfect for: Anyone who is new to fitness and, depends on the daily step-count targets for results. It is a budget-friendly option that’s way better than the plethora of affordable smart watches on the market. It’s also perfect for people who want to avoid getting caught in the Apple universe, or don’t need the advanced metrics of a Garmin.

What experts say: It is a good starting point as the Garmin might seem too detail oriented and complicated while the Apple is iOS-tied and expensive, says Sridhar. “The biggest problem with Fitbit is reliability, so any person taking their activities seriously would not appreciate the inconsistencies in the data.”

From 16,499 for the Fitbit Versa 2.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    11.11.2020 | 10:00 AM IST

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