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Fitness trackers: 6 of the best reviewed

New to tri and don't want to spend a fortune on a multisport GPS watch? Then a fitness tracker is a budget-friendly way to keep an eye on your activity levels and more. Helen Webster tests six...

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Serious about hitting your health and fitness goals? Then starting to track the different elements of your training and the improvements that makes to your body is a great place to start. Not only will this inform how much you should be doing, but setting goals and then smashing them is a great motivator as we move into the next triathlon season.

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With some of the best multisport watches out there reaching price tags of several hundred pounds, though (the latest Garmin Forerunner 735XT Multisport comes in at £299.99, while the new Fenix series starts at an eye-watering £599.99), it can leave you wondering if your career as a triathlete means spending some serious cash before you’ve even done your first race.

Fear not though, as the latest generation of fitness trackers have come on a lot in recent years and with the benefit of trickle-down technology from the more advanced watches, you might be surprised by how much is packed into some of these simple-looking bands.

Prices in our grouptest here range from around £30-£150 and it’s indicative of the market for fitness trackers that there’s a wide variance in the pricing and sophistication of these devices, so make sure you have an idea of which features you want before you buy. At the top end you get GPS, heart-rate and V02 max tracking, sleep and stress tracking and activity modes that can track your training including running, cycling and swimming. The more basic models will probably have sports tracking, but maybe no HRM or GPS.

Each brand will also have an app that you download to your phone and which should link to the watch to give you more detailed information on your training and progress as your health improves.

FITBIT CHARGE 3 

£129.99

The Charge 3 is brand-new and seems to hit the sweet spot between fitness tracker and smart watch, with a stylish design, comfortable interchangeable strap and large backlit screen that allows the device to provide you with plenty of info on the move (and some very whizzy graphics, we liked the goal-achieved-glitterball!). Operation is via a touch screen plus a sensor on the side of the watch which works well, even when wet.

Key features include an at-wrist heart rate monitor, similar to the Garmin and Huawei, and the app is packed with info and feedback – plus you get plenty of positive encouragement via the many prompts, badges and graphics. There’s no GPS, but it will link to your phone’s GPS during training to give you the same info (which most of us would carry with us anyway), plus the activity lists includes pool swimming with accurate lap count. fitbit.com

Verdict: stylish band with plenty of functions that will keep you motivated 88%

 

  

HEALTHSPAN NUTRICOACH TRACKER

£49.95 

This is the band on test with the least features so the price was surprising, although it was was reduced to £24.95 at the time of going to print. Tapping the screen takes you through five displays which tell you the time and date and then steps, calories burnt, distance, intensity minutes and percentage of goal reached… and that’s it. So it’s basically a watch with a pedometer attached and not a lot else.

The app does allow you to manually enter your sports activities and to log your food for the day (in a similar way to My Fitness Pal), but given you can get all that for free anyway, it’s not really a benefit of the watch. Plus, the pedometer was one of the least accurate on test against our control watch. You charge it by popping the pod out of the band which is a neat solution. The strap was comfortable, though a retaining band would make it more secure.

Verdict: basic pedometer that doesn’t offer much to would-be triathletes 37%

 

   

GARMIN VIVOSPORT

£149.99 

The Vivosport is the (below) Vivosmart’s chunkier big brother and with one big addition – GPS. That instantly makes it more attractive to triathletes as you can track your run and bike training and receive full maps and data on each route you complete in training. Added to the wrist-based HRM, that gives you pretty much all the data you need. For an extra £30 that’s a big benefit, plus this watch has a unisex design which although not the most stylish (in our opinion), means it won’t look daft on male wrists. You also get a colour screen, which is made of glass rather than polycarbonate and which was easier to swipe when wet, and we preferred the bigger screen for visibility and ease of reading when training. The GPS worked well and gave accurate feedback, although it did seem to take a while to connect compared to our usual Garmin Fenix, up to 3 or 4 minutes in areas. garmin.com

Verdict: expensive and a tad ugly, but GPS a huge benefit and we love the Garmin app 85%

Buy from buy.garmin.com

AUGUST SWB200 

£29.95

August were a new brand to us in this test, but turns out they’re a UK-based technology company making everything from TVs to lamps – with fitness trackers part of the mix and sold through Amazon. The look of the SWB200 was very similar to the Huawei, but it felt much cheaper. The band was the same feed-through and clip design and near impossible to do up one-handed, then once on it felt rigid and uncomfortable. The charging method felt clunky too – you pull half of the strap off to reveal an end that fits (badly) into a USB. As for the features, this watch is based around a HRM on the wrist that also tracks blood oxygen and blood pressure, to reasonable accuracy. The step counter racked up the steps even when we were sitting in the office typing, though – and the only other sports function is a run mode, which had to be activated before use through the app on your phone. amazon.com

Verdict: cheap-feeling band with limited functionality for serious triathlon training 40%

  

GARMIN VIVOSMART 4

£119.99 

The £30 separating the two Garmin trackers in this test accounts for a few small differences and one big one – here you don’t get the GPS that the Vivosport boasts. For the money you do get a lot of other stuff though, including wrist-based heart rate monitoring as well as a Pulse Ox sensor which measures blood oxygen saturation. There’s a range of activity options including a pool-swim function and advanced sleep tracking, plus the device will also track your stress levels and ‘body battery’ to tell you whether you should train now or later.

We love the Garmin Connect app for its clear design and wealth of info and this watch plays to its strengths with plenty of stats in an easy-to-read format. This was the smallest and most elegant-looking watch on test too, although even in the plain black option it may be a little bit feminine-looking to appeal to male triathletes.

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Verdict: Loads of info clearly communicated. good price point and stylish, if girly, design 80%