Smartwatch Vs Fitness Tracker: Which One Is Right For You?


One of the amazing things about running is how accessible it is for everyone. You don’t need a bunch of equipment. All you need is a pair of feet and the will to run!

As you get further into your running, chances are you’ll discover some gear you like.

Once you start getting serious about running, you may want to start tracking your progress. You can use basic equipment, like a stopwatch and a notebook.

But, the better, easier (and more fun!) way of tracking your progress is to use a smartwatch or fitness tracker.

But if you’re considering investing in a tracker, which one would be best? There’s quite a bit of difference between the two.

We’ll be going through the pros and cons of a smartwatch vs fitness tracker so you can make an informed decision!

Let’s get right into it.

Main Benefits of Both

Both a smartwatch and a fitness tracker will measure and store information about your health, exercise, and sleep.

Health information could include things like heart rate, respiratory rate, and hydration.

Exercise info usually includes step count, distance run, time exercised, and calories burned.

They can both connect to your phone, usually using a specific app.

Both smartwatches and fitness trackers come in a variety of colors and designs. In terms of aesthetics, there’s sure to be one that suits you and your style!

Common Features on Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers, no matter what brand or model you choose, usually all have certain features. These include:

Step Counting

Counting how many steps you make during the day can give you a good insight into how active you are on a daily basis. Most fitness trackers include this as a basic feature. They also include the ability to set your own daily step goal.

Sleep Tracking

If you wear your fitness tracker at night, it will track your sleep cycles during the night. It does this by considering changes in your heart and breathing rates during the night, and matching those to corresponding sleep cycles.

Exercise Tracking

If you go for a run, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve run, how long it took you to run, how many steps you ran, and how many calories you burned.

Many fitness trackers also have settings for exercise other than running, like walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, and even yoga.


Most fitness trackers are water-resistant to a degree. Some are IPX8, which means waterproof up to a depth of 1 meter for an extended period of time.

Others are labeled “water-resistant”, which means you can’t swim or shower with it, but it can easily withstand rain, sweat, or a splash from a puddle.

Heart Rate Monitor

A heart rate monitor is a standard on fitness trackers. Some come with a beat-by-beat monitor, while others only calculate it when you specifically go into that particular function on the watch.

Wireless Syncing

All fitness trackers are designed to connect easily to your smartphone wirelessly. They should automatically upload your health and exercise info to your phone’s app when connected.

Other Features

Some, but not all, fitness trackers offer GPS tracking, music, and notifications from your phone.

Common Features on a Smartwatch

Smartwatches are more advanced than fitness trackers. They offer all the features we mentioned above that fitness trackers do, but most also offer:

Downloadable Apps

On a fitness tracker, what you see is what you get. But with a smartwatch, you can download extra bits and pieces to really make it your own.

It’s easy to customize your watch face by downloading a design that you really like. If you want just the time on your main watch face, you can find a design for that. If you want the time, date, your heart rate, and your step count, you can do that too!

Weather apps are another popular download. Having a weather tracker on your watch can be useful if you exercise outdoors.

If you find yourself fighting off boredom during the day, a couple of fun, quick games can also be downloaded.

Phone Functions

Although both fitness trackers and smartphones connect wirelessly, your smartwatch will most likely have the ability to read messages, take notifications, inform you of incoming calls, and sometimes even reply to messages or make and answer calls.

More Comprehensive Exercise Tracking

Smartwatches often have much more choice of exercise tracking. You may find more unusual exercises to track, like yoga, Pilates, jumping rope, hiking, skiing, skating, and HIIT.


This is one of the most useful things smartwatches feature. Sensors include things like a barometer (air pressure), an altimeter (altitude), a thermometer (temperature), and a compass.

Advanced Metrics

Smartwatches often give you much more information on your metrics than fitness trackers do.

You may find things like cadence, altitude, pace, stride length, heart rate zones, stress levels, ground time, power, and recovery information.

Contactless Payments

One of the greatest features of new smartwatches is contactless payments. This eliminates the need for you to carry a credit card or cash around with you.

Biggest Differences Between a Fitness Tracker and a Smartwatch

Apart from the above basic features we’ve mentioned, there are some more physical differences between the two.

Size & Weight

Typically, smartwatches are larger in size and heavier than fitness trackers. This means that there’s more memory capacity, and more space to store apps and functions on the smartwatch.

Battery Life

Fitness trackers tend to have a longer battery life than smartwatches. Because they have fewer features, often a smaller and less bright screen, and have fewer processes going on in the background, the battery drains slower.


A smartwatch will usually cost more than a fitness tracker, for its features. If you’re serious about your tracking, though, you can’t beat the advanced tracking tools a smartwatch offers.

Benefits of Fitness Trackers

Don’t assume that a fitness tracker is a worse option than a smartwatch. A fitness tracker can be a great choice if you’re just starting out or don’t need advanced metrics.

Focus on Exercise Goals

If you want to focus on hitting your step count every day, burning a certain amount of calories, or running a specific distance or for a particular period of time, then a fitness tracker would work well for you.

All of these things are tracked as standard features on a fitness tracker, so you’ll be able to monitor them day by day and track your progress as you go.

More Affordable

A fitness tracker will generally be more affordable than a smartwatch. While some of the cheaper smartwatches might be on par with a fitness tracker in terms of price, they generally don’t have the same features as the higher priced ones.

If budget is of concern to you, then you may be better off starting with a fitness tracker rather than a smartwatch.

Longer Battery Life

Because there’s no GPS running in the background, a color screen, or a constantly running heart rate monitor, the battery of a fitness tracker tends to last quite a bit longer than that of a smartwatch.

Great for Beginners

If you’ve never done any kind of data tracking before, a fitness tracker would be a great start. There’s just enough data to help you track your day-to-day progress, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.

Benefits of Smartwatches

Smartwatches are fantastic for runners who want more advanced tracking metrics. If you’re a beginner runner who happens to be a tech geek, you may enjoy a smartwatch over a fitness tracker, too!

Advanced Data Tracking

Smartwatches tend to monitor a whole lot more data than fitness trackers. They also tend to be more accurate, thanks to more advanced tech.

You’ll most likely be able to measure things like your stride length, cadence, pace, and more specific sleep data.


Many smartwatches come with built-in coaching programs that you can take advantage of if you need some sort of program to follow. You can choose the one that best suits your current fitness level and supports your goals.

Choice of Apps

Smartwatches come with pre-loaded apps, like GPS, weather apps, and a multitude of others. You can download your own, too. Perhaps you want a specific fitness app, a nutrition app, or even a game to keep you busy while waiting in the line at the bank!

Compatible with HRM Straps

If you prefer wearing a heart rate monitor strap around your chest, most smartwatches are compatible with those. They tend to be a little more accurate than wrist-based sensors.

More Features

Smartwatches just have a lot more features than fitness trackers. They’re great if you want to take your tracking to another level and your fitness tracker is just no longer quite hitting the spot for you.

Downsides of Fitness Trackers

Although fitness trackers can be an affordable, useful option for tracking your daily data, they do have a few disadvantages.

Fewer Features

Fitness trackers are noticeably less feature-heavy than smartwatches. This can be a good thing, for example, if you’re very new to tracking data and need something simple and to-the-point.

But for serious runners or sports players who actively use their metrics and data to improve their performance, the lack of features can be frustrating. In the end, it comes down to what you need, and what you prefer!

Fewer Exercise Options

As well as fewer features, fitness trackers also have far fewer exercise options. While they typically cater for runners, if you want to do any sort of cross-training, a fitness tracker may not quite do it for you.

Generally, fitness trackers cover the basics like walking, running, cycling, swimming, and strength training. More specific activities, like hiking, open-air swimming, jumping rope, rowing, or other forms of exercise usually are not present on a fitness tracker.

Less Accurate

Because their technology is more basic than that of smartwatches, fitness trackers can often be less accurate.

That’s not to say they’re so inaccurate that you won’t be able to track anything properly. They’re just often a little off, especially with sleep tracking.

Downsides of Smartwatches

Smartwatches are super machines for daily monitoring, especially if you’re serious about tracking your progress. But they also come with some downsides.

More Expensive

Although smartwatches are packed with features and cater to your every tracking and measuring need, their advanced nature is reflected in their price tag.

If you’re on a budget, a smartwatch may seem like it’s not an option. If you can save for a few months to get one, it may be worth it. But if you want a tracker right now and need something wallet-friendly, a fitness tracker may suit you better.

Shorter Battery Life

Another disadvantage to the many features and apps on a smartwatch is that they tend to drain the battery a lot quicker.

A fitness tracker can last a couple of weeks without charging if you don’t play with it in between exercising. A smartwatch battery, with full GPS and sensors on, lasts a couple of days before it needs to be charged again.

May Be Overwhelming

If you’re technologically challenged, a smartwatch may be confusing and overwhelming. There’s a whole lot of info packed onto a very small device, and seeing the dials and numbers can be difficult to follow and understand.


The smartwatch vs fitness tracker debate has no clear winner. In the end, it all depends on you!

Consider your needs, wants, and what metrics you’ll be tracking. Do you need something that will inform you of your pace so you can reach your marathon goal? A smartwatch would make sense.

Do you not know what cadence is and don’t care to find out at this point in your running career? A fitness tracker could be the better choice for you right now.

Before going out and choosing the one you want, put some time and effort into thinking about the features you’d really need and use.

Either way, both smartwatches and fitness trackers have some amazing products out there that can help to supercharge your running performance if you use them well!

Best Overall Fitness Tracker

Fitbit Charge 5


Top Value Fitness Tracker

Garmin vivofit 4


Most Stylish Fitness Tracker

Garmin vivomove


Best Overall Smartwatch

Apple Watch Series 7


Top Value Smartwatch

Fitbit Versa 3


Most Stylish Smartwatch

Garmin Venu


Photo of author


Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.