Keeping track of fitness data for most runners lands somewhere between a hobby and an obsession. Run stats and other fitness metrics give us something to look at, obsess over, plan about. And there are so many great devices these days to collect this data. Sure, you could use a smartphone app. But wearables, like smart watches and fitness trackers, offer more data in sleek, stylish packages that also function as basic watches. Smart watches and fitness trackers have their differences, though, and choosing between them can be hard. By the end of this article, you’ll know all the ins and outs of each one to discover which is right for you.
We’ll discuss a broad overview of each device, compare prices, look at similarities and differences, and give you some things to consider when making your decision. You’ll have everything you need to get the best device for you.
Overview of Smartwatches
As the name implies, a smartwatch tells time, but it does so much more than that. The watch face is a touchscreen (like your smartphone) and is often connected to such a device. It doesn’t have to be, though. Some models even are able to access the internet on their own.
You can use your smartwatch to receive notifications for calls, emails, and texts. On some models, you can reply directly from your watch if you’re close enough to your phone. You can use them as a GPS watch, and they often are more accurate to the map apps on your phone.
Your smartwatch can tell you when you need to move, stats about your sleeping habits, and how many steps you walk. They are very customizable, and you can download any kind of watch face that you’d like.
You’re looking at a several-hundred-dollar price range, so they aren’t cheap, especially if you want to get an Apple Watch. The great thing about smartwatches, though, is that they can do almost anything, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Because they can do so many things, a smartwatch might not be the best choice for you if you just want to know how many steps you’ve taken and what your heart rate is.
However, if you like the idea of basically having a smartphone on your wrist that is easily accessible and can do almost anything that your phone can, a smartwatch is a great choice.
Overview of Fitness Trackers
Compared to a smartwatch, a fitness tracker does a lot less in terms of broad categories of what you can do with it. However, as the name implies, it does one thing really well: track your fitness.
You’ll get a plethora of data related to your fitness, from your pace to heart rate and many other health and exercise stats. You’ll likely have more fitness options with a fitness tracker than you would on a smartwatch.
Like a smartwatch, you can often sync fitness trackers with phone apps so that you can get data both on your fitness tracker and your phone. While this isn’t true for every fitness tracker, some will also display notifications from your phone. And of course, the time.
Fitness trackers can be quite reasonably priced. They start under a hundred dollars, and range up to several hundred dollars. As price goes up, so do fanciness and features. That being said, you’ll likely spend less money on a fitness tracker as compared to a smartwatch.
For the current Apple Watch, you’re looking at spending between $300 and $400 if you want the latest model. You likely could get an older model, particularly a used or refurbished one, for between $100 and $200.
By contrast, the newest Fitbit Charge fitness tracker will cost you only $150, and you can find older models for under $100. If you aren’t hung up on getting a big-name fitness tracker, you can get a one for under $20.
If you’re feeling really fancy, you can purchase a Garmin watch that has high-end GPS tools. The cost of Garmin watches are more on par with an Apple Watch, although you can get older models or less fancy ones for between $100-$200.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers are similar in that they are watches that do much more than just that. Depending on what type of smartwatch or fitness tracker you purchase, they can look scarily similar.
There are some features that are common for both devices. For example, you’ll often have a heart rate monitor, sleep tracking, calorie counter, number of steps walked, activity reminder, and so forth no matter what device you purchase.
Additionally, you also often have touch screens on both devices that allow you to change the watch face to suit your particular personality. This feature is standard on many newer models; it’s less common on older ones.
A smartwatch is designed to be a smartphone on your wrist. It’s for keeping up on texts and emails and being able to glance at anything you receive without having to pull out your phone. You are able to make calls on some smartwatches, meaning that it can basically do anything a smartphone can.
A fitness tracker is not designed to be an easily accessible smartphone. While some of the features are the same (for example, you may be able to receive notifications), a fitness tracker is for health and fitness.
You’ll get additional features that help you in pursuing your fitness goals, particularly if you purchase a Garmin watch. The GPS/fitness features will far exceed anything that you can get on a smartwatch.
Smartwatches tend to be larger and bulkier so that you don’t have to squint to read those text messages. Fitness trackers tend to be at least a little bit smaller. Some have super thin profiles and may not even have a touchscreen/large watch face.
How To Decide Which is Best For You
Obviously, you know what your personal needs are, so here are some questions to get you thinking about which one will be best for you.
How Are You Planning on Using It?
This is probably the most important question because it will impact what’s best for you. If you want an option that is versatile enough to do a variety of things, and don’t need something exclusively focused on fitness/health, a smartwatch is better.
Similarly, if you want to be able to send texts, talk to people on the phone, and basically just have your smartphone be more accessible, you’ll want a smartwatch.
However, if you want to start getting in the habit of walking 10,000 steps or running more regularly and don’t need all the bells and whistles, then a fitness tracker might be a better option.
If you want more serious fitness-related options, a fitness tracker is likely going to suit your goals better. It will give you a lot more run-specific data, and will really help you become a serious runner.
When I was trying to decide between the two options, I thought long and hard about whether or not I would really use everything that a smartwatch would offer. In the end, I decided that I wouldn’t, so it wasn’t worth it to me to purchase one.
Do You Want The Charge to Last a Long Time?
Another thing you might want to consider is how long you want the charge to last. Depending on how fancy your fitness tracker is, one charge should last you for days.
If you like the idea of having something that keeps its charge for a while and don’t want the hassle of having to charge it regularly, then you’d prefer a fitness tracker. This also makes it more conducive to track your sleep at night because you can wear it without it dying.
You’re going to have to charge a smartwatch more frequently just because it does so much. Some smartwatches—especially Apple Watches—you’ll have to charge every day just like you would for your phone.
If you’re prone to forgetting to charge your phone as some of my friends are, it can be frustrating to wake up in the morning and realize that you can’t use your watch. At least you can charge your phone nearby. Your watch has to be on your wrist.
Do You Want Something That You Don’t Have to Pair?
If you aren’t super technology savvy, then you might prefer a fitness tracker because it will collect all the data and you don’t have to pair it to your phone if you don’t want to. Fitness trackers tend to be much easier to use than smartwatches.
A fitness tracker is a great choice if you just want to know how many steps you took or how many calories you burned each day. Not everyone feels the need to see notifications or be able to take calls while out on a run.
If you want to be able to see all your run data and everything else from your smartphone, you’ll need a smartwatch.
Is Cost a Concern?
If you aren’t able to spend a lot of money on a new device, then a smartwatch might be cost-prohibitive. You won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to purchase a fitness tracker, even a high-end Fitbit.
However, if cost isn’t a concern, go for a smartwatch or a high-end fitness tracker like a Garmin. Remember that you’ll have to pay extra if you want to be able to take calls on your smartwatch.
Make sure that you’re factoring in cellular data costs for your smartwatch. Staying on WiFi can reduce data use, but that’s hard to do during a run. The cost of the watch itself might not be too expensive, but getting it on your cell phone plan might.
In the end, smartwatches and fitness trackers are both a great way to keep track of your workouts and to keep you motivated in your exercise routine.
Whether you want a smartwatch that you can get a fancy band for, or a fitness tracker because you want something simple, you’re sure to find some option that suits your needs.
Just make sure that you’re honest with yourself about what you really plan to use it for. Then you won’t regret spending money just because you bought something to keep up with the Joneses. Make sure that it’s something that is good for you!