Smartwatches and fitness trackers: how they differ and which one to choose?

Many people think that smart watch and fitness bracelet are the same thing. We explain why this is actually not the case.

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are popular wearable accessories. These are gadgets for sports and for everyday life. They help you reach your sports goals, motivate you to have a healthy daily routine, help you monitor your physical condition and provide detailed activity statistics. Smartwatches and fitness trackers often stand side by side in wearables collections. They really perform similar functions, but in fact they are devices with different purposes.

What is a smart watch?

A smartwatch is a high-tech accessory made in the form of a wristwatch. Its intellectual functions lie in the ability to synchronize with a smartphone and partially control it.

Smart watches display the current time, and this is perhaps the most simple thing they can do. Watches from different brands have different functionality, but in general they all display mobile notifications, messages and information about incoming calls.

They also have a set of built-in fitness features - step counting, calorie consumption and heart rate monitoring. In addition, the watch can be equipped with a significant number of options directly related to sports. At the discretion of the manufacturer, preference may be given to modes for running, swimming, strength training, etc. However, these functions are not basic, but additional.

Premium smartwatches include music and call controls, text messaging tools, voice recorder, NFC sensor for contactless payments and built-in storage.

Popular smartwatches include Apple Watch, Huawei Watch GT, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Fitbit Versa.

What is a fitness tracker?

A fitness tracker is a wearable device that collects data about the user's physical activity. The design and shape of trackers are diverse - from bracelets and pendants to miniature sensors that are attached to clothing.

Some models have an ascetic design: they do not provide a display or information indicators. Data from such devices can only be viewed through the associated smartphone application. Typically, such trackers include pedometers and sleep sensors. Features such as heart rate monitoring are missing.

Bellabeat, Huawei Band 3e and some other trackers have a detachable coin-sized main module that can be used as a bracelet, buckle or pendant. There are also smaller devices, they are discreetly attached to laces or underwear.

The main features of fitness trackers are focused on physical activity. Some gadgets are similar in shape to wristwatches or bracelets, but despite this, their main task remains the same - to track sports performance. Additional features are usually few or completely absent.

Advanced trackers have an LED display, a rich set of sport modes, a heart rate sensor and a vibration sensor for incoming notifications. Additional applications and methods of remote interaction with a smartphone are usually not available to them.

Fitness trackers include Fitbit Inspire, Huawei Band and Xiaomi Mi Band. Minimalistic trackers are represented by the Bellabeat Leaf Urban and the discontinued Jawbone UP.

Smart watches versus fitness trackers

Smart watches can partially replace a fitness tracker. However, a fitness tracker is focused specifically on sports activity, and therefore it is not always possible to replace it with a smart watch. Advanced trackers have incoming notification functions, however, the emphasis is on physical activity, but nothing else.

In turn, smart watches are much more diverse in terms of capabilities. Some have eSIM : they are completely autonomous, they do not need to be in range with a paired smartphone. Also, smartwatches have more controls and wide customization options.

Typically, fitness trackers are cheaper than smartwatches. They are lighter, more compact and can have a variety of shapes. Since they do not have as rich functionality as smart watches, the battery life is longer.

But on the other hand, smartwatches are equipped with LED displays that are comparable in size to a watch face. They are made in a classic form factor and are much more expensive than fitness activity trackers. From the point of view of the external design, they imitate analog watches quite accurately: there are buttons on the case that look like a crown and pushers.

What to buy - a smart watch or a fitness tracker?

Whether a smartwatch or fitness tracker is right for you and your lifestyle depends on a number of factors. Before buying, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • What will be the main use of the gadget (collection of data during training or remote control of a smartphone)?
  • How compact should the device be?
  • Is it possible to damage the screen during exercise?
  • Are functions such as controlling music apps and answering calls important?
  • How often are you ready to charge your device?

If you are looking to purchase an accessory exclusively for training without spending a lot of money, turn to fitness trackers. They are also worth choosing if you are worried that you can damage the display during active sports. Fitness trackers are a great choice for those who find watches too bulky and uncomfortable to wear all the time.

If desired, you can choose a premium fitness tracker with a touch screen and advanced features. They are closest to smart watches, but they still focus on monitoring workouts.

Functionality beyond just sports is what you get from a smart watch, provided you don't mind spending more money and wearing a large, conspicuous device on your wrist. Usually, smartwatches are much more expensive than fitness trackers, but there are also economy models from different manufacturers.

Which manufacturer should be preferred?

If by now you have understood which type of device suits your lifestyle best, it remains to decide on the brand. The durability of the device and the accuracy of the information collected will depend on this.

Huawei offers smart watches and fitness bracelets in different price categories. Xiaomi is working towards affordable sports bracelets. Both companies get their share of positive reviews, but professional athletes, for whom monitoring accuracy is especially important, prefer completely different companies - Fitbit and Garmin. Those who want to get a status multifunctional gadget with a premium design opt for Samsung and Apple.