In recent years, fitness watches and fitness trackers have grown more and more common. These gadgets claim to be able to record your exercises, keep tabs on your everyday movement, and provide you with useful information about your health.
Depending on the make and model, these wearables can range from minimal functionality to some pretty advanced health monitoring, like the brand new Apple Watch Ultra of 2023 which can measure cardiovascular recovery as well as oxygen saturation! It even has a dive computer and can handle recreational dives of up to 40 meters (130 ft)!
However, you might be asking “well, do I really need all that?” or “what about the cost-benefit analysis?”
We understand the concern, and we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve asked the same questions, so in this post, we will try to take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of fitness watches and fitness trackers so that you can determine whether purchasing one is a good investment for you.
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What Exactly is a Fitness Watch or Fitness Tracker?
A fitness watch or fitness tracker are pretty much interchangeable terms to describe an electronic device that can monitor and record various physical activities, such as steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate.
These devices are designed to help individuals track their fitness progress and achieve their health goals by providing real-time data and feedback on their daily physical activity levels.
Just like fitness watches, fitness trackers are typically worn on the wrist, but some trackers can also be worn as a clip-on or attached to clothing or even as a ring.
They often come with accompanying software or apps that allow users to analyze their data and set goals for their fitness journey.
Let’s dive into this a little more…
Pros of Fitness Watches / Fitness Trackers
With the aid of a fitness watch, you can keep tabs on your daily exercise by keeping track of your step count, calorie burn estimate, and overall distance covered. If you’re striving to increase your activity level every day, you may find this data encouraging.
Many devices today also have built-in GPS sensors that can provide an route map for the exercise that you did and display it for you so you can quickly see what you were able to accomplish.
If you went for a run along the beach, or a hike up in the mountains, having a GPS sensor can be extremely helpful. Of course, this might also NOT be desirable for you is privacy is a concern.
Measurement of Exercise Progress
Workout monitoring capabilities are common in fitness watches, letting you keep tabs on your heart rate and record your progress. If you want to get in shape or prepare for an upcoming competition, this may be useful.
Depending on the tracker, it can help keep you on track in your functional training HIIT circuit. Let you know when it’s time to take a break and when to kick back into high gear.
Some devices can keep track of the number of laps you have done in the pool, and the length of the pool. In fact, the Apple Watch Ultra can even track what swim style you did throughout the swim. How smart is that?
The health monitoring functions of certain fitness watches enable you to keep tabs on your heart rate, sleep habits, and other vitals. If you’re looking to enhance your health and well-being, you may find this data useful.
If you are a data fanatic, this feature will definitely have you spending a lot of time digging. The various manufacturers also package the data differently, so take a look at what each company offers. Then determine which one offers the most comprehensive data set that you require.
Lightweight and comfortable to wear, fitness watches are an excellent choice for anybody looking for convenience when exercising.
Rather than having to wear a clunky band to keep your phone on you at all times, or even those leggings that have the pocket for your cell phone, it still doesn’t compare to the ease and comfort of simply wearing a watch or ring.
This is also one category where the difference between fitness watches and fitness trackers is more divisive. Many watches have standalone functionality with an additional subscription cost with your carrier. This allows the watch to work without needing your phone with your carrier.
With a subscription, your smart watch will act as it’s own dedicated device and draw data (typically 3G speeds). You will even be able to pair your watch with headphones and play your favorite music app as you exercise while your phone sits safely at home.
Without a subscription, your may not be able to access data and it’s functionality will be limited. It will still be able to track data and record exercise info, and once paired with your phone, it will then transfer that saved data so nothing is lost.
Cons of Fitness Watches / Fitness Trackers
This is probably the most obvious downside, as some of the most advanced fitness watches on the market might cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
A fitness watch might be an unnecessary luxury if you’re trying to save money. Fitness trackers on the other hand tend to be more cost effective, so take a look at what options are available to you.
As mentioned previously, if you want to take full advantage of your smart device, a data subscription may be required, which is an additional cost. Cha-ching!
Although fitness trackers may be helpful in tracking your exercise and health metrics, their data isn’t always spot on. A person’s arm movement, for instance, might throw off their step counter, and their skin tone and body temperature could mess with a heart rate monitor.
Some devices like the Apple Watch Ultra has the ability to measure oxygen saturation, which is normally measured by a device clamped onto the tip of your finger at the hospital.
These sensors are very sensitive even during a typical hospital stay, so it is really hard to gauge it’s accuracy during intense workouts or any form of physical activity.
Other features like sleep tracking are calculated by algorithms derived from data from the limited sensors available on the device and extrapolated from datasets collected in a controlled setting. These are estimates at best, and should be relied upon to make any kind of medical conclusion or diagnosis.
Fall detection for example is something that has often times made headlines. it is difficult for the wearable device to 100% differentiate between a fall, or a physical movement that’s simulates a fall. In an article by The Verge, there has been false alarms reported by people wearing their smart watches during recreational winter sports activities. No surprise there!
Longevity and Battery Life
This can be a major inconvenience, and is something that is often overlooked when considering getting a smart fitness watch or fitness tracker. Forgetting to charge your fitness watch or even just forgetting to bring the charge base can turn your expensive device into a pretty paper weight.
Many times, these fitness watches and trackers are only able to be charged wirelessly. This means if you are on the road, and forget to charge your wearable device and don’t have a charger with you, then that’s it! Is that a deal breaker for you? Something to consider for sure!
Battery life can vary from device to device and the biggest difference here is between smart fitness watches and a standalone fitness tracker. Smart fitness trackers sometimes can last for a year, which fitness watches (due to all the extra features it may have) may only last a day of use.
The Garmin Vivofit series smart fitness trackers use a coin cell battery with a rated battery life of 1-year. Impressive.
The Fitbit series trackers will last a handful of days, while devices like the Samsung Galaxy Watch, Apple Watch, or Pixel Watch will not last an entire day of real-world use as confirmed by online sources like PC Mag. One thing is for sure and that is we should take company battery life estimates with a grain of salt.
The current battery champion of the smart fitness watch category goes to the Apple Watch Ultra. Although much bigger, bulker, and heavier and anything else on the market in the same category, it can easily last two full days of real world use (if not more) before displaying the low-battery notification.
Data Overload, Too Much of a Good Thing?
When first starting out with a fitness watch, it may be problematic to make sense of all the data it provides. For most people, the information their gadget provides may very much be irrelevant or even useless to them.
Along with the sea of metrics these smart devices collect, each manufacturer slices and dices the data a little differently. They also present the info to you differently, and while some are more intuitive than others, others are as clear as mud!
Unfortunately, this is more of a subjective statement. What may seem confusing to one person may make perfect sense to another. We all learn differently, and we all work differently.
Looking at data may not be a big deal to you, so it may be wise to make any buying decisions based on the other topics mentioned. Only after playing with these smart fitness watches and their accompanying apps can you really get a good feel for the daily usability.
Conclusion – So Then, Are Fitness Watches / Fitness Trackers Worth It?
This isn’t a black and white question that we can answer for you with a simple “yes” or “no”, sorry! We hope we did provide valuable points of consideration if you are in the market for one of these devices, or if you are just starting to do your research.
Can you really benefit from purchasing a fitness watch? Absolutely you can! It all boils down to the individual’s desired outcomes, financial situation, and preferred way of life.
A fitness watch may be very useful for keeping tabs on your workout routine, keeping an eye on your health, and keeping you motivated to reach your fitness goals. However, if you are on a limited budget, do not have any concrete exercise objectives, or do not want to deal with the inconvenience of frequent charging, then maybe a fitness watch or tracker is not for you.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that a fitness watch is only one tool among many when it comes to your overall fitness and fitness. However, it should not be used in place of a balanced diet, frequent exercise, and other lifestyle choices that promote health and well-being.