The best smartwatches and bands for tracking your fitness in 2021 – Mark Kavanagh

The best smartwatches can all perform plenty of neat tricks, like searching the internet using your voice, tracking your location with GPS and monitoring your heart rate to protect your overall health.

They generally work best when paired to a great smartphone, but some of these models will even work independently of your phone.

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar

€770 at Garmin.ieOffline music: Spotify, Deezer, Amazon MusicBattery life: Two weeks

This is the top-of-the-range model in a series that is widely regarded as the pinnacle of multi-sport outdoor fitness watches.

It suits both the experienced sportsperson and the aspirational novice. It’s the best smartwatch I have ever tested.

There is comprehensive tracking of more than 30 activities such as hiking, mountain biking, skiing, indoor training, walking, swimming, golf and strength sessions. Sensors include accelerometer, thermometer, heart rate, pulse Ox and compass.

The always-on, non-touch, screen displays contextually aware data to suit the type of workout you are engaged in. Five physical buttons mean the menu is easy to navigate.

It can also display maps which you can pre-load onto the unit. There is built-in GPS too and GPS battery life is an impressive 40 hours.

As you would expect, Fenix 6 Pro Solar tracks reliably and accurately your steps and movement throughout the day and keeps a close eye on your heart rate, respiration rate and stress. It also provides extensive sleep tracking.

There is a free feature in the Connect app called Garmin Coach which offers weekly running coaching plans.

Polar Vantage V2

£369.46 including import fees from Amazon.co.ukOffline music: NoBattery life: Seven days

This pro-level multisport watch is made for those who like to train hard.

It offers extensive tracking of all kinds of activities and incredible 40-hour battery life when using GPS.

Training Load Pro and Recovery Pro help users understand how the body responds to training and when the user is ready for more.

You can also measure running power, analyse hill splits, delve into sleep stats and get recovery-based workout recommendations.

V2 features more than 130 sport profiles, GPS tracking and an eight-LED heart rate sensor — with acclaimed new running and cycling performance tests.

Swimming metrics enable you to use both V2 and H10 in the pool, and the free Polar Flow app offers incredible data along with tools for planning and following up on your training, activity and sleep.

It’s considerably less expensive than Fenix 6 Pro Solar — but you need to bring your watch with you if you want to listen to music during your workout.

Apple Watch Series 6/ Apple Watch SE

The biggest difference in terms of health features between the Apple Watch Series 6 and Watch SE is the SpO2 sensor, which measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.

Low levels could be an indicator of issues such as sleep apnea. SpO2 sensors are already in other sports watches from Garmin, Fitbit and others.

Watch Series 6 also has a potentially life-saving ECG sensor.

Both models include an always-on altimeter, which makes it easy to check your elevation indoors and outdoors in real time — super useful for hikers, cyclists and downhill skiers.

And they share all the excellent health, safety, and lifestyle features that Apple Watch users know and love.

These include high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rhythm notifications, menstrual cycle tracking, fall detection, high decibel alerts, basic sleep tracking, emergency SOS, and international emergency calling.

You get tracking modes for runs, cycles, swims, Pilates, dancing, functional strength training, core training, and post-workout cool-downs.

All tracked data is laid out clearly in the free Fitness app.

Apple Watch’s Move, Exercise, and Stand rings are a great motivator for even the most casual fitness enthusiast.

Ideal wearables for anyone in the Apple ecosystem who need plenty of smartwatch features.

Fitbit Sense

€299 from Harvey NormanOffline music: Yes, DeezerBattery life: Three to four days

If you’re specifically in the market for a stylish watch with great battery life to help monitor your health — and you’re happy to pay a monthly sub for extra insights from Fitbit Premium — then Sense is a great option as it offers so much data.

Fitness tracking features are super impressive, especially if you are training using heart rate zones.

Sense vibrates to indicate when you’re moving between heart rate zones.

Your heart rate is displayed prominently on the screen at all times.

There is automatic tracking for some exercises.

Workout options include bike, bootcamp, circuit training, elliptical, golf, hike, interval workout, kickboxing, martial arts, pilates, run, stair climber, tennis, treadmill, weights, workout and yoga.

Sense is water resistant up to 50 metres, so it is suitable for swimming in the pool or the sea.

The device also features on-board GPS, so you can map out your runs, walks and bike rides without the need to carry your phone.

Fitbit Sense can also keep an eye on your stress levels and blood oxygen saturation, and it can carry out an ECG and monitor your heart rate continuously.

Coros Pace 2

£184.49 from Amazon.co.uk including import feesOffline music: NoBattery life: Two weeks

This is an excellent fitness watch for runners featuring superb heart rate monitor and battery life.

It is a great choice if you’re looking to upgrade from a simple fitness band to something more powerful and capable.

It features a super-lightweight build and slim design and easy-to-access and operate controls.

Navigating the Pace 2 menu is simple — use the crown-style dial for scrolling through menus and choosing options. A back button takes care of everything else.

Pace 2 boasts accurate location-tracking smarts for runners, cyclists and swimmers thanks to most reliable on-board GPS.

You get detailed stats and insights in the free Coros smartphone app.

It offers sleep tracking too, but not to the level of Polar’s Vantage V2 that I reviewed recently. And you can receive notifications from your phone. But there is no on-board music storage and no support for payment apps.

The watch is charged with a small USB cable that attaches securely to the back.

Battery life is excellent. You get 30 hours in GPS mode or a couple of weeks as a smartwatch.

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Huawei Watch GT2 Pro

€299 from Harvey NormanOffline music: Yes, download from your PC or MacBattery life: Two weeks

Huawei is the second biggest-selling brand of wearables globally after Apple.

Watch GT 2 Pro builds on the success and features of its predecessors, GT 2 and GT 2e.

The Pro model has the same two-week battery life, exceptional fitness tracking features and classic watch design.

But it is crafted from more premium materials and it has wireless charging.

Your can track all of your health and fitness activities comprehensively, including indoor workouts such as rowing.

More than one hundred workouts are catered for.

Running beginners can follow fat-burning workout sessions or race against a target time.

Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro has an upgraded heart rate monitor with better light transmission so it delivers more accurate readings.

It can give you blood oxygen level readings too.

Step counting and sleep analysis are well catered for too. And some simple breathing exercises to help you relax.

OnePlus Watch

€159 from OnePlus.com/ieOffline music: Yes, download from PCBattery life: Two weeks

The first globally available OnePlus wearable comes with a dazzling 1.39in OLED touchscreen and up to 14 days’ battery life.

At the moment, the watch only supports about a dozen workout modes but there is the promise of 100 more in the coming weeks.

Similarly, the number of watch face options is currently limited.

I’ve compared the tracking and heart rate monitoring to other devices, and found it does an effective job, although I found the blood oxygen reader occasionally inaccurate.

Sleep tracking is spot-on too, and I like the way it delivers a sleep report to your wrist and hour after you get up.

You can make or take calls on the watch, and you can reply to text messages.

To listen to music without your phone, you need to transfer music files from your computer as there is no support for any music streaming apps.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

€339/€559 from Harvey NormanOffline music: Yes, SpotifyBattery life: 36-48 hours.

Galaxy Watch 3 is a combination of a stylish smartwatch and well-equipped fitness tracker.

It comes in two sizes, 41mm and 45mm.

Galaxy Watch 3 also has an ECG monitor, an SpO2 app to measure oxygen saturation in the blood, a blood-pressure monitor, fall detection, advanced sleep tracking, onboard GPS and a detailed post-run analysis.

It can track 40 total activities and will record seven of the most common activities automatically.

Fitbit Charge 4

€129 from Harvey NormanOffline music: NoBattery life: Up to seven days

This slim and light fitness tracker has built-in GPS so you can track your runs and leave your phone at home.

However, you won’t be able to listen to music or podcasts without your phone.

Garmin Vivosmart 4

€99 from Harvey NormanOffline music: NoBattery life: Up to seven days

Inexpensive waterproof tracker for those who engage in casual exercise. It will also tell you when the best time to exercise is. No built-in GPS.

All prices correct at time of original post.

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