We revisited this article to find that a few things had changed in the midrange fitness tracker market. We therefore added a couple of new additions to our chart.
This included the impressive Apple Watch Series 3, as well as the popular Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. We also gave our guide and FAQ section a bit of a shakeup to keep it relevant for 2020.
In the gym, park, pool or simply around the city, fitness trackers are essential for the modern fitness enthusiast. They monitor your activity, keep an eye on your heart rate, offer encouragement and even make life easier with calls, payments and music – what’s not to love?!
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Whether you are looking for a serious fitness tracker or a suave activity-tracking smartwatch that looks great with your suit, you have come to the right place.
This midrange category is the first price range in which some of the big brands come out to play – Apple, Samsung and Garmin all have multiple models for under $200, with some proving to be among the best fitness trackers on the market.
To inspire you, we have prepared a chart of five of the best fitness trackers under $200, highlighting their features, pros and cons. After this we will run you through everything you should look out for in a fitness tracker, as well as tackling some of your most popular questions.
Battery Life: Up to 7 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Stainless-steel bezel, Chroma Display, Corning Gorilla Glass, tracks 15 activities, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, smartphone notifications, stress tracking, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)
Garmin is a big name when it comes to midrange fitness trackers, with the vívoactive 3 one of the most popular devices in this price range.
This robust but lightweight watch excels when it comes to fitness tracking, with 15 built-in activities including running, cycling, golf and yoga, as well as day-to-day fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring and VO2 max estimates. The built-in GPS and 5ATM water-resistance rating round it off nicely!
While fitness is the focus of this watch, the vívoactive 3 is still kitted out with plenty of useful lifestyle features. This includes the ability to both receive and respond to smartphone notifications, as well as make NFC payments with Garmin Pay. Meanwhile, Garmin’s Connect IQ store offers plenty of extra apps.
Battery Life: Up to 18 hours
Sleep Tracking: No
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Aluminum frame, Ion-X strengthened glass, OLED Retina display, dual-core S3 processor, multiple activity tracking, smartphone notifications, breathing training, emergency SOS, built-in speaker, NFC payments (Apple Pay), Siri
While no longer the newest Apple Watch on the market, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a solid fitness tracker with exceptional lifestyle features, fully justifying its place on this list.
Coming in at a considerably lower price than the Series 5, this watch boasts the same sleek design you’d expect from the tech giants, with the iconic shape, an aluminum frame and OLED Retina display. With a dual-core S3 processor, the Series 3 tracks everything from running and cycling, to HIIT and yoga with great precision.
As for secondary features, you can enjoy using the watch to make NFC payments with Apple Pay, as well as excellent smartphone interactivity – replying to notifications and controlling music, among many other things.
Battery Life: More than six days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Aluminum frame, color AMOLED screen, tracks 15 activities, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, SmartTrack exercise recognition, smartphone notifications, built-in microphone, breathing training, female health tracking, music control, NFC payments (Fitbit Pay) Alexa
Fitbit is a respected name in the fitness tracker industry, with 28 million active users worldwide. The Versa 2 is the Californian brand’s newest offering and is seen as the Android version of the Apple Watch.
There’s definitely cause for comparison, with the sleek design, square face and aluminum case, although it trumps Apple’s Series 3 watch in battery life, with up to six days juice on offer. Fitness tracking is excellent, with more than 15 exercise modes in addition to all-day tracking. The only slight negative is that it only offers connected GPS.
In terms of secondary features, the Versa 2 impresses with smartphone notifications as well as Fitbit Pay and the ability to call upon Amazon’s Alexa with the built-in mic.
Battery Life: Up to 2 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Multiple color choices, interchangeable bands, Gorilla Glass, 1.1” Super AMOLED screen, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, smartphone notifications, NFC payments (Samsung Pay), Spotify connectivity.
While Samsung’s newer Galaxy Watch Active 2 is now available, the original Active is still a top-notch fitness tracker – and one that fits nicely into the sub-$200 category.
It’s a simple but stylish watch in design, with a lightweight but military-grade build and a 5ATM water-resistance rating. Whether in or out of the water, the Active proves a great day-to-day fitness and health tracker, with built-in GPS and 24/7 heart rate monitoring, as well as a tracker to record 39 different activities.
Of course, smartphone gurus Samsung make it easy to use the Active to both view and interact with social notifications, with both speech-to-text and an on-screen keyboard to construct replies (even if it is a bit fiddly).
Battery Life: Up to 5 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Multiple style choices, hidden OLED screen, Move IQ exercise tracking, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, ANT+ compatibility, smartphone notifications, stress tracking
It may not be as feature-rich as others in this category, but the vívomove HR from Garmin has to be one of the most stylish fitness trackers around. This hybrid watch includes a traditional watch face and a hidden OLED screen, displaying your daily data – steps taken, intensity, distance, calories and VO2 max.
It also offers heart rate readouts, with 24/7 heart rate monitoring. The battery lasts up to five days when working as a fitness tracker (a decent life for this range), yet turning it to watch mode will give you up to two weeks of juice.
The secondary features may not hold a candle to the Apple Watch, yet Garmin still crams smartphone notifications and a nifty stress tracking feature into this stylish device.
Our chart will have shown you that there is a wide range of fitness trackers in this midrange price category. Now all that’s left to do is choose one!
But not so fast – do you need one with built-in GPS? What about smartphone interaction? Are you looking to make NFC payments as well?
Confused? Don’t worry – the information in the following sections will guide you through everything you need to know about buying a fitness tracker costing up to $200.
A quick glance around the gym will give you all the proof you need that fitness trackers come in all kinds of shapes and styles, and this is still true in this midrange price category.
However, there is certainly more of an emphasis on style compared to those in the budget range. By this we mean that these devices are items that you would be happy to wear both at work or in the bar, as well as at the gym or to the pool. Generally, they tend to offer a little more elegance than a $50 fitness tracker.
These designs will be familiar as some of these watches are among the most popular fitness trackers around. For example, the Apple Watch with its sophisticated curves, or the robust and sporty Garmin vívoactive 3. Which design you prefer will be down to your individual tastes.
In addition to design, you can expect a watch in this range to be able to take a bit of abuse. Most watches will feature an aluminum or stainless-steel chassis, with toughened glass protecting the screen. In this price range you can also demand a vibrant screen – AMOLED and similar display quality is standard issue here.
There are often more customization options when it comes to this price range. For example, you can expect interchangeable straps as standard. This allows you to remove and replace the original silicone strap with something different – like leather or metal, to cater for a more formal occasion or a day at the office.
However, some watches don’t allow you to remove the strap, so ensure you know what your device limits you to before you are stuck with one material!
A final word on design – while some fitness trackers can be pretty masculine in their style and build, there is a wide range of fitness trackers for women on the market, should you prefer something more graceful.
The battery life of your fitness tracker is as important as any feature the watch can offer. In this price range you will find a mix of times, ranging from as low as under a day right up to a week.
It’s often the higher-performance watches that have the weakest performance when it comes to battery life. This isn’t because the batteries are particularly bad, but because the watches do so much that the battery takes a hit – bright screens, built-in GPS and music streaming all require plenty of juice.
Other watches may do slightly less, but their battery life is far superior. Sometimes this may be up to a week, although anywhere over a few days is pretty good for this range.
You must decide what is more important to you. Do you want a watch that does everything, or a battery that doesn’t require charging every night?
If you take your watch off to go to bed, then charging it daily won’t bother you. However, if you want to track your sleep, run an ultramarathon, or go travelling with your fitness tracker, then a longer battery life will be beneficial.
While gyms and fitness studios are pretty dry environments, bathrooms, pools and the great outdoors are anything but. This is why a good fitness tracker should be water resistant. Otherwise forgetting to take it off while you swim or shower can prove a costly error!
Thankfully, most of the trackers in this range are fully water resistant, with a rating of 5ATM. This rating means that the watch will cope with being submerged in water up to 50 meters deep.
This rating often suggests that each of these devices are excellent fitness trackers for swimming. Of course, whether or not the activity tracking for swimming is up to scratch is another question… but at least you know that the watch won’t be damaged as you dive in.
On the subject of water, it’s worth being aware that ratings such as 5ATM, and even IP68, usually mean that the device is suitable for use in the pool, shower and rain – but often only at normal temperatures.
If you want to use the watch in a more extreme environment – whether a hot tub, sauna or steam room – you should always check the manufacturer’s guidelines. The same goes for if you plan to use the watch in the sea, as salt water may affect the device differently to fresh water or the pool. Better safe than sorry!
If your device looks good, has a good battery life and is water resistant, then you are halfway towards finding something worth spending your money on. However, unless it tracks multiple activities with high accuracy, it’s not going to do its job as a good fitness tracker.
Every device will track your day-to-day activity, such as steps, floors, distance, calories burned and active time. This means that you can wear the watch from morning to night and have a clear picture of what you were up to that day.
However, fitness trackers in this range should also track specific activities, offering insight into your formal exercise as well as your general movement.
This may be as simple as activities such as walking, running and cycling, to more specialist movements, such as weightlifting, HIIT, basketball and yoga. The activities your device tracks will depend on how fitness focused it actually is.
Many devices in this range also boast ‘automatic exercise recognition’. This means that the watch will automatically detect when you are, say, running or cycling and start recording it as a formal workout. This is handy if you forget to manually start activity tracking before your session.
Be warned – as fitness trackers are not as smart as you, they can get confused. For example, you may be cruising around town in your car only for your watch to congratulate you on a good cycle, because it detected a similar sitting position and speed. This automatic exercise recognition can usually be turned off if you find it unhelpful.
Accuracy is as important as amount of activities the tracker follows. It’s one thing to be able to track your workout, but if this is inaccurate information it’s not going to be much good.
Thankfully, this $200 range means you can expect very reliable activity tracking, knowing that top engineers at companies such Apple, Garmin and Samsung have worked on delivering the best experience.
That’s not to say that these midrange watches are flawless. Some will still produce bizarrely high step counts when you haven’t done much walking, yet this is usually less common than in the budget ranges.
Whether you enjoy walking, hiking, running, cycling or even open-water swimming, a fitness tracker with built-in GPS can really enhance your workout.
By using GPS, you will have a more accurate picture of data such as your distance and speed than by the watch simply estimating these metrics.
A GPS feature also allows you to map your route, so you can revisit and analyze it after the workout, while often allowing you to navigate a map in real-time while out and about, as you may do on your smartphone. Great if you are prone to getting lost!
You can also enjoy using the GPS feature during your leisure time – to track and assist you during a round of golf for example. Although, if golf is your game, it is worth checking out dedicated golf trackers such as the Garmin Approach S40.
The advantage of having a GPS receiver built into the watch – as opposed to relying on your phone’s GPS – is that you can leave your phone at home. Just strap your watch onto your wrist, press start and that’s all you need. Ideal if you don’t want your phone on you as you run, or simply tend to forget it.
The downside of built-in GPS is that it will drain the battery much quicker than connected GPS (i.e. devices that use your phone’s GPS signal). You can usually turn GPS off when you are not using it, which can be a little inconvenient, yet will save your battery.
Another key feature that any good midrange fitness tracker should offer is accurate heart rate monitoring. This will give you a glimpse at your exertion, allowing you to see whether you need to work harder or ease off the gas a little.
Having the fitness tracker around your wrist all day means that you can enjoy the continuous heart rate monitoring that many of the devices in this range offer. This means that you can analyze your daily heart rate activity in more detail and also take advantage of things like real-time stress tracking and irregular heartbeat alerts.
In terms of accuracy, heart rate monitors are certainly more accurate than some methods, such as the pulse pads built into cardio machines (treadmills or ellipticals for example) and the monitors built into smartphones. However, fitness trackers don’t compare to the accuracy offered by chest strap monitors.
As these devices are worn close to the heart itself and use electrocardiography, chest strap monitors deliver close to 100% accuracy – ideal for serious users and athletes training for specific heart rate targets.
While fitness trackers may conjure up images of high-intensity exercise, running tracks and sweaty spin classes, they are equally useful when you are tucked in bed! While you are peacefully asleep, many fitness trackers are still hard at work monitoring your sleeping patterns.
Using the same movement monitor as it does for exercise tracking (although acting on a different sensitivity to capture subtler movements than steps), the watch will detect when you move during the night – whether a light rolling over or fidgeting in bed, or getting up to go to the bathroom.
This information gives you key insight into how well – or poorly – you sleep. As your sleep quality usually translates into how well you perform during your awake time, it’s very important.
Believe it or not, some fitness trackers in this range don’t actually offer sleep tracking. The reason behind this is the battery life. As we’ve discussed above, some devices struggle to last 24 hours due to having so many power-draining features.
This means that the watch has to be removed for daily charging, which – for the majority of people – will be overnight. Therefore, a sleep tracking feature isn’t worth including for many manufacturers.
One of the biggest improvements we see on midrange devices costing up to around $200 compared to fitness trackers below $100 is the extent and quality of secondary features. These are those things that aren’t necessarily going to help you crush a workout, but may make day-to-day life a little more convenient.
For example, the ability to interact with smartphone notifications directly from your wrist. Having messages from your phone – including those from WhatsApp, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter – appear on your wrist can be a timesaver, as can seeing call notifications. With this, you don’t have to reach for your phone every time it vibrates.
Smartphone notifications is also a feature seen on lower-end smartwatches – what really sets these midrange watches apart is the ability to reply to these notifications. Many devices in this range allow you to use either preset replies or a tiny keyboard to respond to your notifications. Some go as far as allowing you to make and receive calls, by using a microphone/speaker system built into the watch.
Of course, this isn’t a feature on every watch in this range, so be aware of what exactly the watch allows you to do if this is important to you.
Something else we see a lot of in this category is Near Field Communication (NFC) payments. The majority of watches costing up to $200 will include NFC, using systems such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Garmin Pay or another to allow you to use your watch as a wallet.
This is so convenient if you are prone to forgetting your wallet – or simply don’t carry cash while heading to the gym. If you want to pick up groceries or a coffee on your way back from a workout, you just have to tap your watch to the in-store receiver and you are good to go!
Smartphone notifications and NFC payments are just the start of these kinds of lifestyle-enhancing features, with each watch offering something different.
For example, you may find stress tracking and breathing training. Your heart rate monitor can be set to detect a sudden rise in pulse and quickly remind you to relax and breath. Depending on the situation, this can help you calm quicker than you would have otherwise.
In this price range you will find some watches offer virtual personal assistants such as Siri (exclusively to Apple devices) and Alexa (found on Android devices). If you have already used these, you know what to expect, but it’s handy to be able to ask Alexa for directions or how many calories are in a bagel, without having to Google it yourself.
Of course, midrange fitness trackers are usually linked to app stores, giving you the chance to download official and third-party watch apps that suit your tastes and goals. For example, you could have a city mapper tool to help you navigate your next vacation destination, or a weather app to see how hard it’s going to rain on your cycle to work.
Other apps – such as Green Kitchen – offer you recipes right on your wrist. Don’t want to cook? Apps like Just Eat allow you to order takeout from your wrist! Don’t forget to add all these meals to your calorie tracking app, of which there are many!
In short, fitness trackers are becoming more like mini smartphones for your wrist. They may not have exactly the same power or functionality, yet are still incredibly convenient.
The words ‘smartwatch’ and ‘fitness tracker’ are often used interchangeably (in fact, we are guilty of doing this on Fitness Verve!).
In the recent past, these devices had more of a definitive specialty. Smartwatches were traditional watches (with physical hour, minute and second hands) which had some features such as smartphone notifications and weather alerts aimed at making day-to-day life easier.
Meanwhile, fitness trackers covered anything to do with activity, health and fitness. The biggest difference was that some fitness trackers didn’t come with a familiar wristband design – instead they were small pebble-like devices meant to be clipped to a belt or bag.
These days, this is still the case for many devices, but the line between smartwatches and fitness trackers is somewhat blurred – especially in the higher-end of the market.
Take the new Apple Watch Series 5 as an example. This is premium smartwatch that offers excellent lifestyle features, including the ability to make and take calls, receive social media messages, make contactless payments and stream music – not to mention the plethora of features you can add thanks to the app store.
However, this watch also expertly tracks daily health and activity, as well as specific workouts including running, HIIT and yoga. This is on top of things like a continuous heart rate monitor that measures your pulse during workouts and while resting, as well as the ability to sync it with cardio equipment at the gym!
Is it a smartwatch or a fitness tracker? It’s hard to tell!
Ultimately, don’t dwell on the semantics. Just look for a device that suits your aesthetics tastes and offers the fitness and lifestyle features you need, then call it whatever you want!
This is the same thing as asking ‘Does a treadmill improve your fitness’, to which we would answer ‘no’. Ultimately, it is you that improves your fitness, not a device or machine.
However, both good treadmills and fitness trackers are tools you can use to complement your own effort.
Fitness trackers can do a lot of useful things. They monitor your heart rate to let you know when you need to push a bit harder. They record your steps, speed and distance, so you can analyze how well your run went. They track your sleep so you can see if you are getting enough quality shuteye.
Using this data, you can track your progress both during your workout as well as over time. This can be incredibly motivating as you see yourself improve day by day, week by week. It can also be the kick up the backside you need if you don’t see any improvement!
These days, fitness trackers can also make your day-to-day and fitness life easier. For example, with some devices, you can now go to the gym and track every detail of your workout, while listening to Spotify, taking a quick call and paying for your post-gym protein shake all via your wrist. No phone, no wallet, just the fitness tracker!
All these things can make fitness more convenient and enjoyable, which may motivate you to go for a run or head to the gym more often. Providing you put in the effort, a good fitness tracker can help you improve.
Fitness trackers monitor and record a lot of health and activity data including step count, heart rate and sleep. One of the most popular metrics people want to track is calories, especially if they are on a weight-loss journey.
The good news is that pretty much every fitness tracker from budget devices right up to high-end smartwatches will track calories, giving you a glimpse at your daily burn.
How accurate are these devices? When it comes to things like the aforementioned steps and heart rate, very accurate indeed.
However, actually putting your finger on a calorie and watching it burn away goes beyond the scope of even the most advanced trackers. This means they have to estimate your calorie burn. This is usually down to an algorithm based on the metrics you input – such as your height, weight, age and gender – and the activity the watch detects through the day (steps, movement, increased heart rate, and so on).
As a lot of this is guesswork on the watch’s part, it’s difficult to rely on this data to be fully accurate. In fact, a recent study at a Welsh university uncovered that some fitness trackers overestimate the number of calories burned while walking by over 50%. Others underestimated the number of calories burned by up to 40%.
The devices tested were priced between around $25 to $100, so we can assume higher-priced devices were more accurate.
Our advice is to use a good TDEE calculator to understand what kind of calories you will roughly burn in a day, then use a good fitness tracker to see how things are progressing.
Ultimately, you will never be able to precisely pinpoint every single calorie burned, so it’s not worth getting too hung up on it. However, using these tools as a guide takes away some of the guesswork and can therefore be helpful in your quest to lose weight.
In most cases, yes – you can use your fitness tracker without your phone. Say you want to go for a quick walk around the park, you can happily leave your phone at home while your tracker monitors your steps and heart rate.
After this kind of basic exercise tracking, it depends entirely on the fitness tracker you buy, as well as the activities you plan to do.
Do you want the watch to track your distance and speed accurately? If so, you will need a fitness tracker with built-in GPS, otherwise you will usually have to rely on connected GPS (where the fitness tracker uses the GPS signal of your phone to determine its location).
Meanwhile, if you want to listen to music without your phone, you will need to ensure the watch allows you to store MP3 files or use services like Spotify independently of your phone. If not, you will need to carry your phone with you.
However, some fitness tracking smartwatches have so much independence from a phone that they make you wonder if a phone is even necessary.
For example, some watches – such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch – have options that offer built-in cellular (also known as LTE smartwatches). This allows you to insert a sim card and use the watch to make calls, send text messages, and download and use apps without having your phone on you.
These LTE smartwatches are relatively new and still pretty expensive, although more manufacturers are starting to deliver them as options. If you are somebody who either forgets their phone a lot, or simply doesn’t like carrying it when working out, an LTE watch may be your ideal solution.
We hope this article has given you some food for thought when it comes to buying a fitness tracker under $200. It’s not a lifechanging amount, but nobody wants to spend two hundred bucks on something that isn’t going to help them achieve their fitness goals!
Our chart highlights a handful of solid devices all worth your time – all that’s left to do now is make your decision.
But don’t stop there. You may find something more suitable for you while browsing the market. So take the information in our guide and FAQ section, and go shopping like an expert!