The Fitness Watch

If you read my past posts you know I’m a little obsessed with my Apple Watch. Watching me close my rings and hit my step goal has caused me to do some crazy things (like hit the treadmill or elliptical at 9p). For all the talk of getting 150 minutes of exercise which can be done in under 7 days per week, my Apple Watch shames me into daily exercise.

While I gravitated toward the Apple Watch, I have also used the Fitbit Charge HR  (the 2 is now available). My husband recently moved to the Garmin Fenix from the retired Microsoft Band and before that used the Fitbit Surge  (which I also tried before the Charge HR). So, I’ve gotten a good look at some options out there over the long term vs. the limited evaluation period.  Rather than rehashing the finer points in comparison, I thought I’d put a review together based on what goals you are trying to achieve. That’s the real reason for a fitness watch, right?

Apple Watch Series 2: I moved up from the Series 1 in January when Apple finally added in GPS. I chose the Apple watch for form over function when it came to healthy  living. It has all the basics I was looking for: steps, heart rate, exercise tracking, syncing with tracker apps and it also tied in with my iPhone apps for additional function I’ve come to rely on for work and travel.

Pros: After understanding how the rings are calculated, I really love the simple way Apple let’s you know if you are really getting anything out of your exercise. The more fit you become, the harder it is to close your rings which is a big motivator for me to actually push myself while working out. I also like Workouts, which lets me choose between indoor and outdoor activities for more effective tracking and granular details to track speed, route, and intensity. Again, it is in a very easy to understand way. Add to the fact that I can buy watch bands cheaply on Amazon, my diva self is content to switch between outfits, workout, and seasons and thus always have it on.

Cons: This really is a form over function watch and really only let’s you scratch the surface in monitoring your activities. Knowing more now about intensity levels, heart rate tracking, and the wider variety of workouts I do, I get a little disappointed I don’t have more analysis to review that is in line with traditional methods of charting health. It is also annoying that the only way to view detail is through the screen of an iPhone. Even with all the calls to have access through an iPad and even iCloud, Apple remains obstinate in its iPhone only stance even stating its a security concern (really????). You can export data, and those of you out there like my husband that enjoys coding on the weekend will love figuring out how to set up regular exports and writing a python script to convert files for usable analysis. I for one would rather spend my time focused on a workout and not wrestling with my data. The other issue is that I feel like if I want more I have to download another app and link. Interval training? Get the app. Track food? Get the app. Special workout? Get the app. Sleep tracking? There’s an app for that.

Fitbit Charge HR 2: Fitbit is one of the more popular fitness watches out there. My company even gifted them to all employees one year and I see them pop up regularly at events as chochkies. The Charge HR was the first fitness watch I used regularly and if it wasn’t for a clunky design, I would probably still wear it.

Pros: Tracking is so easy and the fact that the battery lasts forever, you can even wear it to bed and track your sleeping habits. The feedback in the app and online provided perfect graphs that immediately told me how my exercise level was affecting my sleep. A constant insomniac, it proved what my husband always told me, get more exercise and sleep better. The band screen provides the basics for tracking that let me see my progress quickly for steps, heartrate and floors climbed. Getting notifications that I had a call was only a bonus. Ultimately it forced me to get walking.

Cons: The rubber band, even in my pretty purple, clashed horribly with my work cloths and always felt unprofessional. I always thought that if a client saw me with a band it provided a window into the fact that I was thinking more about non-work related activities rather then helping them. Totally crazy, but I’m a type A and this really didn’t work. Ultimately, it caused me to ditch the band except for weekends and vacations and eventually all together. What point is a tracker if you don’t wear it?

Fitbit Surge: This was my husband’s first fitness watch and he lived by it for a year. With GPS and big screen to track progress, he was able to get all the details about his trail riding and hikes in the woods along with our walks on the beach. His first watch was too small and he gave it to me to try. Too big for my wrist (clunky, not circumference), it gave me enough to encourage me to try the Charge HR.

Pros: The Surge covers everything you would want to track and tie in with all the great charts Fitbit offers through their portal. The added feature of the GPS makes it great for the outdoorsy type to track both distance and routes. The larger screen gives you everything at a glance and even makes it easier to notices coming in from a paired phone. It is a great entry watch for fitness both in terms of function as well as price.

Cons: This thing is huge! I lasted a week so if you want longevity and have small wrists and care how this looks, not a great motivator for tracking and fitness. Diva points aside, the pro of covering a lot of the basics well is also what will frustrate those that want more detail from their workouts and activity. You can get at some of the detail through exports and run your own analysis, but this requires some effort and coding.

Garmin Fenix: My husband needed to switch from the Microsoft Band when he’d gone through several replacement wrist bands and then Microsoft announced it was retiring the product (BTW – he loved the Band). He spent hours researching fitness watches and landed on Garmin’s Fenix. Already an avid user of a Garmin GPS tracker for hiking and biking and the fact that I’d read great reviews, when the recent version came out, he pre-ordered. Not to be outdone by me with my Apple Watch band assortment, he is waiting patiently for the knockoff bands to show up on Amazon with quick release on the new Fenix version.

Pros: I’ll be honest, I’m a little jealous. If this was in a woman sized watch, I’d seriously consider ditching my Apple Watch. It takes a lot of the simple visualizations like rings for various tracking and goes even deeper by not only tracking but tying together heartrate, distance, activity, etc for a really good analysis on workout intensity level. Leverage the wide range of activity selections and the tracking detail is even better. Going for hikes in the woods, use ‘hiking’ to account for the uneven terrain. In comparison, my Apple Watch only gives you ‘outdoor walk’ that doesn’t care if you are on pavement, dirt, or sand. The GPS let’s you trace your route, including discrete elevation, and relate back to your intensity. What I really like is that the intensity tracking shows the typical levels for fat burn, aerobic, anaerobic, etc. I think there are 4 total. Add the Garmin Scale and you have a pretty cool portal view in Garmin Connect.

Cons: It’s still a little big for me and pretty masculine so women may not want to wear it. There are some tracking issues where auto pause doesn’t turn back on in time or consistently. When working out on exercise machines like the elliptical, it is best to add in sensors on the machine and link the app back to Garmin for an accurate reading of distance and steps.