If you’re the owner of a shiny new Fitbit – or you’re considering jumping into the world of fitness tracking – you might be wondering exactly where to get started.
Even when considering Fitbit, the biggest household name in fitness tracking, there’s a huge array of wearable devices that all do different things. There’s a shape and size to suit everyone, with features ranging from simple step tracking to insanely detailed biometrics.
It’s also a range that’s been given a serious revamp in early 2019, with the Fitbit Inspire family, Fitbit Ace 2 and Fitbit Versa Lite Edition all announced alongside a refreshed companion app.
Want to know everything there is to know? Well, let’s jump in to our complete guide to Fitbit.
What does a Fitbit do?
While the key features of a Fitbit will differ from device to device, they all have some key features:
- Step tracking (measured by movement of your arm)
- Sleep tracking (again measured by arm movement)
- Calorie burn estimation
And then specific trackers will offer even more:
- Automatic activity tracking
- Heart rate tracking (resting heart rate, live heart rate)
- Advanced sleep tracking (using heart rate)
- GPS tracking of outdoor workouts
- Connected GPS pairing to use a phone’s GPS for outdoor workouts
- Notifications and alarms
Whether you’re looking for a new tracker, or wondering which Fitbit you have, let us guide you.
|Device||Screen||GPS||Auto-detect exercise||Heart rate||Swim-proof|
|Fitbit Charge 3||Yes||No (Connected GPS only)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Fitbit Inspire HR||Yes||No (Connected GPS only)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Fitbit Alta HR||Yes||No||No||Yes||No|
|Fitbit Flex 2||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Fitbit Versa||Yes||No (Connected GPS only)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Yes||No (Connected GPS only)||Yes||Yes||No|
|Fitbit Blaze||Yes||No (Connected GPS only)||Yes||Yes||No|
Fitbit fitness trackers
This is Fitbit’s most advanced sports tracking fitness band, with its SpO2 heart rate sensor underneath tracking your bpm 24/7. You can track a range of workouts, but there’s no GPS – although take your phone out for a run/cycle and you can use the GPS on that. The big screen shows off stats from your day and progress towards those step and sleep goals, plus some cherry picked notifications from your smartphone too.
Essentially acting as replacements for the now-discontinued Alta and Alta HR (below), the Inspire HR and Inspire (£69.99) takes inspiration from the Charge line and slims things down. There’s swim-proofing, step tracking, sleep tracking, notifications and automatic workout tracking and five-day battery life.
On the HR, you’re also getting some added features, including 24/7 heart rate tracking, Sleep Stages, Guided Breathing, Connected GPS and goal-based exercise modes.
Our fitness tracker of the year in 2017, the Alta HR offers a really strong balance of features in a small, discreet design. You still get heart rate tracking and advanced sleep stats, and all the normal step tracking features – although the screen is too small for notifications and there’s no connected GPS for workouts.
Though both the Alta HR and Alta are now discontinued and unavailable through Fitbit, the pair are still available on the likes of Amazon.
The joint-cheapest tracker in the line-up, the screenless Flex 2 just keeps tabs on your steps and sleep using basic arm movement tracking. You’ll also need to check into the Fitbit app to see detailed progress. It does have a hidden superpower, however – its swim-proof for basic tracking of pool sessions, which is only matched by the latest in the company’s range.
Though the Flex 2 is now discontinued and unavailable through Fitbit, the tracker is still available on Amazon.
Set for release in summer 2019, the Ace 2 is this time aimed at kids aged six and up, which is slightly younger than the original Ace’s eight and above age range. It also comes with fresh colors and a more rugged design that keeps the display a little safer as kids run around and play. Adults will be able to keep track of their kids steps, activity and sleep tracking just like before, and this time that can even include pool action, thanks to a swim-proof design.
Aimed at kids aged eight and up, the Ace will do basic fitness tracking, as even younger people can benefit from some motivation, especially from an adult-looking tracker. You can also set up challenges for your kids among other family members or friends. It doesn’t have the chore and reward systems that Garmin has put into the Vivofit Jr. line, but it works.
Just be aware that this model has now been discontinued and is unavailable through Fitbit – you’ll have to act fast if you want to pick this up over the successor.
For those who want (almost) the full suite of Fitbit features in smartwatch form, the Versa is a top bet. Step and sleep tracking is enhanced by heart rate – and the company’s advanced SpO2 sensor is on board which will unlock health features in the future. You also get smartphone notifications plus Fitbit Pay, and it will piggyback GPS from a paired phone.
With the original Versa proving to be a success, it was no surprise to see Fitbit returning to the well and releasing a more affordable edition. There’s no on-board storage for music, Fitbit Pay, swim lap tracking or altimeter, but everything else survives in the newer device – things like the swim-proof design, Fitbit OS, workout modes, heart rate sensor and SpO2 sensor.
Its aggressive sporty styling gives it away – the Fitbit Ionic is the only watch in the line-up to have GPS built in for outdoor run tracking without a phone. The company’s advanced heart rate sensor is also on board for accurate tracking of calories and sleep, as well as during the tracked workouts.
The company’s first stab at a smartwatch wasn’t such a success, but the Blaze still has a place with people who want the features of a tracker (steps, sleep and heart rate) in the form of a wrist watch. It’s not a looker, for our money, but has endured as an option, especially for men with larger wrists. Whether it continues to endure is unknown, though, with the Blaze now officially discontinued and only available through retailers such as Amazon.
Heart rate tracking is a big part of modern fitness wearables, and most of Fitbit’s line-up now has a built-in heart rate monitor.
Firstly, these are the Fitbit wearables that include a heart rate monitor:
- Fitbit Ionic
- Fitbit Versa
- Fitbit Versa Lite
- Fitbit Charge 3
- Fitbit Inspire HR
- Fitbit Alta HR
How does Fitbit’s heart rate tech work?
Fitbit uses its own in-house PurePulse technology to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. These lights are then flashed hundreds of times per second in order to gain the most accurate BPM (beats per minute) data, by judging how much green light is being absorbed.
Naturally, while every company dabbling with this optical sensor technology is working from the same blueprint, how each company’s algorithms interpret the data affects how accurate the readings are.
Resting heart rate
A Fitbit with a heart rate sensors will keep tabs on resting heart rate – a key metric of your health. As you get fitter this should lower, and seeing spikes could be a sign that you’re run down, fatigued or getting ill. It’s a powerful metric and often under-used.
Active heart rate
Obviously you can check in on your heart rate at any time, and HR will be recorded during workouts too. If you track a session you can find a summary in your Fitbit app, and look at the performance of your heart throughout that session. Why is that useful? You should see yourself get faster or stronger at the same heart rate as you get fitter, and you can also check you were pushing yourself hard enough in intense sessions (or not over-reaching).
VO2 Max is also tracked within the app from outdoor workouts with a heart rate-toting Fitbit. VO2 Max is an estimate of the amount of oxygen your body can process – the more that is, the fitter you are. If you’re working out regularly (and we mean proper, intense workouts) you should see this number improve quickly.
Heart rate zones
Your Fitbit can also assess how long you’re spending in each HR zone, which can help you ensure your sessions are meeting your goals. Intense sessions should be spent in a high zone, while long, slow runs, for example, shouldn’t break above zone 2 or 3. Using heart rate zones can help you prevent over training and get better value for your workouts.
While all the exciting shiny stuff is happening on the wrist, the really useful data lives in the Fitbit app, and accessing and understanding this will be key to achieving your goals. We have a full guide to the Fitbit app, but here’s everything it does in a nutshell.
Check your daily stats
The main Fitbit dashboard is where you’ll get stats on your day’s steps, calories, floors climbed and hours of sleep – all presented on the main screen of your smartphone app.
Set your step and sleep goals
You can adjust your goals within the Fitbit app too. While step goals default to 10,000, that’s not much use if you’re struggling to get 5,000 under your belt. Set your goal and change it – it’s the secret to success.
Check heart rate data
Heart rate data can be found within the tab on the dashboard – and for such important information, you’d be forgiven for missing it. This is where you can see a record of your resting heart rate and also your VO2 Max, which is renamed as Cardio Fitness Score (although is just a VO2 Max number).
Just hitting that step goal every day isn’t the best motivation, but Challenges let you get competitive with your fitness. You can set your own Challenges (to walk certain step distances for example) or you can compete in step competitions with friends, which you add via the app.
You’ll also earn badges by doing challenges and just wearing your Fitbit and hitting milestones. It’s just another way to make the experience more motivating – check out our guide to Fitbit badges.
Fitbit for kids
So, what if you want to buy a Fitbit for your little ones? For a long time, Fitbit has recommended that its wearables are designed to be used by anyone aged 13 and above. If you’re after something for someone younger, you do now have an option. The Fitbit Ace 2 is designed for ages six and above (the original Ace was designed for those eight and above) and essentially a rugged, modular version of the new Inspire family. It covers basic tracking (steps, sleep time and active minutes) and also offers call notifications if they have their own phone.
It complies with all the important regulations that apply to kids trackers and parents have control on what data is shared, if privacy is a concern.
You can check out our Fitbit Ace 2 review to find out more.
Fitbit v Apple Watch
Chances are, if you’re looking at buying a Fitbit, you’re probably comparing it is closest competitors. Whether that’s a Fitbit smartwatch or a fitness tracker, you may be looking at how it fares against an Apple Watch – and we don’t blame you. While the Apple Watch is obviously a smartwatch, it does double as a fitness tracker, too.
So, what features do they share and where do they differ? Well, it depends on what device you’re comparing Apple’s smartwatch to. Take a Fitbit fitness tracker like the Charge 3. Both devices offer the standard activity tracking features, although Fitbit’s device has built-in sleep tracking. Apple can track sleep, but only through third party apps and the experience isn’t as slick as Fitbit’s approach. Both have automatic exercise recognition and waterproofing for swim tracking. Battery life does differ, with most Fitbit devices managing at least 4-5 days compared to Apple’s 18-hour battery life.
If you’re comparing Apple and Fitbit’s smartwatches, both offer staple features like notifications, payments, the ability to download apps and the ability to store music and stream music. App selection and streaming music service support does differ though, so do be mindful of that. If you want built-in GPS, then the Ionic is the only Fitbit smartwatch that offers that. While Fitbit’s smartwatches work with iPhones and Android smartphones, Apple’s only plays nice with iPhones. Feature support though can vary when paired to an Android phone or iPhone. For instance, sending quick replies from your Fitbit smartwatch is an Android-only feature right now.
The same applies on the battery life front as it does with Fitbit’s fitness tracker: Fitbit’s will get you considerably more. In terms of cost, the starting price for the newest Apple Watch is around £100-£200 more than the Versa and Ionic, so Fitbit’s watches are also the cheaper option.
These are just the baseline differences and there’s more to how these devices compare. If you want a more detailed look, check out our in-depth Apple Watch v Fitbit Charge 3 and Apple Watch v Fitbit Versa features.
Fitbit for swimming
For a long time, we had to deal with Fitbit wearables that were only good for fending off sweat. That kind of water resistance still applies to some of Fitbit’s devices, but we do now have a bunch that can go in the swimming pool and the open water.
A selection of Fitbit devices carry a 5ATM waterproof rating. That means it can be submerged in water up to 50 metres deep. They are the Fitbit Charge 3, Fitbit Inspire, Fitbit Inspire, Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Versa Lite Edition and Fitbit Ionic.
Older Fitbit trackers, like the Fitbit Alta and Alta HR are water resistant, not waterproof. That means they are able to withstand, rain, splashes and sweat.
In terms of what these waterproof devices can track in the water, they can record duration, count laps, and recognise stroke count. If you’re swimming with either of Fitbit’s smartwatches, you’ll be able to view some of that data in real-time on the watch screen. To ensure you get the most accurate swim tracking, you should make sure pool length is correctly set up. Read how guide on how to calibrate pool length on your Fitbit.
Fitbit tips and tricks
If you don’t feel your Fitbit is accurately reporting your steps, you can calibrate it to your stride length, which should get things a little closer to reality.
To see your data in the app, you’ll need to sync it. Check out our guide to syncing your Fitbit – and what to do if it won’t work.
If your Fitbit smartwatch is paired with an Android phone, you should see the option to reply when a notification appears on your watch.
Most Fitbit wearables can be customised for a more personal look. Check out our guide to swapping bands and changing things up.
If you’re letting someone else use your Fitbit, or you want to wipe your data and start again, then check out our guide on how to reset your Fitbit.
Sometimes you may just want to take a break from the tracking. Learn how to turn your Fitbit device off, or the next best option if it can’t.
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