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Smartwatch or fitness tracker -- which one to give?

12/02 MoneyWatch
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You want to give that special person in your life either a smartwatch or fitness tracker as a present for the holidays. The problem is you’re not sure which type of device to get. Your decision should be based to a large degree on the needs and preferences of your recipient. Is this person a gadget guru who would want a smartwatch with all its bells and whistles? Or is he or she more focused on health and exercise and would want to track daily fitness activities?

Let’s go over the features in both smartwatches and fitness trackers and suggest some possible models of each.

Fitness trackers

Fitness trackers are typically geared toward a single goal -- following, measuring and recording your daily health and fitness activities. They can track the number of steps you take, the distance you’ve moved, the floors you’ve climbed, the number of minutes you’ve been active, the calories you’ve burned, your heart rate and the amount and quality of sleep you’ve gotten.

Certain trackers can help you keep tabs on your diet. They can show you the calories in specific foods, so you can make smarter eating decisions.

Some trackers also are starting to adopt features previously found only in smartwatches. For example, select models can pair with your smartphone to alert you to incoming calls and text messages.

If you’re leaning toward a fitness tracker, here are five models to consider:

Fitbit Charge HR -- This popular tracker packs in a host of features. It monitors your workouts and all-day activity. You can put it into Exercise Mode so it knows when you’re working out and can record your exercise routine. It can monitor your sleep and issue a silent alarm to gently wake you. Fitbit promises a battery life of five days. The Charge HR is widely available and sells for around $129.

Fitbit Charge 2 – This new model offers several of the Charge HR’s features but then steps up from there. It continuously monitors your heart rate: working out, through your day or just resting. The Charge 2 will send you reminders coaxing you to take 250 steps every hour to stay in shape. It can track specific types of activities, such as jogging, weight lifting, hiking, biking and yoga to see how you fare at each. And it connects to your smartphone to show calls, texts and calendar alerts. It costs around $149.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+ -- Like other fitness trackers, the Vivosmart HR+ can keep tabs on your heart rate as you exercise or sit around relaxing. It compares your results against those recommended by the American Heart Association and other organizations to see if you’re meeting the right goals. The Vivosmart HR+ also tries to devise a daily fitness goal based on your history. The built-in GPS attempts to more accurately measure your various physical activities, such as climbing stairs. It can also talk to your smartphone to share your results with others. The Vivosmart HR+ retails for $200.

Mistfit Shine 2 -- The Shine 2 starts off by adopting a cool look compared with other fitness trackers. It sports a disc-shaped multicolor LED module that displays the various stats and activity numbers. Beyond its aesthetics, the Shine 2 records all the typical activities and calories burned. You can tell it to track your results from a variety of different exercises and sporting activities, biking to yoga. It also tries to determine the length and quality of your sleep. On the downside, the Shine 2 doesn’t include a heart rate monitor. But it will alert you to incoming calls and text messages and includes a nonchargeable, replaceable battery that can power the device for up to six months. You’ll fork over $100 for a Shine 2.

Samsung Gear Fit2 -- The Gear Fit2 packs a lot into one device. In addition to all the typical exercise and sleep tracking, it can provide a history of your fitness goals and compare them with those of others. The Fit2 pairs with certain Samsung smartphones to let you send and receive calls and text messages and receive calendar alerts. It will last for around four days on a single battery charge. The Fit2 goes for $179.


In many ways, they’re an extension of your smartphone. Paired to your phone, they let you run apps, send and receive calls and text messages, and alert you to calendar appointments. They’re slowly becoming more independent by including Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. That means you don’t necessarily have to carry around your smartphone for your smartwatch to run certain apps and perform certain functions.

But most smartwatches also act as fitness trackers. They can record your daily activity, count your steps, watch your calories, monitor your heart rate and keep track of the quality (or at least the amount) of sleep you get each night.

Here are five smartwatches worth considering as holiday gifts.

Apple Watch -- Apple’s first wearable, it’s the device that turned a lot of people on to smartwatches. It watch comes in a variety of flavors, stretching from the Apple Watch Series 1 (starting at $269) up to the Apple Watch Edition Series 2 (starting at $1,249). Like many smartwatches, the Apple Watch includes a full regimen of health and fitness tracking features. It also lets you work and play with a variety of mobile apps. You can talk on the Apple Watch through your iPhone, send and receive text messages, and fire off and read emails. You can also ask Siri to perform specific tasks.

Moto 360 2 -- The second generation of Motorola’s Moto 360 includes the usual health and fitness tracking features and provides coaching to help you reach your fitness goals. As a smartwatch, the Moto 360 2 is powered by Android Wear, Google’s operating system for Android wearables. You’ll find a host of apps in the Google Play store that the Moto can run. But a built-in Wi-Fi feature lets you use apps even if you don’t have your smartphone nearby. It can operate for around 24 hours on a single charge. You’ll cough up $300 for the Moto 360 2.

Pebble Time -- Pebble offers several different watches, including the Pebble Time Steel for $200 and the Pebble Time Round also for $200. The Steel edition offers a square face, while the Round version naturally enough offers a round face. Pebble provides the usual array of health, fitness and sleep tracking features. On the smartwatch end, it can alert you to phone calls, text messages, reminders and events. It also lets you use voice dictation to send voice messages, respond to texts and record notes.

Samsung Gear S2 -- The Gear S2 is available in two varieties: The regular Gear S2 ($300) and the Gear S2 Classic ($350). The regular edition offers a black or white silicone band, while the classic version comes with a black leather strap. Both offer a healthy array of fitness features, including letting you know if you’ve been inactive for too long. As a smartwatch, the Gear S2 provides a host of apps, but not nearly as many as you’ll find with the Apple Watch and similar devices. The battery lasts three days, not bad for a power-hungry smartwatch.

Sony Smartwatch 3 -- On the fitness end, Sony’s Smartwatch 3 comes with a built-in GPS for tracking distance and an accelerometer that can figure out what type of activity you’re performing. The watch teams up the accelerometer with a gyroscope to more accurately determine your direction and movements. Built-in Wi-Fi means you can tap into apps on the watch, receive notifications and respond to messages, all without taking your phone out of your pocket. The Sony Smartwatch 3 also offers a range of bands from casual to classic. Sony’s watch starts at around $150.

Now, back to the original question: fitness tracker or smartwatch? Smartwatches are more versatile because they can run a variety of mobile apps and pair with a smartphone to handle phone calls and text messages. Fitness trackers are less expensive and focus on more specific tasks such as monitoring your health and activities.

Beyond features and functionality, other factors play a role, including feel, comfort, size and design. And naturally, you’ll also want to consider cost and how much you’re willing to spend based on whether you’re shopping for a close family member or a casual friend. Once you’ve taken all these factors into account, you should be able to make the right decision.

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