The best smartwatch or fitness band in Q1 2015

Here is a grid that will help you choose the best smartwatch or fitness band no matter what kind of athlete you are. I’ve included only the best and left the rest off. There are a lot of tools not worth using. These are some, if not all, of the better ones I’ve found available now or Q1 of 2015.

At a very macro-level, this will give you an idea of how the various types of devices are colliding in the marketplace:

 

Screenshot 2015-01-28 12.07.20

 

Click on either image to view them full-screen; right-click to Save As…

User-types matched to categories and devices

Screenshot 2015-01-28 11.25.50

 User-types matched to feature/data requirements

Screenshot 2015-01-28 11.28.30

 

In short, you will see a few things.

  • you need the right tool for the job:
    • activity and fitness trackers are often not very good at “sport tracking”
    • some sport trackers are now able to take on activity and fitness tracking duties like basic steps
    • the more serious or competitive of an athlete you are, the more likely you’ll need to graduate to a more complex device.
  • it’s hard to get “one device to do it all”. Your awesome sport watch may have poor sleep tracking…or vice versa. Think about separating out those two needs in particular – one for sport/activity and one for sleep. See my blog post on sleep trackers for more information on tracking sleep.

If you like to keep it simple, here are a few of my favorites that I think work well for each person type. (Note many of these are links to the awesome www.dcrainmaker.com blog run by Ray who writes the best long-form device reviews on the planet.)

  • Focused on weight loss, basic activity tracking: Fitbit Flex/Charge, MisFit Shine, Withings Activité Pop (if you’re fashionable), Garmin VivoFit2 (compare them at DCRainmaker.com)
  • walkers/joggers/light cyclists: any of the above, plus possibly Basis Peak and Garmin VivoSmart (compare them at DCRainmaker.com)
  • Golfers: Garmin VivoActive (although I’m getting weak data from my Garmin ChargeHR so caveat emptor!)
  • Recreational Runners: FitBit SurgeHR, Garmin VivoActive, Garmin FR620, Apple Watch (when it arrives), TomTom Cardio watch
  • Recreational Cyclists: FitBit SurgeHR (watch for low readings), Garmin VivoActive, Garmin FR620, Apple Watch, TomTom Cardio watch
  • Recreational Crossfit/Functional Athlete: you beat up your toys so something like the Garmin FR620, or Garmin 920XT might survive you
  • Recreational Triathlete: get a real tri watch like the Garmin 920XT or Polar V800. Alternately, you can get away with a good run/cycle watch (and optional swim watch like FR620 + Garmin Swim, or you could look into TomTom Cardio (watch – no actual “triathlon mode”)
  • Competitive Runner: FR620 again. Solid and simple with good features
  • Competitive Cyclist: Garmin FR620 again.  There are others but I like the feature set (although I dislike the design)
  • Competitive Crossfit/Functional Athlete: With the variety of sports you do in a week, you need something like a 920XT which will also take a beating and still be comfortable in a WOD.
  • Competitive swimmer: get something that gives you open ocean plus lap swims like the 920XT or Polar V800. Garmin Swim is getting pretty old.
  • Competitive triathlete: Garmin 920XT or Polar V800 or Garmin Fenix 3.
  • Competitive at lots of single (non-contiguous) sports: I like the Garmin 920XT, and Fenix 3 (just announced)
  • Contiguous multi-sport (think bike/run/bike or run/hike/lift): you need something that lets you build your own multi-sport profiles. Currently I like the Garmin 920XT and Fenix 3 support for building custom profiles. Possibly the V800 although I am not a Polar fan personally.
  • Ultra Athletes. You need battery life and navigation. A Garmin Fenix 3 or Garmin Epix (both newly announced Jan 2015) would work well and give you up to 50hrs of GPS.
  • Outdoor/Backcountry folks: The new Garmin Fenix 3 or Garmin Epix again.
  • Tactical / Military Training: Garmin Fenix 3, Garmin Epix, and a good map and compass, and a spare Casio G-Shock (never rely on your technology).
  • Tactical operations: Casio G-Shock (and many others not covered here.) You need it to “just work”, no matter what. Most of these watches in the smartwatch category will run out of battery and leave you stranded.

**A lot of people have asked why I don’t recommend Suunto. In short, they are a data island. It’s hard if not impossible to get the data out to any other application or system and even if you do, often the data is garbage. Suunto doesn’t seem to have grasped that as sport watches become fitness watches and smart watches, that it’s important to connect to others. Also, they jumped the shark with the Ambit 3 by making it so that it could no longer use the plethora of ANT+ sensors out there but only a very limited subset of Bluetooth sensors. Too fast of a move and is hurting them.

Please let me know in the comments below what you’d like to see added in terms of athlete types or devices. Thanks!

(7) Comments

    • Troy Angrignon

      Thanks for the input on it! And for forcing me to sharpen my thinking. (In case anybody is curious, the reason we added things like “sizes” is because Ann rightly pointed out that many of the multi-sport watches she might need function-wise, are just TOO DARNED BIG.)

    • Troy Angrignon

      Great idea. I have not thought much about that market segment but it’s easy enough to add. I think that all of those could go into the watersports category along with surfing. Those all require a high level of waterproofing (obviously) but also impact resistance and general survivability. I think the best watches in that arena would be the Garmin 920xt (it even has a paddle-sports icon in it if you want to set up the extra profile), the Fenix 3, and the Epix. All of them should survive the abuse, although the 920xt’s softer plastic shell might be more comfortable. For multi-day kayaking, as in doing longer trips, you’d want to go with the ones that have the longest battery life like the Fenix and Epix that have up to 50h of continuous GPS recording capability (if UltraTrac is on for 1 min interval recording vs. 1 sec.) The Epix would also have the advantage of the large color screen for the map but I’m not sure how useable or useful that is in reality. I’ve never used a “map” on my watch because it’s too much of a headache. I always have real maps, compasses, and map bags when I am in the backcountry or doing a long kayak trip. Technology always fails so you can’t count on it.

      Thanks for the suggestion though. I’ll add that to the document. Of course dive watches is a whole other category that I probably won’t get into, because then you’re into dedicated dive computers, although in a pinch the Fenix and Epix could theoretically work but I kind of doubt it as the buttons would be unuseable with gloves.

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