When it comes to wearable gadgets, there are two terms you hear a lot: “fitness tracker” and “smartwatch.” These two types of devices have a lot of similarities, but a few big differences. Which one is right for you?

That’s a big question to answer. In many ways, it’s harder to choose a device for your wrist than it is to pick a smartphone. There’s a huge range of options, and the features vary wildly. We’ll try to help you decide on a path.

What Is a Fitness Tracker?


Let’s start with fitness trackers. These devices have been around longer than smartwatches due to being simpler in nature. That’s the main defining quality of a fitness tracker compared to a smartwatch—simplicity.

Fitness trackers are focused devices. As the name implies, their main purpose is to track fitness. That includes everything from simple step tracking to advanced heart measurements and blood oxygen levels.

However, not all fitness trackers are created equal. For example, the Fitbit Inspire 2 can do many of the basic fitness tracking things you’d want for $100. For an extra $30 you can get a Fitbit Charge 5 with the addition of GPS, blood oxygen, ECG, a color touchscreen, and more.

“Fitness trackers” is a broad term, but the general concept is these devices are designed with the intent of being used to track fitness-related things. The features for doing that vary, but the goal is the same.

What Is a Smartwatch?

Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

Smartwatches have a lot in common with fitness trackers. Many smartwatches—such as the Apple Watch—have a focus on health and fitness as well. Almost every smartwatch is also a fitness tracker, but not every fitness tracker is also a smartwatch.

Simply put, a smartwatch does more. Apps, notifications, music control, microphones for phone calls, speakers, NFC, cellular connectivity, GPS, and touchscreens. There are fitness trackers that have some of these features as well, but any device that has all of this stuff is considered a smartwatch.

While a smartwatch can do more, it’s a less focused experience than a fitness tracker. Pretty much all smartwatches have some sort of fitness tracking abilities, but they don’t all have advanced features like blood oxygen and ECG (some do). A smartwatch may have more features overall, but they’re spread over a wider range of things.

Think of a smartwatch as a miniaturized version of your smartphone. It’s a device intended to do a lot of different things.

RELATED: How (and Why) to Track All Your Activities on an Apple Watch

Which Should You Buy?

Sleep tracking on Apple Watch

Okay, so now the big question is which device is right for you? Of course, that’s highly dependent on what you want to do with it, but also there’s pricing to consider.

Why You Should Buy a Fitness Tracker

As we talked about above, a fitness tracker is a more focused experience. If health and wellness are your top priorities, you will likely find a dedicated fitness tracker to be better.

Since fitness trackers are designed specifically for fitness tracking, those features are not tacked on as an afterthought. They’re often more accurate and have more advanced features than their smartwatch counterparts.

That focused approach also lends itself to being more affordable. The most advanced Fitbit model is only around $150. You can easily find fitness trackers in the $100 or less range.

Why You Should Buy a Smartwatch

Smartwatches are a good choice if you’re interested in more than just fitness tracking. Maybe you want rich notifications on your wrist, the ability to use some apps, and you want cellular connectivity so you can leave your phone at home.

The cool thing about smartwatches is you don’t necessarily have to give up the advanced fitness tracking features. Garmin is one brand that makes smartwatches with really good health and wellness features as well.

The Apple Watch also has some very impressive health features. In fact, if you want a smartwatch with good fitness abilities, it’s hard to go wrong with the Apple Watch. You don’t have to sacrifice accurate fitness tracking to enjoy the benefits of a smartwatch.

Of course, having your cake and eating it too comes at a cost. Garmin has smartwatches that cost over $600. That’s not the norm, though. An Apple Watch will set you back around $200 to $400. A Samsung Galaxy Watch is in that same range.

The Best Apple Watches of 2022

Best Apple Watch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS, 41mm)
Best Apple Watch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS, 45mm)
Best Budget Apple Watch
Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen, 40mm)
Best Budget Apple Watch
Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen, 44mm)
Best Apple Watch with Cellular
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular, 41mm)
Best Apple Watch with Cellular
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular, 45mm)
Best Apple Watch for Durability
Apple Watch Ultra
Best Starter Apple Watch Band
Apple Braided Solo Loop
Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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