Aug 12th, 2020 publishUpdated   Sep 10th, 2020, 3:20 pm

Wear OS is showing signs of life again in 2020 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform possibly delivering the performance and efficiency that has been missing, but for many of us, a fitness tracker is still the better wearable option to pair with our Android phones. Fitness trackers can deliver the features most people are looking for from their wearable like basic notifications and of course fitness tracking at a more affordable price and with considerably better battery life. 

Let’s take a look at some of the top options in the market today, regardless of your goals with a wearable there is likely one on this list that will get the job done.

Xiaomi Mi Band 5

This one is easily at the top of my list as you just can’t beat the value proposition, you will typically find the Xiaomi Mi Band 5 for right around $50 and it delivers a feature set that is typically found in fitness trackers at least twice its price.

The color rectangular AMOLED touchscreen display is now 1.1-inches, a 20% increase from its predecessor, making it more easily glanceable than ever. The display is crisp and bright (up to 450 nits) and delivers all the information you need.

For those that aren’t used to wearing something on their wrist the relatively small size makes the Xiaomi Mi Band 5 one of the more comfortable and unobtrusive options available. This also allows you to use it as a sleep tracker, something that isn’t a reasonable proposition with most smartwatches and with the Mi Band 5 the sleep sensors have been upgraded to offer a 40% improvement in tracking data.

Battery life is another massive strength for the Mi Band 5 with up to 14 days on a charge, you never need to worry about going away for a weekend or even a week and having to pack another charger for your wearable. And for those that used a previous Mi Band the new magnetic charger is awesome, just get it close to the Mi Band and it snaps on and starts charging, no more removing the tracker from its strap to charge it up.

The Mi Band 5 is able to track 11 different exercises including treadmill runs, walking, outdoor runs, cycling, swimming, freestyle (weight training), elliptical, rowing machine, jump rope, indoor cycling, and Yoga. Outdoor activities will benefit from the connected GPS support which augments the Mi Band 5’s own measurements with the GPS from your smartphone. Naturally, with swim-tracking, the Mi Band 5 is waterproof, up to 50 meters, and it will even identify a variety of different strokes.

New health monitoring functionality found in the Android app includes women’s health features for menstrual cycle tracking and a personal activity index (PAI) that is a score between 1-100 based on your activity for the day something that we first saw on the Amazfit T-Rex from Huami.

The Mi Band 5 also includes a heart rate monitor and new for this model is an Sp02 sensor, both impressive in this price range. You choose the frequency of the heart rate monitoring and opting for continuous monitoring will decrease the battery life, but you can still expect to get about 10 days even with all of the options active.

Mi Band 5 can show a variety of notifications like incoming calls and SMS and you can choose to turn on app notifications individually if you have another messaging service or another app that you wish to be notified about immediately. Some other onboard features include remote music and camera controls for your phone and a find my phone option. 

While the basic black band that comes with it is both neutral and comfortable, there are already quite a few options from other companies for less than $15 and you can swap the core unit out in just seconds so switching it up for different occasions is quick and easy.

The Xiaomi Mi Band 5 isn’t going to be for everybody, it doesn’t support standalone music playback or standalone GPS, but for those that want to give wearables a try without spending a ton of money, this is an awesome option that ticks most of the boxes users really want from a wearable. And if $50 is too much then definitely take a look at the Xiaomi Mi Band 4, it’s around $25 now and while I think the upgrades are worth it for the Mi Band 5’s still reasonable price, you can still get about 80% of the features for half the price with the Mi Band 4.


Fitbit Inspire HR

Fitbit is virtually synonymous with fitness tracking and for good reason, the company has been putting out solid hardware and one of the best software experiences for about a decade now. While they have definitely stepped into the smartwatch territory with options like the Versa 2, the Versa Lite, and the Ionic, the company still has solid options in the true fitness tracker market like the Inspire line and the Charge line.

I’m going to concentrate on the Inspire HR as it is a more recent release than the Charge 3 and I think has a slightly more refined design, but most of what I will have to say also applies to the Charge so if you like the slightly wider look of it then, by all means, it’s a great option as well and only about a $20 price premium these days.

For those that took a look at the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 above, the basic look of the Inspire HR probably seems familiar, so beyond the brand name what makes it worth the extra roughly $60? The two biggest factors are going to be the overall look of the device and the Fitbit app.

Looking to the hardware first, the Inspire has a much sleeker design, the core unit clips into the band at the top and bottom rather than sliding in as it does with the Mi Band 4. This is also more secure, while I didn’t have a problem with the Mi Band 4 falling out of the band, it is at least a concern and of course, you can charge the Inspire HR without removing it from its band. 

And if you do want to swap out your original bands, there are dozens of options available for between $8 and $20 that will completely change the look of your Inspire HR for different occasions or use cases.

Battery life is still solid at 5 days, enough to at least cover a weekend away without your charger and of course the small size and battery life make the Inspire HR an excellent sleep tracker. The screen is a step down from the Mi Band 4 as it is a simple black and white OLED, while the color screen does make things a bit more interesting, this doesn’t obviously detract from the delivery of information on this small screen.

The Inspire HR features connected GPS that pairs with your phone to deliver superior tracking results outdoors. Fitbit also has its SmartTrack feature which does a solid job of recognizing your activity (cycling, swimming, running) without needing to trigger the tracking yourself. This is part of what makes Fitbit devices excellent fitness trackers as you just need to put them on and go about your day without managing about them. 

The Inspire HR also handles basic notifications like calls and texts and you can optionally turn on granular notifications for specific apps if you have another messaging client or any app that you always want to see notifications for immediately. 

Finally, there’s too much to cover about the Fitbit app, but this is a big selling point for Fitbit hardware as the app offers both a social network component if you know other people that use Fitbits as well as simply a very well thought out and fully featured app. It not only of course tracks all of your fitness and sleep activity and provides you with useful insights into these, but it can also track your caloric intake to help you with an overall diet plan. Women may appreciate the female health tracking features that Fitbit added a couple of years ago.


Samsung Galaxy Fit

Samsung offers yet another take on this slim wearable design with its Galaxy Fit, with a couple of additional tricks up its sleeve to separate it from the others. Available at around $99 the Galaxy Fit delivers a solid feature set, but you are paying up slightly for the brand and overall fit and finish of the wearable.

The Galaxy Fit is available in either all black or silver with a white band and while there aren’t quite as many options as for Mi Band 5 or Inspire HR, you can find several bands for around $10-$20 that can dress the Galaxy Fit up or add a bit more color to it.

The Galaxy Fit has a full-color AMOLED rectangular touchscreen display with the bands connecting to the core unit at the top and bottom as with the Inspire HR. The screen is always on, so none of the frustration of raising your wrist to see a blank screen and it still offers up to 7 days of battery life.

One nice extra is that you can not only receive call, text message and app notifications, but you can also create custom quick replies to send back if you can’t get your phone out immediately.

The Galaxy Fit is waterproof up to 50 meters and can track up to 90 activities and like the Fitbit Inspire HR it will automatically detect a number of common exercises so if you are just going out for a jog you don’t need to worry about triggering the workout on your Fit first.

The Galaxy Fit offers reliable heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking as well, again the small size and long battery life lend itself well to keeping the wearable on and benefiting from the data that is presented to you in the Samsung Health app.

While it doesn’t quite live up to the standards of the Fitbit app as far as a whole health tracking option, the Samsung Health app is also quite robust with support for food and water intake along and actually surpasses Fitbit in the fitness data department with features like speed, pace and cadence, and heart rate that may be of value to you depending on your fitness goals.


Garmin Vivosmart 4

While I normally associate Garmin with higher-end GPS smartwatches, the company has quietly offered one of the best lines of fitness trackers with the Vivosmart for years now. The current generation is the Vivosmart 4 and it comes in just below $100

The Vivosmart 4 is the lone option on this list that doesn’t let you swap out bands, so you are going to want to consider your color choice carefully, there are 4 options to choose from. (Midnight, Berry, Gray, and Azure Blue.) Thankfully this is again a thin and minimal design, so it won’t dominate your wrist regardless of the option you choose.

The Vivosmart 4 uses a black and white OLED display like the Inspire HR, at this size and given the information that is being displayed I don’t consider this to be a problem really, but the color screens of the Mi Band 4 or Galaxy Fit will be preferable to some. Battery life is on par with the Galaxy Fit at 7 days on a charge.

One of the big differentiators for the Vivosmart 4 is the Pulse Ox sensor in addition to the more traditional heart rate sensor. This can provide more useful data regarding how your body is handling exercise as well as provide useful data regarding the quality of your sleep. Garmin uses this data to produce a Body Battery score that is meant to give you an idea of when to exercise versus when you should be perhaps trying to recover energy.

The Vivosmart 4 supports text, call, and app notifications and like the Galaxy Fit you can customize some quick replies if you are unable to access your smartphone. 

Fitness tracking is solid with a number of activities that will be automatically recognized and tracked by Move IQ, such as walking, swimming, cycling, running or elliptical training and a number of other activities that can be triggered manually. Those that are into weight training may be particularly interested in the Vivosmart 4 as it will give you estimates on exercises, reps, sets and both work and rest times while lifting. 

Like Fitbit the Garmin Connect app encourages a social component to share and compete against your fellow Garmin Connect users, so if you already know some Garmin users that may be a factor for you.


Amazfit T-Rex by Huami

If you want the smartwatch look, but prefer the feature set and pricing of a fitness tracker then you should consider the Amazfit T-Rex by Huami. It’s a bit more expensive than the other options here at around $139, but it delivers a few extras that will justify the cost for some.

You can read my full review of the Amazfit T-Rex for a deeper dive on all of its features, but I’ll hit the highlights of this rugged fitness tracker in a smartwatch body.

While the Amazfit T-Rex is shockingly light, it is also incredibly rugged, with the raised exterior around the display protecting it from damage even while doing activities that would be hazardous to some of the more exposed display designs of the other fitness trackers like rock climbing or mountain biking.

It is also better suited to sports where using a touchscreen isn’t ideal such as swimming or gloved sports as you can opt to use the four physical buttons to navigate the UI and start and stop activities without fail.

The Amazfit T-Rex also supports tracking of up to 13 different activities and is one of the few fitness trackers at this price point to include standalone GPS, meaning that you don’t have to have your phone along to get a GPS lock or will at a minimum avoid the additional battery drain on your phone of using connected GPS.

Battery life is going to vary significant depending on your usage, particularly the standalone GPS and heart rate tracking. I got about six days with my daily 5K run being tracked by GPS, if you are more sparing with the GPS usage it is possible to get up to 20 days on a charge and if you just want to keep it running you can drop into a low power mode that just tells the time and tracks your steps which will run for days with minimal battery drain.

The Amazfit T-Rex is available in a variety of colors including black, army green, camo green, khaki, and gun gray. The default band is honestly one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn, but it uses a traditional watch strap connector so if you did want to swap it out that would be possible too.

Again for those that want a little more functionality or those that just appreciate the smartwatch look the Amazfit T-Rex is an excellent option.


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