Buying Guide: Smartwatch vs Fitness trackers

What’s the difference and what to consider when getting one?

The wearables genre exploded the tech scene a few years ago. Kickstarter poster boy Pebble probably started the trend when its first smartwatch garnered over US$10 million in funding on the crowdfunding site back in 2012. 

At the same time, fitness trackers also grew in popularity helped by celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, wearing the likes of Jawbone Up. 

But what’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker?

SMARTWATCH

A smartwatch is basically a wristwatch that alerts you when you have an incoming call, an email, a WhatsApp message or an upcoming appointment. 

Most smartwatches these days also allow you to control your music player or check e-mail messages with their touchscreen displays. Some smartwatch even lets you answer calls. 

These functions are available only when the smartwatch is paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. In addition, smartwatches tend to be more expensive as they are made of more premium materials, such as stainless steel, leather and in some cases, gold. 

FITNESS TRACKER

On the other hand, a fitness tracker is a wristband that uses motion sensing like accelerometer and gyroscope to measure motion, such as steps taken, calculate calories burned and monitor sleep patterns. Some can even track your heart rate all-day.

Compared to apps that use GPS or smartphones with built-in accelerometer, a fitness tracker is more accurate as it is worn on your wrist instead of a smartphone tugged inside your pocket.

These fitness trackers use Bluetooth to sync with your smartphones thereby allowing you to upload and display fitness data for tracking fitness activities goals. 

In addition, fitness trackers tend to be less expensive and more lightweight as they are more likely to be made of plastic and rubber. They also have longer battery life due to the fact they do not need to be paired to your smartphone all the time.

CONVERGENCE

However, the functions of both smartwatch and fitness are beginning to converge. For example, smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S2 are able to track your steps taken, calories burned and heart rate. 

To add to the confusion, fitness trackers too are beginning to adopt “smart” features of smartwatches. For instance, the Fitbit Surge provides all-day fitness tracking. But it is also able to notify you of incoming calls and text messages as well as controlling songs on your smartphone. 

SO WHAT TO CONSIDER?

It is really up to you whether you want a smartwatch with fitness tracking features or a fitness tracker with smartwatch functions. 

But there are some factors to consider. First, price. How much are you willing to pay? 

As mentioned earlier, fitness trackers tend to be cheaper. For example, if you need a no-frills fitness tracker, you can get a Xiaomi Mi Band for only $20. But if you want more functionalities and beauty, you can opt for a Jawbone Up3 that will cost you $309. 

It is the same for smartwatches. A decent entry-level Android Wear smartwatch Asus ZenWatch 2 will cost you only $229, whereas the second-generation Moto 360 Android Wear smartwatch will set you back at least $479. 

Second factor to consider is looks. Admit it, as it is going to be worn on your wrist, it has to look good. 

Wearing a plastic digital watch-looking to a high-class restaurant for dinner is going to raise some eyebrows. 

The Pebble Time is going to scream geek when you enter a room, but wear a Huawei Watch and you might get compliments. 

The Jawbone Up2 and Up3 fitness trackers look more like fashion bracelets than gadgets, compared to the likes of MiBand and Fitbits.

Third factor to think about is functionality. The Asus ZenWatch 2 and Xiaomi Mi Band might be affordable, but they do not have a heart rate monitor. And if you want all the bells and whistles like what you can find in Samsung Gear S2, you must be prepared to pay for it. 

At the end of the day, it boils down to what you really want. Do you need just a fitness tracker to monitor your physical activities or a smartwatch for notifications? 

Lastly, it is about battery life. Are you okay to be charging your smartwatch every day, as in the case of Apple Watch? Or do you want a smartwatch that lasts a week, like the Pebble Time? 

It is less of a concern with fitness trackers, as some of them can last as long as a year. But some fitness trackers can only last around 4 to 5 days. So, it really depends on how frequent you are willing to charge your devices.

So, consider the price, looks, functionalities and battery life of the fitness tracker or smartwatch you are interested before finally making the decision. 

Happy Shopping!