How to Pick the Perfect Fitness Watch for the Athlete in Your Life

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Photo: Rich Fury (Getty Images for Fitbit)

A fitness watch is a natural gift for the fitness-minded person in your life, but picking one out can be tricky. Here are some guidelines for which type of athlete tends to prefer which type of watch.

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Fitbits Are Good All-Around Fitness Watches

If you don’t know what to get, there’s a good chance your fitness-minded friend will be happy with a Fitbit. The company makes a range of watches from the $99 Alta to the $269 Ionic, making them the most budget-friendly ones in this guide.

  • The Alta tracks workouts, steps, and sleep, and has a simplified display that shows the time or a single workout metric. The Alta HR also reads heart rate.
  • The Charge 3 has more information on its display, and can track multiple sports including swimming.
  • The Versa has a larger, color display, and behaves like a smartwatch, with more things to tap and swipe. It can also run apps from Fitbit’s app store. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly or Android-friendly alternative to the Apple Watch, the Versa is it.
  • The Ionic can do everything the Versa can, but it also has GPS, which allows for more accurate tracking of distance-based workouts like running and cycling.

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Fitbit also has a community associated with the app, where people can chat and challenge each other. If your fitness-minded friend loves the social aspect, that’s something to consider.

The Apple Watch Does More Than Just Fitness

If the exerciser in your life loves their iPhone and wants something slick to wear around all day, the Apple Watch ($399 and up) is a perfect match. It can track nearly any type of workout, as well as sleep, and it keeps tabs on your steps and heart rate as well. It has GPS and can store music, and the LTE version ($100 more) can make calls and texts even without a phone nearby.

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Unlike the Fitbits, the Apple Watch needs to charge once a day. But its strength is that it works so well for things other than fitness. It’s got Siri (or Alexa), and plenty of your favorite iPhone apps have an Apple Watch companion.

Runners Love Garmins

For casual running, any smart watch can track steps and estimate mileage. But runners who are obsessed with stats tend to prefer the more specialized Garmin watches.

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Garmins also have physical buttons, making it possible to get precise timing for intervals or races. Touchscreens are fussy and unreliable when you’re just trying to press the lap button…wait for it…now.

Garmins have GPS built in, and they tend to track and display more running-related numbers than other fitness watches. The Forerunner series is popular, with the 235 listed at $249. Besides distance and pace, it tracks cadence, heart rate, and some more specialized metrics like “training effect” and recommended recovery.

The Fenix series is the top of the line, with a base model 5S running $699 on Garmin’s website. (You can pay more for a sapphire scratch-proof face, or a blood oxygen saturation sensor.) The Fenix can also load up topographic maps and help you navigate while you run. On the other end of the spectrum, the Vivoactive series is cheaper but still has most of the features runners love.

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