What is a Fitbit? For beginners. Best Fitbit to buy in 2023.

If you’ve ever scratched your head and mused, “Fitbit? Is that some sort of digital flea collar for fitness junkies?”—you’re not alone, and you’re definitely in the right place. This article is your golden ticket to the Fitbit universe, a realm where wearable tech doesn’t just count your steps; it practically takes a snapshot of your soul—well, your physical health, at least. We’re diving deep into the nitty-gritty of what makes Fitbit the Swiss Army knife of health tracking, from counting your midnight fridge raids to decoding your REM cycles.

For the tech-savvy among us, it’s easy to forget that terms like “photoplethysmography” and “caloric expenditure” might as well be ancient Aramaic to the uninitiated. So, if you’re just dipping your toes into the ocean of wearables and health metrics, consider this article your friendly neighborhood lifeguard. But if you’re already swimming laps around the deep end of wearable tech, feel free to skip ahead to the high-dive platform for articles on more advanced explorations.

Jump to

Why Fitbit matters in the wearable tech landscape
How Fitbit trackers work: Features and functionalities
How accurate is Fitbit?
Fitbit free vs premium
The best Fitbit models out there: A guide to the latest generation

Why Fitbit matters in the wearable tech landscape

The rise of Fitbit in the field of wearable technology has been nothing short of amazing. The 2007-founded business is frequently recognised as a pioneer in the field of activity trackers.

The San Francisco-based outfit launched its first device, the Fitbit Classic, in 2009, which was a game-changer in the way it allowed users to monitor their physical activities. Unlike traditional pedometers, the Fitbit Classic offered a more comprehensive set of features, including tracking steps, distance, and calories burned, all while syncing data to a computer. This was a significant departure from the limited capabilities of existing health tracking devices at the time.

Fitbit has expanded its product lineup by innovating continuously over the years. Characterised by long battery life, they include smartwatches, sleep trackers, and even devices with heart rate monitoring capabilities. Its early entry and consistent innovation in the market have set industry standards and have made it a reference point in discussions about wearable health technology.

Within the market for wearable technology, Fitbit has successfully carved out a sizable niche. Whether you’re a beginner in fitness or an experienced athlete, its selection of devices has something for you.

Google acquisition – a significant milestone

Fitbit’s acquisition by Google in January 2021 represented a pivotal turning point in the history of the wearables company. In the health and fitness tracking market, where the tech giant had previously lagged behind rivals like Apple and Samsung, this move was seen as its strategic entry.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

The deal, which was worth about $2.1 billion, gave Google access to Fitbit’s extensive user database and cutting-edge health monitoring algorithms in addition to giving it a well-known brand in the health tracking industry. Although the agreement raised some privacy and antitrust concerns, it also created new opportunities for integrating Fitbit’s hardware with Google’s software, including its Google Assistant and Google Health services. The merger is expected to accelerate innovation and offer users more comprehensive health and wellness features in future Fitbit devices.

For now it seems business as usual. Fitbit is still churning out devices, the change being that the search giant has joined it with its Google Pixel Watch – which is now on its second generation. That timepiece aims to eat into the market share of well-known gadgets like the Apple Watch.

How Fitbit trackers work: Features and functionalities

If you’ve ever wondered how a small device strapped to your wrist can provide such a wealth of information about your health, you’re about to find out. Fitbit trackers are equipped with an array of sensors and algorithms designed to monitor various aspects of your physical well-being. 

It’s important to note, you can’t use a Fitbit device on its own. It needs to be used in conjunction with the Fitbit app. That software sits on your Android or iOS phone. The stats from the device on your wrist sync to the smartphone via Bluetooth or WiFi. As this information sits in the cloud, you can also access it from the company’s website dashboard.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the key features and functionalities that make Fitbit a comprehensive health tracking tool. The most complex devices go beyond these and measure advanced stats such as stress levels, blood oxygen, recovery status, skin temperature and even ECG. But in this article, we are talking about the basics.

Motion sensing

At the core of any Fitbit device is its ability to track motion. Utilizing a 3-axis accelerometer, Fitbit devices can measure your movements in every direction. This data is then processed to calculate the number of steps you’ve taken, along with the distance you’ve traveled. Some devices also have an altimeter which allows them to count the floors you’ve climbed.

Caloric expenditure

Fitbit goes beyond just tracking movement; it also estimates how many calories you’ve burned throughout the day. By combining motion data with personal information like age, weight, and height, Fitbit provides a picture of your caloric expenditure.

Heart rate monitoring

All of the recent crop of Fitbit models come with built-in optical heart rate monitors. These sensors use photoplethysmography to measure the volume of blood flowing through your wrist, thereby calculating your heart rate. This feature is invaluable for assessing your cardiovascular health and optimizing your workouts. Often, the sensor is also used to estimate your blood oxygen levels.

Sleep tracking

Understanding the quality of your sleep is another area where Fitbit excels. Using a combination of motion sensing and heart rate monitoring, Fitbit devices can analyze your sleep cycles, including the time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep. This data is crucial for identifying sleep patterns and potential issues. Fitbit devices will even track naps.

GPS functionality

Some Fitbit models come with built-in GPS or connected GPS features. This is particularly useful for outdoor activities like running or cycling, where you may want to track your route, distance, and pace in real-time.

Smartphone notifications

While Fitbit’s primary focus is on health and fitness, many models offer smart notifications as well. These include call, text, and calendar alerts, making it easier for you to stay connected without constantly checking your phone.

Contactless payments

NFC (Near Field Communication) technology in Fitbit devices serves as the backbone for Fitbit Pay, allowing users to make secure, contactless payments right from their wrist. This feature, on some devices, integrates with Google Wallet. Thus offering an added layer of convenience. By simply holding your Fitbit near a compatible payment terminal, you can complete transactions without reaching for your phone or wallet.

Water resistance

Most Fitbit devices are water-resistant to some extent, allowing you to track activities like swimming. Previously, such models were few and far between. But now it has become standard. However, it’s essential to check the specific water resistance rating of your model before taking the plunge.

How accurate is Fitbit?

When it comes to health and fitness tracking, accuracy is a critical factor. After all, the insights you gain from your device can directly influence your lifestyle choices and health goals. Fitbit, being a pioneer in the wearable tech industry, has invested heavily in ensuring its devices offer reliable data. However, it’s essential to understand the limitations and variables that can affect the accuracy of these metrics.

Step counting

Fitbit’s step-counting feature is generally reliable, thanks to its advanced 3-axis accelerometer. However, the device may sometimes misinterpret other hand movements as steps. It’s advisable to cross-reference your daily step count with another tracking method if extreme accuracy is required.

Caloric expenditure

Although Fitbit provides a reasonable estimate of calories burned, it’s not 100% accurate. As mentioned, the device uses an algorithm that combines your motion data with personal information like age, weight, and height. External factors like metabolism rate, which Fitbit doesn’t account for, can also influence caloric burn.

Heart rate monitoring

Fitbit’s optical heart rate monitors use photoplethysmography to measure blood flow. While generally accurate for steady-state activities like jogging, the readings may be less reliable during high-intensity interval training or activities that involve significant wrist movement.

Sleep tracking

The introduction of sleep tracking features began with the Fitbit Ultra in 2011. Initially providing basic insights into sleep duration and patterns, Fitbit’s technology has evolved to incorporate sleep stages, sleep score, and other advanced metrics. The company’s sleep tracking is among its more accurate features, as indicated by these studies. However, it’s worth noting that these types of readings are not medical-grade and should not replace professional medical advice.

GPS accuracy

For models with built-in or connected GPS, the location tracking is usually accurate within a small margin of error. However, the accuracy can be affected by environmental factors like tall buildings or dense foliage.

Fitbit free vs premium

Fitbit offers both free and Premium subscription options, each catering to different user needs and expectations. The free version provides a solid foundation for health and fitness tracking, offering features like step counting, sleep analysis, and basic heart rate monitoring. In fact, for most people the free version will suffice. You’ll also get access to exercise summaries and can participate in challenges with friends, making it a robust choice for those who want essential tracking capabilities without any financial commitment.

On the other hand, Fitbit Premium takes your health tracking to the next level. For a monthly or annual fee, you gain access to a host of advanced features, including personalised insights, guided programs, longer trend analytics, and even one-on-one consultations with health coaches. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive and personalized health tracking experience, the Premium subscription is worth considering. It currently runs at $9.99 each month (or $79.99 for an annual subscription).

The best Fitbit models out there – a guide to the latest generation

Fitbit’s product line has evolved significantly since its inception, offering a range of devices to suit various needs and lifestyles. The latest generation includes some of the most advanced wearables in the market, each with its unique set of features and functionalities. You can consider these the best Fitbits out there.

Sense 2 (view on Amazon)

The Sense 2 is the most advanced Fitbit smartwatch, geared towards those who want a comprehensive health monitoring system. It comes with features like the ECG app, skin temperature tracking, and stress management tools via an EDA sensor (electrodermal activity sensor), in addition to all the basics. This makes it a holistic health companion.

Fitbit Sense 2
Fitbit Sense 2

Fitbit Versa 4 (view on Amazon)

The Versa 4 is another smartwatch offering but focuses more on core fitness tracking features. While it lacks some of the advanced health metrics found in the Sense 2, it’s a versatile option for those who want a balance between fitness tracking, smartwatch capabilities and good value for money.

Fitbit Versa 4
Fitbit Versa 4

Fitbit Charge 6 (view on Amazon)

The Charge 6 is a fitness tracker that offers a slim design without compromising on features. It includes a built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, and even a color touchscreen. It’s an excellent choice for those who want robust tracking capabilities in a more discreet form factor. Think of it as a Sense 2, with most of its health and fitness tracking functionalities, but in the form of an activity band instead of a smartwatch.

Fitbit Charge 6
Fitbit Charge 6

Fitbit Inspire 3 (view on Amazon)

The Inspire 3 is Fitbit’s entry-level tracker, designed for users who want basic health monitoring without the bells and whistles. It offers essential features like step counting, sleep tracking, and basic heart rate monitoring, making it an affordable option for fitness tracking newcomers.

Fitbit Inspire 3
Fitbit Inspire 3

Fitbit Luxe (view on Amazon)

The Fitbit Luxe is the brand’s foray into the world of fashion-forward fitness tracking. Don’t let its sleek and elegant design fool you; this device is more than just a pretty face. It comes packed with essential health monitoring features like stress management, sleep tracking, and heart rate monitoring. The device offers a chic alternative to more utilitarian wearables.

Fitbit Luxe
Fitbit Luxe

Fitness devices for kids

Fitbit hasn’t forgotten about the younger generation. They offer devices like the Fitbit Ace series (view on Amazon), designed specifically for children. These wearables focus on encouraging physical activity and healthy habits from a young age, offering features like step counting and sleep tracking in a kid-friendly design.

By offering a diverse range of models, Fitbit ensures that there’s a device for everyone, whether you’re a health-conscious individual looking for advanced metrics or a parent wanting to instill healthy habits in your children.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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