Best budget fitness tracker: Fitbit Inspire HR or Mi Band 4?

We find out if the cheaper Mi Band 4 can keep up with the fancy Fitbit.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
4 min read

Fitbit has long been the king of fitness trackers with bands like the Inspire HR, but there's no shortage of wearables looking to take the crown, such as the Samsung Galaxy Fit and Garmin Vivosmart. They can track your steps, monitor heart rate and keep an eye on your fitness, plus have smart features like getting notifications from your phone. All these fitness trackers cost between $80 and $100, but  Xiaomi's new Mi Band 4 is significantly cheaper -- it's around $35 in the US from Amazon or Walmart -- and shares many similar features. So which is the best budget fitness tracker?

To find out if the cheaper Mi Band 4 can keep up with its higher-end rivals, I wore it alongside the Fitbit Inspire HR for two weeks. (Note that Fitbit just launched the Versa 2, a new smartwatch with Alexa. We're yet to fully test it.) Find the full review in the video above and read on for the abridged version.

Fitbit Inspire HR vs. Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Fitbit Inspire HRXiaomi Mi Band 4
Display Monochrome OLED touchscreenColor AMOLED touchscreen
Heart-rate tracker Yes (24/7 monitoring)Yes (24/7 monitoring)
App and call notifications YesYes
Water resistance Up to 50mUp to 50m
Battery Up to 5 daysUp to 20 days
Sleep tracking YesYes
Female health tracking YesNo
Price (USD, GBP, AUD) $80, £83, AU$180$35, £40, AU$59

Angela Lang/CNET

Fitness and health tracking: Advantage Fitbit

Where the Fitbit really shines is exercise tracking. There are 15 activity types ranging from kickboxing to Pilates to swimming , although you can only have six of them active on the band at any one time. The Mi Band 4 only has six activity types total -- running, treadmill, cycling, walking, pool swimming and a generic "exercise" type you can choose if your workout doesn't fall within any of the existing categories.

For step tracking, I felt the Fitbit overestimated my effort slightly and I could game the system with arm movements (case in point: chair dancing made me hit 10,000 steps one day) when I had only got around 8,700 on the Mi Band. But heart rate tracking during exercise, such as my outdoor run, was fairly consistent between both trackers. Average and maximum heart rate readings were within a few beats per minute of each other. 

Neither one has built in GPS which means you will need to take your phone with you for outdoor exercises. But only the Fitbit has automatic workout detection in case you forget to start your workout on the tracker.

I wore both trackers to bed for several nights and found the Fitbit was far more accurate in reading my sleep patterns. One night, I remembered I was awake for what seemed like an eternity. The Fitbit said I had been awake for an hour, while the Mi Band said I had 0 minutes of awake time.

Fitbit's app is also a lot nicer than the Mi Fit app and the data is much easier to interpret than the Mi Fit app when it comes to heart rate zones. The Fitbit app tells you if you're in areas like fat burn or cardio after you've finished an activity, so you know how hard you worked. The Mi Fit app has heart rate zones as well, but for me it was easier to understand what fat burn meant, rather than anaerobic or VO2 max.

The Fitbit is the only one that can monitor women's health through menstrual tracking.

Angela Lang/CNET

Mi Band 4 wins on smart features

For those looking for smartwatch-like features, the Mi Band has more to offer. For starters, it allows you to play back your music by swiping across from the main screen. There are also plenty of watch faces to choose from, including a myriad of third-party options, while the Fitbit is limited to about 15 in the app.

The screen itself is much nicer, too. The Mi Band has a color AMOLED display with adjustable  brightness. The Inspire HR has a monochrome OLED screen which is hard to see in bright, outdoor situations like when I was on my run. I also found it easier to interpret my workout data faster on the Mi Band because it shows distance and pace on the main screen rather than having to flick through different screens to find it on the Fitbit.

That said, the Mi Band 4 did give me intermittent issues with raise to wake; sometimes it would take a good second for the time to display on the watch when I moved my wrist, other times it wouldn't detect at all. The Fitbit was a lot more reliable. 

Both can mirror notifications from your phone, although you won't be able to respond to them (except for rejecting a call on the Mi Band 4).

The Fitbit is only officially rated to give up to five days battery, but I ended up getting about a week's worth of use, which was a nice bonus. That said, it was no match for the Mi Band 4. I got two-and-a-half weeks out of it before I had to give it a charge.  

To find out which fitness tracker got my vote in the end, watch the video above.

Originally published Aug. 20.

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