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Wearable Tech

How to choose the best Fitbit for you

Can't decide which fitness tracker to buy? Read this.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fitbit has become synonymous with "fitness tracker," and for good reason. The health and fitness company currently offers eight devices for tracking steps and calories, and it continues to dominate sales (the Apple Watch is a strong No. 2). There's also the Fitbit Aria, a smart scale that integrates with other Fitbit trackers.

Editors' note (August 29, 2016): Fitbit has just announced new fitness trackers and software updates. The Flex 2 replaces the original Flex; the Charge 2 replaces the Charge HR; and the Blaze is getting some significant software updates. We'll update this story once we've reviewed all the new products and updates.

Why get a Fitbit at all?

The main reason to buy a Fitbit isn't for the device. It's for the software. The Fitbit app for Android and iOS is one of the easiest to use. It has the largest social base, so you can compete with friends and family members, and syncs with a variety of other services. The app also supports multiple tracker and can automatically detect when you swap from one device to another.

The best part is that you can test-drive the Fitbit app without buying any new hardware. The free app can be downloaded to your iPhone or Android phone, and can track steps, distance and calories burned. (Some older and lower-end Android phones aren't supported.)

If you decide to take the Fitbit plunge, there's just one problem: choosing among the eight models that the company offers (including some that are years old). It's confusing at first, but we've created this handy cheat sheet to help.

Now Playing: Watch this: Picking the Fitbit that's right for you
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Fitbit Zip

Price: $60, £50, AU$80

First released: September 2012

Fitbit Zip
Sarah Tew/CNET

Good:

  • The Zip is a good entry-level tracker that you clip to your belt, pocket or bra.
  • It can track steps, distance and calories burned.
  • The battery doesn't require charging and will last up to six months.

Bad:

  • It doesn't include sleep tracking.

The bottom line: The cheapest option in the Fitbit universe. Good basics for the price.

Fitbit One

Price: $100, £80, AU$130

First released: September 2012

The bottom line: Skip it! While the One adds sleep tracking, it's simply too old model and too expensive for what it does. Buy a Fitbit Alta or Charge HR instead.

Fitbit Flex

Price: $100, £80, AU$130

First released: May 2013

The bottom line: Skip it! The Flex is an old model, and not worth the money even if it's discounted. Buy a Fitbit Alta or Charge HR instead.

Fitbit Charge

Price: $130, £100, AU$170

First released: November 2014

The bottom line: Skip it! The Charge has been replaced by the Alta. If you can't find it deeply discounted (under $50), buy the Alta or Charge HR instead.

Fitbit Alta

Price: $130, £100, AU$200

First released: March 2016

fitbit-alta-06.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Good:

  • The Alta is a slim and stylish wrist-worn tracker.
  • The band is swappable and there are multiple options and colors to choose from, including rubber, leather and even a metal bangle.
  • Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and sleep.
  • Includes vibration to gently wake you up in the morning.
  • Has a unique "Move" notifier to keep you active throughout the day.
  • Can display basic smartphone notifications (text messages, caller ID, calendar alerts) from an Android phone or iPhone.
  • It can automatically recognize and record runs, rides, walks and other workouts.
  • More than five days of battery life.

Bad:

  • The extra straps are expensive.
  • There's no heart rate sensor.
  • Not shower- or swim-friendly.

The bottom line: If you don't need heart rate tracking, it's the best all-around Fitbit, and the most stylish, too.

Fitbit Charge HR

Price: $150, £120, AU$230

First released: January 2015

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good:

  • The Charge HR features an optical heart rate sensor that can provide better estimates on sleep and calorie burn.
  • It can track steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes and sleep.
  • Has vibration for a silent alarm feature.
  • Can display caller ID information for incoming calls (when Android or iOS device is connected).
  • Includes a stopwatch.
  • Features a traditional watch buckle so it is less likely to fall off your wrist.
  • Five-day battery life.
  • It can automatically recognize and record runs, rides, walks and other workouts.

Bad:

  • It's bulky.
  • Heart rate data not as accurate when working out.
  • Not shower- or swim-friendly.

The bottom line: If you can live with a somewhat outdated design, it's arguably the best all-around Fitbit. But this model might get an upgrade or a replacement sometime this year. Be sure to shop around for the best price. Amazon and other retailers frequently offer the Charge HR for less than its $150 MSRP.

Fitbit Blaze

Price: $200, £160, AU$329

First released: February 2016

fd-fitbit-blaze-01.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Good:

  • The Blaze is a stylish smartwatch for active consumers.
  • It features an optical heart rate sensor and track steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed and sleep.
  • There's vibration for a silent alarm feature.
  • You can swap out the band for a new one.
  • It has a color display and easy-to-read smartphone alerts for text messages, incoming calls and calendar alerts. There's also a selection of on-screen workouts from FitStar.
  • It can automatically recognize and record runs, rides, walks and other workouts.
  • Five days of battery life.

Bad:

  • There's no built-in GPS for running.
  • You have to pop the entire watch out of the strap to charge it.
  • You can't wear it in the shower or while swimming.

The Bottom Line: Despite some caveats -- most notably, the awkward "pop out and charge" design -- the Blaze is a great compromise between a smartwatch and fitness tracker. If you like a larger watch design, go for it.

Fitbit Surge

Price: $250, £200, AU$400

First released: October 2014

fitbit-surge-product-photos-01.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Good:

  • The Surge has built-in GPS to measure pace and distance when running.
  • It features an optical heart rate sensor and track steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed and sleep.
  • There's vibration for a silent alarm feature.
  • It can display notifications for text messages and incoming calls from your Android or iOS device.
  • It can automatically recognize and record runs, rides, walks and other workouts.
  • Seven days of battery life.

Bad:

  • Big and bulky design.
  • Low-res and small display.
  • Lacking more advanced running features (interval workouts and auto pause).
  • The heart rate data isn't as accurate when working out.
  • You can't wear it in the shower or while swimming.

The bottom line: The only GPS-capable Fitbit isn't as distinctive as it was a year ago. While it will appeal to casual runners, the Garmin Forerunner 230 or Forerunner 235 should also be considered.

Other trackers to consider instead of a Fitbit