The best fitness tracker under £100: get a step counter and sleep tracker for less

Put down the pie and step away from that couch: your new year's resolution must NOT fail

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Ah, fitness trackers. As you probably know, T3 already has a buying guide to these wrist-mounted personal trainers, and also one dedicated to their more advanced cousin, the running watch. But it's January and many people may be in need of more basic motivation than knowing what their VO2 Max or running cadence are.

What we have here is a more simple, affordable breed of fitness tracker; one aimed at those who want to be active, count steps, track sleep and otherwise just sit there, so people can go, "Oh, I see you like to count your steps and track your sleep. How are you finding it?"

What is the best step counting fitness tracker for under £100?

If you're looking to go just under a ton, the Fitbit Alta HR is your best choice by a mile. It's super slim and light, reasonably attractive as such things go, with a good spread of case and strap options, including from third parties. I'd suggest it is aimed more at women, broadly speaking, but there are some more 'masculine' colour choices.

Further down the expense scale I'd normally say Garmin Vivofit 3, with its all-year battery life, is probably your best bet. However, the slightly improved Vivofit 4 is appearing at some point in the next few months, so maybe hang on for that…

How to shop for the best fitness tracker under £100

Look up fitness trackers on Amazon and you'll see this is a tough area to do business in. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of low-cost trackers from brands that you've never heard of, and they all look suspiciously similar to each other (and to specific Fitbit and Garmin devices in some cases).

I've gone for slightly more 'known' brands here but if literally all you want is to count your steps and see how many hours of sleep you are getting, you could easily pay £20-£30 for one of the no-name devices. It's just everyone will think you're a skank, and it'll probably break.

The bigger brands offer sexier designs, more motivational features, social sharing of your progress to fitness and, you'd hope, better build quality, software updates and customer service. 

These devices are largely for counting steps and tracking sleep. They should be used as a guide only – the step count estimates tend to be a little inaccurate, and where they offer estimates of calories burned, I'd take them with a big pinch of salt. I definitely wouldn't use them as the basis of a weight-loss programme.

Some of the pricier ones add a bit of exercise tracking as well (logging runs, bike rides and so on). That's potentially very handy, but I'd recommend more of a 'proper' fitness tracking device (see links above) if that is to be a big focus of yours.

Probably the most important thing with everyday fitness trackers like this is that they're properly wearable. For that reason, I've included a few 'hybrid watches' – they look like watches, but they count steps like a fitness tracker. There are dozens of such hybrids available but unfortunately, most are well over £100, as they're sold as watches first and fitness devices second.

The best fitness trackers under £100, in order

1. Fitbit Alta HR

The best fitness tracker under £100 (albeit only just under £100)

Specifications
Battery life: 7 days
Notifications: Yes
Sleep tracking: Yes
Additional features: Heart-rate monitoring, auto-logging of workouts and runs
Reasons to buy
+Slim and stylish+Decent cardio tracking+Excellent app
Reasons to avoid
-Only just under £100
Today's best Fitbit Alta HR deals

More like a slimmed-down Fitbit Charge 2 than a standard step counter, this is a stylish choice that does the step 'n' sleep-tracking basics really well. You can set your daily goals, see your progress on the watch itself or on the attractive and well thought-through app, share your steppin' prowess with friends and even take them on in step challenges. The Alta also gives hourly reminders to be active (quite annoying, in my opinion, but whatever; you can turn them off).

For those who want more, the heart-rate tracker monitors your pulse all day and during exercise. To be honest, I would go for a larger and more advanced tracker if you want reliable cardio information during and after workouts, but for casual use it's surprisingly good.

The heart-rate sensor also allows you to glean more detailed analysis of your sleep, with your night broken down into deep, light and REM (dreaming) phases.

You can also get this, the Fitbit Alta. As the absence of the HR suffix in the name suggests, this lacks heart-rate tracking. As it's usually only about 15 quid cheaper than the Alta HR, I can't see why you'd bother with it personally, but if you can find it going cheap, it's a similarly well-made device, with fewer frills that you might not want.

2. Nokia Steel

The best hybrid watch fitness tracker under £100

Specifications
Battery life: 6 months
Notifications: No
Sleep tracking: Yes
Additional features: Auto-logging of swims and runs
Reasons to buy
+A good looking, practical watch+Clear steps progress indicator+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Feels a bit cheap-Annoying bugs

This is just very wearable, which is an important trait in a wearable, and it runs on a watch battery for six months, so hassle from that direction is minimal. Nokia's Steel (the watch formerly known as the Withings Activité Steel) counts steps, tracks sleep and logs the distance of your running and swimming jaunts – it's waterproof to 50m. Okay, it doesn't log them very accurately, but it has a go.

As such, it's a perfect all-day, basic tracker. The sleep monitoring has a second use, which is that its 'smart' alarm will try to vibrate you awake during a lighter passage of your sleep. The problem there is that you'd need to be a pretty light sleeper in general to be awoken by its feeble buzz. As a result, I couldn't say I ever noticed the benefit of this exactly, but it's a neat idea.

On the down side, although it looks perfectly pleasant, the Steel feels a bit cheap. But then again, it is cheap. The screen is not sapphire glass, so be a bit careful with it. 

More seriously, syncing with the Nokia Health app can be a massive pain in the butt. There are also no smartphone message notifications, even though we know it can vibrate. Oh well.  

3. Garmin Vivofit 3

The best fitness tracker for battery life

Specifications
Battery life: 1 year+
Notifications: No
Sleep tracking: Yes
Additional features: Auto-logging of workouts and runs
Reasons to buy
+Cheap yet capable
Reasons to avoid
-Not the sexiest thing-About to be replaced

Garmin's Vivofit 3 looks like a bag of arse, but it also blends most of the Alta HR's functionality with the long battery life of the Nokia Steel (it's even longer in fact, with over a year possible). 

As well as step and sleep counting, with suitably irritating orders to get moving if it feels you've been chilling for too long, the Vivofit 3, like the Alta HR, detects and logs more vigorous workouts, logging them as 'Intensity minutes'. This works about as well as on the Alta, which is to say about 70-80% of the time.

Due to the lack of a heart-rate sensor, workout and sleep tracking are generally less useful and in-depth than on the Alta HR. Garmin's app is also not a patch on Fitbit's, and can be highly irritating to sync with. 

The real problem with the Vivofit 3, however, is that it neither looks nor feels terribly attractive. Wear it with long sleeves.

4. Misfit Shine 2

Best fitness tracker under £50

Specifications
Battery life: 6 months
Notifications: Yes
Sleep tracking: Yes
Additional features: 'Smart button' controls your Hue lights and other smart home stuff
Reasons to buy
+Quite a cool design+Surprisingly accurate
Reasons to avoid
-Feels, understandably, rather cheap

A more stylish, dare I say 'cool' cousin to the Nokia Steel, this tells the time (well, more or less – the LEDs on the face come on one by one as the hours pass) and counts steps – surprisingly accurately, in fact – and 'tracks sleep' by logging your nocturnal movements. It also vibrates when you have calls and messages, or to alert you to move after too long a period of loafing about.   

You control the Shine 2's limited functions by pressing its screen. Interestingly, this can also be set to activate your phone camera or trigger a smart home device.

There are actually two versions of the Misfit Shine 2. The 'Swimmer's Edition' is £20 more and lets you log swims by triple pressing the screen. Actually, you can log any activity,  but it just serves as a stopwatch for cycling, running and so on. When swimming, it logs laps, if you enter the pool length into the app.

True story: my mum had one of these and the screen eventually popped out of its strap – this is a fairly notorious flaw – and was lost. A year later she found it buried in her onion patch and it still worked! The lesson being: the strap design is terrible, but the Misfit overall is better made than it looks. It's waterproof to 50m.

5. Fitbit Flex 2

Best fitness band for step counting

Specifications
Battery life: 1 year+
Notifications: Yes
Sleep tracking: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very discreet+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-Only 5 days battery life

A close cousin to the Fitbit Alta, this bottom-of-the-range Fitbit adds full waterproofness and the ability to 'hide' it in a bangle or even wear it on a pendant around your neck.

The step counting and sleep tracking are fine, and the Fitbit app is excellent as always. It doesn't do much else apart from detect and log runs and swims (it's waterproof to 50m), and there's no screen to display messages, though it does alert you to them.

The 5-day battery life is a bit disappointing considering the limited feature set, but it's a neat, simple, entry-level Fitbit, which is all some people want.

6. Huawei Band 2 Pro

Fully featured device; under £60; not amazing

Specifications
Battery life: About a week
Notifications: Yes
Sleep tracking: Yes
Reasons to buy
+GPS, heart-rate and more, going cheap+Decent battery life, by all accounts
Reasons to avoid
-Dodgy strap-Iffy metrics

I've only just got this one but Huawei's Band 2 Pro seems worthy of inclusion as it packs in more high-end features such as heart-rate tracking, VO2 Max estimates and GPS, for well under 100 quid.

The problems with the Band 2 Pro are the same as with most cheapo fitness bands: it's ugly, the strap is not secure – seriously, how hard is it to make a strap that doesn't come undone? We've been making wrist watches for over a century now – and the heart-rate accuracy is laughable. The app is, uh, not great.

However, even with that taken into account, you're getting an acceptably accurate step counter and sleep tracker with a week or so of battery life (and up to 21 days if you never use GPS or the pulse tracking), that's also waterproof and does basic notifications, all for about £70. The GPS is actually passably good when it works, although it sometimes takes so long to get a satellite fix that I give up.