The definitive Fitbit buying guide for 2016

CIO.com tested every Fitbit fitness tracker, wristband and smartwatch available today. This detailed buyer's guide breaks down all seven Fitbit devices and provides a list of strengths and weaknesses for each.

fitbit logo
Credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Editor's note: This guide was updated to include information on the latest Fitbits on Oct. 24, 2016.)

Our "definitive Fitbit buying guide" from February 2015 was no longer so comprehensive, because Fitbit has since released four new trackers: Alta and Blaze in early 2016, and Charge 2 and Flex 2 in late summer and early fall. So here's an updated buyer's guide to Fitbit's current lineup of products, based on my own experiences using all the devices and arranged in order of affordability, from least to most expensive.

But before I delve into the trackers, these three things are worth mentioning.

  1. You don't need a Fitbit device to track steps with Fitbit. The Fitbit mobile app's "MobileTrack" feature automatically tracks steps, distance and calories burned on supported devices.
  2. On the other hand, Fitbit's Multi-Tracker feature means you're not limited to just one Fitbit device. For example, you could keep a Fitbit One in your pocket during the day, then wear a Flex or other Fitbit wristband to bed at night to automatically track your sleep.
  3. My three favorite Fitbits are One, Charge 2, and Blaze.

$60: Zip

Fitbit's Zip is probably its cutest tracker, and it's available in four colors. At $60, it's a bargain.

Cool: Unlike other Fitbits, Zip uses a replaceable coin battery that the company says last up to six months.

Uncool: Zip is a bare-bones tracker, feature-wise. For example, it doesn't offer automatic sleep or exercise tracking and it can't track the flights of stairs you climb.

Get it if: You're new to activity tracking and don't want to invest much money.

$100: One

Fitbit One includes all of Zip's features and a few more in a sleeker, pocketable tracker. It's my favorite of Fitbit's lower-cost devices.

Cool: One adds manual sleep tracking and silent alarms, and it tracks the number of flights of stairs you climb.

Uncool: Both Zip and One are easy to lose or damage. You might forget it's in your pocket when you wash your pants, for instance. 

Get it if: You want more features than Zip but don't want to spend much money and don't want to wear a Fitbit on your wrist.

$100: Flex 2

Flex 2 is Fitbit's lowest-priced wristband and a mostly solid improvement over the now-discontinued Flex. 

Cool: Flex 2 is the only Fitbit you can wear in the water, and it tracks swim workouts, too. You can choose from multiple Flex 2 wristband colors. Additional bands cost $15 each or $30 for a pack of three different colored bands. Don't want to wear it on your wrist? Flex 2's tiny tracker can be worn in a pendant or bracelet. Popular brands including Public School, Vera Wang, and Tory Burch are developing Flex 2 accessories. Flex 2 is 30 percent smaller than the original Flex, as well. 

Uncool: Flex 2 lacks a screen, which can make some of its otherwise helpful features, such as automatic move reminders, less useful. Flex 2 doesn't track flights of stairs climbed, and its battery life is so-so.

Get it if: You want a Fitbit wearable that's inexpensive and offers plenty of style options, or you're a swimmer.

$130 to $150: Alta

Introduced earlier this year, Alta is by far Fitbit's most attractive wearable. It's also slim and lightweight.

Cool: Alta combines Flex 2's band-swapping pleasures and offers rubber, leather and metallic band options, as well as two new special edition models (black with gold, and pink with gold); more advanced activity tracking; and alerts for text messages, calendar, and caller ID notifications. Alta was the first Fitbit to offer "Reminders to Move," which prompt you to take 250 steps every hour.

Uncool: Alta's OLED display is hard to read in bright sunlight, and toggling between on-screen stats can be difficult.

Get it if: Wristband style is important to you but tracking floors climbed is not (Alta lacks an altimeter sensor), or you want a Fitbit wearable with a screen.

$150 to $180: Charge 2

The now-defunct Charge HR's combination of price and features made it the best all-around Fitbit wearable. Charge 2, its successor, maintains all that was good about Charge HR and adds even more benefits.

Cool: Charge 2 offers a wealth of features, including heart-rate tracking, Reminders to Move, cardio fitness stats, "Relax" (for guided breathing), and an interval workout mode, all for a reasonable price. You can also swap out the bands or purchase one of two "special edition" designs (black with gunmetal, or lavender with rose gold).

Uncool:  Charge 2's screen can be tough to read in bright sunlight. You can't pause exercise sessions you track. And unlike Flex 2, you can't wear Charge 2 in the shower or pool.

Get it if: You want the best overall activity-tracking wristband on the market.

$200 to $230: Blaze

Blaze is Fitbit's least expensive fitness watch. 

Cool: The watch provides nearly all of Fitbit's features, including caller ID, text notifications, calendar alerts and Reminders to Move, plus the ability to control music on connected smartphones. Guided FitStar workouts are available on the watch's bright, colorful display. Blaze (and Charge 2) can map outdoor exercises using your smartphone's GPS. And you can swap out its bands for more stylish ones, including leather and metal options. 

Uncool: Blaze probably won't appeal to fashion-conscious folks, though the longer I wear it, the less I object to its looks. Also, the premium gunmetal and pink with gold models ($230 each) upgrade the watch's look.

Get it if: You want a Fitbit fitness watch (instead a smartwatch, such as the Apple Watch) with a color screen.

$250: Surge 

Surge is U.S. President Barack Obama's wearable of choice and is designed for serious athletes.

Cool: Surge is the only Fitbit in the current lineup with built-in GPS, which helps runners get the more accurate stats on their workouts without having to rely on a smartphone for location data.

Uncool: The watch is thick and clunky. The monochrome LCD, though easy to read outdoors, is dull and gray, particularly in comparison to Blaze's colorful screen.

Get it if: You're training for one or more sports, don't want to carry a smartphone for GPS tracking and don't particularly care how your wearable looks.

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