I wore six fitness watches for 6,000 steps. This brand was the most accurate.

Android Central Editor Michael Hicks wearing six different smartwatches for a step-counting accuracy test.
(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Doctors tell us to try and get 10,000 steps a day, but almost no one uses a pedometer to check. Instead, we rely on our fitness smartwatches to tell us when we've hit our goal. But should you trust your watch's step counter accuracy? 

I decided to test this for myself. I strapped on six smartwatches at once — an Apple Watch Series 6, Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, Garmin Forerunner 265, COROS APEX 2 Pro, Fitbit Sense, and Amazfit T-Rex Ultra — and walked laps around my neighborhood while counting every single step in my head (and oh boy, was it tedious). 

Once I hit 5,000 steps, I compared the real-world number against what each watch said. Then I ran an additional 1,000 steps, checking to see if it was any more or less accurate if I was moving at a faster pace with longer strides.

So, are smartwatches accurate for step counting? It depends on which brand you own. 

Sunday Runday

Lloyd, the Android Central mascot, break-dancing

(Image credit: Android Central)

In his new weekly column, Android Central Fitness Editor Michael Hicks talks about the world of wearables, apps, and overall fitness tech related to running and health.

I specifically subtracted any "steps" taken before the test started. This made the starting conditions equal, but also erased the most common cause of step-counter inaccuracy: watches' accelerometers and/or gyroscopes measuring "steps" from you just moving your arms around as part of daily life.

That aside, here were my smartwatch step counter test results after walking 5,000 steps and running 1,000 steps:

  • Amazfit T-Rex Ultra: 5,046 walking, 984 running
  • Apple Watch: 4,940 walking, 1,050 running
  • COROS APEX 2 Pro: 5,070 walking, 989 running
  • Fitbit Sense: 4,714 walking, 994 running
  • Garmin Forerunner 265: 5,014 walking, 999 running
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro: 5,074 walking, 1,039 running

Ignoring the Fitbit Sense's surprisingly inaccurate walking results for a moment, you can see that most of these watches fall within a ±100-step range of the real result — or double that for 10,000 steps. So if you go out for a walk and hit 10K, you can generally assume you're not too far off the mark. 

The running results only look more accurate at first glance; quintuple the difference, and you can see how, in particular, the Apple Watch Series 6 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro struggle to accurately count running strides, compared to walking. Dedicated running watches do better, including Fitbit (despite its early step-counting struggles).

Ranking them for closest accuracy, the Garmin Forerunner 265 is the clear winner, just 15 steps off in total and only 1 off for running tracking. Amazfit's flagship watch (62 steps off) and the COROS APEX 2 Pro (81) take second and third place, both predictably doing well for running data. Apple (110), Samsung (113), and Fitbit (292) take up the final three spots.

Three smartwatches worn on one wrist for a step-counting accuracy test.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

[Before anyone gets up in arms, I'm aware the math says Apple was only 10 steps off 6,000 because it was 60 short for walking and 50 long for running, the two inaccuracies canceling each other out. That's not how I chose to measure accuracy, because someone either only walking or only running wouldn't get a super-accurate result.]

As a final point, I also kept an Android phone (the Samsung Galaxy S22+) in my pocket during my walk/run, as a baseline to compare and see if you don't even need a smartwatch for step counting. The results? 5069 and 998. That last result definitely surprised me, as it did far better than Samsung's own top-tier watch. Generally speaking, it's pretty accurate, about on par with Amazfit and COROS; you just don't get all of the other health-tracking benefits that a smartwatch offers.

Analyzing my totally unscientific smartwatch step-counting test

The COROS APEX 2 Pro and Garmin Forerunner 265 worn on one wrist, showing similar step counts.

These watches' step counts were almost exactly the same, but Garmin's was still slightly more accurate than COROS'. (Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

I had no idea how tedious it would be to find a bunch of dead watches sitting in my closet, find all the proprietary charging cables, recharge and update them one by one, sync them to my Android phone or iPhone, and then squeeze three watches onto each wrist. In theory, a watch being slightly higher on my arm could have affected the results a bit, so I did my best to mitigate that and kept them close together.

Then I walked in 93º weather while all of my neighbors gave me very judgy and confused stares (aka "Why the heck is this weirdo wearing six watches? Is he the Clock King?"), trying to keep count in my head while keeping a consistent walking pace.

So, yeah, I thought about doing the test again, possibly with other watches from the same brands, or just to see if the winners and losers were consistent. But no way am I doing it again, sorry friends! You can try the experiment at home yourself to see what results you get, if you want.

I don't own (or couldn't fit) every smartwatch brand; I missed a lot of Wear OS watches like Pixel Watch, TicWatch, and Fossil Gen 6, as well as other running brands like Polar.

Moreover, I don't have the latest versions of certain brands' flagship watches like the Fitbit Sense 2 or Apple Watch Series 8. But to be fair, you almost never hear anything about a watch's accelerometer being X% more accurate than the last generation in marketing materials. It's not clear how many brands are actually improving them from year to year, now that they've hit a certain baseline of accuracy.

Three smartwatches worn on one wrist for a step-counting accuracy test.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

The point is, this is hardly a scientific test, and you might have very different results depending on your height, walking stride, cadence, and other factors. Plus, like I said before, everyday false positives for steps are a real problem. 

Even though the Garmin Forerunner 265 won the battle for step accuracy, I have noticed my step count climbing when doing nothing but sitting at my desk. Something as simple as stretching or pointing at something can trigger it. And when walking without a natural arm motion, such as when I'm holding a phone in my hand, the lack of back-and-forth movement can befuddle the accelerometer. 

The point is, if you do want to walk 10,000 steps a day, or whatever step count your watch's health algorithm recommends, you may want to take false steps into account and walk a couple hundred extra steps, just to be safe. Though in Fitbit's case, you can assume you're already well above 10K once you hit it.

My personal step count average over the last six months is, ironically, 6,000 steps (give or take a hundred steps, I suppose). My goal is to try and keep raising that number by the time I hit 2024, as I strive to improve my VO2 Max and other metrics. 

So I'm happy that my daily Garmin watch, the Forerunner 265, is pretty darn accurate on step counting, even if they still have room for improvement. Add to that the fact that it's also among the most accurate when it comes to GPS tracking, and it's no fluke that it sits on the top of our best running watches list. 

But for people with standard lifestyle watches like the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, 200 steps off the mark after 10,000 total isn't so terrible that you should think seriously about switching brands. It's just something to be aware of!

Why accurate step counting matters

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and Amazfit T-Rex Ultra worn on one wrist, showing similar step counts.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

According to a study by the Journal of American Medical Association, walking 10,000 steps a day leads to reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, or mortality in general for older patients. The NIH found that for high blood pressure patients, three months of daily walking reduces your average systolic score by about 10 points. 

Consistent walking can improve cognitive function and memory, according to an Alzheimer's journal study, as well as your mood. Your muscles are strengthened, combatting natural muscle weakness and shakiness from aging. It not only makes contracting Type 2 diabetes less likely but also helps stabilize your blood sugar if you have diabetes.

Plus, of course, there's the obvious benefit that walking about five miles will burn hundreds of calories — likely somewhere between 300 and 600, depending on your weight and pace. 

All of this helps explain why so many of the best fitness smartwatches incorporate step counting into their watch faces and health snapshots. It's the one metric that gives health benefits across the board, especially for middle-aged-and-older users facing serious ailments. 

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on fitness tech and wearables, with an enthusiast's love of VR tech on the side. After years freelancing for Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, Digital Trends, and other sites on a variety of tech topics, AC has given him the chance to really dive into the topics he's passionate about. He's also a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves D&D, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.


For wearables, Michael has tested dozens of smartwatches from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, and other brands, and will always focus on recommending the best product over the best brand. He's also completed marathons like NYC, SF, Marine Corps, Big Sur, and California International — though he's still trying to break that 4-hour barrier.

  • gomezz
    For normal use it is more important that you can rely on the same device to consistently report steps, distance etc for comparison from one day or session to the next.
    Reply
  • Sandip Agarwal
    When measuring ppg data of these watches we should wear the watch 1 finger away from wrist bone:-

    The correct way would be to test it this way
    1 have only 2 watches at a time , 1 in each hand.

    2 count the steps manually

    3 swap the watches after 1 round of testing step 1 and take out average

    Now publish the correct report
    Reply
  • johnf
    Recent studies have shown that the health benefits from walking 10000 steps versus 3500 is very little. Less than 3500 the benefits drop dramatically. If course, there is nothing wrong with walking more, but that time could be spent in other activities that provide more benefits. It's all a personal choice anyway so none of it matters as long as one does something to manager their weight and gets a regular medical checkup.

    Tell your physician to read more. 🤓

    Thanks for the excellent article though!
    Reply
  • gomezz
    Apparently the 10,000 step thing came from the advertising blurb for one of the early Japanese devices as the Kanji alphabet symbols for 10K look like someone running.
    Reply
  • Ranger Ric
    I wore six fitness watches for 6,000 steps. This brand was the most accurate.By Michael L Hicks published about 10 hours ago

    Mr. Hicks, your comment"...Doctors tell us to try and get 10,000 steps a day,..." no, they do not. If a doctor does tell someone to achieve 10,000 steps a day their thinking and comment is based on a myth. So where did the concept of 10,000 steps a day come from? Read: https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/11/30/10000-steps-myth-or-fact-13636 therein it reads, quote:
    "...In 1965, Japanese company Yamasa Toki introduced their new step-counter, which they called Manpo-Kei. This translated into “10,000 steps meter” and they marketed their device with the slogan, “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day.” Japanese walking clubs were fairly popular at that time and the idea of a 10,000-step target seems to have caught on because the slogan was catchy and people tend to like nice round numbers. The rest, as they say, is history..."
    Unquote.

    The above knowledge has been around since 1965. So, whenever someone tells me 10,000 steps a day I provide the above information. I have been informing folks the above for decades So, back to your statement about doctors recommending 10,000 steps per day, it is truly a myth.
    Reply
  • fechhelm
    And yet none of the fitness trackers work as well as the phone in my pocket when grocery shopping or cutting grass.
    Reply
  • eng3
    I agree, the 10k steps is just a marketing myth someone made up. None of my doctors have ever told me to walk a certain number of steps. Steps can vary. How fast are you walking? Are you walking up or down a slope? Are your legs long or short? Sure, walking 10k steps is better than 0 steps, you don't need a fancy study to show that. The whole point is to get off your couch and get your heart (and other muscles) working. It's funny when I see some people get up every hour when they don't reach their goal and walk around in circles to reach a magic step limit. Sometimes while eating a snack at the same time.

    That's why even Google Fit follows the AHA recommendation to go by MINUTES. "Moderate" Exercise for 150min per week or about 30min 5 days/week or 20-30min per day. Ofcourse "Moderate" is hard to measure since it is hard for one to know if they are exercising enough and it is easy to cheat yourself. There are various definitions like heart rate of 180-(age) or exerting yourself until it is hard to hold a conversation or sing or when you start sweating. Ofcourse, none of these are perfect measures. Maybe you have a poor lungs, maybe you're in a hot room, maybe your on blood pressure medication that lowers your heart rate. The fitness watch makers invented "Active Minutes" to based it on your heart rate and a zone based on your max heart rate. This is a far better measure to go by than steps.

    Sorry for the rant, I find it annoying when marketing hype confuses the general population with actual clinical guidelines.

    How about a review comparing heart rate accuracy both resting and while exercising?

    I remember comparing many and settling on the fitbit as being fairly accurate. My main use is while I'm exercising to make sure my HR is in a certain range I made up. Just for fun, I also try to see how accurate it is at guessing my carlorie burn. I find it is way off and thinks I burn a lot more than I do. If I ate as much as it thinks I burn in a day, I would gain alot of weight. I think there's even a clinical study that showed this. Ofcourse it's hard to know what your BMR is, but it's obvious the the formula doesnt work for everyone. I have to lower my height by about a foot to get it close to my actual calorie burn. I am getting ready to dump the fitbit because it no longer automatically syncs with my phone it literally will take over an hour to do a manual sync sometimes.
    Reply
  • belodion
    All this within a couple of minutes of trying to read. I have no idea what you wrote.
    Reply
  • Hielko
    The biggest problem with the step counting is the number of fake steps. For example the steps during biking (Samsung watches and Samsung Health on the phone), or steps during your sleep, or steps when cooking. With a concrete walking or running activity I believe that most step trackers will be more or less accurate. But it is with all the other things you do during the day (or night) that step tracking becomes highly unreliable.
    Reply
  • gomezz
    eng3 said:
    I agree, the 10k steps is just a marketing myth someone made up. None of my doctors have ever told me to walk a certain number of steps. Steps can vary. How fast are you walking? Are you walking up or down a slope? Are your legs long or short? Sure, walking 10k steps is better than 0 steps, you don't need a fancy study to show that. The whole point is to get off your couch and get your heart (and other muscles) working. It's funny when I see some people get up every hour when they don't reach their goal and walk around in circles to reach a magic step limit. Sometimes while eating a snack at the same time.

    That's why even Google Fit follows the AHA recommendation to go by MINUTES. "Moderate" Exercise for 150min per week or about 30min 5 days/week or 20-30min per day. Ofcourse "Moderate" is hard to measure since it is hard for one to know if they are exercising enough and it is easy to cheat yourself. There are various definitions like heart rate of 180-(age) or exerting yourself until it is hard to hold a conversation or sing or when you start sweating. Ofcourse, none of these are perfect measures. Maybe you have a poor lungs, maybe you're in a hot room, maybe your on blood pressure medication that lowers your heart rate. The fitness watch makers invented "Active Minutes" to based it on your heart rate and a zone based on your max heart rate. This is a far better measure to go by than steps.

    Sorry for the rant, I find it annoying when marketing hype confuses the general population with actual clinical guidelines.

    How about a review comparing heart rate accuracy both resting and while exercising?

    I remember comparing many and settling on the fitbit as being fairly accurate. My main use is while I'm exercising to make sure my HR is in a certain range I made up. Just for fun, I also try to see how accurate it is at guessing my carlorie burn. I find it is way off and thinks I burn a lot more than I do. If I ate as much as it thinks I burn in a day, I would gain alot of weight. I think there's even a clinical study that showed this. Ofcourse it's hard to know what your BMR is, but it's obvious the the formula doesnt work for everyone. I have to lower my height by about a foot to get it close to my actual calorie burn. I am getting ready to dump the fitbit because it no longer automatically syncs with my phone it literally will take over an hour to do a manual sync sometimes.
    Reply