Why Buy an Activity Tracker?
The top performers in our review are the Fitbit Charge, the Gold Award winner; the Jawbone UP 4, the Silver Award winner; and the Fitbit Flex, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a fitness tracker to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Finding the time, motivation and energy to workout is difficult, but it is much simpler with a fitness tracker. Whether you spend most of your time sitting on the couch or are training for a marathon, a fitness tracker helps you take that next step. If you're starting from square one, exercising with an activity tracker helps you replace bad habits with healthy ones. Fitness trackers support fitness and healthy weight loss by helping you achieve small, frequent success, whereas fad diets and radical lifestyle changes rarely work because they're too drastic.
If you already have a successful workout regime, fitness trackers keep an accurate record of your daily progress so you work harder and smarter. They also help you find daily motivation to improve by encouraging you with vibrating notifications, smart adaptive goals and coaching tips.
Instead of having to estimate your activity level on your own, a fitness tracker does the heavy lifting for you. It uses an accelerometer to accurately track your steps and movement metrics, and it is customized to your body type and activity levels. Similar to how your body reacts in a moving car, an accelerometer can sense movement and force, including forward, backward and side-to-side movement. Fitness trackers take this information then interpret it into a number of steps. If you want to learn more about how fitness trackers work or need a little more motivation, take a look at the latest activity tracker articles.
Most smart wearable technology now has some form of fitness monitoring. There are even smartphone apps that track how many steps you take in a day. All of the compared activity trackers in our review are wrist devices dedicated to total fitness tracking. While fitness and sleep trackers are the best at tracking your overall fitness levels, other wearable devices can track your health and life. Some smart wearables track your steps or heart rate, but they are less accurate than a dedicated fitness tracker.
While more expensive than fitness trackers, smartwatches are great for checking the weather or text messages. Even though they have fitness tracking features, they also have so many other features that they're more difficult to use purely for fitness purposes. When you only have a 10 second window at traffic light to check your heart rate, it is inconvenient to push aside new emails on a tiny screen.
If you're looking to compare fitness trackers on a budget, pedometers are less expensive and great for simple exercises, namely walking. However, fitness trackers do more than step tracking to give you a better, more rounded view of your fitness and health. Unlike pedometers, fitness trackers can help you meet fitness goals by adapting to your habits, wirelessly syncing weeks and months of data, and nudging you with silent vibrating alarms if you've been sitting too long.
Instead of solely tracking your daily steps, heart rate monitor watches are dedicated to monitoring your heart rate either passively throughout the day or actively during high-intensity workouts. While most do track steps and other metrics, heart rate monitor watches must be worn a certain way to guarantee accuracy. Wrist-based heart rate monitors need to be the right amount of snug and fit exactly above your wrist bone for the best readings. Chest strap monitors need to be worn at the base of your sternum and the sensor needs to be slightly wet to work properly. Some of these devices do double duty and act as activity trackers with heart rate monitors. Fitness trackers are more versatile in their tracking methods and features.
Standalone smartphone apps like Google Fit or Runtastic Pedometer turn your phone into a fitness tracker so you can see how many steps you’ve taken and how many calories you’ve burned. However, apps are not nearly as reliable or accurate as a wearable fitness tracker. You most certainly can't take your smartphone swimming to track your laps as you can with most fitness trackers we reviewed.
Activity and sleep trackers are the best wearable devices to help you get in shape. Tri-axis accelerometers are very accurate, the accompanying apps are motivating and the convenient designs are comfortable enough to wear both day and night.
Fitness Trackers: What We Tested, What We Found
When you only have an inaccurate picture of your health, it is hard to make changes to your habits. We tested each of the 10 fitness trackers on our lineup to see how accurately they track daily exercise. Reviewers wore all 10 trackers during each testing session. They switched between wrists and varied the placement on their wrists, as well as kept their walking paces and conditions standard. A 100-percent accuracy rate was nearly impossible to attain, as every miniscule movement, device algorithms and daily conditions were difficult to account for. The best activity trackers generally have accuracy rates above 92 percent, which we found was more than adequate to provide an accurate picture of your fitness level.
Accuracy Test: How Many Steps We Really Took
To test the accuracy of each wrist fitness tracker, we performed a test that compared our manually counted metrics against the metrics reported by each device. We walked a course-charted route to measure distance, used a stopwatch to measure active minutes, manually calculated burned calories and counted each actual step. We performed this same exercise over multiple days and analyzed the accuracy and error rates of each device.
In our fitness tracker review, we found that the most accurate place to wear your wireless fitness tracker is on your non-dominant wrist as close to your wrist bone as possible. The most accurate devices were the Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Flex and the Striiv Fusion. Each device accurately tracked each metric reliably during our extensive testing.
Sleep Study: Light or Sound Sleep, It’s a Guesstimate
In addition to steps and the other metrics mentioned above, we analyzed the accuracy of the devices’ sleep tracking features. While sleep tracking is much harder test, we based our test on the number of hours slept, and when applicable, the number of quality sleep hours.
Devices that have sleep modes are much more reliable than those with automatic sleep detection. We also found that no device was absolutely reliable when it came to REM, deep, light or restless sleep counts. If you're using the sleep tracking settings on your fitness tracker, keep in mind that the data only reports your wrist movements, not your brain waves or actual quality of sleep. Only a professionally conducted sleep study can provide the insight you require if you have trouble with your sleep patterns. Please see your doctor if you need more accurate sleep information.
Apps: Goals and Coaching Lead to Results
A watch fitness tracker is usually of little worth without an accompanying app. Apps help you set goals, follow smart coaching recommendations, show your progress over time and remind you to make healthier choices. We analyzed and scored the interface of each fitness tracker's app, checking the quality of the algorithm metrics, charts and graphs. We also took into consideration whether or not the interface allowed for custom or manual entries, had an easy-to-navigate layout and included other customizable features.
The best app we reviewed was the UP by Jawbone app that quickly displays sleep scores, percentage of daily goal met and individual daily metrics with one tap. The smart coach feature learns and adapts to your daily habits, helping you make better goals, eat smarter, and manage your stress and blood pressure levels. It even reminds you to drink more water.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We purchased or obtained the units in our comparison from the manufacturers. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Fitness Tracker?
In addition to accuracy, sleep tracking and a great app, it’s important to choose a top-rated fitness tracker with the best monitoring and connectivity features, along with the best design. Each device has its own special recipe for tracking and monitoring, so the following points can guide you to the best device for your unique fitness needs.
Progress Monitoring: Setting and Keeping Goals Equals Progress
Why buy a top activity tracker if you're not going to improve your fitness? Setting and meeting goals over time is one of the healthiest ways to lose weight or get fit. Fitness trackers ask you to set or adjust goals based on your daily habits. When you meet your goals, vibrating alarms or congratulatory notifications motivate you to keep up the good work. If you aren’t meeting your goals, nothing is more motivating than having a wristband vibrate to let you know you've been sitting too long and keep vibrating until you get up and move around.
Connectivity: Apps, Apps and More Apps
The top fitness trackers also have the top apps. Each of the exercise trackers we reviewed works with a free app from the manufacturer that displays your daily metrics such as how many steps you’ve taken and how many calories you've burned.
The best of the best fitness trackers connect to any fitness app. This is nice if you already track your runs or hikes or count calories. With this feature, you can continue using your favorite app with your new fitness tracker but gather more accurate and efficient data than before.
All of the wireless activity trackers we reviewed have Bluetooth syncing, but some require that you manually sync, while others automatically sync every time you open the app. Either way, all of your data is wirelessly uploaded and backed up.
Design: Long Battery and Lightweight BandsWhile a screen keeps you up to date on your progress, it can also drastically drain the battery. Most batteries last through the work week before needing a charge, but some devices have coin cell batteries that last weeks or months.
The best exercise trackers can be worn many different ways, depending on your preference. You can wear a wristband similar to a watch strap or a thin bracelet, or you can wear a clip-on fitness tracker. You can even carry your device around in your pocket. However, heart rate fitness trackers can only be worn on your wrist.
Also, the lighter the device, the easier it is to wear. Try to find one that weighs less than 30 grams if you have dainty wrists. The best fitness tracker wristbands are waterproof up to at least 3 ATM or 30 meters under water, so you can track your morning swims or your beach vacations.
Focus Group Testing: Which Fitness Tracker is Best for Your Activity Level?
We also conducted a test where three testers with various fitness levels wore and evaluated the devices. All participants found that the Fitbit Charge was the best for their fitness level due to ease of use, helpful app and comfortable design.
The least active participant found that all while the devices were motivating, the best were the easiest to use, had simple apps and were comfortable enough to wear all day like the Garmin Vivosmart. The moderately active participant liked devices that were easy to sync, comfortable, and provided motivating data like the Striiv Fusion. The very physically active participant preferred devices that were very accurate, provided tons of useful data, and had plenty of custom options like the Fitbit Flex.
Fitness Trackers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The best fitness tracker bands are not only accurate, they are the most comfortable and easiest to wear. The Gold Award Winner in our activity tracker comparison, the Fitbit Charge, consistently scored above a 90 percent accuracy rating for all metrics including step count, sleep and distance tracking. The goals you can set in the app are more extensive and customizable than those in many other fitness trackers, and it helps you keep your fitness promises. The lightweight band has a long battery life, a caller ID and a light-up screen with a single button for easy handling.
The Silver Award Winner in our fitness tracker comparison, the Jawbone UP 4, looks humble at first, but every one of its features is more powerful than those on many of the other step trackers we reviewed. The UP4 may not have a screen or tactile features, but it is a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor, biometrics feedback, vibration and indicator lights. The Jawbone app received the highest app score because it has an easy-to-use interface, uniquely customizable goals, charts, graphs and other progress monitoring features.
Our Bronze Award Winner earned its award because of its simplicity and stamina. The Fitbit Flex is an industry standard, and it paves the way for you to meet your health goals. The Flex has indicator lights that show your day's fitness progress bar at a tap. It comes in 10 different colors and is highly accurate. It is also the lightest device on our lineup and works with more than 34 fitness apps.
In addition to our top three, the Withings Activite Pop is a unique device whose looks are deceiving. Instead of a screen, this device has an analog watch face that only displays the time. If you look closely, though, you'll also see a secondary face that acts as a progress bar, displaying your daily goal step count. From the app, you can access the same information you can with a regular fitness band tracker, but it has the style of a high-end watch.