Fitness trackers have come a long way from being just step counters. Although they still do a solid job of that, these days they do a lot more as well. Today’s crop of fitness bands can track all manner of activities and health-related data like heart rate, sleep patterns and training such as running, cycling and swimming. With some models you can also manage your diet, calories burned or even connect with friends to compete with them.
With so many options available, how do you pick the fitness tracker that is right for you? After all, the right device can have a massive impact on living healthier and feeling better
We take a look at some of the factors to keep in mind when choosing a fitness tracker…
The first question to ask is what you need a tracker for. Is it to count steps and track your sleep patterns, or more intense activities such as running or cycling? Overall, fitness trackers can help you keep tabs on your daily activity like steps and general movement. Once you set a goal of how active you want to be, your device will let you know how you’re faring.
For general everyday lifestyle activity tracking, most entry-level devices would suffice, depending on your budget and what other bonus features you prefer, such as monitoring your heart rate, diet habits and sleep patterns But for more intense activities look for a device with more sophisticated capabilities, as we discuss next…
Some of the latest fitness bands rival dedicated sports watches for functionality, particularly those which feature built-in GPS. GPS is essential for accurately tracking your pace or distance during running or cycling. The lack of GPS on fitness trackers in the past meant they weren’t a viable option for these kinds of activities. But that has now changed.
Built-in GPS tracking can now be found on many of the more advanced fitness bands or sport watch hybrids, such as the Fitbit Surge or Garmin Vivoactive HR, which means you can head out the door with just the band, and leave your phone behind. This makes for a lighter, less hassle workout, while still keeping track of your essential training stats like time, distance and course. Data collected during training can then by synched to the companion app on your phone or your PC. Some models also have an altimeter that counts distance climbed.
If you don’t mind taking your phone with you on your run or ride, plenty of fitness bands will work for you. Most mid-range devices can pair with your phone to piggyback on its GPS function while displaying essential data like your pace and distance. With some you can even control your music, so your phone can be safely kept in a pocket or pouch. Other important features to look for in a tracker for sports activities include:
- Water resistance
- Heart rate monitor
- A good companion smartphone app.
Overall, pick a fitness tracker based on the set of features you need and activities you do mostly. A well-rounded, all-in-one device would suit all but the most serious sports fanatics or fitness junkies, who would benefit from the extra features of a sports watch designed for their particular activity. For example, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, Fitbit Charge 2, Samsung Gear Fit2 and TomTom Touch.
The main benefit of smartwatch over a fitness tracker is that if you’ve already invested in a smartwatch, it makes sense for it to double up a tracker too. However, a purpose-built device will always perform better. Smartwatches are designed to do many different things, while fitness trackers are made for one purpose - to track your activity. A downside of smartwatches is that they are often bulkier than bands, and some models may not be up to the rigours of regular hard workouts.
With a smartwatch you’ll also need to remember to disable all notifications from your phone or apps during training. Nothing kills the buzz of being in the zone on the way to a PB than your watch buzzing to let you know your mum tagged you in a Facebook photo. Some fitness trackers do now also feature useful notifications like caller ID and text message, which are easier to manage than the myriad of notifications on a smartwatch.
And once again, unlike some of the top-end fitness bands, most smartwatches need to remain paired to your smartphone to track a training session. There are of course benefits to having a phone with you on a workout - you can grab and share a mid-trail selfie or call someone to collect you if you run into trouble. But if you’d rather not be tethered to your phone, a self-contained, dedicated fitness tracker is for you.
Another consideration of course is price - smartwatches tend to be pricier than most fitness trackers.
Until Elon Musk designs a wristwatch-sized atomic power generator, battery life will be an important factor with any wearable device.
For the most part today’s fitness trackers boast long-lasting battery technology, but do keep in mind that the more a device does, the quicker it’ll run out of juice. Either choose a device with fewer features, or make sure you turn off any unnecessary functions to conserve power on longer activities.
If you want a device to track multi-day activities, such as overnight tramps or bike trails, battery life will certainly be a major deciding factor. So check out the promised battery life for the device you like.
Another vital decision point for many people is how a device looks and feels. Some come with a range of straps that can be swapped out, others mimic the look of a wristwatch, while some can just be clipped on for inconspicuous wearing. Whatever your style preference, you should be able to find a fitness tracker that suits you.
In addition to the common features like activity tracking, several devices also come with a few interesting and unique features. As mentioned, some will send you call notifications and text messages to your wrist. Others will let you compete on activities with your friends adding fun rivalry to your efforts, while certain devices have silent wake alarms or can even measure the percentage of your body fat. So if you’re after something a bit different, take a good look at the extra features on offer
Overall, picking the right activity tracker for you will depend on your individual needs and how active your lifestyle is. If you want to shed some pounds and increase your general physical activity and overall health, a lower to mid-priced device would suit. If your needs are a bit more demanding, check out a fuller featured tracker.
Either way, a fitness tracker can really help you understand how your exercise and health habits are contributing to a healthier, more active lifestyle.