Fitness and activity trackers are available to monitor the biometric feedback from just about every area of the body while performing almost any activity imaginable. Look hard enough and you’ll find an app or tracker which will analyze the data of your favorite sport or activity and supply detailed reports on how your health is affected.
A fitness tracker in combination with a strong set of goals and a clear exercise plan and diet is one of the most reliable ways to guarantee total wellness and weight loss for those who need it. Once you have the information needed to fine tune your workouts and nutrition you’ll soon see a rapid rise in your health.
A wealth of data is always welcomed but the sheer number of choices at your disposal when picking a fitness tracker can be overwhelming. Here we’ll be taking you through a complete look at how to pick a fitness tracker best suited to your needs, lifestyle and budget.
The Different Types of Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers come in countless forms. A good tracker will be lightweight but durable while delivering performance and health information on the areas which you need. Certain trackers are better suited to specific purposes but you can find fitness technology wearable across the entire body. Here’s a look at the most common types of fitness trackers can expect to find.
Fitness tracking wrist bands deliver everything from basic pedometer step-counting and calorie-burning information, to detailed metrics on the motions performed by your body during exercise, reaching all the way to breathing patterns, rep counting for boxing and other contact sports, and activity monitoring for almost any general workout.
Shop around and you’ll find a wrist band to match the function that you need and your budget. Leading wrist band fitness trackers will have heart rate monitors, multi-sport modes, coaching and guidance, and personalized adaptive training.
Ankle band fitness trackers are less common than wrist bands but are also less expensive and more purpose-driven. Trackers such as FlyFit are designed for your ankle and deliver information concerning your leg movements more accurately than other trackers. Ankle bands may be the best option for you if you are a runner or cyclist. If you have noticed any irregularities with your existing tracker keeping record of your movements due to issues such as handlebar grip strength then look for an ankle band instead.
As the most popular but typically more costly option, fitness tracking smart watches give you the best of both worlds. With features to rival a phone and designs which can withstand the most taxing outdoor adventure, smart watches can exhibit fitness tracking features which equal that of devoted trackers.
Leading smart watches such as the Garmin Vivoactiv 3 incorporate robust activity tracking, GPS and GLONASS, and heart rate monitoring with sports apps. With advanced reporting such as this available fitness tracking wearables are ever-increasing in popularity and should always remain a consideration.
Devices such as the Motiv ring have revolutionized the fitness tracker wearable space. Smart rings such as this now incorporate fully featured fitness trackers which rival bands and watches. You can currently find smart rings which are waterproof and ready to monitor the activities of a range of sports.
Rings such as the Motiv have a built-in optical heart rate sensor, sleep tracking, and full connectivity with smartphones. If you must have wearable tech on the cutting edge, consider getting a fitness smart ring. It’ll set you back quite a bit, but its features will surprise you.
Clip-on wearable fitness trackers are quickly gaining in popularity. Discreet fitness tracking solutions such as the Bellabeat Leaf Urban track vitals just as well as any fitness tracking strap while devices such as the Nokia Go even feature automatic detection of workouts and a visual display of your goal progress.
Certain clip-on fitness trackers deliver a higher accuracy of tracking for specific workouts and activities such as sprinting, jogging, cycling, boxing and rowing. With fitness tracking jewelry on the rise, keep your eye on clip-on trackers. You may find one perfect for your lifestyle.
What to Look for in a Fitness Tracker
Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of all of the features which you can expect to find integrated into your prospective fitness tracker. Always careful compare features between various models to find the best tracker for you while keeping these key points in mind.
Here’s a look at the various sensors commonly found integrated into leading fitness trackers and smartwatches with fitness tracking features. Always ensure that your tracker has the right range of sensors to help you stay on top of your fitness area of focus.
The accelerometer is the most basic sensor which is found in all fitness trackers. It tracks your distance traveled in any given direction. Most modern accelerometers are 3-axis accelerometers, the industry standard. A good accelerometer will track your motion in any direction all of the time, tracing whether you are stationary, walking or running and the speed at which you are moving. These sensors also track the orientation of your body, its tilt and inclination as well as inertia.
Another common feature to most fitness trackers is a 3-axis gyroscope. A gyroscope measures angular velocity along three orthogonal axes. It is used by numerous reporting facilities and is a highly accurate means of orientating. The gyroscope improves the performance of exercise tracking features in conjunction with the accelerometer.
An altimeter is a sensor which detects and tracks changes in height. Fluctuations in atmospheric pressure are detected which allows your fitness tracker to monitor information such as final step count, flights of stairs ascended, and it helps your calorie output’s accuracy.
Ambient Light Sensor
The ambient light sensor of a fitness tracker detects the time of day by converting light to a digital signal then sending the metrics through the sensor’s processor. Most devices with this technology present auto-adjust the brightness of the fitness tracker’s backlight relative to the surrounding light level in order to improve both ease-of-use and overall energy consumption.
Heart Rate Monitor
There are many different types of heart rate monitors available as a part of various fitness trackers. Many units require an additional chest strap however this is less than optimal. Dedicated heart rate trackers are often sold removing the need for anything other than a small, lightweight strap, whilst most leading sports trackers and feature-packed fitness monitors all have accurate heart rate monitoring technology built in. This is a feature which is conventionally essential to athletes, fitness fans and those looking to lose weight as it allows you to accurately track your performance, endurance and the intensity of any given workout.
A bio-impedance sensor measures the resistance of electrical tissue with organic tissue which in turn translates to valuable information concerning a range of physiological signals. Fitness trackers using impedance sensors typically use them to track heart rate, sleep cycles, respiration, hydration and even skin galvanization. You’ll also find these sensors in smart scales.
A built-in GPS is a huge advantage to a fitness tracker allowing you leave your phone at home and still track important distance and route data. You should however keep in mind that devices featuring a GPS or GLONASS typically have lower battery life so consider keeping a power bank or similar charging solution handy for those times when you’ll be pushing its limits.
Aspects of design listed below will at times come down to personal preference however always take the time to determine which functions your tracker has to have, sorting according to priority and budget. Here’s what to look for.
A large screen size may not always translate to a clear readout. Keep a keen eye on the resolution and amplified brightness. Industry standards set the resolution of most fitness tracker touch-LCDs at 300 x 300, while the higher the amplified brightness the better allowing for crystal-clear readouts in any lighting conditions or underwater when reaching 1,000 nits such as is seen on the Fitbit Versa.
Not all trackers come with a screen. Smaller, more limited devices such as are common to tracking individual fitness activities such as running and cycling at times sacrifice a display complete in favor of a series of activity lights. If this is the case, familiarize yourself with how your tracker gives readout before buying one rather than becoming frustrated after you’re stuck with it.
You also want to determine whether you want a tracker with a screen that stays on permanently as opposed to one which senses your motion and switches on. The latter comes at a higher cost but the improvement to battery life is immense.
One of the downsides to most large-sized displays, especially on smartwatches with fitness tracking features, is the gaudiness and difficulty matching some designs to popular attire. It doesn’t help that your tracker does everything but it’s hard to wear, standing as a huge attentional-drawing gadget on your arm.
A good fitness tracker needs to be rugged enough to withstand the knocks and shakes of high-paced outdoor sport and the onslaught of the elements when hiking while remaining sleek and stylish enough to track your vitals on a day-to-day basis. As a device which will most likely be worn 24/7, you want your fitness tracker to be extremely lightweight and open to customizations.
The best smartwatches and fitness trackers available with come with tons of strap choices, face options and ways to personalize their look.
Ease of Use
While the most compact fitness trackers will feature only buttons, a capacitive touch screen does add an immense amount of practical value to any tracker. Touch screen functionality makes it easy to operate and configure the device however this does not mean that fitness trackers without such features should not be considered.
Trackers such as the Moov Now band has a long-lasting battery and tracking which can identify to such detail that it knows what type of punch you are throwing. Regardless of the feature set, make certain that your fitness tracker is logical and intuitively designed. Any buttons present should never pose an obstruction in any way while motion and activity sensors should always work responsively.
Always compare the battery life of your fitness tracker to other competing devices in its range. At times you will be shocked at the difference in performance. For example, the Fitbit Versa far outperforms the powerful Apple Watch 3 in terms of battery life giving an impressive four days on average in constant use, far outperforming Apple’s one to two days maximum.
Dedicated lightweight fitness trackers also have vastly different battery performances ranging from weeks to months. Every good fitness tracker will have its batteries easily available from all reputable retailers at a low cost, while some trackers even come with rechargeable solutions.
Single-purpose trackers often forego all on-device visible reporting features such as lights and screens in favor of data-only storage which is then retrievable via a smartphone or computer. If you don’t want on-the-move info at your hands then this is the optimal choice for you as these devices boast batteries that last for many months, at times years.
Storage only becomes a factor if you plan to load your wearable tech with custom applications and music. Many fitness trackers forego any sizeable amount of storage space in favor of battery life, instead interfacing with your mobile phone to provide music listening and voice command functionality. However, for those who have to have their music preloaded on the tracker itself, be on the lookout for devices giving at least 4GB of storage.
Any less, and you are limited to less than 300 songs on average, which is far less than most playlist collections take up. As it is, most fitness trackers only allow you a limited percentage of your total storage space for apps and files. Be sure to check this If you buy a fitness tracker which has a dedicated GPS; then you need to make sure that your device has the capability to handle a range of custom maps, markers and waypoint information.
Your fitness tracker should always be able to interface with your smartphone via Bluetooth at least. While not all trackers come with Wi-Fi, it does make connectivity to an existing network for syncing metrics much easier. Only the highest-end fitness trackers will feature an NFC chipset although given the limited amount of current applications it is only select users who will need such functionality. The most important aspect of connectivity is your device’s sync accuracy.
Fitness trackers are notorious for having issues with cross-platform synchronization. When such problems do occur, they are typically patched via software updates for the fitness tracker itself. Before buying any device, make sure that you know of any potential issues and the steps that may need to take to overcome any latent bugs.
Depending on the exact purpose of your individual fitness tracker, a waterproof rating will range from your tracker being tough enough to withstand the rain and being submerged briefly in water to resistance all the way to 90 feet for water-purposed devices. If you plan to use your fitness tracker to measure and record your performance while swimming, boating or any other activity where you will be under the water for prolonged periods, then make sure that your device has a high accuracy.
At times, sensor accuracy drops drastically as soon as certain fitness trackers are submerged even though they report accurate tracking of swimming data. Always do your research to ensure that your tracking features work properly underwater.
If you’re on the lookout for a waterproof tracker be sure to check out our guide on fitness trackers for swimming.
Most good fitness trackers will be capable of connecting to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. At the least, you should look for the ability to make and receive calls while possibly interacting with a voice assistant such as Siri. AI-driven voice assistants vastly expand the capabilities of your search-driven data and should always be considered.
Be on the lookout for audible alerts at goals and audio notifications for heart rates and other reporting features. The very best fitness trackers will offer coaching as either a stand-alone feature or assisted by your mobile phone. The side-by-side app for Fitbit devices is a great example of how mobile connectivity can expand the potential uses of your fitness tracker. Keep a close eye on what platforms are supported. In the case of Google Fit, mobile connectivity becomes essential and a great asset to the range of apps available.
Workout Auto Detection
Every good fitness tracker should feature automatic workout detection which begins to record the appropriate data to the appropriate application or reporting function of the device. Always compare the metrics provided by any given workout capturing feature of your prospective fitness tracker to other comparative devices. At times there are vast differences in accuracy while more reputable devices have found ways to supply more in-depth statistics regarding data captured. Instead of reporting basic metric only, data concerning every individual aspect of your sporting or exercise routine should be reported.
Sport tracking features should be one of your prime considerations prior to buying a fitness tracker, especially if you are an avid athlete. While a device may not always come preloaded with all of the sports-tracking functions which it can perform, you should make sure that your prospective fitness tracker has an app available to provide detailed reporting.
Always double check which activities a fitness tracker is suited to being used for. You don’t want to find your tracker damaged or malfunctioning during climbing, camping, hiking or adventure sports. A lightweight affordable tracking solution may carry all of the functions that you need but it won’t be able to sustain the knocks and weather most hiking watches are typically put through.
Similarly, if you are cycling, skating, running or performing any other activity where speed and agility are imperative then you need a fitness tracker which is feather-light and packed with metrics. Always buy according to what you’ll be using your tracker for. The best sports watches with fitness-tracking features have the ability to track over 80 different exercises.
As an addition of most high-end fitness trackers, coaching features are either loved or hated. Nonetheless, they are a prime factor of consideration for anyone that likes a bit of extra motivation. AI-enabled coaching assistants can use the information obtained by your fitness tracker to intelligently suggest adjustments to your training routine and diet while keeping you motivated with inspirational prompts.
Most devices featuring training assistants give advice towards goals but if you want the leading edge of this technology, buy a fitness tracker with a real-time audio voice assistant. The inter-personal coaching is far preferable to basic prompts on your device or phone. Most devices have a dedicated companion application for coaching; for example, the Suunto 3 Fitness features Adaptive Training Guidance which creates and adapts a seven-day training program from your individual data, changing it optimally if you skip days or make changes to your workout.
With advanced coaching for every discipline available, it is best to shop carefully for a new device.
Never underestimate the insights revealed by sleep reporting. Actigraphy, or sleep tracking, is provided by a range of fitness trackers. Fitbit and Jawbone fitness trackers are renowned for their actigraph components and the metrics obtained. Sleep deprivation has an effect on every last process of the body. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your metabolism is not working properly leading to fewer calories burned and less of an overall gain from your nutrition and exercise. Pay close attention to the data provided in your sleep cycles and adjust your workout, diet, habits and sleeping hours until you have reached a restful sleep state consistently. The rewards are far reaching.
The greatest selection of downloadable apps is found on the Apple store making their watches the clear winner in the app variety category; however, this does not necessarily mean a better user experience. Outstanding examples of superior app design include the range of tools provided with the Fitbit Versa and the great layout and functionality of Garmin’s Vivofit and Vivosport’s built-in apps.
Ultimately, you want a range of software which gives reporting and information in a clear, concise manner. When possible, try to see the device in operation first-hand or via video so that you can better gauge what each app provides. At times the built-in apps and limited operating systems such as Fitbit OS have apps which outperform any available on public app stores.
Given the highly competitive state of today’s fitness market you can find trackers with a plethora of handy functions and tools, from fitness tests to on-screen exercises, sporting tips, breath coaching, social alerts and communication, metric sharing and group goals, comparative heart health info, and real-time weather with forecasts.
Choosing the Perfect Fitness Tracker
Now that you have a complete overview of the features which you can expect to find, here’s a look at what questions you should ask yourself to ensure that you buy a fitness tracker which is best suited to your needs.
What is Your Budget?
Your budget largely determines the feature-set which you can expect. This being said, only dedicated fitness fans normally find themselves spending over $100 dollars on a tracker alone. Given the recent addition of highly affordable stylish wearable technology such as the Versa, Vivofit and Misfit Shine, one could always extend the budget closer to $200 to reward oneself with a fitness tracker which not only looks great but is packed with features too.
What Will You Be Using Your Fitness Tracker for?
Just because the fitness tracker which you have in mind lists your specific sport or activity this does mean that it specifically provides tracking for it. Always compare the accuracy and intricacy of any specific activity tracking which you plan to use. A simple fitness band for running may be enough for casual joggers but sprinters or other track athletes may prefer more dedicated hardware such as an ankle band or clip-on delivering more detailed results.
Is Your Fitness Tracker for Yourself or a Child?
If you need a fitness tracker for a child, then it is generally far better to buy one which is specifically designed for children. There are many fantastic choices out there such as the Fitbit Ace and Garmin’s outstanding Vivofit Jr.
Delivered in a range of Disney-branded designs and packed with features, these waterproof fitness trackers encourage kids to stay active through fun facts and interactive goal setting. For even younger children, a Leapband is a great choice doubling as a game and activity tracker. Regardless of your preference for education or your child’s age and interests, there is a fitness tracker perfect for them which will not only record their vitals but motivate a well-rounded lifestyle.
Do You Need a Screen?
Unless you want direct access to the real-time reporting of a heart monitor or the breathing assistance of a well-rounded fitness coach, you don’t necessarily need a screen. A screen adds to the size and weight of your tracker while also considerably increasing its cost. Fitness trackers featuring large screens are jam-packed with sensors and come in at around the cost of your average hybrid smartwatch.
There are many great fitness bands available which store biometric data for your viewing via an app on your phone or computer. This form of reporting is far more cost effective and preferable to devices with a screen unless you have the budget or a professional need for the fitness technology.
Smartwatch or Fitness Tracker?
A smartwatch is the first choice which comes to mind for most but unless you have the budget to buy a hybrid smartwatch towards the higher of the scale your fitness features will be lacking. The best smartwatches do of course rival dedicated fitness trackers, but you can expect to pay $250 or more per device.
Fitness trackers are purpose-driven and often much better suited to tracking the data from sporting activities and caloric information than the majority of smart watches. Given the vast selection of fitness trackers available it is highly recommended that you consider a tracker first.