5 Best Activity Trackers for Getting and Staying in Shape
“What gets measured - gets done” has been the mantra of the business world for many years now.
But, until recently, only hardcore bodybuilders and competitive athletes have been likely to measure their fitness performance and results in detail.
All that has changed with the new wave of wearable technology and phone apps.
It’s easier than ever to track every tiny detail of your workout, daily exercise, and diet.
If you’re looking to get one or upgrade, there are so many available that the choice can be overwhelming. This article will break down what you should be looking for in a fitness tracker, depending on your personal fitness goals. We’ll then compare some of the best wearables and smartphone apps available today, weighing up the pros and cons to guide you in your decision.
What to look for in an activity tracker
Different trackers measure different things. It’s a good idea to decide what you want from your tracker before you start looking for one to buy. Here’s a brief breakdown of the most common fitness goals, and the relevant features you should look for:
- Weight loss – If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, or dramatically reduce your weight, you should look for 2 main things in a gadget or app. Firstly, make sure that it has a pedometer to track the number of steps you take each day. Some wearables also have an inactivity alert, so you know if you’re not doing enough exercise on any given day. Secondly, make sure that there’s a built-in nutrition tracker that’s easy to use. Ideally, it should be easy to choose from a list of meals and snacks and the app should automatically log the number of calories, fat, sugar, etc. you’ve consumed. This is fantastic for losing weight as you’ll get a deeper insight into your eating habits and find areas that you can cut back on.
- Improve general health and fitness – For general health and fitness improvement, a pedometer is a must and an inactivity alert is helpful. Other useful features for improving your overall fitness are built-in heart rate monitors, sleep trackers and the ability to export data to a spreadsheet or fitness monitoring app.
- Serious training for athletes and exercise fanatics – If you fall into this category, you’ll be looking for a more sophisticated wearable or app that does all the above, but also lets you track things like workout intensity, pace and elevation, preferably GPS enabled to provide you with much more accurate data than a simple pedometer. Some wearables alert you to phone notifications and you can also store music on them.
The design of wearables is important, especially the ergonomics. Most activity tracker wearables are watches or bracelets worn around the wrist. A few of the available devices can be clipped to your clothing or can be attached to a necklace. It’s a good idea to try wearing them before you buy, so when you go to the shop, don’t be afraid to ask a salesperson if you can try them on. Make sure you try moving your wrist at various angles and rotations, as you want it to remain comfortable enough to wear during intense workouts.
This section covers a few different considerations. First off, it’s best to get an activity tracker that has a simple user interface. You don’t want to be spending hours learning how to use it. The best trackers are designed to be simple and can be used straight out of the box.
You should also check out the app that it connects to, or whether it is compatible with popular apps such as Strava or My Fitness Pal (more on these later).
How tough your device needs to be is dependent on the type of activities you’ll be doing. Obviously, if you’re training for an Ironman triathlon, you’ll probably need a more robust device than if you’re planning to take walks in the park. Either way, you’ll want at least basic water resistance and shock absorption to withstand the rain and inevitable drops.
Last but not least, battery life is a consideration that people often forget until it’s too late. The last thing you want is to buy a wearable that needs recharging every 5 minutes as it kind of defeats the object. Most modern fitness tracker wearables have a battery life of anywhere between a few days to one year of continuous use.
Ok, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best fitness tracker wearables available on the market today. We’ve picked the best of the bunch for a variety of categories to help you decide.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of Fitbit. They are one of the most popular activity brands for a good reason.
The Fitbit Charge 3 is an awesome, sleek and stylish wearable that is both comfortable and boasts lots of powerful features. It’s ideal for people that are looking to lose weight, reduce fat, improve general fitness or train for competitive events. It monitors all of your activity, heart-rate and sleep density, measures food intake and performs analysis of your activity and habits, providing you with personalised tips.
You can choose from more than 15 exercise modes, including running, cycling, circuit training, yoga, etc. and you can get all of your smartphone notifications remotely while training. The Fitbit is compatible with dozens of third-party monitoring and social media apps, including Strava, Map My Run and MyFitnessPal.
The Fitbit Charge 3 is roughly low to mid-range in terms of price, coming in at around £120 on average. The battery life is fairly decent, but by no means the longest, at 7 days per charge.
Overall, the Fitbit 3 is the winner of the best all-rounder because it has so many powerful features at an affordable price. It’s also ideal for those who aren’t very tech-savvy or are pressed for time, as it’s very simple-to-use and doesn’t require a lot of setting up.
Best for Weight Loss
This fitness tracker has the best of all worlds for people trying to lose weight. It combines an activity, calorie and sleep tracker with a heart rate monitor to help you get the most out of your exercise.
The neat thing about this wearable is that it allows you to set personal goals. You can set a daily target of 5000 steps to begin with for instance, which is ideal if you’re out of shape and looking to gradually become fitter and healthier. The display can be set to show a countdown to your target, making it more likely you’ll reach your goals.
The Vivosmart 4 is at the lower end of the price bracket for wearables with this many features at around £100, so it’s great for people on a budget or who just want to try out a wearable activity tracker to see if it’s for them.
Best for Runners
The Polar M200 is the daddy of GPS running watches. It does everything you’d expect of a running tracker, looks great and feels comfortable to wear.
It comes with a variety of features to improve your training including smart calories that use your age and measurements to more accurately calculate calories burnt, a variety of running programs to build up to 5k, 10k and marathon races for example, and a running index to show your performance and highlight areas for improvement.
The Polar M200 also looks good, with a sweat-resistance band that’s available in many colours, and you can wear it all day long as it is a full activity tracker too.
Best for Swimmers
The Fitbit Ionic is one of the few wearable trackers that has full swimming tracking and GPS built-in and is fully water-resistant, making it ideal for the pool or open-water swimming.
It is also a smartwatch with lots of high-end features such as a touchscreen, Bluetooth (integration with a smartphone to get notifications), and music storage. The battery life is pretty good, lasting several days on a single charge and for a robust and sophisticated smartwatch, it also looks very stylish too with a sleek design.
Best for the Style-Conscious
If you’re looking for a simple activity and sleep tracker that also looks amazing, then the Withings Steel is probably your best bet. It looks like a minimalist designer watch, with simple analogue displays for time and progress towards your activity goal.
It links to a smartphone app that displays number of steps, quality of sleep, calories burnt, and can also help you to track a variety of exercise activities including swimming and running.
A Quick Review of the Best Third-party Fitness Apps
Most activity tracker wearables come with a bespoke app that you can download to your tablet or smartphone. But many of them are also compatible with other third-party apps. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular ones and what they do.
Strava is a tracking and social networking fitness app, designed mainly for those with a competitive personality streak or who find that their performance is improved when accountable to others.
There is a free membership version of the app that allows you to track basic stats and compete with others. If you want to unlock advanced stats and features, there is a subscription membership, mostly for serious athletes and competitors.
Many of the fitness wearables can link directly to Strava, so you don’t need to worry about uploading your stats manually.
MyFitnessPal is perfect for people that want to lose or maintain weight. With the nutritional content of over 6 million foods included in their database, logging your meals and calorie counting has never been so easy. You can also log exercise or set up a wearable to automatically upload exercise stats.
There are also goal setting tools and social media integration to keep you motivated and on-track.
This is a must-have app for serious runners as it generates an in-depth analysis of your runs based on your stats. If you want to go really hi-tech, you can get Under Armour smart running shoes that accurately track things like stride length, distance, cadence, and pace, wirelessly uploading them to the app.