Study: Your Phone Tracks Activity as Well as a Wearable

Illustration for article titled Study: Your Phone Tracks Activity as Well as a Wearable

The proliferation of fitness trackers available alone may be enough to convince you that strapping one to your wrist will quantify your self better than any other piece of hardware. But, as a new study shows, your smartphone can do just as good a job.

A new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that smartphone apps are just as accurate as the wearble fitness trackers available on the market. The experiment was simple: the researchers had 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, each twice, recording their step counts using a variety of fitness monitoring hardware as they went.

Indeed, the team, from the Perelman School of Medicine and the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, tested three waistband devices, three wrist-worn devices and two smartphones using a total of four different apps. They included a Galaxy S4, iPhone 5s, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP24, and several Fitbits.


The results? When step counts were compared to actual counts, smartphone records deviated from the actual by a maximum of 6.7 percent, while wearable devices differed more by up to 22.7 to percent. (For what it's worth, the Fuelband faired really rather badly.)

"In this study, we wanted to address one of the challenges with using wearable devices: they must be accurate. After all, if a device is going to be effective at monitoring — and potentially changing — behavior, individuals have to be able to trust the data," said lead study author Meredith A. Case, to EurekAlert. "We found that smartphone apps are just as accurate as wearable devices for tracking physical activity."

Given that we're all carrying a smartphone already, it may well make more economic sense to use it to record your fitness rather than a wearable. That is, unless you want to measure other psychological parameters such as blood glucose or heart rate—in which case, a more dedicated device is still your best bet. [Journal of the American Medical Association via Engadget]

Image by Annette Shaff / Shuttersotck


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Brent Rose

This is why fitness trackers with built-in heart rate monitors (i.e. the Fitbit Charge HR or the Basis Peak) are really the way to go. They'll give you a much better idea of your real caloric burn than anything that just counts your steps.