Like many of you, I work in front of a computer. They’re powerful devices, but they also suck your will to live and trick you into never, ever getting up and going outside. Reasons like that are why fitness trackers were invented.
Over the last few years as Giz’s primary writer for Fitmodo, I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune?) to try almost every fitness tracker that’s come down the pipe. There are hundreds out there, but only a few of them are worth your time.
There are a number of important factors that separate a good fitness tracker from a lousy one. Is it good-looking, or at least discreet enough that you will actually wear it? Is it accurate? How long does it last on a charge? Does it just count steps, or does it also have an altimeter? Or a heart rate monitor? Can it tell you the time of day?
Then there are features to consider like the quality of the app that hopefully accompanies it. Does it track your sleep? Does it automatically change into sleep mode/running mode/biking mode, or do you have to remember to fiddle with it? And, of course, is it cheap enough to be worth purchasing? In the last few years it seems like every company and their parent company has tried making a fitness tracker. I went looking for those I think you might actually consider purchasing—and then picked the ones that are actually worth it.
We’re not including dedicated GPS running watches or other sport-specific wearables here; we’re focusing on activity trackers that provide ambient data, designed to quantify up every move you make. I also should note that this initial post is going live right before CES, where there’ll surely be some new launches, and that some of the heavy hitters in this category like Fitbit and Jawbone haven’t yet released their new flagship models. I expect things to shake up soon, and I’ll be updating this piece as soon as I’ve spent some time with those too.
The $150 Fitbit Charge HR is the overall best fitness tracker for most people. It has a ton going for it and it comes in at a reasonable price. Not only does it have an accelerometer to count your steps and an altimeter to gauge the elevation you climb, but it has a built-in heart rate monitor that’s clocking your ticker 24/7. This gives you a much, much better picture of your real caloric burn, which I would argue is the most important metric for a fitness tracker.
Not only that, Fitbit now has the best app out there. It has come a looong way. It’s not only visually appealing but information is laid out in an extremely intuitive way. It’s easy to get an at-a-glance view, and it even has a really slick system for food logging, complete with barcode scanning. It doesn’t delve into quite as much details for sleep monitoring at the Basis Peak (which can tell the difference between REM, light, and deep sleep), but it does it automatically.
The band itself is discreet and doesn’t call too much attention to itself. It’s small screen is easy to read and its one button makes it very simple to operate. You can see relevant info like the time of day, your current heart rate, number of steps taken, and floors climbed with virtually no effort, and it can even display the name/number of incoming callers. We wish it were waterproof and that it didn’t have a tiny proprietary charging cable that we are definitely going to lose, but for $150 it’s the best all-around tracker you can buy. [Full review]
Look, not everybody wants to wear something on their wrist. Or maybe your wrist is already spoken for. Totally cool. The $120 Withings Pulse O2 might be just the thing for you. It’s small and thin, so it fits easily in any pocket (I wear it in the 5th pocket on my Levi’s) and nobody ever knows I’m wearing it.
The little pod has a LED screen that’s easy to read. It counts my steps like all other trackers, but it has an altimeter, too, so it can tell how much elevation I gain throughout the day. That gives me a more accurate estimate of your caloric burn. It also has a sensor you can place your finger over, should you want to get your heart rate, and if you mount it on your wrist it’ll track your sleep, too. I got well over ten days of battery life on a charge.
Now, the Pulse O2 is just the original Withings Pulse with a bonus wristband, and currently, they’re both selling for $100. If you can find the Pulse for less, it might be worth it because I don’t think it’s attractive enough to wear on your wrist, but to each their own.
It was a very close call between the $50 Jawbone Up Move and the other inexpensive trackers, but the Move gets my recommendation. Like the Pulse O2 mentioned above, the Move is a little pod. You either slip it in a pocket or attach it to your clothing with the included clip. It counts your steps as you go about your day and syncs directly with your smartphone. It can also monitor your sleep, should you chose to wear it at night.
What really sets the Move apart from its budget competitors is Jawbone’s Up app. It’s just terrific. It’s beautifully laid out and it’s intuitive. It also has advanced tools for food logging. It can issue you challenges and it can display your data in a way that’s easy to understand. I would say that the app is second only to Fitbit’s.
The Move also comes in four different colors, if you want to spice things up a little. The replaceable coin battery inside should last a full six months, which is best in class. And, if you double-click it, it’ll show you the time of day. It’s a simple device, but for $50 it’s pretty solid.
Okay, this is kind of unfair, because the $500 Garmin Fenix 3 isn’t just an activity tracker, it’s really a high-end multisport watch. But it’s freakin’ amazingly good. It offers advanced GPS tracking (with GLONASS) for running, cycling, and swimming, hiking, climbing, and yep, snowboarding and skiing, too. It can also count your strokes and laps as you swim (it even knows what type of stroke you’re doing) and analyze your running form as you go. You can even load maps onto it and use it to navigate the backcountry, or expand its capabilities by installing third-party apps. It’s an absolute beast.
And yes, it’s also a fitness tracker. Garmin borrowed the brains from its popular Vivofit fitness tracker line and just put them into the Fenix 3. The idea is that it helps you chart how much rest you’re really getting in between workouts. It measures your steps, calories burned, and your sleep. It also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can display smartphone notifications (though it can be like drinking from a firehose).
If you’re willing to spend $50 more you can get it bundled with Garmin’s HRM-Run advanced heart rate monitoring chest strap. It’s expensive ($500), but if you’re training for a race (be it cycling, swimming, running, or triathlon) or if you’re the hardcore outdoorsy type, it doesn’t get any better than this. [Full review]
If you don’t need the full multi-sport capabilities of the 920XT, but you’re a runner (or aspire to be one) and do a little cycling here and there, then the $180 Polar M400 is nearly impossible to beat. It’s a full-on GPS running watch that I’ve found to generally be quite accurate, and it has some great features like allowing you to race against your personal best, or your run time predictions. It’s also waterproof to 30 meters.
When you’re not training, it’s tracking your activities 24/7. It logs your steps and your sleep, and it’s got a battery capable of doing it for a long time. You’ll get 8-9 hours of GPS running or up to 24 days of activity monitoring. Impressive. It doesn’t have built-in heart rate, but it pairs with a HRM chest strap (bundled for $210). The biggest ding against it is that Polar’s Android app still doesn’t support the M400. Polar has a history of being very slow with Android releases, and they need to fix that. Otherwise, this watch is pretty awesome.
If you’re really wanting a smartwatch, but you want it to act as an fitness tracker, too, well, the $150 Motorola Moto 360 is the best at it. Provided you use an Android phone. You get a beautifully designed and very sleek smartwatch that acts, essentially, as a second screen for your handset. It displays calls, texts, emails, and other notifications as they come in, and even lets you replay to them right from your wrist. Plus all the goodness of Google Now.
The reason the Moto 360 gets the nod over other Android Wear watches is that it’s the only one so far that offers persistent heart rate monitoring, much like the Fitbit Charge HR. Other smartwatches have heart rate sensors, but you have to open the heart rate app to take a reading every time you want one. The 360 counts your steps, too, but that constant heart rate gives it a much better picture of your true caloric burn. Now, it doesn’t track sleep, and you have to charge it every night, which isn’t ideal, but it’s the best for now. [Full review]
Update: Now $150, down from $250.
Adidas miCoach Fit Smart
This isn’t so much an all-day fitness tracker like the others. The Adidas miCoach Fit Smart (great name, guys) is for tracking your heart rate data during workouts. Really more of a workout watch than a fitness tracker, so it doesn’t really belong in this category.
Adidas Fit Smart Band
It’s looks like an engorged Nike+ Fuelband, but the Fit Smart Band is also really more of a workout training watch than a general fitness tracker. It’s not bad, it’s just overpriced for what it actually does, and the LED display is hard to read in direct sunlight.
Apple Watch (updated 7/2015)
Some people say the Apple Watch is a great fitness tracker. Maybe so—but it’s also got terrible battery life. You have to manually tell it to start tracking your heart rate by selecting an activity (unlike the Moto 360) and afterwards you’ll be lucky to have the watch last the evening.
Basis B1 Band
The original Basis B1 Band had all those sensors going for it, but the screen was terrible, it scratched easily, the buttons were unresponsive, and battery life was pretty weak. It was also ugly. If you like what Basis offers, save a little more and get the Peak.
Basis B1 Carbon Steel Edition
Exact same as the original B1 band, except with more metal and it didn’t scratch as easily. The B1 Carbon Steel is better, but definitely not as good as the Peak.
Basis Peak (demoted 2/25/15)
Handily the best Basis yet and the $200 Peak was our top pick until the Fitbit Charge HR came along. It’s waterproofier and tracks sleep better, but it’s bigger, pricier, and has a worse app. Still very good, though.
At $60, the Fitbit Zip was a contender for our Budget pick. It’s pretty accurate, it’s very small and discreet. But it doesn’t do sleep-tracking and the UP Move does, and it has a better app.
I like the Fitbit One a lot. It’s tiny, nicely designed, has an altimeter, and is super easy to use. I prefer the Pulse O2 because it can check your heart rate, but it’s pretty much a toss-up. If you grab one of these for $100 or less, you won’t be disappointed.
I found the Fitbit Flex to be disappointing. Lives on your wrist, not very attractive, not very accurate, can’t tell you the time of day, has no altimeter. Not even that cheap. Definite pass.
The $130 Fitbit Charge is actually pretty good. It has an altimeter, automatic sleep logging, and week-long battery life. So why isn’t it one of my picks? It pops off my wrist if I so much as look at it funny. Just spend the extra $20 for the Charge HR.
Fitbit Surge (added 2/25/15)
The $250 Fitbit Surge is a great fitness tracker. It’s just as good as the Charge HR. Sadly, it isn’t really any better—it can’t realistically double as your smartwatch—and it costs $100 more.
Well, the Fitbug Orb is very cheap, which is nice, but it’s also thick and not very attractive. Could have been a contender for Best Budget Band, but I found it inaccurate in my testing and it had all kinds of syncing problems. Not worth the headache.
Garmin Forerunner XT (demoted 7/2015)
The best triathlon watch I’d ever seen, and a fitness tracker to boot, I called it the Best For Serious Athletes. The new Garmin Fenix 3 totally outclasses it, though.
The $80 Vivofit is comfy. I like the always-on display and ability to pair with a heart rate monitor. The screen has no light, making it impossible to see at night, it’s oriented sideways, making it hard to read, and it has no audio or haptic feedback. Crappy app.
The $170 Vivosmart definitely sounds better than the Vivofit. It can actually vibrate! It can also display phone notifications, and pair with other sensors like bike speed meters. Still don’t like the perpendicularly oriented text and it seems a bit overpriced.
We called it “A Fitness Fiasco” in our review for a reason. It’s innacurate, it has pairing problems, no screen, and just a lousy overall user experience. We had high hopes, and they were dashed to flinders.
It’s just like the UP3 except it does less! Same badness but without the heart rate monitoring. It doesn’t matter that it’s cheaper: don’t buy it.
More known for headphones, Jaybird’s activity tracker, the Reign, looks like a futuristic handcuff. Maybe cool? But it has a terrible mobile app, no web app, a lousy display, and a dodgy fit. It’s also $200. Very not worth it.
Misfit Shine (price drop 7/2015)
The $70 Misfit Shine is about the size of three stacked quarters and looks like a little flying saucer. It lights up to show you how close you are to your step goals, has six months of battery, and is waterproof to 50m. At least it’s supposed to be. I found that swimming shorted it out, though it would come back to life a couple days later. The tap interface is kind of a pain and I had a lot of syncing problems.
Misfit Flash (price drop 7/2015)
The $30 Misfit Flash is basically a cheaper plastic Shine. It has a click interface, which I found easier. But it pops out of its plastic wristband too easy, it died in less than 12 feet of water instead of the quoted 30m, and again I had a ton of syncing problems.
Misfit Flash Link (added 7/2015)
Misfit’s products haven’t been the best so far, but the new Misfit Flash Link costs just $20. We’ll definitely give it a go.
Nike+ Fuelband SE
The SE offered a tiny spec bump over the above mentioned Fuelband. Also discontinued. Don’t do it.
Powered by TomTom, which actually makes some good running watches, the Nike+ SportWatch looks slightly better than the bands if only because it’s a GPS running watch, too. It still uses the nebulous Nike Fuel, though, and it’s still iOS only, and it’s still going the way of the dodo. It’s also overpriced.
While I like that the Polar Loop can pair with a heart rate monitor, it was too thick to be comfortable. You also have to awkwardly cut the band to fit you. The one button felt unresponsive, and I found that the band would pop open from time to time.
It’s a multisport watch with activity tracking like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, but the Polar V800 isn’t nearly as fully featured and costs roughly the same. Not worth it.
Razer Nabu X (added 7/2015)
For $50, the Nabu X isn’t bad, but I sure wouldn’t pick it over the Jawbone Up Move. None of the fancy social features are worth a damn. Why settle for a week of battery life when you can get months?
If you’re a loyal user of the Runtastic running app then you miiight consider the Runtastic Orbit, as it interfaces reasonably well with the app while working out, but this tracker is big, ugly, and I found that it was very inconsistent in its performance.
The cheap Soleus Go has rare features like displaying the weather and temperature (as long as it’s paired with your phone via Bluetooth). But there are many complaints about connectivity issues, bugginess, crappy buttons, and a too-dim screen.
Sony SmartBand SWR10
On the plus side, the SmartBand SWR10 is comfortable, waterproof, and not offensive to look at. But it doesn’t tell the time, the app is a total mess, the button often doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, no altimeter, it’s not very accurate, and battery life is meh.
Spire (updated 7/2015)
The Spire is a very interesting concept, promising to track your body, breath, and state of mind to help reduce stress. In reality, it’s a mediocre fitness tracker and a dubious mood tracker. Skip it.
Looked like it had potential. The Striiv Touch is sort of a Withings Pulse / Fitbit Flex hybrid and for cheap. Unfortunately the internet says it’s lousy, with bug reports, unresponsiveness and general jankiness.
Similar to the Striiv Touch but the Striiv Band has no screen and garnered even more loathsome reviews.
An attempt to gameify fitness, the pod looks like a rounded out Withings Pulse O2. The Striiv Play only works with iOS though, and again, terrible reviews from consumers.
Nice classy design, reads your heart rate, waterproof to 50m, and it has a damn near unscratchable sapphire crystal screen. That said, I found that the display incredibly tiny and hard to read. Slow UI, and not capable enough for the $300 asking price.
Maybe you just wanna use your phone as an activity tracker. Sure, you can do that. Every platform has an app for that. It just requires you to have your phone on your body basically at all times. Which maybe you do already. But if you just wanted to use your phone why are you reading this article? Oh god, is anybody reading this article? Are you out there? Oh man...
12/2014 - Original post - Brent Rose
2/2015 - Fitbit Charge HR named The Best Overall, displacing the otherwise excellent Basis Peak. Updated The Rest with Withings Activite Pop, Fitbit Surge and Basis Peak. - Brent Rose
7/2015 - Garmin Fenix 3 named The Best for Serious Athletes, displacing the Garmin Forerunner XT. Updated The Rest with Jawbone UP3, UP2, Nabu X, Spire, Withings Activite Pop, and the Apple Watch. - Brent Rose