Wrist-Worn Wellness: The 5 Best Health Wristbands
Health Wristbands – More Than Mere Fitness Trackers
A basic fitness tracker is fine if you want a simple device that will count your steps and tell you if you’ve burned roughly enough calories to justify a second scoop of ice cream. If you want something that’s going to help you monitor your wellness as much as it monitors your movement, though, you may be in the market for health wristbands.
While they’re all a bit different from one another, health wristbands measure more detailed data, like heart rate, and can do things like calculate your recovery time and measure your endurance. Some have onboard GPS for super accurate distance information, many have coaching features to keep you challenged, and they’re all a step up from the silicone bands that so many people are wearing.
Self-Contained Health Wristband
What’s so appealing about these health wristbands is that they gather information without additional pieces of kit, like chest straps or sensors, to put on your body. Everything gets done from the wrist, ported to an app, and converted to charts and numbers that you can actually understand.
And, these are not the high end, hard core, £300+ training watches that are designed to get you prepped for your next marathon or triathlon. It’s entirely possible to do more intensive training with health wristbands, though. Ultimately, these are trackers with a careful eye on your health. Whether you’re looking to step up from your current basic tracker or wanting to get in on the health data collecting fun, here’s our pick for the five best exercise and health wristbands.
1. Mio Alpha 2 Heart Rate Sport Watch
This latest iteration of the successful and well-reviewed Mio Alpha offers better activity tracking thanks to an updated three-axis accelerometer, a larger memory that can store more than a day’s worth of workout information before being synced via BlueTooth to your smartphone, and countdown timers. More than that, though, the Alpha 2 offers accurate heart rate monitoring, both during rest and during exercise, as well as advanced features like training modes and training zones. It can even do it when you’re swimming, since it’s water resistant to 30 metres.
The £149.95 Alpha 2 is a bit bulkier than your ordinary trackers, but its soft silicone strap and 53g weight make it comfortable to wear. Its one day battery life while you’re running the heart rate monitor is a bit disappointing, but if you turn it off, you can get up to three months. (Of course, if you didn’t want heart rate monitoring, you could probably just buy a less expensive tracker.) In addition to the Mio GO app, the Alpha 2 can sync with Endomondo, Strava, and a handful of other fitness apps. The display on the device itself is also easy on the eyes.
- An improvement on an already-popular exercise band.
- Good heart rate monitoring and related features.
- Comfortable to wear.
- A bit big and bulky.
- Short battery life with HRM running.
2. Fitbit Surge Health Band
Fitbit is an immensely popular brand with trackers at every price point that receive consistently favourable reviews from tech insiders and average consumers alike, so it’s hard to leave their products off a list like this. If you’re looking for the Fitbit that’s most complete as a total exercise and health band, you’ll want to check out its top of the line offering: the Fitbit Surge.
There really is no better Fitbit. This one has everything: built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, all day activity and sleep tracking, smartphone sync for notifications (yes, even on its very small screen), and so many more. Its corresponding app offers full details about your workout performance, plus it allows you to set goals, log your food intake, and support or compete with your Fitbit-using friends.
The Fitbit Surge is not cheap, at £199.99, but many find it to be worth it. Or, if you want heart rate monitoring but don’t necessarily want to spend the money for the onboard GPS, try the Fitbit Charge HR for a more reasonable £119.99.
- Tracks everything.
- Corresponding app has lots of features.
- Onboard GPS chip.
- Small screen.
3. Samsung Gear Fit Health Band
This wristband from Samsung is less of a tracker and more of a smartwatch with lots of health band capabilities. The big selling point of the Gear Fit is its beautiful, full colour, curved AMOLED touchscreen display; it’s small at just 128 by 432 pixels, but it gets the job done and responds to lots of swipe and tap gestures like a smartphone. Plus, it syncs with your smartphone for all sorts of notifications.
As for the health aspects, the Gear Fit measures resting heart rate as well as active heart rate, has a countdown timer, does all day activity and sleep tracking, and offers smart coaching right on your wrist, even as you’re moving. Though to be honest, while that last feature is great in theory, in practice it’s kind of awkward to continually check your wrist as you’re trying to push yourself to keep moving.
The Gear Fit is a little bulky, but that’s a fair trade off when you consider all that it does. Its two day battery life isn’t great (though it’s expected with a full colour screen and continuous heart rate monitoring), but its biggest downfall is that it works only with select Android phones and Samsung’s proprietary app. So, this is a great option, but only if you’ve already got a compatible phone. And this health band is relatively affordable at just £75, depending on where you shop.
- Beautiful display.
- Continuous heart rate monitoring.
- Very affordable, especially given all that it does.
- Not compatible with many devices.
- Need to recharge frequently.
- Smart coaching during exercise is awkward.
4. Jawbone UP3 Health Wristband
While Jawbone’s first continuous heart rate monitoring tracker isn’t without its problems (the clasp is frustrating for a lot of users and the mode switching is a bit glitchy, for starters), we’ve included the new UP3 here for two big reasons.
- First, Jawbone is well known for creating quality fitness trackers, and it’s going to garner a lot of business from customers looking for an exercise wristband.
- And second, despite its drawbacks, Jawbone’s synergy of hardware and software is thorough, easy to use, and incredibly helpful if you’re trying to meet health goals.
So let’s talk about the UP3. In addition to all day activity tracking and all night sleep tracking, the UP3 uses bioimpedance sensors to monitor your heart rate all day long. The app provides all the health data you need and then some, plus it has a smart coach that learns your exercise preferences to make better, more useful suggestions. You can also log food intake and count calories, and the smart coach will chime in here too, making suggestions for healthier eating and encouraging you to develop healthy habits.
Worth reading: Battle of the Trackers: Jawbone UP3 vs Fitbit Charge HR
The package is a relatively inconspicuous, non-sporty looking wristlet that is the epitome of the simple yet sophisticated Jawbone aesthetic. Again, this is a relatively new device, and while its tagline claiming that it’s “the world’s most advanced tracker” may not be entirely true (not for long, anyway), the UP3 is still a good exercise band pick at £129.99.
- Full tracking plus heart rate.
- Great app with smart coaching feature.
- Nice looking device.
- Clasp is not as easy to use or secure as it should be.
- Mode switching is not as easy as it should be.
5. Apple Watch
You knew this one was going to be included — who can deny the health features of Apple’s pricey yet functional marvel of a smartwatch? It’s got the built-in heart rate sensor and accelerometer to gather data, it tracks all of your activity, it’s got the Workout app to tabulate and visualise your details, and it’s got the Health app to keep all of your medical information in one place.
OK, so it’s not really useful for sleep analysis (you’ll probably have to charge it while you catch a few winks), and it relies on your iPhone’s GPS rather than having its own built-in sensor. Oh yeah, and it’s not Android compatible, though the Apple fankids who buy one probably don’t care.
The Apple Watch is definitely larger, clunkier, and less sporty looking than other exercise bands, and it’s definitely at the high end of the price spectrum (starting at £299 for the sport model and only going up from there). Still, if we’re talking about the best health wristbands, it’s impossible to leave out the Apple Watch. This is an outstanding choice.
- Lots of health-related features.
- Workout app and Health app keep track of your data.
- Looks awesome and does a lot.
- More expensive than other health bands.
- Larger than other health bands.
- Not compatible with Android.
Bonus: Health Wristbands on the Horizon
It’s an interesting time to watch the health wristbands that are in development. For example, Google recently announced its own health band that will measure heart rate, heart rhythm, skin temperature, and a host of other health-related details. It may not be marketed as a consumer device, at least not in its current version, according to early reports. Instead, it looks like it will fit in as a medical grade monitor that doctors have their patients wear to collect data. There’s no date on its expected release.
Also, there’s the Angel Wristband, the product of a successful Indiegogo campaign in 2013. It measures the expected vitals — heart rate, skin temperature, and other physiological details (including blood oxygen levels, which should be coming soon) — and has protocols for communicating emergency data to health care professionals and loved ones.
However, the Angel been plagued with all sorts of delays and is now more than a year behind schedule. Still, the company is plugging away at what looks to be an incredibly helpful health band once it’s released. And, it’s got an open platform, so there’s potential for more data collection and uses down the road.
The Angel is actually available for pre-order for $159 USD (so just over £100), though there’s no date listed for when it will ship.
To Your Health!
There are several other health and exercise bands out there that didn’t make the list but might be better in future iterations. We really wanted to like the Healbe GoBe, but bugginess and clunkiness prevents it from being a good recommendation at this time. The same goes for the Pivotal Living Tracker 1, which has been saddled with accuracy and quality issues. We are, however, hopeful that these manufacturers can learn from the current issues with these devices and make the next versions great.
Are health wristbands just speciality trackers? Maybe — they’re definitely in a sub-category all their own. Health bands are typically less bulky (and, frankly, expensive) than the wristbands designed for serious athletes who are training for competition, yet more robust than the more average trackers that make up the larger share of the market. If you’re concerned about living a more healthy lifestyle and want to do more than just count steps, one of these health wristbands may be just what you’re looking for.