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Fitness Tracker Buying Guide – 10 Things To Consider

After seeing a rubberised band on the wrist of everyone you know, and after reading social media updates about all of your friends’ steps and personal records, you’ve decided to join in on the insanity and purchase your own fitness tracker.

Welcome to the club!

It’s a healthy one — or at least, a health conscious one.

Taking the Plunge

Maybe you’ve taken a look at all of the trackers on the market, but if you haven’t, prepare to be overwhelmed. There are a lot out there, and it’s hard to wade through all the small print to see exactly what each one offers. More than that, though, comparing trackers can be tricky if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. So, to help you choose the right tracker for you, we’ve created this buying guide.

All Trackers Are Not Created Equal

Picking the right tracker would be considerably easier if there weren’t so many options.

The basic ones track steps and maybe sleep, while the higher end ones monitor your heart rate and even skin temperature. Some are made by big names like Jawbone and Fitbit, while smaller manufacturers like Misfit and Mio make equally impressive products.

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They all have corresponding apps, but some apps are better than others. A few sync with your smartphone. And then there’s the matter of appearance. How should you decide which tracker is right for you?

Here are 10 things to consider.

1. What’s Your Budget?

As you might expect, there are low cost trackers, ridiculously expensive trackers, and loads of trackers in between. On the low end, you’ll find models like the Xiaomi Mi for under £20, the Fitbit Zip for under £40, and the Razer Nabu X for under £50.

If, however, you’ve got more to spend (or if money is no object), you might consider the Rolls Royces of the bunch: the Withings Activité for around £300, the £200 Fitbit Surge, or the £170 Basis Peak.

Of course, many consumers want something in the middle: a Fitbit or Sony Smartband or Jawbone UP that runs around £100 and does a good job of keeping you motivated. So, it’s wise to set a maximum amount that you want to spend before you start shopping.

2. What Do You Want to Track?

You’d be hard pressed to find a fitness tracker that doesn’t track steps. After all, counting steps is what fitness trackers do — it’s their raison d’être, and probably why you want to buy one in the first place.

Most trackers also count calories burned, time active, and distance travelled. Sleep tracking is also a common feature, as there’s been an increasing amount of interest in our individual sleep quality, if we’re sleeping enough, and why we’re so damn tired when we wake up.Jawbone up2 sleep tracker

Beyond these fairly standard measurements, fitness trackers can keep tabs on lots of other things as well. These include pulse and heart rate monitoring, body temperature, and even your exact location. The good news is that if you’re looking for any of these advanced features, product websites typically have unique capabilities prominently mentioned. Of course, the more tracking features you’re after, the more you’ll pay for your device.

3.  GPS or no GPS?

A huge feature that you may want to have on your fitness tracker is a GPS sensor chip. This will give you the most accurate distance data — truly valuable information if you are a serious runner with a distance goal. However, fitness trackers with onboard GPS do tend to cost significantly more than those without GPS.

4. Display or No Display?

Garmin VivoactiveWhen it comes to the question of whether or not fitness trackers should have a display, there are two schools of thought:

  1. The first is that yes, of course you want a display to see your progress throughout the day — how else will you know how much more activity you need to complete to meet your goal?
  2. The second, however, is that you’re better off without the display so that you don’t become a slave to checking the numbers on your wrist — the device becomes almost invisible, or less of a distraction, at any rate.

Which of these attitudes is the correct one? It’s hard to say. Ultimately, that’s a decision that you’ll have to make for yourself.

What I can tell you is that there are some fitness trackers that have attractive and useful displays, such as the Garmin Vivoactive and the Sony Smartband. Others have minimal displays with either just a few lights or nothing at all, like the Misfit Shine and all of Jawbone’s offerings.

When you’re choosing a tracker, you’ll definitely want to decide if a display is a must-have or a potential distraction.

5. App and Health/Fit Compatibility

All fitness trackers are designed to work with either an app or a web tool. Most have proprietary apps that have been developed by the individual manufacturer for use specifically with their own devices, some have web tools in addition to an app for access to your data from a web browser, and many are compatible with third party apps.

Most of the apps made by the big manufacturers (like Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike, and so on) have full tracking data, charts, and a social component. Some work with other apps like MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun.

Finally, many are compatible with both Apple Health and Google Fit, though you’ll want to check on specific compatibilities before you buy. (And keep in mind that just because a device is not compatible with a certain platform today does not mean that it will still be incompatible with that platform in the near future.)Zombies, Run!

6. Battery Life and Charging

No matter which fitness tracker you buy, sooner or later, you’re going to have to take it off your wrist and recharge it. When that’s happening, any activity in which you take part won’t be tracked, so many wearers prefer to get a lot of battery life out of their wristlet.

Depending on the tracker you buy, you’ll get anywhere from a measly day or two of battery life (Microsoft Band, Garmin Forerunner 910XT) to an average of four to seven days (most Fitbit and Jawbone models) to a whopping 20 days or more (Polar A300, MOOV). Before you make your purchase, take a look at expected battery life, factoring in the age-old caveat that your mileage may vary.

As for charging up the batteries, most require nothing more than a USB cable; it either plugs into a small jack on the device itself or gloms on for magnetic charging. Some trackers charge faster than others, but figure on a total of two to four hours for a full re-up.

7. Comfort and the User Experience

Most fitness trackers are designed to be worn constantly. Therefore, if you’re going to have a device wrapped around your wrist 24/7, it really needs to be comfortable and lightweight. The majority of them are, but if you have the opportunity to try one on before you actually buy it, do so.

You’ll also want to look at how easy it is to interact with the tracker you’re considering. For example, some trackers (like the relatively new Jawbone UP3) have noted issues with mode switches and general usability, while others (like the Misfit Shine) require little more than a tap to get the details you want.

One other aspect of the user experience that you will want to find out about is whether or not the tracker you’re looking at is waterproof or water resistant. Many are, to some degree, but it’s good to know if the one you’re buying can be worn in the shower or is designed only to withstand a few light splashes.

try one on before you actually buy it

8. Do You Like the Design?

Misfit Swarovski ShineThis is another subjective topic, but it’s a no less important one. If you’re going to be wearing your fitness tracker all the time, you’ve got to like (or at least tolerate) the way it looks. So, you’ve got a few options.

  1. The first and perhaps biggest aesthetic category of fitness trackers is the sporty band category. These are typically rubberised, often black, and usually simple in appearance. Fitbits, Jawbones, Polar Loop, Garmin Vivofit, Nike Fuelband, and others are all good examples. They look like fitness trackers — and if that’s a look you’re OK with, you’ve got a lot to choose from.
  2. The next category is the watch-looking one. These are fitness trackers that look like digital readout watches, like the Polar A300, Garmin Vivoactive, and Basis Peak.
  3. Finally, the last category is the doesn’t-look-like-a-tech-gadget category. These are trackers that either look like a quality watch or a piece of jewelry, like the Withings Activité, Fitbits with Tory Burch designs, and the Misfit Swarovski Shine.

A good way to narrow down your choice of fitness trackers is to choose the look you want, and then consider the options available in that category.

9. What Other Features Do You Want?

Fitness trackers can do more than just track activity. Some, for example, sync with your smart phone to buzz when you’ve got a new voicemail, text message, or other notification. It’s a feature that’s common on more expensive models like the Fitbit Surge, but it can also be found on lower cost bands like the LG Lifeband Touch and the Razer Nabu X.


A buzz on the wrist to let you know something’s happening is another useful feature on a fitness tracker. Many have silent alarms that vibrate on your wrist to wake you up without disturbing your partner; some are even smart alarms that wake you in the lightest part of your sleep cycle.

Some trackers will give you a little buzz if you’ve been sedentary for a specific period of time, which is helpful to keep you moving throughout the day. Additionally, many will vibrate when you hit your steps goal for the day, sort of like a pat on the back (or wrist, as it were).

Fitness trackers can sync with your smart phone to buzz when you’ve got a new voicemail

10. Is a Tracker Right for You?

Sure, you’re looking for a fitness tracker, but is that really what you want? If you’re a serious athlete, you might want to consider a sportswatch specific to your sport.

These tend to run a bit higher than ordinary trackers, but they offer features like built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring, as well as apps with coaching capabilities. If you’re a runner or cyclist who’s training for a race, of if you’re looking for a swim tracker that you can wear in the pool, a sportswatch may be what you’re really in the market for.

Similarly, if the paucity of smartphone sync features on fitness trackers leaves you disappointed, maybe you’d prefer a smartwatch, such as a Pebble, Asus Zenwatch, or Apple Watch. These all have the ability to track activity, but they can do so much more as an extension of your smartphone.

Which Tracker Will You Choose?

I get it: the number of fitness trackers on the market today is overwhelming, especially if you don’t consider yourself a tech head. However, choosing the right one for you doesn’t have to be a stressful process.

First, think seriously about what sorts of data you want your tracker to count. Consider your budget and your aesthetic preferences, as well as if you have any compatibility requirements. And of course, seek out the chance to actually test one out before plunking down the money to buy it.

As always, before you buy a device, read the tech specifications carefully to make sure you’re getting what you want. If you do your research and do your best to match a product to your wants and needs, chances are good that you’ll be satisfied with your choice.

You should start here: The Best Fitness Tracker 2015 – Fitbit, Jawbone, TomTom, Garmin and more.

Happy tracking, and again, welcome to the club! You’ll soon be one of us.

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