Design, battery life, compatibility
Fitness trackers are quickly becoming the must-have accessory for health-conscious enthusiasts and guilt-ridden couch potatoes alike. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and are a great alternative if you don’t want to spend a lot of dough buying a smartwatch.
There isn’t a shortage of trackers out there. Actually, there appears to be a new model on the market every other month, thanks to their ease of use and portability.
The wearables are inexpensive, and track your everyday activity with reasonable accuracy. Their aim is to give you an overall picture of your current lifestyle, with some even including ways to improve it. The best ones can even monitor your sleep patterns and tell you when it’s time to get up from the couch.
Taking a look at the current trackers on the market, none of them are quite the perfect wrist-worn fitness gadget. So, similar to our ultimate smartwatch experimentation, we’ve decided to cherry pick the best features from each to create our own ultimate (but hypothetical) fitness tracker.
When it comes to design, we want something that looks stylish but also provides an invisible quality that isn’t too jarring. Essentially, the tracker should be an extension of you that is lightweight and compact, and it needs to be robust enough to withstand wear and tear.
Then we come to displays – do we actually need them? Having the ability to manage notifications, settings and viewing your stats on a sleek screen would be the preferred choice here rather than having to pull your smartphone out every other minute. So, we say, “Yes they are necessary.”
That being said, we’ve seen some fitness trackers that don’t seem to feel the need for one and are really setting the bar when it comes to design and fashion.
The Jawbone UP24, for example, sports an exceptionally clever design. It is worn around your wrist and weighs just 20 grams, depending on the three available sizes. It comes in a range of different colors to suit your needs, and has a comfortable exterior which feels smooth and soft when worn.
One of the compromises made by the design team was to ditch a display on the device, but you can use the gorgeous mobile app instead to obtain and consume your data.
It’s easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing fitness trackers on the market right now.
For those that are looking for one with a display, the Samsung Gear Fit comes with a sleek AMOLED touchscreen display that tells you the time, records your heart-rate, displays notifications, sounds alarms and more.
It’s also accompanied by a mobile app and comes in three interchangeable wristband colors: black, brown and tangerine. It’s almost a downsized version of a smartwatch, which isn’t a bad thing.
There are others, of course. Both the Misfit Shine and the Withings Pulse O2 are nifty little devices which you can wear not only on your wrist, but the display pops out so you can clip it onto a belt buckle or shirt. No need to constantly check your wrist, just leave it in your pocket and go. It gives you an added wearable option that others don’t.
This one comes down to preference: do you want a display or not? But, for the elegant design, comfortable form factor and all round coolness, we think the Jawbone UP24 wins this one.
Spending all day tracking, measuring and analyzing your activity can take its toll on the battery life of any device. That’s specially when said device is synced via Bluetooth to obtain real-time data and push said data to your smartphone.
Therefore it’s imperative that all fitness trackers come with impressive life expectancy that can last the distance.
The Razer Nabu promises up to seven days worth of battery life, which is impressive as it charges to full in just over an hour for continuous use.
The introduction of USB’s sparked a slow but painful end for disposable batteries. Plug in your device to a computer or charger, and you are good to go.
However, recently we have seen a resurgence of disposable batteries, and it appears to have taken off again in wearables.
The Garmin Vivofit 2 is powered by a watch battery, which means you only need to replace them every year, if not longer than that. No charging docks or accessories to worry about. Just wear and go.
No contest on this one, with 365 (plus) days of battery life, the Vivofit takes the crown.
We need to be able to connect our trackers to laptops and smartphones, so they can receive data and to consume. That being said, we don’t want to always lug around cables to plug in our devices for syncing.
The good news is that the best trackers all have Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. There’s also no shortage of impressive third-party smartphone apps.
Microsoft Band works across all three platforms but performance is better on the Windows Phone, thanks to its virtual assistant Cortana, which enables you to use voice commands for a range of different things, like setting alarms and playing music – just to name a few.
From the trackers we tested, the FitBit Flex appeared to be quickest in terms of syncing,
and was the most impressive when it came to accessing real time data. Like with all FitBit devices, the Flex is compatible with all the platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, OSX and Windows thus enabling you to sync wirelessly to your phone or computer.
You can also use it in conjunction with numerous third-party apps, including the popular exercising app MyFitnessPal.
A close second is once again the Jawbone UP24 which boasts even broader third party app support than the Flex, including Runkeeper. You can even set the Jawbone up with Google’s learning thermostat, Nest, to enable the temperature of your house to respond accordingly when you’re waking up or going to bed. It also has a more effective app user experience with a slick interface and design.
However, its lack of support for the Windows platform for either phone and desktop really lets it down, which makes the FitBit Flex edge it out – but only just.
Price, features, and final thoughts
We think the price for a fitness tracker should range between $100 (£65, AU$129) and $200 (£130, AU$260) or lower if possible. Anything more than that, and you’re in smartwatch territory.
But we want value for our money, not just any cheap piece of kit that won’t survive more than a month.
The most expensive tracker on the market is the Wellograph Fitness Tracker at $300 (£251, AU$388). Apart from measuring your steps and monitoring your heart rate, it doesn’t really do that much and, for your money, doesn’t really add much value for such a hefty price.
The least expensive is the Misfit Flash at $50 (£32, AU$60), which is quite attractive as it is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows. Those two points might entice some folks who are looking into getting started into fitness.
Microsoft Band, at $199 (£170, AU$199), is competitively priced. But once again, standing head and shoulders above them all is the Jawbone UP24.
At $129 (£100, AU$129) you are getting a truly powerful fitness tracker with all the capabilities to become one the best devices on the market. Part of the reason for its success is its competitive price, making it an attractive proposition for anyone looking to buy.
Ideally, we would like a device that contains as many useful features as possible.
Accuracy, nutrition, heart-rate and sleep monitoring, steps, and calories are just some of the things we would require from our fitness tracker.
For them to be presented in a cool, interactive way is a must, too. There are a range of devices that do these but only a few do it really well.
The Basis Peak is one of the most feature-rich trackers available right now. From activity tracking to heart monitoring, the Basis Peak has an arsenal of sensors and features, making it one of the most intelligent trackers out there. So much so, that it can even work out whether you are going for a run or a bike ride.
We’ve mentioned the Jawbone UP24 a few times already, and adding to the list of reasons it stands out is how it turns the activity data it has obtained into something tangible and relevant.
Imagine you miss your goal. The Jawbone will give a gentle reminder or notification encouraging you to get up and make that little bit of effort to hit the target. Its open platform means third party apps can really utilize the powerful data to create a vibrant app ecosystem.
If the Jawbone UP24 has a worthy competitor, it would most certainly be Microsoft Band.
Containing an impressive 10 biometric sensors which include an optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, microphone and a galvanic skin response sensor, there isn’t anything the Band is lacking.
It’s easy to use, works with Windows, iOS and Android and like the Jawbone UP24, has an open platform for developers.
In fact, had it not been for the clunky hardware design and mediocre battery life, you could argue that the Band might just be the perfect fitness tracker. One can only hope that the second generation will offer a more pleasing feeling on the wrist.
Our perfect fitness tracker would have the design and form factor of the Jawbone UP24, the battery life of the Garmin Vivofit 2, provide open compatibility like the FitBit Flex and would contain the features and sensors of the Microsoft Band.
You can find these elements and more in smartwatches like the Moto 360 or Apple Watch. But again, they’re far more expensive. For those who want something simpler, dedicated fitness trackers are affordable, more durable and generally provide the same conveniences found in smartwatches.
There are just a few features that could work even better if combined in one smart device, but whether we’ll ever see one in the next five years is still up in the air.