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The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness

  • Category: Features
Date: 5/24/2013

By Jill Duffy

Ditch the paper calorie-counting log and old-school pedometer and upgrade your exercise regimen by adding a fitness tracker. If you're looking to lose weight, increase your physical activity, or simply improve your overall health, a personal activity tracker can help you reach your goal.

The devices on the market today are highly evolved cousins of pedometers from yesteryear. They're much smarter, more accurate, and do a whole lot more than measure how much you walk. Paired with a companion Web account or mobile app, they give you new insight into the habits that make up your lifestyle.

Most activity trackers today still count how many steps you take, but also tally the miles you travel, show you day-by-day how much physical activity you get, calculate the calories you burn, and often collect data about your sleep patterns, too. Some can even sync with heart monitors (one device actually has a heart rate monitor built into it), smart bathroom scales, and other devices to give you more accurate readings of what's going on with your body.

Design and form factor—important considerations for me—can range wildly. Several popular activity trackers look like bracelets and a few resemble watches, but my favorite is a unique clip-on device that's small enough to slip in your pocket when you don't want to be seen wearing it.

That favorite pick and our Editors' Choice, the Fitbit One, comes with an excellent online account. If activity, calories, and weight weren't enough, Fitbit also lets you track glucose levels, blood pressure, and how many glasses of water you drink.

Several other devices are ripe to hit the market any day now, including the much-anticipated Misfit Shine and the Amiigo, a wristband that includes a second tracker worn on your shoelace.

Whether your health goals are modest or you're hoping for a full fitness transformation, using a personal fitness tracking device can go a long way toward helping you understand if the exercise and health habits you keep are contributing to the new you.

FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP

Fitbit One

Fitbit One

$99.95 direct
The Fitbit One is a super-smart pedometer that tracks how many steps you take in a day, the flights of stairs you climb, the distance you travel, the number of calories you burn, and even how much restful sleep you get. It also includes a "silent wake alarm"—you can sleep with the Fitbit One tucked into the pouch of a wrist strap (included), and the device will vibrate at whatever time you set to wake you without waking your sleeping partner. The companion Web account, Fitbit.com, lets you add even more information, like what you've eaten, as well as other activities that the Fitbit can't track on its own, like lifting weights or cycling. All these features, plus great compatibility with other apps and a wonderful form factor, make the Fitbit One our Editors' Choice among activity trackers. Read the full review ››



Basis

$199 direct
Tech and fitness enthusiasts should run out and buy the $199 Basis fitness watch immediately, as it's by far the most interesting activity tracker on the market. It does everything you'd expect in terms of measuring distance traveled and calories burned, but adds a heart rate monitor that takes your pulse day and night right through your skin. It also measures calorie burn, skin temperature, and sleep. Basis' online account focuses on habits more than raw data, which is another interesting and intriguing twist. This watch has set itself apart from every other fitness device I've tested, even if the hardware design could use a few tweaks. Read the full review ››



Fitbit Flex

$99.95 direct
Among wrist-worn activity trackers, the Fitbit Flex is the best and most competitively priced one you'll find. It's extremely comfortable, stylish, simple, and most important of all, comes with all the benefits of a Fitbit.com Web account. Because of the way it wirelessly (and effortlessly) syncs to your computer, iPhone, or Android phone, it's also extremely convenient. The included sleep tracking and silent wake alarms are wonderful features, too. Read the full review ››



Fitbit Zip

Fitbit Zip

$59.95 direct
The petite Zip is a lower-cost option from Fitbit. You get the same great experience on the Fitbit website, where all your data is displayed and you can log other fitness information, but lose the ability to track stair-climbing, wireless syncing with the mobile app (it does still sync wirelessly with a PC or Mac, though), and the silent alarm that's included in Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex. It uses a watch battery, so there's no need to charge up the device every so often. If cost is your primary concern in choosing a fitness tracker, Fitbit Zip may be an ideal option. Read the full review ››



Jawbone UP

Jawbone UP

$129.99 direct
The Jawbone UP is in some ways everything I want from a fitness-tracking gadget. It tracks daily activity and sleep efficiency, comes with a supremely well-designed app for both the iPhone and now Android devices, too, feels comfortable around my wrist, and includes a vibrating silent alarm, which anyone who shares a bed should at least try. If you want an activity tracker on your wrist, the Jawbone UP is one of the best you'll find, although like Larklife (below), the device requires an iPhone or Android device to work, and that's perhaps the biggest stopping block for many. Read the full review ››



Motorola MotoActv

$249.99 for 8GB, direct
The only fitness gadget we tested that's built for serious athletes (runners in particular) is Motorola's MotoActv. The GPS-enabled MP3-playing device cleverly correlates and displays data from your workouts, such as the map of your route and your pace during each song on your playlist. Among hybrid music player-fitness tracking devices, though, it's on the pricier side. Read the full review ››



Striiv Play

$69.95 direct
The Striiv Play is an activity tracker that, as its name suggests, is all about making fitness fun. It tracks typical fitness stats like steps taken, stairs climbed, and calories burned, but instead of simply presenting the information in quantifiable terms, it incentivizes the process. There are mini games, personal challenges, and moments of social interaction, but the app and device design are missing some of the polish found among competitors. Striiv Play appeals to a pretty young crowd, with cartoon avatars and games galore—those same kid-friendly features may turn off serious fitness enthusiasts. Read the full review ››



BodyMedia Fit Core

$179.99, retail, plus $6.95 per month for data access
The BodyMedia Fit Core fitness band, when worn around the clock, collects good information about your exercise, calorie burn, and sleep. The armband calculates your exercise level and calorie burn based on a few metrics more than just motion. Two silver plates on the inside press against your skin to measure body temperature and galvanic skin response (perspiration, essentially). This, coupled with a three-axis accelerometer, helps BodyMedia calculate fairly accurate data. But there are drawbacks: You have to pay a monthly fee to see the data, and the armband itself is clunky, uncomfortable, and not particularly attractive. Read the full review ››



Larklife

Larklife

$149.99 direct
The first time I launched the Larklife iPhone app, I thought, "How can an app this well designed and different from the competition go with a gadget that's so clunky and awkward?" Larklife's app could provide the motivation you've been hoping to find to get fit, but the gadget's physical appearance and form is lackluster in comparison. This wristband simply doesn't compare with the more slender and sophisticated models you'll find in big brand names like Nike and Jawbone. You also need an iPhone to see your data, as Larklife doesn't work with other platforms. Due to Larklife's clumsy form factor and slightly high price, it sits somewhere in the middle of the fitness gadget pack. It's not bad, but not great, and for less money you can probably find something you'll like better. Read the full review ››



Nike+ FuelBand

$149.00 direct
The retro-chic fitness-tracking Nike+ FuelBand looks like an understated gadget, and in fact, it is. The data it collects is very limited, making it little more than a glorified pedometer. But if all you want to know is a general measurement of how active you are in a day from a sporty wristband (with an LED dot matrix displayed clock), the Nike+ FuelBand isn't a bad choice. Snap it on, wear it all day, and see all your movement, whether you're running, dancing, or rock climbing, transformed into data points. Read the full review ››