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Fitbit leads the pack in accurate, easy-to-use activity trackers

Fitbit, one of the top names in the world of fitness trackers, consistently lands at or very near the top of most experts' "best of" lists. Among all fitness trackers, the Fitbit One (Est. $100) receives the most accolades. The One is universally praised for its accuracy and user-friendly design. It's a small capsule that comes with a silicone clip to discreetly attach to a belt or bra, but it can also track your activities if slipped into a pocket or even a purse. Its clear OLED display provides instant feedback on your daily step count, calories burned and overall activity level. There's also a flower icon that "grows" as you work toward your daily goals.

The Fitbit One can track walking, running and stairs climbed. Some report that it can even measure inline skating very accurately. The extensive website and app support allow you to input other activities as well, from weight lifting, to swimming to bicycling -- virtually any active moment you have can be charted, users say. Where Fitbit shines, though, is in its app support. You can use the free Fitbit app on your smartphone to map and track your run and scan bar codes on food to instantly input nutritional stats. Android, iPhone and Windows devices are supported, and there are a variety of third-party apps available as well. The One is also compatible with the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale (Est. $130), and linking a Fitbit with the scale offers an extra tool for managing weight loss.

Fitbit fitness trackers sync all information to your computer easily and automatically using a wireless dongle that comes with the device, or with Bluetooth connectivity through your mobile device. The result is that your stats update continuously and automatically, so you don't have to think about the process. Fitbit trackers are also compatible with free fitness sites, such as MyFitnessPal.com, SparkPeople.com and MapMyFitness.com, to name just a few.

To track the quality of your sleep, slip the One into the included wristband; you can set the vibrating alarm to gently wake you in the morning without awakening your partner. Its sleep tracking is not as highly rated as with some other trackers, but users love it, with many saying they've learned more about their sleep patterns from the Fitbit One than from professional sleep studies.

At about the same price, the Fitbit Flex (Est. $95) is another activity tracker that is very highly rated for accuracy, ease of use and appearance. This small unit slips into a wristband and clips to your wrist to track your every move. It's particularly great, reviewers say, for non-traditional step activities in which your arms are held stable, like pushing a stroller or using a walking desk. However, it does not count steps climbed. The Fitbit Flex has the same connectivity, syncing capabilities and website support as the Fitbit One, as well as the same ability to track calories and sleep.

Unlike the OLED display of the Fitbit One, the Fitbit Flex has an LED screen that consists of a series of five white lights. Tap on the screen, and the lights flash to indicate your progress. Users say there's a bit of a learning curve to interpret the display's message, but once they figure it out they say it's very easy to see where they are at a glance.

The Fitbit Flex comes with a choice of quite a few band colors, so it can be matched to a variety of looks and outfits, from professional wear to casual. For women, there is an official, Tory Burch-designed line of beautiful bangles that certainly don't look like their hiding something as pedestrian as an activity tracker. A little secret: In addition to the clips, wristbands, bracelets and bangles you can find on the Fitbit site to hold your Flex and your One, there is an entire cottage industry of crafters that make creative and attractive holders for your Fitbit One and Flex, for both men and women -- including a watchband that also holds a flex.

The only real downside to the Fitbits are that they are so easy to lose or to forget about and wash. While they are water resistant, they aren't waterproof, and when they go through the laundry they don't always survive the adventure -- although sometimes they do. As for the Fitbit Flex, users say the clasp can come undone and you may not realize that 5 miles into your run your Fitbit is no longer on your wrist.

Garmin could give Fitbit a run for its money

The Garmin Vivosmart (Est. $170) is fairly new to the fitness tracker market, but we're seeing a lot of buzz about it from expert reviewers, who say it has the potential to be one of the most affordable smartwatch-style activity trackers you can buy. It's not bulky like a smartwatch, though; it's smaller and with an appearance that's more like a traditional activity tracker.

However, the Vivosmart's standout feature is its ultra-long battery live. Unlike most trackers with a battery life of 5 to 7 days, the Vivosmart never needs to be charged. It uses a disposable battery that will last for a year before it needs to be replaced. The Vivosmart measures steps, distance and active time; that's less than many other trackers, but what users really like is the motivational factor that reminds you when you've been inactive for a while. It monitors sleep and, for an extra $30 or so, includes a heart rate monitor. It can also send you notifications of calls, emails and texts. People who leave their phone on vibrate all day love this feature, saying it's a discreet way of knowing they need to check their phone. However, it's not a two-way street -- you can read notifications, but you can't answer them, for that, you have to look to your phone.

The Garmin Vivosmart gets fairly lackluster reviews from owners. Those who have figured out the connectivity absolutely love it, but plenty say it's buggy and hard to sync. Others say there simply are too many notifications for their taste. The good news is that Garmin customer service monitors retail sites and responds to these complaints with explanations for fixes. The bottom line here is that enough experts have tested this device and ranked it very highly to make it worth keeping an eye on.

The Misfit Shine (Est. $80) is a popular, lightweight activity tracker that offers both a wristband and clip-on style holder. There are even two optional necklace holders, the Sport Necklace (Est. $50) and the Bloom Necklace (Est. $80) available. Many owners say it's the most attractive wearable they've ever owned; even the basic wristband holder (which comes in a wide selection of colors), is described as "sleek," "modern," and "eye-catching." Users love this little tracker, saying it works very well for tracking activity, calories and sleep, and they appreciate that it runs on a rechargeable battery that only has to be replaced every six months. It's also waterproof to a depth of 150 feet and will track swimming as an activity, a rare feature at this price point. The Shine is a bit too minimalistic for some, but others like it for precisely that reason.

This armband-style activity trackers may help you lose weight

There aren't a lot of armband-style fitness trackers on the market. Part of the reason is that the trend in activity trackers is for them to be worn 24/7, which is not as easy to do with something that attaches to your upper arm. However, the BodyMedia CORE Weight Management System (Est. $70) is very popular with people who are on a dedicated diet and exercise regimen. The BodyMedia is the one the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" wear, and it's one of the most accurate trackers around, reviewers say, monitoring skin temperature, perspiration and heat flux to get a very good fix on your activity intensity and calorie burn. It can also analyze sleep. BodyMedia's website is considered one of the best there is, very interactive, with detailed reports, guidance and advice on setting fitness goals; however, it does require a paid subscription, something users who bought this fitness tracker but were unware of the $7 monthly fee grouse about. Most don't mind, though, saying it's very reasonable for being able to chart every bit of their progress.

However, the CORE does not sync wirelessly, and to see your stats in real time without syncing to your computer requires the separate purchase of the clip-on BodyMedia FIT Weight Management Display (Est. $20). One other concern we have: BodyMedia has been acquired by Jawbone, and the shopping link on the BodyMedia website goes to the Jawbone product store -- with no BodyMedia products. This makes us wonder about the future of the BodyMedia product line.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Fitness Trackers: Which are the best activity trackers? Editors identify top the top fitness trackers and suggest the best picks for your activities and lifestyle.

Heart/Sleep Monitoring Fitness Trackers: The hot trend in fitness trackers is the ability to monitor important body biometrics like heart rate, and to dig down into your sleep patterns. These trackers give you a detailed overview of your health markers.

Buying Guide: What kind of fitness tracker do you need? Here is your guide to determining which type of activity tracker will best suit your exercise habits and lifestyle.

Our Sources: We used these professional and user review sources to find the fitness trackers. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.

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Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale, Black
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from Amazon.com
New: $129.95 $116.89   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $99.95 $90.01   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband, Black
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $99.95 $83.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Garmin Vivosmart - Black (Large)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $169.99 $159.70   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Misfit Shine - Activity and Sleep Monitor
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $99.99 $66.70   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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BodyMedia CORE Weight Management System
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $99.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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