trackers can improve your overall health
Long hours spent sitting at a desk can make getting enough exercise
challenging. Enter the fitness tracker: a small wearable device that records
every movement -- and can even remind you to walk around after you've been
sitting too long. While these devices count steps and tally distances, many
also track other activities such as bicycling, climbing stairs or swimming.
Many even estimate how many calories you've burned, take your heart rate and
record how long -- and how well -- you sleep. A key feature of fitness trackers
is that they can upload this data to your computer, tablet or smartphone, where
you can see your overall activity and chart progress toward fitness goals.
If you're considering a fitness tracker, consider the type of activity
you commonly do, what data you want to track and whether the tracker is
compatible with your computer or smartphone. Don't forget to think about
comfort and design, since fitness trackers are intended for near-constant wear.
And if you're looking for other equipment to help you lead a more healthful
lifestyle, be sure to check out our reports on heart rate monitors and treadmills,
as well as our report on running shoes.
The best activity
Whether you want to casually count your steps or track intense workouts
with in-depth data, there's a fitness tracker that can do it. Nearly all are
sweat-proof and sync with your phone to let you see your activity levels,
adjust your goals and even compete against friends. A few high-end trackers
even include limited smart-watch functions such as text and email
Fitbit, one of the top names in fitness trackers, consistently lands at
or near the top of most expert roundups. Among its trackers, the (Est. $150), an updated version of the original Fitbit Charge HR, receives the
best feedback from users, who say it's comfortable to wear and feature-packed.
The Charge 2 tracks steps, activities, calories burned, floors climbed, active
minutes and sleep, and it monitors your heart rate continuously. Experts praise
the Charge 2's relax feature -- guided, personalized breathing training to beat
stress, based on the wearer's heart rate -- and the ability to get call, text
and calendar alerts through your fitness tracker.
On the downside, the Fitbit Charge 2 isn't water-resistant, so it's not
suitable for tracking activities like swimming, but it does have automatic
exercise recognition, detecting select exercises such as running, hiking and
biking, tracking your stats even if you forget to log your activities. Users
can also connect the Charge 2 to their smartphone's GPS to get real-time
running stats and get a map of their route after a run.
Where Fitbit really shines is its thorough, easy-to-use app. Fitbit
trackers sync via Bluetooth to your smartphone, or to your computer using a
wireless dongle. Stats update continuously and automatically, so you don't have
to think about the process. The One is also compatible with the (Est. $130), and linking a Fitbit with
the scale offers an extra tool for managing weight loss. Fitbit trackers are
also compatible with free fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal, SparkPeople and MapMyFitness, to name just a few.
If you're looking for a more affordable tracker, the (Est. $60) is also well-received by users and pros alike. Unlike
the Charge 2, it's water-resistant up to 50 meters, making it a good choice for
those who incorporate swimming into their fitness routine or simply don't want
to worry about remembering to remove their tracker before hopping in the
Reviewers say the Fitbit Flex 2 is discreet, mostly because it's a
slimmer band with no display screen, and it doesn't monitor heart rate, which
adds bulk. Like all Fitbit trackers, the Flex 2 syncs wirelessly with the
Fitbit app on your smartphone or the Fitbit website on your computer, giving
users access to the popular Fitbit community. The Fitbit Flex 2 earns good
reviews from most users on retail sites like Amazon.com and BestBuy.com,
although there are a few detractors who report problems syncing their trackers
to their mobile devices, and some say they wish the battery held a charge
longer -- it requires charging every two to three days, users say. A few others
complain that they have trouble getting the battery to charge at all after five
to six months of use.
If having access to the Fitbit community isn't a concern, the (Est. $200) is a solid contender for those
who want a fully-featured tracker. Experts praise its wealth of features,
including all-day activity tracking, built-in heart rate tracker and the
ability to set any smartphone notifications to display on your tracker. It also
has multiple sport profiles for easily logging your activities, and it's
water-resistant up to 50 meters, so it can be worn in the shower and while swimming
-- although it doesn't have a swimming activity mode. It's GPS-enabled, which
experts say is ideal for those who want to map their runs without having to
carry their smartphones along. It's a bit larger than many fitness trackers,
which some users find "clunky," while others say it's a worthwhile tradeoff for
its many features.
Users like the Garmin Vívoactive HR's high-resolution color touchscreen, which
is designed to be readable in bright sunlight. However, some users say that
it's difficult to read in low lighting conditions -- unless you adjust the
backlight settings. A number of reviewers say they have difficulty connecting
to (or staying connected to) the Garmin Connect app, and some say that the app
is complex to use. There are also some reports of crashing fitness trackers,
and a few users say their Garmin Vívoactive HR stopped working after about a
year. That said, several users praise Garmin's customer service for replacing
their defective units free of charge. The previous (Est. $170), with an optional chest-strap heart rate monitor, is
also still available, and it earns slightly better feedback from users,
although we did read some similar complaints about connectivity and durability
Basic fitness trackers get the job done if you're looking for a simple
(and more affordable) device that can track your daily steps. Where they differ
from more advanced activity trackers is features: Cheaper models omit
heart-rate monitors; large, vivid displays; and exercise-specific modes that
allow more detailed tracking. But for those on a budget or who just want to
track their steps, these basic fitness trackers cover the essentials -- and
sometimes more -- at a reasonable cost.
The (Est. $50) is a standout in the basic fitness tracker
category. This simple, clip-on fitness tracker tracks your steps, distance and
calories burned, plus it connects to the popular Fitbit app, allowing you to
set goals, earn badges, view your progress, and share and compete with friends.
It's water-resistant and clips securely to your clothes or waistband. While it
doesn't have the same advanced display as the Fitbit Charge 2, it does have a
simple digital display; just tap on the display to view the time and your daily
stats, or login to the Fitbit app to view your full tracking details.
Experts praise the Fitbit Zip for its simplicity and ease of use,
although they do note that it doesn't track sleep or floors climbed. Reviewers
like the fact that the Zip's replaceable battery requires no charging; it runs
on a 3v coin battery that will last about six months. Users say this clip-on
fitness tracker is hassle-free, durable, accurate and perfect for anyone who
doesn't want to wear an activity monitor on their wrist -- some users say they
simply carry it in their pocket.
If you prefer a fitness tracker that you can wear on your wrist,
reviewers say the (Est. $85)
offers several useful features at an affordable cost. It tracks distance, pace
and calories burned, and like the full-featured Fitbit Charge 2, it reminds
wearers when it's time to move. It's also GPS-enabled, making it a good choice
for runners and joggers. A chest-strap heart rate monitor is optional -- for
about $25 more -- for those who want a fitness tracker with heart rate
Users say the Forerunner 15 is user-friendly and straightforward,
although some wish the battery lasted longer when using GPS tracking (it lasts
for about eight hours in GPS-tracking mode and up to five weeks in standard
activity tracking mode). It's also water-resistant up to 50 meters, so sweat
and rain aren't a concern, and you can wear it in the shower or for a swim
Reviewers love the Garmin Connect app, which allows you to view your
runs on a map when you upload your data. One common gripe mentioned by
reviewers, however, is that while there are several display screens, it's not
possible to view your total distance and pace on the same screen during a run. Another
downside is that it's not Bluetooth-enabled, meaning you have to connect it to
your device with a cable to upload your data or enter it manually. Finally, if
you want to track distance indoors, such as on a treadmill, you'll need to
purchase the (Est. $50) -- which attaches
to your shoelaces -- separately.
Anyone who simply wants to track steps without worrying about syncing
data to their phones will get by just fine with a traditional pedometer.
Reviewers say the (Est. $25)
is one of the best, reliably counting steps without other unneeded features.
Like most traditional pedometers, the HJ-325 does not connect wirelessly to
smartphones or computers. Several reviewers actually prefer this, saying they
like the simplicity of keeping things separate. The device can be clipped on
your pocket or looped around the wrist with an included lanyard, and reviewers
say it's small enough to be unobtrusive no matter how it's worn.
The HJ-325 tracks steps, distance and calories burned. Most reviewers
are pleased with accuracy, though some say it's not as reliable as its
predecessor, the still-available but much pricier (Est. $90). The HJ-325 easy to use, most
owners say, with large buttons, a clear display and a counter that resets
automatically at midnight. It has a seven-day memory. The battery compartment
can be unlocked without any tools, and users are happy with battery life, which
the manufacturer says should be at least six months.
Expert & User Review Sources
There is no shortage of expert opinions on fitness trackers. The best,
from sources including ConsumerReports.com, TheSweethome.com and Reviews.com,
methodically test each device using the same methods and give head-to-head
comparisons. Editors at PCMag.com also conduct hands-on testing, naming
the 10 best fitness trackers in a feature-by-feature comparison. Also helpful
are in-depth roundups and reviews from tech-savvy sources including Wareable.com and CNET.com. For a clearer picture of durability and functionality in
real-world conditions, we also examined user reviews from sources including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and DicksSportingGoods.com.