Image source: Garmin

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker

With so many wearables on the market, it can be difficult to choose a device that will suit you best. The right one will be based on your individual needs – whether it’s step counting, sleep tracking or 24/7 heart rate tracking – there is something for everyone. No one product does it all, but some come closer than others.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets

We have seen the launch of quite a few devices over the past couple of years. Going forward we expect there will be more emphasis on better interpretation of data, integrating new sensors, and moving away from the wrist (think smart shoes, clothes, etc.).

The truth is, not every tracker is for everybody. You’ll find wearables aimed at workout newbies, gym junkies, runners and swimmers. So, how do you find the perfect tracker for your life? Here are some things to consider.

(1) What is your budget? How much money do you want to spend?
(2) What do you want to track? Standard metrics or are you after something more advanced?
(3) Does the design appeal to you? This is a matter of personal taste.
(4) Colour display, black and white display, or no display?
(5) User experience
(6) Keeping it juiced
(7) GPS or no GPS?
(8) Is it water-resistant? Or swim friendly?
(9) Do you want a heart-rate monitor? Heart rate monitors vary greatly too.
(10) Do you want extras such as smart notifications, NFC payments, etc?

(1) What is your budget? How much money do you want to spend?

Wearables vary greatly in price. But you can now buy devices with a wide range of different features at a very reasonable price. Also, with each subsequent generation of a wearable, the earlier versions are coming down in price. While these devices may not track everything, with some shopping around you may be able to find one that fits your needs.

On the low end, you’ll find models such as the Xiaomi Mi Band 6, Amazfit Band 6, Fitbit Inspire 2 and more. These wearables offer quite a bit for the money. It is best to go for well known brands as they combine quality hardware with quality software.

If, however, you are interested in fully featured fitness device, you will need to spend a bit more to purchase for example a Fitbit Charge 5 or Luxe, or go for a Garmin activity band. They are a bit more pricey, but you get a more complete fitness and health tracking experience.

At the more expensive end, you’ll find devices that come in the form of a smartwatch. Good examples are the Garmin Vivoactive 4, Fitbit Versa and Sense, the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and plethora of other smartwatches and sports watches that are out there. To help you choose, we’ve put together a handy tech specs comparison tool – choose a few devices and see how they stack up.

(2) What do you want to track? Standard metrics or are you after something more specific?

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker
Image source: Fitbit

Most fitness trackers keep tabs on steps, distance, calories and activity. They will also 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. More and more research points to the dangers of leading a sedentary lifestyle.

The more advanced ones also come with built-in GPS for more precise measuring of distance. If your primary activity is walking, hiking or running, pretty much any brand will do. Not so if you get most of your activity by cycling, working an elliptical, walking on a treadmill, swimming or mountain climbing. Be sure to select a tracker that can capture data for the specific activity or sport you do most.

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker
Image source: Fitbit

Sleep tracking is also a common feature. Overnight rest plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Wearables vary greatly in terms of information they provide, ranging from simply monitoring total time to providing details on various stages of sleep such as light, deep and REM sleep. Also, not all will track your daily naps. Fitbit, for example will, Garmin won’t. Many devices also have silent alarms that vibrate to wake you up without disturbing your partner.

Essential reading: Best devices for advanced sleep monitoring

Beyond these fairly standard metrics, some fitness trackers can keep tabs on a number of other things. This includes your heart rate, body temperature, galvanic skin response and blood oxygen levels. For the most part, the more tracking features you are after, the more you will pay for your device.

There are also activity trackers that do not include many sensors, but offer coaching. Moov Now, for example, actively monitors your activity and advises you in real time how to get the most from your workout. Meaningful analysis of our vitals data is the future.

(3) Does the design appeal to you? This is a matter of personal taste.

Trackers come in different shapes, styles and sizes. Design is a subjective topic, but a very important one. Activity trackers started off as chunky and unattractive things aimed at fitness freaks and technology buffs. The tech community has grasped the importance of designing wearables that are both functional and attractive.

Most fitness trackers are meant to be worn constantly, so you will need to like the thing strapped to your wrist. If you have the opportunity to try one on before you actually buy, it is a good idea to do so.

In terms of the design, we can separate activity trackers into three distinct groups. The first category are the sporty band type. These are typically rubberised and often simple in appearance. Fitbits, Garmin activity bands are good examples. The next category are the ones that come in the form of a smartwatch. This includes hybrids which combine the classic looks of analogue watches with today’s smarts. The last category are trackers that look like a quality analogue watch or pieces of jewelry. There aren’t too many of those.

It is clear that at the moment, wearable technology is still more popular with men than women. According to Fitbit, around 70% of their devices are sold to men. This is slowly changing, however, and more and more trackers are being designed with female fitness enthusiasts in mind.

Essential reading: Best activity trackers for women

Whichever wearable device you choose, be sure that you are absolutely comfortable with it.

(4) Color display, black and white or no display?

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker

This is again, a subjective topic.

The first view is that you want a display in order to see your progress throughout the day. Whether this means a fully featured AMOLED display, a black and white screen, or just a set of LED lights, there are many options to choose from. Another thing to consider is that more sophisticated screen real-estate will typically drain the battery more. And your wallet…

The second view is that you are better off without a display so that you don’t become addicted to checking the numbers on your wrist — the device in that case becomes less of a distraction. This, however, means that you will be entirely dependent on your smartphone or web interface to check on your progress.

We definitely belong to the first camp.

(5) User experience

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker
Image source: Garmin

You’ll want a seamless users experience when it comes to your tracker. There are technical issues to consider such as the set-up, how you keep the device charged and how it stores your data. Does it sync automatically (the most convenient devices sync automatically and wirelessly)? Is activity tracking and sleep tracking automatic or manual? Is it water-resistant? These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself.

You’ll also want to look at how easy it is to interact with the tracker you are considering. Some have fully featured touch screens, while others are more minimalistic and triggered by tapping on the device.

Wearing a fitness tracker is, however, only half the story. The other equally important part is understanding and using your data to live a healthy life. Different activity trackers have different ways of displaying the data. It is therefore important that the smartphone app and any website interface are attractive and simple to use, and provide you with information that you are most interested in.

(6) Keeping it juiced

Regardless of which fitness tracker you choose, eventually you are going to have to take it off to recharge or change the battery. When this is occuring, the device will obviously stop tracking your activity, so you’ll get gaps in data.

Battery life can vary quite a bit. Depending on the tracker you buy, you’ll get anywhere from up to a day or two out of your device (Apple Watch and most WearOS devices) to an average of about a week (most Fitbit and Garmin fitness bands). Some can go longer and a few even have advertised battery life of a month – but that’s with reduced functionality.

Trackers using disposable watch batteries last longer, but they require a replacement every few months to up to a year. They are also slimmer on features. Rechargeable batteries, on the other hand, are built to spec for each device.

As for charging up the batteries, most require nothing more than a standard USB port. Some will charge faster than others, but factor in on at least a few hours for a full refuel.

(7) Built-in GPS or no built-in GPS?

Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker
Image source: Pebble

Fitness trackers with built in GPS are a bit more expensive than the more run of the mill variety. Many of them have a color screen and a display big enough so that you can read the information on the go. Others utilize the sensor for calculations but leave detailed presentations to smartphone apps.

If you are, for example, an avid runner, you will want to know every detail about your training sessions. You’ll want to know when you moved fastest, when you struggled and what kind of terrain you had trouble with. When you combine built-in GPS with a fitness tracker, all of this information is at your fingertips. Also, if you are worried about getting lost a GPS might come in handy.

Built-in GPS is great, but only if you really need it. Some fitness trackers can pair with your smartphone to extract GPS information. This, however, means you’ll need to carry your smartphone with you on those early morning runs. If you walk the same trail every day, then a GPS monitor isn’t going to do all that much for you. If you hit the gym primarily, the results will be entirely uninteresting!

(8) Is it water-resistant? Or swim friendly?

When it comes to buying the right fitness tracker, the characteristic of water-resistance can often be a deciding factor.

Essential reading: Explaining water resistance ratings

There are no waterproof wearables. Regulation prohibits watches and fitness wearables from being marked as waterproof. This is because, there is always a certain level of water pressure at which a wearable will begin to leak. Wearables can therefore only be marked as water-resistant.

You should always check the markings on your device or the manufacturers website before taking a wearable into a shower or a pool. The good news is that decent water-resistance is slowly becoming an industry standard.

(9) Is there a heart rate monitor? Heart-rate monitors vary greatly too.

A recent study suggests that resting heart rate can be used to predict your longevity. Researchers found that the risk of dying from any illness or health condition raises by around 9% for every 10 bpm. The chance of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke rises 8%.

Resting heart rate can also be used to assess fatigue levels. If you find that your readings are elevated from their normal average (more than 7 bpm), that could be a sign that you’re not fully recovered from a hard workout. You should then consider taking a few days or a week to allow your body time to recover. Or perhaps you are coming down with an illness.

Most activity trackers these days automatically track your resting heart-rate. They also provide you with a historical record which you can tap into to see how your readings are changing over time.

Essential reading: Importance of following your resting heart rate readings

This type of information is particularly important when it comes to running or cycling. Your body has 5 heart rate zones. Not many people however know what their heart rate is, or where it should really be. This means that often, they are not training in the most efficient way to achieve their goals. All top athlete’s heart rate train, as they know this will help them to reach their top potential in the shortest amount of time possible.

Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables

Heart rate sensors are a standard offering for new fitness devices. These work around the clock so there’s nothing for you to do apart from wear the fitness tracker or smartwatch.

Don’t expect perfect heart rate readings, though, from a wrist-based heart rate monitor. Particularly when you engage in high intensity activity. If you are really serious about heart-rate zone training, you will be better off with a chest strap.

(10) Do you want extras such as smart notifications, NFC payments, LTE connectivity, etc…?

Most fitness trackers do more than just track activity. Some, for example, sync with your smartphone to provide you with email, text message or social media notifications. They can be used to remind you of important events of calendar appointments, too. Others offer contactless payments.

Then we have smartwatches where it gets even better. They offer a more feature rich experience. The Apple Watch is practically a mini-computer. Wear OS devices also come with lots of apps that you can install. These are much more pricey so it will come down to what is important to you.

Do you simply want something that tracks your health and fitness? If you do then go for a fitness band, a hybrid or simple smartwatch. Do you want something that offers lots of smart functionality? Then go for a fully fledged smartwatch – you’ll get the best of both worlds in that case. Finally, there’s a category of watches that can work without your smartphone. These come with built-in cellular ability which typically entails a month service charge.

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 things to consider if buying a fitness tracker

  • Good Information (Y)

  • Hi,

    Good post. It is important that we should first determine our approach and get the best gear for it.

    I am pretty sure a smartband which is fit for a sport man will not fit the person who is more about smart features.

    New smartwatches seam to cover all aspects but the price might be a problem for many.

    – Abrar


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