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 select the device that is right for you. The best one will be based on your specific requirements; whether it’s step counting, sleep tracking, or 24/7 heart rate monitoring, there’s something for everyone. No single product can do everything, but some come closer than others.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets

Several devices have been released in the last couple of years. We anticipate that in the future, there will be a greater emphasis on better data interpretation, the integration of new sensors. There will also be a gradual shift away from the wrist (think smart shoes, clothes, etc.).

Until we come to a time when these wearables reside inside our body! But that’s another story.

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 research, you may be able to find one that meets your requirements.

On the low end, you’ll find models such as the Xiaomi Mi Band 7, Fitbit Inspire 3 and more. These wearables offer quite a bit for the money. You could always go for unknown brands. But it is best to go for tried and tested 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 5 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. An increasing amount of research points to the dangers of leading a sedentary lifestyle.

The more advanced wearables also include built-in GPS for more precise distance measurement. If your primary activity is walking, hiking, or running, almost any brand will suffice. Not if you spend the majority of your time cycling, using an elliptical, walking on a treadmill, swimming, or mountain climbing. Choose a tracker that can record data for the specific activity or sport that you enjoy the most.

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

Sleep tracking is another popular feature. Overnight sleep is essential for good health and well-being throughout your life. Wearables provide a wide range of information, from simply monitoring total time to providing details on various stages of sleep such as light, deep, and REM sleep. Furthermore, not all will keep track of your daily naps. Fitbit, for example, will, but Garmin will not. Many devices also have silent alarms that vibrate to wake you up without waking up your partner.

Essential reading: Best devices for advanced sleep monitoring

Aside from these fairly standard metrics, some fitness trackers can monitor a variety of other things. Your heart rate, body temperature, galvanic skin response, and blood oxygen levels are all included. In general, the more tracking features you want, the more you will pay for your device. The future is meaningful analysis of our vitals data.

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

Trackers come in a variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. Design is a highly subjective, but crucial, topic. Activity trackers began as bulky and unappealing devices aimed at fitness enthusiasts and technology enthusiasts. The tech community has recognized the significance of creating wearables that are both functional and appealing.

Most fitness trackers are designed to be worn constantly, so you must enjoy having something strapped to your wrist. It is a good idea to try one on before purchasing if you have the opportunity.

In terms of design, we can divide activity trackers into three categories.

The first type of band is a sporty band. These are usually rubberized and have a simple appearance. Fitbits and Garmin activity bands are two excellent examples. The ones that come in the form of a smartwatch are the next category. This includes hybrids that combine the classic looks of analogue watches with cutting-edge technology. The final type of tracker is one that resembles a high-quality analog watch or a piece of jewelry. There aren’t many of those.

At the moment, men are clearly more interested in wearable technology than women. They buy roughly 70% of Fitbit devices, according to the company. This is gradually changing, and an increasing number of trackers are being designed with female fitness enthusiasts in mind.

Essential reading: Best activity trackers for women

Whatever wearable device you select, make sure you are completely 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 point of view is that you want a display to track your progress throughout the day. There are numerous options available, such as a fully featured AMOLED display, a black and white screen, or simply a set of LED lights. Another factor to consider is that larger screen real-estate will typically drain the battery faster. And your purse…

The second point of view is that you’re better off without a display so you don’t become addicted to checking the numbers on your wrist — the device becomes less of a distraction in that case. However, you will be entirely reliant on your smartphone or web interface to track 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

When it comes to your tracker, you’ll want a unified user experience. There are technical issues to consider, such as setup, charging the device, and storing your data. Does it sync automatically? Is it resistant to water? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself.

You should also consider how simple it is to interact with the tracker you are considering. Some have fully functional touch screens, whereas others are more minimalistic and are activated by tapping the device.

However, wearing a fitness tracker is only half the story. Understanding and utilizing your data to live a healthy life is also critical. Different activity trackers display data in different ways. As a result, it is critical that the smartphone app and any website interface are appealing and simple to use, and that they provide you with the 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. If you are a runner, for example, you will want to know every detail about your training sessions. You’ll want to know when you moved the fastest, when you struggled, and what kind of terrain you encountered difficulties with. When you combine built-in GPS with a fitness tracker, you have access to all of this data. A GPS may also be useful if you are concerned about becoming lost.

GPS is useful, but only if you really need it. Some fitness trackers can connect to your smartphone and extract GPS data. 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 should always be considered.

Essential reading: Explaining water resistance ratings

There are no waterproof wearables available. Waterproof markings on watches and fitness wearables are prohibited by law. This is because a wearable will always begin to leak at a certain level of water pressure. As a result, wearables can only be labeled as water-resistant.

Before entering a shower or swimming pool, always check the markings on your device or the manufacturer’s website. The good news is that good water resistance is gradually 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…?

The majority of fitness trackers do more than just monitor activity. Some, for example, connect to your smartphone to send you email, text message, or social media notifications. They can also serve as a reminder of important events or calendar appointments. Others facilitate contactless payments.

Then there are smartwatches, which are even better. They provide a more robust experience. The Apple Watch is essentially a miniature computer. Wear OS devices also come with a plethora of apps that can be installed. These are significantly more expensive, so it will come down to what is most 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 monthly service charge.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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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