Whether you’re working out or just following a healthier lifestyle, the best way to keep yourself motivated is to check your progress. Meet the activity tracker, a technological wonder that helps make it easy for you to track how well you’re accomplishing your fitness goals. Essentially, it’s a wrist band that counts how many calories you ate, how long you slept and how far you ran. It can also measure your temperature and heartbeat. Plus, it syncs to your smartphone or laptop so you can monitor your daily activities and development. It even acts as a watch with an alarm. But when it comes to choosing the best fitness bracelet, there are a few things to consider.
Activity trackers can be any of the following types: A training tracker, an all-day tracker, a heart-rate tracker or a sleep monitoring tracker. With these little devices becoming more and more popular among health enthusiasts, a number of models have entered the market. So to take some of the guesswork out of your shopping, here is our guide to helping you choose the best fitness trackers.
Side note: Below will start with an in depth guide about the various features found on fitness trackers. If you just want to compare fitness trackers, click the last entry on the table of contents below.
Related: Best Activity Trackers For Pets
How To Choose The Best Activity Tracker
We have poised the following questions to give you a general idea of how to go about looking for the best activity tracker.
How much are you willing to spend?
Activity trackers can range anywhere from $50 to $250. The higher end trackers, which are usually perfect for athletes, offer more features including GPS. If you’re on a budget, or are older and don't need too many bells and whistles, you can choose less expensive fitness trackers which focus only on a few features. Be sure to get a tracker of good quality and accuracy, though, or you might end up wasting your money on a tracker that gives incorrect data or whose battery runs out quickly.
Which style and color do you prefer?
Although these devices are primarily designed for function, makers of newer models have considered that users would also want something that looks attractive and can make one feel confident in wearing it. Personal style choices and colors may vary from something flashy and easily distinguishable to more low-key styles that complement whatever outfit you’re wearing. Aside from the wrist, some trackers can also be worn on the belt or pocket.
Which data will show on the display?
Some trackers have a screen-like display which show the data simultaneously as you move. And of these trackers, some are limited to showing just one type of data, the distance you’ve covered, for example; while others can show more than one type, such as your heart-rate. Trackers with smaller screens or none will only allow you to view your data once you’ve connected it to your smartphone or laptop.
Which apps can be used with the tracker?
Make it a point to check first if your tracker is compatible with your smartphone or laptop, particularly if your tracker is the type that only displays data via an app. The app itself also matters. Consider brands that are known for user-friendly apps and websites that show comprehensive information.
|GARMIN VIVOFIT||Displays distance travelled, number of steps taken, calories burned & sleep patterns; tracks heart rate with ANT Plus heart-rate monitor & waterproof up to 50m; best known for efficient inactivity bar||Excellent||Low||4.5 / 5|
|Fitbit Charge HR||General daily activity tracker great for beginners; monitors steps, distance, burned calories, heart rate & sleep; stylishly designed for comfort wear; syncs to your smartphone & vibrates||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.5 / 5|
|Fitbit Flex||Slimmer model comfortable to use than most fitness trackers; accurately monitors movement, number of steps, distance covered, calories burned plus sleep patterns; single charging lasts five days||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
|Jawbone UP2||Fits most users, vibrates for alarms & notifications; sleep & steps monitored & displayed on apps; battery single charging lass for 10 days; designed with hypoallergenic rubber strap||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
|Mio FUSE Heart Rate, Sleep + Activity Tracker||Generally intended for heart rate tracking but comes with a monitor for steps taken, calories burned & distance covered; large screen display & suncs to several apps; water resistant up to 30m||Very Good||High||4.3/ 5|
|Misfit Wearables Flash||Tracker made of plastic that can be attached to other parts of the body using clips; useful for runners, cyclists & swimmers; water resistant up to 30m with battery life extending to 6 months||Good||Low||3.5 / 5|
|Polar Loop Activity Tracker||Smooth, attractive waterproof design; tracks calories burned, steps taken & hrs of sleep; basic features with tracker required to be cut to fit user||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
|LifeTrak Move C300||Waterproof, no charging required & has easy to read display; monitors distance covered, number of steps & calories burned + heart-rate based on pulse||Very Good||Low||4.0 / 5|
|Basis Health Tracker||Uses BodyIQ technology for automatic activity detection; waterproof up to 5 ATM with decent built-in back light & optical heart rate monitor; designed to look like a smart watch||Very Good||Very High||4.0 / 5|
|Misfit SHINE 2||Tracks steps, distance, calories & user’s current goal using its 5 LEDs; includes accurate manometer; weight & size similar to a 50 cent||Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
How will you use the tracker?
Your activity tracker works best if it goes with your lifestyle, especially if you need it for your chosen sport. If swimming is part of your regimen, opt for waterproof trackers. If you’re planning to wear the tracker all day, look for features that are useful to you, like calories you burned, your heart-rate and how well you sleep. Specific activity trackers for professional athletes like cyclists or runners are also available.
If you’d like to be able to do other things as well, like email, call, and text, you might want to get a smartwatch instead. However, note that activity trackers are primarily used for fitness and are designed to accurately measure your fitness metrics which may not be the case for your smartwatch.
Types Of Activity Trackers
When people think of the activity trackers, they think of the standard wrist worn nondescript Fitbit Flex or similar variants. However, there are now many different types of fitness tracking products that have entered the market which have a lot more bells and whistles. Let’s take a look at some of them now.
Standard Activity Trackers
Basic activity trackers can be wrist worn or clip-on style sensors that often times are very small and concealable. They will most likely not have any sort of heads-up display or many buttons to fiddle around with. Some units, such as the Fitbit Flex, will have LED lights on them that give you a very basic idea of your fitness progress.
These types of fitness trackers are by far the most common, and will give you the best bang for your buck. The obvious downside is that you will have to bring your phone along to see your stats in real time.
Smart watches are James Bond style gadgets that can perform many different functions that are unrelated to fitness tracking. Often times they will come with a built-in android or iOS operating system, which allows any developer to make applications for them.
Many manufacturers are also starting to make smart watches that are more geared towards fitness tracking in general. These types of watches are often sports specific, but they will usually be able to take the place of a standard activity tracker and provide many extra features in the form of GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, advanced sensor support, and built in personal training routines.
Although smart phones are usually best for pairing with your fitness tracker to see your stats, you can now use many standalone smart phone apps for basic fitness tracking as well. Since most smart phone seven embedded accelerometer, these apps will be able to keep track of your steps and movement the way standard fitness bad will.
Fitness trackers have really started to take off in the last couple years and the market has seen a flood of new products that can be worn or placed almost anywhere and track pretty much anything. For instance, devices such as the Running Kinetics foot pod can be attached to your sneakers and will track advanced running metrics like VO2 max and ground contact time. And for cyclists, you can attach a power meter to your bike peddles to get a more accurate read on your cadence.
These types of trackers are probably beyond the scope of this article, but I felt that I should mention them here nonetheless.
Common And Uncommon Features
Now that we’ve gone over all the different types of activity trackers, let’s look at some of the more important features to focus on when deciding on your fitness tracker purchase. Here’s a quick overview of the various features that can be found on most activity trackers.
Steps, Distance, And Calories
These three stats are commonly found on fitness trackers, and you will be able to keep track of your basic movement throughout the day using these three metrics. Since most devices contain an accelerometer sensor, pretty much all of them will be able to log these three basic features.
Many fitness trackers will often times allow you to set a calorie or distant goal for the day. This can be helpful for those who are looking to fill an exercise quota for the month.
Some of the more advanced fitness trackers will contain an altimeter sensor. This type of sensor will keep track of the amount of elevation you have ascended throughout your day. Devices with this function are ideal for people who go up and down a lot of steps during their day to day activities.
Activity trackers are not just limited to keeping track of your metrics during waking hours. They are now also able to log your sleeping patterns as well. Most fitness trackers will be able to utilize an accelerometer sensor to keep track of your movement during the night. Most of the time you will have to set the sleep tracker manually so it can begin logging your sleep.
There are also some fitness trackers that can do more than simply log your movement. These trackers are able to log the different cycles of sleep that you enter during the night, such as your REM, light, and deep sleep for instance. As an added bonus, the more advanced trackers will begin logging your sleep automatically the moment you lie down.
Wireless Connectivity Options
Bluetooth smart is a standard found on most fitness trackers, but some devices are also AMT+ compatible. ANT+ is a new type of wireless protocol that is often found on things like heart rate sensors and power meters. ANT+ is starting to gain popularity and many devices are now being manufactured that are compatible with both types of wireless protocols. These fitness trackers are known as dual band devices.
All fitness trackers will come with a first party smart phone app, however some are more robust than others. Manufacturers like Fitbit or Garmin have been in the fitness tracking game a long time, and their devices usually have very detailed smartphone apps and a online web site that you can utilize when you’re on your computer.
Additionally, popular fitness trackers like jawbone or fit bit usually have excellent third-party apps support. This can be useful for someone who likes to utilize their third-party applications in conjunction with other fitness tracking products such as power meters or GPS watches.
Be aware that purchasing a cheaper, lesser known activity tracker may save you money in the short term, but in the long run you may find that it is not compatible with a lot of the good third part apps on the market.
Heart Rate Monitor
Some smart watches and fitness trackers are equipped with sensors that can keep track of your heart rate. There are also stand alone heart rate monitors that strap around your chest and pair with a phone or fitness tracker via Bluetooth or ANT+.
Being able to measure your heart rate in real time is highly beneficial, especially for those who are looking to get the maximum benefit out of their workouts. Monitoring your heart rate during your sleep tracking sessions can also give you greater insight into your sleep cycles.
There are a myriad of different sensor types that are can be found on fitness trackers, but here are 3 of the most popular.
This type of sensor operates by monitoring the speed at which your heart pumps blood in and out of itself. It is usually found on wrist based smart watches or activity trackers.
Optical center is operated by shining a light through your skin and monitoring the flow of blood in your veins.
Bio impedance sensors calculate your heart rate by monitoring your galvanic skin response, which is a fancy way of saying skin electrical signals.
To read more about heart rate monitoring check out my article on the best sleep trackers.
GPS sensors are almost always found exclusively on smart watches, but there are a few fitness bands that contain them as well. Choosing a device with a GPS tracker will allow you to map out your exercise route over a large distance and you will be able to much more accurately track your pace and distance traveled during the day.
GPS tracking is an ideal feature if you are a person who does a lot of exercise outdoors. Bikers and trail runners will want to pay special attention to devices that have this function.
Many fitness trackers will have additional features such as a onboard clock, silent wick alarms, anti-idle alarms, female focused features, automatic sleep detection, and even the ability to automatically recognize and log whatever the exercise you’re doing.
Smart watches, in particular, will post a myriad of different tracking features and connectivity options. Most commonly, you will be able to receive and send text messages with a parent smart phone, control your music from your smart watch, and log advance metrics like SWOLF score or ground contact time. Many smart watches will also allow you to input custom sports like wake boarding or kayaking to better keep track of your exercise metrics.
Read on to see a quick fitness tracker comparison. And our top picks from each category.
Top 10 Best Standard Activity Trackers
Listed below is 10 fitness tracker reviews. Use this guide to determine the best fitness tracker for your needs. Click the tab below to see our favorites.
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- Garmin Vivofit
- Garmin vivofit video Review
The Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band is ideal for displaying the distance you’ve travelled, the number of steps you’ve taken, how many calories you burned and your sleep patterns. Although it doesn’t have a GPS, it can track your heart rate when paired with the ANT Plus heart-rate monitor. One great thing about it is that its battery runs for up to a year. It’s also designed to be waterproof up to 50m. Its most appealing features though are its inactivity bar which reminds you to move when a red line shows after an hour of inactivity, and the personalised daily goal based on your current activity level. The main concern for this tracker is that the LCD screen doesn’t have a backlight, which makes it practically useless at night. Some users have also complained of some difficulty syncing their data to the app.
- fitbit Charge HR
- Firbit Charge Hr Video Review
For beginners looking for a general daily activity tracker, the Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband should suit you perfectly. This tracker monitors your number of steps, distance, amount of calories burned, and heart rate based on your pulse rate, plus your sleep. It’s designed to be comfortable on the wrist and it looks quite stylish. What customers love about this tracker is that your heart rate is monitored continuously including when you’re at rest. Since it syncs to your smartphone, this tracker also vibrates to notify you when you receive a call on your phone. Aside from that, its features are quite basic which may not appeal to more active people.
- Fitbit Flex
- Fitbit flex Video review
The Fitbit Flex is a slimmer model which makes it more comfortable than most fitness trackers. It certainly looks more sleek and stylish. Like the Fitbit Charge, it monitors how long you’re active, your number of steps, distance you covered, amount of calories burned, plus your sleep patterns. Users have reported that they’re impressed with this tracker’s accuracy. However, it doesn’t measure your heart rate, and both the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Flex require charging after five days unlike other trackers which last longer. You will also need to understand the Fitbit Flex’s indicator light system, where the lights appear based on your accomplished fitness goals, since this tracker doesn’t have a screen. Full Review >
- up2 Video Review
If you’re looking for a basic but very stylish tracker, the Jawbone UP2 is an excellent choice. The size fits most people and vibrates for alarms and notifications. Your steps and sleep are monitored but are displayed on the app since the tracker doesn’t have a screen. The battery usually needs charging after 10 days. The greatest advantage of this tracker is its hypo-allergenic rubber strap. With other trackers, some customers complained that they had to discontinue use since they developed a rash. You can safely avoid that problem and feel comfortable when using the Jawbone UP2 tracker daily. This is another great tracker for beginners who are just starting out with their fitness goals. Full Review >
- mio fuse
- Mio Fuse Video Review
As its name implies, this activity tracker is mainly intended for heart rate tracking but comes with additional features, such as a monitor for steps taken, calories burned and distance covered. The heart rate tracker is based on your pulse rate and was reported as accurate by most users. The display is large enough to be seen clearly, and the tracker is water resistant up to 30m. This tracker syncs to several apps, not just Mio’s, which is an added benefit. However, the Mio FUSE’s design is rougher and bulkier compared to other trackers, so if you’re looking for something more stylish, this might not appeal to you. Another issue was the touch controls which have a tendency to be too sensitive. Full Review >
- Misfit Flash
- Misfit Flash Video Review
Not just to be worn on the wrist, the Misfit Flash - Fitness and Sleep Monitor is more versatile and can be clipped to other parts of the body. This is especially useful for athletes, like runners, cyclists and swimmers. The tracker has a secondary clip aside from the wrist strap so you can wear it on your shoe if you’re cycling or playing ball sports. The Misfit Flash is water resistant up to 30m, its battery life is excellent, up to 6 months without charging, and you can set the tracker to start and end. It’s not as fashionable as other trackers, though, and perhaps because it’s made of plastic, the strap is not as durable as you’d like.
- Polar Loop
- Polar loop Video Review
For a custom fit tracker that is just right for your wrist, choose the Polar Loop Activity Tracker and Sleep Monitor. The tracker needs to be cut to fit your wrist which some customers like since it ensures a good fit but other customers find inconvenient. The Polar Loop has a smooth, attractive design and is completely waterproof. Your calories burned, steps taken and hours of sleep are measured. It does not, however, track the distance you covered and you also need to buy the heart-rate sensor. The data shows clearly on the tracker’s screen but the features are very basic and does not include goal-setting options unlike other trackers.
- Lifetrak move c300
- lifetrak move c300 video review
The Move C300 monitors your distance covered, number of steps and calories burned, as well as your heart-rate based on your pulse. Users also love that it’s waterproof and does not need charging. On the other hand, the app for this tracker is interesting and entertaining but not very comprehensive. Also, although the tracker’s display screen is generally easy to read, this is not the case when you’re outdoors. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, this tracker’s price makes it a good deal.
And that’s the list of activity trackers users have recommended. All these activity trackers are the latest in fitness technology and are great for supporting your health and fitness goals. It’s important to pick the right tracker though to ensure that you use it all the time.
- Basis Peak
- Basis Peak video Review
Basis's followup to their B1 series has made a number of solid improvements. The Basis has a built in optical heart rate monitor and is quite aesthetically pleasing - it looks more like a smart watch than a fitness tracker. It comes equipped with Basis's "body IQ" technology, which allows it to automatically detect the activity you are performing and begin monitoring it. It is waterproof up to 5 ATM and actually has a decent built in back light. Full Review >
- Misfit Shine 2
- misfit Shine 2 video Review
The Misfit Shine 2 is Misfits upgrade to their hugely successful Misfit Shine. The Shine 2 boasts a number of improvements, mainly in the form of upgraded specs for faster response times. It now includes a manometer, which makes it much more accurate than the original Misfit Shine. As for tracking, it is pretty solid: the Shine 2 can track your steps, distance, and calories and will display your current goal by using its 5 LEDs located on the front of the unit. The biggest strengths with the Misfit series has always been its size, and the Shine 2 doesn't disappoint. Its about the size of a 50 cent piece and almost as light. This makes it ideal for wearing as a necklace - and indeed, Misfit sells many such straps just for that purpose.Full Review>
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Best Smart Watch Activity Trackers
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- gARMIN 920xt
- 920xt vIDEO rEVIEW
Garmins 920XT is a fully featured smart watch that has all of the bells and whistles you'd come to expect from one of the leading fitness tracking producers. The 920 can track pretty much any sport or metric your throw at it, and if that weren't enough you can even add your own custom activities. The device also features GPS and GLONASS modules, so you'll never get lost when your out and about.
The 920XT is an ideal watch for triathlon runners as well, since it has the ability to measure advance metrics lie V02 max, cadence, ground contact time, and open water swimming times. Read Review>
- Suunto Ambit 3
- Suunto Ambit 3 Video Review
Suuntos Ambit 3 is a solid sport watch at a reasonable price. The watch is a very capable fitness tracker, and will allow you to keep track of the basic fitness metrics, such as steps, distance, and elevation. And like many smart watches, the Suunto is fully compatible with stand alone heart rate monitors. The stand out feature of the Ambit 3 is its multi sport mode, which lets you customize and que up activities in advance. This frees up your hands and allows you to fully focus on your exercise routine. Read Review>
- Apple Watch
- Apple Watch Review
The Apple smart watch is a device for all you iOS lovers out there. In addition to being compatible with many high was based apps, the Apple watches also a pretty decent fitness tracker in its own right, thanks to its embedded optical heart rate monitor.
The watch is able to track your calories, distance, and pace in real time. The downside however, is that it is not compatible with many third-party apps.
- Gear 2 Neo
- Gear 2 Neo Video Review
No list of smart watches would be complete without a solid android entry, and the Gear 2 Neo fulfills that role very well. Just like the Apple smart watch, the Gear 2 Neo also has an embedded heart rate monitor.
Unlike the Apple watch, the Gear 2 allows you to add in your own custom activities and syncs very well with Samsung products.
Best Activity Tracking Smart Phone Apps
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- Moves Video Review
The Moves app is a great drop in replacement to any fitness tracker. It can record your distance, keep track of your running and cycling, and provide an estimate of your total calorie burn based off your age and height. The app is also very light weight and battery friendly, which is a nice touch.
- Strava Video Review
Strava is a very popular fitness app that is great for those who enjoy competing with others. You are able to see top times for all of the popular exercise spots in your general area, since the app has a very wide following you can always find a spot that has been run before. Upgrading to the payed version allows for tracking many different activities, such as skiing or hiking.
- MyFitnessPal Video Review
This app is great for tracking your daily caloric intake. It has a massive food database that allows you to pick up any product in a supermarket and scan the barcode, which will automatically log it into your calorie consumption for the day. Myfitnesspal.com also has a web based portal for easier access to your charts and metrics.
Other Unique Activity Trackers
Besides the above styles of fitness trackers, quantifying your physical metrics can be accomplished by more than just wrist worn units. While this delves into into wearable tech, which is more broad, feel free to take a look at my articles on smart scales, weightlifting trackers, and heart rate monitors for even more fitness tracking options.
Activity Tracker Comparison - Conclusion
These activity tracker reviews should hopefully help you take some of the guess work out of your shopping.
Although there seem to be many new fitness trackers on the market, most people can get by with pretty much any device, so long as all they need is a device with an accelerometer. For the most part, there is no single "best fitness wristband" for any one person. It is much easier to pick one that has all of the features you require, rather than try to figure out the best fitness tracker device on the market.