Activity Tracker Reviews: Best Activity Trackers of 2016

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, 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.

Unit
Best Features
User Experience
Price to Expect
Our Rating
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 barExcellentLow4.5 / 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 GoodMid-Range4.5 / 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 GoodMid-Range4.0 / 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 strapVery GoodMid-Range4.0 / 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 30mVery GoodHigh4.3/ 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 GoodLow3.5 / 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 GoodMid-Range4.0 / 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 pulseVery GoodLow4.0 / 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 watchVery GoodVery High4.0 / 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 centGoodMid-Range4.0 / 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

source: hillcrestlabs.com

​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

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.

Smart phones

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.

Other Trackers

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.

Altimeter

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.

Sleep Tracking

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.

App Support

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.

Ballistocardiography

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

Optical center is operated by shining a light through your skin and monitoring the flow of blood in your veins.

Bio Impedance

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

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.

Extras

Many fitness trackers will have additional features such as a onboard clock, silent wick alarms, anti-idle alarms, 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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Best Smart Watch Activity Trackers

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Best Activity Tracking Smart Phone Apps

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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.