7 things to consider when buying a fitness tracker

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Fitness trackers are one of the most popular  wearable gadgets around these days, but the problem is that there are an awful lot available. How do you decide which one to buy? Our guide is here to tell you some of the things you should be looking for.


1. Price

Price is probably the most important thing to consider when you’re buying anything, and a fitness tracker is no exception to that. Before you do anything you need to determine what your budget is and how much you’re capable of spending. Price itself isn’t always the determining factor of how good a tracker is, but as a general rule the more expensive it is then the more it’s usually capable of.

Take, for instance, the Fitbit Zip, which costs £50. The Zip is only capable of recording your activity like an advanced pedometer. If you want to see that activity then you’re going to have to sync it with another device to look at it there since the Zip itslef only shows off how many steps you’ve travelled. The now defunct Fitbit Force, on the other hand, monitored your activity, told you the time, and shows you a brief breakdown of everything you had done that day. It cost around £80 when it was on sale. It eventually got recalled, but I digress.

But is it worth an extra £30 to get those features? That’s up to you to decide. Once you have your price range set up then you can start looking into everything else.

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2. Functionality

The next thing to decide is what you want your tracker to do. Do you want something that’s purely activity based, or would you like something a little bit different?

These days a number of fitness trackers have a secondary function that monitors and tracks how you’re sleeping. If that’s not something you’re interested in then you can look elsewhere and see what else is available. For the most part the bare minimum that most fitness trackers have is a system that monitors your steps or activity and uses that to figure out how many calories you’re burning off. Anything above that will likely cost more, but it could be beneficial if that’s what you’re looking for.

A lot of trackers, especially those made by Fitbit, come with online tools that ensure that you can understand everything that’s being recorded as well as setting your own goals to increase your fitness level. Heck, some of them come with virtual trainers to help whip you into shape. These aren’t for everyone, but it’s definitely something to consider when you’re trying to make a decision.

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3. Do you want a built-in watch?

The increasing number of fitness trackers happens to have come at the same time that smartwatches are gaining a bit of traction, so it’s hardly surprising that companies have started merging the two together by adding fitness tracking functions to a lot of smartwatches. That does make sense, if you want a watch and a fitness tracker you don’t want to be using two different devices do you?

The Moto 360, for instance, has fitness trackers built-in and is constantly monitoring your heart rate. Samsung watches offer a similar  function with S-health, and when it finally gets released the Apple Watch can be used to keep track of fitness and health. On the flipside a number of fitness trackers include time-keeping functions. Trackers like the Nike Fuelband, the Misfit Shine, and Samsung’s Gear Fit are all examples of this.

Having a fitness-enabled smartwatch is more than just having a fitness tracker that can tell the time (though those are available if you want one). You have a device that is capable of communicating with your smartphone and let you deal with emails, texts, and other notifications, as well as sometimes offering internet browsing capabilities from your wrist.

It depends on whether you want all that or not. If you don’t want it, or don’t care, then don’t buy a smartwatch. They’re rather expensive compared to the prices you can get vanilla fitness trackers for.

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4. Comfort and feel

This is something primarily aimed at wearable trackers rather than clip-ons, and it’s fairly important to consider because if your fitness tracker is uncomfortable then you’re not going to want to use it. Ideally you want something that you’re not going to actively notice when you’re wearing it.

Sadly comfort isn’t something that you can determine by yourself, not unless you’re lucky enough to be able to get hold of multiple devices for hands-on testing. The best way to figure out the comfort is to research it online. Look at a combination of professional and consumer reviews to see what has been said by both the pros and the consumers and see what the general consensus is. But you shouldn’t be looking at one or the other, use both. A good example of this in action would be the Fitbit Force. The professional reviewers may not have used the it enough to see that the device cause major skin irritation, but the fact that a mass recall was issued the consumers sure as hell did.

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5. Design

Design mostly comes down to personal taste and what you want, while weighing that up against everything else. It’s important to have something that you’re happy with, but your design options might come from a fairly limited set of choices. That being said, in the grand scheme of things design is rather a minor thing that needs less consideration than the rest.

The main thing that you can decide upon is the colour or the way you use the device. Some trackers give you the option of changing how you use it, letting you wear it on your wrist, clips it into your clothes somewhere, or even wearing it on a lanyard. Others will allow you to choose the colour from a variety of bright or metallic colours that are available.

Really design should be the last thing you consider. There’s no point in having a fitness tracker that looks great but doesn’t do what you want it to do. Obviously you don’t want to pick one that you’re embarrassed to be seen wearing, but you have to choose functionality over looks every time.

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6. Do you want one with constant use, or that is just worn during exercise

Different trackers record different things, and that may require the actual use of them to be drastically different. You need to consider whether you’re happy with a tracker that you need to keep on your person at all times, or one you only really use when you’re exercising.

For example, the Moto 360 is always monitoring your heart rate, and a number of Fitbit devices are designed to monitor you while you sleep, meaning you’ll be wearing these sorts of devices whenever they’re not charging.

But devices like the Fitbit Zip, for instance, are only really of use when you’re active. You can wear them all the time, but they’re of little use. But such devices tend to be more limited than their constant-use counterparts, which can also mean that they’re cheaper. That brings you back to some of the earlier points.

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7. Battery Life

Arguably the most important spec for any device to have is a strong battery life, and a fitness tracker is no different. The only difference is that the battery aspect of a fitness tracker can be different to other gadgets because they’re not all powered by rechargeable batteries.

Many of them are, which means you have to take battery life and recharge time into consideration — especially if it’s a tracker than you’re supposed to wear all the time. A good way of thinking about it is that the more advanced the tracker, the more often you’re going to need to recharge the battery. Smartwatches need to be recharged every 1-2 days depending on the model, but something a bit more basic like the Fitbit Flex only needs charging once a week or so.

But there are some devices that don’t rely on plugging in to recharge. The Misfit Flash, for instance, is powered by watch batteries, meaning that they can last for months on a single battery. While this comes with the obvious disadvantage of having to make sure you have batteries to replace them, it does mean you can stock up and be prepared for the time when the battery does die.

Tom Pritchard