Smartphones can track your activity just as well as wearables

Fitness trackers are all over the place these days, and it’s almost enough to make you head out and buy one and get a better idea of how hard you’re working. Well it turns out that might not be the best idea, because a study claims that a smartphone does that job just as well.

A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has revealed that fitness apps on smartphones are just as accurate as a lot of fitness trackers currently available. The research testing involved having 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, and having their activity recorded by a number of different fitness monitoring devices.

Those devices included three waistband fitness trackers, three wrist-born fitness trackers, and two smartphones each running two different fitness apps. These included a Samsung Galaxy S4, an iPhone 5S, a Nike Fuelband, a Jawbone UP24, and several Fitbits.

The researchers found that when they compared the recorded step counts to the actual number of steps taken by participants, smartphones deviated by a maximum of 6.7 per cent and wearables deviated by up to 22.7 per cent. According to the paper the Nike Fuelband faired incredibly badly, likely skewing the final percentage for wearables.

Meredith A. Case, the study’s lead author, said to EurekAlert:

“In this study, we wanted to address one of the challenges with using wearable devices: they must be accurate. After all, if a device is going to be effective at monitoring — and potentially changing — behaviour, individuals have to be able to trust the data. We found that smartphone apps are just as accurate as wearable devices for tracking physical activity.”

Of course this research is only relevant to monitoring step count, and it doesn’t take into account any other features that could help you determine how much exercise you’re doing. A fitness tracker with a heart-rate monitor, for instance, can offer you data that no smartphone has a hope of measuring accurately. But if you were thinking of getting yourself a very basic fitness tracker, you now know you’re going to be fine with the device you already have.

Tom Pritchard