The fitness tracker market has exploded in recent years, with even budget retailers like Lidl and Aldi manufacturing their own models. But, not all fitness trackers offer the same features, creating two main groups; the basic all-day trackers, and training trackers for athletes and people who work out regularly.
If you’re unsure about which fitness tracker you should choose, we’re here to help with a quick overview of what they do, how they work, and if investing in one is right for you.
What fitness trackers do
Standard fitness trackers count your steps through an accelerometer, check your vital signs through a heart monitor, monitor your sleep quality and patterns, and sync with your other devices to provide an analysis of your activity levels and health.
Fitness trackers work with a smartphone app in-built, allowing you to track your workouts on both devices, and can also send you messages and alerts from your phone.
Higher-quality fitness trackers may include features such as, keeping track of how many calories you’ve burnt through a heart monitor, and measuring your movements using a gyroscope spinning in any direction around a fixed axis to figure out if you’re sitting, standing, or even lying down.
How do fitness trackers measure sleep?
As we already know, an accelerometer measures your steps, but this function is also used to measure your sleep. A fitness tracker monitors your sleep by detecting motion when you’re lying down to observe when you’re in a deep sleep, light sleep or awake.
The most sought-after fitness trackers, for example the Fitbit Force, features a sleep mode aiming to provide you with as much information about your sleep as possible.
Recently released, the Basis B1 fitness tracker has an innovative feature called Sleep Analysis. Doing exactly what it says, this feature measures your sleep like other devices, but delves deeper by also measuring your REM sleep. However, it’s important to point out that measuring sleep isn’t an exact science, not yet anyway and many reports show that often fitness trackers will report that you’ve slept more or fewer hours than you actually did.
Which fitness trackers should I choose?
There's plenty of fitness trackers on the market, so it can hard to pick the one that is right for you. To help you decide, we’ve rounded-up the best options currently available.
- The Fitbit Charge 4 includes an on-board GPS, which allows you to track your runs, without needing to take your phone along. Its other features include Fitbit Pay for contactless payment, full control of your Spotify, and a new feature called Active Zone Minutes. This feature measures any activity you’re doing faster than a walk and is based on recommendations from multiple health organisations. Although the Fitbit Charge 4 lacks a colour screen, the design is lean and neat and its icons and menus are easy to access and understand.
- The Garmin Vivosmart 4, is highly rated on most tech sites, but this fitness tracker isn’t made for gym junkies. This device is suited to everyday people looking to get fitter. It features a bigger screen than the brand normally manufactures, a week-long battery life, and is compatible with Android and Apple devices. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a GPS feature, but this is made up for with its innovative ‘Body Battery feature, which identifies the best time for you to exercise.
- Huawei’s Band 3 Pro is a brilliant all-rounder, featuring all the latest specifications including GPS, a heart rate and activity tracker, waterproof casing, a 0.95-inch colour screen, and best of all, up to 14-days battery life (on standby). Taking into account it affordability, the Band 3 Pro is, in our opinion, the best value for money fitness tracker currently on the market.
- The Honor Band 5 is the most affordable option on this list, priced at £38.99 on Amazon. The Honor Band 5 is a major step up from the Band 4, having upgraded fitness features and a colour touch screen. It makes up for not having a GPS built-in with its sleep tracking feature, allowing you to monitor and analyse your sleep to ensure you’re getting enough shut eye for your age and gender.
Are fitness trackers worth it?
This really depends on how much exercise you do, but there can be benefits and drawbacks to using fitness trackers.
Possibly the biggest benefit is that by tracking your exercise you can easily see how many steps you do daily, how many calories you've burnt, and the quality of your sleep, among other things.
Tracking your health using a fitness tracker can help you to set and hit your own personal fitness targets, whether that’s hitting 10,000 steps a day or burning 2,000 calories. They give you a greater understanding of your overall health, measure the progress you’re making towards your goals and help you work out more effectively.
However, there can be drawbacks to using a fitness tracker that you should also consider before purchasing one for yourself.
With some models retailing at around £100 - £125, they’re not within everyone’s budget and for some, might not be worth in the investment versus the usage. You should consider how much you’d realistically use a fitness tracker before parting with your cash.
- Loss of interest
A market study from Endeavor Partners discovered that after purchasing a fitness tracker, one in three users stopped wearing it only six months after purchase. When you examine this with the point above about cost, you make sure that you’d get plenty of use out of your device before you take the plunge and buy one.
For some users, consistently wearing their fitness tracker can become an obsession, which could damage your mental health. Constantly checking how many steps have been done, what your heart rate is, or how many calories you’ve burnt can take over. With fitness trackers, it’s important to remember that they are there to assist you to reach your goals, aren’t always completely accurate, and that being active should make you feel happy.
If you’re struggling with body image or exercise related mental health issues, it may help to talk to a professional or a dedicated mental health charity.
Since 2015 there has been reports of inaccurate results for actual distanced travelled when running, overestimated results when walking or moving slowly, and discrepancies over recorded total sleep time. These functions are constantly improving with every new version; however, as with any technological device, this means constantly forking out to buy the new versions.
Ultimately, fitness trackers are a great way to monitor your health and fitness. They can help you to get in shape and improve your well-being, but the results shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and how you choose the right one for you comes down to each device’s features and how they can help you to reach your health and fitness goals.