In today’s world of office jobs and readily available junk food, wellness can be hard work. To help achieve goals such as being less stressed, moving more, eating healthier, and losing weight, many are putting technology to use. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in wearable fitness trackers. These gadgets help users become more aware of their behavior on a daily basis.
Real numbers can provide motivating benchmarks and encourage concrete action steps. A 2013 study by Indiana University, for example, reported that participants who wore a pedometer (a technology adopted by fitness trackers) increased their physical activity, decreased their sitting time, and lost about 2.5 pounds over a period of 12 weeks. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that using a pedometer was linked to an increase in physical activity and a significant decrease in body mass. Participants who used a pedometer also experienced a significant decrease in blood pressure.
There are a number of wearable fitness trackers out there. How can you tell which one is right for you?
Below, we take a look at four different trackers: the Fitbit Flex, Nike+ FuelBand, Jawbone UP24, and Spire. Although there are others, including those made by Garmin, Basis, Samsung, Larklife, and more, these four are some of the most popular. Once you’re aware of their general features and benefits, you’ll have a clearer idea of what to look for if you decide to incorporate a fitness tracker into your daily routine.
What Is It?
If you’ve had a pedometer in the past, you’re already familiar with activity trackers. Today’s models, however, do much more than tell you how many steps you’ve taken. Now you can monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, active minutes, and more.
All of these gadgets have two things in common:
- They use sensors to determine things about your body, including your heart rate, breathing, steps taken, and calories burned.
- They connect to computer applications to show you the results pulled from the sensors and to help you track your progress.
Where you go from there depends on what you hope to get from your fitness band. Do you want to lose weight? Get more active throughout the day? Sleep better? There are other things to consider as well, such as the feel of the device itself, durability, and ease of operation.
Possibly the most well known of the four is the Fitbit Flex. The Flex is made by Fitbit, which began as a company in 2007. This product currently sells for around $100. The device connects wirelessly to your computer, iPhone, or Android phone, where you can monitor your progress on your fitness goals. It will track your steps taken, calories burned, miles traveled, and how much you sleep each night.
The Flex is thinner than most watches, and it has a simple push-in clasp strap. It’s streamlined and nonintrusive, though the rubber material can be irritating for some with sensitive skin. Over time, it can also be prone to odor without regular cleaning, so it’s important to pop the main gadget out of the band now and then and clean up the crevices.
The only thing you’ll ever see on the Flex itself is a series of five lights, as it has no screen. The more lights that are illuminated, the closer you are to your daily fitness goal. If you want to know at a glance how many steps you’ve taken, though, you’ll find the Flex a little frustrating. You’ll need to go to the application on your computer or your phone for that information. That said, reviewers say it’s easy to use and very intuitive. All you have to do is plug the connector in to your computer or laptop, and it automatically syncs up the data when in close range.
Where the Flex really shines is in its application. Intuitive and easy to use, it provides some extra features you may enjoy. You can track the food you eat each day, for example. This can help you incorporate dietary goals along with your fitness ones. Fitbit will compare calories consumed with calories burned, for example, giving you some clear feedback on how you’re doing with your diet and exercise balance. You can also track your weight loss progress. If you’re dealing specifically with overweight, obesity, or diabetes, this may be the right device for you.
This product also has a sleep function that will detect nighttime movement and give you some clues as to how well you slept the night before. It can even provide sleep data over a week’s time or more. If you’re really struggling with insomnia, though, there may be a better device for you.
If you’re looking for a general fitness tracker that works equally well whether you’re already fit or just starting out, the Flex may be a good option, particularly if you’re unsure where to start. If you suffer from diabetes or heart disease and just want to get yourself moving more often, the product is likely to be a good investment. The battery lasts about five days, which is longer than the Nike+ FuelBand SE but not as long as the Jawbone UP24.
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Nike+ FuelBand SE
Though previous models of the Nike+ FuelBand didn’t track sleep, the FuelBand SE does. It’s a very basic sleep tracker, however. It tells you how many hours you slept and if you moved during that time. It’s considered the least robust of the sleep trackers, so if you’re suffering from insomnia and need a fitband to help, it’s probably not the best choice.
Like the Fitbit Flex, the Fuelband SE syncs up with your computer through a Bluetooth connection — but it won’t work with your Android phone. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, however, you’re all set.
A futuristic-looking LED display gives you real-time information, such as how many steps you’ve taken or how many calories you’ve burned. If you want to know midday how you’re doing, for example, this will be a better choice than either of the other two. It also has a series of lights set in a row beneath the main display that indicates your progress toward your goals. These features make the FuelBand SE the easiest of the three for dark environments.
You can choose from small, medium, or large sizes, and it also has an additional link to increase the size if you need it. Many prefer its latching mechanism as opposed to the other clasp mechanisms.
If you’re battling with couch potato syndrome or if you’re at an office job all day, the FuelBand SE will also help encourage you to get up and get moving. The LED display can be set to flash at you when you’ve been too sedentary. This can sync up with your iPhone as well. You can also receive motivating messages like “Go for it!” that flash on the display.
Where this one really shines is in its capability to motivate those who have a competitive spirit, or who do better working out with friends. The application combines steps taken, calories burned, and overall activity to tell you how many “NikeFuel” points you have. You can use these points to compete against your friends or to hit milestones during a group fitness campaign. You can share progress over various social media platforms, and use the results to encourage yourself and your pals. This feature also makes the experience more like a game, so if you’re looking to make fitness fun, this band may be the one for you. If you prefer straightforward information, however, you may find yourself confused by Nike’s point system and therefore would prefer one of the other two.
The FuelBand SE doesn’t have a function for your food intake, so if you want something that incorporates that, the Fitbit Flex may be a better choice. It’s also a little less adaptable than the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone UP24 as far as its compatibility with other applications.
FuelBand SE is a bit more expensive than the Fitbit Flex. Currently, the price averages around $130 to 150. The battery lasts only about four days before it needs a charge. It has the fastest battery drain of all three, mostly because of the lit up display. It’s considered the easiest to charge, however, because it has a cable-free, built-in USB slot. The other two require proprietary USB cables that can be pricey to replace.
Sound like a fit? Get yours here.
There is a cheaper Jawbone UP, but if you want to sync up with your iPhone and Android phone (like the Fitbit Flex does), you need the UP24. This model is a little more expensive — about $130. This newer model will give you the real-time information you may want on your smartphone, because like the Fitbit Flex, the Jawbone doesn’t have a display on the actual device.
In fact, it has the lowest level of display, incorporating only two LED lights, as opposed to the Fitbit Flex’s five. So if you’re looking to get immediate feedback when you glance at your wrist, the Nike+ FuelBand SE is still the best of these three.
The UP24 looks less like a watch and more like a fashionable wrap-around bracelet that you bend and twist to your preferred fit. It’s made of texturized rubber that the company says is hypoallergenic. Those with eczema, psoriasis, and other sensitive skin issues may prefer it to the Fitbit Flex, which has been linked to some skin irritation.
If you like something you can wear in the shower, however, this isn’t your product. It’s not meant to be submerged in water. Choose one of the previous two if you don’t want to mess with taking it off and putting it on throughout the day.
As for features, the UP24 is similar to the Fitbit Flex in that it tracks calories burned, steps taken, miles traveled, and sleep time. It also allows you to log your food consumption to help with your dietary goals. Of these three, the UP24 is considered the best for tracking sleep. It gives you additional information such as how long it took for you to fall asleep, how heavy or light your sleep was, and how long your waking periods were. So if you’re looking to improve your sleep habits, this may be the one to choose.
If you like reminders throughout the day, you can set the device to vibrate under certain circumstances. A good option might be to have it vibrate after you haven’t moved for a certain period of time.
Jawbone is also said to shine in terms of “making sense of the data.” All fitbands track and store data in the online application, but the UP24 is said to make the best use of it and give you the best recommendations for the future. It has a “Lifeline” feature that gives you a quick overview of your activity. The application also reads the data and helps you set new goals in the future.
Finally, if you’re someone who enjoys using other applications like MapMyFitness, Sleepio, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and the like, the UP24 is the one to go with. Unlike the other two, it works with a number of third-party applications and gadgets.
The battery life is a bit longer than the Nike+ FuelBand SE or the Fitbit Flex — about seven days on average.
Sound like a fit? Get yours here.
Spire is a little different from other popular wearable devices. Instead of focusing on your activity, it measures your breathing. Even when you’re not active, Spire tracks your breath and determines your wellbeing based on your breathing patterns. Through its application, it tells you in real time when to take a deep breath and relax, or when you need to get moving because you’ve been sitting for too long. Spire’s creators say the average person is only active about 14 percent of the day. By tracking breathing, the device is useful all day.
Compared with the Fitbit Flex, the Nike+ Fuelband SE, and Jawbone UP24, Spire is on the more expensive side, currently selling for $150.
The product is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and is made of a hypoallergenic plastic blend and a surgical-grade stainless steel clip. Spire calls the plastic area the “stone.” This is the part that needs to be in contact with your body. However, it doesn’t actually have to touch your skin, making it a good option for those with sensitive skin.
You can wear Spire by simply clipping it onto your pants, shorts, or bra. The “stone” should be facing your body.
Spire measures how many times you inhale, exhale, your breathing rate, and whether or not you’re taking deep breaths. When you’re tense, or haven’t taken a deep breath in a while, Spire will notify you. It offers guided breathing exercises, and lets you set goals to improve your day or week by taking deep breaths during times when you need to relax. Paying attention to your breathing patterns can help you figure out what makes you tense and what helps you relax.
In addition to tracking breathing, it also measures your steps and activity, and can estimate the number of calories burned. However, it doesn’t track your heart rate. Spire strictly focuses on breathing patterns and uses this information to help you relax and de-stress. If you’re looking to track your heart rate during exercise, this is not the wearable for you.
The device offers data tracking in real time. Your information is gathered and then displayed on a phone or tablet screen where it can be analyzed.
Like the Fitbit Flex and Fuelband SE, Spire syncs up with your phone or other device through a Bluetooth connection, but it’s not yet compatible with Android phones. Spire says it’s working on an Android application. For now, it works on the iPhone (generations 4 to 6), iPod touch (generation 5), and iPad (generations 3 and 4).
Spire has a longer battery life, like the Jawbone UP24, lasting seven days on average. It recharges in less than three hours through a wireless charging pad that will also charge your phone.
Sound like a fit? Get yours here.
A note on water: All four of these fitbands are water resistant, so they will survive a shower. They are not waterproof, however, so don’t take them swimming. If you’re heavy into water sports or have been advised to swim because of joint issues, look at the Vivofit by Garmin, which is waterproof up to 50 meters.
No matter which tracker you choose, deciding to become more physically active is a positive, healthy decision. Each device does well to keep users motivated. It’s up to you to determine which has the best features for your needs and fitness goals.