Nowadays everyone, no difference how experienced he is, writes about fitness trackers. Healthy life and sport activity are considered fashionable things now, so persons inspired by forthcoming summer are taking an interest in certain products that can stimulate them, so-called “motivators”.
Motivators are various. Some people unload photos to Instagram, other people need to hear their friends’ praise with their own ears, still others are eager to get an advice …. But there are such responsible and serious persons who want to go in for sport competently and safely.
I practice power fitness, so the task of our editors to write about fitness trackers was appropriate. The more so as I have been thinking to purchase something of the kind. None the less, a number of questions have arisen:
1. What is a fitness tracker as a matter of fact?
2. What types of fitness trackers are available?
3. How to choose the best one among the variety?
WHAT IS A FITNESS TRACKER?
Trackers are not the fans of Star Track as you may have thought (it seems to me that I can see someone closing this article hurriedly after having read this line). This is a common name for portable devices and programs that monitor one’s physical activity, various body parameters (e.g., pulse rate or posture), diet, biorhythms, and so on. There are many interesting kinds of these devices (GPS-trackers, specialized trackers for women, etc.).
We are especially interested in trackers that are useful for sports practice and daily activities monitoring.
Now the most delicious!
Fitness trackers are rather popular devices among athletes (especially, beginners) who don’t imagine yet how to systemize the regime of exercises, waking and sleeping states. The device represents a bracelet or clip with the sensor installed which is able to follow a variety of factors related to your health and physical training:
- The duration and quality of sleep (the function is performed by a smart alarm clock that wakes you up in the most comfortable and appropriate time;
- The number of steps made;
- The quality of diet;
- Pulse rate;
- Calories burnt up;
- The state of mood;
- The level of blood oxygen (e.g., Withings Pulse Wireless Activity Tracker);
- Calorie contents of food eaten.
FITNESS TRACKERS «FOR HEALTH»: FOR WHAT PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES?
1. Swimming, light and heavy athletics: a fitness-bracelet.
Use a swimming fitness tracker when you want to obtain reliable data. Use waterproof models of IP67/IP68 class for swimming. Remember: if your swimming bracelet is marked as waterproof but the protection class is not indicated, the device is not really watertight.
2. Running: a clip.
If to get the reliable data during sport race is really your purpose, then you have to choose such activity tracker which:
- is possible to wear as a bracelet as well as an independent clip sensor worn on a belt, sports shoes or neck (e.g., Runtastic Orbit, Misfit Shine).
- is available ready-made in the form of a clip or a sensor on a wristlet (e.g., Jawbone UP Move, Runtastic Combo RUNBT1, Fitbit Zip, Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker).
When running, it is preferable to use a clip-tracker, as it records the distance and steps more exactly.
Bracelets and clips are of standard unisex exterior, but there are certain fitness trackers designed for women. So, Canadian designers created a novelty, a portable fitness tracker Ear-O-Smart hidden into an earring. It has tiny sensors which are able to register heart rate and the amount of calories burnt. If at Kickstarter the campaign of these innovators succeeds, and the product gets a necessary certificate, we will buy those tiny devices for the price of about 110$.
WHAT FITNESS TRACKER WILL SUIT YOU BEST?
To choose a proper device, determine your priorities first. What is more important? To know the whole number of steps made? To interrupt sleep in the correct way? Or simply to wear a stylish gadget which helps to go to Twitter or not to miss a call, and shows the burnt calories, and has a lot of emoticons in the application?
According to the functions, all fitness trackers may be divided into 3 groups:
- «for health»;
- «smart bracelets»;
- «smart watches».
FITNESS TRACKERS «FOR HEALTH»
The first group includes models by Jawbone, Runtastic, Garmin, Misfit Wearables, Fitbit, Polar, Xiaomi and other manufacturers. The specialization of these companies is the manufacture of fitness trackers and related products.
Misfit Shine is the most popular tracker by Misfit. This manufacturer takes a special care of the product’s convenience: one may wear it as one likes – as a bracelet, a clip or a pendant. This can be possible thanks to ergonomic rounded shape easily adjustable.
Chinese manufacturers have also learned to make activity trackers. Let’s take a popular budget tracker Xiaomi Mi Band which costs much cheaper than fitness-bands by famous brands – about 20$. Its functionality (though very simple, comparatively) is not bad, if not to require too much for little money.
Trackers by Runtastic deserve a separate line to write. The brand puts sports applications on the market. Recently the trackers have been added: both multifunctional models of Runtastic Orbit type and monofunctional ones of Runtastic RUNBT1 cardiosensor type. The special feature of Orbit is its universality, one may wear it as a bracelet or a clip, at wish.
Now about Garmin. As it is known, this Company markets GPS-navigators. Company successfully installs this function into watches as well as fitness trackers. Among the trackers of this line, Garmin Vivofit is especially common. A purchaser may buy the model with or without a pulse monitor. The sensor represents a belt which is fixed separately just below the chest, this being comfortable not for everybody. Naturally, the set with a pulse monitor is a little more expensive.
In addition, the special feature of Vivofit model that differs it from all (!) trackers for health is that it hasn’t an alarm clock of any kind. Instead, it is guaranteed to work for a whole year without recharging. This product will find its fans!
Fitbit knows how to make good trackers, no doubt. Their special features are as follows:
- Fitbit Charge is a smart step monitor, Fitbit Charge HR is a pulse monitor.
- А Fitbit Flex tracker (on the photo) is a recognized bestseller and a permanent competitor of trackers by Jawbone and Nike.
Polar brand markets heart activity sensors as well as multifunctional fitness trackers. Their Polar Loop resembles much a well known model Nike+ Fuelband SE Fitness Tracker thanks to similar LED-display. By the way, the Polar model has not an installed pulse monitor. One has to purchase it separately. Remember to buy the pulse monitor by the same Polar firm as it will be difficult to synchronize the foreign one. Like Garmin Vivofit, this sensor looks like a chest ribbon.
THE MAIN DIFFERENCE OF «HEALTH TRACKERS»
The main difference is the function of «smart alarm clock». Almost all common fitness trackers, except Garmin Vivofit which has no alarm clock at all, are provided with such function. Many people buy trackers mostly because of the alarm-clock. This option is rather important: the alarm clock really works at phase the most appropriate for you to wake up and start doing your morning pursuits. Also the device will record the schedule of your sleeping phases, so you will be able to follow your resting regime in the smart phone application any time afterwards.
If the device is provided with the regime of “noiseless alarm clock”, this is splendid! It will wake up nobody but you, your beloved will go on sleeping in peace. This is because it wakes by vibration instead of sound (provided that you have the bracelet on your hand at night too).
Remember that the quality of sleep depends on many factors, besides the number of hours spent in bed. These are diet, lighting, surrounding temperature.
WHAT IS NECESSARY TO KEEP IN MIND USING A FITNESS TRACKER?
There are three general recommendations for beginners:
1. Don’t wear a bracelet on each hand.
It is better to wear a bracelet on one and the same hand all the time, as one of upper limbs is certain to dominate. Changing hands, you risk obtaining unreliable results of your activity. In right-handed persons the right hand dominates, in left-handed – vice versa.
2. «Customize» your fitness tracker.
Many users ignore the tracker when it asks to enter one’s own parameters, such as sex, age, weight, height and so on. This is a mistake! The device doesn’t possess telepathy and will be ignorant of the user. Do you want to get useful guidelines and more reliable data? “Make friends” with your tracker!
3. Synchronize the tracker with a smart phone in time so that not to erase necessary information from the device’s memory.
Don’t be lazy to shadow your results every day or once in two days. In the first place, you will be watching your progressing with your own eyes. In the second place, if you forget to check the results, you risk to lose them. If the internal memory is exhausted, everything will be deleted (naturally, it depends on the manufacturer and the model itself). Then you will know nothing. And this is not what you want, is it?
Bracelets belonging to the second category are designed for the purposes both entertaining and medical. As medical things, they are intended to fix loading, the number of steps, pulse, calories, sleep phases, etc. As things for game and amusement, they give the moment of competition to fitness. These so-called smart bracelets belong to the separate category of portable devices combining chief functions of both fitness trackers and “smart watches”.
The functionality of such devices may also include:
- calls and SMS notifications and the possibility to receive a call,
- the function to shadow the state of mood,
- the possibility to post one’s achievements to social networks,
- the sensor of ultraviolet irradiation degree,
- installed GPS module,
- the function of «voice assistant»,
- gestures identification,
- the information exchange with the same model of trackers,
- remote control of a smart phone.
This category is rather limited, as it is difficult to determine exactly the border between a fitness tracker and a smart watch. Though the choice is not great, the great is the image glamour of the models. Such brands as Nike, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, HTC (HTC Grip bracelet), Razer and some others are known to be manufacturers of wide range, and they attract new customers and fans of their brands thanks to launching smart bracelets.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES OF SMART BRACELETS
1. They involve you into the competition by means of appropriate applications. Here you may create various groups of friends or colleagues, the owners of the same bracelets, compare your sport achievements, and even compete with your friends obtaining additional points for sport victories.
2. They allow you to use a smart phone less. Smart bracelets may make your life simpler preventing your constant “empty” phone checking. The display of the tracker will notify you about calls and SMS. Some trackers even allow you to receive a call, as I have already mentioned. It is terribly comfortable and the hands are free!
3. They look stylish and prestigiously. I have nothing against other trackers, but these ones are really cooler! Usually the design of similar models is thought over to the smallest detail. They are quite image devices. Let’s take the bracelet by Nike or Razer: the thing is of latest fashion, you are eager to wear it and brag about it. Your friends can’t but buy the same. Then they have to start running. Then they have to install an application. And so forth. Well, you have already understood.
The most popular smart bracelets are worth of separate mentioning:
Microsoft Band is a cool thing collecting all useful info about health (sleep quality, calories, the number of steps made, distance, etc.). Moreover, it can be synchronized with a smart phone and integrated with social networks. And this is not all! It is able to do much more! For example, this device, the only one of its kind, can even identify the voice. A real intellectual assistant!
Smart bracelet Nike+Fuelband SE possesses a cool design and functionality common for all fitness trackers “for health”. Besides, it stimulates the user to share his or her achievements in a special Fuelband Nike+ app.
This application is very useful and convenient to monitor various activities. If you are a responsible sportsman, this bracelet is made for you. The only con is that you can easily fool the device at will. Then, of course, it will give you wrong results. But if you are honest with yourself, the device will be honest with you.
Razer Nabu. Frankly speaking, nobody could expect such a ploy as an activity tracker from the well known manufacturer of gaming gadgets. But remain calm! The product is designed mostly for gaming fans. In fact, Razer is concerned with the health of the customers, the majority of them being officers and gamers. These hypodynamic persons especially need physical loading.
The first generation of Razer Nabu didn’t succeed very much, it being rather hard to purchase (because of the problem strap contacting with skin, they say). But then the next model Razer Nabu X (on the photo) succeeded much more, though it has fewer functions. Nevertheless, sleep, calories, and physical activity monitoring function is available.
Samsung Gear Fit is the only smart bracelet by Samsung. It is sometimes called smart watch. To my mind, it is an exaggeration. This is the combination of a fitness tracker and a smart watch, nothing else.
An excellent example of the brand relation: the device works only with the latest smart phones by Samsung. There is no a smart alarm clock, only an ordinary one. But then there is a pulse monitor, step monitor, running speed monitoring function, and three modes of activities (walking, running, bicycling). Someone may lack the fitness mode, but runners will be satisfied.
It’s worth to mention Sony SmartBand, of course. Models Sony SmartBand SWR10 and Sony SmartBand Talk SWR30 are very similar, but the latter has the extended range of functions. Briefly, having synchronized the 30 with a smart phone, one may call. At last, the tracker has been provided with an e-ink screen.
Likewise fitness trackers, this is a broad and perspective category of portable gadgets. Manufactures are constantly improving their models under the slogan “Citius! Altius! Fortius!” Of course, the achievements of the competitors differ very much.
It’s worth to remember the legendary smart watch I'm watch. Of course, this product of 2011 has been raw and slow due to a weak processor, but one can forgive it everything. On the one hand, it was made in Italy, not in China. On the other hand, they risked to make it with no other brand to rely upon, except the first Samsung Galaxy Gear and the watch by Pebble.
Then the wave has arisen. Manufacturing gadgets, it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others, that is why at the moment we can watch a great variety of similar devices which represent real wrist computers. Monitoring function of such devices is rather a pleasant excess than a necessity unlike strictly “medical” fitness trackers.
The variety of functions may include:
- the support for third-party applications,
- calls and SMS notifications
- the opportunity to receive a call,
- Taptic Engine technology(to identify the strength of pressing or touching),
- installed GPS module,
- remote smart phone control,
and many other useful things. Whether the device is independent or synchronized with a phone, it strikes the imagination. And this is not a limit yet.
THE FUNCTIONS OF FITNESS TRACKERS IN SMART WATCHES
Naturally, everything depends, but in general a smart watch may include accelerometer, thermometer, barometer, compass, scheduler and a lot of other things. The price varies from 100$ for older models to thousands of dollars for such cool novelties as Apple Watch.
Let’s regard the most popular models of smart watches to understand if they are useful in monitoring activities and health indicators.
Apple Watch. At the moment the preorder of the product is only available. Judging by the present information, the promises of Apple Company (various “for health” functions, such as measuring stress level, blood pressure, blood oxygen) have not been fulfilled. So this device is unlikely to become “the most perfect device by Apple”.
At the same time three models have been presented: Watch, Watch Sport и Watch Edition. They are remarkable for their materials, rather than filling: for example, a sport kind of the model has a lighter case especially comfortable during training. The feature common with fitness trackers is the function of pulse monitoring. The device was made as a multi functional and amusing thing, but what concerns the health control, it leaves much to be desired.
Sony SmartWatch 2. The model was brought on to the market at the end of 2013, and till now it has not been defeated by any competitors. What is important, this model is nothing more than a smart phone without a hint of a fitness-tracker. It isn’t afraid of water, one may wash hands, even swim a little. An incoming phone call won’t be missed as well.
But there are no useful program functions of a fitness tracker. It would be necessary to install a special application. The installation of third-party apps for fitness on a smart phone allows the watch to mimic a fitness tracker.
Samsung Gear 2. Both Sony and Samsung are awarded the high praise of customers. It speaks for itself, of course. However, some cons are also present. Gear 2 by Samsung was made by “Samsung for Samsung”, i.e. it is completely “native” smart phone compatible like all other brand models. Instead, you have a plenty of opportunities!
Reproducing of music is a trifling matter as against 2 MP camera in a watch. By the way, the same Sony SmartWatch 2 also possesses such a function on the condition of synchronizing with a smart phone camera. Here the camera is independent. And quite independently the scratches may appear on the watch display, the given circumstance being often complained of. So, one should be especially aware of the fact. Provided you are careful using it, you will get an excellent assistant for your smart phone Samsung.
The following feature is common with a fitness tracker in this tracker: step and pulse monitor.
Adidas miCoach Smart Run. I can’t tell you about smart watches by Adidas without mentioning a smart watch Nike Sport Watch GPS. These Companies are rivals with a long history and seem to continue their rivalry. Frankly speaking, Adidas has left its rival far behind in the given case. It has a measuring installed sensor unlike the Nike model. If you a Nike user, you have to buy a sensor separately.
The Adidas watch is good for training. I recommend it especially for running. The watch is remarkable for its general suitableness: be the physical exercise of any kind, you may schedule your own training program, the system giving precious guidelines, e.g. concerning the current running speed.
Motorola Moto 360. A prestigious thing! The conclusive evidence is its price, on average 250$. The only feature common with a fitness tracker is a pulse monitor. Quite enough for someone! After all, it’s just a cool smart watch, not a fitness band. Besides, many customers consider it to be “the best smart watch” due to a lucky combination of the first-class design and powerful filling.
LG G Watch and LG G Watch R. Many users compare these models of smart watches with the model by Motorola – some choose Moto, because they believe LG to be dull, others prefer LG as its battery is capacious.
I am not the one who believes Internet reviews absolutely. But when they are unanimous, I begin to trust them willy-nilly. What do customers write? Though LG G Watch (on the photo) and LG G Watch R are very cool watches with voice search and impressive installed 4 GB memory, they have a few functions of activity trackers. R model is especially poor: rather mediocre step monitor and optional pulse monitor. Thus, if you require the monitoring of physical and heart activities, these models are of almost no use.
- Do you need the monitoring of activities and health indicators? Take a fitness bracelet or clip.
- Do you need monitoring as well as amusing, apart from a display? Choose a smart bracelet.
- Do you need music, camera, all set of notifications, wi-fi, voice control, etc. … apart from measuring morning running pulse? It means that you require a stylish smart watch. Besides, you may always install a necessary fitness app at will and customize your device (or almost always).