How To Buy A Fitness Tracker: 5 Things You Need to Know

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Choose Your Track.

With so many on the market, it can be difficult to choose a fitness tracker that will suit you best. The right device will be based on your individual needs – whether it’s step counting, sleep tracking or 24/7 heart rate tracking – there is something for everyone. No one product does it all, but some come closer than others.

While the fitness tracker has exploded in popularity, it’s all worth taking a second to consider what you want from it. Fitness trackers, by and large, will track your daily activity in terms of steps and calories burned through movement. You set a goal of how active you want to be and they will give you a rough guide as to how successful you are.

The truth is, not every tracker is for everybody. You’ll find trackers aimed at everyone from workout newbies to gym junkies, from runners to swimmers. So, how do you find the perfect tracker for your life? Well, here are some things to consider. Are you trying to jump-start a lapsed fitness routine? Fine-tune an exercise regimen? Train for a triathlon? The right fitness tracker can help you achieve your specific objectives.

Fitness trackers range from simple to sophisticated with price points to match. Here’s how to find the right tracker to fit your budget, fitness, lifestyle, and fashion sense. Keep in mind that a fitness tracker is like a gym membership: Only beneficial if you use it.

1. How much do you want to spend?

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You’ll need to define your budget, since fitness trackers vary greatly in price. The latest generation of fitness wearables offers a wide range of different features to choose from at very reasonable prices. Also, with so many companies releasing 2nd and 3rd generation devices, their earlier generation devices are becoming cheaper. While these may not track everything, with some shopping around you may be able to find one that fits your needs.

On the low end, you’ll find models such as the Fitbit Zip, Misfit Flash, Jawbone UP Move, Pivotal Living, Razor Nabu and Xiaomi Mi 2 Band, all selling for under $50.

If, however, you are interested in fully featured device, you will need to spend a bit more to purchase for example the Fitbit Charge 2, Jawbone UP3, Gear Fit 2 or Vivosmart HR.

At the more expensive end there are devices such as the Withings Activite, Microsoft Band 2, Fitbit Blaze and Vivoactive HR.

2. What do you want to track?

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Most fitness trackers keep tabs on steps, distance, calories and activity. The more advanced ones will also feature a GPS for more precise measuring of distance. If your primary activity is walking, hiking or running, pretty much any brand will do. Not so if you get most of your activity by cycling, working an elliptical, walking on a treadmill, swimming or mountain climbing. Be sure to select a tracker that can capture data for the specific activity or sport you do most.

Sleep tracking is also becoming a common feature. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Wearables vary greatly in terms of information they provide, ranging from simply monitoring total time to providing details on various stages of sleep such as light, deep and REM sleep. Many devices also have silent alarms that vibrate on your wrist to wake you up without disturbing your partner.

3. What’s your style?

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Trackers come in different shapes, styles and sizes. Design is a subjective topic, but a very important one. Activity trackers started off with chunky and unattractive devices aimed at fitness freaks and technology buffs. The tech community is, however, increasingly grasping the importance of designing wearable technology that is both functional and attractive.

Most fitness trackers are meant to be worn constantly, so you will need to like the way your device looks. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to try one on before you actually buy it, do so. While most devices wrap around your wrist, there are dongles that clip on to your clothing and can be more comfortable to wear.

4. Battery life and charging

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Battery life is an important factor to take into consideration, as having to charge your band every few days can be a real thorn in the side of your attempts to track your fitness regime, and crucially can mean you need to leave it at home or it runs out during a working day.

Bands now fall into two camps: those that require charging every five (ish) days via a USB cable and devices that use a watch battery that lasts around six months.

The Jawbone UP2, UP3, Fitbit Charge HR, all require regular recharging, but offer the most comprehensive metrics. It’s a similar story with the likes of the Fitbit Alta and Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse.

The Misfit Shine 2, Misfit Flash, Withings Go, Jawbone UP Move and Moov Now all use watch batteries that will need changing every six months.

5. User experience

A man uses an Apple Inc. iPhone 5s smartphone while wearing an Apple Watch Sport smartwatch in an arranged photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, April 24, 2015. The Apple Watch, which officially goes on sale today, won't initially be available for purchase in stores, a break from how the tech company has introduced past products. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You will want a seamless users experience when it comes to your tracker. There are technical issues to consider such as the set-up, how you keep the device charged and how it stores your data. Does it sync automatically (the most convenient devices sync automatically and wirelessly)? Is activity tracking and sleep tracking automatic or manual? Is it water-resistant? These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself.

You’ll also want to look at how easy it is to interact with the tracker you are considering. Some, such as the Apple Watch 2 or Vivoactive HR have fully featured touch screens, while others, such as the Misfit Shine 2 are more minimalistic and triggered by tapping on the device.

Wearing a tracker is, however, just half the story. The other equally important part is understanding and using your data to live a healthy life. Different activity trackers have different ways of displaying the data. It is therefore important that the smartphone app and any website interface are attractive and simple to use, and provide you with information that you are most interested in.