Activity Trackers: The Best Buys

Activity trackers are one of the boom gadgets of the past few years. Jumping on the bandwagon of the proliferation of fitness and activity monitoring phone apps, these activity trackers can be worn as a wristband or watch, or clip onto your sports kit.

Prices start at around £30 for a basic activity tracker but you can expect to pay £200 to £300 for one of the top models if you’re serious about your fitness. New models are arriving on the market all the time as the manufacturers act on feedback and improve the features and performance.


What is an activity tracker?

An activity tracker does just that – it tracks your physical activity throughout the day. It will count how many steps you take and how far you run and let you know how many calories you have burned. Some activity trackers will monitor your heart rate and some will take into account any climbs you make eg walking up stairs or up a steep incline. Some will even monitor your sleep activity. Some will enable you to link with other wearers so you can compete for the best results and some have GPS to calculate distance covered more accurately.

Most activity trackers come in the form of a slim wristband or a watch, or a small monitor which you clip onto your clothes. Some will need to be synced with your phone to give you your activity statistics. Some will sync with a chest band to monitor your heart rate. Some are in the form of mobile phone apps.


Do they work?

They do work, but their accuracy can be questionable. Earlier this year a BBC reporter carried out a test of four activity trackers, wearing them all at the same time, and found a large discrepancy in the results.

The manufacturers concerned responded by saying that the purpose of an activity tracker was to measure personal development. As long as the wearer continued to use the same tracker they would be able to measure their improvement over time so the overall accuracy of the results was less important.

Which manufacturers make activity trackers?

The main players in the activity tracker market are Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone and Xiaomi. Apple has entered the market with the Apple Watch, Samsung has its smart watch Galaxy Fit, Microsoft has the Band and the Polar Loop is waterproof so can be used for swimming.

Which are the best activity trackers?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the best activity tracker on the market because it depends what you want to use it for. Some are more basic than others so if you’re serious about your sports and fitness you will want an all-singing, all-dancing tracker whereas if you’re simply interested in improving your fitness and losing a bit of weight, a more basic tracker will suffice.

The best activity trackers for serious fitness

If you’re a serious sports freak, you could try the Fitbit Charge 4, which retails at just under £130. It’s a watch with a intuitive display you can swipe, it has built-in GPS and provides dedicated 24/7 heart-rate statistics during workouts. It’s waterresistant and is certainly targeted at dedicated fitness enthusiasts rather than the casual user.

Polar Ignite is a bit more expensive but can track almost every sport and will provide you a training guide to help you improve your performance based on how you have worked out your daily activity. 

The best activity trackers for improving general fitness

The Fitbit Charge HR wristband displays real-time fitness statistics on your wrist. It offers continuous heart-rate monitoring and an altimeter along with a well-designed and comfortable strap and buckle. It’s a big brother to the more basic but still good Fitbit Charge but at just £20 more, retailing at just under £120, you get much more for your money.

The Jawbone UP2 is a slim, comfortable and robust wristband. It syncs with the new UP app to help you improve your health and fitness. The downsides include no GPS and no display on the wristband itself but if all you’re after is a device which measures your exercise levels, it’s worth the retail price of just under £90.

The best budget activity trackers

If you’ve never used an activity tracker before and aren’t sure if it’s for you, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of money on something you may find you never use. The Xiaomi Mi Band costs just £28.99 and does what most other lower-priced fitness bands do with good accuracy and a long battery life. It has a user-friendly phone app but it doesn’t integrate with other fitness apps.

The Jawbone UP Move is great value at just less than £40. It’s not comprehensive as it doesn’t track certain activities and doesn’t measure climbs but it does have excellent sleep tracking. It links to the well-reviewed Jawbone UP fitness app enabling you to track your current and previous activity.

The Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has so far failed to capture the imagination. Fitness and activity tracking is one of its primary features and it has a number of built-in apps to measure heart rate and monitor your movement and activity. It also has built-in GPS so it can measure the distance you travel, even while cycling. However, it’s tracking results don’t seem to be any more reliable than other activity trackers on the market and almost £300 is a lot of money to pay for an activity tracker.

The Apple Watch will sync with the various iPhone apps available to track fitness activity but even without an Apple Watch or activity tracker, these apps can use motion detectors on your phone to monitor whatever fitness goals you want to set yourself.

Activity tracking phone apps

One of the best reviewed activity tracker phone apps is the Jawbone UP, which is free to download on iPhones and works in the same way as a wristband tracker. It just means you have to take your phone with you on your run or workout. Where it scores over many other apps is that is uses your age, weight and height to set you your own personal activity goals instead of the same goals as everyone else.

Map My Fitness is an all-purpose app available on the iOS, Android and Windows platforms. It supports a variety of activities and will tell you how much ground you’ve covered, timings and a host of other statistics. It’s free to download but you have to pay a monthly subscription to access some of the better features.

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