How to pick the right activity tracker for you

Sod the reviews, what do you REALLY want from a wearable?

Gone are the days of having a Fitbit or a Fitbit to choose from when it comes to fitness tracking tech. Now there are countless different brands offering countless different devices to track countless different metrics. Even for those in the know, the whole process is pretty damn confusing.

So, to help you navigate the minefield that is wearable tech, activity trackers and fitness devices, I’m here to share some words of wisdom when it comes to shopping around for a device that’s right for you.

But first, what is a wearable?

Well, good question. Before you start agonising over which activity tracker is for you it’s good to get to grips with what they actually are and what’s on offer.

A wearable is, you guessed it, a piece of tech that you wear. Whether that’s in your pocket, on a belt clip, on your wrist, tied to your ankle, as a chest strap. The list could go on and on and if the future of wearable tech pans out like many expect it to, we’ll soon see wearables strapped to our eyes and attached to our skin. But we’ve got a few more years before that kinda stuff becomes mainstream.

Now, wearable tech doesn’t always refer to activity trackers. A wearable can be a smartwatch built for notifications or even a device designed to keep you safe. But we’re going to focus on wearables that are primarily built for getting you fitter, tracking your movements and becoming more mindful about what’s going on with your health and fitness. 

There are sensors within wearables that can track a number of things: speed, steps taken, distance travelled, location, heart rate, calories burned, sleep tracking, posture, stress, blood pressure, landing impact and so much more. The only thing you need to know about what wearables can track is that very few can track everything. That’s why you’ll need to decide why you want one.

Get real about what you want a wearable for

There are plenty of trackers on the market specially designed for those who take fitness more seriously. For example, the Moov and brand spanking new Moov Now are essentially little personal trainers strapped to your wrist (or ankle).

If you’re committed to working out each and every day and genuinely want to improve your form or pace, then it’s an ideal piece of tech for you. But if you’re hoping that buying an expensive wearable might push you into adopting a fitness routine that’s totally alien to you, you might want to set some more realistic goals.

This advice works the other way too. I personally wouldn’t want something as high-end as the Moov, but then feel really limited by the data presented by the likes of the Fitbit Flex.

Think about your end goal

So to really figure out what kind of tracker you need, it’s good to have a goal in mind. You can then work to apply that goal to what different trackers have to offer. I’ll give you a few examples:

Goal: I just want to move more, I run occasionally but would love to just get more motivation to move a bit more each day. Working at a desk job sucks!

Type of tracker: Something that tracks steps, urges people to move if they’ve been stationary for too long and has a decent exercise tracking ability too.

My suggestion: Misfit Flash.

Goal: I want to buy something that’ll help me slowly lose weight through a mixture of food tracking and HIIT.

Type of tracker: One that has decent calorie tracking (or seamless integration with the likes of MyFitnessPal), motivates you to move more and can monitor your heart rate too.

My suggestion: Fitbit Charge HR.

Goal: I take running really seriously and want to take everything up a level, my tracking, my form, everything. I don’t care about wearing it 24/7 I just need it for my runs.

Type of tracker: One that’s built for running. Duh.

My suggestion: TomTom cardio Runner.

That’s just an example of how you need to get real about your goals, pick them apart to figure out what you really want and then do your research to find out what’s on offer and what each tracker can, well, track.

And on a side note, this is a great opportunity to get a bit more realistic about your goals. If your goal is to look like Gisele on the beach next month, then not only will you be disappointed that there isn’t a tracker that’s going to overhaul your entire body composition in a fortnight, but you’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Not to sound all Year 8 maths teacher on you, but your goals need to be achievable, realistic and not at all subjective.

Consider its battery life (if you’re easily annoyed, it’s more important than you think)

This is often way down on people’s list of considerations when they’re looking to buy a wearable. But once you start wearing one it becomes the most important. You know when your phone runs out of juice at a critical moment and you feel like your whole world is caving in around you? Well, if you choose a wearable with a short battery life that feeling will become all too familiar. This is why I opt for devices that are built to last months, like the Misfit Flash and Shine and the Withings Activité.

If, on the other hand, you’re super diligent about charging stuff each and every night then it shouldn’t matter too much. So you can try a Fitbit or Jawbone that requires charging every few days without losing your mind once a week.

Choose a style that suits you

When it comes to style, there are all kinds of things to bear in mind. There are functional considerations, for instance: do you want a screen? Some people find that being able to access basic data from their wrists really keep them motivated, others find it more natural to just check the dedicated app for their stats.

The same goes for different styles. Do you mind wearing bracelets or wristbands at a festival? If they don’t bother you you’re likely to get more accurate tracking from something on your wrist. But if they do then don’t force yourself into wearing one and opt for something more versatile, like a Misfit Flash that you can wear in lots of different places.

Then obviously there’s the aesthetics. I like sporty, simple stuff so I’m happy with the design of the Misfit Flash. Others may want to seek out a wearable that looks more stylish, so you could try a Withings Activité or Tory Burch’s range for Fitbit instead.

Have a play around with the app before you buy the tracker

To really get the most out of your activity tracker, you’ll need to become BFFs with its accompanying app. This is where you view data, track your progress, set goals and tweak the settings to make sure it’s fully customised.

If you don’t like the experience, find the colours jarring or the fonts too small and annoying, then you won’t open it half as much as you should.

Most apps don’t require you to have the wearable right away for you to download them. I recommend trying a few out and seeing what sticks with you. I personally love the overall experience from Misfit, the simplicity of Fitbit and the Smart Coach element with the Jawbone, but it’s really all down to personal preference.

Read reviews (but take them with a pinch of salt)

There are countless reviews online that put the top wearables of the moment to the test. Most big tech sites also get activity trackers way before general release, which is handy if you want something brand new.

The key here is to read a lot of different reviews. Wearable tech is really subjective. Someone could have a rubbish experience with one tracker purely because they don’t like how it looks and feels, so it puts a downer on their whole review. Others call things “ugly” and “pointless” when really the next person could find it stylish and super useful.

So read more than one review of each product and try your best to find reviewers with similar wrists to you. Sounds a bit weird and stalker-y, right? But often activity trackers that are a little bigger can look normal on a medium-build dude’s arm and ridiculous on a small-framed female’s arm. Just bear that in mind when you’re checking out photos.

Remember it won’t knock the cake out of your hand

Wearables aren’t magical (not yet at least). Your tracker can vibrate first thing in the morning to remind you to get you up and into your running gear, but it can’t drag you out of bed. It can warn you when you’ve over-indulged, but it can’t knock the cake out of your hand.

The key to finding a good activity tracker and using it to really change your life is to realise you need to take responsibility. I’m sure you could passively track your steps and up your numbers each day without a great deal of motivation, but if you’ve got big goals in mind, like running a 5k, losing weight or learning to love swimming more than ever, then you need to be committed to your own personal and physical wellbeing. Because a tracker can’t do that for you. But we’re waiting excitedly for one that soon will.

Main image © Fitbit