Is a Fitness Tracker Really Helpful? Fitness Trackers Comparison
Health and fitness are words that get thrown around a lot, and it’s hard to argue with the researchers from top health institutes and universities.
There’s a simple conclusion that’s hard to fault, want to be healthy? Get up and more.
That’s not the most descriptive advice out there, but we’ll boil it down to the essentials. To lose weight, you’ve got to burn some calories.
Enter the fitness tracker (or activity trackers as they were known early on). These gadgets are designed to help quantify your workouts, giving you accurate data regarding your every motion, and even provided personalized workouts and recommendations tailored to your specific age group, gender, weight and height.
All this relies on a combination of real-time monitoring and cloud-based data crunching. It’s quite ingenious, and companies like Garmin and Fitbit have made excellent products throughout their years as market leaders.
The real-time monitoring is where the magic truly happens. In their small enclosures, fitness trackers pack a ton of high-tech sensors that measure your heartrate, body movement, sleep cycles and potentially even more depending on what model you’re buying.
We’d also like to note that we aren’t talking about smartwatches, though there can certainly be some overlap. For example, the Apple Watch began life as a fitness tracker first and smart device second, though that has since changed. When you’re exercising, you should probably focus on your physical workout of choice, and that’s why we’re focusing on the best dedicated fitness trackers in this article.
With the introductory jargon out of the way, are fitness trackers actually worth it?
Are Fitness Trackers Necessary?
The quick and dirty answer here is that it depends. If you’re someone who likes jogging, biking or simple walks, a fitness tracker is fine, but a phone app can be as a viable alternative.
Conversely, if you’re someone who like getting detailed stats for further workout optimization, or if you’re someone who does more intensive sports like basketball and soccer, then you’ll probably enjoy the fitness trackers.
The Fitness Tracker You Already Have: Your Phone
I jog daily, and I like keeping track of my average speed and how far I’ve run. I used to love having a fitness tracker on hand during the jog, and the portability was a major draw for me.
That was 3 years ago, and I’ve since converted to running without a fitness tracker. Since I already carry my phone during jogs, I now use the Runkeeper app to track my jogs.
What I really want is a simple GPS to track my route, and certain stats like my splits and speed. A rudimentary calories-burnt counter also comes with the app, which is a nice bonus. Other fitness tracker specific features like heartrate monitoring and step counters weren’t too important for me, further enforcing my decision.
This isn’t just an isolated incident either. There’s been an industry-wide slowdown in terms of fitness tracker sales figures, showing that more people are switching. Fitbit’s Active user count hit a 2-year low in 2018, and Pebble has been gobbled up by Fitbit after a failed Kickstarter in the same year.
So why buy a fitness tracker?
Not all is grim. Masters like Garmin and Fitbit are still in business, and while not as strong as they were back in 2016, they’ve still got a solid foothold on the market. Products like the Fitbit Charge 3 and Garmin Vivosport are sleek, and pack a metric ton of features into their small enclosures.
While I talked about smartphones as an impressive substitute, there are still things that require dedicated hardware. Heartrate monitoring can theoretically be done with your smartphone’s cameras, but it’s not as accurate as the wrist-mounted "photoplethysmography" meters and the chest-mounted “electrocardiography” method. If your workouts require ideal heart-rate conditions, an app just won’t cut it.
Similarly, your phone generally relies on a GPS signal to track your jogging routes and total walking distance. This is fine and all, but modern fitness trackers come with built-in altimeters, barometers, and compasses, such as on the Garmin Fenix 5x. This gives you even more detail and accurate readouts that allow you to handle just about every outdoor activity, including mountain biking and hiking.
And the best thing about fitness trackers? The convenience. I recently demoed the Garmin Vivoactive 3 recently and was thoroughly impressed. Modern fitness trackers come with on-board GPSs without breaking the bank, and while I do lose out on my smartphone’s music library, it’s liberating to be able to run without needing to carry my smartphone with me.
Finally, if you’re someone who likes to keep track even during intensive and competitive sports, or even underwater activities, there’s no real substitute for a fitness tracker, playing soccer with a phone in my pocket just feels wrong.
Do I recommend a fitness tracker? Well, if you think it sounds right for you, go for it. I’d say the tech has improved to the point where affordable models carry all the features I’d want, and if an app just doesn’t do enough for you, a fitness tracker might just do the trick.
Which fitness tracker should I get?
Best Overall Fitness Tracker – Garmin Vivosport
Garmin’s Vivosport might not look like the most stylish fitness tracker out there, but it gets the job done better than most other trackers you can buy. An 82% metascore could have easily been above 90%, but reviewers are docking points for visual flair. Thankfully, the Vivosport's features more than make up for it.
I’ve gone on enough about how important GPS tracking is, and Garmin’s Vivosport manages the same degree of accuracy as their high-end products, without adding too much to the overall size and bulk. The size really is the killer feature here. While it’s relatively tiny, the Garmin Vivosport packs all the necessary features like heart rate sensors and an always on display without costing a fortune, and I love it for that.
The only complaint I have about the Vivosport is the lack of swimming tracking modes despite its water resistance of up to 50m. Overall, it’s a minor blow to an otherwise impressive all-rounder, and if you’re in the market for a new fitness tracker (and don’t mind something more functional than cool), you can’t go wrong with the Vivosport.
Best Budget Fitness Tracker – Huawei Band 3 Pro
On-board GPS is something I look for in a fitness tracker, and the Huawei Band 3 Pro packs that in along with a 14-day average battery life and waterproof capabilities in a package that costs just $60. Have a look at expert reviews here. With a 72% metascore, it’s not as good as the best of the best, but it manages to hold its own.
The heart rate sensors aren’t the best out there, and the display isn’t the most high-res. However, these aren’t massive drawbacks, and I’m willing to live with the slightly sluggish GPS and UI considering how much I’m getting for the price.
If you’re looking for an affordable entry-point into the realm of fitness trackers, you can’t go wrong with the Huawei Band 3 Pro.
Best Fitbit Fitness Tracker – Fitbit Charge 3
The Fitbit Charge has been praised all round, and the only real downside to it is the lack of an onboard GPS tracker. However, Fitbit is well known for having some of the best sensors in the business, and it shows. Heart rate monitoring is done excellently here, and sleep monitoring is implemented in good form here if you want it.
Apart from that, this is just a great smartwatch, and you can read what reviewers have to say about it here. Solid 6-day battery life and a feather-like weight makes this ideal for people looking for a smartwatch-like fitness tracker, and is definitely deserving of the praise. The biggest deal here is Fitbit’s companion app, which is the best in my books.
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