How do different activity trackers compare?

By Sharon Niv, Ph.D.

Wearable activity trackers are exploding in popularity. Everywhere we look, people are clipping on their pedometers or wearing their monitors around their wrists. With the abundance of new products hitting the market, it’s difficult to keep track of which projects carry which features, and to compare between them efficiently.


In recognition of this problem, Consumer Troubleshooting site FixYa took on some of the most popular and visible devices and compared them. Their report focuses on Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, Basis Band, BodyMedia Fit Link, and Nike+ Fuelband, and compares both their benefits and their deficits.


FixYa didn’t provide a ranking of best to worst, but did suggest that the Basis Band had the fewest problems and the Jawbone Up possibly the most. Basis was lauded for tracking a wide range of data for feedback. Its customers’ most frequent complaint is that the Basis doesn’t provide real time heart rate feedback – that is, it’s not possible to check one’s pulse at any given point – it is reported upon after the fact.


Other products also received relative praise, with Fitbit Flex and Nike+ Fuelband deemed the best tracker for beginners due to their convenient interface and many features. The Fitbit was docked points for having an occasionally inaccurate measure due to its wrist placement – overestimating arm exercises and underestimating exercises like cycling. The Fuelband was considered highly functional but lacking in features such as sleep tracking and manual entering for physical activities.


Praise was also given to the BodyMedia Fit Link for sophisticated data analysis systems that include body heat to calculate burned calories. The biggest problem with this FDA-approved activity tracker is that users disliked paying for the data tracking subscription, as other devices do not require a membership.


The Up was reported to suffer from battery problems, with users complaining about a battery drain several months into usage. Users also reported wishing for wifi sync rather than manual data transfer.


Reports such as these are beneficial for consumers as this field of connected health and fitness explodes. We’re looking for ways to understand our bodies and the way in which we can affect them through behavior change. Understanding how different features of different tools can help us shape behavior is an excellent first step toward living better, healthier lives.


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