Smart devices now seem to pervade every nook and cranny of our modern society, from cars to home climate systems. So it’s no surprise that the fitness industry has also been swept up in the technological wave. Whilst fancy running shoes, expensive wireless earphones and your many pieces of #activewear have been mandatory fitness junkie apparel for a few years now, the latest thing to have is now a fitness tracker.
What are fitness trackers?
With their form ranging from big, chunky wristbands to tiny pods that clip onto your shirt, fitness trackers are any small device that records data about what your body’s doing so that you can train, eat and recover more effectively. The most basic functions include counting your steps, measuring your distance covered and tracking the amount of time you spend active and sedentary, as well as non-exercise features like sleep tracking and silent alarms. If you plump for a more expensive model, you’ll find more specialised features such as heart rate monitoring, GPS tracking and smartwatch-like features such as the displaying of calls and text messages.
Most fitness tracker brands offer accompanying applications for your phone and on the web, to which your device will upload your data periodically and let you easily see how you’ve progressed. Often your wristband or clip-on tracker will be able to wirelessly connect (via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) to your phone to make the process even easier, with most fitness brands supporting all the major operating systems including iOS, Android and Windows Phone. With brands such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin all becoming serious players in this new market, the time may be upon us to join the fitness tech craze. With that in mind, what kind of features and gimmicks should you be on the lookout for?
Size and shape
When it comes to hardware, fitness trackers tend to fall into two categories – the cheaper, less conspicuous and less capable, or the bulky, expensive variety that come packed with features. The smallest models are similar in size to an iPod Shuffle or MP3 player, able to be clipped onto your clothes or slipped into a pocket and cause minimal fuss. These tiny trackers tend to have impressive battery life as well – examples include the Jawbone UP Move and the Fitbit Zip, both of which promise up to six months of activity. Cheaper fitness gadgets are therefore ideal for the casual user – low cost, minimal fuss, but more than capable of doing what you need.
If you’re serious about your training, nutrition or rest (probably all three), you’ll want to look into something with more bells and whistles, and this usually takes the form of a wristband that allows for easier interaction with your device. These wristbands can range from thin, inconspicuous bands to full-on watches. Smaller wristbands tend to be the mid-range of fitness trackers, with one or two high-end features for fitness enthusiasts, but not enough to break the bank. The bigger models have space for a whole swag of tracking hardware, making them the top of the range choices for elite athletes or real fitness nerds – but of course, this comes at a hefty cost, often of several hundred dollars.
Fitness trackers need to cater to the vastly different fitness goals envisaged by each potential customer – from those who are middle-aged and just trying to stay healthy, to elite athletes who want to better track their training progress. In the most basic of trackers you should look for features such as a pedometer (step counter), timer, sleep tracker and computer connectivity – whether that’s using a cable or wirelessly to your smartphone.
Just about every fitness tracker manufacturer has a suite of software to go with their products, available on desktop and mobile. This lets you easily see your daily activity such as steps taken, distance covered and calories burned, as well as your duration and quality of sleep – some brands add even more. The more basic trackers will connect to a computer using a cable, but most can connect via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to your phone or laptop.
The next step up from a basic fitness tracker is often the addition of a heart rate monitor – a useful tool for athletes sticking to training targets mid-workout, or for casual fitness enthusiasts looking to learn more. Mid-range models often have better sleep management as well, allowing you to set silent alarms where your wristband vibrates gently to wake you up. Beyond that come advanced features such as GPS connectivity – for precise measuring of your running or cycling distances – along with touchscreens and Wi-Fi connectivity for greater ease of use. Top-end touchscreen fitness wearables often have many features you’d expect in a full-blown smart watch, such as displaying calls and texts and even remote phone controls.