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Keep your fitness goals on track

We put four popular fitness trackers to the test

Created date

August 21st, 2015
fitness trackers
fitness trackers

Remember when keeping track of your fitness meant knowing where you left your tennis racquet? Today, fitness tracking is a serious endeavor—one that requires an investment of both time and money. With the advancement of smartphone apps and wearable band trackers, it’s possible to account for your activity level every second of the day. But the question remains—is it necessary or even helpful?

To find out, I put a few trackers to the test—the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP, Apple Watch, and COGITO Classic. While each tracker offers different information and analysis, all of them track the number of steps you take. I figured this was a good place to begin my comparison. I wore all four trackers at the same time as I went about my normal day. The results were all over the map, ranging from 7,589 (COGITO) to 3,110 (Jawbone). 

Numbers aside, the usefulness of a fitness tracker is not the exact measurement of steps taken, but rather the ability to track your steps over many days so you can compare your relative activity level. As long as you maintain or beat your numbers on successive days, you are on track fitness-wise. 

All of the trackers need to be synced to a smartphone. Before you invest in one, make sure it is compatible with your particular phone. Also, while they are all water-resistant, none of these trackers are recommended for swimmers.

Which tracker is best for you? Here’s what I learned from my fitness trackers:

Apple Watch (From $349)

The Apple Watch does much more than track your fitness, but that was my primary motivation for getting one. I wasn’t disappointed. I'm a big fan of the watch and have come to rely on the fitness tracker. In addition to tracking the number of steps you take, the watch measures your heartbeat. If you are cycling or walking along trails, the Apple Watch (when paired with the iPhone) will also track your route and mileage using GPS.

Throughout your workout, the watch is constantly sending data to your iPhone, which means it works best if you have the phone close by (something that may be difficult or cumbersome for runners). 

Pros: The watch displays your heart rate, distance, calories burned, and time statistics throughout your workout—a great feature. Also, since the Apple Watch factors your heart rate into its metric, it seems to have the other devices beat in terms of tracking how many calories you burn. 

Furthermore, heart rate is a good way to track indoor cycling or strength training workouts—the kind of activities where your effort can’t necessarily be measured by the number of steps you take.

Cons: The Apple Watch is pricey if all you want is fitness tracking. The watch is also rather large. To get a good heart rate reading, it needs to fit snugly against your skin so after a long sweaty workout, your wrist will need a good washing.

Jawbone UP ($149.99)

This was one of the first fitness trackers on the market. It is a simple band worn around the wrist. Movement is recorded on the device, but to see any information, you must plug it into your smartphone (either iOS or Android). Jawbone UP also tracks the time and quality of your sleep.  

Pros: The Jawbone Up is very easy to use. The app allows you to log your fitness, food intake, and other information, and it will send alerts and reminders to your phone to help you stay focused on your goals. 

Cons: To track your sleep, you need to give the band a click to let it know when you are going to bed. Simple as that is, I found myself forgetting to do this quite a few times. Some people may find wearing the band to bed uncomfortable.  

Fitbit Flex ($99.99) 

The Fitbit Flex tracks steps taken, distance covered, calories burned, active minutes, and sleep. Like the Jawbone, you must go through the phone app to see your stats, but it does have small LED lights to indicate your progress.  

Pros: The Fitbit Flex band is light, comfortable, and is compatible with more phones (including Windows phones) than the other trackers. The band sends data to your phone wirelessly. 

Cons: The hardest part about using the Fitbit Flex is keeping track of your tracker. The band is ultra-lightweight so if it slips off your wrist, you are unlikely to notice it. In my family, we have had three Fitbit Flexes and lost two of them. 

COGITO Classic Smart Watch ($179.95)

If all you want to do is track your steps, this may be the device for you. The watch continuously displays your steps and also alerts you when you have an incoming call or text message. It interfaces through Bluetooth with both iOS and Android phones.

Pros: The watch is somewhat large, but it’s a handsome piece. Its relatively basic functions will appeal to those who don’t have the time or interest to manually record the day’s activities.

Cons: The display is somewhat dim and the battery life of the digital display is relatively short. You can turn the digital features off to conserve the battery power. The analog watch display runs from a second battery that lasts much longer, so even if the digital features power off, you still have a nice-looking watch that tells time.  

The bottom line 

Tracking your fitness can help motivate you to keep going even when you might be inclined to take it easy. However, in the end, it’s hard to say that accumulating so much data about your fitness is really worthwhile. It starts out as fun and interesting, but over time, tracking all that data is about as interesting as tracking your water bill.