After months of testing the most popular activity monitors head-to-head, I’ve determined it’s the best because of it’s accuracy in tracking, long battery life and the wide number of apps that can use its data. The fact that it’s cheaper than the competition–despite containing an altimeter and wireless syncing–is icing on the cake.
So what exactly is a fitness tracker and why would you want one? Basically, it’s a wearable mini-computer that uses an accelerometer to measure steps and other movements. It then uses algorithms to translate these readings into more helpful figures like the number of calories burned and distance traveled. Some models can even track sleep cycles. Additionally, the One has a built-in altimeter that allows it to factor in stairs and hill-climbs to get a more accurate read on how hard you’re working and how many calories you’ve burned. All of this information is then synced to a smartphone app or computer where you can analyze your habits and gain insight into your health and wellbeing. But data is just one part of the picture.
Fitness trackers, in general, don’t just measure activity–they actually motivate people to exercise more.
In 2007, Researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine released a study that found pedometer use helped improve blood pressure and increased physical activity and weight loss. “Much to my surprise, these little devices were shown to increase physical activity by just over 2,000 steps, or about 1 mile of walking per day,” said the study’s lead author, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior research scientist in medicine. Basically, they’re perfect for those who want to lead a healthier lifestyle but could use a little outside motivation to get there.
The Fitbit Best Budget Fitness Tracker One is the replacement to the Fitbit Ultra, which was our last pick for Best Activity Monitor. In the time between the Ultra and the One, Fitbit has addressed a number of the issues that many users complained about. For starters, the One has been slimmed down in size–1.89″ x 0.76″ x 0.38″ compared to the Ultra’s 2.125″ x .75″ x .563”. It’s the smallest clip-style activity monitor I tested. However, since the Fitbit One’s sleek pill-like case is made out of stronger, higher quality materials, it still weighs the same as its fatter predecessor. It comes in two different colors: black and burgundy, but I don’t think it really matters since you’ll be jamming the thing into a grey silicon and metal clip or a neoprene wristband when you use it. You could just shove the Fitbit One into your pocket without the clip or the wristband, I guess, but I wouldn’t. It’d make it too easy to misplace, or worse still, accidentally run through the wash. The One might be splash resistant, but it likely won’t survive a dunk in the pool or being run through with the laundry.
Isn’t cheap, but it’s a good deal when compared to its main competition. The One is cheaper than the Jawbone Up and cheaper than the Nike Fuelband. And it’s got more features and functionality to boot.
Unlike the Jawbone UP or the Nike’s Fuelband, the One has a built-in altimeter, so it can measure the number of stairs or hills you’ve climbed to better calculate the number of calories you’ve burned.
The One also has Bluetooth 4.0 wireless syncing (a feature it shares with the Fuelband), which lets you skip your computer’s USB port and connect directly to an iOS device (Android is in the works). This makes it much easier to use when compared to the more expensive Up.
The One can also track your sleep patterns. All you need to do is slip the One into its neoprene wristband, wear it to bed and well, sleep. The device’s accelerometer will consider the lack of movement on your part to be a sign of your being sound asleep. Flop around in bed, and the device will log it as a sign of less restful sleep. The One even has a silent wake alarm that vibrates at a specified time set by the user. It’s a bonus that any bedmate that wakes up later than you do will love. Jawbone’s Up offers this feature as well, but it costs more.
The One stores a ton of information: up to seven days of minute-by-minute data—every step you take, every move you make. It’ll also summarize the distance you’ve gone, the amount of sleep you’ve clocked, floors you’ve climbed, calories you’ve burned and the number of steps you’ve taken for the preceding 23 days. That not as much as the Striiv Play–it can hold 60 days of minute-by-minute data as well as daily totals–but it’s more than enough storage for just about anyone that would use it. All of this information can be read on the One’s built in display, but it’s easier to digest after being dumped into a computer or smart phone. Where the Fitbit Ultra relied on a USB connection to transfer data to your computer, the One comes equipped with low-power Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless syncing directly to an iOS device. An additional wireless USB dongle allows you to sync to your laptop throughout the day.
Nothing can touch the One when it comes to applying the data it collects. Once the One’s data has been transferred to your smartphone or computer, you can interpret it using a number third-party apps like Lose It!, MapMyRun, Endomondo, and MyFitnessPal. Doing so will ensure you have the most accurate log of activities, including food intake, workouts and sleep. While all of the other fitness trackers I tested come with interpretive software that’ll illustrate your progress on a computer or a smartphone, Fitbit’s agreements with their third-party partners allows you to tailor a usage experience to suit your needs. I like that.
But the Fitbit ecosystem extends beyond virtual apps. You can also add the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi enabled smart scale for even more tracking capabilities. It’ll work just fine without it but doing so would enable you to do things like measure the correlation between activity level and changes in weight. Pretty spiffy. Also a feature that’s currently unique to the Fitbit (although other companies have plans to join them).
The One provided me with the longest use per charge, despite its built-in Bluetooth functionality. Just like the Fitbit Ultra, the One is rated to run between five and seven days. But I was finally prompted to recharge after 12 days of continuous use.
There aren’t too many reviewers or experts in the field of activity monitors. Magazines like Runner’s World and Men’s Health, for instance, make no mention of either the Fitbit or Fuelband online. But I was able find a number of editorial reviews from users from other publications with less authority in the areas of health and fitness.
Jill Duffy at PCMag.com gave the Ultra a 4/5 rating, and said “The Fitbit One performed well in all my testing, doing an outstanding job of collecting, aggregating, and displaying data across walking, running, stair climbing, sleeping, and eating. If you’re not training for a marathon and instead are looking to simply pay more attention to your overall fitness and health, the Fitbit One delivers at a great price, easily earning our Editors’ Choice.”
Gizmodo said that the One has “really solid battery life” and that the “biggest” advance is the new display, “which greatly improves readability.” Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng praised the One’s redesign, saying “The previous Fitbit was no ugly duckling, but the Fitbit One is smoother—both literally and figuratively. It feels nice to hold and is more modern-looking overall. The build quality also seems to be improved—we had some issues with our original Fitbits beginning to crack at the side seams, but the Fitbit One comes off as more solid and resistant to everyday wear and tear.”
In his review of the One, Thomas Ricker of The Verge, who owned and lost two Fitbit Ultras, praised the One’s new two-piece sleeve/clip design, which fastens more securely to clothing than the last generation Fitbit device did. And as for regular users of the Fitbit One, on Amazon the One has a 4/5 star rating from more than 194 reviewers and was recently awarded the #1 best seller amongst pedometers.
But that’s not to say the One is perfect. Without the wristband setup that other trackers like the Nike Fuel and Jawbone Up have, there is a greater probability you’ll forget it (although I’d rather take my chances than wear a bracelet). It’s so small, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it. A number of times, I’ve nearly forgotten to it switch from one pair of pants to another. Its size makes it easy to lose without noticing as well. So that’s a problem.
It requires a certain amount of diligence so that it becomes apart of your daily routine. When I leave home, I always make sure I have my wallet, keys and phone. And now the Fitbit One.
Many Amazon reviewers who gave it a one star rating cite the clip as their main complaint, leaving comments with headlines like, “but the rubber holder bites!”, “Clip needs to be fixed.”, “Loved It!!! Then Lost It.” My workaround to this is to clip it onto the inside of the pocket. Depending on where you clip it, the display might not always be readily accessible. It’s also worth mentioning that Fitbit’s web app remains a bit clunky and things like changing the silent alarm are still hidden from the main dashboard. It can be found under account settings, which isn’t exactly intuitive. The fact that the One uses two different dongles—one to charge it and one to sync it to a computer—is kind of weak as well.
That said, these are small complaints compared to the major flaws of all the other options. Jawbone?
Jawbone’s UP is a significant step forward from the previous version, which was recalled for reliability issues. But it still lacks wireless connectivity, support for Android and a desktop client limiting it to only those with an iOS device. Worst of all, there’s no display, so you can’t see your progress. An effective activity monitor should give instant feedback but the UP requires you to physically connect it to a device to get any up to date data. But it’s not all terrible.
The Up’s Battery life is rated at 10 days and definitely delivers on that promise and then some. It logs sleep and can help you time power naps. Logging food and drink is rather robust since you can snap photos of barcodes or just enter ingredients. The promise of the UP is that it would use diet, sleep and exercise data to give you suggestions on how to improve your fitness, but reviewers found this feature to be rudimentary to the point of obvious right now.
The best feature of the UP in my opinion is an idle alert that vibrates when you’ve been sedentary for a set period of time as dictated by the user. (I wish the Fitbit had this one feature since it also contains a tiny motor that’s used by the silent alarm.) But to change the idle alert or the silent alarm, you’ll have to connect the band. Like the Fitbit, you can calibrate the band to better track your steps be it walking or running. You can also log non-bi-pedal activities like yoga, including the intensity, to tweak your calories burned quotient for the day.
And because it’s worn on the wrist and is water resistant in the shower, the chances of forgetting it are slim. It’s also comfortable to wear and sleep with and the silent alarm does a good job of not waking up your significant other.
All in all, we just don’t feel there’s much reason to recommend it above the Fitbit given its lack of wireless syncing, a persistent monitor on the device to keep you motivated, and a more useful set of advice from the sleep, eat and movement trackers working in concert.
A Cheap Activity Tracker
The One is the cheapest among the major players but is still a bit much to pay for something you’re not sure you’re going to end up using. The Striiv’s Play is a small but ugly clip-based pedometer that includes an altimeter, display, and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless syncing just like the One. But it doesn’t measure sleep and currently only works with an iOS app that’s cluttered and hard to navigate. It’s a very gamified experience that left me more confused than motivated.
At the time I was doing the chunk of my research there were only one or two reviews of the Striiv Play from sites I’d never heard of. Also worth noting is that none of those reviewers had reviewed the previous generation. So I was skeptical of citing them. My biggest issue with the Play is that the app is too focused on gaming, not to mention that it’s incredibly cluttered and difficult to navigate. The app is chock full of challenges, like walking 100 steps in 10 minutes, that users can accept or decline and earn points that can be used in a mini-game called MyLand. A cleaned up app and desktop counterpart would make it a more compelling alternative. Its battery life isn’t all that great either. A number of reviewers commented on the fact that they had to charge it once every couple of days. Also, the initial pairing over Bluetooth wasn’t as easy as the setup for the other devices
It’s not all bad though. The display on the device itself is quite nice and the clip itself is super strong.
Still, at half the price of the Fitbit One, it could be a compelling choice for anyone that’s thinking about getting into activity monitors, but can’t bear the thought of parting with or more. But it can only sync with late model iOS hardware at this time. Android users and computer-only people need not apply.
You could go with the Fitbit Zip, too, which also works with a lot of apps like the Fitbit One. It doesn’t have an altimeter built into it, which means that you won’t be getting as true a reading from it on how many calories you’ve burned if hills or stairs are a big part of your life. Maybe it’d be good for health nuts from Iowa. I say go for the Striiv Play, and if you can’t stand its software, return it and get a Zip.
What About Nike’s Fuelband?
The FuelBand is Nike’s entry into the activity monitor game. It has a cool factor that’s unparalleled and causes people to run from across the room just to see what all the pretty lights are about. It’s also by far the most motivating of the bunch and uses a single metric, FuelScore, to pit you against your friends that’s easy to understand. Unfortunately, it can’t be calibrated and no one really knows what’s goes into the score calculations besides Nike, and their lips are sealed. As a result, reviewers from the NY Times and Gizmodo found that it’s just not that accurate.
The Fuelband’s marketing materials make it seem capable of tracking any and every activity under the sun by using algorithms capable of correlating certain movements with specific activities. However in practice, it’s an opaque, seemingly arbitrary, and sometimes hilariously flawed system. For example, Gizmodo’s Casey Chan found that eating a slice of pizza earns you 23 Nike Fuelscore and smoking a cigarette is worth 21 points… By that metric, smoking 140 cigarettes would constitute an “active day” by Nike’s standards. So healthy!
What’s more, it lacks an altimeter which means it actually tracks less data than the FitBit, and is unable to differentiate between climbing stairs and running downhill. There’s also no way to manually tweak activities the way you can with the Fitbit or UP. This makes it a terrible choice for those who do stationary exercises like spinning, and absolutely useless for swimmers.
Battery life is pretty horrendous compared to the One and UP and needs to be recharged every two to four days depending on how active you are. It’s also bulky when compared to the competition and doesn’t track sleep. Priced at, the FuelBand is also more expensive than the Fitbit One and Jawbone UP by, respectively.
It also lacks a vibrating alarm and can’t track sleep in any meaningful way (although apparently sleeping will earn you 79 Nikefuel).
Although it’s the most motivating because of its display and rainbow LED array that lets you know where you are as far as reaching your daily goal, the way the FuelBand calculates your Fuel score along with basics like steps and calories tend to differ drastically when compared to the UP and One. That makes it very motivating, if not a little bright.
It doesn’t have much app support other than its own built-in program and the less-than-popular Path social network. But that could soon change now that Nike has partnered with Techstars to launch the Nike+ Accelerator program to make better use of the existing Nike+ and Fuel infrastructures. For now though, we can’t wholeheartedly endorse it over the others. But maybe you’d want one if you’ve got workout buddies that are already using it. You know, to compete and drive each other forward. Fitness!
Some Testing Data
Here’s a sampling of steps over the course of four days of using the major contenders so you can get an idea of how well these things actually work. Given that the Fitbit has more sensors, we’re inclined to trust its numbers more. Based on that assumption, it’s interesting that the Nike tends to underestimate whereas the Up tends to overshoot:
What to Look Forward To
Withings just announced their new clip-on fitness tracker at CES that does everything the Fitbit does and more. With a claimed 2 week battery life as well as a heartbeat sensor and Android support, it’s looking mighty impressive. Like the Fitbit, you also have the option of adding a smart scale. Withings may be new to the activity monitor arena, but they’ve been making other smart health trackers such as scales, blood pressure monitors, and even baby monitors for a while now so there’s good reason to suspect that they know what they’re doing.
Given that the Withings and Fitbit are so similar in capabilities, we suspect that the ultimate deciding factor will be which one has the better app. That said, don’t hold your breath (that would be unhealthy) because we still don’t know anything about pricing. However, the press release says to expect it towards the end of the first quarter this year. We’ll update again as reviews and more information become available.
Fitbit also has a new offering, but this one’s a bracelet instead of a clip. The Fitbit Flex is basically a Jawbone Up except you use it with the Fitbit app and accessory ecosystem. Like the Up, it’s water resistant and lacks a screen (although it does have indicator LEDs that show your progress towards your activity level goal). Unlike the Up, it only costs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an altimeter so we’d probably still recommend the One over the Flex, but if you prefer bracelets to clips, this will probably be a solid option when it ships in early Spring. Again, we’ll update as more information comes to light.
There’s also a variety of other offerings including the budget-minded Fitbug Orb. It has Bluetooth 4.0, an app, and accessories to go along with it but at, we’re not expecting anything groundbreaking. The pictures don’t scream great build quality. It’ll be out sometime in June but we don’t suggest waiting. The Fitbit is already here and great, the Striiv is here and cheap.
Wrapping it Up
In the end, the Fitbit One is the best tracker at any price thanks to its additional altimeter, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and a wide range of compatible apps. The fact that it’s cheaper than its main competition makes it a no-brainer.
Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black
Keep it Clean: Regularly clean your band and wrist—especially after working out or sweating. Rinse the band with water or wipe it with a small amount of rubbing alcohol.