Activity tracker buying guide
If you love long distance running, intrepid hiking, and fast-paced cycling, then you might consider investing in an activity tracker. These savvy devices - usually worn around the wrist like a watch - measure a range of useful metrics, including speed, heart-rate, distance, and how many calories you’ve burnt. Activity trackers offer a detailed understanding of your exercise habits, helping you to fine-tune your routine and get as fit as possible. But what type of tracker should you buy? Use our buying guide to help decide.
Getting started - features
When you’re choosing your activity tracker, you should first decide what you’re going to be using it for. If you’re a long-distance runner or hiker, you’ll want to buy an activity tracker with a step-tracking feature. Most activity trackers offer this - your steps are tracked and counted, and used to help calculate how many calories you’ve burned off.
Another standard feature is the measure of distance - many trackers monitor the exact distance you’ve travelled, which helps to give you a clear understanding of your long-distance capabilities.
While most activity trackers come with a calorie counter, the amount of calories burnt-off are measured by different means. The step-tracking method provides a realistic but rough estimate of calories burned. For a really accurate measure, you’ll want to buy an activity tracker that measures your heart rate - this way, your physical exertion is also taken into account.
If you’re an active cyclist looking for a suitable tracker, you’ll need to consider some different features. In lieu of a step-count, the heart rate monitor is a must-have for cyclists who want to keep track of their exertion. But you might also want to measure your speed - particularly if preparing for a race. If so, there are two routes to go down - either buy an activity tracker with an accelerometer, or one with a GPS. The GPS calculates how fast your position changes through the environment.
Activity trackers with GPS capability tend to be higher-end models - this is because a GPS device is capable of measuring many different things. A GPS uses satellite signals to provide immensely accurate real-time tracking - you can use a GPS device in conjunction with a computer or mobile phone to plan accurate routes, and get stats and figures on how you performed on particular parts of the route. GPS performance, however, can be affected by bad weather.
With all those complicated features out of the way, let’s look at design. Traditional activity trackers are designed in a classic wristwatch style, with rubber or silicone casing to provide sweat-proof grip and durability. Many brands - such as Garmin and Polar - make brightly-coloured, trendy-looking wristwatch-style trackers that double as savvy accessories to your workout kit. Brands like Jawbone and Sony, meanwhile, have created sleek and subtle bracelet-slim activity trackers.
If you don’t like the wristwatch style design - maybe you find the weight on your wrist uncomfortable, or you prefer something more discreet - then there are plenty of other options, like the popular Fitbit trackers that attach to your pocket or belt. There are even designs which can be worn around the neck.
If you’re a water-sports enthusiast, and want to use your activity tracker to monitor swimming speed and distance, then you should look to buy one of the many waterproof models on offer.
How much should I spend?
Once you know what type of exercise you want tracking, what features you need, and what design best suits you, it’s time to think about price.
For a basic, budget activity tracker that measures step count, rough calorie count, and distance, you should look to spend around £20 - £50.
If you’re after a slightly more sophisticated tracker that measures accurate heart-rate and calorie count, you should look to spend from £50 - £100. Within this price bracket you’ll also find some hard-wearing water-resistant models, and several GPS-capable models too.
Models that cost much over £100 are mostly reserved for outdoorsy types looking for high-tech, super-intelligent, and ultra-accurate tracking. These GPS, Bluetooth-enabled, and sometimes WiFi-capable models can be synced-up to your mobile phone and computer, and allow you to plot and monitor your exercise regime through maps, charts, and stats. Some of the more expensive models - such as the top-tier Garmin designs - even boast touch-screen interfaces.
It’s worth sitting down and having a real think about your budget - even though some of the high-tech models look flashy and attractive, there’s no sense in spending £150 on a activity tracker if you only plan to measure your running distance and step count.