Dozens of features, hundreds of brands, thousands of models, tens of billions of dollars—we’re talking about the booming business of fitness trackers, whose wearable biometrics are transforming the way we eat, dress, work, sleep, and play. But with so many options out there, it’s hard to know which fitness tracker is best. HealthyWay is here to help.
From DaVinci to Smartwatches
First, let’s take stock of just how far we’ve come with fitness trackers. In his famed notebooks, Leonardo DaVinci sketched his vision of a mechanical pedometer for Renaissance soldiers, though it wasn’t until 1780 that Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet actually constructed the first one. And Thomas Jefferson gets the credit for bringing an early pedometer—his, a French design—to the New World. Fast forward to the 1960s, when the Japanese developed the manpo-kei, literally the “10,000 steps meter,” which set the now-popular benchmark for activity today. In 1982, a Finnish professor invented the first wireless wearable heart-rate monitor: the Polar Sport Tester PE2000, designed for professional athletes. The 2000s marked some of the biggest breakthroughs in fitness trackers, with tech titans like Garmin, Apple, and Samsung packing accelerometers, altimeters, barometers, Bluetooth technology, gyroscopes, GPS, and magnetometers into ever smaller, sleeker, and more sophisticated devices, like the Nike+iPod. This 2006 collaboration embedded a wireless sensor in a special Nike sneaker, providing runners with distance, pace, and calorie data on their iPod Nano all while getting a power boost from their favorite tunes. The technology now may seem a little quaint, but the Nike+iPod was a visionary application of technology for personal fitness. Then along came a little startup called Fitbit, which helped take fitness trackers further into the mainstream in the 2010s with its ever-expanding line of fun, user-friendly, and affordable wristbands and smartwatches for the everyday exerciser. Today, we have fitness trackers that not even the genius of DaVinci could have dreamed up. Take Fitbit’s latest release, the Fitbit Ionic. It tracks your sleeping cycles and withstands water to dozens of meters deep. It offers personal training tips and analyzes long-term health data trends on its related app. It can also store hundreds of songs and push a range of alerts and notifications. It features a touchscreen and even allows for touch-pay.
Remember: Fitness trackers are still tools, not cure-alls.
The bells and whistles of today’s fitness trackers are impressive, but do they work? If you’re hoping that fastening on a fitness tracker will get you shedding those extra pounds and never skipping a workout, think again. A September 2016 study concluded that wearables did not improve weight loss over traditional methods. The following month, another study questioned the effectiveness of fitness trackers in even motivating long-term increases in physical activity. Still, researchers are finding an uptick, if modest, in activity thanks to the self-monitoring and goal-setting fitness trackers afford—and that matters. Changing behavior begins, after all, one step at a time. And the behaviors fitness trackers are helping to change aren’t just about clothing sizes. As one working mom, Felicia Bolton, has previously told HealthyWay, her Fitbit helped her overcome her postpartum depression. The fitness tracker sent her reminders to get up and move when she was stuck in a Netflix binge. It also connected her to distant friends and family, inspiring her to take more and more steps through friendly competitions the device supports. For Bolton, the psychological and social benefits have spilled over into her physical well-being. In a follow-up message to HealthyWay, Bolton writes: “The Fitbit helped me keep track of my overall fitness, down to sleep as well as diet. It helped me monitor all those with the ease of a button, I really didn’t think much of it once I got used to tracking my everyday progress and seeing how far I’d come.” She continues: “I suffer from severe insomnia, as well as an eating disorder, so keeping track of my sleep and caloric intake really helped me get on a better track with the help of the Fitbit. I didn’t realize how low I really was in every department until I started tracking everything using the Fitbit. It helped me take on a vegan diet and lifestyle.” As Bolton suggests, it’s best not to think of our fitness trackers as magic wands or silver bullets. Instead, we should approach them as tools—albeit extremely high-tech ones—for our health and personal goals, whether they be taking one small step or running 26.2 miles. So, what are the best fitness trackers for women right now?
The Fitbit Charge 2 is smart overall choice.
The Charge 2 ($149.95) is Fitbit’s top-selling fitness tracker—and it consistently earns some of the top reviews. TechRadar, for instance, touts it as “the best Fitbit tracker you can buy right now.” The core of the Charge 2 is its PurePulse technology; its all-day activity tracking automatically and continuously monitors the wearer’s heart rate whether you are running, hiking, biking, lifting weights, or simply going about a normal day. Thanks to its SmartTrack functionality, the Charge 2 will sense and record workouts even if you forget to hit start. It will also vibrate and flash a reminder to move if you’ve been idle too long. The Charge 2 features a high-res, tap-enabled screen that displays real-time calorie burn and exercise intensity along with basic call, text, and other alerts if your smartphone is nearby. You can access a more detailed breakdown of your cardio fitness (as measured by VO2 Max) and much more on the robust Fitbit app. The app also analyzes the quality, duration, and consistency of your sleep thanks to the device’s automatic sleep tracking. In Relax mode, the Charge 2 will guide you through a short deep-breathing session to help reduce stress and anxiety. The Charge 2 does not come with built-in GPS—an important feature for runners, as GPS provides pace, distance, and route data. However, you can easily pair your Charge 2 to your smartphone’s GPS if you don’t mind hitting the trails with an extra device. Its info-rich screen does make the Charge 2 a bit bulkier than other models (it’s 0.84 inches wide, although it comes in just a few ounces, depending on band choice) like the Fitbit Alta HR. Its battery last up to five days, and it can withstand rain, sweat, and splash. The Charge 2 comes in a range of colors and interchangeable bands, including a breathable sport band for workouts and a classy leather option if you want to dress it up for work.
The TomTom Spark 3 will fire up runners.
While the Fitbit Charge 2 makes for a great general-purpose fitness tracker, the TomTom Spark 3 GPS Fitness Watch is an exciting choice for the avid exerciser. Wareable, a leading website for all things in wearable technology, picks the Spark 3 as its No. 1 fitness trackers for runners. And a major reason why is its built-in GPS. The Spark 3 ups the GPS game with its Route Exploration feature. Not only can you leave your smartphone at home, but you can just get out there and run or cycle. Route Exploration shows the route you are running, and, thanks to its compass sensor, helps you find your way back home with a digital “breadcrumb trail.” If you do fancy a pre-planned trail, Route Exploration also lets you upload routes from websites like MapMyRun, serving up some adventure alongside your workout. Swimmers will also love the Spark 3. It’s waterproof up to 40 meters deep, and the watch’s swimming mode tracks metrics like laps, stroke pace, and more. Like other fitness trackers, the Spark 3 tracks sleep, supports phone notifications, and provides insights into your workouts on the TomTom app. It starts at $129.00, but you can make some nifty upgrades: the Spark 3 Music + Headphones ($169.00), which stores up to 500 songs that you can listen to on its workout-tailored Bluetooth headphones; the Spark 3 Cardio ($189.00), which adds a heart monitor to the base model; and the Spark 3 Cardio + Music + Headphones ($249.00), which bundles all the goodies into one. A software update will offer personalized workouts on the watch soon. The Spark 3 packs in all these feature at a lightweight 1.62 ounces and less than 1 square inch display. The battery lasts up to three weeks if you’re not using its GPS, which otherwise will require a recharge in 11 hours. (Ever wonder why your phone dies when you’re heavy on the Google Maps?) Individualize your Spark 3 look with its interchangeable bands.
The Opter Pose will rejuvenate your lifestyle.
On the other end of the spectrum is Opter, whose Pose health tracker sees physical fitness as just one part of a broader healthy lifestyle. As Opter’s co-founder Chalisa Prarasri tells HealthyWay: “What sets Opter apart is our behavioral approach to health tracking. We don’t focus on gathering data so much as what we can do with the data to help people live healthier lives.” She continues: “A lot of people track loads of data about their lives but don’t have a doctor or personal trainer looking at it to really give them good insights from the data. But what if you could have a personal health assistant in your pocket to teach you all of the little tricks associated with better living? That’s what Opter does. We don’t just track; we guide in real time. And all of our suggestions come from the accomplished doctors and specialists we work with, so we’re giving you some of the best information out there.” Like most fitness trackers, the Pose logs steps, calories, and sleep. It doesn’t come with a heart-rate monitor, but it will vibrate if you are slouching, helping to improve your posture. And it will sense if you’re at risk of too much sun, prompting you to apply more sunscreen. It also tracks your exposure to blue light, the high-energy light that our smartphone and laptop screens emit. “No sleep tracker that’s been done is tracking your daily light exposure,” which “affects your biological clock,” Prarasri explained in a previous interview. “If we can track that as well as your sleep schedule, we can recommend times to sleep so that your sleep is higher quality and more efficient. Light is the thing that is shifting a lot of people’s schedules and giving them insomnia.” To help rectify this, the Pose will monitor your blue light exposure throughout the day and direct you to turn off the lights at night. “If you’re just looking for tracking, you could go for any tracker (though we do track more metrics than most). If you’re looking to learn how to perfect your everyday habits, Opter might be right for you,” Prarasi writes. “The Opter app analyzes your habits and figures out what daily behaviors you can change to sleep better, work better, and just feel better.” The Pose comes in a beautiful, 5.2-gram “modern organic” design that can be worn as a clip or as a pendant on any chain. Get yours on pre-order now. It will retail for $129.00 to $139.00. Still not sold? Prarasri closes the deal: “We’re especially good for busy people who don’t want to worry about charging or taking off their device too often, since we have a 7+ day battery life and are water resistant.”
Go for great GPS with the Garmin Vivosport.
Garmin is a trusted name in GPS and is fast becoming a trusted name in fitness trackers. The Garmin Vivosport ($199.00) is the latest member of its Vivo family. Like other fitness trackers, the Vivosport connects to your email, calendar, and social media while counting everything from your footsteps to heartbeats through its wrist-based sensors. But it packages Garmin’s top-notch GPS tech, which is lacking in many fitness trackers, into an incredibly slim body and a touch-activated color display. Although the Vivosport doesn’t feature any sleep tracking, it does track your stress levels by monitoring changes in your heart rate. The Vivosport comes in four color choices but no interchangeable bands. Screen: 0.38 inches. Weight: 24-27 grams. Battery: seven days in smartwatch mode, eight hours when using GPS. It’s accompanied by an app and, with Garmin Connect, can communicate with your—and others’—Garmin devices.
Get a dazzling display with Samsung Gear Fit 2.
If you’re looking for amazing display in your fitness wearables, look no further than the Gear Fit 2 Pro ($199.99), the latest offering from Samsung. The centerpiece of the Gear Fit 2 is its curved screen and pixel-packed (432 x 128) display, giving it some of the best fitness-tracking optics out there. The usual internet connectivity and activity-monitoring apply (steps, calories, heart rate, sleep), but the Gear Fit 2 throws in GPS and up-to-50-meter waterproofing. Samsung bills it as a smart “watch for fitness,” because of the many apps you can download on the device. Speaking of downloads, the Gear Fit 2 Pro is a friend of Spotify, letting you save up to 500 songs that you can listen to offline. It’s also partnered with Under Armour, giving you access to the sport company’s quality fitness apps. Style choices are limited, as it only comes in black or red, but you’ll probably want to customize its fancy 1.84-inch display anyway. It’s a hair on the heavier side, as far as these things go, at 34 grams (.07 pounds). Gym rats quibble with the accuracy of some of its activity tracking, but the Gear Fit 2 Pro still makes for a high-performing option for the tech-forward weekend warrior.
The Mi Band 2 wins big on budget.
Looking for something much more streamlined in terms of function and cost? Consider the Mi Band 2 from major Chinese consumer electronics player Xiaomi. The app-synching, splash-resistant, 20-day-long-battery, light-as-air (7 grams) Mi Band 2 counts steps, monitors heart rate, tracks sleep, supports basic message notification, and gives you a nudge if you’ve been sitting still for too long—all for $29.99, if you don’t find it for less. The Mi Band 2 is a no-nonsense no-brainer for the budget-conscious newbie to fitness trackers.
Class it up with Misfit Ray.
Misfit proves that fitness trackers don’t have to sacrifice style for substance. This wearables brand brandishes a clever name—and gorgeous products, like the Misfit Ray. The Ray (~$85 to $100) tracks the fundamentals—activity and sleep—in an elegant band that comes in 23 sporty and classy metallic-finish options such as a striking rose gold. The Ray is discreet but distinct, looking more like a smart bracelet that accessorizes your activity tracking rather than announcing it. That’s because the Ray features no screen. Its minimalist look pairs well, too, with a wristwatch or smartwatch. Misfit offers lots of band options and even a special lariat, should you want to sport your Ray as a necklace. You can monitor your performance in the Misfit app, which offers a Speedo-powered upgrade so this water-resister can track your swimming. The free Misfit Link app lets you turn your Ray into a smart button for, say, taking a selfie or changing songs on your smartphone. And there’s no need to charge the Ray. It lasts for four months before you have to replace its battery. The device itself runs under 1.5 inches long and weighs a mere 8 grams.
Each Bellabeat Leaf is unique—and includes period tracking.
The Bellabeat Leaf styles itself as smart jewelry, and indeed, this elegantly crafted device is designed to be worn as a pendant, bracelet, or brooch-like clip. “No buttons. No screen. Simply wear it and sync it to the app,” as the Bellabeat website puts it. The Leaf isn’t intended for hardcore marathoners who need to track pace and distance in real time, but it’s perfect for the modern woman who cares about health, technology, and fashion. The Leaf tracks sleep, activity, stress, and menstrual cycles—which the tracker logs and learns from, and it even provides advice tailored for each woman’s period. As Bellabeat’s social media and content manager Katja Peric explains to HealthyWay, the Leaf is “the perfect companion in health for any woman—it looks beautiful and can suit any occasion or lifestyle. The features are optimized for women (reproductive health tracking) and serve as a reminder that their overall well-being matters by providing insight into stress levels and having meditation exercises available.” It comes in four main styles, combining a silver or rose gold clip with a wood- or stone-styled tracking device. But each actual Leaf is unique, which underlies the core philosophy of Bellabeat. Peric elaborates: “[In] nature each leaf might be a part of a tree, but not one single leaf is the same shape or color. It is unique in its existence and beauty—just like every person in the world is as well. Our Leaf trackers are created from materials that ensure each model [is] a slightly different shade or pigment, to show that every woman who wears our product is unique and beautiful in her own way.” Its flagship device weighs 0.64 ounces and measure 1.9 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches. The Leaf is splash resistant and runs for six months on a coin cell battery. Cost ranges from $119.00 to $139.00. For an extra $50 to $60, you can purchase Leaf bundles to interchange your device with different clips, among other accessories. “[W]e don’t just want our users to focus on numbers, competitions, or unrealistic fitness goals,” Peric adds, “but instead learn to love themselves and appreciate the capabilities of their own bodies as unique individuals that should not be compared to others.”
The Moov Now will get you moving. Now.
There’s a lot of buzz about the Moov Now—and it’s well deserved. As much a fitness tracker as a personal trainer, the Moov Now is a small, screen-less disk you insert into a workout-optimized strap you can wear on your wrist or ankle. Pair it with your smartphone, where with the Moov app you can download workouts for swimming, running, cycling, and even boxing—all started with the click of its button. Thanks to its special motion sensors, the Moov Now’s AI personal trainer will tell you in real time if you’re striking your feet too hard on the ground, if you need to push a little bit harder riding up a hill, if you’re clenching your fists while jogging, or when to hook and jab-cross during a boxing routine. You’ll need to keep your smartphone on you and wear headphones to use the Moov Now, except for Moov Swim, where the device will record your stroke/lap data for up to 120 minutes. For up to 30 days the Moov Now will store Active Minute + Sleep Tracking, which monitors your daily activity and sleep quality. The Moov Now doesn’t have a heart monitor, although it will connect to Moov’s latest product: the Moov HR, a headband-based heart monitor that measures pulse on the temple. It weighs 6 grams and is powered by a coin battery that lasts for 100 hours in active coaching mode and six months when doing simple activity tracking. This is one hot deal for only $59.95.
The Apple Watch Series 3 will wow your workout.
Finally, many Apple users are surely wondering: Should I buy a separate fitness tracker or just shell out for the Apple Watch Series 3, which starts at a whopping $329? Consider these features: The Series 3 offers daily tracking with its native Activity app. It offers exercise tracking with its Workout app. It has GPS. It has an altimeter for stair climbing. It holds playlists. It’s swim-proof. It displays in-depth, real-time data on your heart health with its advanced Heart Rate app—which some have credited with saving their lives. Get relaxed and centered with its Breath app. And access countless other health and fitness options with third-party apps targeting everything from sleeping and skiing to hydration and yoga. Oh, and you can do lots of others things with this approximately 30-gram device, as the Series 3 practically doubles as a smartphone. Yes, you can make phone calls on this fitness tracker if you’re connected to your iPhone. Apple reports the battery lasts up to 18 hours if the watch is used moderately as an all-day general fitness tracker. With the Series 3, Apple is pushing the envelope not just for what smartwatches can do for fitness tracking but for treating illness and managing disease as well. As part of its so-called HealthKit, Apple has partnered with major universities to create special apps monitoring melanoma, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and more. Plus, the Apple Watch has a seriously sharp display and design. Apple-loving health enthusiasts will get a lot out of it.
From Wristbands to Waistbands
Fitbit, Misfit, Moov, Mi Band 2: These are among the best, most innovative, and most cutting-edge fitness trackers. But even as they revolutionize health and fitness, the future of fitness tracking may not be on our wrists—but in our clothes. The technology is only just emerging, so you can definitely enjoy your new fitness tracker for some time. But tech giants like Google and startups like SUPA are developing “smart threads,” e-textiles that track biometrics like smartwatches do but can be washed and worn in denim jackets, sports bras, and even yoga pants—like the Nadi X, which vibrates to help coach your yoga practice. How about that, DaVinci?