After the over indulgence of Christmas and New Year, January is often the time of year to start thinking about getting fitter and healthier. Unfortunately, come February, all of that good intention can fall by the wayside without the right motivation and push in the right direction. An effective fitness tracker or activity band can be just the thing you need to make sure you stick to your New Year's resolution. We've picked out some of the very best to help you get in shape for 2017.
Beyond getting to test the best technology every day, many of the TrustedReviews team are just as passionate about health and fitness. Our Wearables and Fitness Editor has often proclaimed 'getting fitter, healthier and stronger is just like overclocking a computer, except you're overclocking yourself'. We'll be surprised if any statement has ever trodden the lines between fitness and technology quite so effectively (or sounded quite so geeky).
An incredible amount of fitness trackers and wearables pass through our offices every year, but only the best ones make it into our list, and that's only after we've properly put them through their paces. Whether you want a basic fitness band for tracking your steps and daily activity, or a full-on GPS watch for serious running and fitness work, there's something in this list for you. We've tested devices from all of the big manufacturers, such as Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit and TomTom.
Most of the gadgets here are trackers of some kind, but we've also included our favourite pair of heart rate monitoring headphones for good measure. We're not limiting this list to wrist-based wearables, so don't be surprised to see more outlier products appearing over time.
Watch the video below; hit the 'Next' arrow or use the drop down above to view the list; or read on for more advice on how to choose the ideal activity tracker for you. Don't forget to click the link to our full reviews if our summary doesn't answer your question.
Watch: Trusted Explains – Wearables and Fitness Trackers
Moov Now at Amazon.co.uk | Was £69 | Now £49
Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless at Amazon.co.uk | Was £199.99 | Now £83
Garmin Vivoactive at Amazon.co.uk | Was £199 | Now £139
Jawbone UP2 at Amazon.com | Was $99 | Now $28
TomTom Runner Cardio at Amazon.com | Was $229.99 | Now $89
Withings Activité Pop at Amazon.com | Was $140 | Now $90
Garmin Vivoactive at Amazon.com | Was $249.99 | Now $149
We’ve moved on a bit from the days when the word ‘tracker’ was synonymous with ‘pedometer’. While step-counting is certainly still useful, especially in making you want to walk rather than hop immediately on a bus, fitness trackers are now far more sophisticated. They collect lots more data and come with dedicated apps that analyse your activities and encourage you to incorporate healthier habits into your routine. Some of the more comprehensive companion apps will let you track your food and calorie intake. Diet is just as important as exercise, after all. All of this data is being called the 'quantified self' and makes us all far more accountable for our health and lifestyle decisions.
Most trackers include an accelerometer and gyroscope to monitor general movement and record steps, just like a pedometer. Additional standard features include the ability to count calories burned and track sleep patterns. The latter is just as important as how active you are during the day, as there are plenty of health benefits associated with getting more kip. Good sleep tracking will also give you an idea of the quality of your sleep. It's not just about the number of hours you get each night. If you're still waking up tired in the morning, it could be for any number of reasons both in terms of health and lifestyle. Maybe less caffeine during the day will help, or perhaps it's a sign of an underlying problem such as sleep apnoea.
A good fitness tracker and app will provide guidance or added motivation to make you want to exercise and keep active
Beyond these basic capabilities is where things get even more exciting. An increasing number of trackers are coming with altimeters, which can measure changes in altitude, or barometers that instead use changes in atmospheric pressure, and are therefore able to track the number of stairs you've climbed.
So the next time you're headed towards the lift you might instead decide to use the stairs. A tracker might give you a goal to climb 10 flights a day, which is guaranteed to help burn away extra calories and improve your cardiovascular health.
Some also include the ability to log food and water consumption, in order to give you a more comprehensive overview of your lifestyle. The better ones let you scan barcodes for food and plug into large food databases, or connect to services like MyFitnessPal that do the job for you. Keeping an eye on how much caffeine you drink during the day can have a major impact on your sleep at night.
It's important to consider your starting level. Only the more advanced fitness trackers, which are targeted at keen athletes, typically carry GPS and heart rate sensors. They’re designed to bring a more accurate experience to users, as well as a generous selection of training options. These are very much geared towards users trying to improve their overall performance, so can include lots of data and analytics that might be overkill and intimidating for those starting out on a new fitness journey.
The majority of fitness trackers tend to cost between £50 and £200, but there are a number of more and less expensive models. How much you spend depends almost entirely on the level of detail you want your tracker to capture.
If you’re after something basic that will monitor the steps you take and calories you burn as you travel to and from work, you shouldn’t look at shelling out much more than £50. Generally speaking, casual runners who want to improve their general fitness are best off looking at around £100 upwards, typically these will then add in a GPS sensor. Only serious athletes should really go beyond the £200 mark when you're also looking at more in-depth training analysis or multi-sport tracking.
The Garmin Fenix is a good example of a serious running watch with built-in GPS
Since fitness trackers need to be worn constantly in order to be as effective as possible, design and form factor are crucial areas to think about. They come in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes. Watches, wristbands, chest straps, detachable pods and headphones are all available, many of which have digital displays and LED lights.
Needless to say, some undoubtedly look better than others. For example, the beautiful Withings Activité looks equally great at the gym or a dinner party thanks to an inconspicuous and stylish design, while the Misfit Ray or Fitbit Flex 2 can easily be disguised as jewellery. On the other end of the spectrum, the TomTom Spark 3, which is a terrific tracker, is almost offensive to the eyes and there's no mistaking it for a piece of technology – albeit a very effective one.
The Fitbit Flex 2 is happy to take a plunge
If you want to take your tracker into the shower or go for a swim with it, you need to make sure it's waterproof, rather than water-resistant, because those are two very different things. This will vary depending on which device you buy, but 'resistant' often means a band is merely splashproof rather than fully resistant. Actual waterproof fitness trackers might also offer extra functionality geared towards swimmers, such as lap counting. Then there are trackers targeted towards triathletes, too, and these include cycling functionality and often much more.
Battery life is also really important. Nobody wants to charge another gadget as regularly as smartphone, and trackers can vary from a few days to close to a year of power, depending on whether they're USB-charged or contain a removable watch battery. If you're constantly having to take the device off to charge and forgetting to put it back on, it's rendered useless, so choose wisely depending on your usage style.
Most of the latest fitness trackers come alongside Android and iOS apps. Bluetooth 4.0 support, which enables real-time data syncing, is available on most phones, but it's wise to consult the relevant specs sheets before dipping into your pockets.
If heart rate monitoring is important, it might be worth considering a dedicated chest-based HRM. While many wrist-worn trackers use optical heart rate monitoring, this isn't quite as accurate. They're also not as quick to update their readings compared to a chest-worn HRM. This can be due to different sampling rates, meaning they get heart rate readings less frequently. So if you're involved in a lot of interval training, such as HIIT or sprint work, where your heart rate rapidly changes, a chest-worn HRM might be the better bet.
Some fitness trackers will have ANT%2B compatibility, so will be able to pair with a separate chest-based HRM. The Jabra Sport Pulse are in fact a pair of headphones, but these can take a heart rate reading from inside your ear. We've typically found these have performed better than wrist-worn optical heart rate monitors, but still lag behind something wrapped around your chest.
There's been an increasing trend to merge fitness tracking with smartwatch functionality. The likes of Fitbit have already flirted with the amalgamation through devices like the Fitbit Blaze but so far with only varying degrees of success. With the recent news that Fitbit had acquired smartwatch maker Pebble, followed by the acquisition of Vector, I would fully expect Fitbit to have another bash.
Then there's the Misfit Vapor, which was first shown off at CES 2017. Again, this merges smartwatch features, such as apps and integrated storage for music, alongside Misfit's experience in fitness tracking. Should this get the combination right, it could well be a fitness smartwatch to look out for in 2017. Its price of $199.99 is also potentially great value as well.