It’s no secret that we all want to be healthy. We also want to make getting healthier as easy as possible, and that’s where technology comes in. Fitness bands, those small(ish) wearable step- and activity-tracking devices you see on so many wrists these days, can let you know whether you’re moving enough — or at all.
But not all fitness bands are created equal. Some simply track your steps, while others can monitor your heart rate and exertion and know if you’re walking, running, biking or — in some cases — swimming. Here’s a look at some of today’s most popular fitness bands to help you figure out which one is best for you:
Fun With Fitbits
Fitbit has become synonymous with fitness tracker, and that’s because they’re easy to use, attractive and useful. The $250 Fitbit Surge and the $150 Fitbit Charge HR are the company’s two high-end devices. They look very similar, with black, watch-like bands and closures. Both offer the ability to track steps, distance, calories, sleep quality and floors climbed. And both offer continuous heart rate monitoring and notification of incoming calls from your connected smartphone.
But from there, the Surge and the Charge HR differ slightly. The Charge HR features a smaller (0.5-inch) display, which requires that most of your interactions with the device be done via Fitbit’s apps (available for mobile and via the Web). Fitbit says the Charge HR is its “Active Fitness” device, and it’s an excellent choice for someone who works out frequently and wants notifications of phone calls on their wrist.
The Surge is Fitbit’s “Performance Fitness” device, and its extras — including on-board GPS (useful for runners), an easy-to-use 1.25-inch touchscreen, music controls and text notifications — will appeal to anyone looking to stay within the Fitbit ecosystem while still getting a taste of a smartwatch.
Fitbit offers a range of devices for “Everyday Fitness,” the most popular of which is likely the $100 Fitbit Flex. This thin wristband lacks a real display — so it can’t double as a watch like the Surge and Charge HR can — but it has the basics covered. The Flex tracks steps, calories, distance, sleep (but lacks automatic sleep tracking) and active minutes. It can’t track floors climbed, but it’s a good option for anyone looking to get started in fitness tracking. The Flex will link you into the Fitbit ecosystem, where you can compete against friends using any of the Fitbit devices, and thanks to Fitbit’s popularity, chances are good you’ll find someone you know in there.
Garmin on the Go
Garmin is not known exclusively for making fitness trackers, but it is known for a variety of excellent tech gadgets for the outdoors.
The $100 Vivofit 2 is most comparable to the Fitbit Flex. This wristband tracks your steps, distance traveled, calories burned and sleep. Unlike the Flex, the Vivofit 2 boasts a watch battery that can last up to a year, so it doesn’t need to be recharged. It also has an always-on screen that, thanks to its backlight, is viewable in daylight and at night.
The $150 Vivosmart is similar to Fitbit’s Charge HR, straddling the line between smartwatch and fitness band. It tracks your activity — including steps, distance, calories burned, heart rate and sleep — and delivers notifications of calls, emails and texts from a connected Android or iPhone. The Vivosmart does not include a heart-rate monitor, but Garmin’s newly announced Vivosmart HR does. Unlike the Vivosmart, the Vivosmart HR does not use a watch battery and will need to be recharged about every five days.
Garmin’s $250 Vivoactive is similar to the Fitbit Surge. The Vivoactive is part activity tracker, part smartwatch and part high-end sports watch. It’s GPS-enabled and is designed to track a range of activities, from running and biking to golf and swimming. It lacks a heart-rate monitor but can pair with a chest strap, if you don’t mind using an added device.
Why choose Garmin’s products over Fitbit’s? For one, these devices are waterproof, so you can wear them swimming and don’t have to remove them in the shower. And with their impressive battery life, you won’t need to remove them for recharging either. Many users also like the always-on displays that allow them to work as watch replacements too. They don’t allow access to the excellent Fitbit community, though, where you can find friends to compete against.
The Basis Peak, a $200 fitness tracker/smartwatch, has a lot in common with Fitbit’s Surge. Both devices sport a 1.25-inch grayscale display and watch-like bands. Both track activity and sleep, and both include smartphone notifications and heart rate monitoring. The design is the most noticeable difference between the two: The Surge has a sleek, one-piece look, while the Peak looks a lot more like a watch than a fitness band. The Surge also has a touchscreen, while the Peak’s display is a plain LCD. And the Surge has built-in GPS, something the Peak lacks.
But the Peak has some features that will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want to fiddle with their fitness tracker: It can automatically track different types of activity — it knows when you’re walking, running or cycling. Its heart-rate monitor knows too, and it can also track your skin temperature and galvanic skin response (sweat) to give you an overall picture of how hard you’re working.
Fitbit says the Surge is water-resistant to 50 meters, but doesn’t recommend swimming with the device. Basis says the Peak is fine to wear while swimming, but the device doesn’t track swimming automatically, so neither device is the best fit for serious swimmers.
On the Moov
A fitness tracker is all fine and good — as long as you know how to work out. But what if you want more guidance than that? The Moov Now could be for you. This small disc, which sits inside the included band on your wrist or ankle, connects to its companion mobile app to offer feedback and guidance on your workouts. Take it for a run, for example, and it will let you know if you’re matching your usual pace or if you’re falling behind, and it can tell if your stride is too short and if you’re hitting the ground too hard. It also provides workouts for times when you’re in need of inspiration. All of this feedback is delivered through your phone, so you’ll need it and a pair of headphones on hand when working out. If you can live with those requirements, the $60 Moov Now will prove a worthy exercise companion.
Microsoft’s own fitness tracker offers a little bit of everything. Like the Moov Now, it can suggest workouts — though that’s mostly handled by the companion mobile app. You can download these workouts to the band, which will track reps and rest time on its sleek display. That same display will show your steps, heart rate, sleep and calories burned — and text messages, calls, emails, calendar items and tweets. The Microsoft Band even includes GPS, which is handy for runners who’d like to leave their phone at home. In short, the Microsoft Band does a little bit of everything, making it a good all-around option that will appeal to Microsoft loyalists. But others might be turned off by its uncomfortable design and short battery life.
The $150 Mio Fuse isn’t subtle in its design or features. This is a fitness band designed for truly active people. It works as an everyday tracker, counting steps, distance and calories burned. And while it doesn’t track sleep or floors climbed, it is waterproof and can be worn while swimming. Where the Fuse really kicks into gear is during a workout. The heart-rate monitor tracks your exertion, and the band’s indicator light changes color to let you know what zone you’re in. The Fuse will appeal to serious athletes and those who want to use interval training to get into shape.
Jawbone’s products have always been well-regarded for their design, but — in the case of its fitness bands, at least — they have also been plagued by delays in shipping and problems with functionality. Not so with the company’s latest fitness wearable, the $199 UP4. This sleek wristband looks good and works well too, tracking steps, distance and calories burned. It now tracks sleep automatically and includes a heart-rate sensor that works automatically — and, in fact, won’t read heart rate on command, which may irritate athletes who want a reading after a workout. But the key feature is its NFC sensor that allows you to make payments directly from the band, via a linked American Express card.
This article was written in partnership with Techwalla, the definitive place to get comprehensive and honest recommendations about all sorts of consumer electronics.