Fitness trackers to track your fitness
Are looking to get fit in 2016? A fitness tracker (aka a fitness band, aka "those things you wear that count your steps") is the best place to start.
According to research by Phillips Health, 9 per cent of British adults track their health with a connected device, and 36 per cent of healthcare professionals believe the data gives them an invaluable insight into their patients, allowing them to offer more personalised advice.
2015 was the big one for wearable fitness, with new offerings from all the big names, while the arrival of the Apple Watch and ongoing improvements to Android Wear meant trackers and bands had plenty of competition.
2016, by contrast, feels like its in something of a holding pattern, with too many samey products.
Even so, with the market well established there really is something for everyone. Prices range from around £20 to £150+, with products that do litte more than count steps and 'track sleep' - with varying degrees of accuracy - all the way up to cardio-related devices that like a mix of runing watch, fitness tracker and heart-rate tracker.
The best of these bands offer context and tips on how to improve your fitness. Too many of them only pay lip service to that, but if you're happy to set your own goals they can still be of use.
Our favourite fitness trackers are revealed, starting from the next page. But first, some words of warning…
Best classic fitness tracker - Fitbit Charge HR
It says something about the state of the market but the Charge HR remains the best fitness tracker out there, well over a year after its release. The Blaze is arguably better, but it's also notably more expensive and uses the same software and a largely similar feature set.
Our testing found the Fitbit was slightly inaccurate, and its original software's attempts to track running and cycling verged on bizarre. Today, it remains inaccurate, but is at least consistent in the way it's inaccurate, so you can track your progress over time with confidence.
It doesn't have GPS built in, but since a software upgrade, you can now pair it with your phone's GPS to more accurately track cycling and running. Some people seem to be virulently opposed to taking their phone out on a jog, but we can't say it bothers us at all.
The best thing about Fitbit is the company’s eco system - with so many users it’s more fun to compete in world rankings, and the app feels helpful and rich with info.
However, you aren't forced to track your daily progress through the app, as the Fitbit Charge HR’s small OLED screen tells you how many steps you’ve taken, stairs you’ve climbed, estimated distance travelled and current heart rate.
Battery life is around five days. The heart-rate monitor is handy for tracking your resting heartrate, and it helps the device auto-detect when you start doing intensive exercise. It should only be used as a guide, however, and is probably not really suitable for zone training.
With its good looks, discreet profile and handy screen, the Charge HR is, slightly grudgingly, still our favourite fitness tracker of this type.
Price: From about £100 | Amazon
Best fitness band/watch hybrid - Microsoft Band 2
The Microsoft Band 2 is an unusual product for T3 to recommend. It's not the most attractive, with an odd handcuff-like clasp. The three-day battery life isn't amazing either.
However, the way that it straddles the line between running watch, fitness tracker and (especially if you've got a Windows Phone) smartwatch, is seriously impressive.
The Microsoft Band 2 has a whopping 11 biometric sensors including an optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, microphone and a galvanic skin response sensor. It's not clear that all of these are even used, so far, but the roll call of sensors makes Band a device with a lot of potential.
The device can also display text messages, emails, in fact any phone-based notifications, on a bright and crisp screen. That works on iOS and Android too, but if you’re a Windows Phone user, it becomes almost a full on smartwatch, with Cortana integration meaning you can respond to alerts easily as well.
As a step counter it's perfectly effective, but it really comes into its own tracking runs and cycle rides using its own GPS and app, or through integration with Strava. It can even track more advanced sports, such as golf or gym sessions.
Best of all, Band can guide you through interval-style workouts, vibrating when it's time to move on to the next set of reps.
Microsoft Band's look and feel are slightly off-putting (although, not as bad as the previous model's), but stick with it and Band is a very powerful device. It packs in even more functionality than the Fitbit Surge, but is much more compact - it really is a band as opposed to a watch - and has a notably brighter (though admittedly also much smaller) screen.
Price: £199.99 | Microsoft
Best fitness tracker for fashion - Withings Activité
It's not as flash as the Mondaine further down, but the Withings Activité looks more like a traditional Swiss watch, and is the second sexiest device in this list. It's actually a range of products, with the Activité being joined by the Activité Pop, a cheaper more Swatch-like variant, and the Activité Steel which, yes, is made of steel.
The Activité in particular oozes quality with soft leather, domed sapphire glass and stainless steel. The Pop feels cheaper, but then that's because it is. Our only issue with it is that the glass is not sapphire, and hence it tends to break if you're careless - we've killed two Pops. The Steel sits somewhere in the middle.
As with the Mondaine there's a small secondary dial that measures your progress towards your step goal throughout the day. The Withings Activité will also detect when you're running and track that. Not very well.
The Withings app is well designed, if annoyingly slow to sync at times, and the standard watch battery lasts an impressive six months. The Activité will also have a loose stab at tracking your sleep (based on your movement as you slumber) and has a vibro-alarm function to wake you up.
Withings regularly updates its firmware and recently added limited swimming tracking - it can now detect when you swim and tell you how long you did it for and how many calories you burned whilst doing so, similar to what it does with running.
We'd take the calorie-burn stats with a (not very healthy) pinch of salt but like the Mondaine, this has one thing massively in its favour: it's a wearable that we wouldn't mind being seen in public wearing.
Price: from £95 | Amazon
"The other Fitbit" - Fitbit Blaze
A much more stylish attempt at a fitness watch (as opposed to band) than the previous Fitbit Surge, this is still a device that ticks a number of boxes, but leaves others unmarked. There really is no such thing as a perfect fitness tracker, it seems.
This adds smartwatch-style notifications to the Charge HR's features list, and has all the usual Fitbit app 'n' ecosystem goodness, with the addition of a range of attractive bands for personalisation and general swanking up.
Again, as with the Charge HR, heart-rate monitoring is not useful so much for intensive exercise as for monitoring trends in average pulse rate over time. That's useful for health but not so much for fitness.
There's also no GPS, although you can access your phone's via the Fitbit app. It's not a perfect solution but it does allow you to track runs and bike rides more accurately.
Another key update is guided workouts, which works similarly to - although not as well as - the MS Band 2. Battery life is five days and though the Blaze is splash resistant, it's not waterproof, so don't go swimming in it.
Price £160 | Amazon
Best fitness tracker for workouts - Myzone
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Fitbit's devices, this is specifically for workouts and, if you like, 'proper' exercise rather than lifestyle-based step and activity tracking.
In conjunction with its app, Myzone tracks accurately your effort during exercise and allows you to compete via a social platform to find out who is officially the fittest, on a league table.
Interestingly, because its scoring is based on effort, theoretically it allows unfit people to compete against more advanced athletes. Is that fair, when someone might be so unfit their pulse rate will go through the roof if they so much as look at a skipping rope? We'll leave that for you to decide.
This can't compete with Fitbit, Garmin or even the Microsoft Band when it comes to tracking daily health metrics like steps and hours slept. However, we'd venture that it's vastly more useful if you want to get properly fit, as opposed to just losing a bit of weight or feeling a little more active. For gym bunnies in particular, it's well worth considering.
Myzone is available as a standalone heart-rate strap and (for and extra £80) as part of this rather fetching compression top. There's also a bra for the ladies.
Price £130 | Myzone
Best luxury fitness tracker - Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart
Want a fitness tracker that doesn't look like a fitness tracker? You've got a few options, the Withings Activité (featured later on this list), or the Swiss watch makers who implement MotionX technology. These include Frederique Constant and Mondaine, both of whom have considerable pedigree in the watch making business.
We haven't tried any of FR's connected timepieces, but the Mondaine has to be the most stylish step counter we've tried.
It's really attractive, manly without being crazily macho - similar to Mondaine's more traditional watches, in fact - and features a clean, easy to read watch face. Step counting appears in the form of a small inner-dial, with Bluetooth connection to an app. The dial on the watch face represents your daily step goal à la Withings' Activité range. It's pretty rudimentary, but effective, although the hand could do with being a little less stubby.
The app is also fairly basic, but it does at least sync very briskly indeed, and displays your step and sleep info in attractive ways. As well as steps taken it also has a stab at working out distance covered and calories burned, with mixed results.
One of our 'favourite' things about the app is the health and fitness 'tips' it provides. This includes such gems as, "Multi-tasking can be healthy. Walk in place while watching your favourite TV show or reading a book. It may feel awkward at first, but it will feel more natural with time." and "Cold feet stopping you from sleeping? Consider wearing socks!"
The Helvetica 1 Smart comes with several strap options, we'd suggest going for the leather, as it's nicer than the rubber-strapped models. The watches have a 44mm diameter, so are much more suited to male wrists. We think of it more as a great watch that does a bit of fitness tracking than as a traditional wearable, and it's all the better for it.
Price: £450 | Mondaine
Best Charge HR rival - Garmin Vivosmart HR
Very similar indeed to the Fitbit Charge HR in terms of looks, features and price, this also has most of the same strengths and weaknesses as Fitbit's device.
We don't trust the pulse tracking for exercise, but it is useful for following your resting heart rate (if that's of interest to you). There's no GPS so it's not much use for running and cycling but as a general fitness tracker it's good.
One bonus it has over the Charge HR is the addition of alerts from your smartphone. It's hard to get excited about, but it works.
With comparable 5-6 day battery life, your choice comes down to looks and the quality of the app and for us, Fitbit narrowly wins on both counts.
Price £110 | Amazon
The innovator - Moov Now
A lot of these fitness bands are great at telling you what you're doing wrong, but not how to improve.
Enter Moov Now, which has been dubbed the Siri of sweat. Moov was launched by ex-Apple employees and raised $1 million in two weeks. The second generation is smaller, sleeker and more comfortable. It features a six-month battery life from a standard watch battery, and a choice of wrist and ankle straps.
The wearable syncs with an app which takes you through workouts, actively telling you when to slow down, lengthen your stride or speed up. It'll also track and, to greater and lesser degrees, coach you through swimming, cycling, running, cardio boxing and seven-minute HIT workouts.
When we say coaching varies, for instance cardio boxing is almost like Guitar Hero but with punching, with lots of voice input, seven-minute workouts do encourage you to "feel the burn", but cycling is rather lacking, just giving vague tips on cadence and inaccurate data on RPM and power. Runners get plenty of coaching, but we question the accuracy or relevance of much of it.
However, given that the Moov Now also handles day-to-day step tracking and is also decidedly cheap compared to many of the gadgets here, it is worthy of your consideration. The fact it runs for six months on a watch battery is another big plus.
Price: £60 | Moov
Best lifestyle tracker - Jawbone UP2
Although the Jawbone UP3, the big brother to this, is packed with sensors including a tri-axis accelerometer, bioimpedance sensors, plus skin and ambient temperature sensors and a heart-rate monitor that uses electrical sensors rather than light-based ones, we actually prefer this one, which is lacking the bio sensors and only has movement-based ones.
That's because both Jawbones' crowning glory is a very friendly, easy-to-use app and, despite the UP3's plethora of sensors, which suggest it's more like the Microsoft Band, they're actually both just sleep and step counters.
The Jawbone UP2 makes a decent fist of both, despite having fewer sensors.
The app shows you how your daily stepping and sleeping are improving (or deteriorating), letting you challenge other users to "duels" and offering reasonably helpful health tips and more context to the data than most tracker apps (although sadly, that's not saying a lot)
This is a pure "lifestyle" tracker, designed to be worn 24/7. There’s no display, so you’ll have to check your stats on the iOS or Android apps, but the band is light and discreet enough to just put on and forget about it (unless you go swimming - the Jawbone UP2 is okay in the shower, but not waterproof). Battery is also very good at around 10 days.
On the other hand, we know fom experience that these have a habit of malfunctioning, and in terms of improving fitness, as opposed to taking the first steps towards it, Jawbones are a bit of a non-starter. At least the price is now more sensible, having halved since it first appeared.
Price: £44 | Amazon
Best running watch alternative - Fitbit Surge
The Fitbit Surge is actually more of a running watch, but being from the Fitbit family it can function perfectly happily as a more basic fitness tracker, making use of Fitbit's excellent app and extensive user community.
The Fitbit Surge offers GPS to track your runs and cycles (a real must for accurate training), real-time workout stats and a 24/7 heart rate monitor that is far more useful than the Charge HR's when exercising, although it weirdly only shows you what HR zone you're in via a confusing graphic rather than just saying "cardio", "fat burn", etc. Oh well.
The 1.25-inch screen is monochrome, to eke out 7-days of battery life, although it was more like 5 in our tests.
The issue here is that it strikes us as too big and ugly for most people to want to use it as a basic fitness tracker, and has a few limitations as running watch that mean you might be better off with a Garmin or Polar device.
Price: £199 | Fitbit