Fitness trackers to track your fitness
Looking to get fit in 2017? A fitness tracker (aka a fitness band, aka "those things you wear that count your steps") is a decent place to start.
With the market extremely well established there really is something for everyone. Prices range from around £20 to £150+, with products that do little more than count steps and 'track sleep', with varying degrees of inaccuracy, all the way up to devices with heart-rate tracking that are more like scaled down running watches.
What you should know about fitness trackers
It is our considered opinion that most fitness bands don't do a lot to get you fit.
Walking 10,000 steps per day is absolutely better than doing nowt, but it won't turn you into Mo Farah.
It's also questionable how motivating many bands are, and how useful the data they track is. We would particularly question their accuracy when it comes to calorie burning, which makes them all but useless for those seeking to lose weight by consuming fewer calories than they burn off.
That said, we know a lot of people find the data on how many steps they've taken, and how well they've slept, to be interesting in itself, even if it doesn't spark lifestyle changes.
How to buy a fitness tracker
If you just want to track steps and sleep, you have two options: go cheap, with a budget fitness band, or go stylish, with a hybrid watch, containing a motion sensor. We recommend the Jawbone UP2 in the former category, and the Withings Activité range from the watches-with-fitness-tracking camp.
There is no functional difference between a step counter costing a tenner and one costing £500. However, many guys are going to be more likely to wear something that looks like a cool watch every day than something that looks like absolute arse. Which most cheap fitness trackers do.
At the higher end of the market are fitness trackers that are more like running watches in terms of functionality. These can track your heart-rate during workouts, which actually is helpful.
The best of these bands give you a score for your overall fitness, as well as targets and tips on how to improve it.
Our current favourite fitness tracker
This is actually very easy: it's the Fitbit Charge 2. This nondescript black strap does all the core steps 'n' sleep stuff, but is also handy at the gym, thanks to its heart-rate reader, and can even function as a running watch and wrist-worn cycling tracker, by tapping into your phone's GPS.
Fitbit's app and ecosystem are also by far the best. Seriously, it's not even close. Even the Charge 2 is riddled with flaws, but it's the best of its breed.
Our real recommendation? Use a smartwatch or running watch instead. But if you must have a band, these are the best.
1. Fitbit Charge 2: the best fitness tracker
The Fitbit Charge 2 is the best fitness tracker you can buy, by such a comfortable margin that we wonder why anyone else bothers.
It tracks deep and light sleep, steps, distance and calories, but that is barely scraping the surface of its capabilities.
Via Fitbit's app and ecosystem, you can use it as the basis of a complete fitness and diet programme, challenge friends to walk-offs, and get a VO2 Max score, for a simple but useful measurement of overall cardio health.
Numerous targets and goals can be set (stairs climbed, hours of vigourous exercise, daily steps, 'active hours' (it encourages you to get up and move at least once per hour) and 'active days' (those in which you do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity), and so on.
The Fitbit Charge 2 also auto-detects various common types of exercise, so you don't have to remember to press a button every time you go for a jog or get on your bike, or an elliptical trainer.
Finally, thanks to an acceptably accurate and reliable heart-rate reader, it's useful for serious exercise. Although you know what'd make it really useful? If the screen didn't turn itself off after just a few seconds, so you could actually monitor what cardio zone you're in whilst working out. Oh well.
The problem with this – and all Fitbits, and all other fitness bands – is that the wealth of data it gives you is ultimately not all that useful.
The Charge 2 can't really tell you if you've got fitter, or give recommendations on how to do so, outside of the area of taking steps. On the other hand, it's comfortable, reasonably priced and does a job.
2. Fitbit Charge HR: much like the Charge 2 but slightly older, cheaper
It says something about the state of the market that the Charge HR remains the second best fitness tracker you can buy, years after its release.
Oh, and the only band that's better than it is its direct replacement, the Charge 2.
As ever, this Fitbit is inaccurate, on a scale from slightly to very, but it is at least consistent in the way it's inaccurate. That means you can track your progress over time with reasonable confidence. Battery life is around five days.
The Charge HR doesn't have GPS built in, but you can 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 stuffed with info. What it lacks is any particular sense of how your exercise performance is improving (or not) over time, but there's plenty of data to delve into.
The heart-rate monitor is good for tracking your resting heartrate, although unlike the Charge 2, I wouldn't recommend it for use during a workout. As with the Charge 2, but even more so, the screen's small size and the fact that it turns itself off after just a few seconds, to preserve battery, would make tracking pulse during exercise irritatingly difficult, even if it were more accurate and reliable.
The pulse counter also helps the Charge HR auto-detect when you start doing various types of exercise (run, walk, cycle, elliptical, etc), which is a very handy feature indeed.
With its good looks (by fitness band standards), discreet profile and handy screen, the Charge HR is still worth looking out for as it's really not that different from the Charge 2, and is often notably cheaper, nowadays. Hurry while stocks last, etc.
3. Moov Now: a more innovative approach
A lot of these fitness bands are great at telling you what you're doing wrong, but not how to improve. Moov Now isn't satisfied with that.
With a six-month battery life from a standard watch battery, waterproofing to 30m and a choice of wrist and ankle straps, Moov Now is a very interesting and potentially brilliant device.
The lightweight, reasonably attractive band syncs with an app which takes you through runs, actually 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 HIIT workouts.
When we say coaching varies, it really does. Cardio boxing is almost like Guitar Hero but with punching, with lots of voice input. Seven-minute interval workouts do encourage you to "feel the burn", but cyclists just get vague tips on cadence, and inaccurate data on RPM and power.
Moov Now also handles day-to-day step and sleep tracking and is very reasonably priced.
There are two quibbles here, though: the app is still quite basic, and fundamentally, we question both the accuracy and usefulness of some of the coaching advice. When it's good, however, it's very good.
4. Withings Activité: the most stylish fitness tracker
The Withings Activité started the trend for watches that track steps and sleep, and is still probably the best of its breed, despite excellent devices from Mondaine, Frederick Constant and the Fossil group.
Activité is a range, with the Activité Pop and Activité Steel being cheaper.
However, it's the range-topping Activité that we favour. It really oozes quality with a soft leather strap, domed sapphire glass and stainless steel casing.
The Pop and Steel don't use sapphire glass, and hence they tend to break if you're careless - we've killed two Pops.
At a glance, this just looks like a Swiss watch, but the small secondary dial measures your progress towards your step goal throughout the day. The Withings Activité will also detect when you're running or swimming and gamely attempt to track that.
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 handy vibro-alarm function to wake you up.
We'd take the Activité's calorie-burn stats with a (not very healthy) pinch of salt but this has one thing massively in its favour: it's a wearable that you'll actually want to wear.
6. TomTom Touch: The best tracker for body monitoring
I won't beat about the bush here: this is a fairly bog standard fitness tracker, but with one potentially killer feature.
The TomTom Touch uses the same electrical pulse tech as body monitor scales to estimate how much of your body is fat and how much muscle. This is unusual amongst fitness trackers as it's an actual, useful metric, that can be tracked over time.
With pulse monitoring as well, it's a decent gym partner. The UI and app are poor compared to Fitbit, but then so are everybody else's. It isn't any too attractive but it is still wearable. I like it.
6. Fitbit Blaze: best tracker cum watch hybrid
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 Microsoft 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.
It's a fine device, but we can't see any reason to get one over the Charge 2.
7. Myzone MZ-3: the best tracker for your gym
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 cardio effort during exercise and allows you to compete via a social platform to find out who is officially the fittest amongst your peer group, with league tables and everything.
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, 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.
8. Garmin Vivosmart HR Plus: Charge 2 rival with built-in GPS
Very similar indeed to the Fitbit Charge HR in terms of looks, features and price, this also has some of the same strengths as Fitbit's device, with a 5-6 day battery life, and tracking of various activities.
It also has waterproofing and GPS, whereas the Fitbit is afraid of water, and requires a link to your phone in order to know where it is.
The pulse tracking is useful for exercise and following your resting heart rate, and as a general fitness tracker it's good. However, the Fitbit app is so much better than Garmin's, and the pulse tracking that much more reliable, that the Vivosmart ends up looking second best.
Price £110 | Amazon
9. Jawbone UP2: The best cheapo lifestyle tracker
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 which tells you next to nothing of any use. So why bother getting a more complicated band to use with it?
The Jawbone 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 good at around 10 days.
On the other hand, we know from 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 the current price it's currently going for, however, it's a decent deal.
10. Garmin Vivofit 3: Best battery life
In most respects the very definition of 'bog standard fitness band', the Vivofit 3 excels in one area: shove in a standard watch battery and it lasts for a year.
That aside it counts steps adequately, and attempts to detect exercise, Fitbit style, but does so fairly inadequately. It logs steps, sleep and 'intensity minutes', although again, the Vivofit's concept of 'intensity' may not quite chime with yours.
For those who are allergic to charging, this could be a decent choice. Personally, I wouldn't wear something that ugly for 12 minutes, never mind 12 months. There are some replacement 'designer' straps available for it but seriously, they're beyond hideous.