Activity trackers have advanced very rapidly in the past few years. Considering most activity trackers started out as step trackers, it’s impressive to see how far the technology has come. From sleep trackers to workout trackers and uber portable phones, the best activity trackers offer a wide range of features, benefits, and apps.
Activity trackers can help you track your activity levels (obviously), fitness progress, health goals, and sleep habits. These devices simply offer information that you can use to make better choices about your health. The top four benefits of using an activity tracker are:
Obviously, one of the main benefits of buying an activity tracker is the ability to track your fitness progress. With one of these activity bands, smartwatches, or smart jewelry pieces, you can track your movement, exercises, heart rate, and other factors.
While most users buy fitness trackers because they want to track their workouts, there’s plenty of data to be gleaned from this technology.
Count your steps, track your workouts, and monitor your heart health. Some even offer swim tracking. You can even share fitness data with friends and family with some devices. If your fitness tracker has other features, such as GPS, sports tracking, and/or coaching memberships, you can even map your run, improve your swim, and motivate yourself to stand and walk more.
Sleep trackers are one of the most interesting features of activity tracking devices. Not only can they improve your sleep with the data they collect, but they can also improve your waking life, too!
Doctors and researchers collect this data to better understand our sleep patterns — outside of a lab.
Sleep trackers simply use your activity tracker’s movement detection and heart rate features to determine when you’re awake and when you’re asleep. The device can also detect your sleep cycles and the length of REM sleep you get each night.
The only downside to sleep tracking is that you’ll need to charge your device during waking hours if you want to get an accurate picture of your sleep patterns. Some sleep trackers also aren’t as accurate as others. If you’re a person who moves around a lot in their sleep, your device might sense that you’re awake — even if you’re in a deep sleep.
It’s also important to note that you’ll need to turn your phone to sleep mode each night if you plan on wearing your activity tracker to bed; otherwise, your tracker might assume you’re awake and offer ‘gentle’ reminders to meet your step goal or standing goal throughout the night.
The heart rate monitor is an unsung feature in most activity trackers. We all know it’s there. We get that it’s doing its job, but we don’t necessarily always know how to use that information.
The heart rate tracker can detect irregular heartbeats and possibly even detect a heart attack — before it even happens. If you’re trying to monitor your heart health, you can use this feature to check your resting and active heart rate. This information is also helpful to understand your sleep habits and stress levels.
Tracking your workouts can help you improve your performance and monitor your progress — both on and off the field. You can map your run or bike route, monitor your heart rate, and even improve your lap times in the pool.
Most fitness bands can also detect a workout, meaning you don’t need to manually log your own workout. Simply begin your activity, and your fitness tracker should be able to sense the type of workout (swimming, running, weights, stair climbing, etc.). You’ll be prompted to confirm your workout with some trackers (the only annoying aspect as you may be distracted for a moment after beginning your workout).
Activity trackers come with a wide variety of features. Depending on whether you opt for a smartwatch, fitness band, or smart jewelry, your device will probably come with one or more of the below features. The top six features included with most activity trackers include:
Most activity trackers (including watches, bands, and jewelry) are all waterproof or at the very least water-resistant. This is super important because… sweat.
Also, you don’t want to worry about your tracker getting wet when you’re going for a swim. Even if you’re not a competitive swimmer, wearing your watch in the water can be an extremely convenient feature. For one, you’ll still be able to tell the time — even when you’re in the pool, lake, or ocean. Depending on your watch, you may even be able to send text messages, take phone calls, or do basically anything you can do on your phone without getting out of the water.
Some fitness trackers (more specifically, smartwatches) have stand-alone cell service. This means that you could conceivably go for a run, take a trip to the supermarket, or swim out into the ocean without losing cell service. Take phone calls, send text messages, and listen to your audiobook without schlepping your giant phone in your pocket, purse, or fanny pack.
This feature can also be life-saving. If you’re on a run and someone attacks you, simply activate your phone’s emergency mode feature to send an S.O.S. alert to the authorities with your phone’s GPS location.
Speaking of GPS, most activity trackers offer location information — and share that information with apps. Most notably, you can track your run, share your favorite bike route with your friends, and get emergency assistance when you need it.
This feature is also helpful should you get lost on a hike. While Google Maps doesn’t offer trail information, apps like All Trails do. Simply open the fitness app to find the quickest route back to the trailhead.
Another potentially life-saving feature is heart rate monitoring. Most activity trackers now offer this feature. The Apple Watch specifically can monitor your heart rate, track irregular heart rates, and alert you to possible medical abnormalities. It can even detect irregular heart rates that could lead to a heart attack.
Aside from the heart rate monitor’s emergency features, it can also help you lead a healthier lifestyle. Track your heart rate over time, and find out if you’re in a healthy range. You can also use this feature to discover if you need to amp up your workout to get your heart rate into fat-burning mode.
Another fun feature some activity trackers offer is a built-in I.D. card — in case you’re ever found unconscious. Some activity trackers offer this information embedded into the device itself, and some offer it as an add-on feature.
For example, the Fit Bit doesn’t offer this feature, but you can purchase an add-on created by a separate company. The information isn’t embedded into the device, but you can order a stylish I.D. plate that matches the color of your band and snaps on to the band itself. Just because your fitness band is high-tech doesn’t mean that every feature needs to be high-tech, too.
One of the most attractive features that activity trackers offer is coaching apps. These apps can keep you motivated to meet your step and standing goals, remind you to workout, and offer data on how to improve your workouts.
Some of the top coaching features that activity trackers offer include:
Possibly one of the most popular features offered by activity trackers is steps coaching. This little feature is simple yet mighty. Your activity tracker will help you meet your steps goal by offering gentle reminders and nudges to get moving throughout the day!
Simply set your steps goal to get your reminders. Some activity trackers also allow you to share your steps goals and successes with your friends. Keep each other motivated, and congratulate each other on your wins.
Many activity trackers offer visual graphs and information to keep you motivated. For example, the Apple Watch encourages you to ‘close your activity rings’ throughout the day. Even if you don’t make your steps or workout goals, you’ll probably still manage to close your standing ring or one of your other movement rings.
Movement reminders are similar to steps coaching. They simply remind you to stand up throughout the day (sitting is the new smoking, evidently), and some smart devices even remind you to workout (should working out simply slip your mind during the day).
The movement doesn’t necessarily mean ‘working out,’ too. It can include steps walked, stairs climbed, and time danced. The idea here is that every little bit counts, and you can be healthier and happier by making small changes throughout your day.
We all need a little motivation to workout each day. Studies show that creating healthy goals often isn’t enough. Unless you find your bliss through running, surfing, biking, or other activities, you may need a little extra motivation like the rest of us mortals.
Most activity trackers offer workout motivation. Simply scheduling your workout can help you meet your goals. When your activity tracker pings you, that means it’s time to change into your workout gear!
No matter your preferred workout, creating smartphone notifications for when you want to work out will increase your chances of actually doing the activity.
Of course, lacing up your sneakers or strapping on your snowshoes means nothing if you don’t actually work out — or have a productive workout. We can all read a magazine on an exercise bike. But is that really our best use of time?
Activity trackers can offer support throughout your workout. Many offer various apps that can help guide you to success. Just some of the apps you can download include Couch to 5K, Peloton, and Nike+ Run Club.
Depending on the app you download, you’ll either get smart support or a live coach to help keep you motivated.
Most smartwatches and some fitness bands have apps that offer nutrition advice. MyFitnessPal is one such app that offers both fitness and nutrition coaching. Track your calories, macros, and nutrition by searching for your daily foods directly within the app.
You can even track your weight loss or muscle gain progress within the app. Other features include a water tracker and nutrition articles. The app even offers recipes to help keep you on the right track.
Of course, there are dozens of apps for smart devices that allow you to track your nutrition and fitness goals. Depending on your nutrition goals, you might want to download an app that helps you stick to a Paleo or Keto program.
Diet, exercise, and sleep are only a few slices of the health pie. Studies show that incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine can help boost your concentration and keep your mind focused. Similar studies show that people who are focused on their tasks are happier than those whose minds wander consistently.
There are plenty of apps and tracker features that can help you stay focused throughout your day. Download a meditation app that will remind you to meditate each day and coach you through your meditation. The Apple Watch has a feature called ‘breathe’ that simply reminds you to take a few deep breaths throughout your day. Studies show that taking controlled belly breaths can increase your focus, productivity, and happiness.
As Mr. Rogers used to say, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable with a smart device.”
Check out the list of our favorite apps at the end of this article.
Below is a list of some of the most popular activity trackers and smartwatches currently on the market. We’ve included the basic features for each product, current pricing, and a few pros and cons.
Whoop offers three types of fitness trackers for the wrist, arm, or body. This one is perfect for anyone who wants to maximize their training ability and quality of sleep.
Whoop differs from other activity trackers because its pricing doesn’t separate the cost of the membership from the cost of the hardware. Whoop charges $30 a month for a membership and device. Customers need to agree to a six-month commitment.
Biostrap is an activity tracker that is available in a wristband, chest band, or shoe coin that helps track workout productivity, sleep quality, and heart health.
Biostrap offers three products at various price points. Since the company caters to three customer sets (those who want to track their biometrics, those who want to track biometric and full-body health, and those who want to improve their fitness metrics), there’s a device for every demographic. The Biostrap devices cost:
Biometric Set: $175 (or $17 a month with Afterpay)
Total Health Set: $250 (or $24 a month with Afterpay)
Fitness Set: $320 (or $30 a month with Afterpay)
The Fitbit Versa 2 and Fitbit Inspire HR are both smartwatches that in addition to tracking your activity and fitness goals, actually tell time! While there are nearly a dozen different types of Fitbits on the market, the most recent are the Versa 2, Charge, and Inspire HR.
Fitbit offers a smartwatch at three affordable price points. The current prices for Fitbit models include:
Fitbit Versa 2: $199
Fitbit Charge 4: $150
Fitbit Inspire HR: $100
The Apple Watch is possibly one of the most popular smartwatches on the market. It offers a long list of features and offers data and cell service — sometimes even without your phone nearby. It’s one of the best smartwatches on the market.
Apple Watches are a bit pricier than many smartwatches on the market right now. But when it comes to apps and features, this watch is worth it. The current prices for the Apple watch are:
Apple Watch Series 3: $199
Apple Watch Series 4: $299
Apple Watch Series 5: $399
Garmin has been a leading brand in the activity trackers market for years and is considered one of the best activity trackers. It’s known for its GPS capabilities, so it’s very popular with runners and bikers.
The newest versions of the Garmin watches cost between $200 and $350. The current prices for Garmin’s smartwatches are as follows:
Garmin vivoactive: $200
Garmin Forerunner: $300
Germin Venu: $350
Not to be outdone by Apple, Samsung has its own version of the smartwatch/activity tracker that also has cell and data service. This watch is popular for its sleek design that looks more watch-like than the Apple Watch. The watch features a golf app that can help with performance, so Samsung is popular in the golfing community. It’s also a great fitness watch and running watch
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 currently costs around $250. It’s significantly less expensive than the Apple Watch.
If an eye-catching watch or a fitness band isn’t your style, there are plenty of activity trackers on the market that look like fine jewelry. Some of the most popular smart jewelry includes rings, bracelets, and necklaces.
The Oura Ring is an activity ring with a streamlined design. This ring is great for tracking your sleep, heart rate, and steps. If you’re concerned that your Apple or Samsung Watches’ batteries won’t last through the night, we recommend getting the Oura Ring just for its sleep tracking.
Smart Necklaces are a bit behind in the activity tracker game. The one downside to such a product is that everyone’s fashion styles are radically different. You would need to find a necklace that ‘goes’ with every outfit you own, essentially. The Bella Leaf Urban charm is one of the most popular smart necklaces on the market, thanks to its simple design.
Smart bracelets are more like activity bands than stand-alone activity jewelry pieces. These bracelets don’t tell time like smartwatches, but they do track steps and in some cases your heart rate. Some look like pieces of fine jewelry (Michael Kors makes one) while most of these products are very sporty.
Half the reason to buy an activity tracker is to take advantage of all the smart apps that come with it! Features include sleep trackers, women’s health (menstruation tracking), and to-do reminders. While apps vary from watch to watch, the most popular apps include:
MyFitnessPal’s main function is tracking food and workouts. This app includes a database of hundreds of thousands of foods and food brands. Find out the nutritional value of that apple and/or bag of chips, and discover how many calories you burn on your run.
This app can be used as a stand-alone product or in conjunction with an activity tracker. Sync MyFitnessPal with other apps to get even more information on your health goals.
The app also offers free recipes and information. There is a free version, and the paid version costs around $10 a month or $50 a year.
Need a daily workout to crush all your fitness goals? Daily Workouts Fitness Trainer offers free workouts that range in length from 5 to 10 minutes. You can watch your virtual trainer perform an exercise before completing the exercise yourself. The free library includes 10 short workouts and 10 longer, full-body workouts.
Headspace is a meditation app that reminds you to meditate and coaches you through various types of mantras. One of the biggest benefits of using Headspace is that you won’t need to carve out 30-to-60 minutes each day to meditate. 10 minutes is all you need to start your own meditation practice and improve your mental health.
The app offers helpful tips on staying mindful throughout your day.
Runkeeper uses your smartwatch’s GPS capabilities to track your run or walk. Download a map of your course, track your progress, and set goals within the app. If you need a little more assistance, you can download a running or walking program to help keep you motivated. The app also offers challenges that you can sign up for solo or with friends to stay motivated.
If you’re ready to kick off your health and fitness goals, we recommend any of the above activity trackers and apps. Activity trackers are available in a large range of price points and offer a wide variety of features and benefits. No matter what your health goals, there’s a watch or fitness band that will help you get — and stay — fit.