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Fitness tracker buying guide: everything you need to know before buying a fitness tracker

On: April 20, 2020

With the growing awareness on the importance of keeping fit, more and more people are becoming health conscious. But the important question on everyone’s mind is how to keep track of their fitness. Fitness-centric gadgets and apps have seen immense demand over the last few years, especially since many of us lead sedentary lifestyles. A fitness tracker is a useful tool to monitor and measure your health, physical activity, and basic fitness levels. Choosing a fitness tracker with the right features is difficult enough, and the various brands available in the market can make it even more confusing. One can find fitness wearables aimed at basic users, workout newbies, and professional athletes. Regardless, here are some things to consider before purchasing a fitness wearable.

Types of Fitness Trackers

Wearable devices are designed to accommodate a range of requirements. There are three types of fitness wearables available in the market – all-day trackers, training trackers, and smartwatches. One needs to choose the right device depending on their individual needs and health-related goals. All-day trackers are ideal for those who are new to exercise and want to monitor general activity throughout the day. Training trackers offer advanced features in addition to everything that all-day trackers do. They are tailored specifically for people who are regularly active and professional athletes who require constant monitoring of their health. Lastly, if you are into both productivity and fitness, then going for a smartwatch is the right choice. 

Basic features

While purchasing a new fitness wearable, buyers should consider what metrics they want to track. Fitness trackers offer a range of features. Most of them keep tabs on steps, distance, calories, and exercise duration. Many wearables come with a heart rate monitor and sleep analysis. Here are the most common features that can help you make a buying decision:

  • Heart rate monitor: Heart rate sensors are becoming a standard offering for new fitness devices. This feature monitors the user’s heart rate, breathing patterns, and tracks their pulse during exercise and throughout the day. 
  • Sleep tracker: Sleep plays a pivotal role in overall health and well-being. A sleep tracker provides information on the quality and the stages of sleep like light, deep and REM sleep.
  • Swim tracking: With a waterproof design, some brands have started offering a built-in swim tracker. They help in measuring stroke detection, accurate lap and distance tracking, oxygen levels and heart rate underwater. 
  • Coaching lessons: Some training trackers offer a coach-mode. The trackers actively monitor your activity and advise you on how to get the most from your workout. Coach mode also helps you train for any upcoming event like a triathlon. 
  • Sports activities: Both fitness trackers and smartwatches are designed to support a variety of sports activities. These include cycling, elliptical, treadmill, swimming, mountaineering, hiking, etc. Buyers should make sure to select the device that can capture data for the specific activity or sport they do the most. 
  • Mental Wellness & Sedentary reminder: Some fitness wearables also come with mental wellbeing features that can display the user’s stress levels. The sedentary reminder alerts the user to take up a new activity or keep moving in case they’ve been sedentary for a specific period of time. 

Display and design

Display and design is a very subjective topic while purchasing a wearable device. The display is an integral part of any fitness tracker since it shows all the information and also lets the user interact with data. Most budget trackers offer a screen size of less than an inch, while advanced and more expensive devices come with larger displays measuring above 1-inch. The display is fitted with either an LCD or OLED, panel and can also be classified into colour or black and white. Nearly all devices come with support for touch functionality.

In terms of design, fitness wearables come in different shapes, styles, and sizes. Most trackers are built to be worn on the wrists while some come with a clip to hook it to your clothing. Smartwatches look similar to traditional watches, while fitness bands resemble a bracelet with a display. Some wearable devices are also equipped with MIL-STD-810G standards for withstanding tough environments. 

Water-resistance

Water-resistance is another important factor to consider when purchasing a new fitness tracker. Some trackers are splash-proof and should not come in contact with water, while others are waterproof and can be worn in the shower and swimming pool. An IP68 rating means that the device can be immersed in water at a depth of a meter or more, for a set period of time. An ATM rating is also important; a 1 ATM rating or higher means the device is water-resistant up to 10 meters of pressure.

It’s worth noting that water-resistant does not always mean the band is capable of tracking your swimming session. Another factor to note is that not all fitness wearables can be worn in the sea, and most are designed to be used only in fresh water.

GPS

Fitness wearables with built-in GPS are a bit pricer. A standalone GPS can accurately track metrics about training sessions like distance, pace, elevation, etc. It is useful if you want to jog or cycle without carrying your phone. The downside to inbuilt GPS is that the tracking feature (when activated) drains the device’s battery life. Devices without an inbuilt GPS will utilize the sensor for calculations and leave the detailed information to smartphone apps. However, it means that you’ll need to carry your smartphone with you.

Standalone GPS is great if you are a runner, cyclist, hiker or serious athlete. But the GPS monitor won’t be of any benefit if you run the same trail every day or primarily hit the gym. 

Sensors and connectivity

Fitness wearables come with a variety of sensors that monitor various aspects throughout the day. They provide more accurate and detailed data. (The more sensors, the more accurate and detailed data provided). The most common sensors found on fitness devices include accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and barometer. An accelerometer measures your steps and movements in various directions. A gyroscope helps to determine your position i.e. standing, sitting, reclining, swimming, biking, etc. A magnetometer detects specific movements and the direction you are moving in while the barometer sensor calculates the number of stairs climbed and determine your latitude. 

In terms of connectivity, some fitness wearables also offer contactless payments with NFC connectivity. Smartwatches also offer cellular connectivity that lets you make calls without a smartphone. Most of the fitness wearable devices come with Bluetooth connectivity. 

Battery

Regardless of the fitness wearable you choose, it will eventually run out of battery and will need a recharge before using it again. Battery life is directly related to the type of device. It also depends on the display (colour, screen size, touchscreen), number of sensors, GPS tracking, and additional features like pairing with a smartphone. Most simple activity trackers will offer a battery life ranging from a couple of days to weeks. Training trackers and smartwatches may need to be charged more frequently, many of them even everyday. 

Platform

In terms of compatibility, fitness trackers are designed to sync with your smartphone. Most fitness wearables have companion apps (like Apple Health and Google fit) and can sync data on both iOS and Android devices. They help users gather in-detail data about their workouts or tracking activity and also provide the tools and information they need. Some apps like Apple Health organise information from various third-party apps in one convenient place. However it’s worth noting that buyers should ensure the app’s compatibility with their specific phone and its operating system. Some trackers only work with iOS devices while others with Android. For example, the Apple Watch only works with iPhones, while the recently launched Realme Band is compatible only with Android devices at present. 

Additional features

Apart from health-centric features, fitness wearables also offer features for the convenience of the user. Most fitness trackers send smartphone notifications to your wrist like incoming calls, text message, email, social media and weather updates. They can also remind the user of important events in the calendar, appointments, etc. 

Wearables especially smartwatches come with support for third-party apps like Strava, Spotify, Endomondo, etc. Some are even equipped with internal storage that lets you store and listen to music without a smartphone. They also provide motivational support and virtual rewards like badges when people meet their daily goals. Apart from fitness tracking, smartwatches also come with customisable watch faces. They are meant to facilitate communication letting users read and respond to emails and text. Many smartwatches these days offer LTE connectivity as well, letting you make phone calls right from your wrist.

Which fitness tracker is right for you?

As we said earlier, buying a fitness tracker depends on the user’s goals, needs, and usage. We have broken down the different types of devices based on the features (and price segments) below to make your purchase process smoother.

For basic usage (under Rs 5,000)

For beginners and those who want to monitor basic metrics like steps, calories, and distance, there are a range of options. Basic fitness trackers are affordable too, and start from around Rs 1,000.  Some options include Mi Band 4 (review), Honor Band 5, Realme Band (review), Galaxy Fit e, Fitbit Inspire, Amazfit Bip Lite and Amazfit Cor. All these devices are equipped with heart rate sensors, sleep trackers and offer other features like notifications, sedentary reminder, etc. They are also water-resistant up to 5ATM. Those who can stretch their budget can take a look at Fitbit Inspire and Inspire HR. There is also GOQi fitness tracker that comes with a personal coaching feature.

For athletes/serious active users (Rs 6,000 – 15,000)

Fitbit Charge 3

Those who are physically active and want to track their workout regimes might want to look at training trackers. Fitbit is the ideal choice for most users who are serious about exercise. Garmin also makes good fitness wearables. It’s worth noting that you will have to shell out more for a fully-featured device offered by brands like Fitbit and Garmin. The Fitbit Charge 3 and Garmin Vivosmart 4 fall in the sub-15k price bracket. Both the devices sport an OLED display, water-resistance up to 5ATM and support a range of outdoor activities. The Fitbit Charge 3 comes with onboard GPS while the Garmin Vivosmart 4 is equipped with a Pulse OX sensor and body battery energy monitor. 

In the smartwatch product category, Huami-backed Amazfit offers good options in the mid-range price segment. It includes Amazfit GTS, Amazfit Verge Lite, Amazfit GTR (review) and Amazfit Verge. All devices feature a circular colour display and are equipped with dust and water resistance. They offer a heart-rate sensor, standalone GPS and tracking for various sports activities. 

For advanced users (above Rs 15,000)

Athletes should look for features like inbuilt GPS, multiple sport profiles, swim tracking and more. While some trackers are designed to be used only while working out, others take the form of premium smartwatches that also increase your productivity. The Apple Watch Series, Garmin Forerunner Series, Fitbit Versa, Samsung Galaxy Watch Active (review), etc are some of the noteworthy smartwatches that you should consider checking out. 

A fitness wearable is a handy device to have with you that can monitor your fitness levels. The buying guide should help you understand the parameters and functions of fitness wearables. Depending on your requirements, you can decide the type of device you need. 

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Viraj Gawde

Viraj loves being in the creative field. Being a tech guy and resident tech advisor for his friends and family, his interest lies in smartphones, laptops and cameras. Passionate about creating art, his forte lies in photography. In his downtime, he loves gaming on his self-built rig and supporting FC Barcelona.