We take four of the most popular activity trackers and their native apps for a test run to see whether or not they can actually help with personal fitness.
It’s summer, those three beautiful days of actual sunshine here in Blighty bookended by ice, rain and leaves on the track. If you’re looking to make the most of the nice weather, we’d recommend stepping up the fitness regime and taking it outside whilst the going’s good.
Being tech addicts, we needed to weave in some mobile gadgetry to enrich our fitness experience and with the growing interest in wearables, we found a wealth of options to quantify our health kick. But for all the sensors and services out there, do any of them actually help you keep fit?
Nike+ FuelBand SE – The one for athletes
Nike is unquestionably the biggest name in our lineup. Despite launching its most advanced wearable activity tracker – the Nike+ FuelBand back in 2012, only this year did we see this tracker’s companion app make it onto Android devices (having originally launched exclusively on iOS).
Using the latest Nike+ FuelBand SE we ran, cycled, pumped iron at the gym and wore our FuelBand 24/7. This tracker’s name comes from the unit of energy Nike has created, dubbed ‘NikeFuel’, which serves to give a consistent measure across all your activities, irrespective of age, weight, height or gender.
The Nike+ FuelBand app also integrates a social aspect, letting you connect with other Nike+ users and notifying you when they get involved in Nike+ Sessions. These sessions can be started or stopped at any time and serve as a means of bookmarking particular activities, a session at the gym, cycling on your morning commute and so on.
The FuelBand SE is certainly easy to use. Its battery can happily last a week, it recharges via USB on your computer whilst simultaneously uploading data to the Nike+ website and the simple one-button design means you don’t have to keep staring at it to access basic functions.
The bottom line: The Nike+ FuelBand SE and its companion apps are great at keeping tabs on your workouts, setting and beating personal goals and challenging your friends. It’s not cheap, but if you spend a lot of time exercising, this could prove a useful tool. Not to mention it doubles as a stylish watch.
Sony SmartBand – The one for self improvement
With the Sony SmartBand, the company has tried to take a different approach to activity tracking, starting with the design. Unlike the other trackers in this pack, the SmartBand is comprised of two parts – the rubberised band and the core. The concept is that down the road, you’ll be able to put the core (which contains all the sensors) into all sorts of different wearables beyond just a wristband.
The second part of the experience comes in the form of the Sony Lifelog app. The sensor works to relay all your activity to the phone via Bluetooth (pairing is simple thanks to NFC), but the app itself also keeps tabs on your mobile habits – time spent online, time listening to music, time spent watching videos, when you get up, go to sleep and a customisable list of other social or personal activities.
The beauty of this duo is that it’s a true fire-and-forget solution. The SmartBand and app use all the information available to them to decide whether you were driving, cycling, running, walking or stationary. You can automate whether the SmartBand should monitor your sleep based on time of day, or if you prefer, a long press can manually bring it in and out of night mode.
The bottom line: The predictive nature of the experience does mean that you can’t easily customise or correct misinterpreted data. The Sony SmartBand and the Lifelog app aren’t as laser focused on fitness as the FuelBand, but instead give you a better idea of what you really get up to day by day and may help you change any bad/lazy habits you’ve picked up.
Jawbone Up24 – The one for foodies
Jawbone’s Up smartbands have been making a name for themselves in the wearables space and serve as a great alternative to Nike’s fitness-centric tracker. The newer Up24 makes keeping your activity synced with your account even easier as it integrates Bluetooth into the mix too.
The band itself comes in a range of bright colours and is also the thinnest of the four, allowing for a tad more mobility in your wrist. Rather than a clasp the Up24 wraps around thanks to its looped design. The two ends house the important bits – a detachable cap under which sits a jack for charging (connected to your computer via USB through the supplied adapter) and a small silver button.
Using variations of tapping and long-pressing you can have the Up24 track your general activity, your sleep or even monitor a power nap, gently waking you when it thinks you’ve lazed about enough.
The Jawbone Up companion app is a thing of beauty, designed to be easy to understand with a clear, colourful interface it also can be used to track all manner of things, from fitness to food and drink. In fact, food was the focus of the app’s latest update and goes above and beyond to try and keep the bore of diet tracking at bay. You can choose items from restaurant menus, scan the barcodes on food and it all works towards an ultimate food score, which is taken into account when you’re gunning for your fitness goal.
The bottom line: To look at the Jawbone Up24 it’s a stylish, unobtrusive tracker with a focus on food. Best results naturally come from inputting all the information the app asks for, but you’ll still get a great experience if you prefer to snap it on in the morning and then forget it’s there.
Fitbit Flex – The one for Windows Phones
Whilst not as deep an experience as the Up24, the Fitbit Flex has versatility on its side in other ways. Unlike the other trackers in our lineup, a newly released Windows Phone app means that the Flex is the only one designed to work with smartphones running Windows Phone as well as iOS and Android.
The Flex itself is built similarly to the Sony Smartband, with a flexible wristband and a removable sensor core, which charges via a proprietary USB cable. When the Fitbit and Flex band are worn together a row of five white lights display progress towards your daily goal, which you can set via the app. The design also ensures that rain or sweat aren’t a problem either.
Over on the app, the experience is divided by two main screens – the dashboard, which provides information on calories burnt and taken in, steps, water consumed and sleep patterns. You can manually input all the information you want using the second screen, – the log screen, which covers activity, food, water and sleep as well as an alarm option which uses the Fitbit’s vibrate function to rouse you.
The bottom line: The Fitbit is a great all-rounder, and its newfound compatibility could make it the most pervasive activity tracker of the bunch, but as with all of these tools, they only go so far as to help quantify your activity, they suggest good habits, better routines and try to help keep you motivated, but there’s no easy solution here.
Which is the best?
Depending on your lifestyle, we’d recommend snapping the Nike+ Fuelband SE or the Jawbone Up24 on for daily life, but all four of these trackers could help give you more structure and focus to being healthier and getting fitter. Now get your trainers on quickly, by some miracle the sun’s still shining.