There’s never been a better time to utilise technology for health and fitness purposes. Fitness trackers are, by far, the most common piece of wearable tech available, letting you track your movement and activity as you go about your business – and all you have to do is remember to charge it and put it on in the morning.
But the fact that they’re so common is somewhat of a downside, since, as a consumer, it can be difficult sorting the good from the bad. How do you know which ones are actually worth going out and buying? That’s why we took a look a seven of the latest trackers from big-name companies to work out which ones are worth getting your hands on.
This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re buying gadgets, but there’s a big difference between fitness trackers and, say, phones. When you get right down to it, phones are all fundamentally the same and it’s easy to tell what’s what by looking at specs and numbers. Fitness trackers aren’t like that because there’s so much variety. A £15 Chinese knock-off will have the same basic features as a £150 Fitbit, and the only way you can properly definitively compare how accurately they perform is if you have a scientific research budget and massive machines that are more accurate than an atomic clock.
So with this Battlemodo I’m really focusing on the user experience. Of course that £150 Fitbit does a hell of a lot more than the Chinese knock-off, so what features you’ll end up getting will certainly play a big part in how each tracker does overall. Having a screen or a heart rate monitor clearly makes a tracker a more worthy purchase, provided the developers haven’t managed to cock up the rest.
So to reiterate, it’s all about what it’s like to use and I’m going to focus on the following questions: How easy is it to set up? Is it a pain to actually use day to day? Does it look nice, or does it stick out on your wrist like a sore thumb? Does the design actually make sense, or does it just get in the way? And, finally, is it comfortable or is it a horrible mess that causes unsightly rashes?
All of those things need to be considered, and design is especially important since it’s going to be living on your wrist damn-near 24 hours a day.
I’ll also be taking a quick look at the companion apps, since all these devices have them. No in-depth reviews, just the basics of how easy they are to use and what they look like.
I was planning on seeing what the battery lives were like, but there were a few problems with that. First up is the fact that three of these trackers use watch batteries that last months at a time, meaning a battery life test was impossible due the fact I only had these things for a few weeks. The rest, however, seemed to last reasonably close to the manufacturers’ claims – provided you don’t do something stupid like set the screen to always-on (guilty). They also lasted even longer if you weren’t using them, barring the Microsoft Band 2 which would always run out of juice after a few days.
First Place: Fitbit Blaze, $329.95
Fitbit’s Blaze is marketed as a ‘fitness watch’ rather than a fitness tracker, for obvious reasons. It’s not quite a smartwatch, though. It looks like a watch, it feels like a watch, it connects to your phone, and it tells the time, but its much more limited than what smartwatches have to offer. But it is ‘smarter’ than a regular watch, so it’s not like calling it a smartwatch is wrong.
Everything here is related to fitness, and all the features are designed around either tracking your physical activity or making you exercise. The Blaze clocks all the usual fitness-tracking data automatically (steps, calories, heart rate, distance, floors climbed, and sleep quality), as well as actual workouts whenever you tell it to do so. The workout settings are fairly basic, with most of the pre-sets only showing you how long you’ve been at it along with any of the usual data that’s relevant. If you choose running or cycling and your phone is within connection range, the Blaze also uses your phone’s GPS to work out how fast you’re going.
The screen is one of the Blaze’s key advantages. Since you can actually control most of what happens on the watch itself, there’s no need to go to the app on your phone and deal with things from there. You can’t say the same for most of the other trackers in this list (barring the Microsoft Band 2 and Garmin vivosmart HR), since a screen is the key feature they lack. In fact the only reason you really need to go into the app is to deal with settings, or see the breakdowns and history of all your activity.
The app itself is pretty standard, and pretty easy to use. The breakdowns of all your data are easy to understand, and it’s easy to work your way around. The key bonus is that it also has step-by-step instructions on how to set up your Blaze properly. Things like notification alerts and music control don’t just happen automatically, after all. Plus, there’s actually a full manual inside the app to let you know what’s what. Finally, it can record and log workouts on its own, just in case you forgot to charge your watch the night before it died.
I just wish I could set up new alarms on the watch, rather than having to go through the app every time.
Like any good wearable with a screen, the Blaze does have notification alerts. Sadly, those notifications are limited to calls, texts, and calendar alerts. I feel Fibit could have included a bit more here though. Email notification support would have been handy at the very least. It’s capable of controlling music volume and playback on your phone, that said it appears to be unable to do this during exercise mode. Hardly ideal.
While some past Fitbit devices have caused rashes, there wasn’t really an issue with the Blaze. In fact, comfort-wise it’s no different from wearing a watch.
One of my biggest gripes with the Blaze is something I’ve been pretty vocal about in the past. Like far too many smartwatches, the watchface is rectangular. In 2016, and tech companies are still churning out smartwatches that look like they came out of a factory during the ’70s and ’80s. The overwhelming majority of watches have round faces now, so why now smartwatches? After using the Blaze, I don’t feel like the user experience be any different with a round face.
The only thing I can think of for this particular design choice is to try to make it look like an Apple Watch. To the trained eye it obviously looks very different, but someone who isn’t very tech inclined might confuse it for Apple’s offering at a glance. Only a glance, because the Fitbit logo on the front does give the game away.
Another thing it could do with is mapping. You’ve got a watchface that doesn’t do anything half the time, so it would be great if there was an option to show your current position and route. Obviously it’ll have to be connected to your phone at the time, since the Blaze doesn’t have built-in GPS, but it’d be a nice little touch that would put that screen to good use.
It also bugs me that Fitbit still hasn’t released a fitness tracker with proper waterproofing. The Blaze is water resistant, but that’s nowhere near the same thing and only really protects against the likes of sweat and splashes. Swimmers are people too, and they could do with a bit more choice when it comes to buying a tracker.
All-in-all, though, there’s a reason why Fitbit is the top dog in the world of fitness tracking; the company makes some damn fine gadgets. You can’t go wrong with the Blaze. It’s got the right combination of advanced features and smart design (screen shape aside), without sacrificing the important things like comfort. That’s why it’s number one.
Second Place: Misfit Shine 2, $139.95
Unlike the rest of these trackers, barring the Moov Now, The Misfit Shine 2 doesn’t actually have to be worn on your wrist. It comes packaged inside a wrist band, and the fact that it also has a very crude clock, makes it feel like the wrist is where it’s supposed to live, but it doesn’t need to. All you need to do is pop open the band and either slip it into a clip (included), or put it somewhere safe on your person.
That’s a nice little touch for those of you who hate wearing anything on your wrist, but it does mean that the Shine 2 is rather reliant on the companion app, just like the Activité Pop and Moov Now. Still, despite its minimalism, Misfit managed to squeeze quite a lot into this tiny metal disc – and it’s all thanks to the lights that cover its surface.
Those lights illuminate for pretty much everything, but interpreting the cryptic flashes helps you understand what the Shine 2 is trying to tell you. As I mentioned before, there’s a crude watch built in, which uses different coloured lights to show you roughly what time it is. Blue = hour, green = minutes, and white = 12, 3, 6, and 9. It’s worth pointing out that this is a *rough* indication of the time, since the Shine 2 doesn’t have light to indicate every single minute – only five minute intervals. The Shine 2 does show your fitness progress before showing you the time, which is convenient because it lets you see exactly where 12 o’clock is – just in case you put the device into the wristband upside down or something.
Calls show up as a series of green lights, text messages as blue lights, and your progress shows up as a variety of different colours (starting with red), which uses the entire circle as a progress bar. Fairly simple, but all distinct enough to show you what’s going on without needing a full-size screen.
There’s not much to say about the tracking, since it does everything you’d expect from a tracker, barring the fact that there’s no heart-rate monitor included. Everything is done automatically as well, including sleep quality, so you can just slap it on and leave it be. I do feel that it’s about time Misfit released a heart rate monitor, though. Everyone else has.
The Shine 2 being a minimalist affair, it doesn’t have much in the way of fancy features. That being said, if you download the Misfit Link app you get to set up the Shine 2 as a smart button. That means you can use it to activate the camera shutter, control your music, control smart lights, and click through presentations. It’s also possible to connect it up to IFTTT to expand its capabilities. According to the Link app the Shine 2 is capable of doing two different smart functions, with the first set for displaying the time. Sadly, you can’t seem to change this. In reality you get to choose one function.
Seeing fitness progress is activated by a single tap, the time by a double tap, and the smart button with a triple tap. It does take a second to activate, which is noticeable, but its not like it’s slower than pulling out and unlocking your phone.
You can also toggle a feature called ‘Misfit Move’, which causes the Shine 2 to buzz if you’ve been sitting still too long. How often it buzzes is all up to you to set up, with times set at 20-minute intervals up to a maximum of two hours. Naturally there’s a silent, vibrating alarm included as well, though you’re going to get more out of that if you’re wearing it on your wrist.
Like the Moov Now and Activité Pop, the Shine runs on a watch battery which is supposed to last up to six months, which will be handy for those of you who often forget to charge their gadgets. There’s nothing wrong with the app either; it’s easy to navigate and understand the data breakdown. The only downsides are that the main app does not include it’s own fitness tracking functions (or crucially GPS mapping), and you need a separate app to sort out your smart button features.
Design-wise, the Shine is fairly typical. I was using it with the wristband which felt just like any other watch, even if it doesn’t really look like one. Swapping it out for the clip was simple, and takes half a minute tops. It was relatively comfortable, and there’s not much I can fault with the design. The only thing I didn’t like was that you needed a special tool to open it up and replace the battery. That’s hardly the kind of thing you’ll carry around without using it for six months. The Activité Pop and Moov Now also came with tools, but they could easily be opened with a pen knife (or similar). The Shine 2 is slightly more complicated than popping the back off, however.
It may not be as advanced as the likes of the Microsoft Band 2 or the Fitbit Blaze, but it does manage to fit an awful lot into a small disc.
Third Place: Moov Now, $99.99
Like the Misfit Shine and the Withings Activité Pop, the Moov Now is run from a watch battery which gives it a crazy-long battery life. Six months, according to Moov. As you would expect, the device itself is little more than a little circle that lives on your wrist or ankle. So that means interacting with an app rather than the device itself.
The thing you need to remember about the Moov Now is that activity tracking isn’t really what it’s designed to do. The main purpose of the Moov Now and its accompanying app is to act as a fitness coach for you, based on how you’re doing at any given time. The device itself is limited, and is mainly there for tracking your motion (in 3D no less). The usual tracking of steps, calories, and so on is completely absent. Instead, Moov has chosen to focus on ‘active minutes’ which it believes is a better way of encouraging people into a healthy lifestyle. You might wonder why Moov even bothers with a wearable, but as I mentioned it’s there to track motion which it uses to make sure you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing so it can offer feedback. Everything else is sorted by the app.
So really the app is what you want to be focused on, but you do appear to need a Moov device to actually do any of the workouts. So unfortunately you can’t take the cheap option. Each time you want to start a workout you need to strap the Moov Now into the appropriate place (it’ll tell you whether that’s the wrist or ankle) and press it to connect to the app.
As I said before, Moov is basically a fitness coach, so throughout the workout you choose (you can pick running, cycling, swimming, and home workouts) it will talk you what you need to be doing and use the phone’s sensors to do some extra tracking. It differs from exercise to exercise, though, since it depends what type of exercise you’re doing and what you want to accomplish. The app’s swimming feature, for instance, is basically a glorified timer that relies on the Moov Now to measure and time your movement in the pool – with no verbal encouragement. Running and cycling, however, includes GPS mapping, speed, cadence, and so on, with the app instructing you throughout. Really, despite the differences in the device, the overall result isn’t too dissimilar from other fitness apps and devices.
Like the other watch battery-powered devices, the Moov Now is full waterproof. Only up to 30 metres though, which isn’t quite as good as the Misfit Shine or Activité Pop. Then again, why would you be wearing any of these devices if you’re going that deep?
There is one pretty serious downside to the Moov Now, and that’s the sleep-tracking feature. Basically, sleep tracking is accomplished by measuring how often you’re completely still and marking that as a snooze. So if you just happen to be sitting completely still on the sofa while watching TV, or forget to wear the band one day, it’s going to think that you’re asleep. Not great, really, so if you’re using gadgets to monitor the quality of your sleep the Moov Now is going to be somewhat of a disappointment.
Comfort wise, I have absolutely no complaints about the Moov Now. In fact, I barely even knew it was there. That’s the kind of wearable I can get behind. The strap is easy to do up, since it doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel (*cough* Microsoft and Jawbone *cough*). My only issue is the little bump on the right-hand side of the device itself. It looks like a button, but it’s not. Not sure what it’s supposed to accomplish, so it’s an odd thing to have.
The Moov Now is a little bit different, and I think that works in its advantage. Sure it might not be focused on all the usual data as other fitness trackers, but it does perform where it counts. It’s a bit useless unless you actually do some exercise, but in that respect I feel it’s probably a better option. Why does it matter that you’ve done X number of steps if you haven’t actually done any exercise? We all know that fitness trackers aren’t definitively accurate anyway. What I’m saying is that if you buy this and then don’t do any exercise, it’s just going to be a wasted purchase. So by simply having it should offer some motivation to get out there and get moving.
It’s also incredibly easy to use and damn comfortable. So it’s not the same as all the other trackers out there. So what? It’s a great little device trying to offer something better, rather than just acting like a sheep and mimicking the offerings of bigger companies.
Fourth Place: Withings Activité Pop, $249.95
Now if you’re looking for a tracker that looks nothing like an actual tracker, the Activité Pop might be the one for you. At first glance, it looks just like a watch. At second glance it looks like a watch. Hell, at 234th glance it looks like a watch. That’s because, surprise surprise, there’s absolutely nothing that sets it apart from a regular watch. This is an advantage if you want the benefits of fitness tracking without actually being seen with a fitness tracker on your wrist. The downside, however, is that the Activité Pop is absolutely useless as a stand-alone device.
Let it be known that while this is smarter than your average watch, this is no smartwatch. The bulk of the device is a standard mechanical watchface, with a separate dial that shows your progress to your pre-set daily goals. There’s absolutely nothing else it can do by itself, so its more like a watch with a basic fitness tracker tacked on than a ‘smart-watch’. The only differences between this and a regular watch are that the tracking components and Bluetooth make it slightly bulkier, and there isn’t a crown for changing the time. Time is set via the companion app, either by syncing automatically or manual control.
It’s a nice basic watch, though, and I don’t say basic as a bad thing. It’s certainly not a fancy-looking watch you can get away with wearing if you go to dinner at Buckingham Palace, but for everything else it’s an ideal time-keeping device. The fact that it’s a watch also means that it runs on a watch battery, and according to Withings it’ll last over eight months before it needs changing. Plus like the other watch battery-powered trackers tested, it’s properly water resistant (up to 50 metres) and perfect for swimmers.
In terms of what gets tracked, there’s nothing unique here. It counts steps, calories, sleep quality, and distance. The app also has space for weight tracking and calorie counting – like any good fitness app should.
The app isn’t too dissimilar from any of the other companion apps you need to use the other trackers. The Activité Pop syncs up all the data which you can view in great detail, and you can set up the silent alarms. Since the app doesn’t record workout, it can also connect with other fitness apps (like Runkeeper, Google Fit, and My Fitness Pal), to pull in their data and combine it with what your watch has recorded. And, as expected, there’s a digital manual included so you know what’s what.
The Activité Pop is far from perfect, though. For starters the Bluetooth is pretty weak, and the range is limited at best. I had the app open on my phone with the watch sitting on the opposite end of my desk (a distance of about a metre) and it wasn’t picking it up. As soon as I moved it within very close proximity, it was fine. Some people might not like the rubber strap, but Withings does have fancier (and more expensive) models in the Activité range that are functionally the same (the £140 Steel and £320 Sapphire). It is much nicer than a lot of the straps on the other tested devices, however, barring the Fitbit Blaze (maybe).
There’s nothing overly special about the Activité Pop, but the fact that it is completely indistinguishable from regular watches will be a big advantage for some. Withings has managed to merge functionality and style together, in a way that’s not overly obvious to everyone around you.
Needless to say, I rather liked it. The only reason it fell down compared to the Misfit Shine 2 is that the Shine 2 is more advanced, and does manage to fit more useful stuff into a smaller space. It lost points against the Moov Now simply because Moov is offering something unique and quite interesting. That said, it’s obvious what the Shine 2 and Moov Now are, but as I mentioned you can easily pass the Activité Pop off as a normal watch. If that’s something you value, then there’s no doubt about which one you should pick. (This one).
Fifth Place: Microsoft Band 2, $379.99
Now before I get anywhere, it’s worth pointing out that the Microsoft Band 2 actually has more on offer if you’re connecting it to a Windows Phone. I know, that’s something that can be said about as often as “and England have won the World Cup”. The ‘more’ I speak of is the ability to interact with Cortana, and according to the web the usual Cortana commands apply. Sadly I was unable to test it myself, because this Microsoft-made device wasn’t able to connect to the Microsoft-developed app on my Microsoft-made Windows Phone. Thanks Microsoft.
If you somehow managed to get Cortana running on a non-Windows device (she’s available on Android and iOS, just not in the UK), theoretically you should be able to interact with the digital assistant just like a Windows Phone user.
The Band 2’s main advantage is that it’s able to function very independently. Damn near everything you want to do is already built into the device, rather than pulling data in from the companion app. Want to workout? Fine. Set an alarm? Sure. Play golf? Erm, we’ll get to that in a minute. So if your phone is dead, or you just want the convenience of going out for a run (or whatever) without having to bring your phone along, you don’t have to. Obviously, pulling it away from your phone does have its disadvantages – namely the fact that you don’t get any of your notifications (calls, texts, calendar, and emails) beamed across. There’s even GPS built into the band itself, and it doesn’t stay on all the time. Just don’t miss the prompt whenever you want to get some exercise done.
In fact, the only feature it doesn’t have is music playback. There are apps you can get that grant you the option of controlling music playback on your paired phone, but nothing that turns the Band 2 into a music player of its own. Not that it would be any use, since there are no speakers or audio ports.
Tracking features offer nothing new. Steps, distance, calories, heartrate, sleep and so on. If you’ve ever used a fitness tracker before, you know what’s up here. Barring sleep, everything is done automatically and syncs across to the app.
Speaking of the app, it’s actually pretty sparse, which isn’t surprising given how much is packed into the device itself. Though, to be honest, you don’t really need it. The only thing you need the app to do that the Band 2 can’t is finding a golf course to track your game (which is a relatively niche activity), personalising the screen’s background, and actually setting the thing up. Everything else you might need can be done or found on the Band itself. Other points to mention here are that the app looks very much like a Windows Phone app, even on Android and iOS, and it’s a handy place to find a few apps that are compatible with the Band 2. Speaking of which…
Microsoft Health isn’t the only app that the Band 2 can interact with. It’s also capable of syncing with popular health and fitness apps like Runkeeper and Strava, Cortana (as mentioned before), and more. Some apps allow for extra customisation, others offer features that the Band 2 does not (like UV protection, or music control). The only downside is that most of these apps are Windows Phone-only. There are plenty of them available on Android and iOS, but nowhere near as many.
You can see a pretty extensive list of Band 2-compatible apps here.
One of the things that really confused me about the Band 2 is that the clasp is huge. Far bigger than all the others. Turns out there is a reason, and that’s because the underside of the clasp isn’t part of the clasp at all – it’s the ‘Galvanic Skin Response Sensor’. It measures the conductivity of your skin, essentially telling the Band 2 whether it’s being worn or not. Clever, but still pretty chunky.
The clasp itself is pretty different from all the other bands I tested. It’s an all-metal mechanism that actually clips into place. At first I thought it was a bit of an odd and redundant choice, until I noticed that the mechanism also clips into the charger and stops it falling off before you’re ready to put it back on. Most of the trackers had something like this, but I like how Microsoft merged those two things together. It’s much better than what the Jawbone Up3 used anyway. The downside is that the ‘strapped up’ band isn’t very sleek, since the mechanisms have to sit on top of each other. It’s a clever mechanism, but just very poorly implemented. It also means that however you position the band on your wrist, either the clasp or the screen is going to constantly knock against things. The bulky GSR sensor doesn’t help that fact either.
It is pretty comfortable, though, and even though I had a medium-sized band when I really could have done with a large, I barely even noticed it was there most of the time.
Unlike the other trackers tested, sleep tracking doesn’t appear to be automatic on the Band 2. That said the menu for activating it is also home to the alarm settings (including a ‘smart alarm’ that wakes you up in line with your natural sleep pattern). It’s a small touch, but it makes a lot of sense for those two thing to be in the same place and it’s one of the little things that I liked about the software design.
Slightly dodgy clasp design aside, the Microsoft Band 2 isn’t such a bad piece of kit to have. As long as you don’t plan on wearing it while you’re doing things with your hands (like typing), lest that damn clasp constantly scrape against things. Unfortunately, as I said before, design is an important part of wearable tech. A glaring mistake like the glasp can’t be ignored – no matter how impressive the hardware is.
Sixth Place: Garmin vivosmart HR, $229
There’s nothing overly special about the design of the vivosmart HR, it’s got your typical band-shaped touchscreen display. Think the Microsoft Band 2, but attached to a watch strap rather than the misshapen clasp Microsoft went with. A single button lets you unlock the display (if you told it to lock up), and takes you to the settings menus. So it’s incredibly easy to use, to the point that a chimp could probably figure this out in minute or two.
The main use of the display is as an always-on screen that displays all the relevant information you need. Heart rate, steps, total daily distance, weather, music control, time, calories, weather, and so on. Not all on the screen at the same time, mind, you have to flick through them all with the touchscreen.
The secondary menu, which is accessed by pressing the button on the right-hand side of the screen, takes you to all the important stuff. Settings, manual syncing, Bluetooth controls, workout history, and the option to start recording workouts. Again, it’s so simple a primate could get the hang of this. There’s also a ‘do not disturb’ feature here (toggled on or off with no sort of timer), which is confusing because it’s shaped like the moon. Normally that means sleep-tracking, but that’s all done automatically. This menu has an alarm button as well, but that’s only for toggling alarms that have been synced over from the Garmin Connect app. Unfortunately, this is yet another screen-equipped tracker that relies on your phone to do something so basic.
I want to mention the music controls here, mainly because of how simple it was to set up. And by simple, I mean I didn’t have to do a damn thing. The Fitbit Blaze, on the other hands, actually has to include instructions on how to set it up because it’s a multi-step process. As long as Bluetooth is on on both devices, the vivomsmart HR’s music control will be able to control what’s going on. The only downside to it is that there’s no way to alter the volume, and the music will stop if your device disconnects.
The weather screen is basically useless, since all the temperatures are in Fahrenheit and I can’t find anyway of changing it on the device or in the companion apps. The majority of the world uses Celsius, Garmin, so give people the option to change to units they actually understand.
The actual workout tracking is a pretty basic affair. You have the option of choosing ‘run’, ‘cardio’, or ‘other’, and once you get going the vivosmart HR tracks all the usual things during the time it thinks you’re exercising. That’s pretty standard, but unlike the Fitbit Blaze and Microsoft Band 2 it doesn’t attempt to connect to your smartphone and use that device’s sensors to supplement what it can do.
During the workout, the screen changes over from white text on a black background to black text on a white background. That’s clearly to help you differentiate between exercise and non-exercise mode, though the functionality of the screen doesn’t change much. You can still flick through the different screens and see recorded data, but as you might expect it only displays information from your current session. You can’t access the settings menus, though, and pressing the device’s button will pause the workout and let you save or discard the activity you just did.
The app is pretty standard, doing most of the usual things like setting alarms and collecting all your data in a way that you can read and understand. One thing I did like that it also had sections for playing with the vivosmart HR’s settings, even though you can do all that on the device. It’s a small touch, but it’s always nice to have options. It’s also good for people who dislike messing with the settings on such a small display.
Something that bothered me about the viviosmart HR is that Garmin opted to have a battery-draining LCD display rather than something more efficient. The fact is, the screen doesn’t employ any fancy graphics or colours, and it would have been the perfect place to employ an e-ink display. Heck an OLED display would have done, that way you wouldn’t need to waste power on all the black spaces (there are a lot of black spaces on-screen). Fortunately the newly announced vivomsmart HR+ does appear to have an e-ink display. Unfortunately I couldn’t get one for testing.
The screen is quite small, which is both good and bad. It’s good since it doesn’t take too much space, and you can use it it without too much hassle (unless you have trouble reading smaller print). The bad is that it’s got nothing on a smartwatch or smartphone screen, which makes reading notifications a bit useless. Email is a good example of this, since there isn’t much screen space to read what’s going on. The Microsoft Band 2 has a similar problem, though the fact that it has a slightly bigger display means it wasn’t as bad as it was here. Still, if you get a buzz you can see what it is rather easily, then make the choice of whether or not you should pull out your phone and deal with it.
Personally I found that the strap was rather small for my wrists. My wrists aren’t exactly small, but they aren’t exactly massive either, so that’s a bit of a pain. For comparison, the only other trackers that I felt were too small for my wrists were the Jawbone Up3 and the Microsoft Band 2. The Band 2 hardly counts, though, since I was wearing a medium sized band instead of a large. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, since most of the other trackers (barring the two I just mentioned) let you swap the wristbands in favour of something else. It looks like the vivosmart does have this option, but the fact that the band is physically screwed into the device with ultra-tiny torx screws makes it feel like Garmin doesn’t want you doing that. A quick look online didn’t show up the option to buy replacement wristbands either.
The big downside is that I didn’t have to wear it for very long for the band to start irritating my skin. I can’t really say why this is the case, since I didn’t have this problem with any of the other trackers I tested. I even tried it on both wrists to be sure, and ended up with the same effect. The only thing I can think it could is my skin isn’t fond of the material it’s made of. I doubt the same will be true of everyone.
The vivosmart HR isn’t a bad tracker, though it certainly has its limitations, especially when it comes up against devices like the technologically superior Fitbit Blaze and Microsoft Band 2. There are no dealbreakers here, and I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone not to buy it. It just so happens to be a very mid-range player compared to the competition and its upcoming successor.
Seventh Place: Jawbone Up3, $198
Right now you must be thinking, “Hey, Tom, what’s the deal here? Isn’t there a Jawbone Up4?”
You would be correct, but like so many other gadgets it’s only available in the US. Officially, at least. According to Jawbone it’s because of the NFC, which it felt was not a universal standard around the world. So you won’t be using a Jawbone device to pay for your morning coffee anytime soon. It also appears to be the only noteworthy difference between the two, so it’s not like it’s a huge loss.
Design certainly isn’t the Up3’s strong suit. You can tell that it’s been designed to look more like a fashion accessory than a fitness tracker, which is no bad thing, but little things just stand out. For starters there isn’t really much of a display to see how things are going, meaning you need to pull out your phone and have a look at what’s happening. The three lights on the front of the device sort-of help indicate what’s going on. There’s an orange running person which means the device is actually on, a blue moon that means it thinks you’re asleep, and a little notification bubble that’s pretty self-explanatory.
A couple of points about this: first up is the fact that to see the orange guy you have to hit the band pretty hard, and at one point its reluctance to appear made me wonder whether it had run out of battery. The sleep tracking is also automatic, and I’m not sure how that’s even supposed to work. I tapped it at one point to see a blue moon light while I was wide awake and sitting at my desk. It was 3am, but I wasn’t even thinking about sleeping at that point.
There isn’t much to the Up3 if I’m honest. The band itself doesn’t do all that much, and I feel it has a lot more in common with the Misfit Shine 2 than with the other rechargeable trackers – barring the fact that the Shine 2 lasts months on a single battery and the Up3 lasts about a week – before dying. Functionally it’s very similar to the Shine 2, though. It’s got a built in silent alarm, notification alerts, and alerts if it thinks you’ve been too idle for too long. Plus tracking usual fitness information, and your heart rate.
The app is fairly well designed and visually appealing, though not too dissimilar from the apps that you need for the other trackers. It’s easy to navigate, easy to understand, and all the settings you need for the Up3 itself have their own dedicated menu. One nice touch, though, is the fact that it estimates how long the battery on the Up3 will last based on the power leftover last time the two synced. Other apps, like Fitbit and Misfit, have a feature like this, though they only offer arbitrary power level measurements like ‘Full’, ‘Medium’, and ‘Low’. Those are useful indicators of how much time your device has left, but it can’t trump an estimation of how much time you have left.
The clasp on the strap isn’t very well thought out. It’s not bad when you’re tackling it with two hands, but the thing about fitness trackers with heart rate monitors is that they tend to have to go on your wrist. That means dealing with the clasp one handed, and it is not easy. It still takes me a while to work out how to get it off, and the first time around I was worried for a split-second that I was going to have to cut the wristband off to get free. Adjusting to your own wrist isn’t that easy either, since you have use trial and error to physically move the clasp down the strap and hope you’ve got it in the right position. I get that Jawbone probably didn’t want to use something so stand-out as a standard watch clasp to try and keep the aesthetic of a fashion accessory, but it just wasn’t very well thought through.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Up3 is bad at what it does. It all works well enough, but there’s absolutely nothing about it that sets it apart from the competition. I’ve seen Jawbone claim the Up3 to be “the world’s most advanced fitness tracker”. There’s absolutely no indication of that anywhere. There’s nothing in the app that isn’t covered by the competition, and the band doesn’t do anything particularly special.
You could say that about a number of trackers here, but they all have something that sets them apart. For the Misfit Shine it’s the smart button and the fact that it packs a hell of a lot into a tiny little medallion (that you can wear anywhere you like, no less). The Withings Activité Pop is a watch at its core, with fitness tracking features tacked on. The Moov Now is a virtual personal trainer. The Fitbit Blaze, Garmin vivosmart HR, and Microsoft Band 2 all have screens and function more-or-less independently from a smartphone. The only thing you could say the Up3 has the design, but even that isn’t going to have universal appeal.
I wouldn’t tell you to not buy an Up3, and if you like the design you’ll end up with something that does exactly what it’s supposed to. You just have to remember that there are fitness trackers out there that do a lot more.
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