How to Buy: The Perfect Activity Tracker

How to Buy: The Perfect Activity Tracker
Highlights
  • Most people can start with a basic, affordable activity tracker.
  • Automatic sleep tracking is a big plus, look out for that.
  • Unless you're an endurance athlete, you need not buy expensive gear.

Let's face it. It's not easy to zero in on an activity tracker, with options ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 20,000. One of the most popular queries people often ask us is, is: "Which fitness band should I buy?" We're not big fans of the fitness bands available today but we've tried so many that we can help you pick one if you think it will be useful.

How much should I spend?
This is the easy part. Just ask yourself how active you are and you'll have your answer. If you are someone who's recently become health conscious, start with a basic activity and sleep tracker like the Xiaomi Mi Band. It costs you just Rs. 799 and it's a pretty good device for the price. However, if you're a fitness enthusiast who exercises regularly, you might need a fitness band with a heart rate monitor. You can skip the most expensive gadgets such as the Fitbit Blaze or Surge unless you're an endurance athlete.

(Also see: From 0 to 21, Running a Half Marathon With a Fitbit Surge)

Can you make do with your smartphone?
We'd suggest that you consider this question before wondering how much to spend. Heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking aside, your smartphone is good enough to manage almost everything your activity tracker promises. Counting steps, elevation, calories burned, distance covered (with GPS tracking of your route) are among the things a smartphone can easily manage with a fair degree of accuracy. If you're the kind of person who carries their smartphone everywhere, you don't need to buy an activity tracker. If your smartphone has serious battery issues or if you don't keep it with you while working out, read on.

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What to look for when buying an activity tracker
First you need to consider whether you want a display. Having a display is of course a big plus because you can quickly check your activity data for the day. You will be syncing this data with your smartphone every day, so if you are happy to check it on your phone, you need not worry about having a display. However, most people would prefer to be able to take a quick glance at the screen and know how many steps they've taken. We suggest that you get an activity tracker with a display even if it costs a little more.

Once you've made that choice, you should check how comfortable this band is to wear. Most of these wearables will be spill proof, which means you can wear them while you're taking a shower. This means that you're practically going to be wearing this all day and while you're sleeping. That's why comfort is very important. Some bands have a metal clasp, which might irritate your skin, while others may be made of a material you're allergic to. Be sure to check this before buying.

That brings us to sensors. Most, if not all, activity trackers will have a step counter and a rudimentary sleep tracker. If you need sleep tracking, be sure to steer clear of activity trackers with a manual sleep tracker. No one will remember to turn it on every night before sleeping and to toggle it off after waking up. Automatic sleep tracking is a crucial feature missing in many of these products.

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One feature most people don't need is a heart rate monitor. Often heart rate sensors are just a gimmicky addition to fitness bands. Unless you're serious about workouts and want to monitor if you are in the fat burn zone, you can do without a heart rate sensor. And if you are getting a tracker with this sensor, be sure to avoid "passive heart rate sensors" that do nothing but track resting heart rate. Even the good heart rate sensors don't work accurately if you're drenched in sweat, so you need to really ask yourself if you absolutely need this feature - most people should be able to do without it.

High end activity trackers will also have a GPS. While this erodes their battery life, the gains are invaluable if you're an endurance athlete. Tracking your route, complete with elevation data makes lower battery life a worthy trade off.

The final factor is battery life. The Xiaomi Mi Band will last well over a month on a single charge while most other fitness bands will run out of charge in around a week. However, some of these might not even last three days, especially if they have a heart rate monitor so be sure to avoid these products. You're going to be left with one more gadget to charge and you don't want to do this as often as you charge your smartphone.

This should be more than enough for most people looking to buy a new activity tracker. If you have any more questions, let us know via the comments.

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