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How to choose a fitness tracker | Technology

How to choose a fitness tracker | Technology
How to choose a fitness tracker

What to Look For When Purchasing a Fitness Tracker?

Choosing a fitness tracker is a deeply personal choice.  Unlike most gadgets, you want to wear these all the time.  And while many of us share similar health goals, our bodies and needs are highly individual.  The fitness tracker that everyone else is raving about might not work for you and vice versa.

This is why buying a fitness tracker becomes difficult.  but do not worry.  When you're deciding which tracker to buy, here are a few things to consider.

Find Your "Why" and Go From There

Fitness instructors love to bang about "finding your why," but it's also the first thing you should ask yourself when buying a tracker.  Why do you want to start a fitness tracker?  to lose weight?  Train for a marathon?  Improve your sleeping habits?  Fitness trackers are a motivational tool, but they can't help if you're not clear about your goals.

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Once you've got your reason, it's easy to figure out which features and characteristics you should prioritize.  For example, say your big reason is to train for a marathon.  Regardless of skill level, this means you'll need something that can track GPS distance, monitor heart rate, and come with a long battery life.  But if your ultimate goal is to improve your sleep, you may not need a tracker with built-in GPS at all.  You'll want longer battery life, perhaps a SpO2 sensor, and a tracker capable of providing detailed sleep information.

Understanding Sensors and Fitness Jargon

Specialty leaflets and fitness buzzwords can be overwhelming.  But no matter what fancy marketing a company may use, they all boil down to the same basic sensors and metrics. 

First, all fitness trackers have a combination of an accelerometer and gyroscope to detect motion.  Some will add an altimeter and barometer to measure altitude or how many stairs you have climbed in a day.

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For health tracking, almost all modern trackers have a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor.  These are green LEDs that shine light through your skin to measure heart rate.  There is also an increasing number of trackers that include red LEDs or SpO2 sensors to measure blood oxygen levels.

More advanced or specialized trackers will include some additional sensors.  For example, if you see that a tracker has EKG capabilities, it means it has an electrode.  Meanwhile, Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4 has a 3-in-1 sensor that measures heart rate, enables EKG and analyzes body composition.  The Fitbit Sense also has an electrodermal activity sensor, which measures the slightest level of sweat on your skin to determine your stress level.  Meanwhile, the Oura Ring has body temperature sensors to help determine the quality of your sleep. 

Fitbit Sense

One of Fitbit's recent product releases, the Sense includes FDA clearance and allows you to track your stress levels in addition to measuring your blood oxygen levels.  The watch also includes Google Assistant support. 

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Some fitness trackers will also opt for built-in GPS, which means the watch can connect directly to the GPS system without your phone.  Others will use your phone's GPS.

The device's sensors will partly determine the data you can track.  However, some companies have developed more complex algorithms to offer deeper analysis.  You can generally sniff out more full-featured trackers by the number of sensors they have and the types of metrics they track. 

If you want more advanced fitness insight, you should know that the three metrics are heart rate variability (HRV), VO2 Max and SpO2.

HRV is a metric measuring the time fluctuations between heartbeats.  It is often used as a measure of how well you have recovered from a workout or as an estimate of stress levels.

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SpO2 is often used interchangeably with pulse oximetry.  The gist is that it measures how oxygenated your blood is.  Companies are still figuring out how to best use this metric, but you often see it popping up in sleep and recovery tracking.

VO2 max is a metric that measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise.  It is often used to measure your overall cardio fitness and your training progress. 

Holistic Fitness vs Hardcore Training

There is a wide range of trackers for all types of fitness levels and goals.

For example, companies such as Garmin and Polar are well known among outdoor enthusiasts and triathletes.  They also have entry level equipment, but that is not their main strength. 

Fitbit offers more general-use devices that are better suited for people who prioritize overall health.

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Health-oriented trackers often come with breathing reminders, guided meditation, hydration and food logging, and period tracking.  Aesthetically, they are also more pleasing and have many style options. 

Garmin Fenix ​​7S Sapphire Solar

The Garmin Fenix ​​7S Sapphire Solar has a wide array of features suited to outdoor enthusiasts.  Including the durable titanium and sapphire reflective display.  You also get multi-band GPS, solar charging, real-time stamina monitoring and a plethora of battery life. 

Hardcore fitness watches are more likely to prioritize durability, downloadable maps, turn-by-turn navigation and in-app training programs.  They'll also have activity profiles for more obscure games.  For example, Garmin just kiteboarded the Epix 2 and Fenix ​​7 series.  And if you're a swimmer, you'll need something with at least 5ATM water resistance.

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Meanwhile, there is also a growing category of dedicated recovery trackers.  These trackers focus on telling you how much your body has recovered from exercise so that you can better plan your training.  The Aura Ring and Whoop 4.0 are good examples in this area.  These are more passive trackers that focus on advanced sleep tracking and how it relates to your overall activity.  They don't have screens, and you won't find any notifications or smart features on them.

Of course, there will be overlap.  For example, the Fitbit Charge 5 can give you tons of wellness features, built-in GPS, and a new Daily Readiness feature that measures your recovery.  That said, it still won't go as deep with your activity metrics as a Garmin would.

Do you really want a smartwatch instead?

The thing about fitness trackers is that they often lack on the connectivity front.  You're unlikely to find them including LTE, robust third-party apps, contactless payments, or a digital assistant.  Or if you do, it could be one or two of them - but certainly not all of them.

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If you're looking to leave your phone at home, a smartwatch with better health features might be for you.  The Apple Watch Series 7 is a great example of this.  It has a ton of health tracking and fitness features, but there are cellular models, too, so you don't need to carry your phone while exercising.  You can stream music directly to your wrist, make or make calls, and ask Siri to look up things for you.  After exercising, you can even use the watch to pay for a bottle of water at the local deli.  Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4 is a good option for Android users and offers many of the same features.

Apple Watch Series 7

The Apple Watch Series 7 comes in multiple colors with GPS or GPS and LTE cellular connectivity.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

The Galaxy Watch 4 has a faster interface and more third-party support via Google's Wear OS 3.  But keep in mind that it is best paired with Samsung-made phones. 

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The trade-off is the terrible battery life.  The Series 7 and Galaxy Watch 4 don't last more than a day (maybe two) on a single charge.  This makes them less than ideal for sleep tracking or anyone who wants to track more than three hours of GPS activity.  Meanwhile, Fitbits, Garmins and Polar devices can often last at least a week - if not several. 

Don't forget about rest fitness trackers

When browsing your options, don't forget to check the size and thickness of the watch as well as the material it is made of.  If your fitness tracker isn't comfortable, you're not going to wear it.  End of story

Comfort is especially important if sleep tracking is a priority.  You don't want to buy a big hawking tracker, only to wake up in the middle of the night determined to take it off.  Many people often have trouble falling asleep with wrist-based trackers, so you might also want to look into non-wrist-based sleep gadgets like the Aura Ring.  (However, they are not as common.) 

A bad fit can ruin your data as well.  If a tracker isn't against your skin during exercise, you may get an inaccurate heart rate reading.  If it's sliding up and down your arm, your movement data may also be borked.

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It's not that big of a problem for people with bigger wrists.  However, if you have a smaller wrist, it's not a good idea to buy a watch over 42mm.  It's not that big of an issue with casual trackers, but it becomes important once multisport GPS watches get into it.  Those watches often measure by 45mm by 47mm, but I've tested those that go up to 51mm, such as the Fenix ​​6X Pro Solar.  Not many companies offer smaller options for advanced fitness watches, but a handful do.  For example, Garmin offers several sizes for each product.

Fitness Tracker Costs

A fitness tracker can be as cheap as $60 or as expensive as $1,000.  The more features you need, the higher the price you will get.  At the lower end, you see no-frills fitness bands like the Mi Band 6 and Fitbit Inspire 2.  They have simpler screens and a smaller feature set, but have much longer battery life.  At the top end, you'll find luxury smartwatches and premium multisport GPS watches.  For example, the Garmin Fenix ​​7 lineup starts at $699.99 and goes up to $999.99.

For most people, the sweet spot is in the $150 to $350 range.  Trackers under $250 have advanced even more over the years.  The Fitbit Versa 3 retails for $229.95, but you can often find it on sale for less.  It's a good example of a fitness tracker that tracks a wide range of health features but has some smartwatch-like features like a digital assistant.

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Garmin Vivomove Sport

The Garmin Vivomove Sport is an affordable, stylish hybrid-analog tracker.  It's not as beefy as other Garmin trackers and is suitable for casual activity.

The other thing to look for is subscriptions.  Unfortunately, more wearable makers are moving to a subscription model.  Some, like Fitbit, give you a choice.  You can pay $9.99 for Fitbit Premium, but you don't have to.  Grips are the best features that are often locked behind that paywall.  For example, Fitbit's Daily Readiness Score metric is exclusive to Fitbit Premium customers.  Other companies make membership a requirement.  For example, Whoop charges $30 for a monthly subscription.  That said, there are still excellent subscription-less trackers out there.

Source: Victoria Song, The Verge