Fitness bands and smartwatches – group review

With the Apple iWatch rumoured to revolutionise smartwatches, we review the best wearable fitness monitors currently available

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I like to think I lead an active lifestyle; I commute, make the effort to walk out for lunch and aim to go to the gym a minimum of three times a week. However, I wanted to know if I was actually doing enough to be healthy, and how I could improve the exercise I am currently doing. Wearable technology is becoming more and more advanced, and with Apple’s prospective entry into the smartwatch market, I wanted to find out whether these devices could make a difference to my lifestyle. I wore each band for a week, testing how it monitored my normal daily activities and whether it pushed me to get up and do more to meet my goals.

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Best for… simplicity: Garmin Vivofit 

Price: £99     Waterproof: Up to 50 meters     Android and IOS App: Yes     Bluetooth: Yes    

Battery – Two replaceable coin batteries – Lasts around 1 year

The Garmin Vivofit isn’t the best looking of the bands tested. Granted I have tiny wrists, but I found the size of the screen too big and this resulted into it digging into my wrist bones as I moved. I would prefer a slimmer look and to rely on the paired app to access your progress. I had a few comments from friends on its unappealing design; big, blue and bulky didn’t really go with my LBD.

But design aside the device itself is accurate and gives you all the basic information that you might want. It is very simple in comparison to the other bands tested, but if all you are looking for is a step counter then this might work for you. The Vivofit app is very user friendly, simple in design and gives you all the basic information you need. I particularly like the additional feature of syncing this with My Fitness Pall calorie counter which I already use daily. This feature gives the calorie counter updates of how much you have burned from steps, adjusting your daily limits automatically. You can earn badges as rewards for step milestones and the Device learns your activity level, readjusting your step goals accordingly, which is a nifty feature.

Average steps registered: 9369

Rating: 5/10

Simple and easy to use but the clunky design and lack of detailed information lets it down.


Best for… Motivation: Nike + Fuelband se 

Price: £89     Waterproof: Water resistant, ie showers and rain, not swimming and baths

Android and IOS App: Yes     Bluetooth :Yes     Battery: USB rechargable – lasts up to 4 days

This was one of my favourite bands. Shame then that that it’s rumoured it will be discontinued soon, although we couldn’t get anyone at Nike to confirm this. This wearable was one of the more stylish options with a sleek black band and no large screen or bold brash colours. You can get variations but the colour only runs around the inside of the band, making it jazzy but not unbearable.

Comfortable and lightweight, you can wear it all day and night without it becoming uncomfortable. The screen runs across the band, invisible until it lights up with tiny LED lights that flash and read you your information. It’s a great design feature unique to the Fuelband.

The targets set are based upon earning Nike Fuel points (gained by being active) instead of number of steps / amount of calories burned. Additionally, you can tell the band when you are starting a workout meaning, leading to more accurate information on your exercise. What I did find disappointing is that you cannot wear it swimming and that during an aerobic class it did not pick up on the amount of exercise I was doing, as it was more of a static class focussing on strength. However this is really the case for all of the bands tested and something that I would want to see improved on in the next generation of wearable trackers.

The key aspects of this band for me were the motivational features. I really felt a sense of achievement and reward when I hit my goals and the band lit up congratulating me. Equally, I liked the reminder feature which prods you into moving at least once every hour during your working day. This actually got me up and moving with its personalised get up and go messages. This was something that I didn’t feel with the other bands; the Nike Fuelband would actually help you towards your goal rather than just tracking your progress.

Average steps registered: 8149

Rating: 9/10

Easy to use, looks good and gives a detailed analysis and great motivation for your fitness goals.


Best for… Sleep tracking and Data: Withings Pulse 02

Price: £99.96     Waterproof: No, they even recommend wearing your device on the belt clip rather than the wristband whilst working out to avoid getting it sweaty.     Android and IOS App: Yes     Bluetooth: Yes

Battery: USB rechargable – lasts up to two weeks

The Withings Pulse 02 has three different ways to wear it: a soft silicone watchstrap that comes in blue or black, or a clip for attaching directly to your clothing. Or you can just slip the little device in your pocket and pray you don’t lose it. Again, like the Garmin Vivofit, it looks a little big on my small wrists, but due to the soft material of the band is very comfortable to wear and very light. It could be easily mistaken for a watch. It did look better however on male colleagues wrist than mine. A daintier design for women might be in order. This band uniquely features a heart rate and blood oxygen monitor through a sensor on the back.

The key point of the band is the detail and wealth of data that it collects. It offers by far the most in depth sleep tracking of the devices tested: how long it took to go to sleep, total hours in bed, total hours asleep, how long you were awake, how many times you woke up and light vs deep sleep. This exhaustive data offer so much more than just the general movement tracking offered by the other bands.

The sheer wealth of data can be overwhelming initially. The butterfly logo on your app’s dashboard opens up to give you information on the four keys elements of your health (Weight, Activity, Heart and Sleep) which then expand to give even more in-depth info. You can set weight goals, setting how much you want to lose, how quickly and how much weight loss per week. The device tracks not only your steps but also your distance, height climbed, cals burned and tracks if you are running rather than walking, and it’s all plotted on a timeline for reviewing later. I bet you never knew you were so interesting.

Average steps recorded: 9,363

Rating: 7/10

Great tracker with lots of in-depth information, but with no motivational features I didn’t feel as pushed to meet daily goals. Design needs a bit of work.


Best for… Design: Misfit Shine

Price: £79.95 including sports band and clip.      Bloom Necklace: £69.95      Sport Necklace: £39.95     Leather Watch strap: £39.95

Waterproof: Up to 150 feet     Android and IOS app: Yes     Bluetooth: Yes     Battery: Watch battery lasts around 6 months.

This wearable is undoubtedly the best looking out of the selection I tested. The sleek disk design means that it is easily wearable with any outfit and looks more professional in the workplace. There are a variety of options as to how you choose to wear it. The standard box comes with the sports band pictured above, which is soft and very comfortable to wear all day and night. Additionally there is a clip in the box so you can wear it attached to your clothing. The other options, which make it stand out for me, include two necklace designs and a leather watch-strap (sold separately). The Bloom necklace pictured below looks really pretty on and takes you away from having to always wear a wristband which I really liked.

Like the Nike Fuel band you work towards points rather than number of steps to reach daily goals, but it gives you all the other information as well, including calories and miles covered. You can also tag activity and exercise on the app very much like the Nike Fuel band, but I didn’t find this as accurate. Like all the other bands it features sleep tracking however it seemed a little erratic and the data collected didn’t match how refreshed I felt in the morning. The app overall didn’t give me the information I wanted to see and felt a bit clunky to use.

Average steps registered: 9270

Rating – 8/10

Overall this device is a good little tracker. It has a fabulous design and as such I have worn it a lot longer than the other bands as it looks great on. However, the data collected is not as in-depth and varied as my other top picks such as the Nike fuel Band and the Fitbit flex, so it depends what is more important to you, design or wealth of data.


Best overall: FitBit Flex

Price: £79.99     Waterproof: Submergible up to 10 meters.     Android and iOS app: Yes.     Bluetooth: Yes     Battery: USB rechargeable, lasts 5 days

The FitBit Flex band is slim and comfortable to wear. It has a similar feel to the Nike Fuel band in that it looks like a rubber charity band rather than a watch. I much prefer this sleeker design, as it is more inconspicuous to wear all day long. The band features a light up design, like the Misfit Shine, which when tapped shows your progress for the day so far dependant on your target number of steps, calories or distance travelled. It will also light up and buzz when you reach your goal. I tested the purple version but it also comes in black, green, pink, red, blue and more.

The connected app is simple to use with easy access to goals, settings and information like battery life, plus more esoteric trivia like how much water you have drunk. Compared to the Misfit Shine this app gives you all the information you might want at a glance.The way in which you can tag your exercises isn’t as straight forward as the Nike Fuelband, but it is possible through the app.

The sleep tracking is fairly detailed, charting how long you have slept for, your periods of restlessness and if/when you woke up. The band is very comfortable and as such is no problem to wear all night. A nice addition is a silent alarm that wakes you up by buzzing the band, perfect if you don’t want to wake your partner.

Average steps recorded: 8298 steps

Rating: 9/10

I really like this band. It looks good, is comfortable to wear and the data gives you an in-depth overall profile of your health. Who could ask for more?

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Conclusion

I still feel that a lot more investment needs to go into these wearables to give you a really accurate overview of your health and fitness. As the bands work on motion based on steps, activities such as Yoga and strength classes don’t get picked up on as they should. Additionally, none of the bands can really monitor swimming, which makes making them submergible pointless. However aside from these factors I have found that they do give a good perspective on your general fitness. You need to take the data with a little pinch of salt at times but you can get a decent idea of how active you are and most importantly find that extra motivation to get up and get moving.