You’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get fit. Congratulations. You could start with a $50-per-month gym membership, but who has the leftover cash after high-speed internet, Netflix and HBO? Enter the fitness tracker. It’s personal, (reasonably) affordable and it just might get you off the couch and on the treadmill.
The good news? You’ve got options. The bad news? There are more than 300 fitness trackers on the market, about half of which are total duds.
Some look great, but won’t work with your particular phone. Others garnered great reviews, then got recalled for causing rashes. Still others have the price tag of an Apple Watch, but the shoddy reliability of Apple Maps. Add it up, and it’s tempting to give up on your six pack until 2017.
At SpecOut, we were similarly overwhelmed. So instead of working out or going on a run, we sat down and compiled the data, compatibility, features and expert reviews for all 300+ trackers (no, really). Then we picked three overall winners in four price buckets: up to $50, up to $100, up to $200 and more than $200.
How did we choose the best trackers? First, we had a few minimum requirements for a tracker to even be considered:
Second, we scored every qualifying tracker on four metrics:
*The percentages do not add up to exactly 100 percent due to rounding.
In the end, the following 12 trackers emerged as the best bets of the bunch. We’ll start with the most affordable price category (up to $50), then work up to the premium trackers.
The Jawbone Up Move has an understated design, reliable tracking and a simple clip mechanism for attaching to your clothes. You won’t get an on-tracker display, but the smartphone syncing is so reliable you won’t mind. What’s more, you can usually pick one up today for less than $30, despite the $50 MSRP.
Upstart Chinese tech company Xiaomi excels at imitating (and sometimes, outright copying) more expensive brands, then selling the device for a quarter of the price. The Mi Band is no exception. The corresponding smartphone app might not be anything special, but the tracking works well. And at $15, who cares about a pretty interface?
The Misfit Wearables Flash is the best cheap tracker you can buy, with basic fitness tracking along with sleep measurements and swimming capabilities. Normally, you need to pay well over $100 for a waterproof device, but the Wearables Flash rings up at $50. A great bet for swimmers on a budget.
Despite the infamous recall of the Fitbit Force (some customers reported skin irritation and rashes), Fitbit remains the gold standard in fitness tracking. One of two entry level models, the Fitbit One brings the polished Fitbit interface and rock-steady tracking, but at half the price of the more premium models. Experts recommend the Fitbit One for casual exercise, though serious athletes may want to look elsewhere.
Experts praise the Withings Pulse for its built-in heart rate monitor and multi-app support. The sharp on-tracker display adds to the visual appeal — as good a Fitbit alternative as any $100 tracker.
The Razer Nabu is a recent tracker that smartly incorporates modern design sensibility and smooth mobile integration. The display faces downward, which some experts say makes checking your vitals more subtle and natural. The tracker also boasts a nifty shake-hands-to-share-contact-info feature. Whether you find these touches clever or gimmicky will determine whether you like the device.
The Fitbit Charge is the spiritual replacement for the recalled Fitbit Force, which was once Fitbit’s flagship device. In 2016, it’s a little dated, but it’s also among the most affordable Fitbits on the market. If you don’t need up-to-the-minute technology but still want the Fitbit brand, save the money and grab a Fitbit Charge.
The Fitbit Charge HR is exactly like the standard Charge, but it includes heart rate tracking and retails for $20 more. At SpecOut, we think it’s worth the extra money for the HR model, but it all depends on your fitness goals. For many, the Fitbit Charge HR is the “just right” tracking option between the Fitbit One (too limited) and Fitbit Surge (too expensive).
The Microsoft Band 2 originally retailed for $249, which was a little pricey for our tastes. In 2016, however, the price has fallen below $200, and it’s a big reason Microsoft’s second tracker made the list. The device has a sharp display and colorful Windows design — among the best on-tracker interfaces on the market. Some experts bemoan the short battery life (48 hours), a consequence of packing so many pixels on a tiny device. But if you love Microsoft or want a pretty display, it’s hard to pass up the Microsoft Band 2.
The Garmin Forerunner 225 might be expensive, but the tracker is confident in its identity. Garmin built the device specifically for serious runners, with a built-in GPS, optical heart-rate monitor and familiar watch-like design. Pass it up if you’re into ball sports and weightlifting, but for runners, there’s no better choice. Unless you’re willing to spend another $200…
If the Forerunner 225 is the runner’s tracker, the 920XT is the triathlete’s. This $450 device does everything, from swim recording to step counting to bike tracking. It’s a little bigger than the average tracker, but with all the technology Garmin packs in, it’s no surprise. If you’re a serious athlete with few concerns about price, this is your device.
This is it. Fitbit’s premium, flagship tracker. The device boasts all the advanced features in the industry, from heart rate to GPS to automatic sleep-tracking. And it’s all reported on a full-sized, always-on display. Like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, all those features make the tracker a bit bulkier than most, but if you treat the tracker like a watch, you probably won’t notice. If you’re a swimmer, you’ll want a different model, as the Surge isn’t waterproof. But for everyone else, Fitbit’s high-end tracker is worth the $250.
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Ben is the Senior Managing Editor at Graphiq. He writes about tech, companies and health by day, then moonlights as a film critic. When he's not geeking out over data visualizations, you can find him sampling craft bourbon, watching Pixar shorts and complaining about fake national holidays.