How We Tested Fitness Trackers

By:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Monday
October 2, 2017

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We bought the highest rated products currently available and put them through a veritable barrage of tests to see which one came out on top.
We bought the highest rated products currently available and put them through a veritable barrage of tests to see which one came out on top.

We literally went through Insanity to test these fitness trackers. Actually.

Our cardio workout used for testing the trackers.
Our cardio workout used for testing the trackers.

We put the top rated fitness trackers through the gauntlet to determine which one is truly the best. Splitting up the overall testing regime into five parts, we looked at the fitness impact, health impact, ease of use, ergonomics, and the display of each product.

Fitness Impact


To evaluate the fitness impact, we looked at the most common activities that these devices are used for: walking, cycling, and a cardio workout. We also looked at how each model did at calculating flights of stairs climbed, as well as what other activities they tracked and how vibrant of an online community there was.

To check the accuracy at step counting and distance, we measured out a mile track and walked it with each tracker. Throughout this, our tester manually counted steps with a crowd-clicker and then compared the results.

To check the step count of each tracker  we manually compared with a tally counter over a mile walk.
To check the step count of each tracker, we manually compared with a tally counter over a mile walk.

For cycling testing, we compared the GPS-enabled fitness trackers to both a bicycling computer the Strava app on an iPhone 6, verifying the accuracy of the top speed, average speed, and distance traveled.

We used a bike mounted cycling computer as a baseline to compare the cycling tracking on each product.
We used a bike mounted cycling computer as a baseline to compare the cycling tracking on each product.

Non-GPS trackers lack this capability, merely tracking elapsed time and estimating calories burned, similar to any other workout.

Finally, we manually counted the number of flights of stairs climbed, and compared that to the number reported by the fitness tracker.

Health Impact


Here we tested how these products perform at things that could impact your health. These products track heart rate, can help manage dieting or implement lifestyle changes, have a gentle wake alarm, and can track your sleep. First, we compared the accuracy of the heart rate tracking of each of these devices with a chest band heart rate monitor, both resting and active.

A chest strap heart rate monitor acted as a control to evaluate the accuracy of each tracker's heart rate monitoring.
A chest strap heart rate monitor acted as a control to evaluate the accuracy of each tracker's heart rate monitoring.

Next, we compared how these devices can help motivate you in implementing lifestyle changes, whether it was through diet or exercise. We compared how each one logged caloric intake, and whether or not the tracker would issue challenges or reminders to get up and be active.

Finally, we slept with each of the trackers and compared how they did at tracking sleep, how easy it was to initiate tracking, and the quality of the data produced.

Ease of Use


The more convenient and easy to use these products are, the more likely you are to actually use one of these devices. We looked at the battery life, how each device synced with the app, navigating the menus, how water resistant each device, and how easy it was to put on the wristband.

The Blaze is very easy to put on  similar to a large watch.
The Blaze is very easy to put on, similar to a large watch.

We compared and scored each model both on how long it lasted, as well as the recharge time. We also timed and ranked each device on how long it took to send a day's worth of data to the phone. We then went through every menu on the device and the app, rating them on intuitiveness and clarity. Finally, we scored them on the manufacturers' stated waterproof recommendations as well as the ease of putting them on your wrist.

Ergonomics


From clip-on to wrist mounted, an uncomfortable or ugly fitness tracker just won't be worn. We had a panel of mixed ages and genders try on and rate each tracker. We had them score the comfort, the aesthetics, and how the profile of each tracker felt, then aggregated the scores. We also had them perform simple tasks, such as putting on a light jacket, to see if it got easily hung up.

Display


Our final metric, we rated the display of each product. We evaluated and score each product not only on how the screen looked, but what was shown on the home screen and how visible it was. We also went through and rated the responsiveness of the device to wake-up, as well as whether or not it would receive smartphone notifications.

The Blaze has an exceptionally clear and easy to read screen.
The Blaze has an exceptionally clear and easy to read screen.

To see which fitness trackers scored the best, check out our full review and our quest to find the best overall fitness tracker and budget picks. Still on the fence about purchasing one? take a peek at our detailed Buying Advice article to learn more about the types of these products, as well as why you would even want one.

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