Activity trackers are easily the most popular and most mature category of wearable technology. People love to quantify their daily movement. Fitbit, for example, is the number one wearable device maker, selling 11 million devices in 2014; They went public this summer and have a market cap of over $6 billion. Fitbit’s numbers don’t mean it’s the best fitness tracker though. 2015 saw a lot of new players entering the market while a lot of existing players pushed expectations of what your dollar could get you. As these trackers begin to include more and more connected functionality, such as notifications and payment abilities, at lower and lower prices, the segment is likely only to grow.
Whether you or a loved one are looking for a wearable to help you monitor your general fitness or need a connected device but aren’t ready for a smartwatch, we have assembled a list of the fitness wearables that most deserve your attention!
Microsoft Band 2
The Microsoft Band 2 is the activity tacker that most longs to be something more. Featuring a beautiful curved, glass covered touch screen, the second version of Microsoft’s wearable improves on just about everything we complained about with the original. The most noticeable improvement is the design of the actual device; the clunky, square, and uncomfortable original Band has been replaced with curved lines, more durable components, and a flexible wrist band. Microsoft also improved compatibility with 3rd party services and added additional ’tiles’ for activities such as golf. The company just released a software update that includes an activity reminder and a music app which allows you to control the music being played on your phone (Microsoft claims the controls work with Windows Phone, Android, and iOS). This all is on top of the built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, guided workouts, daily activity tracking, and notifications of the original version of the Band. If you are a Windows Phone user, this is pretty much the best option out there. Very few, if any, smartwatches support Windows Phone so if you are looking for a number of the features of a smartwatch on a compatible device, Microsoft Band 2 is where it’s at. It should be noted though that Microsoft has left some features of the Band as exclusive to Windows Phone, such as the Cortana Virtual Assistant. There is also a small virtual keyboard on the device but it is not available to iOS users. Keep in mind, unless you are on Windows Phone, there are a lot of options available at the device’s $250 which are also worth considering.
The Microsoft Band 2 lists for $249.99 and is available via Microsoft’s website and stores in addition to a number of retailers including Best Buy, Target, and Amazon. Best Buy current is selling the Band 2 for $200.
Fossil Q Grant
This year Fossil got involved in wearable devices in a BIG way. The company in one fell swoop introduced a smartwatch, 2 fitness tracking bracelets, and a traditional watch with fitness tracking abilities. Called the Fossil Q Grant, it is this final device that piques our interest the most. The wearable is based on the watchmaker’s Grant timepiece and looks exactly like a traditional 44mm watch. The only exception are two small multicolor LEDs on either side of the watch. When you receive a notification, the watch will lightly vibrate and the LED lights will illuminate. From the companion app you can fully customize notification settings, including what notifications are passed through and what color the LEDs utilize for different types of notifications. Speaking of the companion app, this is the place to head to monitor your activity throughout the day. Hidden beneath the watch face are all of the sensors needed to track how much you move in a given day and communicate it back to your mobile device.
The Q Grant is available in 4 finishes for between $175 and $195 and is available directly from Fossil, high end department stores, and Amazon.
Misfit Shine 2
Misfit continues to crank out some of the most stylish and discreet activity trackers on the market. The new Shine 2 builds upon Misfit’s flagship tracker by making it thinner, smarter, and more connected. The first thing you will notice about the Shine 2 is that it is slightly larger but thinner (at a lean 8mm) than the original. This is an amazing feat considering all the new tech inside the device. One of the ways Misfit was able to slim the wearable was by eliminating the original’s physical button and replacing it with a capacitive surface. Using the same Link software as the Misfit Flash, you simply tap on the Shine 2’s surface to trigger events such as changing tracks on your music player or taking a picture with your phone’s camera. From a user’s perspective probably the biggest update is ability to receive notifications. The white LEDs on the original Shine have been updated to 12 multicolor pinpoint size LEDs and the device now features the ability to vibrate. Using the Misfit app, you can customize how the device alerts you to different incoming notifications. Finally, as if those weren’t enough improvement, the company also upgrade the Shine 2’s fitness tracking hardware. Misfit added a 3-axis magnetometer to work with the 3-axis accelerometer to provide more accurate tracking of both movement and sleep. Despite all of these improvements, including notifications, Misfit was able to maintain the estimated 6 month battery life and 50m water resistance! While we love the improvements to the device it is worth noting that when we looked at the Misfit Flash and Link app earlier this year, we were not super impressed with Misfit’s apps and that little tracker loves to pop out of it’s strap / clip.
The Misfit Shine 2 is available in black and rose gold for $99. It is sold via Misfit’s website and Amazon.
Who says an activity tracker can’t be stylish or feminine? The Bellabeat Leaf is a striking wearable designed for women. The device feels more warm and inviting than cold and techie thanks to the use of natural wood combined with either stainless steel or rose gold plated stainless. The oval shaped Leaf activity tracker features a clip designed to look like a leaf. This metal “leaf” enables it to be worn as a bracelet, a necklace, or clipped to your clothing. The device automatically tracks your daily activity, workouts, and sleep patterns. Using the app, you can set the Leaf to vibrate for alarms or to alert you to move around. It also has a few more targeted features you won’t find with other devices; the app features breathing exercises to help you stay stress free (it monitors the rise and fall of your chest to detect stress), a period tracker, and a pill reminder. Similar to the Misfit devices, the Leaf features a 6 month battery life via a replaceable watch battery. It is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.
The Bellabeat Leaf is available in ashwood and stainless for $119 or Black wood and rose gold for $150. Currently Bellabeat is running a 10% off promotion and is including the necklace and bracelet with your purchase.
Garmin’s Vivofit line of activity trackers have proved to be extremely popular. Perhaps it had to do with a large marketing push last year, a very reasonable price point, or a year long battery life for the original Vivofit. Whatever the case, the activity tracker has developed a large user group which is likely looking for a more serious device this holiday season. Hoping to appeal to that market, Garmin completely overhauled their mid-tier Vivosmart this year and the result is the incredibly compelling Vivosmart HR. The bracelet design and the odd narrow, textured screen of the original have been replaced with a more watch-like device that closely resembles the Vivofit 2. It has a 1″ x .42″ monochrome touch screen and a 5 day battery life. In addition to all of the standard activity / sleep tracking features you would expect, the device has added 24/7 heart rate monitoring via an optical sensor and the ability to automatically sense intense workouts. To add another layer to the Vivosmart’s activity tracking, the wearable has also added a barometer to sense changes in altitude from steps and hills. The Vivosmart devices have always had the ability to vibrate and display notifications but Garmin has made the device more “connected” by allowing you to do things such as control your music and find your misplaced phone. Feature versus feature, the Vivosmart HR is one of the most capable fitness trackers out there, especially at it’s price point.
Mi Band Pulse
We would qualify the Mi Band Pulse as a disruptor; the approximately $15 device has a feature list comparable to wearables that cost 10 times as much! It is the followup product to the Mi Band, which is responsible for catapulting Chinese company Xiaomi to be 3rd largest wearable tech firms in the world. In fact, earlier this year Xiaomi was responsible for selling a quarter of the world’s wearable devices (*based on Q1 2015 numbers). While it hasn’t been released in the US yet, the new Mi Band Pulse is available through online importers and eBay (though you likely will pay a premium for the time being). Why exactly is the bargain priced device so disruptive? Well, for the $15 list price you get activity and sleep tracking, notification / phone call alerts, and an optical heart rate sensor. This is a remarkably similar feature set to the Jawbone UP3, which lists for $180. When you add in that the Mi Band Pulse claims to have a 30 day battery life versus the UP3’s 7 days, there is no contest. For the past year we have been eyeing the screen-less fitness tracker market to begin a race towards the bottom from a price perspective. While we have aimed to shine a light on devices in that 10% outside of the mean, about 90% of the fitness trackers on the market have identical features and, other than design, there is very little to distinguish one product from the next. While we don’t think you should hold off your purchase for a year, we believe the Mi Band Pulse represents the start of this price decline and we are excited to see what your dollar can get next holiday season!