If you’re an iPhone user looking for a wearable to track your health and fitness, you don’t have to limit yourself to the Apple Watch. Not only is Apple not the only wearable in town — it’s not necessarily one of the best. Several iOS-compatible fitness trackers and smartwatches have hit the market, many of which are far more budget-friendly than Apple’s offering.
The Fitbit Charge HR is one of the most comprehensive and best-priced fitness tracking bands available. With its sleek rubber band and small OLED display, it’s almost a dead ringer for the slightly cheaper Fitbit Charge and the now defunct Fitbit Force. The main style difference is a watch-like strap, which gives the Charge HR a sturdier, less-likely-to-slip-off-your-wrist feel.
This is a tracker for the real world — the one where you not only work out, but also sleep, eat, and want to keep tabs on your heart rate while you do everything. To an already impressive list of features (such as steps and miles walked, calories burned, floors climbed, exercise intensity, sleep tracking, and food log), the Charge HR adds continuous, 24-hour heart-rate tracking for only a few dollars more than the cost of the standard Fitbit Charge. The only downside is the technology may detract from the comfort. To get a good heart-rate reading, you have to wear the band higher on your arm than a typical band or watch — a position that can feel awkward at first. And the two little bumps on the underside that track your pulse will dig into your skin if you tighten the band too much.
The Charge HR pairs easily with your iPhone or Mac (it also works with Windows and Android). Once you slip it on, it will track your peak and average heart rate in any given activity session and compare it to past readings. Just be warned that a high-intensity workout can reduce its accuracy. Also, there’s no quick-glance feature. If you want to see your heart rate, steps, and other readings while jogging on the treadmill, you’ll have to tap the side button. For fitness tracking over time, the app offers a one-page view where you can simultaneously scan calories burned, steps taken, heart rate, and other measures.
The Fitbit Charge HR isn’t waterproof, so no swimming with it, but it does offer five days of battery life. There’s also a caller ID feature, so if someone rings in the middle of spin class, the band buzzes and the caller’s name appears on the screen, letting you know whether they’re worthy of interrupting your workout.
Proving you don’t need to spend a fortune to take advantage of the latest wearable fitness tracking technology, the Misfit Wearables Flash offers many of the same features as its competitors, but for half the cost or less. True, the Flash is made of plastic — not metal like some more expensive models — but its sleek design makes it feel a lot higher-end than its price would imply. This wearable is also fashion-forward, giving you the option of seven bold colors (including fuchsia, onyx, and teal if those are among your wardrobe hues).
The Flash is unquestionably versatile. If you don’t feel like wearing it on your wrist, pop out the center, slip on the clip, and attach it to your workout gear. The clip-on option is also sport-friendly. When cycling, you can attach it to your shoe for greater accuracy.
Not only is Flash waterproof down to 96 feet, but it can also track your swim (as well as your run, bike ride, basketball game, and tennis match — did we mention it’s versatile?). No matter what your sport of choice, you can keep up with friends and share your goals and progress via Facebook. (Knowing your neighbor just outpaced you in the mile can be a real motivator.)
One downside is the lack of a display. Want to know how close you are to your daily fitness goal? You’ll have to count the red lights around the dial. If six of the 12 lights illuminate, you’re halfway there.
To track your fitness or sleep, you’ll have to use the Misfit app to sync the data to your iPhone or iPad (it won’t work with your computer — only mobile devices). Then you’ll get a daily summary of your exercise, calories, burned, and sleep. The chart provided is pretty simplistic, with few details to give meaning to your workouts. You’ll need outside apps like RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, LoseIt!, or Apple Health for a deeper analysis of your workouts and weight loss. Sleep tracking is also somewhat thin. Like the pricier Fitbit Charge HR, Flash automatically tracks the number of hours you’ve slept and whether they were restful, but doesn’t explain what that means to you. Bottom line: Misfit Flash is a good entry-level option, but true fitness enthusiasts might want to spend extra on a higher-end model to get more functionality.
Garmin’s Vivoactive is part smartwatch, part exercise band. Like any good hybrid, it combines the best features of both. Vivoactive doesn’t just track your steps and calories. It also uses GPS to chart your speed and distance; logs your sleep at night and wakes you up in the morning; and alerts you to incoming texts, calls, and emails on your synced-up iOS device.
This wearable isn’t likely to wow your friends — the large, boxy face is more reminiscent of your dad’s old Timex watch than more visually dynamic models like the Misfit Flash. But what Vivoactive lacks in looks it more than makes up for in convenience and comfort. It’s surprisingly light and thin. Apps for running, biking, swimming, golfing, and walking come pre-installed. Its Garmin Connect platform offers a high level of detail when tracking your activities. And though the Vivoactive alone won’t monitor your heart rate, you can pair it with a chest strap monitor. One of the most amazing features of this tracker is the battery life — which can reach three weeks.
Few activity trackers travel from gym to boardroom to dinner party as effortlessly as the Withings Activite Pop. In appearance it leans toward wristwatch, but one that can count your steps and track your sleep while accenting your outfit. This model isn’t quite as high–end as the Withings Activite — the band is silicone, not calf-leather, and the case is PVD-coated steel rather than polished steel. But it’s hard to complain because Pop also is about a third of the price — and it’s water-resistant.
The Pop will sync seamlessly with your iPhone via Bluetooth, though it sometimes stumbles when trying to store data if you haven’t synced up in a few days. Once you’ve set up the accompanying Withings Health Mate app on your phone, it will automatically track your steps, sleep, and other health measures. The resulting feed isn’t in-depth, but it is useful and easy to read. And, you’ll get in eight months’ worth of walks and runs before the button-cell battery needs changing.
Jawbone’s second go at the UP2 model has fixed many of the previous incarnation’s issues — including the band, which is much more streamlined, comfortable, and likely to stay on your arm. This band is so thin you’ll barely know you’re wearing it. The downside of an inconspicuous band is the lack of a display, which means you’ll have to pull out your phone whenever you want to track your progress.
One of Jawbone’s best features is its software, which is among the best in its breed. It handles all the fitness basics — counting steps, calories, and distance — automatically. You can also keep tabs on your diet and mood. UP2 tracks sleep, too, and its Smart Alarm will wake you up at the ideal part of your cycle to limit morning grumpiness. In addition to its own Jawbone Up mobile app, you can team it with third-party apps like MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Nest for deeper functionality.
December 08, 2015