Fine. You didn’t buy a smartwatch. You were never going to anyway. Meet the fitness tracker: a less expensive, more immediately useful tech product that might actually help get your lazy self in shape. Designed to gamify your daily exercise routines, fitness trackers make people do funny, crazy things, like going to sleep at the same minute every night, or taking the long route to the bathroom, just to get in another 20 steps. But hurry! You’ve got two more weeks until all that New Year’s resolution spirit turns into another pack of peanut M&Ms.
What to Look For
You could spend hours comparing every single feature in the 20+ fitness trackers on the market (and actually, we’ve done that), but for most people, just keep the following three things in mind:
1) Get Something that Looks and Feels Good
No matter how impressively a given tracker detects sleep quality or measures calories, you’ll be miserable if you buy something you don’t like to wear. Pay attention to design, and consider spending a bit more for a device that’s elegant and low-profile. Before you buy a chest strap fitness tracker, think hard about whether you want to feel like you’re wearing an Elizabeth Swann corset for 5+ hours every day.
2) Get Something that Syncs Automatically
Fitness trackers work best when they sync automatically. You want to be able to throw on your strap, clip, or bracelet, then casually check stats at your leisure, as opposed to some sort of ritualistic, 5 o’clock rite where you plug in your USB cord and wait to see how far that last piece of chocolate cake set you back. Remember: set it and forget it.
Unfortunately, syncing processes for fitness trackers vary. Procedures range from fully manual, 10-minute syncing ceremonies to 20-second manual updating to seamless, cloud-based tracking. As such, we’ve included an Ease of Syncing score (out of 5), which takes all the various factors into account. As a general rule, don’t buy anything with an Ease of Syncing score lower than 3.
3) Get Something that Works with Your Device(s)
Before you make the final purchase, double-check that your tracker of choice is compatible with your personal phone, tablet, or computer. Not every product works with every device: some work only with a specific list of mobile phones, while others are designed solely for syncing with a desktop computer.
With that in mind, let’s rank (almost) every fitness tracker on the market, from worst to first.
Out of Shape
26. Polar Electro Wearlink + Transmitter with Bluetooth
25. Under Armour Armour39
24. Sigma Sport R1
23. Scosche Rhythm
22. Adidas Pacer Bundle
Like that yoga video you bought and never watched, good intentions don’t always lead to results. With few features and limited tracking capabilities, these products simply can’t compete with their more functional counterparts. Yes, the $50 Adidas Pacer Bundle boasts a low price tag, but with manual syncing and a 1-day battery, you’ll be much better off with something a little pricier. Besides, you can make up the difference by selling that yoga video on eBay.
First Day at the Gym
21. Polar Electro H7
20. Polar Electro H6
19. Polar Electro Stride Sensor
18. Iqua Beat
Organized, determined, and full of enthusiasm, these trackers have a lot of potential—but today’s versions just aren’t quite ready to compete. They have acceptable syncing capabilities, basic tracking, and even an advanced feature or two, like GPS and goal setting. Still, think of these trackers like overzealous graduates from an Ivy League university: they still needs a few years to turn those smarts into tangible skills.
A Little Pudgy
16. Fitbit Zip
14. SYNC Burn
You’re not sure whether to feel bad for, or inspired by, these trackers. At times, they seem like excellent products, with a healthy mix of tracking modes, additional features, and acceptable syncing capabilities. Still, all four have a little baby fat that needs to be worked out. The BodyMedia FIT Link costs about $20 too much, and doesn’t sync as well as most alternatives. The Fitbit Zip provides a nice lightweight option, but its bigger brother—the Fitbit One—offers much more for a small increase in cost and weight. The LifeTrack Move and SYNC Burn provide standard functionality, but little else out of the box. Take a quiet pass on these trackers, but don’t discourage them—they just need a little more time and some positive reinforcement.
13. Jawbone Up24
12. BodyMedia FIT Core
11. Striiv Play
10. Nike Fuelband
9. Nike Fuelband SE
Every recovering couch potato remembers the day he was no longer embarrassed to go to the gym. Sure, he wasn’t ripped like the guy at the door, and granted, he hadn’t fully worked out the belly flab, but for once, he could walk through the facility doors with pride: he was officially “in shape.” These fitness trackers are that guy. With better potential, however, comes higher expectations. Experts ding the Nike Fuelband and Striiv Play for their underwhelming feature sets, while some criticize the BodyMedia FIT Core for its gaudy design. The Nike Fuelband SE and Jawbone Up24 both receive praise for their sleek designs, but experts conclude that the price (~$160) is ultimately too high for these good-but-not-great trackers. Save your money and buy a bag of veggie chips.
8. Jawbone UP
7. Lark Life
6. Fitbit Flex
5. Withings Pulse
Now we arrive at the serious trackers. Like gym rats themselves, they don’t accept compromise. Just as a stray donut might throw off the professional trainer, so too will a missing feature or bad user interface ruin an otherwise excellent fitness device, and these trackers know it. Experts praise all four devices for their combination of basic tracking and advanced features, each of which provides special reports, such as sleep time or sleep quality. As in fitness, however, getting the last 10% right is just as tough as nailing the first 90%. Experts dock the Lark Life and Withings Pulse for a few design shortcomings (neither are as sleek as a Fitbit product), while the Jawbone UP’s limited syncing capabilities detract from an otherwise standout device. Finally, the once-chiseled Fitbit Flex has begun to show its age next to its younger, more agile brother, the Fitbit Force.
4. Misfit Wearables Shine
3. Basis B1
2. Fitbit One
1. Fitbit Force
Olympic athletes among casual competitors, each of these trackers does at least one thing better than any other product on the market. The Misfit Wearables Shine boasts the most elegant design of the lot, with sharp minimalist sensibilities and a simple radial interface. It’s also versatile: clip it onto any piece of clothing or simply snap it onto your wrist. Meanwhile, the Basis B1 comes packed with dozens of features, sports advanced auto-detection, all while identifying patterns and trends in your workout. It’s a tracker made by tech geeks for tech geeks. Then there’s the Fitbit One: the most size-efficient product on the list. Weighing a mere 8 grams, the tracker sports more options and better syncing than alternatives four times its weight. Finally, the Fitbit Force earns top honors for doing just about everything well. With a slick, OLED display, the streamlined Fitbit design, a broad set of features, and fully-automated syncing (at least with Apple and Samsung’s recent phones), you can’t do any better than the Fitbit Force.
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.
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