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Review of the Best Pedometer Apps and Sleep & Activity Trackers - also for iPhone

Updated on December 29, 2015
Tracking your activities motivates you!
Tracking your activities motivates you! | Source

What does an Activity Tracker do for you?

Why you should consider a mobile activity tracker, you ask?
Here is why: Our modern style lives became a more and more sedentary one. More and more people work in offices, sitting at a desk, very likely at a computer. Just like you! Yes, I assume you are sitting in front of a computer as you read this review.
We all know that we "should" be more active, right? And most of us even want to change, to be more active again. But old habits die hard. In the beginning we are highly motivated. We really want to do something. But just like new year resolutions, we end up most of the times doing what we did before: close to nothing.
What we need is a private assistant, that reminds us again and again to our goals and the progress we have so far.
And here comes an Activity Tracker into the game. This is exactly what a device like this does.You wear it somehow on your body - I get to that in a bit - and then it tracks several information like:

  • Steps you have taken,
  • Flight of stairs you have taken,
  • Calories you have burned,
  • How long you slept and how well and so on.


Tracking apps for iPhone

There are quite some apps out on the App Store that track steps for you, when you let them run in the background.

Therefor I will just point out the two of them which I tried longer than just a few days.

"Moves" is free and one of the first ones - and the developer is always improving it. It tracks your steps, miles & calories and has a connection to Foursquare. That way it can remember where you have been and show you on a map. As it is not always precise, you need to check it daily and correct wrong guesses by hand.

The second app is actually "FitBit"! Yes, Fitbit has amended their free app by reading the data from the iPhone 5S/6/6 plus M7/8 co-processor. This way you can get a free glimpse of how it feels to collect sport/health data. And since the iPhone 6/6 plus you don't miss out floors anymore... Actually a few! While my external tracker recognise each and every floor like clockwork, the iPhone "sees" only every other floor. And - still - when you put the iPhone aside, it can't get your movements, but that’s obvious.

With IOS8 Apple released "Health". The first companies started pushing their data to Apple Health, but not all do yet. I think this is a very interesting concept, which will bring a much better integration of all this different offers on the market. In the end you will find also the activity data from external trackers in this central database, from which it can be read by other apps again.


There are Smartphone Apps, can't I use them?

Of course you can! And an App is definitely much cheaper then an extra device. You just need to bear some specialities in mind, when using a Smartphone App:

  1. Accuracy
    A Smartphone App will use the Gyro-meter and/or the GPS Chip of your phone to be able to tell that you moved.
    This Gyro-Meter was meant to determine whether the phone is in portrait or landscape mode and turn the screen accordingly. It is not so precise in measuring your steps. The GPS is easily distracted by walls, when you are inside a building or even on the street by the surrounding houses.

    Update: Since the Version 5s Apple iPhone carries a new co-processor called M7/8, which can measure your steps much more precise now.

  2. Battery life
    You may already know that especially the GPS chip needs a lot of energy. Keeping an activity tracking app running all day long will drain your battery seriously, likely before the end of the day.

    Update: According to Apple the new M7/8 co-processors in the new iPhone 5s/6/6 plus does require a lot less energy than any of the former methods. Having now an iPhone 6, I can confirm that. While this makes step tracking with smartphone more interesting, the next point is still valid. Now I can see this first hand: between 20-30% of my steps are missing on the smartphone, while my external tracker gets all my steps.

  3. Man-carried
    It should be obvious that the app/smartphone can only track your movements, when you carry it with you. Every time you put it down, let it in your bag/backpack, it doesn't know what you are doing.


Dedicated Devices

In opposite to an app on your smartphone, you need to sync such a device in order to process the collected information somehow.But I think it is quite clear that a dedicated device has advantages over an app:

  1. Accuracy
    The device is especially made for this single task. That means it is much more precise. That being said, it is not perfect, but it comes very close.
    Update: I realised now that the iPhone 6 can't measure flights of stairs as good as an external tracker. The error rate is close to 50%!

  2. Battery life
    The battery of such a device last usually several days or longer, before you need to recharge it.

  3. Always with you
    It is much less likely that you let the device somewhere, you'll have it with you.


Which Types Of Activity Trackers are out there?

Every day a new device comes onto the market. It is impossible to keep track of all of them. Nevertheless it looks like there are to types or let's say styles of trackers establishing:

  1. Bracelets
    That are devices you wear on your wrist like a watch.

  2. Clips
    The second kind come in form of a clip you can put on your belt or trousers or bra.


Tracker models

In this section I will name some of the models that are fighting for your attention and compare there capabilities in the most important areas.


Comparison table

(click column header to sort results)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
 
iPhone 5s/6/6 plus M7/8 co-processor
Fitbit One
Fitbit Zip
Fitbit Flex
FitBit Force
Jawbone Up
Nike Fuel
Withering Pulse
MisFit Shine
Type
built-in
Clip
Clip
Wrist
Wrist
Wrist
Wrist
Clip
Clip or Wrist
Display
NO
X
X
NO, LED
X
NO
X
X
NO, LED
Steps
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Distance
depends on app
X
X
X
X
X
NO
X
X
Floors/ Hight
5s:NO / 6 & 6 plus: YES
Floors
NO
NO
Floors
NO
NO
Hight
NO
Activity meter
depends on app
X
X
X
X
NO
X
NO
NO
Time
n/a
X
X
NO
X
NO
X
NO
X
Calories
depends on app
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Heart rate
NO
NO
NO
NO
NO
NO
NO
X
NO
Sleep
NO
X
NO
X
X
X
NO
X
X
Smart Alarm
NO
X
NO
X
X
X
NO
NO
NO
Battery life
ca. 1 day
2 weeks
4-6 months
5 days
2 weeks
10 days
7 days
2 weeks
4 months
Syncing
n/a
Phone/ Comp
Phone/ Comp
Phone/ Comp
Phone/ Comp
Phone
Phone/ Comp
Phone
Phone
Connectivity
n/a
BT 4.0
BT 4.0
BT 4.0
BT 4.0
Head- phone Jack
USB/ BT
BT 4.0
BT
Apps
iPhone
iPhone/ Android
iPhone/ Android
iPhone/ Android
iPhone/ Android
iPhone/ Android
iPhone
iPhone/ Android
iPhone
Online Dashboard
NO
X
X
X
X
-
X
NO
NO
Inter- connect with other Apps
X
X
X
X
X
X
n/a
n/a
n/a
Price
comes with iPhone 5s/6/6 plus
100
80
100
130
130
150
100
120
BT = Bluetooth; Comp = Computer; n/a = not applicable

Verdict

In the following paragraphs, I will give some thoughts on the different models and what sets them apart.

This way you might find the model that fits your needs the best.

We are no quitters, but after receiving 8 defective Up Wristbands from Jawbone, it was time to look somewhere else
We are no quitters, but after receiving 8 defective Up Wristbands from Jawbone, it was time to look somewhere else | Source

Jawbone Up

The Up was the first of all Activity Trackers and I was fascinated by the idea of such a tracker and bought it immediately. You may have heard about their production problems. Long story short, Jawbone send me 8 different devices over time - none of them worked longer then 2 weeks. Now an enhanced model is out. I do not know whether this is working better, but in my trial phase I realized that wearing a tracker around my wrist is not the best possible way. It always interfered with my shirts and jackets. I found it quite uncomfortable and - depending on the color you have chosen - it is not really business compatible. Furthermore it lacks a display. If you want to know where you are with your movements, you had to sync it in the most uncomfortable way via the headphone jack on your phone. Believe me, you don't do that very often after the "new period" is over.

iPhone M co-processor (since 5s)

Obviously you need to own an iPhone 5s/6/6 plus in order to utilize the M7/8 co-processor. The concept is very interesting and opens up a completely new world of apps that can read out the data collected by the M7/8 and display it in various ways on the phone. Two things you should keep in mind tough, is that you need to carry your iPhone with you at all times and keep charging it every day. If you leave it behind or the battery is dead, no steps are counted and you end up with gaps in your records.
As of now I am not sure whether the M7/8 will make external trackers obsolete over time or will be an interesting amendment for different use cases.

Nike Fuel

I believe the Nike was the second tracker that came out. It mimics the Up in many ways, but it has a display. Which makes it better in that way, but it is considerable more expensive.

Fitbit Flex

The new Flex from Fitbit targets all this kind of customers that prefer to wear their tracker on the wrist. It comes in two sizes and in the colours "Black" or "Slate".

Otherwise it is very much like the Fitbit One and that is a good thing!

FitBit Force

Update:

It seems that FitBit is really listening to their customers. While the FitBit Flex is serving those who want to wear their tracker on the wrist, it is still lacking the helpful and motivating display. This demand is meet with the FitBit Force. It delivers everything the Flex offers and adds the display.

Update 2:

Unfortunately there were some complains regarding skin irritation. Fitbit pulled the Force from the market for the time being. You either wait for them to fix the problem or go for the "Flex" or the "One".

MisFit Shine

What a beauty! I am sucker for great design and this thing is just a marvel. Depending on the accessory you decide how you want to wear it: Band or Clip. It just lacks quite some of the features of the rest of the devices. If you don't need these functions, you could go for the Apple-like Shine. It syncs exclusively with Apple anyway.

Withering Pulse

Hmm, that's also an interesting new-comer.

The feature set is very impressive and it is the only one with a Heart rate monitor. If you don't need the time, Activity meter, Smart Alarm and an Online Dashboard - which the Fitbit has, then this can be your tracker of choice.

Fitbit Zip

If you don't need sleep tracking, Smart Alarm and Floors, then this might be the choice for you, if you are between the One and the Zip.

It's cheaper and the battery last much longer. But you need to buy new batteries tough. You can't charge it.

FitBit One

Before the Pulse came along, this was the device with the most features. And that's the one I got after my adventure with the Up from Jawbone. I am very happy with it. It's small, almost invisible, the battery lasts longer than advertised and the syncing is seamless. Either you are close to your computer and it syncs automatically (no plugging, no button to press, nothing) or it does it from time to time - again automatically - with your phone. Something I really appreciate is the high integration with a myriad of other apps on the phone and services over the internet.

Coming back to the beginning where I talked about the "private assistant" that shall remind you of your goals and where you are standing right now, I can report that the "Fitbit family" of device, apps and services perfectly interweaves and comes back to you in form of notifications and weekly summaries. You can even compare your results with friends which turns out to be another motivator to do more. Just like all the badges you receive for accomplishing a goal.


Update: The last firmware update promised an extended battery life. Boy what an understatement!
They almost doubled the already good period between charges. Now this is what I call customer service - a long time after the purchase!

It brings almost a new problem with it: As the battery now last roughly two weeks, you tend to forget to charge it altogether. But as I said it's "almost" a problem. There is this nice - and free - service called "Fitbit Notify" (link) that is able to read the battery status of your Fitbit and sends you an email just in time to remind you to charge it.


In my opinion the Fitbit One is the best tracker your money can get for you!


Get your FitBit One here or if you prefer to wear your tracker on your wrist check out the FitBit Flex.

Bonus tip

People love their Fitbits, but some tend to loose them.

That is a problem I had to face myself. Fortunately I found a simple solution.

Watch the short video clip below, where I show how to wear your Fitbit in order to prevent loosing it.

Your favorite Activity Tracker

Which model do you prefer?

See results

© 2013 TheAndy

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    • profile image

      katherineweiss 3 years ago

      Thank you for this posting, I am frustrated with my up band and not sure what to do that will work. I loved the Fitbit, but lost 3, didn't like the Fuel and Flex, nor now the Up band. I just want something simple and that works daily!

    • TheAndy profile image
      Author

      TheAndy 3 years ago from Germany

      Katherine,

      I absolutely understand what you are saying! I liked the idea of the Up band a lot, but syncing it via the audio port, manually, every time, just to see some data, plainly sucked. And it disturbed me when I was wearing a jumper or a suit.

      I am absolutely happy with the Fitbit One. None of the issues of the Up. I think it is still the best tracker out there. Period.

      About losing your tracker:

      Here is a little trick I use to prevent losing my FitBit One. Just clip it on your clothes with the tracker "inside" the pocket! This has one big advantage. You do not move or un-clip it accidentally when moving around with your arms and hands as only the very small and flat part looks out of your pocket. Try it. It works. My wife looses stuff all the time, but not her FitBit, since she uses this little trick.

    • profile image

      Michael 3 years ago

      Have you heard if any device that notifies you during the day if you have not met sub-goals? My problem is all these devices do is remind me at the end of the day that I forgot to get up and walk around during the day.

      There is one that reminds you if you haven't moved for an extended period of time but it isn't based on steps - getting up and going to the water fountain and back resets it. I want it to bark at me every hour if I haven't done 100 steps or whatever.

    • TheAndy profile image
      Author

      TheAndy 3 years ago from Germany

      Hi Michael,

      you are talking about the Jawbone Up, which vibrates when you haven't move a "certain" amount of time. But you are right this is not based on any set goal or even sub-goals (never heard of an implementation of a sub-goal, though).

      Knowing a little about human behavior, I am not sure whether a "constant barking device" really would make you move more consistently during the day. If you are an office dweller like me, have to attend a lot of meetings, you can't just get up and walk away whenever you want. What I try to say is that any device that "reminds" you too often to move, starts getting on your nerves very quickly and you end up deactivating such a feature.

      I found that the setting of daily goals and the reports you get from many of these devices is motivation already. Believe me, you don't want to see your achievements constantly below your goals. And when you use a comparison to somebody else - as I do via the Fitbit with my wife - you find many ways to move more.

      To your health,

      Andy

    • profile image

      Timos 2 years ago

      Thanks for the great review of the activity trackers. I have had my iPhone 5s for almost a year now and I really find the M7 pedometer in it to be very useful. I am not sure how accurate it is but I like to analyze my activity more in terms of when during the day I am active so I can focus on getting my 5 minutes of activity per hour done, and the M7 is really nice for that (except when I forget my phone at my desk). I use the Activity app from LogYourRun for visualizing my activity:

      https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/activity-by-logyou...

    • profile image

      Fitnesstracker24 17 months ago

      Great Hub! I also have a Fitbit One and will be ordering another one as a christmas present. And i do the same as TheAndy from and clip the One inside of the clothes so that it won't be able to lose it!

      Regards,

      Mark

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