Whether you're looking to count your daily steps, keep track of your sleep habits or see how many calories you burn in a workout, a slew of new devices aims to offer everyone from athletes to average Joe's more insight into the details of their lives. These gadgets, called fitness trackers, have increased in popularity in recent years, and are showing no signs of slowing down. The devices often work together with smartphone apps and websites to help you view your activity, set health goals, share your achievements with friends, and sometimes provide extra motivation to get off the couch.
Live Science reporters have tested many of these fitness trackers, and ranked each in four categories — Design/Comfort, User-Friendliness, Value of Information and Enjoyment/Inspiration. We've reviewed them, and can give you a look at the pros and cons of each device, as well as how it stacks up against the competition.
Choosing the right fitness tracker depends on may factors, including the seriousness with which you approach fitness, exactly what you want to track, how much you want to spend and how discrete or flashy you want the device on your wrist to be.
Below is the overall star rating for all the devices we've reviewed, along with summaries of our reviews to help you pick the right one for your lifestyle.
The Basis Band, Carbon Steel Edition is an activity tracker that's marketed to help busy people incorporate fitness into their every day lives. Basis is designed like a watch, and a distinguishing feature of the device is that it includes a heart rate monitor. Users earn points for each "habit" or goal they complete, which provides motivation to continue using the device. The Carbon Steel sports a sleek look and a soft strap. However, the device is rather bulky, and occasionally got stuck in clothes. And although you don't need to put the device into sleep mode, we found that it made errors in determining when you are asleep. BUY the Basis Carbon Steel Edition >>>
The Pulse O2 is the latest fitness tracker from Withings, and is marketed as a way to track daily activity and improve health. It tracks steps taken, elevation changes, distance walked, calories burned, heart rate and sleep, and is the first fitness tracker to measure blood oxygen levels. You can wear the device on either a belt clip or a wristband, and a touch screen make it fun to use. The accompanying app also allows you to set reminders to engage in healthy behaviors. However, the device is not intended to check heart rate during exercise. And the blood oxygen level measurements seem unnecessary for most people. BUY the Withings Pulse O2 >>>
The Garmin Vivofit ranks among several devices that we gave 14 stars. This fitness tracker is marketed as a device that can help you turn your daily exercise into healthy, lifelong habits. In addition to logging the standard fitness-tracker data — including steps taken, calories burned, distance walked and sleep — the Vivofit assigns you a personalized fitness goal, which adjusts itself daily, as the device learns your habits and milestones. We experienced some issues syncing the device to a computer and phone, but the Vivofit's one-year battery life definitely sets it apart from other fitness trackers currently on the market. BUY Garmin Vivofit>>>
The Fitbit One, at $99.95, is in the mid-level price range for fitness trackers, and it tracks all the basic metrics, including sleep, steps taken, distance walked and calories burned, and also tracks the number of floors you climb. We gave the One high scores for its small size, the way it lets you connect with friends, the alarm that you can set, the inclusion of a wireless dongle to sync with your computer and a lower price than trackers such as the Garmin Vivofit. It does lack certain features found in higher-priced fitness trackers, such as the ability to track cycling, a capability of the Basis Carbon Steel Edition. Also, the One's sleep graph is somewhat difficult to navigate (and the device tends to count "steps" while you're asleep). BUY the Fitbit One >>>
The Fitbit Flex wristband ranked highly in comfort and design. The tracker's soft, rubbery band is comfortable and easy on the eyes. We found it among the most inspiring and enjoyable of the fitness devices we've reviewed, in part because the wirelessly connected app provides a lot of data to allow you to work toward your goals and monitor your progress. Although it can be a little clunky to use, the Flex does a good job motivating you with goals for daily distance and activity time. Note that another well known fitness tracker from the company, the Fitbit Force, was recalled in February 2014 after users experienced allergic reactions to the nickel in the device. BUY the Fitbit Flex >>>
The Orb is a fitness tracker that tracks your steps taken, distanced traveled, calories burned and sleep. The main selling point of the Orb is its price: At $49.95, it's about half the price of the Fitbit Flex and the Polar Loop. There are also more ways to wear the Orb than many other trackers on the market. Emails and notifications offer tips from the company, U.K.-based Fitbug, to provide you with meaning behind the information it tracks, as well as suggestions for improving your health. However, the wristband lacks a screen interface, and requires you to put the battery in yourself. The battery needs replacing every four to six months. BUY the Fitbug Orb >>>
The Fitbit Zip is an economical fitness tracker, priced at just $59.95. This basic device tracks steps taken, calories burned and distances walked, but does not track sleep time or stairs climbed, nor does its screen light up. Through its app, the Zip provides a fair amount of motivation to get you moving. Buy the FitBit Zip >>>
The Polar Loop is one of few fitness trackers on the market that is truly waterproof, allowing users to track activity while swimming laps. (The other is the Misfit Shine.) We found the Loop to be very comfortable (when you first get it, you cut the band so it fits your wrist), easy to use and simple to sync up with the iPhone app and computer software. The biggest drawback we found is the button used to display the time and activity data, which is small and sits low in the band, making it difficult to push. Although the Loop measures the basics of sleep time, steps taken, activity time and levels, and calories burned, it does not give you any details on sleep quality, nor does it let you input calories eaten. BUY the Polar Loop >>>
The Jawbone UP24, a newer version of the original Jawbone UP, stands out from other fitness trackers in that it provides useful data on several aspects of your daily routine, it's easy to operate and it allows you to scan food barcodes. Depending on your style, you might find the UP24 among the more fashionable tracker wristbands. However, for those who like to check their information without having to access their phone, the UP24 may not be for you, as it doesn't have a screen. In addition, frequent swimmers and people who live or work near water may want to look for a water-resistant tracker like the Misfit Shine or Polar Loop. BUY the Jawbone UP24 >>>
The Nike FuelBand SE is an update to the original version of the FuelBand, and includes a few new features, including the ability to set reminders to move. You can also create "sessions," which let you track the Fuel points you earn during a specific activity, like an afternoon run, as well as the duration of the activity. But the device provides little information about how much activity you need to be healthy, and does not provide sleep analysis. BUY the Nike Fuelband >>>
The Runtastic Orbit is a fitness tracker that monitors both daily activity (steps, calories and distance) as well as your sleep habits. At about $120, the Orbit is in the mid-level price range for fitness trackers. The Orbit has a few advantages compared to many other fitness trackers, including that you can set the device to vibrate to alert you if you’ve been sitting still for too long, and it’s waterproof, so you can wear it swimming. However, in our experience, the Orbit came up short in several areas. The device and accompanying app provide little information about what your statistics mean. (For example, there is no information about how much activity you need in a day to be healthy.) And although the device claims to track happiness and ambient lighting, these features appear to be in a primitive form, and there was no information on how to use these features. But if you are a user of other Runtastic products, you may find the device useful, because it can pair with the general Runtastic app, which tracks workouts. BUY the Runtastic Orbit >>>
The Samsung Gear Fit is not just a fitness tracker, or a smartwatch — it's both. The device stands out for its sleek design and interactive display, and the ability to receive notifications on the device itself. However, its user-friendliness could use some improvement. You'll need three apps to manage the device, including a separate app just to look at a lot of your sleep data. The Gear Fit also shares some features with Samsung's latest smartphone, the Galaxy S5. Both devices have a heart rate monitor and pedometer, which can lead to some confusion. For example, you have to change your settings if you want the phone to use pedometer information from the Gear Fit, rather than from the phone itself. BUY the Gear Fit >>>
Other Fitness Trackers Reviewed:
Basis B1 (Full Review): 16 of 20 stars
Withings Pulse (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
Jawbone Up (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
Nike FuelBand (Full Review): 12 of 20 stars
Misfit Shine (Full Review): 11 of 20 stars
Bowflex Boost (Full Review): 10 of 20 stars
Live Science writers and editors Rob Britt, Jeanna Bryner, Denise Chow, Bahar Gholipour, Tia Ghose, Miriam Kramer and Karen Rowan contributed reporting to this article.