A new breed of high-tech fitness trackers that measure everything from overall movement and exercise to diet and even sleep patterns are likely to be on a lot of gift wish lists this year. Whether meant to be worn on your waist, dropped in your pocket or strapped to your wrist, these gadgets work in concert with smartphone apps and websites to help you set goals, then motivate you to achieve them.
Our reporters used these fitness trackers for several days and ranked each in four categories — Design/Comfort, User-Friendliness, Value of Information and Enjoyment/Inspiration. Overall, we found them to provide compelling and motivational data, though in some cases the data was not as accurate as what could be obtained with gadgets geared to more specific tasks. As one example: A device on your wrist might give you some movement credit for turning the steering wheel while you drive, but it doesn't recognize any effort from pushups (unless it monitors heart rate).
That said, some of these next-generation fitness trackers just look cool, and overall we like them for their fashion-conscious, science-based usefulness. Your decision is likely to be affected by the seriousness with which you approach fitness, what exactly you want to keep track of, comfort level of the device and your fashion sense.
Below is the total star rating for each device and summaries of our reviews to help you pick the right one for your lifestyle.
Basis Carbon Steel Edition (Full Review): 16 of 20 stars
The Carbon Steel Edition of the Basis fitness tracker features several design changes from the original Basis tracker — the Carbon Steel sports a sleeker look and a softer strap, while still boasting the heart rate monitor feature and user-friendliness of the original. The newer tracker is touted for its enhanced sleep-analysis feature, however, we found the band still makes errors in determining when you are asleep. Still, this tracker comes in as one of our best-rated. BUY the Basis Carbon Steel Edition >>>
Basis B1 (Full Review): 16 of 20 stars
The Basis B1 Band is an activity tracker that's marketed to help busy people incorporate fitness into their every day lives. A distinguishing feature of the Basis is that it includes a heart rate monitor. The device is designed like a watch, and has a screen that shows users how they're doing "right now" in terms of their activity level. The devices' smartphone and web app displays data in interesting and fun ways. Users earn points for each "habit" or goal they complete, which provides motivation to continue using the device. However, the device is rather bulky, and occasionally got stuck in clothes. It also does not track information about calorie intake.
BUY the Basis B1 >>>
Fitbit Force (Full Review): 15 of 20 stars
Editor's Note: On Feb. 20, 2014, the Fitbit Force was recalled by the company because of users' reports of skin irritation. Fitbit will no longer sell the Force, and has set up a website for consumers seeking refunds and returns.
The Fitbit Force is an upgrade to the Fitbit Flex, with a higher price, of $129.95. This newer tracker displays your stats right on the band, rather than requiring you to use the smartphone app. The display also doubles as a watch. The tracker sends push notifications when you are nearing your goals, and has an altimeter, so it can record the number of stairs you climb. However, the Force is unusually difficult to put on your wrist, and lacks a heart-rate monitor — the sort of thing you might want in an ultimate fitness tracker. Still, with 15 out of 20 stars, it has earned our highest overall rating yet.
Fitbit One (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
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 stars 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 synch with your computer, and a lower price than trackers such as the Nike FuelBand. Even so, the One's sleep graph is somewhat difficult to navigate; the device tends to count "steps" while you're asleep; and it lacks certain features found in higher-priced fitness trackers, such as the ability to track cycling, a capability of the Basis Carbon Steel Edition.
BUY the Fitbit One >>>
Fitbit Flex (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
One well-known fitness tracker, Fitbit Flex tied for second place with another that's not so well known (below). The Fitbit Flex, worn as a wristband, ranked highly in comfort and design. Its soft, rubbery band is comfortable and nice on the eye. 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 against goals and monitor progress. If you choose to enter information about your food intake, the Fitbit Flex doubles as a calorie counter. While 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 the company recently released a more powerful (and more expensive) wristband, the Fitbit Force, reviewed above.
BUY the Fitbit Flex >>>
Withings Pulse (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
This lesser-known activity tracker, meant to attach to your belt or waistband, put in a pocket, or even attach to a wristband, excels at providing useful information. In addition to measuring distance or movement, as all devices in this category do, this one also monitors elevation changes, heart rate and sleep patterns. Using the device is relatively easy, though you may find yourself wondering what some of the data actually means. Competitors like the Jawbone Up and the Nike+ Fuelband do a better job at explaining the device's metrics. We also questioned the accuracy of the sleep data. Our research finds that activity trackers in general — not just this one —tend to overestimate sleep time. The Pulse has a good display, so you don't rely just on the app to see actual data.
BUY the Withings Pulse >>>
Fitbug Orb (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
The Orb is a recently released 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. 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, provide you with meaning behind the information it tracks, and offers tips to improve 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 Polar Loop (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
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 band very comfortable (as it is cut to fit 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. The tracker, while it does measure the basics of sleep time, steps taken, activity time and levels, and calories burned, does not give you any details on sleep quality, nor does it let you input calories eaten. BUY the Polar Loop >>>
Jawbone UP24 (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
The Jawbone UP24, a newer version of the original Jawbone UP (which we gave 13 out of 20 stars), stands out from other fitness trackers in that it provides useful data on several aspects of your daily routine; it's easy to work; and it allows you to scan food barcodes. Depending on your style, you might find the UP24 among the most fashionable of the other 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 Misfit Shine or Polar Loop.
Jawbone Up (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
Our big beef with this wristband was its bulk and lack of adjustability. Though perhaps considered fashionable by many, we found it's not the slimmest choice. The Jawbone Up also lacks Bluetooth capability, so you have to plug the band into your phone to synch with the app. And since the wristband doesn't have a screen, you can see the data only via the app. That said, the app itself works very well, and the combination scored well in user-friendliness. The tracker measures distance and sleep patterns, and we felt its data on movement to be slightly more accurate than the Fitbit Flex. Our reviewer notes, however, that some of this information is not as accurate as that provided by a dedicated pedometer or GPS tracking device.
Nike FuelBand (Full Review): 12 of 20 stars
This wristband is unlike the other activity trackers in that it calculates, from your movement, something called Fuel Points, which we found to be pretty subjective, but motivational nonetheless. Set a goal for, say, 2,000 points, achieve it, and the FuelBand lights up with a congratulatory message. We found this device easy to use and simple to synch up with the smartphone app and computer software. It's also one of the few devices on the market that doubles as a watch — handy since it's going to occupy space on your wrist. Ultimately, however, the data this tracker provides is limited (no sleep tracking, for example). And we have to call out the bulk: Anyone who types for a living may find it slightly obstructive.
BUY the Nike Fuelband >>>
Misfit Shine (Full Review): 11 of 20 stars
The Misfit Shine tracker can be worn anywhere on the body — in its wristband, pinned to a shirt, or as even a necklace — and unlike other activity trackers, it can be worn while swimming. The device is not chargeable, rather, it runs on a standard watch battery, which you have to replace only every few months. After a workout session, the Shine labels your level of activity -- either "pretty active," or "kinda active" -- but exactly how these terms are defined isn't clear. The Shine's sleek design sets it ahead of other trackers, but its bare bones smartphone app is less user-friendly than the apps of other trackers.
BUY the Misfit Shine >>>
Bowflex Boost (Full Review): 10 of 20 stars
This wristband gets points for its price point: At $49.99, it sells for about half the cost of most of its competitors. And the band is highly adjustable and very comfortable. But the device lacks a screen, and so relies on lights — red, yellow and green — to show your progress against goals. You must synch it with the app and use the app (available only for iPhone) to find any detail. A further limitation is that the Boost app doesn't keep track of daily historical data. It does provide weekly, monthly and yearly totals. And its lack of metrics makes it, in the end, not a very inspiring companion to your workouts or regular daily activity.
BUY Bowflex Boost >>>
Garmin Vivofit (Review coming soon)
With introduction of the vivofit, satellite navigation company Garmin is entering the fitness tracker foray. Set to become available early in 2014, the wristband will display for users their current progress in steps taken, total distance moved, and calories burned, as well as the time of day. The company's website says the vivofit's battery will need charging only once yearly, and the device will alert users to get moving when they've been inactive for too long. It will sync wirelessly with a smartphone, and while the device itself won't monitor heart rate, it is compatible with a heart rate monitor. Our full review of the vivovit is coming soon, but in the meantime, check out what our sister site Tom's Guide had to say about it. The vivofit will cost $129.99, and can be bought in a bundle with a heart rate monitor for $169.99.