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 aim to offer everyone from athletes to average Joes 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 all of the fitness trackers listed here, 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 discreet 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.
Best Overall: TomTom Runner Cardio (Full Review): 16 out of 20 stars
The TomTom Runner Cardio is designed for runners — it has both a heart rate monitor and GPS capabilities that let it track data such as your distance, time, pace and speed. The Live Science testing team determined that this device is also the best overall tracker because it not only has the advanced features of a heart rate monitor and GPS, but it is also supremely easy to use. It has a single, large button that makes it easy to scroll through your data, even on the fly. You can also wear it while swimming. The accompanying MySports app will create charts of your data over time, and also lets you set your own goals for distance, time or calories burned, sending you text alerts to help you work toward them. However, at about $270, the Runner Cardio is pricier than other fitness trackers, and it doesn't track your sleep.
Best for the Money: Fitbug Orb (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
The Orb is a fitness tracker that tracks your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned and quality of 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. The Live Science testing team picked the Orb as our "Best for the Money" tracker for two reasons: there are more ways to wear the Orb than many other trackers on the market, and users receive emails and notifications with tips that 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.
All the rest:
Basis Peak (Full Review): 14 out of 20 stars
The Basis Peak is a fitness tracker that automatically detects what you are doing, such as running, cycling or sleeping. The Peak continuously monitors your heart rate, and is water-resistant enough that you can take it swimming. The company says that with a coming software upgrade, the Peak will soon have some smartwatch capabilities, such as notifications for incoming calls. Like the previous Basis trackers, the Peak excels at motivating you — it uses a point system, and gives you an explanation for why you should work toward each of several "habits." The cons are that the device is a bit bulky, doesn't have an alarm and is not GPS-enabled.
iFit Active (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
The iFit Active fitness tracker is part of the iFit platform, and syncs wirelessly to update both its mobile app and its website. One standout feature of the iFit is that it lets you track your intake of not only calories, but also individual nutrients, such as sodium and saturated fat. The app is a bit buggy — it may crash when you scan the barcode on a food product to enter your calorie intake — and the device is not waterproof. It does not have a heart rate sensor, but it is priced at $129, which means the iFit is less expensive than other trackers that do have this feature.
Adidas Fit Smart (Full Review): 14 out of 20 stars
The Adidas Fit Smart is a tracker aimed at people who are training for a race, or who want to stay in shape for a sport. The app lets you create your own training schedule, and the device can even coach you during your workouts, alerting you to when you should pick up the pace. It also includes a heart rate monitor, which not all trackers do. However, the Fit Smart does not track your calories or sleep, and is not meant for use during swims.
Withings Pulse O2 (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
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 makes 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 your heart rate during exercise. And the blood oxygen level measurements seem unnecessary for most people.
Garmin Vivofit (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
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 a healthy, lifelong habit. In addition to logging the standard fitness-tracker data — including steps taken, calories burned, distance walked and hours slept — 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.
Fitbit One (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
The Fitbit One, at $99.95, is in the mid-level price range for fitness trackers. It tracks all the basic metrics, including sleep, steps taken, distance walked and calories burned, and also counts 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).
Fitbit Flex (Full Review): 14 of 20 stars
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.
FitBit Zip (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
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.
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 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 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.
Jawbone UP24 (Full Review): 13 of 20 stars
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.
LifeTrak Brite R450 (Full Review): 12 out of 20 stars
The LifeTrak Brite R450 aims to provide a comprehensive view of health and fitness. Not only does it track daily steps, distance, calories burned, heart rate and workouts, it also automatically detects when you fall asleep and wake up. And unlike many fitness trackers on the market, the Brite R450 also monitors light exposure, including exposure to blue light. The device will notify you when you've been inside too long and need to get more natural light. And the Brite R450 can send you alerts when you get an incoming call, text or email, and is waterproof up to 90 feet, so you can wear it swimming.
The device's app can show you more information about your daily activity, but syncing with the app proved frustrating - it took several minutes to transfer data from the device to the app. And although the Brite R450 tracks light exposure, it provides very little information about what to take away from this data, leaving us wishing that the device made better use of this feature.
Microsoft Band (Full Review): 12 out of 20 stars
The Microsoft Band is a fitness tracker that includes some smartphone features, such as the ability to read email, texts and other reminders on your wrist. The device is also one of the few fitness trackers that has GPS capabilities. The band tracks your heart rate, steps taken, calories burned and the quality of your sleep, and also offers a guided workout feature. But despite its whistles and bells, in our review, the Band seemed to come up short on comfort. It pairs with the Microsoft Health app, which works on iPhones as well as on Android or Windows phones. At $269, the Microsoft Band is at the higher end of the price range for fitness trackers.
Nike FuelBand SE (Full Review): 12 of 20 stars
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.
Samsung Gear Fit (Full Review): 11 of 20 stars
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 a 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.
Soleus Go (Full Review): 10 of 20 stars
The Go is a fitness tracker from Soleus that tracks daily steps, calories burned, distance traveled and sleep quality in addition to workout time and pace. The tracker also includes a few smartwatch features, such as alerts when you get a call or text. Two appealing features of the Go are that the device vibrates to remind you to move, and users have the option to set the device to automatically enter sleep mode at a certain time. However, Soleus provides little information about what your stats mean, and the charging device is cumbersome. In addition, users need to press buttons on the device multiple times to find certain information, such as daily steps.
Other Fitness Trackers Reviewed:
Basis Carbon Steel Edition (Full Review): 16 of 20 stars
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
How we test fitness trackers:
Live Science's reviews of fitness trackers involve far more than just wearing the devices around our office, or relying on manufacturer specs. Our team tests the devices by wearing them for about a week, in the real world. We sleep with our trackers, eat with our trackers, and wear them at home, at the gym, outdoors and even while running races such as 5Ks and half marathons. If we hit a snag while using a tracker, we reach out to the company with our questions, so we can tell our readers about not only how to fix the problem, but also about the company's customer service. Live Science brings a degree of scientific rigor to our evaluations that you won't find at other review sites.
Live Science writers and editors Rob Britt, Jeanna Bryner, Denise Chow, Bahar Gholipour, Tia Ghose, Miriam Kramer, Tanya Lewis and Karen Rowan contributed reporting to this article.