The following are the top-rated fitness bands by Smart Watch News. The Fitbit rated number 1 by most editors retained its title from 2013. However, be aware that the Fitbit Flex (introduced prior to the Fitbit Force) was considerably less well received by reviewers and customers.
We are constantly discussing and evaluating all activity trackers/fitness bands from concept through production, attempting to determine the best activity tracker available. At this time, the market is still in its infancy and there is no one fitness band that truly does it all. It appears to us that manufacturers have decided to focus on one key component, such as heart rate monitoring or accelerometer-based motion tracking, hoping to perfect the implementation of a single feature before attempting to integrate many. Although we understand the concept of learning to walk before you run, this has resulted in consumers having to choose between mostly incomplete product offerings … much like the current smartwatch industry. Nonetheless, the fitness tracking niche is advancing quickly and we expect to see great products on the horizon. In the meantime, if you love being an early adopter, like we do, here are our five favorite activity trackers as they exist today:
1. Fitbit Force
The Fitbit Force Activity Tracker is unanimously the crowd favorite. It is simple, has a gorgeous new OLED display, tracks both physical activities and sleep, has an integrated altimeter for you stair climbers, a Silent Wake vibrating alarm, excellent battery life, and it wirelessly syncs to your computer, iPhone, or Android smartphone. In addition, the Force seamlessly integrates with several popular fitness apps such as Lose It!, Run Keeper, Map My Fitness, and (our favorite) My Fitness Pal.
We feel that the key to an excellent activity tracker is minimalism and ease of use … it should be barely noticeable and it should just work with as little direction from the user as possible. The Fitbit Force elegantly fulfills both of these requirements. In addition, the sleep tracking capability and Silent Wake alarm features offer fitness aficionados unique insight into the often overlooked but vital element of a complete fitness routine … rest and recovery.
The Fitbit Force is an amazing activity tracker and a giant leap forward from the original Fitbit Flex. For most people in the market for a fitness band that just works, this is the one that we highly recommend. However, the Force is not suited for all applications. Cyclists will notice that the activity tracker cannot be paired with a heart rate monitor… the best way to analyze physical effort and calorie burn during a ride. In addition, the Force fitness band is not waterproof, rendering it useless for swimmers hoping to capture exertion and lap data. Nonetheless, with those caveats, we find the Fitbit Force to be the best activity tracker/fitness band of 2014 … so far.
Update– Fitbit has notified us that, as part of an upcoming firmware update, you will be able to receive incoming call notifications on your Fitbit Force when paired with an iPhone running iOS 7.
Update #2– Fitbit has notified us that, due to a limited number of adverse skin reactions (rashes), the Fitbit Force has been recalled. A full refund will be issued to those who do not want to wait for a replacement to be shipped.
2. Jawbone UP24
TheJawbone UP24 Activity Tracker is definitely the most stylish and minimalist exercise tracking band in the bunch, securing a very close 2nd place in our Top 5 list of favorite activity trackers for 2014. It is comfortable to wear, fits everyone, and just looks really, really good. Like the Fitbit Force, the UP24 also tracks both daily activities and sleep patterns and has an awesome app for capturing, displaying, and analyzing exercise data. Unfortunately, for the time being, the UP24 only syncs with Apple iOS-based mobile products such as the iPhone 4S and newer, 5th Gen iPod Touch, 3rd Gen iPad, and all iPad Minis. This current lack of Android compatibility certainly seems short-sighted on the part of Jawbone, excludes a large segment of the smartphone-toting population, and knocks it out of contention for the number 1 spot on our list of favorite activity trackers.
The UP24 is a logical evolution from the original UP it replaces in Jawbone’s product line. Its motion tracking abilities have been significantly refined and a Bluetooth 4.0 LE radio has been added for wireless syncing. However, a criticism common to both the UP and the new UP24 is the lack of an informational display. The user must have an additional mobile device physically present in order to view collected data … a valid concern that must be weighed when making a purchasing decision. However, if your smartphone is a permanently affixed appendage, accompanies you during runs and workouts, and sleeps on the nightstand next to your bed, the Jawbone UP24 is definitely an activity tracker worth considering.
3. Polar Loop
The Polar Loop Activity Tracker is an interesting new addition to the rapidly expanding fitness band market. It has a unique feature that all other activity trackers wish they had … the ability to sync with a heart rate monitor. Polar made a name for itself producing quality heart rate monitors and already has the perfect companion ready to provide the Loop with highly beneficial cardio data … the Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor. This paring sets the Polar Loop apart from all other trackers currently holding the top 5 spots on our favorites list and is definitely the future of this market segment.
So why does the Polar Loop rank only 3rd in our list of favorites? Mostly because it is still a first-generation product possessing the quirks and bugs typically inherent in first forays into a new product line. The above-listed Fitbit Force and Jawbone UP24 are recently released rev. 2.0s and successfully remedied some of the issues found in their initial offerings. When the next iteration of the Polar Loop is released, we could see it easily rising to the top of our favorites list. In the meantime, we still highly recommend this exercise tracker for anyone wanting to incorporate extremely beneficial heart rate data into their energy expenditure analysis.
4. Nike+ Fuelband SE
TheNike+ FuelBand SE falls to the #4 spot on our list of best activity trackers as we kick off 2014. This second-generation fitness band from Nike still looks good, is comfortable, and directly uploads to your Nike+ network account. It employs a retro LED dot matrix display that disappears when not in use and provides the time and limited activity data to users on the go. However, where the Nike+ FuelBand SE continues to be weak is in its limited sensor deployment and its forced proprietary data implementation. The data collected by the FuelBand SE is still extremely limited, making it little more than an electronic pedometer. And, what exercises data that is collected is still analyzed and displayed as proprietary NikeFuel instead of traditional calories. This is a deal-breaker for many. However, if you are already uploading data to and highly vested in the Nike+ network, the Nike+ FuelBand SE provides an additional sleek-looking sensor to supplement your analysis of daily energy expended.
5. BodyMedia Fit Core
The BodyMedia Fit Core is big, it’s ugly, and you have to pay a monthly fee to access your data … three strikes. So why does it round up our list of favorite activity trackers? Because of its unique feature set. The Fit Core incorporates two silver plates that press against your skin and measure body temperature and galvanic skin response. Couple that with its three-axis accelerometer, and this clunky activity tracker provides some of the most accurate and useful data available. If you don’t mind how it looks and feels and enjoy the subscription business model, this is the way to go. However, if you are like us, you are just happy to see some additional unique and useful biosensors making their way into the activity tracker market.