Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Look at Wearable Activity Trackers for Fitness and Health

By on Sunday, March 02, 2014 4 Comments

Blogging and jewelry making are rather sedentary occupations. While I make an effort to exercise regularly, I often wonder if I am doing enough.  So when I heard about a local university study on the use of wearable activity trackers by older people I was intrigued enough to volunteer.  Wearable tech is of great interest to me because there are increasing numbers of different lifestyle products on the market. Some are now attractive enough to also masquerade as jewelry.

Misfit Shine on wristband
The study gave me the chance to try out 5 different wearable activity trackers.  There are others on the market with more coming out in the near future.  They varied greatly in design and functionality but what they all did was track movement to give the user some idea of how active they were during the day and to set goals. They are surprising motivating because of the visible feedback.

Which activity tracker to use would depend on individual needs. So based on my experience during the study, the main considerations when shopping for one would be :

Activity type
Pedometers do best at measuring walking and running steps.  Unless calibrated for stairs (elevation), they don't work as accurately when climbing stairs.  Other activities like cycling may not be tracked as well unless the device includes them. 

Ease of Use
Is it easy to set up the tracker?  I had little to no trouble with any of those I tried but less tech orientated individuals may need some help.

Display type
Some trackers display numerical information on the device, others don't, so the user will have to check on the mobile device app.  Auto-syncing via bluetooth happens when the tracker is close enough to the mobile device.

Wearability - as clip, wristband, necklace. Activity trackers are best worn on the foot for accuracy.  Wristbands are fine too but bear in mind it might also be tracking arm movements while you are not actually doing any exercise. So wristbands track more than if the device is worn on the body. If you like holding onto the hand support of a treadmill, it won't register well either even though you are indeed exercising.

App design
on smartphones and tablets and whether there is web application or not.

Other functions like sleep, weight and sleep tracking, calorie counting, heart rate monitor etc are available on many devices but not all devices.

Cost - the very simple devices were under $100 but most trackers are around $100 and up.

Style - this might be the deal breaker for those who like to wear attractive and not utilitarian designs.

The worst tracker in terms of accuracy was the MIO which failed to count many of my steps even on level ground.  There were also many false positives when worn while driving as it recorded every bump and pothole!  It was also quite bulky - about 2 inches across and was not in the least discrete when clipped onto my waistband.  It does one redeeming feature - it is low tech. No apps, no synching to smartphones.  Everything is as you see on the display.  Mind, I had to use my magnifying glass to read the smaller letters!

MIO tracker
The Withings Pulse was small and discrete but not stylish.  I wore it in its clip case although there was also an arm/wristband available to pop it in.  It was small enough to wear on my shoe which allowed me to test its accuracy - very good paticularly on the level. It also tracks stairs and can be used to keep record of how much sleep you get. Swiping the display easily displayed the history.  This one can also measure your heart rate by placing your finger gently against a sensor at the back. No synching with the computer just the app on your mobile device.


The Jawbone Up was a stylish bracelet and the easiest wristband to put on as there were no buckles or snaps. Only 2 displays to activate- Wake and Sleep.  All the information is tracked wirelessly and displayed on the mobile device.  I found the sleep tracking unreliable although it can be used to silently wake you up from a nap! Some people might also appreciate the device's ability to alert you if you have been sitting for too long. The ability to track what you eat and drink was okay but not as good as the Fitbit.

Jawbone Up

Jawbone Up mobile display
Fitbit has a number of activity trackers.  I got to try the Fitbit Zip which is small and is their most basic model.  I can see why Fitbit is a popular brand. The devices track many things - steps, distance calorie intake and expenditure, active minutes, stair climbing (not the Zip though), sleep, goal setting and so on.  Goal setting on trackers like the Fitbit are often based on 10,000 steps/day.  Walking for a solid hour or more strenuous exercise for shorter periods in addition to regular daily activity will get you there.

Fitbit has great integration with other apps like My Fitness Pal which helps people lose weight. Having said that, the native calorie counter was also easy to use.  Choose say "1 toast, buttered" and the app immediately figures and adds that to your calorie intake for the day. The objective is to burn more calories than one eats!

Fitbit Zip - sharp taps needed for display navigation
Fitbit also has activity tracker bracelets like the higher end Flex and Force.  The Force was recently recalled because it caused skin rashes in some people. Probably due to nickel allergies. Surgical stainless steel can contain small amounts of nickel.


The Flex and Force bracelets were clearly designed for style and there are even different colored bracelets available for sale.  The activity tracker is actually inserted into the bracelet from below.  Although I did not test it out, I got to put it on. I did not find it as comfortable as the other wristbands I tried.


The Misfit Shine is arguably the most stylish activity tracker. The minimalist and award winning design is such that no one will know you are wearing an activity tracker! It comes with a magnetic clip which doubles over to form a bail, making it easy to slip it on any necklace - not just their necklace accessory or clipped onto clothes. The Misfit Shine is available in grey, black, topaz and champagne.

MisFit Shine on my leather cord necklace
Misfit Shine on my spool wire knitted necklace
It is elegant enough to be worn even on a lapel and not look out of place at work.

Misfit Shine as a "brooch"
The strong magnet (probably a neodymium) means the device is not suitable for people who have pacemakers and care should be taken with it around electronic equipment.  Having said that, the only trouble I had was when the magnet got too close to a clasp which is a significant amount of metal.

Attaching the clip to the Misfit Shine
The sportsband allows the Misfit Shine to be worn as a watch (shown in top picture). This was the most comfortable wristband of all I tried.  The leather strap looks more stylish but is an upgrade. Sharp raps on the device calls up two types of display, one of which is a cool watch.  4 fainter LED dots mark where the 12, 3, 6 and 9 positions are.  The hour dot and blinking minute dot tells the time which took some getting used to. Great in the dark!

1.25 pm on the Misfit Shine watch function
I was prepared to dislike the non-numerical activity display on the Shine as I got used to seeing numbers on some of the trackers.  But after a while I realized I don't really need to see numbers but a simple measure of how much more I had to go before reaching my daily goal was sufficient.  50% of the way through was a lot more encouraging than seeing 5000 steps more to go! As you can see below, I was nearly half way through with that day's goal.  When I reached it, the LED dots all lit up and did a merry dance!


There are additional features unique to the Misfit Shine.  I could actually tailor my goal to "moderately active" as I am not exactly of the same caliber as say, a 30-year-old fitness instructor. It is the only device that is totally waterproof, so it can track swimming.  Also helpful if it accidentally went through the washing machine!  Unlike the others, it can also track cycling.  But not stairs as it has no altimeter.

The other trackers usually charge up via USB. The Misfit Shine uses a battery which lasts for 4 months. Although the instructions say to place the device on my iPhone to sync, I found it does so automatically when it is close enough to it.

Where it falls short is the lack of features like weight tracking, calorie counting or integration with other apps. At the moment, only suitable for Apple devices.

Conclusion
I found wearing an activity tracker made me more conscious of inactivity and motivated me to exercise everyday.  I got so used to wearing one during the 2 week study that I actually missed not wearing one after it ended.  Would I buy one?  Yes.  The question is which one?

Other Reviews:
PC Mag : The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness

Before You Go:
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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 

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4 comments:

  1. Great article and very interesting. I have the Fitbit Zip and I love it. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wish they'd let you test drive the Airo, Pearl, because that's the one I'm anxiously awaiting. Nutrition, stress, sleep cycles and exercise - it'll definitely be worth the extra dollars if it does all that!
    Thanks for the reviews.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Airo is not going to be available for several months. So no one can test drive it yet. The technology needed is more challenging so it remains to be seen if the company can pull it off.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have been thinking about getting one since I really am pretty sedentary. Thanks for doing up a review of the ones you have tried.

    ReplyDelete

 

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