by Florian Schumacher

August 27, 2013

The Wearable Technologies’ Activity Tracker Overview

Adequate exercise is crucial for the well-being but many people simply don’t find the time so it falls short. This is why activity trackers are a hot topic this year, especially with health-conscious consumers. After BodyMedia and Fitbit, many companies introduced fitness sensors offering a broad range of devices for all kinds of consumer needs. Though, when choosing the right activity tracker make sure to pick one that fits your personal needs. Do you want to wear the tracker around your wrist or would you rather it is discreetly stored in your pocket? Are you mostly interested in tracking your movement only or would you like your tracker to measure sleep and nutrition as well?  Do you want a quite accurate calorie count and automatic sleep recognition, or is it more important to have a better battery life? Read below what makes the difference between the major activity trackers available.


Fitbit Zip

The Fitbit Zip comes at a price of 60 Dollars which makes it the least expensive among the competition. You can put the small step counter into a silicon clip and fix it to your clothes. The Zip measures steps and syncs them to your smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0, which is supported by most current smartphones. Alternatively you can sync the data via your computer. Information about your steps, distance and calories burned can be checked on the device‘s display or within an iOS or Android app that lets you also log your diet and other activities that cannot be tracked with the small sensor. Instead of a regular battery, the Zip uses a button cell with a battery life of up to six months, making charging unnecessary. In distinction to Fitbit‘s other models and unlike most of the competition, the Zip doesn’t measure your sleep. If you can do without, you get an inexpensive and well-designed activity tracker.

+ Price

+ Battery life

– No sleep tracking


Fitbit One

Fitbit’s One is the advanced version of the original Fitbit, one of the first connected pedometers on the market. In addition to steps and distance, the One also measures numbers of stairs climbed and sleep. For the latter, you have to take the One out of its silicon clip and insert it into a wristband. Wearing your One at night, it not only measures how long you’ve slept but also your movement during the night. Both are seen as indicators for how restful your sleep is. As with the Zip, Fitbit‘s app lets you manually track your food intake and sports activities such as cycling or climbing. The One uses Bluetooth 4.0 to sync with most of the current smartphones. The rechargeable battery lasts for about a week and the One needs a proprietary cable for charging. Fitbit also offers a connected scale that can display your weight in your online profile and mobile app. Together with the activity tracker, a great system. If you want a pedometer to clip on, the Fitbit One is a well-balanced device.

+ Measures climbed floors

– Proprietary charging cable




Fitbit Flex

Flex is Fitbit’s first wristband activity tracker. Just like the One, the Flex tracks your steps, sleep and nutrition. Since the Flex is already on your wrist, you just have to tap it several times to activate sleep tracking, the cumbersome changing between clip and wristband is no longer necessary. Another benefit of that design is that you’ll be  less likely to lose the tracker, compared to the ones being clipped to the clothes. The Flex’ electronic components are integrated into a small plastic case which is slipped into the top of the wristband. These Wristbands are available in different colors which makes the activity tracker more customizable. A downside of this two piece design is the small battery capacity. The Flex  only runs for about 5 days without recharging. As with all Fitbit devices the Flex has a proprietary charging cable and uses Bluetooth 4.0 to sync with most current smartphones. All in all the Flex is a good fit for everyone looking to track activity and sleep and who prefers to wear his tracker as a wristband.

+ Wristbands are exchangeable and come in different colors

– Low battery life



Jawbone Up

Just as many other devices Jawbone’s Up tracks activity and sleep and its app includes a visually appealing food diary for logging your nutrition. The fashionable wristband with its built-in electronics does not have a display, so you have to connect it to your smartphone to get a look at your data. Unlike the competition, the Up is synced by connecting it to the smartphone’s headphone jack, not via Bluetooth. This is bit more complicated than it would be with radio transmission, especially compared to the latest competition, transferring data in the background via Bluetooth 4.0. On the other hand Jawbone‘s app comes with a beautifully designed interface and many special features such as a smart alarm clock or an idle alert that reminds you to move every once in a while. With a battery life of 10 days the Up is also pretty good. Because of the missing display and Bluetooth sync the Up’s usability is not as good as with other devices. If you are one for sleek and fashionable design, the Up might just be the right activity tracker for you.

+ Fashionable design and visually appealing App

+ good battery life

– No display on device

– No wireless data transmission


Nike Fuelband

Nike’s Fuelband focuses on movement measurement, rather than tracking sleep and nutrition like most of the other activity trackers. It comes with a huge display showing time, step count, calories burned and the so called NikeFuel activity points. In addition to the numeric information, red, yellow and green LEDs show how close you are to your activity goal. Syncing happens via Bluetooth, the app is only available for the iPhone and has lots of built-in gamification elements. With its USB connector you can recharge the Nike Fuelband with any computer or USB-power supply, the battery lasts for about one week. Nike offers various digital products like shoes with integrated sensors or a game for Xbox, with which you can also collect NikeFuel and compare yourself with other Nike+ athletes. If you are looking for a sporty and cool wristband and already use other Nike+ products that can be incorporated into one system, the Fuelband is definitely worth a consideration.

+ Fancy display

+ Built-in USB plug

– No sleep or nutrition tracking

– No data download or import into other apps



BodyMedia Fit Link

The activity tracker Fit Link is the current top model of health and fitness data pioneer BodyMedia. Worn on the upper arm, the devices are known for their elaborate measurement technology.  Built into the device are sensors monitoring body movement, galvanic skin response, skin temperature and heat flux, allowing a more accurate calculation of burned calories. BodyMedia is especially suited for people who want to reduce their weight. Using the smartphone app or the web portal you can log in nutrition, track the calorie intake and the calories burned. According to a research conducted by the company, losing weight with one of its activity trackers is three times easier than without. Thanks to BodyMedia’s intelligent algorithms, the Link automatically recognizes if you are sleeping so you don’t have to manually turn on sleep mode like with the trackers from Fitbit, Jawbone or Withings. The BodyMedia Fit Link comes without display and has Bluetooth for syncing data to your smartphone. The software for BodyMedia‘s service comes with a monthly subscription fee of $6.95. Therefore together with the $149 for the device itself, the Fit Link can get pretty expensive after a while. Since Jawbone‘s acquisition of BodyMedia in April, we haven‘t heard any updates on its future product strategy.

+ Very exact calorie count

+ automatic sleep recognition

– Design

– Cost



Basis Band

The Basis Band supports a healthy lifestyle, especially if you want to be more active and get more sleep. Compared to the other trackers, the Basis Band is a high-tech device with sensors for movement, heart rate, galvanic skin response and heat flux. Like with BodyMedia’s Fit Link you get a more accurate calorie count and sleep is recognized automatically. The data from the tracker can be synced to an online profile via computer and a proprietary cable or with apps for Android and iOS. Basis’ web portal allows the user to set goals – aside from being more active you can also set your goal to more sleep or getting up earlier. Each goal you reached gets you points with which you can level up. Thus, the Basis Band helps you to change your habits a little at a time. In addition to this easy and playful approach you can view your measurements online in high resolution, but you cannot download or share them (yet). The Basis Band‘s heart rate measurement is optimized for long-term monitoring and enables better insights into the users behavior. This also means it is less reliable and accurate than measuring heart rate with a chest straps though, if you want real-time data you need to use a different device. The multiple sensors of the Basis Band lead to a higher energy consumption and limit its battery life to four to five days which is rather short in comparison to the competition. If you want a tracker with automatic sleep monitoring, detailed measurements and sophisticated motivation features, this one is the right for you.

+ Constant heart rate measurement

+ Automatic sleep recognition

– Battery life

– No download or API



Withings Pulse

The French manufacturer’s Pulse is the newest activity tracker in this comparison. Withings built a tracker you can wear in your pocket or clipped to your clothes during the day. To monitor your sleep, you can insert it into a wristband, just like with the Fitbit One. As a special the Pulse comes with an optical sensor on the back that measures heart rate by pressing your finger on it. This allows for the measurement of the resting heart rate after getting up or your pulse after working out. Although continuous heart rate monitoring, often used by runners, is not possible. Another benefit is the Pulse’s touchscreen, which is great to navigate through the data of the past few days. According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts for up to two weeks, a standard micro USB cable is provided to charge it. Depending on what kind of smartphone you have, you can sync the data via Bluetooth 4.0 or older standards – which guarantees compatibility with all current smartphones. Withing’s app informs you of your daily measurements, while a new online profile, currently in beta, provides a deeper look at your data. All in all, the rich set of features, the long battery life and the extensive Bluetooth compatibility make the Pulse a great activity tracker.

+ works with Bluetooth 4.0 and older standards

+ battery life

+ Charges with standard micro USB cable




Images: Basis, BodyMedia, Fitbit, Nike, Jawbone, Withings