Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Functional creep is a common problem in the technology industry. The company wants to provide more points than its competitors, and in many cases, this actually does produce a quality product. But it can also artificially increase prices, and sometimes make the device unnecessarily complicated—think of the sheer number of options that have ever been crammed into flagship Samsung phones. The more complex things are, the more likely they are to be damaged, harder to use, or to spend large sums of money.
This is increasingly the case with fitness trackers, so that novices may not know what the technology actually does, let alone what technology they need. Before shopping, it is wise to prepare a list of mandatory hardware features, not just those features.
A must-have feature of any fitness tracker
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
The most critical item is the heart rate (HR) sensor. Motion sensors convey a general sense of health, but tend to favor aerobic exercises such as running and walking, and only provide the roughest calorie burn estimate. Comparing resting heart rate and active heart rate can help people understand their overall health and heart health. On devices like Apple Watch, HR can even provide a warning signal of atrial fibrillation, that is, irregular heart rhythm.
The highest consumer-grade accuracy of HR can be found through optical armbands or ECG-based chest straps. However, if you want smart watch features, you can easily skip these. In fact, manufacturers such as Apple, Garmin, Polar, Suunto, etc. provide some very reliable wrist-based options.
The next on the priority list is the rugged design. At the very least, the device should be IPX4 waterproof, which means it can resist sweat and light rain. More realistically, you should require at least an IP68 rating to prevent dust, immersion or showering. If you plan to wear a tracker while swimming, you will need a 5ATM rating (or higher), which you can find on most fitness wearables now. Although many wearable devices have waterproof ratings, this is not always the case. If you buy an old model, please keep this in mind.
You can also take a look: Waterproof technology: everything you need to know about IP and ATM ratings
Battery life should be considered according to personal needs. For a general-purpose smartwatch, 24 hours is typical and sufficient-you only need to charge it every day. If you want to try sleep tracking, it’s best to find at least 48 hours, preferably close to 5 days. If you often participate in marathons or a week-long camping trip, then it is time to start considering brands such as Garmin or Coros, which provide devices that can provide weeks of power. Some Garmin watches even include solar charging, which cannot achieve unlimited life, but can extend life.
Must-haves for selected personnel
Nowadays, GPS location tracking is almost non-negotiable for users who are running, hiking, or biking. Depending on your home stadium, you may also need support for Galileo (Europe) and GLONASS (Russia) satellite networks. Please note that if you don’t plan to use a mobile phone to navigate, you need a tracker with offline maps, which may mean that devices from brands such as Garmin and Suunto are more expensive.
related: How do GPS, GLONASS and Beidou work in wearable devices?
Cellular network may be convenient, but it is not as important as you think. If you go out with a smart device, it is likely that you also have a mobile phone. If not, you may be running or cycling, and offline caching of music, podcasts, and/or exercise data may be sufficient. Cellular networks are most useful for people who cannot carry a mobile phone but need to stay in constant contact or link to real-time navigation data. If communication is critical, you will also need to call for support, and may need the option of replying directly to the message.
Pulse oximeters (also known as SpO2 or blood oxygen sensors) are usually just a benefit, despite the recent hype in the industry. This technology measures the oxygen saturation in the blood, which is useful for athletes to measure performance through a statistic called VO2max. Some companies, namely Fitbit and Withings, are turning to sleep apnea testing. Otherwise, the oximeter is only suitable for specific medical problems-if the saturation is often below 90%, it’s time to see a doctor.
Compass, altimeter, and/or barometer are all equipped with a wider range of equipment and should generally be sought for accurate altitude and movement data. They are especially valuable when you are hiking in the wild and need to know which way to go before the storm. However, if you engage in fixed activities such as weightlifting or yoga, you can give up on them.
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Recently, ECG (electrocardiogram) has been hyped up on some wrist trackers. The chest strap uses ECG to measure general heart rate activity. Nevertheless, in practice, the wrist-based implementation is only suitable for capturing extreme heart rate variability and/or atrial fibrillation (AFib), which requires you to sit quietly on the node for a few seconds. Unless you suspect a heart problem, don’t worry about the ECG on your wrist.
Some trackers provide exercise guidance on the device, which is an admirable idea, but not for everyone. First of all, any tracker with guidance features—requiring a display, sufficient processor power, and storage—still has limited animation capabilities and a small screen size. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to develop a form with a face-to-face trainer or combine a structured exercise plan with video tutorials. Veterans already know what they are doing and have bigger goals-you won’t see Fitbit teaching people how to squat 400 pounds. Comprehensive tutoring works best in the middle ground. In this case, people have learned the basic concepts but need to push to make the most of them. Any Couch to 5K/10K/Marathon-style program is an exception. The form of running at the amateur level is not complicated, so progress is more about rhythm and adjustment.
Some trackers provide local exercise guidance, which is an admirable idea, but not for everyone.
Sleep tracking has three hardware requirements: a motion sensor, a heart rate sensor, and (as mentioned before) enough battery life to last a night. This falls into the category of “luxury” because the only people who need it are those trying to diagnose restlessness. Even for ordinary people, wearing a tracker to sleep can provide an excellent wake-up experience. Some devices can be set to wake you during light sleep, even if they can’t, vibrating your wrist will definitely make you get up faster without disturbing anyone. Garmin provides a related software indicator called Body Battery, which combines HR, stress and activity data to score energy reserves.
The microphone of the voice assistant only makes sense if your other technologies are all connected to the same platform. For example, Alexa or Google Assistant users can turn on the lights, music, and fans of the home gym with a single command. If all you do is stop and start exercising, it is not worth the high price on voice technology alone.
Final shopping tips
Adam Sinicki / Android Authority
The hardware function itself should not determine what you buy. After determining your requirements, the next step is to consider the quality of reviews, brand reputation and related mobile applications. There are many cheap general fitness trackers on Amazon, but more expensive models from popular brands will pay off in terms of durability and app support. For example, Android users should stick to Google Fit.
Indeed, application experience is essential-data is meaningless as messy statistics. A high-quality app will evaluate your health based on the actual situation, explain the meaning of different numbers, and challenge you to do better. The best apps will guide you on a long-term journey, providing tips and exercise plans that you will eventually graduate from. We recommend testing the app for any device you are considering, or at least check their reviews and screenshots.
Although the brand name may cost more, seeing through the feature creep may still save you some cash. For example, it may be tempting to buy the most powerful tracker within your budget, but even professionals know that some accessories are too much. If you need further assistance in choosing fitness equipment, be sure to check the following articles: