Choosing the Best Fitness Tracker

The Most Important Factors to Consider.

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The Basis Activity and Sleep Tracker.

If you're looking to purchase an activity-tracking device, chances are you're a bit overwhelmed by the options. There is no shortage of clip-on gadgets and wrist-worn options on the market, so it can be tough to narrow down your shopping list. Keep reading for a few tips and features to look out for, along with some top picks across several categories. 

Price

You can find fitness trackers for well under $100, such as the Fitbit Zip ($50), which is limited to simple stats such as tracking your steps.(Note: Based on my time with a Fitbit Zip a few years ago, I think it's worth paying a bit more for a more accurate, full-featured device.)

As you move up the price spectrum, you’ll find gadgets with more features, such as support for multiple sports, sleep monitoring and advice for improving your workouts. Examples of higher-end, pricier devices include the Fitbit Surge ($250) and the Basis Peak ($200). 

Form Factor

Do you want a clip-on fitness tracker or a wrist-worn one? The $50 Jawbone Up Move is a good clip-on option (tracks steps, sleep, calories burned). The $100 Fitbit One is another strong choice.

If you’d prefer a wristband-style device, you have plenty of choices, from the $150 Fitbit Charge (HR) to the Basis Peak. Most activity trackers fall into this form factor, so you should be able to find a suitable choice no matter your budget.

The Basic Features

Almost every activity tracker will come with sleep-tracking capabilities. Many also pack heart-rate monitors to track how it rises and falls throughout the day. And, of course, any true activity tracker will be able to monitor how many steps you've taken in a day. 

Also, note that most activity trackers work with either a smartphone app or a website. Look for a device that offers some software companion, as this will let you dig deeper into your workout stats and even compete against friends.

These are some of the entry-level features and stats to look for. If your needs are more specialized — whether you're a swimmer or you simply need more in-depth insights into your workout — check out the options listed below.

Top Activity Trackers for Specialized Features

If you're most interested in monitoring your sleep patterns, give the Misfit Shine a look. The device includes a "smart alarm" that tries to wake you up at the optimal moment in your sleep cycle. You can also enable automatic sleep tracking, so you don't have to push a button and tell the device you're going to sleep before it starts gathering your stats.

For those who need a waterproof device with support for multiple sports, the Garmin Vivoactive (about $250) is a solid option. It's on the pricey side but you do get a lot for your money, including modes for running, biking, swimming, walking and even golfing. The Vivoactive also comes with smartwatch-like features, such as social-media notifications and the ability to control music on your music player. Just note that the Vivoactive doesn't include a heart-rate monitor.

If you want an activity tracker that goes beyond the basic calorie counting and steps-measuring, check out the Microsoft Band ($200). In addition to tracking heart rate and all the expected stats, it offers you insights into your workout based on the data it's collected. You can also choose from select guided workouts to let the activity tracker serve as your personal trainer. Plenty of smartwatch-style features are on board, too, from at-a-glance email notifications to calendar alerts and Microsoft's Cortana, a voice-controlled virtual "assistant."

Not all activity trackers come with a sleek design, so those of you who value a gadget's appearance might want to consider the Withings Activité (the accent tells you it's fancy). At $450, this Swiss-made device is by far one of the most expensive options out there, but it does look pretty slick — some might say it resembles a real timepiece than many smartwatches. This activity tracker gives you plenty of fitness features too, from the usual stats to the ability to count laps when you're swimming. The battery also lasts about 8 months, so you won't have to worry about charging it every night.

The Bottom Line

There are a ton of activity trackers out there, so it's important to have a checklist of features you want when you start comparison-shopping.