“What are you doing, you are making me dizzy,” I asked my cousin as she walked frantically around the room checking her fitness tracker every few minutes. “Completing my steps,” she answered. For someone who has given up exercising thanks to her hectic desk job, this ‘completing the steps’ is an obsession, one that she is dedicated to finishing each day.
Of course, the logic behind 10,000 steps being linked to any health benefits still remains unknown and evidence indicates that all of this is marketing. But the hype has clearly worked in favour of fitness trackers. Steps count has become an obsession for many, and overall the wearables market has done well in 2018 with double digit growth in the last quarter of the year.
While fitness bands remain popular, IDC’s data showed that smartwatches accounted for 29.8 per cent of all wearable device shipments in 2018 with Apple Watch firmly on top, followed by Xiaomi, whose Mi Band 3 remains a popular budget option in India as well.
But there are several factors to keep in mind while choosing a fitness tracker, and it is more than just counting your daily steps. The user’s level of fitness and interest around this topic, the features desired are all factors that need to be weighed in when making this decision. And yes, budget matters a lot.
Look at it this way, someone who plans to run a marathon needs a smartwatch or tracker that offers comprehensive data, while someone who wants to buy a fitness tracker to just count their daily steps or walks can actually make do with a simple fitness band. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when picking a fitness band.
The basic fitness band: What should you expect?
For anyone getting started with fitness or buying their first fitness tracker, my recommendation would be to get a budget fitness tracker, preferably under Rs 3000. Unlike smartphones, budget fitness bands does necessarily mean you have to compromise on some key features.
Many of these can do more than the basic tasks. Fitness bands at a budget offer features like steps-tracking, tracking for various activities, notification alerts, sleeping tracking feature and many have heart rate monitoring as well. Mi Band 3, Galaxy Fit e from Samsung, and Honor Band 4 series are just some bands which come with these features. All of these will cost under Rs 3000, which is another plus point.
The advantage with these fitness trackers is that they offer reasonable accuracy when it comes to tracking steps, basic exercises like walking and running. They are lightweight, which is another appealing factor.
Perhaps the best bit about more affordable bands is the battery life, and most of these can last for days even with heavy-duty usage, unlike say a smartwatch, which requires daily charging in most cases.
The mid-range fitness bands: A big bump up in features?
For those who are willing to spend more than Rs 6000 but under Rs 10,000, Fitbit and Garmin are two brands to consider given what they offer. The designs are elegant, and the features more comprehensive than some of the basic fitness bands in the market.
Fitbit, which is a market leader, has a number of fitness bands across price points, though the Inspire series starts at under Rs 7,000. The latest Fitbit Inspire HR has a price tag of Rs 8,999 and it will take different kinds of exercises for you from swimming to walking to bike rides. It has continuous heart rate monitoring as well. The Fitbit app also includes support for women to track their menstruation cycle.
Garmin’s vivofit 4 is retailing under Rs 8000 online and comes with the promise of one year battery life, no charging needed along with tracking your activities from running, walking, biking to even swimming. Mid-range bands from both Fitbit and Garmin also connect to dedicated apps from their respective companies and will let you look at all the data collected for a more holistic picture.
Heart rate tracking
Heart rate tracking on fitness band, smartwatches can help you get a sense of how your heart is performing while exercising. This is crucial if you are new to the more strenuous activity as you do not want your heart rate being too high for too long. Most apps for these bands will divide heart rate from an exercise session into zones with markers like resting, fat burn, aerobic/cardio to high intensity.
Most high-end smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch, Galaxy Watch Active from Samsung, Apple Watch, Fitbit and Garmin’s smartwatches all come with continuous heart rate tracking. But some of these are expensive investments, given most watches start above Rs 20,000.
Thankfully, heart rate tracking has become a very common feature across trackers. Budget bands from Xiaomi, Samsung and Honor are all offering this. Mid-range bands have had the feature for a while. The new Fitbit Inspire HR starts at Rs 8,999, Garmin vivofit 4 at Rs 7,990 also has this option. So if you are looking for heart rate-tracking on the fitness band, you don’t have to compromise just because your budget is tight.
All regular fitness bands come with this feature. Any band with a continuous heart rate monitoring feature will be able to accurately track your sleep. Of course, in order to view the data, which is often further divided into deep sleep and light sleep, you will need to rely on the tracker’s app on your connected phone. But keep in mind that if you want a fitness tracker to track your sleep, it should ideally be a sleek device. Going to bed with a bulky smartwatch every night won’t help as these can be uncomfortable while trying to sleep.
Tracking fitness, activities
This is where budget fitness trackers can start to appear like a compromise because many of them do not come with a dedicated mode of the various kinds of exercises. If you are someone who plays a sport regularly or just wants to keep track of calories burned and time spent at the gym for each and every single mode, a slightly more expensive fitness tracker is the better pick. The reason is that these dedicated modes often offer a lot more accuracy when it comes to data like heart rate, calories burnt, etc while you were doing a particular kind of exercise
A lot of the budget fitness bands have a generic ‘Other’ mode for tracking gym exercises and the modes will be limited to walking, running, indoor, outdoor cycling. Watches like Galaxy Watch Active, Galaxy Sport, Apple Watch, Garmin’s Forerunner series and Fitbit’s Versa offer more modes for dedicated exercises that can give an accurate picture for the kind of exercises you might be doing. If you want to improve your fitness goals, having more comprehensive data could be very useful.
Swim-ready vs water resistant
A lot of bands are water-resistant, which means they can get wet, but maybe not capable to weathering a swim. Some bands cannot be taken underwater for more than an hour or cannot be taken into the sea. Also water-resistant does not always mean the band is capable of tracking your swimming session.
Fitbit has a range of devices which are swim-ready. I’ve used the Fitbit Inspire HR for swim sessions and found it reasonably accurate. Samsung and Honor’s budget bands do support swim tracking. The Mi Band 4, which is yet to launch in India, is also capable of tracking swimming.
Keep in mind that you will have to turn on the swim mode before just jumping into the pool and this will turn on the water lock mode on some of the device, especially watches. This is crucial and ensures the watch or device is not damaged. In many device, heart rate tracking does not work underwater. On Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch Active, you have to turn off the water lock mode to stop the swim sessions.
Some bands have dedicated mode for pool swim where you can enter the length of the pool, while there is another mode for an open swim, which is not taking place inside a designated pool.
Motivation, Stress tracking
Many watches and bands have an option for stress tracking as well as an app for ‘breathing exercises. Fitbit, Apple Watch, Samsung’s device all come with various kinds of features for stress tracking, for encouraging you to breathe in and out for a minute during the day, etc. The bands will also prompt you to walk if they sense you have been inactive for too long. For example, the Apple Watch will prompt every 50 minutes if you have not gotten up from your desk during the past hour. Fitness bands like the Mi Band 3 will vibrate reminding you to walk as well.
Coming to motivation, this is a tricky bet. The band or watch can only take you so far in this. Fitness watches will let you set daily activity goals as well and will reward or congratulate you when you hit those daily goals. You can set a daily goal on minimum steps and most bands will vibrate or buzz when you hit that, which can be a pretty good feeling, especially if you are trying to motivate yourself into being more active.
The Apple Watch, for instance, has a lot of monthly and daily rewards, along with reminders that you should complete your daily goals. Apple’s rings system for Move, Exercise and Stand goals is popular with dedicated users who are often trying to ‘close their rings’ for the day. The Galaxy Watch Active also has a similar system where it congratulates the user on having an active day.
There are of course, those dedicated chosen ones who do not need any fitness band or smartwatch to exercise regularly. But for the rest of us mere mortals a band can be a good reminder, that perhaps it is time to move.