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The Best Fitness Tracker Today

By Jim McDannald, The Wirecutter

Every fitness tracker currently available has its shortcomings, but the $130 Fitbit Force’s flaws are easy to forgive given the convenience of its wrist-mounted design and legible screen that tracks your stats in real time. It is the only fitness tracker that combines all those features with the added accuracy of an altimeter. The fact that it’s a part of the most comprehensive fitness ecosystem around is gravy. Unfortunately, the wrist strap can be a bit tricky to latch and it’s not as water-resistant as other options, but it’s still the one we’d get.

Every fitness tracker currently available has its shortcomings, but the $130 Fitbit Force’s flaws are easy to forgive given the convenience of its wrist-mounted design and legible screen that tracks your stats in real time. It is the only fitness tracker that combines all those features with the added accuracy of an altimeter. The fact that it’s a part of the most comprehensive fitness ecosystem around is gravy. Unfortunately, the wrist strap can be a bit tricky to latch and it’s not as water-resistant as other options, but it’s still the one we’d get.

If you can do without the wrist strap, the Fitbit One has more consistently positive user reviews and is still your best bet. At a bit under $100, it’s a better deal as well. But unless you’re opposed to wearing a tracker on your wrist for style purposes or what have you, the Force’s wristband design is a lot more convenient and harder to forget.

Finally, if you have an older Android phone, then the Withings Pulse is your only option for Bluetooth syncing. Withings’ ecosystem isn’t as robust as Fitbit’s and syncing takes about 45 seconds to complete as opposed to the automatic background syncing of the Fitbits, but at least it will work with your older phone.

What Do I Know about Fitness Trackers?

As a licensed podiatrist and distance running coach, I understand the importance of setting goals and measuring the progress towards achieving them. By calculating and graphically displaying a person’s daily activity, fitness trackers have the potential to be a very valuable tool. Through hours of research and testing, my Wirecutter colleagues and I have determined the best device to assist you in living a healthier life.

What Does This Do?

Fitness trackers, in general, don’t just measure activity– studies show they actually motivate people to exercise more.

Fitness trackers, in general, don’t just measure activity– studies show they actually motivate people to exercise more. These devices can’t force you to walk that extra flight of stairs or get in the popularly recommended and research-supported 10,000 steps per day, or to do the 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic activity the CDC recommends. What they can do is collect daily data, analyze it and display progress over time, which goes a long way toward motivating you towards healthier habits.

In 2007, researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine released a study that found pedometer use helped improve blood pressure and increased physical activity and weight loss. “Much to my surprise, these little devices were shown to increase physical activity by just over 2,000 steps, or about one mile of walking per day,” said the study’s lead author, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior research scientist in medicine. Basically, they’re perfect for those who want to lead a healthier lifestyle but could use a little outside motivation to get there.

So what exactly is a fitness tracker and why would you want one? Basically, it’s a wearable mini-computer that uses sensors to gather different types of data about your activity and body. The most commonly included sensor is an accelerometer, which measures steps and other movements. It then uses algorithms to translate these readings into more helpful figures like distance traveled or number of “very active minutes.”

We all know that not all steps require the same amount of effort. A number of trackers have a built-in altimeter that allows them to factor in stairs and hill climbs to get a more accurate gauge of how hard you’re working.

Some models can even estimate and log sleep data. By monitoring and interpreting movement, these devices provide general information about sleeping habits. But until trackers are able to record brain waves, consider this feature a nice add-on and not a precise measurement of sleep quality.

Additionally, most trackers can estimate the number of calories burned on a given day. Daily vital body functions, such as breathing and brain activity, use energy and burn calories. These functions comprise Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and are estimated by taking into account an individual’s height, weight, age and gender information. Fitness tracker software provides an estimate of calories burned by making calculations with both BMR and recorded activity data. As this Wired article explains, it’s far from an exact science, but it is another metric to serve as motivation.

All of this information is then synced with a smartphone app or computer where you can analyze your habits and gain insight into your health and wellbeing as laid out in neat little charts and graphs.

Who’s This For?

Anyone who’s looking to measure their daily activity as they progress towards fitness or weight loss goals would benefit from a fitness tracker. The social features baked into most activity trackers to encourage accountability between family and friends can serve as a strong motivating factor. They’re designed to be tiny and unobtrusive so you won’t think twice about taking them wherever you may go.

Smartphone apps like Moves are cheaper but can be a major battery drain on your already battery-constrained device.

Smartphone apps like Moves are cheaper but can be a major battery drain on your already battery-constrained device. While newer phones like the iPhone 5S, Moto X and Nexus 5 have dedicated motion-tracking chips that make this less of a problem, the average person doesn’t always have the newest phone. What’s more, you’re not always going to have your phone on you. Unless you love lugging around a phone for all your activities, a dedicated activity tracker trumps a smartphone app.

If you’re a serious runner/triathlete and care mostly about recording your speed, distance and route, this is not the right device for you. You would be better served by a GPS running watch.

If you don’t care about the data and are just looking for some motivation, a pedometer and a self-imposed goal could be sufficient, but that won’t paint a picture of your broader physical activity the way a fitness tracker would with automatic logging and visualization. You also lose out on the motivation from social network sharing.

What Makes a Good Fitness Tracker?

An ideal fitness tracker would have all the available sensors (an altimeter, heart rate sensor and perspiration sensor in addition to the standard accelerometer); a screen that shows real data instead of just dots or some proprietary score (ahem Nike Fuelscore, Shinepoints, we’re looking at you); a secure wristband; a long-lasting, rechargeable battery; effortless, cross-platform wireless syncing; some kind of way to motivate you away from excessive idleness; and be water-resistant enough to shower and swim with. Unfortunately, this platonic ideal of the fitness tracker does not exist, so let’s break these down in order of greatest to least importance.

The most important first step in fitness tracker use may sound extremely simple, but it’s much easier said than done: Create a habit of wearing the device at all times. In order to get an accurate look at your activity, the fitness tracker needs to be with you as much as possible. Not in your jeans from yesterday or on the counter next to the shower—it needs to be attached or worn on you. (This is part of why using a smartphone app isn’t a great idea, because oftentimes it’s in your bag or on your desk—not on your body.)

The best way to get the most out of your device is to purchase the style of tracker that suits your personality. Fitness trackers come in two main forms: clip and wrist devices. If you’re prone to losing keys, wallets and other personal items, or simply don’t want the hassle of transferring the tracker for sleep tracking, a wrist-mounted tracker would be your best choice. If you’re more responsible, disciplined and prefer a smaller, more discrete device (or if you’re opposed to wearing one on your wrist for other reasons), we’d suggest a clip tracker. A clip is also a better choice if you spend a large portion of your day doing tasks that require repetitive hand or arm motions (such as sewing or chopping) because the accuracy of the Force and any other wrist-mounted tracker will be compromised as mentioned in a few Amazon reviews.

Along with an agreeable form, good fitness trackers should feature a rechargeable battery that only requires recharging every 7-10 days, but the longer the better. While rechargeable batteries are standard in most devices, some lower-end models contain disposable watch-style batteries. Buying batteries only to throw them away in a few months time is wasteful and feels like an act from a bygone era.

A good fitness tracker should clearly display your daily progress and activity data. This ability runs the spectrum from no readable display to an array of LED lights to OLED screens that can display legible text. The more expensive devices with the advanced displays will generally be able to give you access to more types of data. If you want to sneak a quick glance at your data, a wrist tracker will give you quicker access to that information than a clip device. Linking to a smartphone to check is a good bonus, but it shouldn’t be the only way to get updates.

A good activity monitor should record your data in understandable units of measurement like steps, distance, altitude and hours slept.

A good activity monitor should record your data in understandable units of measurement like steps, distance, altitude and hours slept. We would suggest avoiding devices that rely only on a proprietary point system (like NikeFuel score). In order to perform these tasks, good trackers feature an accelerometer to measure your movement and an altimeter to determine the amount of elevation gain during your day. (Accuracy is still an issue for most activity trackers, and even for state-of-the-art running watches that feature GPS, but this will get better as algorithms and hardware improve.)

A powerful, yet easy-to-use mobile app and/or desktop portal software is also a very important component of a good activity tracker. Using an app or software that displays activity data in functional and clean manner makes it a joy for you to visualize and review your progress. Disorganized or confusing software makes it a hassle to understand and feels more like a waste of your time.

And who says that peer pressure is always a bad thing? The ability to connect with and be held accountable by family and friends with certain apps and software can also really help push you to achieving your goals.

Syncing and backing up your data should be as effortless and painless as possible, and that means it should be able to be done quickly and wirelessly. The more physical steps that you must perform to accomplish these task, the more time you waste. Some products seamlessly sync with your fitness tracker over Bluetooth while others require you to plug in your tracker to an audio jack or use a series of tedious tasks. Once you’ve used automatic Bluetooth syncing, every other device will feel ancient by comparison.

The best fitness trackers offer an open data format with the ability to share that data with other apps and software services. This allows your tracker to share your workout and activity data with your favorite weight loss or dieting app. Some tracker companies keep your data locked down or available in formats that don’t play nicely with these other apps or software.

Most good activity trackers will offer some kind of ability to track your sleep or at least how much time your wrist stays still at night. Initiating this feature generally requires a manual button push before you hit the hay. While it’s nice to have this feature, you probably won’t get too much from it considering sleep quality is a complex thing and a tracker bases everything off of movement. You won’t miss much if you skip a night to charge your tracker.

Slightly more useful than sleep tracking is the ability to wake you up with vibrations. Your bed partner will appreciate this feature as well, as it doesn’t beep and can rouse you without waking up others who might have a different schedule.

Waterproofing is also a major bonus. It’s a good idea to take off any and all electronics when showering (even if they are water-resistant), but it’s good to have that extra insurance.

As this product category continues to expand, fitness trackers appear to be converging with smartwatches and running watches. The ability to measure heart rate and perspiration is being incorporated into some current devices. Though these metrics are nice, for now they are nice add-ons and not must-haves when tracking your activity.

How We Picked

Picking the Force was easy, as pretty much every professional reviewer that covers fitness trackers agrees that the Force is the best device. Reviewers from The Verge, All Things D, PCMag, CNET and Gizmodo all like the Force more than its competitors. The only thing stopping us from writing it up then and there was a very significant and vocal contingent of unsatisfied customer reviews on Amazon.

In order to confirm the findings of reviewers and to determine whether the naysayers were correct or merely a vocal minority, we pitted the Force against its top competitors: the clip-based Fitbit One, the stylish Jawbone UP24 and the Withings Pulse. I personally wore all four of them simultaneously for six days to get some comparative data, then used each by itself to get a general feel for how it was to use one of them in day-to-day activity. After all was said and done, we sided with the professional reviewers.

Our Pick

The Fitbit One was our previous pick because its altimeter and long battery life made it a more accurate and effective tracker; the only problem was that its clip-based design made it easy to lose track of and required you to go out of your way to check the display. The Fitbit Flex was Fitbit’s first attempt at a wrist-mounted tracker, but ultimately failed to win hearts and minds because it lacked a screen for showing real-time stats; it also didn’t have an altimeter. The Fibit Force combines the wrist-mounted form factor of the Flex with the screen and altimeter from the One. That is why it’s universally recommended by the experts. Brent Rose from Gizmodo puts it simply: “[The Fitbit Force] gives you the most data for the least amount of having to think about it.”

The importance of a wrist-mounted design cannot be overstated when it comes to fitness trackers. The less time you spend trying to track down where you left this thing, the more time you will spend wearing it and collecting data, which you can then analyze in Fitbit’s own excellent tracking app or any number of approved third-party options.

The wrist-mounted design also has the added benefit of making your tracking data more visible, which makes it harder to ignore.

The wrist-mounted design also has the added benefit of making your tracking data more visible, which makes it harder to ignore. I found during testing that getting instantaneous visual feedback on my step count, calories burned and other data was actually more motivating than the idleness alerts found on other trackers like the Jawbone UP, which vibrates if it thinks you’ve been stationary for too long. Beyond motivation, having a screen on your wrist is just more convenient. There’s no need to stop to pull it out of your pocket (like with clip-based trackers) or to sync it with a smartphone (like the screenless Jawbone). The inclusion of the display makes the device a few millimeters wider than the Flex, but without any noticeable increase in weight.

Another nice bonus of the Force is its ability to charge without tinkering. Some wrist-mounted trackers, like the Flex, require you to take the tracker out of the wristband in order to charge it. This is annoying and puts stress on the band that can lead to breaking. There’s also the added bonus of having fewer crevices for gunk to hide in.

As we mentioned earlier, accuracy isn’t a strong point of fitness trackers in general—no matter what you use, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the trends instead of exact step count. That said, the Force and the One are a bit more accurate than most thanks to their built-in altimeters, which give you a slightly more complete picture of how far you’ve moved.

Our testing over the course of six days showed that the Force consistently measured more steps than the major competition, but it also showed that the measurements were pretty consistent. The Fitbit One was also consistently higher. We speculate that this might indicate that Fitbit’s algorithms skew higher to account for altimeter data, but there’s no telling for sure since tracking algorithms are closely guarded as trade secrets. This is neither good nor bad, but it’s something to keep in mind.

In addition to steps and stairs, the Force will log the estimated distance you’ve walked, the approximate number of calories you’ve burned and the approximate amount of sleep you’ve clocked over the preceding 23 days. It also keeps up to seven days of minute-by-minute data.

All of this information can be read on the Force’s built-in display, but it’s easier to digest after being transferred to a computer or smartphone. The data is also stored in the cloud indefinitely as long as you sync it regularly.

The Force’s data is also accessible with Fitbit’s iOS/Android apps or desktop portal. The Fitibit home screen design is very upfront with your current day’s info and makes it easy to access data from the past couple days, as well as historical data to look at trends in your activity levels. For comparison, Jawbone’s app deemphasizes data visualization in favor of an activity stream on the home screen (think a Facebook newsfeed that only contains the fitness data for you and your friends). You have to scroll down a little further via the sidebar to get to more data, but you can quickly go look at the past couple of days via their home screen. We think Fitbit’s approach is a bit more useful for most people because your own personal data is more important to you than seeing what your friends are up to.

Unlike the devices from Jawbone, the Force does not require a smartphone (though it can make use of one). It can wirelessly transmit your data to your computer via a USB dongle. The Force also has Bluetooth 4.0 syncing, which lets you skip your computer’s USB port and sync automatically with your iOS or Android device upon opening the app as long as it’s one of these supported devices like the Galaxy S3, S4 or Note 2.1

In addition to the native apps and web client, Fitbit offers a lot of options for putting the data it collects to good use. Once the Force’s data is transferred to your smartphone or computer, you can interpret it using a number of third-party apps like Lose It!, MapMyRun, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal. Doing so will ensure you have the most accurate log of activities, including food intake, workouts and sleep. While all of the other fitness trackers I tested come with interpretive software that’ll illustrate your progress on a computer or a smartphone, Fitbit’s agreements with their third-party partners allow you to tailor a usage experience to suit your needs. I like that.

But the Fitbit ecosystem extends beyond virtual apps. You can also add the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale or Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer for even more tracking capabilities. The Force will work just fine without them, but with them you can do things like measure the correlation between activity level and changes in weight. Pretty spiffy.

The Force can also help estimate your sleep. No longer do you have the hassle of removing your device from a clip and slipping it into a neoprene wristband. Hold down the button and the Force’s accelerometer monitors how much you’re tossing and turning. While not a precise measure of sleep quality, the feature can give you some general feedback about your sleep habits if taken with a grain of salt.

The Force even has a silent wake alarm that vibrates at a specified time set by the user.

The Force even has a silent wake alarm that vibrates at a specified time set by the user. It’s a bonus that any bedmate that wakes up later than you do will love. Some user reviews complain that the vibrations aren’t strong enough, but I found in my testing that it was enough to wake me from a light slumber (my wife typically gets up before me anyway). Another editor, whose significant other has a Force, said that the vibrations are strong enough to wake her up even though she’s not wearing it. Whatever the case may be, you should check if it’s enough for you before making it your primary means of getting up in the morning. Just set it to go off a couple of minutes before your normal, audible alarm and see if it wakes you up.

As previously touched upon, pretty much every professional reviewer loves the Force.

Dan Seifert of The Verge: “By all accounts, the Force is the best fitness tracker yet. It takes the convenience of the Flex and adds the information density of the One. It’s also a much more complete system than competitors such as Nike’s Fuelband.”

Lauren Goode, All Things D: “As I said, this is the next step in activity-trackers, and it’s baby steps. Still, I like the Fitbit Force.”

Jill Duffy, PCMag.com: “Fitbit’s products are consistently top notch and very accurate, and the Force is no exception. It tracks what most people will want to know about their activity and habits, and lets you fill in the missing pieces (such as calorie intake) via the Fitbit Web account. For features, accuracy, comfort, and price, the Fitbit Force is our Editors’ Choice among bracelet-style activity trackers.”

Brian Bennett, CNET: “In a nutshell, the $130 Fitbit Force is the best all-around fitness tracker I’ve ever used. In addition to being light and comfortable to wear for extended periods, the Force’s display delivers the activity stats found on Fitbit’s earlier clip-on gadgets. Toss in the time and its soon-to-be-added call notification functionality, and the Force is enough of a “smartwatch” to be useful without suffering the feature-itis of the Samsung Galaxy Gear.”

We checked in with all these reviewers several weeks after their initial reviews via Twitter and email and the Fitbit Force remained their consensus pick. Most of them said that they rotate between a couple of favorites, but each one of them said that they still use the Force.

The Verge’s Bryan Bishop said, “I tend to swap back and forth, but right now I am really liking the Fitbit Force.” Mat Honan told us, “The Fitbit Force is probably my current favorite. Basis B1 has best tech.” Jill Duffy agreed, saying, “I cycle through them because I test them, but I do have a few favorites! Fitbit One, Fitbit Force, & Basis B1 Band.” And finally, Scott Stein told us that “The one I gravitate to the most would probably be Fitbit Force or Jawbone Up24.”

Flaws But Not Dealbreakers

Let’s start with the obvious: the Force has a lot of scathing reviews on Amazon. At the time of research, one-star reviews outnumber five-star reviews 37 to 27. However, if you read through the one-star reviews, the majority of them are directed at the finicky wristband fastening mechanism that relies on friction to hold the strap together. Many people complain that this design causes the Force to detach from your wrist at random intervals, but we found in testing that the strap was perfectly serviceable and other expert reviewers echo this sentiment.

To be clear, nobody is making excuses for Fitbit’s somewhat mediocre clasp—especially not us—but the consensus is that it’s serviceable, albeit annoying, and not the dealbreaker that these Amazon reviewers make it to be. By using this technique (which involves ensuring that the clasp side of the strap is securely in place before attempting to secure the clasp), we have not experienced any problems clasping the band and have enjoyed a snug, secure fit, even while running.

Another flaw of the Force compared to something without an altimeter, like the Flex or a Jawbone Up, is that it’s not completely waterproof. In order for the Force to record how much you go up or down stairs, there must be a hole in the device for a sensor to measure air pressure. It’s splash-resistant, but it says specifically in the specifications that it “should not be submerged more than one meter” whereas the Flex, which lacks an altimeter, is okay to take in the shower and “can be submerged up to 10 meters.” It’s generally not advisable to shower with watches or electronics, even if they are water-resistant, so we won’t hold this against the Force, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Best Clip-Based Tracker

The Fitbit One is our favorite clip-on tracker. It performs just as well as the Force, though it's a lot easier to lose or accidentally run through a rinse cycle.

It’s not our pick for most people since the Force has all the same features in a more convenient package, but the Fitbit One is still our pick for people who prefer a clip-on device. The One is perfect for those who’d prefer to wear a watch or aren’t excited about wearing a wrist-mounted device. Its small size makes it easy to hide, but know that the lack of a wristband means there is a greater probability you’ll forget to wear it—or worse, forget to take it off before doing laundry. The One requires a certain amount of diligence to integrate into your daily routine.

For non-Samsung Android users

This is another clip-on device that isn't as good as our other picks but works with more devices since it supports Bluetooth 2.0 and 4.0.

With the introduction of the Pulse, Withings now has a fitness tracker to add to their well-known line of personal fitness and health products. The French company’s health and fitness ecosystem also includes a Wi-Fi enabled weight scale, Smart Body Analyzer and Blood Pressure Monitor. The data collected by the Smart Body Analyzer can be sent to the Fitbit ecosystem to work in concert with your Force, but if pairing an activity tracker with automatically logged blood pressure data is on your must-have list, the Pulse is currently your only choice. (Fitbit does offer blood pressure tracking, but the readings must be entered by hand on their web portal.)

The Pulse supports the greatest number of devices of any tracker because it works with both the Bluetooth 2.0 and 4.0 protocol. For owners of older Android phones, it’s worth taking a look at the Pulse because Fitbit will not work with those phones. Unfortunately, this compatibility comes at the cost of automatic background syncing and updates, which the Fitbit has. Syncing the Pulse requires a long button push and waiting between 30-45 seconds for your data to be transferred from the Pulse to your mobile device. It definitely feels like a step backwards from the Fitbit, even though the end result is the same.

As far as features go, the Pulse has everything you’d expect from a fitness tracker and one major differentiator: a sensor on the back of the device that measures heart rate. After removing the device from the clip, place your finger over the sensor and your heart rate is displayed and recorded. The whole process takes about 30 seconds for resting pulse rate measurements. There are medical studies that show the benefits of paying attention to this metric, but again, this is for resting pulse only. For those whose number one priority is health tracking as opposed to mere motivation and movement tracking, this addition might be enough to give the Pulse a nod over the Fitbit, but think long and hard before doing that. Ecosystem is more important when it comes to these things and so far, Fitbit is winning on that front.

The Withings Health Mate app and desktop software are well-liked by reviewers and I found them pleasant to use during my own testing (they’re a lot like Fitbit’s). But while these programs organize the activity data in a clean and simple manner and are easy to use, the lack of a social component harms their potential for motivation. For comparison, Fitbit allows you to interact with other Fitbit owners by viewing where you rank with your last seven days of activity. You also have the the ability to send your friends and family that have a Fitbit messages, taunts and encouragement.

For those who love and have bought into the Withings ecosystem of products, the Pulse is a great addition. But the pulse rate measurement is more of a gimmick than a deal-maker at this stage. Overall, until some of the small flaws of this device are rectified, we still think that the Fitbit One is the best clip fitness tracker available. While generally positive, Dan Cooper of Engdaget sees some shortcomings with the Pulse: “As you may have gathered, we generally like the Pulse, but it has some problems that could ultimately hamper its success.” Mat Honan of Wired says, “It’s a solid choice, and it has many strengths. Having said that, it’s not my current favorite, due entirely to the fact that it is an attachable device, not a wearable device.”

The Competition

There’s a lot to like about Jawbone’s fitness trackers, especially the new UP24 with Bluetooth syncing, but each pro has its con. If you’re willing to go without a screen, prefer goal-oriented tracking to data-oriented tracking, are more motivated by alerts than numbers and aren’t troubled by a spotty reliability record, then it’s not a bad option, but that’s a lot of “ifs.” Mat Honan of Wired sums it up well: “While wonderfully useful, this band (UP24) feels like its playing catch-up.” If they ever release a model that is cheaper and has a display of some sort, this openness could feasibly push it ahead of Fitbit, but only if third parties actually adopt the platform. For now, Fitbit is the better buy.

One of the newest and most intriguing fitness trackers available is the Basis B1.

One of the newest and most intriguing fitness trackers available is the Basis B1. This smartwatch/fitness tracker hybrid is the first to make use of skin contact and an optical sensor to collect heart rate and perspiration data (although the heart rate sensor will not work while exercising). It’s got a retro-minimalist design and is available in white and black. But the sleek styling and extra data sensors do come at a cost. $200 is a lot to pay for something that delivers similar results to a $100 device. A lot of our expert reviewers named this as one of their favorites, but they are connoisseurs who are willing to deal with a bit of hassle to get the latest and greatest technology. DC Rainmaker offers the most in-depth review of the Basis B1 (and many other fitness-related gadgets), and he concludes by saying that he likes it for the most part, especially for a first-generation product, but that “there’s a number of areas that just need more polish and explanation.” Chances are that these issues will be addressed down the road, but for the time being, the Force is still the better buy.

The $85 Flex, Fitbit’s original wrist tracker, lacks the screen and altimeter of the Force. Instead, it has an LED strip that tracks battery life and progress towards your activity goal for the day. This wrist-mounted design means you’re less likely to lose it, but it has some pretty major compromises. Peter Ha reviewed it for Gizmodo and found that readings from the One and Flex differed dramatically on a day-to-day basis: “Over the course of four days, the number of steps tracked on the Flex versus the One varied from as little as a few hundred to several thousand.” The Force, on the other hand, was within a few hundred of the One for each of our six days of testing.

For those seeking a less expensive device to start tracking their activity, Fitbit offers the Zip. This $60 device features a small clip form and syncs via Bluetooth. The lower price means no backlit screen and the device is limited to three metrics: steps, distance and estimated calories burned. That said, many users do seem to like the Zip, but they’ve chosen to make that feature trade-off in favor of an affordable, simple device.

For those seeking the most minimal, stylish fitness tracker available, the Misfit Shine is worth a look, but only if you’re willing to do without some key features like a screen, accuracy (it uses ShinePoints instead of real measures) and a rechargeable battery (though it does last longer than a month on a single watch battery). Its round body is about the size of two stacked quarters and is made from anodized aluminum. Instead of a display, it has a circle of LEDs. When you tap the device, the ring of lights will show your progress or even the approximate time of day. But the compromises made in the name of minimalism don’t quite justify the result. Shine was previously iOS only, but recently added Android compatibility. Though the Shine features Bluetooth syncing, the metallic shell requires physical contact with your iOS device to sync data. Some reviewers have questioned the accuracy of this first-generation device and think that requiring switching activity type within the app is a cumbersome step. Eugene Kim from PCMag.com sums the situation pretty well: “The Misfit Shine is an activity tracker that’s big on style, but doesn’t quite offer enough to shine above the advanced competition.”

For $150, you’d expect the Nike FuelBand SE to do more, not less, than its cheaper competitors. You’d be wrong. This updated version does feature some improvements, including Bluetooth 4.0, more colors, sleep tracking and the ability to measure and display steps. While we are encouraged that Nike has included a real life metric, “FuelScore” is still the emphasis here. Even with these improvements, there’s still no Android support. Reviewers aren’t impressed either. Scott Stein at CNET says, “The FuelBand SE comes closer to being a smarter continuous activity-tracking must-have than its predecessor, but the software’s still not as good as the feel and look of the band itself.” Gizmodo’s Leslie Horn concludes, “If you’re looking to get your first activity tracker, the FitBit Force is much more accurate and specific, and it’s $20 cheaper at $130.” Nike has the cool factor, but until a Fuelband collects and display a broader range of actionable data, pass on this one.

In March of 2013, the Amiigo raised more than half a million dollars on Indiegogo and has yet to ship, which is troubling from the get-go. With the help of some proprietary algorithms, Amiigo promises the ability to recognize and measure different types of activity and exercise, but there’s no telling if that is even possible at this point considering it’s still not out. While waiting for the launch of the Amiigo, many of the major fitness tracker companies are incorporating features based on this idea. The ‘Active Minutes’ metric, though not sport-specific, shows that Fitbit and Withings’ radars are moving in this direction. With a release in 2013 looking unlikely, the Amiigo will really need to have these feature working well to make an impact in this product category.

For those who want their fitness tracker to provide more information during serious exercise, the Polar Loop might be worth a look. The Loop measures the standard array of activity data and, along with the Basis B1, it can display heart rate. While Polar’s $100 wrist tracker requires the purchase of an additional $55-60 chest strap, it’s the only one that can accurately monitor and record your heart rate data during vigorous exercise. Unless you consider this a must-have metric, you’d be better served with the Fitbit Force.

There’s also an offering for the budget-minded crowd, the Fitbug Orb. It has Bluetooth 4.0, an app and accessories to go along with it, but at $50, you have to question its quality. While it’s very possible it could be serviceable as a device, there’s no chance the ecosystem and app will be as good as Fitbit’s. You will see many similar, cheap trackers, but really, they’re just pedometers with Bluetooth in disguise and are not worth your money.

Adidas has also jumped into the mix with a fitness tracker/smartwatch. Reviewers seem to think that it’s a decent workout watch. But the terrible one-day battery life of the Adidas miCoach SMART RUN is a dealbreaker. We’re going to say you can pass on a $400 first-generation device that comes from a company with very limited experience in making consumer gadgets.

With their line of clip-based trackers, Striiv offers a different approach to getting people active. The Striiv Play and Smart Pedometer attempt to turn 10,000 steps a day into playing a game, donating to charity and competing with friends. While we applaud them on their original ideas in the category, we think the instantaneous feedback provided by a wrist-mounted device and seamless syncing beats out gamification.

Wrapping It Up

Most people will be happy with the Fitbit Force. For $130, you get a full-featured device and great software to record and analyze your activity. Unless you don’t want a device taking up space on your wrist or feel that measuring your heart rate is a must, the Fitbit Force is the fitness tracker you want.

This guide originally appeared in The Wirecutter on December 11, 2013 and is republished here with permission.