If you’ve been to the gym lately, chances are good that you’ve seen your fair share of people wearing fitness trackers. If you exercise regularly, you probably even own one yourself. If you’re unfamiliar, though, wearable fitness trackers monitor metrics such as steps taken, calories burned, stairs climbed, distance travelled and even idle hours. Fitness trackers often come in the form of wearable wristbands, necklaces or watches. Some can also be clipped to your clothing. These devices link up to your smartphone or tablet through bluetooth in order to log your activity. The issue that many people have with fitness trackers, however, is the cost. One of the most popular wearable lines, the Fitbit, starts at nearly $60 and has models that cost well over $200. According to a new report, inexpensive smartphone apps can measure the number of steps you’ve taken just as well as an expensive wearable.
Popular Wearables Tested
For the new study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia tested some of the most popular wearable fitness trackers on the market. They included:
- Nike Fuelband
- Jawbone UP24
- Fitbit Flex
- Fitbit One
- Fitbit Zip
- Digi-Walker SW-200
These devices were tested against less expensive apps that only require a smartphone. The apps were:
- Galaxy S4 Moves App
- iPhone 5s Moves App
- iPhone 5s Health Mate App
- iPhone 5s Fitbit App
Fourteen adult study participants were fitted with each of the the fitness tracking devices and two cellphones containing the apps. Volunteers walked on treadmills set to 3 mph while researchers manually recorded each step. Volunteers completed a 500-step trial followed by a 1500-step trial. When the researchers compared their official counts to the fitness trackers, it was found that the total number of steps recorded varied significantly.
Not Worth The Money?
The Digi-Walker SW-200, a relatively simple pedometer, performed generally well in the test. However, the Nike Fuelband was found to underreport steps taken by over 20 percent. When it came right down to it, the expensive fitness trackers were no more accurate than any of the tested apps – all of which happen to be free in the iTunes or Google Play stores. While some may argue that more expensive fitness trackers can at least help motivate people to exercise, researchers have found this to be untrue as well. It seems that both apps and wearables are merely a method for people to measure their exercise, rather than helping them develop beneficial behavioral changes.
Wearable Fitness Trackers: The Bottom Line
In their defense, expensive wearable fitness trackers often have many more features and options than a free app. However, if the only exercise you truly care about measuring involves the number of steps you’ve taken, it could be much more convenient and cost-effective to just use a smartphone app.