What We Want in a Wrist Gadget
The $50 step-and-sleep counters
- Jawbone Up Move. A plastic disk. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband (sold separately for $15). Six-month disposable battery. Really great app. Showerproof, but not swimproof. Includes features 1, 2, 5, 7, 8.
- Misfit Flash. Another plastic disk. Twelve pinpoint lights illuminate to show your progress, or what time it is. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Six-month disposable battery. Waterproof. Features 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.
- Nabu X. Silicone band. One-week battery life. Shake hands with another Nabu owner to wirelessly become “friends.” Lights up when your phone has a notification. Features 1, 2, 4, 7.
- Fitbug Orb. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Six-month disposable battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs and the ability to log food. Features 1, 2, 8.
- Fitbit Zip. Clips to your clothes; no wristband, no sleep tracking. Six-month disposable battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs. Features 1, 2, 5, 6, 7.
- Pivotal Living Tracker 1. This astonishingly cheap tracker is only $12 —but that’s per year. If you don’t renew, it still counts steps, but the app stops working. Six-day battery. Features 1, 2, 6, 7, 11.
The $100 trackers
- Jawbone Up2. Great-looking silicone wristband. One-week battery. A couple of status lights. Idle alert (vibrates when you’ve been sitting motionless for too long — an extremely important feature). Smart alarm (tries to wake you at the lightest part of your sleep cycle, to avoid grogginess — even if it’s a little before your scheduled alarm time). Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11.
- Misfit Shine. A great-looking metal disc — clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Twelve pinpoint lights illuminate to show your progress, or what time it is. Disposable battery lasts up to six months. Waterproof. Features 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7.
- Fitbit Flex. Sleek-looking silicone band. Five bright indicator LED lights. Week-long battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs. Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8.
- Garmin Vivofit 2. One-year disposable battery — amazing. A screen. Inactivity alarm. Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. (Here’s my full review.)
- Garmin Vivosmart ($150). Extremely slim, but with a screen that appears when you tap it; it shows incoming texts and calls from your phone Waterproof. Inactivity alarm. One-week battery. Features 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10.
The fitness watches
- Mio Alpha 2, $200. Chunky. Color-coded LEDs to show you your current cardio zone. No GPS. Three-month battery (or less if you work out often). Features 2, 6, 9.
- Mio Fuse, $150. Waterproof, fat band with heart monitor. Week-long battery life. Doesn’t track sleep or stair climbing. Features 2, 4, 6, 9.
- TomTom Runner Cardio, $270. Rather huge, with heart tracking and GPS. Eight-hour life using GPS. Primarily for runners. Features 2, 6, 9.
- Basis Peak, $200. Big but amazingly proficient body-tracking device, with sensors for motion, heart rate, skin temperature, and sweat. Magnetic charger. Waterproof. Four-day battery life. Touchscreen. Features 4, 6, 9, 10, 11.
- Polar M400, $200. Thin but gigantic. GPS. Standard micro-USB jack for charging — all other products here require a proprietary USB charging cord, which is easy to lose. Waterproof. Three-week battery (much shorter with GPS on). Features 2, 4, 5, 6.
- Fitbit Surge, $250. GPS and heart-rate monitoring. Detects sleep automatically. Touchscreen. One-week battery (GPS eats it much faster.) Features 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
- Garmin Vivoactive, $250. Amazingly slim for a GPS watch (but no built-in heart monitor). Color screen — and it’s always on, so it makes a good watch. Three-week battery (less with GPS use). Inactivity alerts. Waterproof. Features 2, 3, 4, 6, 12.
- Apple Watch, $350 and up. Well, you know about the Apple Watch (here’s my review). Despite the cluster of sensors on the back and the polished fitness software, the Apple Watch isn’t the greatest health tracker; the one-day battery life wrecks it. You have to take it off and charge it every night, so it can’t track your sleep or wake you with a silent alarm. The heart-rate monitor samples you only once every ten minutes (except during a workout). No food tracking or community features. Features 3, 5, 6, 9, 10.
- Microsoft Band ($200). This is one astonishing piece of technology. (Here’s my full review.) Contains ten sensors, including GPS and a heart-rate monitor — remarkable features in a wristband. Unfortunately, its battery life is very short — two days — and the Band is thick, chunky, hard and, because the screen isn’t curved to your wrist, uncomfortable. Features: 1, 5, 6, 9, 10.
- Up3 Band ($180). This baby would be jaw-dropping if it did what it says it does. It’s a very thin, elegant band — with heart tracking.
Jawbone pulled that off by devising a new way to check your pulse. Most bands contain optical sensors, which shine light through your skin and measure the reflection; the Up3 band has, instead, electrodes that send an infinitesimal current through your skin.
Yet incredibly, you can’t monitor your heart on demand — say, during a workout or even during the day. The Up3 takes exactly one sample each day: when you wake up. This is a device for checking your resting heart rate once a day, nothing more.
Jawbone says that it intends to add more frequent heart tracking in a software update. (But what will that do to the band’s one-week battery life?) It says it also plans to activate the skin-temperature and ambient-temperature sensors advertised to be in the band, which currently do nothing.
In other words, Jawbone is selling you a Tesla car at full price without its engine or tires. They’ll ship those to you when they’re ready. For now, all you can do is sit in its seats and make “Vroom, vroom!” noises with your mouths.
Features: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11. And feature 9 if you’re feeling generous. Our full review is here.
- Fitbit Charge HR ($150). This band is wider than the Up3, but not nearly as massive as a watch. Yet it has a screen, which is fantastically useful. With repeated presses of the button on the side, the display cycles through the current time (yes, it’s a watch), your current steps, heart rate, distance walked, calories burned, and how many sets of stairs you’ve taken (yes, it contains an altimeter, too).