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June 10, 2015

Wearables 2.0 — The Rise of Trackers

Wearable tech is everywhere. On your friends and co-works belts, necklaces, shoes and wrists. Futuristic bracelets, watches, clasps and jewelry that track your body’s vital statistics, daily activities and exercise. But do they work? Are they a help or a hindrance to your efforts to get fit, stay healthy and be injury free, on your way to wellness nirvana. In this episode of Working The Web to Win we will cover the latest craze generally referred to as “activity trackers“. We will discuss the pros and cons of many of the top sellers and also delve into the logistics of searching for, buying, and using these fascinating self-spying devices that are taking the world by storm.

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Courtesy of: phonearena.com

We have been writing about high tech gadgets (check out Next Tech- The future is Now) for about two years now. Being somewhat of a health nut, I pay attention to anything that might make it easier to stay healthy.  When the first smart watches started to come out in 2013, we knew that this would be a mega trend. Apple had indicated it too would be releasing a smart watch, even though it did not come out till 2015. This announcement created a lot of buzz and drove a lot of new players into the market (like PebbleSony and Samsung). 2013 was like the birth of the viable wearable devices. A whole hoard of devices hit the market – wearable cameras, computers, clothing and yes health trackers. Jawbone was one of the very first and we wrote about this first generation of activity trackers in our article called “Ready to Ware” in 2014.

I have been using pedometers for many years and have always found them to be useful. However, I also found that I would break or lose many of them as they were usually attached to my belt. This made them more susceptible to being hit or lost. This article is my way of sharing what I have learned. Also you should know that no one is paying me for my endorsement or opinion.

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Courtesy of: guardianlv.com

Digital pedometers have been around a long time. Devices that measure and track heart rate go back to the ’80s if not earlier. So what makes all of these new wearable health trackers different? My answer to that is this: They have a higher level of sophistication and track more health related elements, yet they are still relatively easy to use. On top of that, they now have the ability to store your health related data either for personal development or to compete against friends in community support groups. Many will actually interface with other online apps allowing you to enter and track your food and water consumption, thus allow you to measure calories burned vs calories consumed. Here are important questions everyone should be asking if they are thinking about getting an activity tracker.

Should I get one? For those who are trying to lose weight or improve your health, the answer is yes. The strength of these devices is they provide immediate feedback.  In sports and in health, prompt feedback is the breakfast of champions.

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Courtesy of: betanews.com

Do they work? Yes, they do. Most will automatically track steps, distance, calories burned and even the amount of sleep you receive. Most will let you enter your water intake and the food you eat (providing your calorie count for the day). Many calculate calorie burn based on the intensity of your activities as well as the amount you engaged in. Many have built in databases of the most commonly eaten foods, just to make it easier to enter your consumption data.

Must have items and cost? – Set a budget before starting to because these devices range in price from about $20 to well over $600. The most expensive is also not necessarily the best or the right one for your lifestyle. In the $20 to $99 range you will find the semi mechanical pedometers, Chinese imports and entry level name brand devices. The best and easiest to use seem to be in the $50 range if you’re looking for an entry level device.

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Courtesy of: Fitbit.com

Take the Fitbit Zip, the Misfit Shine and the Jawbone Up. At the $100 to $200 range, you will find greater sophistication and heart rate monitoring (GPS tracking is available via your Smartphone in some models). I like the Fitbit Charge, Charge HR and the Garmin Vivofit/Fit2 and the Jawbone UP2/3. In the $200 to $400 range you’ll find build in GPS tracking in some models.  You will also begin to enter the smart watch arena price range. Here is where additional functionality starts to ratchet up the prices. If you’re thinking of going the smart watch route, stick to which every smart phone family you use (Apple, Samsung or Microsoft). Also, this is where sport and exercise specific devices come into play as well. Both Garmin and Polar have a wide variety of specialized exercise trackers that fit this category.

Must Know Items! Many of these gadgets must be paired with a newer Smartphone (Android 4.3 or later and iPhone 4 and up). Some also require Bluetooth 4.0. There are several that will work just with your computer if it has Bluetooth. Some use a USB cable to share data (almost all have specialized USB cables for charging) and some come with a Bluetooth dongle to connect your tracker to your computer.

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Courtesy of: ebay seller – goldenwattle-au

If you need to go cheap there is an option. Most of the inexpensive models only have Smartphone apps and don’t have an online portal or computer application. Most of these apps don’t have third-party compatibility either. Many will only work with a newer Smartphone. I found the Fitbit online communities very useful. These online portals help support your effort to achieve improved health or lose weight. Also third party plug-ins like MyfitnessPal.com can be invaluable. You lose this in many of the inexpensive models. Also, many of the inexpensive models have smart apps that are harder or awkward to use.

Who Makes the Best Activity Tracker? After some research, you will discover certain manufactures and models come up over and over again. That’s because these products, on average, are the best products on the market today. Many made the top 10 list because the author or reviewer of the device emphasized the aspects they liked most. Aspects like ease of use, quality of the accompanying app, measuring certain activity/health functions (aka heart rate, sleep, GPS tracking), measuring certain kinds of exercise, having third party vendor support and online community support. Fitbit, MistFit, Jawbone, Garmin and Polar show up over and over again, regardless of the price category.

Check out EZVID top 10 fitness trackers video

Find products and get the best deal. These activity trackers can be purchased almost anywhere. Many department stores have them. Most sporting goods stores carry them, but a few of the higher end smart watches can only be had in Apple, or Microsoft stores. This will change, since the evolution of these products is happening at a rapid pace. I also found you can get them on AmazonEBay and AliExpress.com.

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Courtesy of: aliexpress.com

Coupons can be found online for these devices as well. If you have a specialized discount program or loyalty rewards points at a specific store (like Dick’s Sporting Goods) you can take advantage of that as well. You can find many refurbished and used activity trackers on EBay. I purchase a Fitbit Charge (retail $130) for a substantial discount because it was a store return. I paid  $75 for it and I have to say it looked brand new and worked perfectly. I have also purchased several of the no-name Chinese products in the $20 to $30 range as research for this article, and they worked well, although were not as comprehensive or as easy to use as the Fitbit Charge. I also ordered a Fitbit Charge HR from AliExpress.com, to see if I can buy these products from the world’s largest online eCommerce company, Alibaba. If and when it comes in I will update this article to share my experience. AliExpress.comstates that delivery can take between 15 and 45 days.

How to Choose? Your decision for choosing one of these gadgets is going to be determined by one of several factors. These factors will include your budget first, followed by whether you’re already active or not and then by individual features. Many of my friends who are runners chose activity trackers that were designed for runners by runners. If you’re into swimming, then a water proof model will be very important. If you’re trying to lose weight, then tracking your general activity 24/7 will be the most important thing. As a rule I have found that if you’re the average person just looking to improve your health by understanding your activity, you will choose an entry to mid-level products manufactured by Fitbit, Jawbone, MisFit, Garmin, or Polar. Whereas if you’re already into lots of fitness activities you will choose the upper middle to top of the line Fitbit Garmin or Polar products. If you’re into style and are also looking for a device that does many other things, you should opt for a smart watch. By the way, there are literally over a hundred manufactures of activity trackers today. These are the crème dela crème.

Check out RizKnow Video on his the top 5 picks for 2015

There have been some problems reported with some of these devices, although I have not had this issue myself. A quick Internet search will bring up YouTube videos sharing favorites and complaints all in the same episode. Some of the items I will warn you about have more to do with expectations than products having major defects. I have heard of inaccurate/inconsistent HR monitoring on devices that don’t have a chest strap. Apps locking up on Smartphones and incompatible issues with older smart phones. I have also seen a few complaints about products not being waterproof enough. The truth is this: If you’re buying a $150 device because it has a heart rate monitor, don’t expect it to be as accurate as a $300 device that has a chest strap. If you want it to track every kind of exercise expect to pay more. Here is a list of the top features I recommend having along with a list of nice to have features as well.

A list of must have features.

  • Standard measurements and stats – steps, distance, time, calories, sleep.
  • Alarms to tell you when you reached your goal/s and to remind you to snack.
  • Databases – Type of workouts, food and beverage calories, workout histories, consumption calorie intake history.
  • A top notch, easy to use smartphone app.
  • Community and product support via an online portal.
  • Battery that lasts at least a week. The longer the better.

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A list of nice to have features.

  • Inactivity alerts and alarms.
  • Heart rate monitoring.
  • GPS Tracking w/o smartphone.
  • Smartphone notifications for calls, text and emails.
  • Waterproofing if you swim a lot.
  • Sports specific features if you cycle, swim, box, lift weights etc.….

The digital Bluetooth and Internet-ready activity/health trackers of today are much more robust in data collecting and organize than their predecessors. The activity/health picture they provide is much more immediate, useful and motivating than their mechanical ancestors.

I have had a great experience with the Fitbit Charge. I find myself wanting to go for long walks and paying much closer attention to what I eat on a daily basis. I have lost more than 15 pounds in the first 30 days of using my Fitbit Charge. As a health improvement tool it’s great. Many of my friends who use their trackers have also reported losing significant weight as well. I believe these types of devices can provide extra motivation to help you stay on track for weight loss and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

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Courtesy of: fitbit.com

But make no mistake. These devices do not do the walking or exercise for you. They will not automatically enter the food you eat or the water you drink. You still need to do that yourself. You still need to pay attention to what the activity tracker is telling you. These devices help by automatically tracking your steps, runs exercise and then automatically calculate your calorie burn. Many will even automatically track your sleep. If you do your part (i.e. walk/run/exercise and record your daily food/water consumption) these devices will give you everything you need to successfully improve your health. The feedback they provide will show you your calorie consumption verses your calorie burn, and this will guide you to a better understanding of your activity that creates your health.

What’s the best for the money? – After reading more than one dozen articles, watching twice as many videos and looking at about half a dozen of the activity trackers, I chose the Fitbit charge. If you’re into a specific sport (cycling, running, swimming, weight lifting, boxing, etc.…) you’re probably going to choose a different model.

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Courtesy of: https://www.fitbit.com/charge hr

What’s next? – These devices are changing rapidly. I am calling the current generation of these devices “activity trackers 2.0” —  but rest assured that 3.0 is just around the corner. It’s a no-brainer to tell you that the future of fitness trackers is here to stay. The coming year will see prices coming down, features getting better, more features will be added, and portals will get better. HR monitoring will become a standard item in the mid price range, better waterproofing will be added as well. Expect longer battery life to become a major battle ground in the tracker wars.
Here is a list of great products worth mentioning. Top products in the more strict “Ativity Trackers Category” (along with their websites) are:

Fitbit – Zip, One, Flex, Charge and Charge HR, Surge

Jawbone – Up, UP2, UP3

Garmin – Vivofit, Vivofit2, Vivosmart, Vivoactive

Misfit – Shine,  Flash, Bolt

Polar – Polar loop, A300, V650, and many more

In the Smart Watch Category I have included:

Pebble – Samsung – Microsoft – Apple


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Hector Cisneros is the president and COO for W Squared Media Group LLC. A digital Marketing Agency in the N.E. Florida Area. He is also the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio Show Working The Web To Win. W Squared Media also does Business as Working The Web To Win online and in Florida.

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