Don't wear your heart(rate) on your sleeve: Fitness trackers that go beyond the wrist
Fitness trackers are exploding in popularity. Despite the growing number of options, features and price points, one unifying trend persists: the vast majority of fitness trackers need to be worn on the wrist. What's a bracelet-averse person to do? Here are some options beyond the wrist, from current industry standards to cutting-edge wearables.
Although other companies are gaining considerable name recognition, industry pioneer Fitbit is nearly an eponym for fitness trackers.
There are benefits to choosing the most established brand: The accompanying app is user-friendly and well supported and glitches/inaccuracies have been mostly corrected. Since there are a variety of devices to choose from, you can match one to your (wristband-free) lifestyle. Evaluating Fitbit offerings is also a good way to ascertain the state of the industry.
The Fitbit One is a solid clip-on option. The device is sleek, light and little; it could easily be mistaken for a thumb drive. Secure it to your belt, pocket or bra, and it will continually track steps, floors climbed, distance, calories burned and active minutes. It also has a vibrating silent alarm feature, but to use that, you'll have to wear it on a wristband while you sleep.
Like most entry-level trackers, the One is essentially a souped-up pedometer. Its core technologies (a 3-way accelerometer and an altimeter) are robust, but without higher-end components like GPS and heart rate monitoring, it just won't offer the most complete health picture.
It's great at tracking activities on foot, but when it comes to other sports, the One won't know what hit it. It's therefore probably best for "regular" people trying to up their activity level, as opposed to more serious fitness fanatics.
Fitbit One is competitively priced at US$99.95. For a cheaper option in the Fitbit family, try the Fitbit Zip. It doesn't track floors climbed or have an alarm feature, but it's a more budget-friendly $69.95.
Withings Pulse O2
The unassuming Withings Pulse O2 is a strong tracker for those who want maximum data from a minimal device.
It comes with a removable wristband. Once off the band, the Pulse O2 can be clipped anywhere on the body, just like the Fitbit One. It tracks similar data (steps, elevation, distance, calories, sleep quality) and even has the same MSRP of $99.95. Perks of the Pulse O2? It gives heart rate and blood oxygen readings, which provide insight on cardio performance and circulatory efficiency.
This isn't exactly a heart rate monitor; there is no ongoing measurement. To get a heart rate reading, you'll need to stay still, remove the Pulse from wherever you keep it, flip it over and place your finger on the sensor. But while you're there, it also measures blood oxygen saturation (SpO2), a measure of how efficiently your body intakes oxygen and circulates it.
It's worth considering on its own, but will be extra attractive for those who already own Withings smart health gadgets, since the devices can work together and will have less of a learning curve.
UA Speedform Gemini 2.1 Record-Equipped Running Shoe
No one bemoans the upward size trend in smartphones like runners do. Bigger screens make it easier to view media, but they're a drag to tote around during a long, sweaty run. As a response, Under Armour introduced the Gemini, its first smart running shoe, earlier this year. The big selling point? "Run without your phone."
Embedded chips in the shoes' midsoles let you embark on a workout without any additional devices, and still record time, split pace, distance, and cadence (steps per minute, which serious runners often analyze as part of their training).
But the promise of phone-free operation is a little misleading. The shoes can only record up to five workouts before you need to sync them with the UA-owned MapMyRun app. Go without syncing and your data gets overwritten. And if you want to GPS map your route (if you're already using MapMyRun, you definitely do) you'll still need to bring your phone along. Plus, the shoes can't play music or call someone in an emergency, which are non-negotiable features for many runners.
The shoes are available in men's and women's versions. The chip battery is meant to last longer than the life of the shoe, so recharging shouldn't be an issue. At $149.99, they're in the same cost range as many running shoes, so runners are more likely to be turned off by the fit or feel of the shoe than the price.
Bragi Dash Earphones
The Bragi Dash Earphones are an exciting, ambitious attempt at a 3-in-1 device that combines headphones, activity tracking and a phone headset. They solve some major problems for athletes, but introduce some new ones as well.
These earbuds come with different sleeves to accommodate various ear shapes and activities, and stay put in your ears completely wirelessly. There are no cords, so no risk of getting entangled.
They also have an intriguing audio transparency mode. Often, people who exercise outdoors need the opposite of noise cancelling headphones. As a safety measure, it's important to hear traffic and other environmental sounds, and many people prefer to retain some connection with nature. When audio transparency is engaged, the headphones sound more like a speaker, adding to ambient noise instead of replacing it.
Dash earphones have 23 activity tracking sensors attuned to a full range of fitness parameters: heart rate, steps, activity duration, calories burned, distance, cadence, even pool lengths and breaths. They also provide live audible feedback to help you meet your goals.
Downsides? Dash relies on a touch-sensitive surface for operation, which is tough with sweaty or gloved hands. And at $299 a pair, you might wish they were tethered to you.
These headphones will become cyborg-level wearables if they ever evolve into the standalone computers that Bragi intends. Dash technology relies on Bluetooth, so to set them up, view fitness activity or stream music and calls, you'll need to keep a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone with the Bragi app nearby. Bluetooth, of course, is subject to its own set of reliability limitations.
For more on fitness trackers for both the wrist and elsewhere, you can hit up our latest buying guide.