In this wearables shootout, we look at activity and wellness trackers able to provide Heart Rate Monitoring (HRM) without the need for a chest strap.
Out of our small selection, the Fitbit Blaze is easily the most attractive looking ﬁtness tracker available. The strap is made from ﬂexible elastomer found in sport watches with options for genuine leather or stainless steel. Its Buckle and frame is made from surgical-grade stainless steel with traces of nickel.
Fitbit Blaze’s setup is simple to do and its proprietary app is even simpler to understand. Out of all the proprietary apps that came with their trackers in this shootout, it was the most interactive – giving us the breakdown of all the statistics we wanted to read, be it passive step tracking or active sports. The app interface is detailed yet simple to understand, though it doesn’t provide any tips on how to maximize your lifestyle.
Some may argue that the Blaze is a smartwatch because of its appearance, but our experience with the Blaze tells us that it works more as a full-ﬂedged ﬁtness tracker, since the Blaze does not run on Android Wear and it only provides smartphone notiﬁcation pushing to the user. The Fitbit Blaze has a commendable ﬁtness functionality amongst the other trackers here that support Heart Rate Monitoring, since it provides both active and passive HR tracking, and multi-sport tracking (except swimming).
Its 1.7-inch, touch-sensitive color LCD screen also makes it easy to read the display at night. The colors helped differentiate the different numbers and logos – which can be handy after a strenuous exercise. It’s not the most accurate step tracker, but its HRM tracking is on par with the Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse, with the extra beneﬁt having your HR tracked during exercise. The Fitbit Blaze becomes slightly difﬁcult to use with sweaty ﬁngers after a run though, given its glass display.
Between the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music and this, the Fitbit Blaze provides a more intuitive interface for a fitness tracker. It is suitable for someone with an active lifestyle. It also helps that the device doesn’t look out of place if you wear it anywhere outside of exercising; something we can’t say for the TomTom wearable’s appearance. If you require a passive tracker at a lower price point, look towards the Jawbone UP3 or Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse instead.
+Attractive and functional.
-Difficult to use touchscreen after sweating it out.
AT A GLANCE
Up to 5 days
44g (default strap)
The Fitbit Blaze’s appearance is
attractive and functional, making
it easy to use its color LCD
You can get the Fitbit Blaze
in its traditional durable strap
right out of the box, or a stylish
genuine leather alternative (sold
The Jawbone UP3 is physically appealing, with its strap made from hypoallergenic TPU rubber, and a sensor fashioned from anodized aluminum. However, form does not follow function – the wearable can be challenging to wear. The clasp is tricky to operate with just one hand. Even though it is adjustable, we never really got a comfortable ﬁt. Worse of all, the clasp seems to loosen with wear, and after just a couple of days, it wears much looser than we would have liked.
Previously, we’ve tried the UP3 on its down and felt it was one of the better wellness trackers you can get. It turns out that the UP3 is not as accurate as we expected it to be, after comparing it to Xiaomi’s Mi Band Pulse and the iPhone 6s Plus built-in trackers (see our Benchmark section for more details). However, it does still have the best proprietary app because data recorded is presented in a useful and understandable manner. Other apps simply tell us the numbers we’ve accumulated, but the Jawbone’s tracking app has little snippets of fun facts about exercise and sleep, and it Upon approval Please sign: Name and Date: integrates your day’s result to make sense of your numbers.
The passive Heart Rate functionality was helpful at large, even though it made us feel helpless in the moment. The Jawbone UP3 is largely automatic and decides when to take a sample of your heart rate. There are pros and cons to this of course. On the downside, there is virtually no way to pick up a snapshot of your heart rate on demand – unlike the Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse, which gives you that without any hassle. However, the Jawbone UP3’s HR recording is quiet and automatic, so you’ll get a better average reading at the end of the day.
Even if you’re not a stickler for pinpoint accuracy within a passive wellness tracker, it is hard to deny that at $309, the UP3 is quite pricey when there are more accurate alternatives at a far lower cost such as the Mi Band Pulse. Also, while appearances are indeed important, we’d like to argue that the Fitbit Blaze would be better value for money – you pay a similar amount, and you get far more than passive tracking with the Blaze.
+Amazing app interface that coaches the user.
-Spotty accuracy, even for a wellness tracker.
AT A GLANCE
iPhone 4S or later
Android 4.3 or later
Bluetooth 4.0 BLE
Up to 7 days
Smart Coach within the Jawbone
UP3 app is a game changer to
understanding helpful data.
The clasp is secure, but it takes
nimble ﬁngers and practice to get
the UP3 around your wrist.
TOMTOM SPARK CARDIO + MUSIC
If you come across as the no-nonsense sort, the TomTom Spark personiﬁes exactly that. Its rubber strap is the easiest to secure and detach. It even comes in a few colors and is replaceable given that the “brain” of the Spark can be detached. Frankly, it’s not the most attractive device with its thick bezel and the knobbylooking GPS housing which doubles as controls for the non-touchscreen device. It provides sleep tracking, but there’s no realistic way of wearing it to bed without interfering with your sleep.
The Spark comes in various models ranging from a base activity tracker ($249) to the Spark Cardio ($329) with built-in HRM and the Spark Cardio + Music ($399), which further adds 3GB for local music storage and playback so you don’t need a separate music player. It even comes pre-loaded with a customized Ministry of Sound playlist to get you started. You can even get the Spark Cardio + Music with a Bluetooth headset bundled – if you don’t already have one – at a must costlier $479.
The features of the Spark Cardio + Music thrives in practicality. It has multi-sport tracking including swimming, since the device is waterproof up to 40m. Activity tracking is very detailed; tell the device the type of run you’re going for, and get details other tracker’s apps don’t provide, such as calories and energy burnt. The Spark’s HRM tracks activity, which means you can’t get a passive readout, but it can give you a thorough breakdown of your heart rate during exercise. It has nearly everything the Fitbit Blaze has and more, but it doesn’t push smartphone notiﬁcations yet (to arrive via software update in Q2 2016).
The app’s interface looks straightforward at first glance, until you realize that it hides most of its passive data points in deeper menus. That said, it is still the most informative app tested. While the Jawbone UP3 offers tips, the TomTom app is the boss of hard empirical data. Our run data even had the average number of strides per minute.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is an easy choice if you lead a hyper-active lifestyle, but depending on the features you want, can end up being a very hefty investment.
+Detailed app and ﬁlled with features for adrenaline junkies.
-Least attractive and most expensive of the lot.
AT A GLANCE
Up to three weeks
The physical buttons that houses
the GPS unit isn’t the prettiest,
but it sure works well with
The ridged strap with snap-on
clasps on the TomTom Spark
Cardio + Music makes it ideal
for secure use during strenuous
XIAOMI MI BAND PULSE
On the surface, the Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse is nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor, the original Mi Band. It is still the same oblong shaped sensor, with a shiny cut edge around its aluminum top. The Pulse however, introduces a heart rate monitor onto the tiny device. The wearable’s silicone band is quite comfortable on skin. We were only conscious about the device when we went for a run, but not during day-to-day activities, such as being at work or in bed.
The Mi Band Pulse is supported by the same app made for its previous wearable. Pairing the new Pulse via Bluetooth is just as easy as the old Mi Band’s process. The new BPM (beats per minute) feature is easily visible on the main screen, but it only tracks resting HR, since the device requires you to tap ‘measure’ in the app’s menu in order to get a static snapshot of your BPM. It does not take a live sample when you are awake, or running. That said it is one of the most accurate HRMs in this shootout as it gives readings that are close to other HRM capable wearables and even home-use blood pressure monitors.
As we tested the band on an iOS platform, it’s immediately apparent that the iOS app version has limited functionality when compared to its Android counterpart. The Android app lets you indicate the unique types of exercises, like Rope Jumping or Sit-ups, but this feature is seemingly missing from the iOS version. As a passive wellness tracker, the Mi Band Pulse only tells us the total number of steps and sleep accrued, and doesn’t differentiate between exercise and day-to-day activity.
While it may not pack as many features as compared to Jawbone or Fitbit trackers, it still does all the basics of a tracker on top of its new and accurate heart rate tracking. If you’re particular about your strenuous activities, the Mi Band Pulse would be underequipped to make you satisﬁed. However, if you’re a sedentary ofﬁce worker who’d like to see some physical progress, the Mi Band Pulse is an excellent choice given its low price point and core features. It’s more accurate than its fellow wellness tracker, the Jawbone UP3, too.
+Accurate wellnesstracking despite its weight.
-Light on features because of its price.
AT A GLANCE
iOS7 or later
Android 4.4 or later
Up to 30 days
5.5g (Sensor only)
The Pulse’s Heart Rate Monitor
gives you your HR reading ondemand
within the app,
The Mi Band Pulse’s strap is
simple, and they come in gaudy
colors. Black seems like the
best choice as it ampliﬁes its
(Closer to 100% – better)
We tested a day’s worth of steps tracking by wearing one wearable on each wrist. Since we can only wear two trackers on one individual wrist at any time for the most accurate result possible, we tested different wearables on different days, using the iPhone 6s Plus built-in Health app as the control factor. We did not feed the data from the wearables to the Health app, and each number came from their respective proprietary tracking apps.
We determine if the tracker is relatively more accurate by comparing its score to the day’s average score - an average of the trackers used and the iPhone 6s Plus. The Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse came within 0.02 percent of the average score, beating the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music’s 0.04 percent difference.
Distance in kilometers
(Closer to 100% – better)
Like our steps, the distance indicates how far each wearable has travelled in one day. Since we can only wear two trackers on one individual wrist at any time for the most accurate result possible, we tested different wearables on different days, using the iPhone 6s Plus’ built-in Health app as the control factor. We did not feed the data from the wearables to the Health app, and each number came from their respective proprietary tracking apps.
We determine if the tracker is relatively more accurate by comparing its score to the day’s average score - an average of the trackers used and the iPhone 6s Plus. The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music tracker was only off the average score by 0.47 percent – the next closest is the Fitbit Blaze at 1.89 percent off the mark.
Passive Heart Rate in BPM
(Closer to average score – better)
All four trackers are capable of reading our passive heart rate. Since each reading takes only a few minutes to record, we were able to test the values on the same day, within the same hour. The sample was taken from a sedentary position – at our ofﬁce desk, in the middle of the work day. Each value is an average of multiple attempts.BPM stands for Beats Per Minute. It indicates the number of times the heart would beat within the minute.
For reference, a typical battery-powered blood pressure monitor designed for home-use gave us a reading of 84 BPM. The average score of all four devices and the BP monitor is 80 BPM, with Fitbit Blaze being right on the money.
GETTING REWARDED FOR YOUR STEPS
Activity trackers have never been more in-demand as healthy living and ﬁtness trends grow. However, unless you workout regularly, the novelty of looking at your daily step counter usually wears off after a few weeks when there’s no other motivation to keep tracking your progress.
Remember NikeFuel, Nike’s universal activity measurement system that earned you ‘Fuel’ points and achievements? it was fun while it laster, but again, nothing tangible came out of it.
So what do you do with all those step goals you’re meeting everyday? If you guessed “there’s bound to be an app for it”, you’d be partially correct. There’s actually a portal for it.
Active Ager Asia (activeager.asia) is a new startup that gamiﬁes activity tracking with physical rewards. Signing up for a free account lets you sync your tracker to its dashboard and access select merchant privileges. Paid members with anannual subscription will also be able to participate in regular ‘challenges’, redeem their points for rewards such as groceryvouchers and take part in lucky draws.
According to the portal, it currently supports Fitbit and Jawbone devices, plus Google Fit and Moves mobile apps.
AND THE BEST FITNESS TRACKER IS
True, the TomTom Spark Music + Cardio is the more detailed sports tracker, but the whole point of the wearables form factor is to allow the device to be seen in a social setting. The Fitbit Blaze does all the necessary tracking for strenuous activities with due accuracy, and without forgoing the fact that the information displayed must be easy to read and access. It is easy to use when you’re exhausted after a run.
The lower price tag makes it easy for us to say that the Blaze deﬁnitely performed well – as a active sports tracker and as a personal accessory.
XIAOMI MI BAND PULSE
Despite its diminutive size and cut-throat price tag, the Xiaomi Mi Pulse has the best value for money given that it’s insanely affordable and more accurate that some of its more expensive peers. It’s nothing ﬂashy, and the stats provided are rather basic, but that makes it easier to convince a non-wearable user to adopt this device and start a new life.
The Jawbone UP3 is no doubt handy with the app’s built-in coaching and attractive color options, but the Xiaomi Mi Band actually did the “simple and passive” shtick to a better effect.