As the end of 2016 approached, more fitness bands with heart rate monitoring and other unique features plied the hearts, minds, and bodies of people who would look back on festive feasting tenderly. Here are our top choices for those who want to get fit in 2017.
Fitbit Charge 2
The Fitbit charge 2 has a band-like form factor with rubberized, interchangeable straps flanking a core that holds its hardware and display. It uses an OLED screen that’s four times larger than the charge hr’s. having a larger display makes it comfortable to read, and it now shows both the current time and some cursory fitness data. A slimmer strap width than the charge hr helps the charge 2 look sleeker, so it’s less of an eyesore.
The wearable has a raise-to-wake function that makes the information available at a glance, although it’s nowhere as colorful or easily readable as the Gear Fit2 by Samsung. This is noticeable when you’re flitting through the various options within both bands, and when you need to view stats while under sunlight.
The new charge 2 not only packs an optical heart rate monitor, but also the ability to track multiple sports like biking and hiking (no swimming for this sweat-proof device, though). It doesn’t have its own GPS despite all its tracking features, but there’s connected GPS that allows the charge 2 to pull GPS data from your smartphone.
If you’re familiar with Fitbit’s app, you’ll be pleased to know that they kept the friendly and easy-to-understand interface. One new feel-good tool they have is a cardio Fitness Score. By taking a combination of numbers from the resting heart rate measurement, existing exercise data, and profile information, Fitbit will assign a heart-health ‘score’ that tells the user if they are healthy for their age. It’s based off the VO2 Max measurement that runners use to check their cardiovascular fitness in a snapshot.
We consider Fitbit’s features well-rounded, accessible, and sensible because of how it’s presented. This helps to appeal to a broader range of fitness behaviors and it eases people into adopting a healthier outlook, beyond the gamification of personal high-scores. It also has a simple, effective design, good enough accuracy, and a UI that communicated the metrics in a digestible manner.
ATAT A GLANCE
Display: 1.5-inch OLED
Battery: Up to 5 days
With a display four times the size of its predecessor, you get more despite its slim profile.
+ A well-rounded band, with essential features and an intuitive app.
- Black-and-white display seems bland for such a pretty band.
SamSung gear Fit2
Out of the fitness trackers here, the Samsung Gear Fit2 has to be the bulkiest. Most of the bulk comes from its 1.5-inch AMOLED display and the parts that lie underneath, including its optical HRM and processor. The rest of the band is made up of elastomer removable straps.
Having a great Gorilla Glass 3 display that’s readable even under sunlight is only half of the formula though. The Gear Fit2 interface really pushes the usability of its display with a matching UI. Not only can you raise your arm to wake it, the touchscreen is very responsive and intuitive, coupled with menus that flowed from app to app very well. There was no confusion on metrics-reading, and moving between different readings.
Up until early January 2017, the Samsung Gear Fit2 was only compatible with Android OS, but the Gear Fit app has finally found its way into Apple’s App Store, putting the Gear Fit2 on an equal playing field against its competition.
The iOS interface is neat and clean, with each metric easily expanded upon by tapping each category. We had to reset the band when un-pairing the wearable from the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the older data didn’t make it to our iOS trials. Both Samsung and iOS interfaces are similar; our only concern was the lack of any fitness tips for either platform.
The biggest upgrade on the Gear Fit2 is the inclusion of a barometer, which the previous Gear Fit did not have. Tracking-wise, the device was accurate enough for day-to-day use, and it’s capable of recording distances accurately. The optical heart rate monitor gave relatively accurate readings that came within 5BPM of my average heart rate during rest.
A big caveat about the Samsung Gear Fit2 is the unreliability of its connection. It posed problems during day-to-day use – if you wanted to use a Bluetooth headset, it would mean disconnecting the Gear Fit2 from its menu, and that in turn would render the tracker incapable of re-connecting until a soft reset is done.
AT A GLANCE
Display: 1.5-inch touch curved AMOLED (216 x 432 pixels resolution)
Battery: 200mAh (Up to 4 days)
Its 1.5-inch, 216 x 432 pixels resolution AmoLED display is easily the best thing about the fit2.
+ Pretty to use, fairly accurate, easy to read.
- Connectivity issues.
The TomTom Touch is your typical fitness tracker with a twist – a bioelectric sensor that provides a body fat estimate. With this, TomTom hopes that their Touch will stand out in the growing market of similar-looking fitness bands.
The Touch itself was extremely simple to operate, since it comes in a basic bracelet form factor that’s easy to understand and operate. It uses an oblong display and a circular, front-facing metal sensor for all input. The metal sensor wakes the band up, and you swipe a finger along the greyscale display for different menus. Simply tap or hold a finger to the metal sensor to confirm your selection. While it’s a simple device, it lacks is a raise-to-wake feature – the wearable won’t display the time until you touch its metal button.
The key feature is none other than its fabled body fat measurement that works via its coin-shaped bioelectric sensor. The front sensor can measure your body’s fat and muscle percentage by reading your organic electrical pulses. To complete its cellulite ‘circuit’, the rear sensor comes into contact with your wrist.
Is the body fat percentage reading from the Touch accurate? While we don’t have alternate reading from a proper device, mine said I had 17% body fat, whereas an online body fat calculator said I was at 20.3%, which was considered ‘average’ for males of my age. At $239, this pits the TomTom Touch squarely against other trackers of similar price points, while its headlining feature doesn’t have the critical touch it needs to make users move on from their current wearable.
The 24/7 passive HRM measures your heart rate at regular intervals decided by the fitness band. You’ll only know your average resting HR, and a snapshot of your resting HR before you start a run. It’s accurate enough as a gauge, but the TomTom Touch’s HRM isn’t the most accurate among wearables in general.
AT A GLANCE
Display: 5.58 x 22.38mm
Battery: Up to 5 days
If you like to be reminded how unfit you are, the TomTom Touch is the only one with a bioelectric sensor.
+ Interesting body fat sensor.
- Needs to have better accuracy in general.
Xiaomi mi Band 2
Display-wise, the Mi Band 2 is similar to the TomTom Touch’s sensor, thanks to its oblong shape, greyscale OLED display, and circular touch button. Even its thermoplastic elastomer strap also looks really similar to the Touch.
To navigate around the band’s controls, simply tap the circular button and the Mi Band 2 will take you through its menus. You can opt to show or hide certain stats (adjusted via the Mi Fit app). We picked the current time, steps, heart rate, and its battery life, while excluding stuff like distance and calories. Hiding the metrics doesn’t mean that the Mi Band 2 stops tracking those values – you can view it all in its accompanying app later.
The Mi Band 2 shows improvement from the Mi Band Pulse, and you can now use the phone’s GPS to monitor your jogging path. This also fixes the old problem where the Pulse wasn’t very good at detecting if a person is walking or jogging automatically. The wearable also buzzes when you’ve been sedentary for an hour, so it’s helpful for folks who lose themselves to desk work or gaming.
The Mi Band 2 lacks passive HR, but does offer active HR tracking, and this is done by visiting the HR option on the wearable itself. Surprisingly, this newer model seemed quite inaccurate. The Mi Band Pulse we previously reviewed did not have this issue.
The Mi Band 2 shares the same proprietary app with previously released Xiaomi wearables. Data’s easy to understand, but it doesn’t make it helpful. For example, heart rate is displayed as individual data points, but there’s no graph to show a summary or a graph on how HR fluctuated over the day. Battery life is decent, lasting me a week with 65% left – Xiaomi claims a 20-day battery life – which is quite impressive.
All in, the Mi Band 2 is a simple tracker. At $55, it brings affordability to the table when other alternatives with similar features are four to five times more expensive. It’s not very much different from its predecessor though, and the cheaper Pulse even had more accurate HR readings, but you do get an updated OLED screen and connected GPS.
AT A GLANCE
Display: 0.42-inch OLED
Battery: 70mAh (up to 20 days)
The 0.42-inch OLED screen is the main difference from its predecessor, but that’s not the only trick up Mi Band 2’s sleeve.
+ Affordable yet decent, friendly for casual users.
- HRM isn’t as sharp as its predecessor.
Steps(Closer to 100 % – better)
We determine if the tracker is relatively more accurate than the rest by comparing its value against a control factor (iPhone 6s Plus in-built Health app), over multiple days. The percentage represents how accurate the tracker is; a higher accuracy rate would be closer to the 100% mark, while lower accuracy would be further from 100% mark.
Distance(Closer to 100 % – better)
Like the Steps benchmark, we determine if the tracker is relatively more accurate than the rest by comparing its value against a known distance (1.47km, neighborhood estate). The percentage represents how accurate the tracker is; a higher accuracy rate would be closer to the 100% mark, while lower accuracy would be further from 100% mark.
Heart rate(Closer to 100 % – better)
The Heart Rate benchmark is unique to wearables with a Heart Rate Monitoring function. We determine if the tracker is relatively more accurate than the rest by comparing its value against the readings provided by a blood pressure monitor (readily available from online stores or from a pharmaceutical store). The percentage represents how accurate the tracker is; a higher accuracy rate would be closer to the 100% mark, while lower accuracy would be further from 100% mark.
The best Fitness tracker is…
Fitbit Charge 2 The Fitbit charge 2 pulls ahead with a clean execution in features and accuracy. The Samsung Gear Fit2 was its closest rival, but it had repeated pairing issues across different smartphone OSes despite its beautiful display, accurate tracking, and intuitive controls. The Xiaomi mi Band 2 had it all down, but it doesn’t measure up because of its less accurate heart rate monitoring, while the Xiaomi app is a handful of tweaks from being nearly as friendly as Fitbit’s. The TomTom Touch’s was simple to understand too, but the un-intuitive metallic sensor was unfriendly for workouts, its key fat measurement feature wasn’t accurate enough to be relied on, and its accompanying app felt convoluted to gather information from.
Text: Liu Hongzuo / Photography: Frenchescar Lim / Art Direction: Ken Koh