These gadgets can be good for aspiring health nuts and couch potatoes needing inspiration to get active.
But before you get one as a gift, consider this: Wristbands can be a commitment, style-wise and beyond. Some are meant to be worn around the clock and include options to manually enter every meal you had. Those who remember Tamagotchis know that constantly tending to your hungry gadget day after day can get tedious.
Then there’s the message. Are you telling your sedentary cousin that he needs to get in shape? Before buying one of these, try to feel out what the gift recipient thinks of them and whether he or she will find it useful.
Fitbit Force ($130):
This comprehensive fitness tracker does a little bit of everything. It’ll log how many steps you take, floors you climb, calories you burn and miles you move. Sync it with your computer or a smartphone app to set goals and see how you spend your waking — and sleeping — hours.
Pros: It’s a sleek wristband with a display that functions as a watch and shows the day’s activity progress. It’s comfortable to wear sleeping or typing. It works as a silent alarm and will wake you up with a vibration if you wear it to bed. The app will help you create a food plan if you want to lose — or gain — weight.
Cons: The clasp can be difficult to fasten; mine fell off once when I was taking off my coat because I didn’t know it wasn’t closed all the way. It doesn’t track your heart rate or skin temperature, both of which are crucial for some fitness gurus but aren’t included in any of these four gadgets. The app itself is not as visual as the Jawbone’s.
Fitbug Orb ($50):
The Fitbug is the most versatile when it comes to wearability — crucial for any device meant to be worn constantly. The device itself is a round orb with a diameter of roughly an inch. You can insert it into a wristband, hang it on your belt or clip it into a bra.
Pros: You can wear it on your wrist, but you can use an included “underwear clip” instead. Unlike the others, there’s no need to recharge the battery. Its replaceable battery should last six months or so. It’s far cheaper than any of its competitors and will track your sleep, unlike the Nike FuelBand.
Cons: It’s big for a device that lacks a display. Because it looks like a watch, you want it to at least tell time. Instead, there’s a button to send data to your phone or computer, and a single light.
It’s “splashproof,” rather than water resistant, so it’s probably not good to wear in the shower. Compatibility with mobile devices is limited to iPhones, iPads and certain Samsung Android devices.
Jawbone Up ($130):
The Jawbone motivates without being unrealistic. If it’s near midnight and you are 5,000 steps from your goal, it’ll stay quiet. But if you’re just 50 steps away, you might get a notification to push you over.
With a smartphone app, users can add “teammates” and track fitness, sleep goals and calories. You can add your mood manually. A “smart” alarm will wake you up by vibrating on your wrist up to 30 minutes before your designated wake-up time. This can make it easier to get up as it’ll vibrate when you are in a state of light sleep, rather than deep slumber.
Pros: Easy to take on and off. It’s the smallest and least obtrusive of the four. It can almost pass for a bracelet. The battery lasted more than a week on a single charge when I tried it, and the app is fun and intuitive to use. Your “teammates” can leave comments and smileys on your activity.
Cons: There’s no display, so you need to sync it with a smartphone to see your activities. It doesn’t work with computers. As with other fitness trackers, food logging and calorie counting can get tedious.
Emphasis is on the “almost” when it comes to passing as a bracelet. When typing, it tends to knock against the laptop. Then again, I don’t wear bracelets while typing either.
Nike FuelBand SE ($149):
With its powerful brand name behind it, Nike broadened the appeal of fitness bracelets with the first FuelBand and improved on it with the SE. Unlike the other trackers, this gadget is meant only for your daily activity — no sleep patterns or cute mood icons here.
Pros: Motivation, pure and simple. The wristband tracks your progress as it changes from red (lazy pants) to yellow (getting there) to green (whew). It flashes when you meet your daily goal and awards you badges for exceeding it. For example, you get a rainbow badge for tripling your daily goal.
The display shows the time, steps taken, calories and the number of NikeFuel points earned. Its simplicity is part of the appeal for those looking for an easy-to-use fitness tracker.
Cons: It’s the priciest of the bunch, yet it doesn’t track sleep patterns. Nike won’t reveal how it calculates NikeFuel points. In my tests, this one seems to have the shortest battery life of the four, lasting about a week.