In the first few years of their existence, activity trackers from companies like Fitbit and Jawbone were appealing despite their looks. Want to count your steps? Great! Here’s a chunky plastic garbage bracelet. Have fun. Wear long sleeves.
Over the last 18 months or so, though, something changed. As the bits and pieces that go inside a fitness tracker get smaller, wearables makers are better-equipped to give half a thought to design.
For more advanced features, mostly heart-rate monitoring, you’ll still need to get something rubbery and blockish. If you’re just looking for confirmation that you actually moved that day, though, it’s gotten easy enough to put a wearable on your wrist that you’d (maybe, possibly) wear even if all it did was look purdy.
Withings Activité Steel
Withings kicked off the trend of activity trackers that looked like watches about a year and a half ago. The Activité, a Swiss-made timepiece, was indistinguishable from most wristwatches, aside from a secondary interior dial that ticks off not minutes or hours but progress toward a daily step goal.
That original Activité has no shortage of fancy going for it — I don’t know what “Barenia leather from Haas Tanneries” means, but it sounds hell of classy — but its $450 price tag seems a bit excessive unless you truly love its look. I’d instead try the Activité Steel, which sports a similar-enough look that you’d easily confuse the two at a glance. The Steel also comes with a choice of nine different silicon straps, which means you can get it a little sweaty as you step your way to something resembling fitness. You can even swim with it.
Other fun features? It tracks your sleep, has a silent vibrating alarm, automatically adjusts when you change time zones, and pairs with Withings’ Health Mate app for a full accounting of steps, calories, distance, and more.
Smartphones pretty much torpedoed the dashboard navigation, but Garmin’s got a side gig making surprisingly good activity trackers. Its latest happens to look like a really, really nice watch.
Most of what you can say about the Activité Steel applies here, too, though instead of one extra hand measuring steps, the Vívomove opts for two bars. One checks your progress, the other shows how long you’ve been motionless. Otherwise, the features are largely the same, although the Garmin doesn’t have an alarm.
The real differences are aesthetic. The Vívomove is bigger than the Activité Steel, in a way that some folks might prefer, and offers mounds more customization. You can select from five different finishes, and a variety of interchangeable bands. *Choice* isn’t exactly the same as *fashion*, but right now it’s the closest you can get.
If you’d prefer a bracelet to a watch —especially important if you already have a watch you use and like — the Jawbone UP2 can almost sort of maybe pass as something you’d wear anyway. It comes in six different colors, each with a different etched design, and while the gold/black combo is incredibly gaudy the rest aren’t half bad.
As for what you’re getting, the UP2 can track steps and sleep, just like the watches do, and, yes, has a vibrating alarm (that keeps coming up because it’s a better feature than you’d think, promise), and pairs with Jawbone’s excellent UP app. That last part’s especially important, because the UP2 doesn’t have any sort of display on it. Any info you get about your workout that day — aside from a celebratory buzz if you hit your goal — has to come through your phone.
Which is fine! Staring at your wrist all day to see how far you’ve moved is exhausting. Besides, it’s not like you don’t have your phone out most of the time anyway.
One quick note: Jawbone might be getting out of the fitness-tracker business. The good news is, that means you can get a UP2 for very cheap right now. The bad news is, it’s not guaranteed there will be software-side support for it a year or two from now. Also, get one with the loop band, not the solid band. The solid band is … bad.
If you absolutely can’t live without some sort of real-time visual feedback from a slim activity tracker, the best you’re going to do is the Fitbit Alta. Which is still pretty good! It’s a little chunkier than the UP2, but in exchange you get a display that shows not just your progress, but also call and text notifications, and any calendar alerts you’ve got set up.
The Alta’s silicon band comes in four colors, or you can upgrade to leather or stainless steel. The tracker itself can pop in and out of any of these, so you can dress up or dress down your quantified self as needed. Otherwise, it pretty much does what the UP2 does. It just does a better job of keeping you in the loop.