Do You Need a Wearable? Which One Is Right for You?

So wearable fitness trackers are on your radar, but you haven't figured out if they are right for you. Read on to learn about what it is they do, plus get the lowdown on three popular options.

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In general, a fitness tracker's goal is to help you actively monitor your health using the latest and greatest technology.

You wear it -- some must stay on your wrist, others can clip into your clothing or be worn as jewelry -- and it, at minimum, automatically tracks your daily steps, plus distance and calories burned. The tracker then uploads that information to an associated smartphone app, where you can access it, set and track goals, compete with friends, and otherwise use it to better your overall health.

Those are just the basics, however. Additional qualities depend on the tracker you select, and can include physical draws, such as the ability to wear it up to 50 meters underwater or go long periods without charging. Performance perks can include monitoring heart health and waking you up at an optimal point in your sleep cycle. 

Here are three popular wearable fitness trackers, and the defining qualities of each.

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UP3 by Jawbone

UP3 by Jawbone is an adjustable, one-size-fits-all bracelet made of black, medical-grade hypoallergenic rubber. Available with silver accents. (Red coming soon). $180

Battery Life: Lasts up to seven days before needing to recharge
Water resistance:
Up to 10 meters -- OK in the shower or swimming
Uploading to app:
Wirelessly and automatically

Standout characteristics:

  • Constantly measures your heart rate to monitor its resting rate, how food, stress and other factors affect, and more
  • Tracks your sleep stages in detail, and tells you how to improve your sleep. Give it a 10-, 20- or 30-minute wake-up window, and it will vibrate to wake you at the best moment within your sleep cycle.
  • Automatically identifies and classifies a range of workouts -- no starting, programming, or stopping.
  • Intuitive and personalized meal-tracking in the UP app
  • Uses your sleep, heart activity, and food-related information to give you personalized tips to help you reach your stated goals.

Other Jawbone products include the regular UP ($130) and the clip-on UpMove ($50)

Misfit Shine

Misfit Shine is an aircraft-grade aluminum disc, not much larger than a quarter, ringed in teensy LED-lit holes, which display the time and your progress toward your daily activity goal. It comes in 9 colors, and can be snapped into a sport or leather wristband, a clasp to clip onto your clothing, or a necklace. $100

Battery Life: Runs on a watch battery you replace about every six months
Water resistance:
Waterproof to 50 meters
Uploading to app:
Wirelessly, by placing the Shine disc on your smartphone

Standout characteristics:

  • Functions as a watch, but there's no need to keep it on your wrist at all times. Show it off (the new Swarovski line offers necklaces, bracelets, and watches) or tuck it away into a pocket or clip it onto your shoe. Misfit also makes socks and t-shirts that come with Shine pockets.
  • No charging. Simply replace the watch battery every six months or so.
  • Tracks sleep duration and quality as well as walking, running, cycling, and swimming.

Misfit also makes the Flash ($50), which has all the same qualities, except it's made from soft-touch plastic, is waterproof to 30 meters (rather than 50), and comes in seven bright colors.

Fitbit Charge HR

Fitbit Charge HR is a colored, flexible elastomer band with a narrow OLED-display strip and surgical-grade stainless-steel buckle. It comes in three sizes and four colors. $150

Battery Life: Lasts up to five days before needing to recharge
Water resistance:
Sweat, rain, and splashproof, but not for use in the shower or while swimming
Uploading to app:
Wirelessly and automatically

Standout characteristics:

  • Press to record workouts. Use the app to view workout stats and run pace, splits, distance, and route.
  • Automatically monitors sleep quality and length. Graphs out sleep trends on the app. Set a silent, vibrating alarm.
  • Continuous heart rate monitoring for calorie burn, exercise intensity, and tracking long-term, overall heart health.
  • Log food on the app with a bar code scanner and calorie estimator
  • View incoming calls with caller ID
  • Works as a watch

Fitbit also recently debuted the Surge, which offers everything that the Charge HR does, plus even more fitness-related perks, for $250. They make more basic models, too, which start at $60.

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