How To Choose a Fitness Tracker When They All Sound the Same

Most fitness trackers can measure a lot: steps taken, heart beats, sleep quality and workout performance. That's a lot of data, but are they useful?

It depends on what you're looking for. Those new to fitness might want something that's motivational, while those already active might want something sophisticated -- but not necessarily easy to use.

Here's a look at fitness devices from four leading manufacturers. Microsoft's Band 2 and Motorola's Moto 360 Sport were excluded from consideration in part because battery life was poor -- tough for marathons of more than four hours. There's a risk your tracker will end up in a drawer after a few months, especially if you get it for free as a gift or as part of a corporate wellness program. Know what you're getting and how you might use it before buying or adding one to your gift list.

The recommended devices all claim to be water resistant, so they can withstand sweat or rain. But only Garmin's are designed for swimming and showering. And for Apple Watch, the protection doesn't extend to leather bands.

For the Basics

Fitbit [pictured above] is the market leader in wearable devices, thanks to its simplicity and wide range of offerings. At $130, the Fitbit Alta offers basic step tracking. The $200 Fitbit Blaze adds heart-rate monitoring and a larger screen. The $250 Fitbit Surge adds GPS for better pace and distance readings during outdoor workouts (though all-day step tracking doesn't use GPS to conserve battery).

For running and cycling, the Blaze doesn't have GPS but borrows the one on your phone if you carry it.

All three models come with automatic sleep monitoring. Just check Fitbit's companion app to see how long and how well you've slept. A new feature reminds you to go to bed -- perhaps too gently, as it's easy...

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