Over the past few years I have developed a passion for wearable technology (fitness devices/watches) which ultimately led to me starting a career in the industry. It is incredible to see how quickly wearable technology has accelerated over the past few years to a point that we are now able to learn and track so much more about our bodies 24/7 just from wearing a watch; from heart rate, stress levels to sleep and even blood oxygen levels.
With the industry booming right now it has lead to a plethora of wearable devices being manufactured by Large and small brands which can make it a bit overwhelming and confusing as a customer looking to buy their first fitness device or even a customer looking to upgrade their device? With my knowledge and experience over the past few years I have decided to put together a summary of my top tips to consider when choosing the best fitness device for YOU.
- GPS or non-GPS? – This is a good starting point to help narrow down your fitness device search. If you would like to accurately track your distance that you run, walk or ride in the outdoors then you need to look at devices that have built-in GPS. For the more serious athletes looking for faster satellite location technology you can also look at devices that offer GLONASS and/or Galileo support. There are also devices that use a feature called “Connected” or “Tethered” GPS which relies on you pairing the watch to your compatible smartphone and an installed application to get a GPS track log using the smartphone’s location. However, this will mean you will need to take along both your device and your smartphone when doing outdoor activities. If you are just starting out on your fitness journey and planning to walk/run and track steps then you can opt for more of a basic fitness tracker with no GPS which will still track your distance traveled but this will be based on an accelerometer measure which may not be as accurate in as using a GPS device.
- What sports are you looking to track? Are you looking to just run in which case you need to find a device that offers a Run sports profile and has built-in GPS and if you want to take your running more seriously features like pace alerts, workouts, interval training and custom data fields, cadence etc will become more valuable. If you are looking to use the device predominantly for Crossfit or High Intensity Interval Training at the gym then you should consider purchasing a fitness device that can also pair to a chest heart rate monitor as wrist-based heart rate has its limitations as it is blood flow measure versus a direct pulse reading. Also think long-term if you are maybe just getting into running and cycling now, are you planning to step it up to do a triathlon in a year or so time in which case you should opt for a more advanced fitness device with triathlon mode? If you are just planning to cycle then you should rather consider a GPS cycle computer, which will have a larger screen than a watch and will most likely offer better navigation options and cycling specific features; the same goes for if you are looking to just swim then you need to find a device that is water-proof and designed with its main focus around swimming.
- Battery Life – It is important to consider the battery life of the watch as this will impact how often you will have to charge the device up or change the battery over time. The less often you have to remember to charge the watch the better especially in the hectic busy lives we live these days. If you are looking to take part in Ultra-distance/time race events that require long battery life in GPS mode then this is something you also need to consider when looking at your options. Take note that some Battery Saver modes will also impact GPS accuracy so take this into consideration if you are planning to do self-navigational race – check what the watches battery life is in GPS mode only in these cases.
- Size and fit of the device – As most of the fitness devices on the market today will track features like heart rate and sleep it will require you to wear the device 24/7. With this in mind the device you choose must feel comfortable on your wrist and if you are fashion-conscious it should fit into your everyday style (Thankfully fitness devices are becoming more elegant and stylish in look and feel these days). It is very helpful if you can try on the device or at least a dummy unit at a retailer so you can see if the device fits well on your wrist e.g. Maybe you have very skinny wrists in which case you would be better off looking at devices with smaller watch face or consider more of an activity band style.
- Smart connected features – If you are looking for a fitness device that allows you to stay connected to your everyday smartphone life from receiving smart notifications to accessing apps etc then you need to be aware that this will most likely impact the battery life of the device. If however the main reason you are purchasing a device is for fitness tracking purposes then this needs to be considered as the key priority with the bonus of having some smart features. You should also take note that the fitness device you are looking to purchase is compatible with your smartphone.
- Music – If you enjoy training with music then your luck is in as many fitness devices now offer built-in music storage space (so basically the watch is a mini music player) and you can pair it to Bluetooth headphones.
- Advanced physiological and performance features – If you are looking to use a fitness device to really improve your training and performance then it is worth looking at the more feature-rich training devices on the market that offer more advanced features to guide your overall training. It is also worth doing some extra reading on how you can use these more technical features in your training. These features are usually only available in the higher priced fitness devices but if you have high performance goals then you should really consider investing in a better spec’d fitness device.
- Technical support – Holding thumbs this is not the case but if there were to be an issue with the fitness device it is worth noting whether the product you are looking to purchase includes a warranty and whether there is a support office preferably in-country to help if something goes wrong or if you just need some assistance with a setup of the device.
- Online reviews and word-of-mouth– If you are struggling to decide between a few fitness devices it can be helpful to read leading tech reviewers opinions of products to help you make a more informed decision of which product is best for you. Some of the well-known online review websites include DC Rainmaker, Wareable.com, gadgetsandwareables.com and Techradar to name a few. You might also gain valuable insights from family, friends or colleagues who have fitness devices that can help influence your decision.
- Price – At the end of the day, it will all boil down to what your budget is and what you are willing to spend on your new fitness device. There is a substantial difference in pricing from very basic activity trackers starting from only a few hundred rand to your advanced multi-sports watches which can cost over R15 000. However, you need to consider the longevity you are expecting to get out of the product you are paying for to help justify whether you are willing to maybe spend a few hundred or thousand rand extra to get slightly more features/battery life etc. It is also worth mentioning that buying the cheapest fitness device may not help motivate you to start your fitness journey – if you maybe spend a little extra you might have that added motivation to use the device and start tracking and improving your overall health and fitness levels.
I hope that the above tips help you to choose the best fitness device for YOU. Wishing you many happy kilometers using your new Fitness Device!