The device: With its simple rubber band and slick black watch face, the Basis B1, available in black or white, looks like any other digital watch. The innovation is underneath: Sensors on the back track heart rate, perspiration, and skin temperature; in addition, a standard accelerometer counts steps and monitors sleep patterns.
Pros: This attractive watch mines more data than its competitors. The heart rate monitor is extremely useful for cardio workouts.
Cons: The touch-sensitive face is so sensitive that shirt sleeves activate it. The battery lasts only a few days, making daily use difficult. To charge the watch, you need a cumbersome, proprietary USB docking cable, and it comes with just one. The watchband occasionally pops apart. And it doesn’t sync to an iPhone.
Should you buy it? Only if you’re determined to have the newest gadget. Although the Basis is groundbreaking wearable technology, this model feels like a beta.
The device: The bendable, comfortable Fitbit Flex, released in May, is a rubberized bracelet with a tiny display of five glowing white dots that let you know how close you’ve come to reaching your goal.
Pros: The Flex boasts all the strengths of Jawbone’s Up (facing page)—step counting, sleep tracking, and a vibrating alarm, plus an iPhone app that displays your progress. But the Flex is more comfortable and less obtrusive. It’s also easier to sync, via Bluetooth 4.0. The small lights make it simple to check your progress throughout the day. Don’t like the color? Buy an accessory pack with three bands in navy, teal, and tangerine.
Cons: The battery lasts around five days—about half as long as that of the Up—so if you’re traveling, you have to remember to bring the proprietary charging cable. Also, the Flex can’t automatically track anything but steps and sleep, though you can manually log meals and other activities.
Should you buy it? Absolutely—if you’re looking for a step counter, you’ll not find a more elegant solution. The Flex lacks the long-lasting battery of the Up, but it’s the best pedometer on the market, whether you’re jogging miles or just trying to be slightly less of a slob.
The device: The Nike+ FuelBand is a hard rubberized bracelet with a light-emitting diode (LED) screen that displays steps, calories, the time, and NikeFuel points, the company’s proprietary workout metric. Like all trackers, the FuelBand serves one purpose: It counts steps. Set a goal—most experts recommend 10,000 steps a day—and it will encourage you to be a bit more active.
Pro: The band features a handy, built-in USB charging plug and syncs via Bluetooth to your computer or to a stylish iPhone app (no Android app yet) that displays your performance.
Cons: The bracelet is uncomfortable, large, and ugly, and it comes in only three masculine colors: black, white ice, and black ice. FuelBand’s older Bluetooth protocol sucks battery juice. The LED screen, flashing white, green, red, and yellow lights when you hit your goal, makes the bracelet look like a toddler’s light-up toy. Also, Nike’s persistent marketing e-mails make it hard to tell if the FuelBand is geared toward personal health or targeted product marketing.
Should you buy it? No. Wait for the FuelBand 2, which is in development and will incorporate energy-efficient Bluetooth 4.0 and a heart rate monitor.
Up by Jawbone
The device: A comfortable rubberized unisex bracelet, available in six colors—from onyx to mint green—the Up is stylish (it has no screen) and dead simple. To sync it, uncap the miniplug concealed in the bracelet’s end and connect it to your iPhone’s headphone jack; an app then displays your data. As with the Flex, you can also set a vibrating alarm.
Pro: It has a battery life of up to 10 days—convenient for business travelers, who might forget to bring the proprietary charging adapter.
Cons: Because it doesn’t have a screen or Bluetooth syncing, you can’t check your step count during the day without plugging the Up into your iPhone. The springy bracelet can occasionally snag on clothes or pop off.
Should you buy it? Yes. The Up’s advantage is its killer app: It just counts steps and monitors your sleep patterns. And the long-lasting battery makes it very easy to incorporate into your routine.
The device: This expensive, waterproof digital watch would be wasted on simple step counting. Its sophisticated processor tracks your vital signs and movements with insane specificity. An included heart rate monitor straps to your chest to listen to your ticker; another sensor detects bike speed. The watch displays all this data in real time, so you can tweak your workout on the go.
Pros: The simple interface has an easy-to-read screen. There’s no iPhone app or gimmicky rewards system—just plain, incontrovertible data and a comprehensive statistical website that helps you develop targeted training plans. The device’s replaceable batteries last months.
Cons: Its slim form isn’t ugly, but the watch is more suited to the gym or the trail than a date or the boardroom. It won’t track your steps all day, or your sleep; it’s only for actual exercise. And it’s relatively complicated to set up.
Should you buy it? If you’re a weekend warrior, this watch is probably overkill. But if you’re a hard-core athlete looking for a digital edge, this powerful monitor can help you scientifically improve your training.