The test begins: My life with four activity trackers, fitness bands

They promise to track your activity and keep you in shape. But how well do activity trackers and fitness bands really work? A real-life journey into the world of health-meets-tech.

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan is a journalist who has covered the search and internet marketing space for over 15 years. He's founding editor of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, and writes a personal blog called Daggle (and maintains his disclosures page there).
Danny Sullivan
4 min read

In the space of two weeks, I've gone from not tracking my steps, calories, or activities to using four different devices that do so. I'm all in! Over the coming weeks, I'm going to be sharing more about how each device works in real life.

It's been a fascinating journey so far, and I'm anxious to get into the write-ups. I'll detail what it's like with each unit, then do an overall comparison at the end. But before I start on that, I feel that an introductory piece is in order.

One person, four trackers. On the wrist, the Jawbone Up and Nike FuelBand. On the upper arm, the BodyMedia Fit, with a Fitbit One clipped next to it. The BodyMedia is shown lower than normally worn, for illustrative purposes. Same, too, for the Fitbit. It's normally worn clipped to the waist.

The devices I'm using are:

Until recently, I'd heard the most about Fitbit. It seemed like everyone I knew in the tech world had one. To me, it seemed a waste of time. Seemingly geared toward counting steps, how was the Fitbit going to measure my main activities, which aren't step-based?

Working from home, I don't walk much. I don't run. I inline skate several times per week. How's that going to count without steps? On weekends, I often take short bike rides, where I'm again not stepping. I also stand-up paddleboard on a regular basis, where I'm definitely not stepping.

But after attending CES earlier this year, I was amazed at the number of tracking devices out there, with more on the way -- including the Fitbit Flex, a wristband version of Fitbit.

I thought it would be fun to put them all to the test.

That's what I've been doing for the past two weeks, pitting them against each other. On my left wrist, I'm wearing the Jawbone Up and the Nike FuelBand. On my upper left arm is the BodyMedia Fit (worn much higher than shown in the picture above). On my waist, the Fitbit One. They're my constant companions, even during sleep -- something that all but the Nike band will record and track in different ways.

If you're wondering which is best, stay tuned. But the short answer is...it depends.

It depends on the activities you do, what you want out of the associated apps, and, most important, how motivated they make you feel.

As I've often said about other tech products, there's no "wrong" choice. What works for you, works for you. If any of these devices help you get in shape and stay in shape, that's great. But there are definitely factors to consider, and I'll be covering those.

I will say that the early conclusion is that these bands are far less about how accurately they track exactly the calories you burn and much more about how they help you understand how active you've been relatively, from day to day. None of them is perfect, but any of them give you a good sense if you've been active or not versus your usual routine.

By the way, I'm not alone in my journey. Blogger Mark Krynsky coincidentally started the same testing as me, at the same time. We're now linked up together in the apps that allow this, and we're sharing thoughts on Twitter with each other and to the world. You can read his progress at Lifestream Blog. You can catch either of us sharing real-time experiences through Twitter. He's @krynsky on Twitter, and I'm @dannysullivan.

As for my own formal reviews, they'll start shortly, beginning with the Nike FuelBand, to be posted in the next day or so. As I review each, I'll update this page with a link to the review, as well as to the overall conclusion at the end. So bookmark this page and come back to read more.

Postscript: My life with the Nike FuelBand activity tracker, my first installment, is now up. You may also be interested in CNET's formal review from last year.

Postscript 2: My life with the Fitbit One activity tracker is now up, my second installment. CNET also has fresh, formal review of the product here.

Postscript 3: My life with the Jawbone Up activity tracker is now up. You may also be interested in CNET's formal review from last year.

Postscript 4: My life with the Fitbit Flex activity tracker is now posted, my fourth installment. I switched to the Flex after originally starting with the Fitbit One, as the Flex became available. See also CNET's formal review of the Fitbit Flex.

Postscript 5: My life with the BodyMedia Fit activity tracker is now posted, my fifth installment.

Postscript 6: How my body rejected activity trackers and the 'quantified self' is now posted, my wrap-up piece on this test.