If you peruse the health and fitness category on Google Play or the iTunes App Store, you'll see thousands of activity trackers that automatically track your location, steps, runs, cycling and more. We know it can be overwhelming, so here are a few of our favourites in a number of different categories.
People like to track their activity and exercise for any number of reasons. That data can be a great motivator, but it's also just handy to see how much you're moving so you can hit your exercise targets every day and not damage your body too much. The trick is finding a way to track everything in your life without losing your mind. To that end, we wanted to see which apps don't require much manual input on your part (which rules out a lot of strength-training and other similar apps). Here are the best we've found that do just that.
If You Just Want to Track Your Daily Steps
Pedometers have been around for a long while, and your smartphone is a great way to keep track of your daily steps since you probably always have it in your pocket. That said, the key to a good pedometer app is simplicity. While many apps can track your steps along with all kinds of other things, an app that just tracks steps saves on battery life.
Our favourite pedometer is Runtastic Pedometer for both Android and the iPhone. It keeps track of all your daily steps, compiles that data into pretty graphs and still manages to keep things simple. That said, for iPhone 5s owners, we like Pedometer++. Since it uses the iPhone motion sensor, it barely uses any of your battery life and it shows your daily step count right from the app's badge on the home screen.
If You Want to Track Your Runs
You have a lot of options for different apps to track your runs, but our favourite is Runkeeper. The reason is pretty simple: it's free, it tracks your GPS, allows you to create workouts, create routes, make your own music mixes, and just about anything else you'd want from a running app. It's also cross-platform, so you can keep all the data you collect over the years if you jump ship from iPhone to Android (or vice versa).
What's nice about Runkeeper is that it does everything it needs to do without a lot of effort from you. If you want, you can simply turn the app on and then go for a run. But if you'd rather dig in and personalise things, Runkeeper allows you to do that. It also supports a lot of third-party accessories if you decide your smartphone isn't enough.
If You Want to Track Your Cycling
Like tracking your runs, tracking your cycling is all about a solid GPS app that doesn't kill your battery. For that, we like Strava. Strava works on both Android and the iPhone, as well as a few different GPS devices. Just launch the app and you'll start tracking your location. From there, you can go on a bike trip, and Strava will log that data. When you're done, you can look at where you've been, your average speed and more.
What sets Strava apart from the rest of the options out there is the community. With Strava, you can set up a network of friends and challenge each of them to races. You'll also find a ton of different public challenges with various routes, inclines and more.
If You Want to Track Your Sleep
Sleep isn't exactly exercise, but it's just as important to keeping yourself healthy. You have a surprising amount of choices for technology that tracks your sleep patterns, but only a couple of apps actually work very well.
Your best option for both Android and iPhone is Sleepbot. All you need to do is launch Sleepbot, place it on your bed and fall asleep. In the morning, you'll be treated with all kinds of data about your sleep habits, including your movement, a recording of any sounds you made (or that happened in the room), your sleep time and more. You can then rate your sleep and add notes so that data actually means something to you. With all that data, you can then go on to use those graphs to figure out how to improve your sleep. iPhone users may also want to check out Sleep Cycle, but it's not quite as feature-rich as Sleepbot.
If You Want to Track Everything You Can
Tracking your walking, cycling and running is all great when you remember to actually do it, but if you're just interested in collecting a bunch of that data, you'll want something that tracks your activity in the background without you having to do a thing. For that, we like Moves.
Moves works in the background on your Android or your iPhone. It's always on and tracks your steps as well as if you run or ride a bicycle anywhere. It automatically differentiates between a car ride or a bike ride, so you don't have to do anything to make Moves work. It also tracks your location, so you can look back and see where you went, how you got there, and how long it took. Basically, Moves tracks everything. The downside is that Moves doesn't give you a lot of data. So, while it tracks everything you do, you can't see things like speed, heart rate or other similar minute details that you'd find in a specialised app. That said, you can grab your data from Moves and import it elsewhere easily.
If Moves isn't exactly what you're looking for, the iPhone 5s-only app Nike+Move also tracks your general movements throughout the day. Nike+Move also has a social element to it that pits you against your friends to chalk up the most activity, so it's definitely worth a look if you're the competitive type. Likewise, ARGUS is an iPhone app that tracks motion, fitness and sleep all in one app, but subsequently doesn't have a lot of information outside a few simple graphs.
If You Need a Little Push to Get Outside and Move
Let's be honest, not everyone loves the idea of exercising every day. If you need a push to start tracking your activity, you have a lot of different options.
For fans of stories, we like The Walk. Not only does it track your daily steps and location, it uses that data to slowly unlock a story. The more you walk, the more of the story you get to hear. You'll also get achievements along the way for doing things like walking more in a single day, or walking the enough to unlock an entire chapter in a day. Joggers might also want to check out Zombie, Run! for a similar experience.
If that's a little too gamey for you, Nike+Move has leaderboards that pit you against friends for moving the most, Striiv tracks your daily steps and suggests new goals and personal challenges daily, and Endomondo allows you to send pep talks and motivational notes to friends.
Activity trackers have gotten better over time, and while they will still drain your battery on older devices, they're much better at conservation than they used to be. If you don't have the cash to drop on something like a Fitbit Force (which is Wirecutter's pick for best fitness tracker), your smartphone can gather a lot of similar data.