Are Smartphones Better Than Fitness Trackers?

Are Smartphones Better Than Fitness Trackers?
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If you want to measure your walking pace, there’s no shortage of fitness bands that you can buy to help you along the way. Equally, a number of smartphones offer step tracking too. Which approach is best?

Photo by Chris Hunkeler

Wired looked at a recent study that claimed that smartphones were equal to or in some cases better than fitness trackers, and they weren’t happy. Then again, they had reason to be, because the study used both phones and bands that were several years out of date and/or notoriously unreliable.

So they did their own testing, using an Apple iPhone 6 and Google’s Nexus 6, along with a a Fitbit Charge HR, a Basis Peak, a Jawbone UP Moov, and a Garmin Fenix 3. Their conclusions were mixed, to say the least, because while the step trackers appeared to measure steps at a more accurate rate than the smartphones, they could be easily fooled if placed in the wrong spot.

Ultimately, though — and Wired does admit this — their own data was essentially anecdotal, because to get a proper result in this kind of case you’d need to do quite widespread testing not just across devices but also body and fitness types.

I’m more in favour of using a step tracker to chart the relative trends of my step counts over time than obsessing over whether they’re picking up each and every step, although that would be nice. What’s the Lifehacker community’s view?

No, phones aren’t more accurate than fitness wearables [Wired]


  • I think any device is essentially ‘foolable’. My Charge HR counts brushing my hair as ‘steps’, and Google Fit on my phone congratulates me for ‘meeting my goal’ when it mistakes my weekend motorbike rides for cycling. I agree that overall it really just comes down to the trends, and I prefer my Charge HR for this even if just for the continual heart rate tracking.

    • My UP24 refuses to count steps when I’m pushing a shopping trolley (I just log the walk as a workout instead so calories get counted). I shall try brushing my hair more! I agree, it does come down to trends. You get to know the limitations of whatever device you use. As long they are consistently inaccurate, then it’s all relative.

  • Yep – same device, watch the trends/hit the marks, agreed.

    Just bought a Charge HR – sold the Moto360 as the health stuff on AW is laughably primitive. Had a Basis B1 for a couple of years, but it wasn’t well built and ended up falling apart, but the battery was stuffed on it anyway.

    WOULD have bought a MS Band, but they made it too difficult to be worth bothering.

  • I guess we can all agree that neither are great at counting steps. However there are other apps besides google fit that may do a better job of estimating calories based on how far your actually walked using GPS, Wifi, etc. (i’m sure fit will do this soon). I imagine, like me; Most readers of this site have their phone on them most of the time making the point about wearing a band kind of moot. I mean unless you want to count steps or measure your heartrate in the the shower? Which brings me to my next point, if you are that concerned about your heart rate, I wrist band isn’t going to be as accurate as a strap around your chest like polar devices ,etc. Back to the apps point, your phone can use it’s camera to scan barcodes of food products and keep an accurate calorie in tally listing ingredients ,etc. I am yet to find a fitness band to do all this extra stuff. So I’d be glad to hear from your guys as to why one would spend $100+ on a fitness band when you already have your phone which you also paid a lot of money for.

    • My (work) iPhone is a 5c so no pedometer function. I don’t carry it around in my pocket and am not sure the time it would get to spend counting steps from my handbag (if it could) would be the most accurate. The UP24 band is pretty unobtrusive, which I like. The app has calorie counting, barcode scanning, alarms (bedtime, soft waking, reminders), sleep analysis, etc and updates wirelessly from the band. I like the balance of step / sleep / eat monitoring and am not fussed about heart rate.

        • I tend to use my iPad but yes, it’s on my phone. I just don’t need to carry my phone around to count steps or track sleep. From what I read of Sleep as an Android (and assuming there’s something similar on ios), it still needs an accelerometer to track sleep and my phone doesn’t have one. No mic on the band. Having a band that pairs with the work phone I have (and didn’t have to pay for) seemed a better option to me than buying myself another phone with an accelerometer (that I’d rarely use)!

  • I used to use an accelerometer based Garmin (90% accurate), and a later a GPS based Garmin (big, didn’t work indoors, look forever to aquire). Seperately, I used to have a small MP3 player with headphones. You can imagine me running/gymming with a small arsenal of devices, all of which needed to be charged, untangled, updated, etc.

    I eventually settled on using my Android smartphone along with a bluetooth HRM and bluetooth headphones, using an app.

    This meant that:
    * I got accurate caloric data (due to the HRM)
    * the data would automatically go “into the cloud”
    * I can use the smartphone indoors (unlike the GPS) and biking (unlike the unlike the accelerometer based Garmin watch)
    * This would track my actual location (unlike the accelerometer based Garmin watch)
    * I could use the same smartphone to find my map location (when I’m lost) and listen to music.

    The only place this fails is when I swim/snorkle.

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