Wareable big test: 5 budget fitness trackers go head-to-head

We don the top cheapo trackers in a budget Battle Royale
‚ÄčBig test: Budget fitness trackers
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Fitness trackers don't have to cost a bomb to help you reach your goals. In fact, the plummeting price of basic fitness trackers means you shouldn't have to spend over 50 bucks.

Not all budget fitness trackers were made equally, though, so we've picked up five of the most popular names on the market and put ourselves through the paces so that they can count them.

Essential reading: The best fitness trackers 2017

Which were activity aces and which were glorified pedometers? We ran, we swam, we cycled, we skipped, jumped and slept, and now we have the answers.

Fitbug Orb - 5th place

The Fitbug Orb has no business being the size of a watch given than it doesn't tell the time. It's the bulkiest of those on test and, looking a bit like a school project, it should be the least attractive of them all - but it's not. There's no disguising it as a budget tracker. What's more, it comes undone far too easily leaving us searching the ground on more than one occasion.

Despite its big round face, if offers zero visual feedback on how you far you've progressed towards your goal. On top of that, the mode-changing button, which is front and centre, seems a bit unnecessary given that you should really be able to do everything you need through the tap of your finger on the app anyway.

Its coin-battery and combination of syncing choices - which range from live streaming the data to a manual wireless connection - mean its power source is effectively unending and, like most on this list, you'll never need to think about charging it.

The data transfer system is probably the buggiest of the five here. It's the only one that tended to stutter. It crashed and had to be rebooted a couple of times and you shouldn't really have to put up with that kind of user experience from these things, especially given that they're often bought by the less tech savvy end of the market.

We do have a lot of confidence in its step counting, though. Step counting was fairly bulletproof and you can adjust your perceived stride length if the figures look wayward.

One nice difference with the Fitbug Orb is that it's not all about reaching 10,000 steps. The focus is on meeting your target which can be any one of a bevy of generally more real-world scenarios such as going down a dress size, lowering cholesterol levels or increasing your VO2 Max. To that end, it takes into account your steps per minute and even separately logs what it calls Aerobic Steps for a more realistic calculation of the amount of energy you've burned. Other than that, it's a no frills affair. It's not interested in your runs, cycles or swims.

But, while the platform is rich, what you get on the app is a touch limited. There's not enough detail on your history and you can't use any of the social features. Plus, the sleep tracking system is a bit undermined by having to start and stop it manually, which is just a big no-no these days.

Features: 2/5

Effectiveness: 3/5

$35, fitbug.com|Amazon

Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse - 4th place

Unique in this price range, the Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse comes with an optical heart rate monitor, which we were hoping would be the kind of differentiator to make it stand head and shoulders above the crowd. We were disappointed. Despite it having more on paper, it was the least feature-rich experience of the bunch. It's perfectly good at counting steps and it can measure your pulse nicely if you ask it too but the promised auto-tracking of activities like running and cycling hasn't materialised.

Style-wise, there's also not much going for it. Perhaps the biggest compliment here is that it's discrete. Like the Fitbug, there's also also nothing to learn from its face given that the three white LED lights only come into play during charging. Even if they did, three lights isn't much to go on.

This leads onto one of the major issues with the Mi Band Pulse. There's virtually zero support from Xiaomi on what to do with it. That's just the deal you get. There are forums, there's a super simple PDF manual and that's it really. Should the device go south on you, you'll find yourself out in the cold.

The Mi Band is the only one in the group with a rechargeable battery and with a three or four day lifespan, it feels like another reason to mark it out as a bad choice. The true ace it has in the hole is that it'll buzz you when you get notifications on your phone which none of the others manage.

Sleep tracking is a little different to the rest but the app experience is basic. There's not much history you can view on your phone. In short, we lost interest in the Mi Band very quickly, and if you can get into shape with this system, you probably could have done it without the help of a fitness tracker in the first place.

Features: 3/5

Effectiveness: 2/5

$18.99, xiaomi-mi.com | Amazon

Withings Go - Bronze medal

The Withings Go fitness button is a little more clunky than the Flash with its fancy LED system but the E-ink screen here does have an always on advantage. That makes the Go glanceable like a watch when it comes to seeing how far towards your goal you are. It also tells the time. Amusingly, it does have an awful habit of slipping around inside the rubber wrist strap meaning that you can easily get the hour wrong given that there are no numbers on its face.

Like all the others, it can, of course, be worn on all sorts of other parts of your person, but one nice touch the rest of the pack can't boast is automatic activity tracking. It will factor in running and swimming along with your steps and you don't need to remember to tell it when you've started and stopped said disciplines. It just knows - or at least that's the theory anyway.

In our tests, we found that the Go didn't always pick up our runs - particularly when shorter - and on one occasion it failed to register a swim altogether. Hopefully, that's the kind of hitch that'll smooth itself out as the firmware updates roll in but it's a definite source of irritation. Fortunately, much like most of the others here, you can add your activities manually into the app.

Speaking of which, the Withings app is good, and a great ecosystem to build into with scales and blood pressure monitors all available. Newbies might find it a little busy compared to the Misfit platform and there are too many different areas than are strictly necessary.

There's some decent third party app support too but having to download MyFitnessPal in order to log your food seems like a bit of a cop out. What's more, the social side gets a bit of a thumbs down for us. It's good that you can challenge anyone in the Leaderboard section - irrespective of whether or not they use a Withings device - but you do rather feel like you're spamming your mates in the process.

Finally, the sleep function is one of the more so-so on the list. It's pretty good at logging when shut eye began and ended but details were a little shaky in-between.

Features: 4/5

Effectiveness: 3/5

$69.95, withings.com

Misfit Flash - Silver medal

Flash is one of the better looking and, apparently, more carefully designed of the budget trackers even if its wrist strap did make us feel a bit like a character in a 1970s sci-fi film.

The little coloured coin at its core, though, did have a habit of popping out of the clothing clip housing which was a bit of a worry when cycling or playing football given that it's supposed to be attached to your shoe.

That said, its extra-curricular activity tracking is one of the main reasons to go with the Flash and that ability to incorporate running, cycling, tennis, basketball and football into your daily goal gives it a real edge. Just a pity it doesn't have the waterproofing to include swimming like its bigger bro, the Shine.

As you'd expect from Misfit, the app experience is also one of the tightest you're going to find. Lots of good info on offer plus a modern and effective UI. There's the social elements if brow-beating your friends and, ultimately, yourself, is the kind of double-edged sword you wish to wield. Plus the sleep tracking is as good as it gets on these things. You don't need to tell it when you drop off and wake up and it has a stab at guessing your stages of slumber too.

On top of that, of course, it will track your weight and your diet. They both involve a manual input but we did rather like the simplistic approach with nutrition where you take a picture of what you're eating and it gets added to your timeline. Sure, that might not include the calorie content but a visual record of what you tuck away each day might be enough for many to change their habits.

It's a superb fitness tracker let down badly by the awful design of the clip and case. You may end up forking out for a few replacements.

Features: 5/5

Effectiveness: 4/5

$29.99, misfit.com | Amazon

Jawbone UP Move - Gold medal

The Jawbone UP Move is a real contender. It's a bit a of blend of all of the best bits of the other budget trackers with all of the bad bits carefully removed. It's accurate, it's small, it tells the time and you can use it to log activities other than walking.

In fact, you can log loads of activities. It has settings for 19 different exercise types including swimming, tennis, football, Zumba, pilates and even dancing. It can't detect these automatically but it's no bother to tag sessions manually once you're back on the sofa.

While not quite as design-swish as the Misfit Flash, it's a good size and the clothing clip is far more secure. Better still it has the most effective time-telling mechanism by virtue of the nice bright LEDs that you can even read in strong sunlight. There's really little not to like on the hardware side.

The UP platform behind the experience is also one of the better efforts on this list. First of all, it looks pretty good and it's straightforward to navigate. You can do battle with your Jawbone friends in the Duel section, the presentation of your data is meaningful and the smart coaching can be helpful at times.

Possibly the one area that the UP Move doesn't do quite so well is with sleep. The device has recently updated to be able to auto-detect the moments you drop off but it failed to notice when we woke up in the night and its tallies of deep and light slumber were rather broad strokes. On the plus side, the sleep sessions did seem to start and end at the correct moments.

Features: 4/5

Effectiveness: 5/5

$29.95, jawbone.com | Amazon

Wareable verdict

The Misfit Flash should have won this with the Withings Go a close second but that's not the way it panned out. The Go is the newest release on the list and it's suffering from teething issues. As for the Flash, it has the best system but the issues with it falling out of its band make it tough to recommend.

The end result is that it's the Jawbone UP Move that's the solid buy. It works, it stays on your wrist/clothing, it has a nice clear display, it logs just about anything you need, it's fully waterproof and the platform is pretty good. It could be more spectacular but it doesn't really need to be at this price point. It'll get you into shape and you'll never regret choosing it.