In March I decided to spend 4 weeks wearing a Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Up, Fitbit One, and Bodymedia armband simultaneously so that I could compare the most popular activity trackers. I felt using them all at once would give me immediate perspectives on the differences between all of them. Over the time of my testing many people asked me which one was the best. Spoiler alert: After testing these devices I can safely say that there is no “best one”. Each of these devices have many unique aspects to them with regards to aesthetics, functionality, data reporting and more. In the end my best advice if you’re in the market for one of these is to evaluate each of the aspects which are most important to you. In the end you want to choose a device that is most likely to positively impact your behavior. After coming to this determination, I decided that doing a comparison review of all the devices across the aspects that differentiate them would provide the best way to help you determine which one might be best for you.

I’ve created a comparison matrix which could prove helpful isolating some of the specific features across the devices. I’ve also provided all of the activity tracking data across all of the devices in a spreadsheet as well. You can find both of these embedded Google Docs along with links at the end of this post.

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Price

The prices don’t vary too much on the base models of these devices but other considerations to make are the reporting charges or additional accessories. The Fuelband comes in at a $149 retail making it the most expensive device but the reporting is included for free. Bodymedia comes in at $99 for the core armband which is a newer version of the one I tested but basically the same. For $149 Bodymedia offers their Link version which offers the ability to sync using Bluetooth. Bodymedia also offers a digital display accessory for $29 that can be used in conjunction with the armband and lastly you need to take into consideration that Bodymedia is the only device that also requires a monthly charge of $6.95 to access their online reporting. Jawbone retails the Up for $129 and reporting is included for free. Fitbit retails the One for $99 and also now offers the Flex wristband for $99 as well as a less expensive version in the Zip for $59. Fibtbit also offers free reporting but for a $50 premium you can get much more detailed reports as well as add the ability to export your data.

Aesthetics

This is probably the first thing you should consider because if you don’t make a habit of wearing the device daily it obviously won’t work for you. The Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up are worn around the wrist, the Fitbit One is a small clip on device that is worn on your pant pocket, and the Bodymedia Armband is worn around your upper arm.

A wristband provides a stylish accent to your wardrobe and looks cool. The Nike Fuelband has a rigid and fixed shape that wraps around your wrist. Like a hoop bracelet this will avail it to some movement and play depending on how tight your fitting is. The Jawbone Up has a more forgiving fit based on it’s unique flexible clasping approach. It’s also thinner and lighter than the Fuelband. If you wear a watch you need to factor that in to using a wristband. The Nike Fuelband and Fitbit One can also tell time in a digital display so it could theoretically replace your timepiece if you desire. The Jawbone Up and Bodymedia do not show the time.

The Fitbit One requires you to be pretty mindful of it’s location at all times. This means that you remember to clip it on to your pocket every time you get dressed and remember to move it every time you have a wardrobe change. I was pretty vigilant about this but had a few occasions where I forgot to remove it from my jeans and move to my shorts when I got home from work. Luckily I caught that pretty quick. But if you can be forgetful keep in mind that many people report putting their clothes in the washing machine with the device as well as losing it.

The Bodymedia Armband is unique as it’s the only device that wraps around your upper arm with a velcro strap. This can prove to be a bit challenging when selecting wardrobe as you either have to wear a garment over the device or it may be exposed. Also, your comfort level having a device wrapped around your arm may vary. Sometimes you may need to adjust the location and tightness depending on your activity or wardrobe as well.

Displays

Being able to quickly view the device to get feedback on daily progress is a great feature. Only the Nike Fuelband and Fitbit One provide digital displays to show you step counts and calories burned. The Fitbit goes further by also showing distance traveled and stairs climbed which it can provide because it’s the only device that also has an altimeter sensor. Neither the Jawbone Up or Bodymedia armband provide a progress display on their devices.  Bodymedia does offer an add-on display you can purchase that can be used as a  belt clip or wristband that provides that data but you probably wouldn’t wear that on a daily basis. With the Jawbone Up you need to sync to your mobile device to get updated data on your daily progress.

Device Features

Every device has the ability to track your steps and estimate calories burned. The tracking of that data varies quite a bit between the devices as you’ll see in a later section. In the end I feel that pinpoint accuracy isn’t too important because these devices should simply act as barometers of activity for you to set goals and try to maintain consistency over time. That being said another consideration to make when choosing a device is the type of physical activities you want to track. You will have varying data for some activities such as skating, riding a bike or doing yoga from the wristbands vs. the Fibit for instance depending on the movement of your arms versus your hips. The Jawbone Up and Fitbit allow for manual activity tracking if you want while the Nike Fuelband does not. However, the Bodymedia armband fares much better in this regard because it has sensors that can track sweat and body temperature.

How each device syncs may also sway your decision in choosing a device. The Fuelband can be synced either by plugging in to USB dock or via Bluetooth with the Fuelband app. The version of the Bodymedia armband I tested requires it to be connected via USB to sync. They have a newer version now which can sync via Bluetooth. The Jawbone Up has a bit of an unorthodox method for syncing. You remove a cap from the wristband which exposes a standard mini jack which you then plug into the headphone input of either your iOS or Android mobile device. The Fitbit has by far the coolest ability with regards to syncing. You can plug in a small USB dongle onto your computer which can then passively sync data from your Fitbit when you’re within range of it. You can also sync the Fitbit via Bluetooth with mobile devices.

Gamification

One of the most powerful motivating factors for increasing your activity levels is when you share your data with friends. Every device offers the ability to become friends with other device owners within their reporting except for Bodymedia. You can add friends by connecting to Facebook or by providing your friends email addresses. The Fuelband and Fitbit take a competitive approach when adding friends by displaying them along with your stats on a leaderboard. I found this to be very motivating. This is most useful when setting the timeframe to one week as viewing a single day isn’t good because it’s going to vary quite a bit based on the last time people have synced their data. The fitbit also displays daily average which is a nice metric that more accurately reflects activity patterns over time.

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Fitbit’s leaderboard is great showing daily average, 7 day total and last time your friend’s synced.

 

Along with competing on the leaderboard, the Fitbit provides badges for hitting certain milestones such as best daily steps and lifetime distance. Nike has something similar to badges in the way of  trophies around certain achievement milestones and also offer a game that is powered by fuel points called Missions which I didn’t get a chance to try but looks interesting. The Jawbone has a friendlier approach in which your friends are referred to as “Team” and they have a display which shows all of their activity stats but it’s only for that given day with no ability to change the timeframe. This also becomes problematic depending on when people sync their data. I often would view this screen and see many people that didn’t sync for the day yet. The Jawbone lets you sort by performance, alpha as well as also show comparison stats for sleeping which the Fitbit does not.

It’s a shame that if you want to share activity and compete with friends you have to select a device based on what they have. This can be mitigated to some extent based on the support a device offers for sharing data via its API to other services which I’ll cover later. But with regards to gamification for a leaderboard you can check out Vimify which just launched for alpha testing. The service imports activity data, and normalizes it from multiple devices to try and bridge this gap allowing you to view a leaderboard with friends using multiple devices.

Sleep Tracking

Being able to track sleep is another great feature that all of these devices can do except for the Nike Fuelband. The mechanics behind this is a little different between each of the devices. With the Jawbone you initiate tracking sleep by pushing a button on the wristband. With the Fitbit One you need to take the device out of the sheath in the belt clip and put it in a thin flat wristband, you then also trigger the tracking by holding a button on the device.  With Bodymedia you simply leave the band on your arm and don’t have to do anything to trigger sleep tracking, it is done automatically.

All 3 devices provide data on the amount of time spent in bed along with sleep duration and sleep efficiency. They all also take the data and apply an algorithm to calculate the quality of sleep based on tracking our movement through the night along with the number of times we may get up. Jawbone and Fitbit appear to be using the actigraphy algorithm and Bodymedia may as well but I wasn’t able to confirm. All three devices have reporting that provides a colored chart showing a breakdown of sleep, restlessness (detecting movement) and awake timeframes (getting up for the bathroom).

The reporting breakdown from the Bodymedia is a bit basic compared to the others. The Jawbone adds quite a bit of extra details to colored chart that include how long it takes to fall asleep, deep sleep vs. light sleep, number of times awakened and for how long, as well as the amount of time in bed. Fitbit’s reporting is pretty basic and similar to Bodymedia’s but did improve somewhat with the new beta reporting I just got access to however they don’t offer the insights that Jawbone provides.

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Here are the three different reports compared.

 

Data Comparison

Shortly after I began wearing all 4 devices I realized that the data tracking and reporting varied quite a bit between each of them. I wrote this post which took a snapshot of a single day and compared the stats and reports across all of them. For my activity the Fitbit consistently registered more steps than the Nike Fuelband over the course of my tracking. The Jawbone and Bodymedia tracked slightly less steps than the Fitbit but both consistently tracked more than the Nike Fuelband. I’ve provided all of my activity data here in a single spreadsheet if you’re interested in viewing it.

Three folks at the official QS blog did a data comparison between the Fitbit and Nike Fuelband as well. Two of them showed a large variance like myself whereby the Fitbit tracked many more steps than the Fuelband and one of them showed fairly consistent tracking between the devices. I also came across this person who simultaneously tested 5 devices and compared their data as well.  He found the Jawbone to track more steps than any of the other devices.

So what does this mean? Well I’d say that the variance has to do with a few factors. The way that each device has been calibrated for the accelerometer to calculate a step is different which is also affected based on the location where you wear the device and the movement generated. Since each of these devices are worn in different areas this will no doubt cause variation. But that variation has a much greater effect depending on the activity that’s being tracked as well. In Danny Sullivan’s post he discusses challenges calculating steps between devices when doing stand-up paddleboarding and in-line skating. I primarily hiked and played racquetball for my workout activities and surely the other testers had their own unique activities that affected their tracking.

In the end I don’t think pinpoint accuracy is tremendously important. As long as you’re capturing data that sets a barometer for you to meet or exceed your goals, the data captured will be valuable enough for you. Just make sure to pick the device that is best suited around your workout activities.

Mobile / Web Reports

Tracking data is all fine and dandy but the real value comes in the form of being able to find patterns and modify your behavior based on the data. All of the devices offer both mobile and web reporting except for Jawbone which only offers mobile. Another thing to keep in mind is that only the Fuelband doesn’t offer an Android app and it doesn’t look like one is even on the horizon as is the nature of the Nike and Apple partnership. The common reporting you will get from each device is daily steps, miles traveled, and calories burned. For sleeping each device (Except Nike) provides time in bed, sleep duration and sleep efficiency. You can also review data over time periods you define which can help you determine patterns and if you’re achieving your goals.

For those of you that want the ability to export your data, both the Jawbone and Bodymedia (as part of your subscription) allow you to do this. Nike does not offer the ability to export and Fitbit has an optional premiume option which you can pay $50 annual to get the ability to export as well as get more detailed reporting.

In this previous post I show screenshots of all the different reports provided for each of the devices. Note that Fitbit just totally revamped their reporting with a new dashboard summary that allows you to click on items to drill down further which is really nice.

Third Party Services

Being able to connect your data to third party services is a great way to extend the value of your activity tracker. There are tons of different services available that allow this but the devices supported vary. Making sure that your device is supported is a good idea before making your purchase. When I began writing this post only Fitbit and Bodymedia offered third party support but Jawbone’s recent API announcement has changed this. While Nike has an API I haven’t seen support in any of the third party services I’ve tested with other devices. I’m not sure why this is, but they have created a program to encourage third party development which should spur some services soon.

To get an idea of the types of additional features you would get by linking to a service you can view the various app galleries provided by each device. You can find the Fitbit gallery here, the Bodymedia gallery here, and the Jawbone gallery is viewable if you scroll down on their product page. I wasn’t able to find one for Nike to share.

To give you an example of some of the additional value you can get by sharing your data with a third party service I’ve provided the image below from TicTrac which is a great service that lets you link external data and services to them and then give you some great tools further analyze your data and draw insights from some great visualizations.

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My Fitbit data imported into TicTrac

 

In the image above you can see that I’ve imported my Fitbit data and have added my weight, sleep, and activity data which is then plotted simultaneously in a graph. By doing this it becomes easier to review my data and draw insights from it.

Food Intake Tracking

While I only briefly looked at how each device handled food logging, I thought I’d at least mention it as it may be an important fact for some people. Nike doesn’t offer any food tracking at all. Bodymedia only offers food tracking via their mobile app. The process works by entering the food and then searching their database to find it and add it. You provide the quantity consumed and they calculate a calorie count and add it to your reporting for the day. You can also add your own foods to the database. Fitbit operates almost identically but offers the ability to log data in web reporting as well as mobile. Jawbone takes food tracking up a notch by providing a much more beautiful designed approach that allows you to drill down various food groups and items to make your selection. Jawbone also offers the ability to scan barcodes and take photos of food to add to your log. Jawbone also offers more flexibility for adding the date and time of consuming food. If food tracking is important to you, Jawbone does it much better than everyone else.

Goals and Badges

Goals are similar to gamification in that they allow you to set a value to reach and in some cases get rewards in different ways for reaching them. The Fuelband lets you set a daily goal and offers an LED fireworks show on your wrist when you hit it. Nike also offers some cool animations in their reporting when certain milestones are hit. Nike keeps a personal best screen on their mobile app that shows best day, week and month. They also show your longest streak based on the number of sequential days you’ve hit your goal. Jawbone lets you set a daily steps goal as well as hours of sleep on a nightly basis and shows you how well you do daily by displaying a percentage graph.

Bodymedia’s goals are a little more complex in that you can define how many minutes of moderate and vigorous activity you would like to do on a daily basis and the nice thing is that is measured automatically because of the extra sensors measuring that. You can also enter daily steps and calories burned for your daily goals. Fitbit lets you setup a weekly steps, climbing and distance goals and shows your progress towards them daily. and also provides you with badges as you reach various milestones for steps, climbing (stairs), and distance traveled.

Final Thoughts

So which one did I like best? As I was nearing the end of my testing I began favoring both the Jawbone and the Fitbit. As I finished the testing I had pretty much decided on the Fitbit but then the announcement of Jawbone purchasing Bodymedia and the release of an API and connected apps was made and I promptly put the Jawbone back on my wrist and am currently wearing both of them again but still feel the Fitbit is probably the best device for me. I also plan on getting the new Fitbit Flex wristband to see if I like that form factor better. So for now I’m still trying to decide between the Jawbone and Fitbit.

Why did I choose the Fitbit? Aesthetics played a pretty big part for me. I don’t like wearing things on my wrist and have never worn a watch. The Jawbone is ok in this regard for me but the Fuelband was heavier and not as comfortable. I also feel the Bodymedia armband is a bit tough to find comfortable. The Fitbit is a non-issue with this regard and worked out fine for me. The other reasons I chose the Fitbit are that I liked being able to quickly check the display to see progress which only the Fuelband offered as nicely. I also like the gamification aspects as they were a pretty good motivator for me to increase my activity. Another huge benefit of the Fitbit is the passive syncing in the background. I have the USB dongle on my computer and every morning when I go into my office it automatically syncs in the background without me having to do a thing. That’s a big plus. Lastly the Fitbit seems to have done a good job on their API and getting support for many third party services which is something that’s important to me.

I want to re-iterate one last time that this is just the conclusion I came up with and this is a very personal decision. Every device was great and had its own set of pros and cons each of which that need to be weighed individually by you before finding the right device. But getting one of these devices is a great way to help get you motivated in a positive way. I will continue monitoring new devices as they are released and perhaps trying them out.  I covered many new ones in my CES roundup post which I’m looking forward to seeing in the future.

If you hunger for more information from someone else who simultaneously tested all of these devices be sure to check out Danny Sullivan’s post where he did individual reviews for each device. Just visit his initial post which then has links to all of his reviews at the bottom. Another fantastic roundup comes from The Wirecutter which is a site I love and highly respect for detailed comparison reviews that also take external reviews into account.

Comparison Matrix

You can view it here as well

Device Data Comparison
The spreadsheet below shows the data collected for each device separately so you can see the differences. You can view it here as well

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