Forget the old notebook and pencil. These days, tracking calories and monitoring your fitness performance has never been easier, thanks to handy apps and “wearable tech” – that’s fancy-talk for the little fitness and activity tracking devices you strap on your wrist or clip to your pocket. And make no mistake, they aren’t all glorified pedometers. Sure, you can count steps, but that’s just the beginning. Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, monitor your heart rate 24/7 or check out your sleep patterns, there’s a tracker for that. And if it’s a more personalized approach to a healthy diet you’re after, there’s an app for that, too. Here are a few of our favorites for 2015.
It’s one of the pioneers in the fitness tracker world, and Fitbit is still throwing it down with some impressive options. The Charge HR is a standout in the FitBit line-up, adding continuous heart rate monitoring to its laundry list of standard features.
This sleek wristband is made of textured rubber with a vibrant monochrome OLED display. It tracks workouts, active minutes, steps, distances, floors climbed and calories burned. You can cycle through all this data right on your wrist or log in to the synced app for an elegant, simple dashboard laying out the day’s information. Oh, and the Charge HR is also a watch with integrated caller ID. When someone calls your smartphone, the band buzzes and the caller name appears on the screen. Fancy, right?
The Charge HR also monitors your sleep automatically – nothing to press or set when it’s time for bed or first thing in the morning. And the snazzy little vibrating alarm is a pretty peaceful way to wake up.
The big selling feature of the Charge HR is how it automatically and continuously monitors your wrist-based heart rate with the “PurePulse” optical heart rate system and breaks it down into simplified zones. Constantly flashing green LEDs detect blood volume changes beneath the skin, which translates into useful data like your resting heart rate and the true intensity of your workouts. You can also track calorie burn all day long and during workouts, check your heart rate to stay in the right zone and keep an eye on your overall health trends. Detailed guidelines ensure you’re tracking your heart rate properly for the most accurate numbers.
The FitBit Charge HR will run you $149.95, which is $20 more than the non-heart rate monitoring Charge. It’s a huge upgrade for just twenty bucks.
What we love: The long battery life is impressive – we got anywhere from five to seven days before we needed to charge. The mobile app is intuitive and easy to navigate, and the tracker itself is comfortable and simple to sync with computers and smartphones. We also dig the four color choices.
What misses the mark: It’s not waterproof! Water-resistant, yes, but for a 24/7 tracker, this is an oversight. There’s no GPS either, so don’t expect information relating to pace or distance if you’re running or on the bike.
Bottom line: The Charge HR has all the Fitbit features people love with the benefit of constant heart-rate tracking. If you’re looking to log your workouts and activities, this is the tracker you want.
It’s billed as a sporty fitness and sleep monitor, and that’s really it in a nutshell. Simple, straightforward, nothing overly fancy, with a reasonable price tag to match, the Misfit Flash is a more affordable version of the popular Misfit Shine.
The Flash, an accelerometer-based budget fitness tracker, actually has all the same features as its fancier counterpart – it just does it all in plastic instead of machined aluminum. But even that downgrade has its benefits. It comes in seven fun colors and it doesn’t scratch nearly as easily.
This entry-level fitness tracker measures steps, distance and calories burned. The little plastic disk can be pressed into a wristband or clip accessory, so you can wear it pretty much anywhere to suit your activity. Twelve red LED lights update you on your daily progress. Just click the soft-touch top and see how many LEDs light up to see how much of your step goal you’ve met so far. You can also check the time – it flashes dots for hours and minutes.
Sleep tracking is automatic and the Flash will record “light” and “deep” sleep, as well as hours slept. It’s basic information, but it works. The accompanying app works on iOS and Android phones, and it has a clean layout that’s easy to view. Simple graphics display steps, calories and miles, plus charts outlining goal progress and the most active parts of your day. Workouts can be categorized as well, but there’s no detailed information that makes it especially useful. There’s also a social side to the app that lets you jockey for position on the leaderboard against friends.
The Flash is $49.99 on the Misfit site, but shop around online and you’ll find certain colors selling for less.
What we love: A watch battery keeps the Flash running – wait for it – for a full six months. And when we say it’s versatile, we mean it. Wear it swimming or in the shower, because it’s fully waterproof.
What misses the mark: The app is attractive, but the information is elementary. There’s no real insight to be had beyond the basics.
The bottom line: For a basic activity tracker that’s versatile and fun, the Misfit Flash is a winner. And the price tag can’t be beat.
A free iOS app, Shopwell is personalized nutrition advice in the palm of your hand. It begins with a brief profile in which you list your goals and conditions. Choose from options like “General Health” or “Weight Management,” and note conditions like lactose intolerance or anemia. Next, you’ll list the foods you want, don’t want or shouldn’t have in your diet, which is particularly useful if you have food allergies or need to avoid certain foods. Wants can include things like fiber and calcium or low sodium. Don’t Wants might be trans fats, refined grains or high-fructose corn syrup, and Shouldn’t Haves are things you just can’t have, like peanuts or shellfish.
When you’re out shopping, you can use the app to search for food items and see how they rank according to your profile. Each food item has a color-coded number rating. Foods with a red rating and low number are bad news. Yellow, with numbers around 50, is fair to middling, and green ratings and numbers close to 100 are right on track. Even better, every product page in Shopwell links to the ingredients and nutrition facts, with healthier alternatives listed as well.
On the Shopwell website, you can create shopping lists and use the Trade Up feature for healthier choices. The app also has a handy barcode scanner, and you can search for specific foods or browse by category.
What we love: Shopwell offers personalized nutrition advice based on your personal needs and goals. Even better, the app algorithm is brand-agnostic, so you don’t have to worry about certain brands and manufacturers paying for a better rating.
What misses the mark: While there are some 12,000 products in the Shopwell database, not everything is recognized. It’s understandable, but frustrating at times, too. And you can’t create lists on the mobile app, which is kind of a pain, nor does it save scanned items.
Bottom line: Quick, easy and free, this is a really great app for personalized nutrition recommendations. You’ll likely find healthier alternatives to things you already eat.
Knowledge is power, and Fooducate is on a mission to educate us all about everything we’re eating. This free app goes above and beyond the nutrition label so you know exactly what’s in that box or bag, down to the scary GMOs or minute amount of “real food.”
Fooducate’s algorithm grades foods and beverages on an A to D scale (including pluses and minuses) based on the nutrition facts and ingredient list. However, points are added or subtracted for nutrients, “real” ingredients, food categories, processing and fortification. The upshot is that minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods score higher than processed foods with lots of added nutrients thrown in by manufacturers.
What we love: The language is great, hilariously descriptive with lots of exclamation points: “Tiny amount of real food in here” and “Look out! Not 100% whole grain!” And the alternatives listed are always handy. If you scan a food item that isn’t in the database, you have the option of adding it by taking a picture of the box and its ingredient and nutrition labels.
What misses the mark: The barcode scanning is the extent of the search functions, and the healthiest foods don’t come with barcodes. It’s a little thing, but it means you literally can’t compare apples to apples.