If you go for a run and you forget to track it, did you ever actually run?
OK, sure, Neanderthals didn’t need little clip-on critters to track their every step, snooze and snack but, well, we’re better than them. In a world where decent pedometer pals can be picked up for under ₹6000 there’s really no excuse not to strap one on and get pounding on the pavement.
That is, of course, provided you select the right smarts for your stride. Like a cash-strapped model at a glamour convention, the current crop of clip-ons is replete with cheap silicone as garish as your Grandma’s clogs. Thankfully, we’ve sifted through the low-end layabouts to select the best budget offerings of the activity tracking troupe.
Jawbone Up Move (₹3999)
Jawbone’s Up Move is a back-to-basics clip-on
From the makers of the marvellous Up3, Jawbone’s Up Move is a back-to-basics clip-on you can pick up for under ₹5000.
Whilst you can slap it on your wrist with the bundled strap should you so desire, it’s happiest when slotted into its rubber clip housing and attached to a belt, bra or anywhere else you feel happy having a pebble-like piece of plastic dangling from your person.
It’s about as svelte as a fluorescent children’s toy, but it feels pretty robust when holstered on the hip – which also happens to be the most accurate step-tracking position.
Talking of tracking, the Move is generally a spot on surveyor of strides. Sure, it detects a few phantom paces here and there, but it’s reliable enough to make it useful for everyday monitoring.
Is it a motivator? Well, yes and no. So much of what cash-conscious trackers have to offer depends on their physical interfaces and companion apps – and the Up Move does deliver on both fronts.
Its smartphone companion is a colour-pop stat-fest that instantly illustrates your latest step tally and sleep data in handy vertical bars. You also get a timeline of your previous activities and the option to input food for the full Smart Coach experience – complete with goal setting and get-fit tips. It’s so clear even your Nan could use it.
The trickiest thing about living with the Move is its similarity to a dozy puppy. It’ll stay awake and be your best friend if you pat it constantly, but forget to fondle its face and it’ll soon lose interest.
Double click the Up for progress; double click and hold to begin tracking an activity (which you specify later in the app); triple click and the Move will follow you to the land of nod. It’s all very straightforward and the bold, light-up bars on its round frontage make it easy to see what it’s up to.
But that’s also the problem: it’s just a tracker. Syncing is manual and you have to seek out progress updates, which, yes, means it has a battery life measured in months, but also severely limited motivational abilities.
MISFIT RAY (₹7,219)
Is the Misfit Ray a case of style over substance? That was my first thought as I strapped it to my wrist, but it turns out this basic-looking bracelet is anything but.
That’s because Misfit has crammed almost exactly the same tech found in the Shine 2 into its compact, cylindrical body. There’s no heart rate tracking and you’ll need your phone in a pocket to map your runs with GPS, but it’s tough to complain for the price.
You do get step tracking, silent vibration alarms, sleep monitoring and movement reminders, though. They’ve even thrown in some basic phone notifications for good measure.
The tiny multi-color LED can’t tell you whether you’re getting a crucial work email or simply another annoying spam text message, but is pretty handy as a subtle reminder to check your phone when you’ve got a second.
You’ll squeeze 6 months of juice from the three tiny watch cell batteries Misfit bundles in the box, which is impressive stuff considering the Ray handles (limited) phone notifications too. The app gives you a heads-up when it’s time to buy more batteries, which is a nice touch.
Step tracking clocks in a little lower than other trackers, but the Ray stays consistent. Anyway, the smartphone app is so bare-bones that it shouldn’t make much difference - you’re not going to be strapping this on to run a marathon.
It’ll pick out light and moderate exercise from your regular daily walks and you can tag each one as a run, swim, cycle, football match or game of tennis. The list isn’t all that comprehensive and you can’t tell it you’re about to start an activity; if you’re into your bikram yoga, all that sweat might not be registered.
There’s some simple social stuff here, but you’re not going to get detailed insights into your fitness and nutrition. At least you don’t have to count calories as Misfit’s points system keeps things simple.
Anyway, let’s be honest - the Ray is all about looking good, not getting all hot and sweaty.
The anodized aluminium tube shape won’t clash with a watch (if you wear one) and blends in with any other jewellery you might have on. It’ll survive underwater to a depth of 50m, so you don’t have to leave it on the side when you hit the pool, and the basic sports band is a lot more secure than other cheapo trackers we’ve tried.
Misfit knocked it out of the park with the Shine 2, and the Ray is just a new look version for anyone that already wears a watch. Don’t mind your wrist looking like the high-tech version of a festival addict? Strap on the Ray and start counting those steps.
Fitbit Zip (₹4499)
An entry-level activity tracker that does only the basics but does them well
You know the MO: an entry-level activity tracker that does only the basics but does them well, plus a solid partner app and a bit of funky styling to make it stand out.
At least, that’s what the Fitbit Zip ought to have been about before it went on a feature diet. Sure, it tracks steps fairly accurately – in line with the competition – and has an incredibly straightforward tap-to-scroll interface that cycles through time, number of steps, distance, calories and a kooky emoji. Sadly, that also happens to be just about all it does.
That little smiley face is essentially the only modicum of motivation the Zip will offer and, whilst its bitty LCD display is a not unwelcome throwback to the Gameboy's glory days, the lack of a backlight means no data updates after dusk.
Does it pack any fast-paced punches in the live-tracking stakes? If you’re a runner, yes: activate exercise mode and it’ll follow you with GPS whilst hitting you with updates through your phone. If you’re not a runner, no. Running is the only exercise it can cope with.
Still, at least the app is good. Of all the trackers we tested, it has the cleanest, easiest to use interface, with instant stats and target progress on display as well as easy meal inputs and weight logging.
Unfortunately, this also lead us to feel that the Fitbit package is more of an app with a belt-clip accessory than the other way around. Whilst ₹4,499 might sound suitably petite, it’s not really worth it for an app n’ clip combo. Want to track sleep? You can only activate that from the app, which is a nightmare if you’ve dived under the duvet and left your phone on the desk.
Even the Fitbit’s get-up is generic: a sort of rounded teardrop module housed in a silicone clip case. It felt secure but was hardly head-turning.
Misfit Shine (₹5,053)
Thou that art shiny doth make the best fitness tracker
The Misfit Shine is a ₹5,053 tracker that feels anything but cheap: a sliver of silver aircraft-grade aluminium to make Apple fans jealous, its metallic shell packs smarts as sleek as its exterior.
Whether you wrist-mount the Misfit or attach it to yourself with its silicone magnet strap – not the strongest of fixing solutions, but mighty stylish – the Shine generally tracks accurately, except when its stuck to your shirt.
What’s more, the Shine is far and away the best budget bounding buddy to use as a standalone solution. A quick double-tap on its top brings up an array of white lights on the clock-like display that show your progress as a percentage of a circle, followed by pulsing lights to indicate the time. Like an Audi’s headlights, they’re striking because they’re subtle – and that light-on-metal contrast is majestically magnificent.
Best of all, Misfit hasn’t sacrificed substance in its delivery of style. The Shine is fully waterproof, so it has the smarts to be a swimming sensor as well as a range of activity tracking options activated with a quick triple–tap.
The only niggle is that triple-tap tagging is a pre-determined process. Sure, it’s simple, but you have to tell the app what the tag should mean before you hop on your bike or start pounding the pavement – and sleep mode comes under the same option. That said, exercises are easily re-assigned after the fact, so selection isn’t such a chore.
We’re less keen on the Misfit app and its focus on filling your daily points circle. Discovering in-depth data requires a bit of delving too, but that’s a minor downside for such a sterling piece of pedestrian kit.
Moov Now (₹2,999)
What’s the Now’s real forte? It’s not a tracker, but a trainer
Moov’s Now might look like just another wrist- or ankle-mounted movement tracker – albeit one with a unique honeycomb strap – but it’s anything but. In fact, the clue is in the name: this is one wrist-wrapping wearable that wants to get you off the sofa and moving.
Sure, the Moov will track your daily steps and automatically detect your sleep, but those are actually its weakest features and that data is the hardest to track down in the app.
What’s the Now’s real forte? It’s not a tracker, it's a trainer. The focus is on active minutes, in whatever form they take. Moov doesn’t just want you to strap on the Now and climb a few more stairs or take a toddle to the shops - it wants the Now to become your new workout guru.
Whilst it can follow exercises, think casual jogging or Sunday afternoon swimming, the get-up-and-go ethos of the Now is imbued in its bank of guided workouts, complete with voice coaching and rep-counting.
OK, so it relies entirely on your smartphone, meaning you won’t be able to run too far from your handset, but the quality and accuracy of its tracking and training is impeccable. Because sessions are selected at the start, the Now knows what motion to look for and can guide you to great effect as you gurn and grimace through seven-minute ab-crunchers, sprint intervals and bicycle burners.
What’s more, it can also pair with third-party heart rate monitors for even better muscle-making monitoring – quite the show from a ₹3K strapper.
The Moov, then, won’t hold your hand as your stride towards your step goals. It isn’t interested in motivating you to meet your foot-stepping fitness fantasies. Instead, the Now wants to replace your gym subscription and get you burning off the burgers properly with real-world workouts on your wrist.
Polar Loop 2 (₹12,149)
The cut-to-fit comfort of the rubberised Loop is perfectly wearable
Confused styling meets step-sensing smarts on the second coming of Polar’s Loop gets oh-so-close to tracker greatness but fails to nail the fitness game. The cut-to-fit comfort of the rubberised Loop is perfectly wearable – if you can stomach its inexplicable shiny strips, which are functionless but for fashion – with waterproof wizardry meaning you can splash through 20m of the wet stuff before it’ll conk out.
What’s more, it works well as a standalone strapper. Employing a single, small touch panel to scroll through time, activity target progress, calories burnt and steps taken, it’s a simple interface built on a battery good for five days at worst.
In fact, as footstep-counters go, it does the duty better than many: daily targets are presented as a gradually filling bar, with your Polar pal telling you just how much of a certain activity you need to do to fulfil your fitness fetish, based on a level selected to suit your lifestyle. Bar half full? Jog for 20 minutes or walk for 45 to crest the peak of pavement performance.
Perpetual notification-missers will also benefit from the Loop 2’s optional vibrations for phone alerts, whilst its 85-LED dot display definitely won’t go unnoticed: so bright it's painful, there’s no issue spotting it at sunrise to silence the alarm.
So far, so good – unless your workouts involve more than a walk or a run. Stride-counting accuracy is on a par with competitors, but, lacking heart rate sensor smarts (unless paired with a pricey Polar peripheral), the Loop 2 frequently under-rewards abs-crunching challenges or sweaty spin sessions that don’t involve vigorous wrist movements.
This translates into bar-filling frustration as Polar’s fitness friend insists you still owe it several minutes more movement (risking a dreaded ‘inactivity stamp’ on your calendar, should you refuse), despite your near-death dumbbell session earlier in the day. The periodic ‘time to move’ reminders are a godsend for absent-minded sedentary striders, though.
After living with the Loop 2, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Polar’s created something more than a pedometer, but not quite a fitness band – a feeling that flows into the app. By default, your up-and-active stats are displayed around a clock face, with blue bands representing moments of movement (darker means better); a tap toggles to a pie chart of active time totals.
This is all appropriate for annihilating daytime inactivity, but beyond step counts and sleep totals, there’s little here for high-pace pedallers to justify the price hike over similar, smarter and more stylish sports trackers.
Best cheap fitness trackers - Verdict
Of the clip-on measurers, the Shine is the superior being.
Choosing the top tracker in this titanic fitness face-off is tricky. The cheapest of the crop see counting steps as their lifelong goal, with all other functionality superfluous to that singular objective; as you go up the budget ladder, progress reports become motivation become bona fide workout wrist-wrappers.
Of the clip-on measurers, the Shine is the superior being. In a shell sleeker than a finely-crafted steel spoon, it packs plenty of the passive tracking smarts you’d expect from a well-priced wearable, and then some.
But if you’re looking for a true fitness friend in your value tracker, there’s nowhere else to look than the Moov Now. Forget day-to-day distances: this is an always-there trainer to get you working out and burning off, in a package you can pick up with enough change from a ton to pick up some dumbbells for fine-toning.