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 less than RM350 there’s really no excuse not to strap one on and get pounding 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.
Withings Go (~RM290)
Not everyone needs a fitness tracker that'll keep watch on you through marathons, bike road races, lengths of the swimming pool, and all the other sports fitness freaks seem to do purely to make the rest of us look bad.
Withings' latest tracker is meant for anyone that'd rather have an extra hour in bed than get up and hit the gym. Forget more complex features such as heart-rate-tracking or annoying inactivity alarms - the Go is all about simplicity.
Instead, you get basic step and sleep tracking in a super-simple wearable that's about the size of a 50 sen coin. It clips on to your clothes, your shoes or your keys, or you can wear it on your wrist like a watch. Nor will you need to slip it off to hop in the shower - it's waterproof down to 50m, so you can even hit the pool or open water. As a further bonus, the coin cell battery inside it keeps ticking for at least eight months, and replacements will only set you back a few quid each - which definitely beats plugging it in every night.
An E Ink screen means it can double up as a wristwatch, a feature that at this price is rarer than a weight loss plan that actually works; just prod the screen and it switches from showing your steps to telling the time. Aside from that, though, you'll need to pull out your smartphone to get more anything more useful than the details of how far you've wandered in the past 24 hours. That's a bit annoying but hardly unusual and on the plus side, Withings' Health Mate app is impressively easy to use, if a little simple.
You can add weight, heart rate, blood pressure and create a food log if you want to get a better grasp of your wellbeing, but you'll have to do it all manually - the Go only measures steps and sleep, after all. Reminders are handy, giving you a nudge to hop on the scales, or not to shirk off that run you've been planning since that extra bagel at breakfast - just bear in mind that they only show up on your phone, not the Go.
During the day, the Go calculates distance and calories burned based on how many steps you clock up, adding in duration, start time and distance when it detects you're running or swimming. Sleep tracking is a touch more basic: it works out when you fell asleep and whether it was a light or deep sleep, but there's nothing here to help you get a better night's rest.
But then that approach sums up the Go, really. In fact, the clue's in the name: the Go is about getting you started, thinking more about your fitness and how much exercise you're getting every day rather than bombarding you with stats. It's simple, sure, but the watch mode is a nice little bonus and it helps that is doesn't put a massive dent in your wallet either.
Misfit Ray (RM435)
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 RM435.
You do get step tracking, silent vibration alarms, sleep monitoring and movement reminders, though - plus 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 - 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 walking, 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, with Misfit’s points system keeping 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 down to 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.
Best cheap fitness trackers - Verdict
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.