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Workout watches that don’t have GPS trackers have to estimate your speed and distance using accelerometers, gyros, and assorted other gizmos. This leaves most of them with a problem. People tend to swing their arms when they walk or run. That means that any workout watch that you strap to your wrist is going to have a lot of noise in the data. They do a good job of clearing out that noise, but it still inevitably impacts accuracy.
If you’re a big fan of accuracy, don’t like to have things on your wrists, or if your wrists are already occupied, you might just find your workout watch to be more akin to a pocket watch than the traditional wristwatch.
The JawBone Up Move
The Jawbone Up Move is one of the better clip on workout watches for the low end of the budget. It’s fairly small, measuring about 2cm by 2cm, and unlike most wrist workout watches, the Up Move does not have a rechargeable battery. Instead, it has a coin-like replaceable battery like many actual watches, accessible through the back with a tool provided by the manufacturer. If you’re considering this a bit of a pain, consider that the battery gives you about six months of life compared to the rechargeable batteries in other watches where the life is measured in days.
There is no display, of course, but there is a series of LEDs in a circle that indicate progress towards a programmed goal, as well as an indicator light for when you’re sleeping or performing a particular activity.
There are three modes, activity, stopwatch, and sleep. Activity is the default mode, as it’s where you’re going to get the tracking for your daily activities. The stopwatch mode is used when you’re beginning an exercise to let the device know something is going on. And sleep mode, of course, is for when you want the device to track your sleep.
The measurements are accurate, but limited and the app, while robust, only has so much to work with. Still, for something that retails at about $50, it provides value for the cost.
The Fitbit One
Retailing at about $100 the Fitbit One is a step up in budget from the Up Move, but it comes with some corresponding extras that might make it the right um, fit for you.
Primarily, those extras are a display, and the ability to track more data. The One will track steps, distance, calories burned, and since it has an internal altimeter, it can count stairs climbed. As with most clip on devices, the accuracy of the one is higher than that of wrist workout watches.
Like the Up Move, the One syncs to your phone or computer, and has a robust app behind it that will allow you to dig into your historical data to your heart’s content. In addition, you can set goals, share progress, earn badges, and the like. If you’re not familiar with it, the Fitbit App is an extensive ecosystem that has almost every sharing and tracking option you could ever want.
In addition, the One has a silent alarm so that if you’re using it to track sleep, you can also use it as an alarm clock that will wake you without waking your partner.
The One features a rechargeable battery and Fitbit claims it will last two weeks on a single charge. We found it didn’t quite hit that mark, but if you’re like us, you’re going to have it charged over the weekend to be ready every Monday regardless.
The Withings Pulse 02
The Withings Pulse 02 might be the best of both worlds. For about $119 retail, you get a solid clip on workout watch. If you want a band occasionally, those are available at relatively modest prices and the clip on simply clips into the band to act as a wrist workout watch. With a new firmware update, the primary display is vertical, but secondary displays are still horizontal which makes them difficult to use while the device is on your wrist.
The Pulse 02 has most of the same tracking options that all the other decent workout watches do and has an accuracy advantage over most of them. You’ll get steps, distance, and so forth, but the 02 also offers two metrics many other watches don’t. There’s a heart rate monitor—it’s not continuous of course—and what’s really special is the 02 monitor which effectively makes the 02 a pulse oximeter.
That’s not something everyone needs, but if you need it, having it built into a workout watch can be a tremendous advantage.
The Pulse 02 syncs to Withing’s Health Mate app which has lots of options for recording and comparing your data. It offers a nice clean timeline for collected data, fitness goal challenges, and some attempts at social sharing.
More importantly, the app with send you reminders and coaching tidbits based on the data you provide it. These will include things like suggesting that you check your blood pressure or oxygen, that you get more sleep, or drink more water.
Before we go, there is one thing about clip-ons that we have to mention. They’re small, obviously, and they fit in pockets, and that’s part of what makes them awesome, but that awesome comes with a drawback. Pockets go through the laundry. When those pockets contain a workout watch, the watch has a tendency not to survive. That’s bad enough when you’re talking about a $50 Jawbone Up Move, but if you’ve invested in one of the pricier models, you’re going to be very upset if you wash your watch.