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Best Android-compatible fitness trackers money can buy: December 2015

Whether you prefer to call them fitness trackers, activity trackers, fitness bands or perhaps smart bands, these poor men’s smartwatches are spreading like wildfire. According to the International Data Corporation, three of the four wearable industry-leading manufacturers in Q3 2015 were specialized in such basic, low-cost gadgets, with Fitbits somehow managing to even beat the trendy Apple Watch.

Fitness-tracker-wrist

Down the line, analysts expect “iWatches”, Samsung Gears, Moto 360s, Pebbles et al to prevail over Mi Bands, Jawbones, Misfits, Vivofits and so on, but by the looks of things, there should be enough room under the sun for both similar yet radically distinct product categories.

It’s practically impossible to predict the long-term evolution of a market so far from maturity, but at least for the foreseeable future, some folks will want to spend chump change on minimalistic devices capable of reliably monitoring their active life and little else. Bottom line, you need to make a choice between the following, just like a separate audience had to pick a stylish, futuristic Apple Watch alternative.

Xiaomi Mi Band – $19.90

Xiaomi Mi Band

Our least expensive recommendation is obviously the most rudimentary gizmo of the bunch, and adding insult to injury, it’s also listed as out of stock at the Chinese OEM’s US Mi store. There’s reasonable doubt the item sold on Amazon may not be legit, but rather an even cheaper knockoff, so all in all, it’s probably wiser to avoid this one, and instead wait for the Pulse sequel to reach America.

That’s too bad, really, since you got plenty for your 20 bucks – month-long battery life, step counter, calories burned indicator, automatic sleep monitor (though not very reliable), vibrations for call alerts, and IP67 water resistance.

Misfit Flash – $19.99

Misfit Flash

Compatible with both Android and iOS, much like all its rivals indexed today, the Flash is an oldie, having also made our magnificent seven list from exactly a year ago, but doesn’t show its advanced age, featuring a winning sporty design, up to 6 months (!!!) autonomy, and up to 30 meter water protection.

It’s perfect for running, walking, cycling, as well as playing tennis, basketball or soccer, and it can be worn anywhere, from your wrist to the waist, sleeve, pocket, shoe, socks, lapel, shirt or key chain with a convenient clip-on mechanism. Okay, maybe “perfect” is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s decent and super-affordable.

Garmin Vivofit 2 – $70

Garmin Vivofit 2

That’s a pretty big price gap someone might want to cover, though the Vivofit 2 very much justifies it. The always-on backlit LCD screen alone is worth your $50 premium, not to mention a battery rated at one full year of endurance, and automatic synchronization to one of the best fitness apps around, Garmin Connect.

Now, you may find this a tad annoying, but the smart band tells you when it’s “time to move” in addition to the actual time, and proposes personalized daily goals to help you get the most out of every workout session. Talk about an intuitive UI, huh?

Fitbit Charge and Charge HR – $90 and $120 respectively

Fitbit Charge

If you can afford it, definitely buy the model with a built-in heart rate monitor. It’s a literal life-saver for people who may look to push themselves too far. The sub-$100, non-HR configuration ain’t half bad either, despite a somewhat awkward aesthetic sense and tiny OLED display.

Compared to the Vivofit 2, the Charge isn’t quite a battery powerhouse, lasting however north of a week before requiring extra juice, which is an unattainable feat for the likes of the Apple Watch. “Real progress in real time” is one of the activity tracker’s main claims to fame, alongside wirelessly stat synching across 120+ “leading smartphones” and your PC. Nothing special, you say? Over 20,000 happy Amazon customers beg to differ.

Withings Activite Pop – $120 and up

Withings Activite Pop

This one is sure an odd duck, not just because of its fancy name, but first and foremost as it touts a “timeless look” and yet focuses on the wearable basics rather than putting a smartphone on your wrist. It’s by far the world’s most fashionable fitness tracker, in a retro, always in vogue way, but amazingly keeps the lights on for more than eight months without needing a recharge or cell swap.

That’s obviously due to the screen not really being a power-hogging screen and showing anything else besides the time and an “analog feedback loop.” Quite the ingenious hybrid construction, and best of all, you don’t have to worry if you leave it on while swimming.

Jawbone Up3 – starting at $125

Jawbone Up3

When it comes to dependable bands capable of a little more than counting steps, Jawbone remains Fitbit’s primary rival. The Up3 builds on the success of its two predecessors, once again skipping the display, going instead for a low-profile design path, and an abundance of useful sensors meant to capture both your Resting Heart Rate and Passive Heart Rate for a “holistic view of your heart.”

Marketing mumbo-jumbo aside, this stands out with tailor-made workouts and custom Smart Coach guidance, as well as “advanced” automatic sleep auditing with detection of REM, Light and Deep stages.

Garmin Vivoactive – $170

Garmin Vivoactive

Another smartwatch lookalike, this time copying the first wave of Android Wear devices, the rectangular Vivoactive is GPS-enabled, and that says it all. Why is GPS important for sports nuts? Because the wearable piece knows at all times exactly where you are and what you do, even when away from your Android phone, showing you precious, detailed data like speed and cadence during an indoor run.

Garmin’s always stellar proprietary software also helps distinguish between run, bike, swim, walk and golf efforts, providing you with one of the most in-depth looks at your health money can buy. Oh, and even with the GPS continuously on, the Vivoactive lasts up to ten hours on a charge. 3 weeks when the feature is turned off.

Fitbit Surge – $200 and up

Fitbit Surge

The “fitness superwatch” is not a smartwatch per se either, looking, well, kind of ugly and cumbersome, though it’s not actually very heavy, at 80 grams or so. Superficial fashion characteristics aside, what’s truly relevant is the Surge packs GPS, a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, digital compass, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, and vibration motor.

Translation – it knows exactly what you’re up to, where and to what end, and it’s pretty decent for call and text notification displaying purposes too. It’s essentially the best of both worlds, and yes, it offers week-long battery stamina.

Microsoft Band 2 – $250

Microsoft Band 2

It feels odd to wrap up a roundup of Google-friendly devices with one produced by the “enemy”, but if Redmond forgot about petty arguments, why wouldn’t we follow suit? Especially given the Band 2 embraces Windows Phone, Android and iOS, greatly refining the clumsy build of its forefather, and further enriching the sensor slate.

Believe it or not, you can do better than the Fitbit Surge, with accelerometer and gyro, GPS and a barometer, ambient light and skin temperature, plus galvanic skin response, UV, a capacitive sensor, microphone, and haptic vibration motor. Have no idea what half of those do? Cool things, we assure you, equaling fit with fun.