Deep down inside, we all know how important it is to try to live a healthy and active life, but actually making that happen everyday can often feel like a chore. The truth is you don’t need a personal trainer or a gym membership anymore if you want to stay on top of your activity. You don't even need to purchase a wrist-worn fitness band. In fact, the smartphone you already have in your pocket can track activity and help you meet your fitness goals.
The best activity tracking apps use the motion detectors built into your phone and don’t rely on any additional hardware. They make it easy to set and monitor goals that work for you, and motivate you along the way with timely information about your progress.
Fitness tracking apps won’t put you on the podium at a fitness competition, but they can kick off a number of habits that help you live a healthier life. There are a lot out there, but when all things are considered, one stands out.
The app that gets all that right and even goes a few steps further is UP by Jawbone. You might already be familiar with UP as a wrist-worn activity tracker but the brains of the operation are actually found in its companion smartphone app. Using your phone’s built-in sensors, UP collects all the data it would get from a dedicated tracker, provided you bring your phone along for the ride. Best of all, the UP app is completely free to use.
UP learns from the data it collects and can automatically send a helpful nudge when you’re having an off day, or a thumbs up for exceeding one of your goals. You can also set up custom notifications for when you’ve taken a certain number of steps as well as scheduled progress reports for a more detailed overview of your days.
Unlike most trackers that start everyone out at the same 10,000-step-per-day goal, UP cleverly suggests a good place to start with your goals by showing you where other people with the same height, weight, and age averaged. It’s a simple feature, but it goes a long way to ensure that UP feels more like an aid than an annoyance.
In addition to monitoring your activity, UP can also keep a log of all of the food you consume. Logging every meal is a chore, but UP tries, and mostly succeeds, at solving that problem by giving you several very fast and easy ways to input what you eat and drink. In addition to a manual search of UP’s database, there is a scanner that can quickly find any prepared food or drink item with a barcode. A list of restaurants nearby allows you to add whatever you’ve just ordered to your food log with a few taps. All of this adds up to an app that feels fun and light while being very powerful and flexible.
Overall, UP is the app we chose because it’s the most comprehensive and useful in your daily life. But if you want something less involved, you might be interested in our runner-up pick.
The Runner Up
For the next best option go with Fitbit. Just like UP by Jawbone, Fitbit started as a companion app for Fitbit’s popular line of wearable activity trackers and then grew up into a full-fledged tracker of its own. Also like UP, Fitbit will track all your activity, log food and drink intake, and has the ability to link up with your friends for fun competitions. I actually like Fitbit’s home screen better than UP’s because it lays out more information on the screen in an easily glanceable page that has all the details I care about in one easy to find place. I also found Fitbit’s app to be a bit faster and more intuitive to navigate.
The speed and ease of use of Fitbit are important because you’ll be opening the app a lot during the day to see how you’re doing. Whereas UP feels like an app designed to act like a personal trainer who reaches out at just the right time to give you a little push, Fitbit feels more like a scale in your gym locker room, a passive device that only gives you information when you check it. For that reason, it can be harder to make using the Fitbit app a habit, which is a crucial part of changing your lifestyle.