Ask Wirecutter: Is there an activity tracker that records my steps but not my data?

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Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining things. Email your biggest product issues to askwirecutter@wirecutter.com.


Dear Thread Cutter,

Is there an attractive little wearable fitness tracker that counts steps (and maybe heart rate) but doesn’t track my data, share it, or profit from my personal information? I don’t need to chart my menstrual cycle, monitor my sleep cycle, connect to a community, or share my progress with the world.

EA


Dear EA,

Walking or running daily provides benefits, whether you’re shouting your footsteps from virtual rooftops or just moving around throughout the day. It’s reasonable not to want your health data released to the world or used for marketing purposes, which is why we take care in our guide to the best fitness trackers to be clear about data sharing policies. data from companies whose models we recommend.

You’re basically asking for something that’s completely closed-loop and appealing. (As with step ladders, I’m just going to say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and leave it at that.) We have a few options for you.

A fitness tracker without data sharing

The settings you describe in your question describe a simple pedometer. Most pedometers cost around $20 and don’t have any of the connected features of other fitness trackers. We haven’t had an official pedometer choice in the past, but Ingrid Skjong, Wirecutter senior editor and co-author of our fitness tracking guide, uses the Omron HJ325 Alvita Ultimate pedometer to check the accuracy of the meters of steps in our fitness tracker pick. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Omron pedometers in stock, and when I contacted Omron, a rep confirmed that (breaking news!) “Omron is exiting the pedometer market.”

This is a very unsatisfactory conclusion. So we did what we do best: test products. Ingrid compared four pedometers: the 3DActive 3DFitBud Simple Step Counter, the iGank Simple Walking Pedometer, the Ozo Fitness SC 3D Digital Pedometer, and the Pingko PK-793. She put them to the test against each other and her Omron Alvita (which she used as a control unit), as well as the Fitbit Mobile Track application. Along with noting the ease of setup and use, Ingrid wore the pedometers all day three times and took them around a measured 1.4-mile park loop.

The easy-to-use Ozo Fitness SC 3D Digital Pedometer outperformed other pedometers Ingrid tested, especially when it came to step count accuracy. You can customize your stride length for increased accuracy, and it measures daily steps, distance traveled, estimated calories burned, and minutes of motion. It also offers a 30-day activity log organized by date, as well as a separate tally of all the metrics it’s measured since it was first used. “It allows you to see the big picture of your movement,” says Ingrid, “which can help reveal useful patterns.”

The Ozo pedometer didn’t stray more than 165 steps from control in our all-day step count ratings (its closest margin was 31 steps). On our park loop jaunt, it exceeded the control step count by just nine steps. He reduced the distance by just over a tenth of a mile. For comparison, the Pingko PK-793 pedometer, the only other model in the test group that measured distance, exceeded distance by the same amount. Such discrepancies are not unusual and serve as a reminder that data gathered from any device should be seen as a guide and not an absolute.

If you want something simpler, the ultra-spartan 3DActive 3DFitBud Simple Step Counter measures just steps and performed well in our tests. It requires a manual reset every day, unlike the Ozo, which restarts automatically.

We’ve added more detailed information about our testing and findings to our guide to the best fitness trackers.

Maintain data privacy within an ecosystem

If you have a smartphone, you are certainly being tracked to some degree through third-party apps, your cell phone service, and whoever made your phone. “Your smartphone is probably always with you already and contains a built-in pedometer that you may have even activated a long time ago and forgotten. If the pedometer is accurate enough for you, keeping your data on a device that is already with you (and already collects all kinds of data) at least reduces your exposure to third parties,” says Thorin Klosowski, Wirecutter’s privacy and security editor. . If you want to enable step tracking on your phone, apps like Google Fit and Apple Health can count your steps for you.Both options obviously provide this data to big tech companies, but it’s usually easier to manage a multitude of privacy settings on a single device than to do it on several.

Although we recommend the Apple Watch SE as our top fitness tracker, Wirecutter’s Nick Guy said when answering your question, this is one of the few instances where he would recommend the Apple Watch Series 3. “If you think you might want to track more than just your steps – other fitness activities or even swimming – the cheapest Apple Watch will do the job,” Nick said. “You don’t need to turn on notifications if you don’t want it, then it can be as “dumb” as you want it to be.”

The watch currently sells for around $200 but often goes on sale for $170 or less. “We tracked transaction prices between $130 and $150 during Black Friday sales, and Walmart even had a short-lived $110 sale around Thanksgiving last year,” says Nathan Burrow, editor of Wirecutter Deals. “Older Apple products, if still viable, can be a great way to save.”

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3

Although we wouldn’t generally recommend this model, the cheapest of the Apple Watches, it does make for a solid fitness tracker.

Smart devices you can make a little dumber

We’ve heard of some people using the Wyze Band but turning off the data. We don’t recommend this tracker because it “grossly overestimated our daily step count and performed bottom of the pack in our heart rate tests,” according to our guide (you can read more about that in the Competition section). ).

However, we recommend the Garmin Vívoactive 4S, and “Garmin lets you disable cloud uploads, but you’ll lose many of the features that make a fitness tracker useful, like historical data,” says Thorin. If you register, however, Garmin privacy practices are transparent and give you a lot of control over what data, if any, is visible to anyone but yourself. There’s also no rule that you have to use your real name (or other personal information) in the connected app, which could make it harder for other parties to link data collected about you. .

Garmin Vivoactive 4S

Garmin Vivoactive 4S

Earning points for accuracy and portability, the Garmin Vívoactive 4S combines the best of activewear and everyday wear for those who lead workout-fueled lives. It’s also a step closer to a GPS running watch than the Fitbit trackers we recommend.

This article was edited by Jason Chen.

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