Pursuing the Perfect Pedometer
Which pedometer is right for you? If you are looking to track, record, and motivate your daily physical activity and/or count steps taken, a pedometer is just the ticket. OutdoorGearLab once again leads the way in reviewing the best of the best. We scanned the market and chose six of the best devices available. We tested under harsh outdoor conditions, but mainly in more pedestrian day-to-day applications. We assessed each device for usability, construction quality, and accuracy. Read on to see which device will best fit in your life.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Pedometer
Top Pick for for Runners
Nike+ Stand Alone
Best Bang for the Buck for Smartphone Users
Best Bang for the Buck for a Self-Contained Unit
Ozeri 4x3 Razor Digital Pocket 3D
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In this review, we limited our choices to devices that count steps and distance and that clips to one's shoe or pocket, but there are many different types of electronics that can monitor distance and activity.
Analysis and Test Results
Most people look to acquire this gadget for one of two primary reasons: some will be simply looking to track their daily activity or exercise while others are looking to motivate further daily motion. If you are physically active already, and interested in using a device to track that, your needs will be slightly different from he or she who is looking to use a device to inspire healthy habits. That being said, every device in our test will serve either of these types of user. If you want more detailed data collection than can be gleaned from one of these simple counters, be sure to check out our Fitness Tracker Review which compares devices that record physical activity as well as sleep, diet, mood, and other personal data.
If you are looking to quantify your daily physical activity, virtually any model will suffice. The most basic units count up the total number of steps taken in a day. All store that data for at least a few days. The simplest products store days worth of data in the device, disposing of older data as new data is generated. If the user is to keep track of long term trends, the information must be manually transferred to a notebook of some sort. Other devices interface with specialized smartphone, computer, or web-based software that stores and organizes the information.
These devices are also used for physical fitness motivation. Almost every person will benefit from more physical activity. And almost everyone is strapped for time and motivation. Tracking and inspiring movement in even the busiest schedule is an idea that's time has come. Busy travelers, professionals, and desk-jockeys everywhere are making the most of their days by setting and reaching activity goals with electronic activity monitors. We walk a great deal in our daily lives. Tracking that with an unobtrusive and easy to use device gives a starting point for anyone looking to increase their energy output. Some manufacturers are using social media, data correlation, and clever games to motivate and organize individuals and communities in exercising more.
Criteria for Evaluation
Interface and Data Management
All these devices collect reliable data. However, it is the way the information is viewed, saved, and shared that sets them apart from one another. On one end of the spectrum, the simplest and least expensive self-contained (as opposed to requiring a smartphone or computer) device in our test, the Omron Hj-112 Digital Pocket gathers accurate data, but stores only the most recent days' information and can't be backed up or transcribed except by hand. The instrumentation in the Omron isn't much different than that held in the spendier options. What is different is the interface and data collection. The more expensive and higher-rated models in our test come equipped with very well thought out interactive apps or on-device screens. For sustained use and efficient integration of one into your daily life, an interactive and effective interface is crucial. For what it's worth, none of our testers maintained the organization and motivation to use a non-app-connected device for more than a week or so at a time. Both the Editors' Choice winning Striiv Smart and Best Buy Pacer app have excellent accompanying interfaces.
Finally, we assessed these devices for the way in which the information was transferred. The Pacer App inherently logs, displays, and stores information on the owner's smartphone. The Nike+ Stand Alone and Garmin Foot Pod sync to their accompanying apps, devices, and/or online communities wirelessly. The Striiv connects to a computer via cable, while the remaining devices store the data onboard only.
The use of fitness equipment, especially pedometers, requires absolute convenience and simplicity. It is of no use if the user doesn't have it on them. These tested devices, intended to be carried every hour of every day, must transport inconspicuously and handily. Portability scores and performance includes both the convenience and aesthetics of carting these around. One will carry these not just during exercise, but to meetings and dinners and events. There are two different styles of step-counting electronics in our test: devices intended to be foot-mounted or belt-clipped. All will work to some degree in the user's pants pocket, but none work if not on the body. Each person will have different wardrobe and comfort requirements. Generally, the foot-mounted tools are best for dedicated exercise. The waist-clipped models work well for those with more strict dress-codes. Most workplace appropriate outfits can be configured to carry yet conceal a belt mounted design. Special mention must be made of the Striiv Smart. The Smart can be configured in a few different carry modes. The simplest version comes with a belt clip and key chain. The same device can be purchased with these same two options, as well as an arm band, soft rubbery case, and carabiner style clip. Partially due to this flexibility and versatility, the Striiv Smart earned our Editors' Choice award.
Durability and Construction Quality
All the products in our test are compact, relatively inexpensive electronics. As such, their function will vary and occasionally fail. None of our tested devices completely failed, but the screens and buttons on the less expensive units were vulnerable to rough use. Buttons stuck on the Omron and Ozeri devices, and screen of the Ozeri lost sections of liquid crystal. All of the more expensive devices functioned fine through the length of the test, but showed finicky performance in terms of syncing, charging, and the like. The foot-mounted Nike+ Stand Alone and Garmin Foot Pod are particularly durable and require virtually no maintenance and no charging. The Striiv Smart has vulnerable buttons, but those can be locked for pocket carry, which we like.
The sensor portion of a pedometer is relatively simple and reliable. In our testing, however, accuracy varied between the devices fairly significantly. The least accurate device had a margin of error many times greater than the most accurate. In a remarkable performance, the Nike+ Stand Alone had perfect accuracy. This Nike product only measures distance (no step count) but it mapped the circumference of a standard track to the quarter mile, time after time. At the other end of the spectrum, and predictably so, the free Pacer smartphone app demonstrated up to 7% error, with an average deviation from the actual of 5.5%. Now, if and when the user's goal is to track relative amounts of exercise and activity from day to day, the degree of error is hardly a factor. Provided the user uses the same device from one day to the next, the trends in his or her activity level will be clear. Therefore, degree of accuracy is not very important in overall consideration. It is important to note the limitations of these various devices, but the actual accuracy is not as important. Among the dedicated devices intended for day-to-day use (therefore eliminating the Pacer app and the exercise-specific foot mounted devices) accuracy is somewhat consistent across the line up. In this select list, the most accurate demonstrated a .5% inaccuracy while the least factual was only 3.3% off.
Ease of Set-up
You will most likely just do this once, but some of the devices are much easier to get using than others. Notably, the Striiv took a very long time to sync with its downloadable pc interface. The non-connecting devices (Omron and Ozeri) had easy-to-read instruction manuals and quick set up procedures. However, both of these have flimsy buttons that get inadvertently pressed. More than once with each of these devices, the user information and associated data was accidentally and completely cleared. This required another round of set-up, not to mention the loss of data.
Every device in this review uses a miniaturized electronic accelerometer. An accelerometer simply detects movement. Each device uses a slightly different combination of sensors and algorithms to translate the movement of the device into a human's activity. All data displayed by or exported from the devices we tested is an indirect translation of the movement of the device. The translation of that movement is a function of the design and programming of the device as well as data entered by the user. In most cases, the user must enter his or her stride length, for instance. The device senses the movement of a single step, and distance is derived by multiplying the step count by the user's average stride length. Additionally, some of the tested models come with accompanying smartphone and/or computer apps that can process and correlate user-entered data like subjective mood measure, food intake, body mass, etc.
Biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. A pedometer is a biofeedback device that tells a person how many steps they have taken or how far they have walked, usually within one day, with the intention of bringing more awareness to their level of activity. These differ from GPS-based motion tracking devices in that they are typically intended solely for walking.
A simple step-counter, uses a tiny spring-loaded pendulum to sense movement; it counts a step taken each time the pendulum swings. Sketches for a design were found among Leonardo da Vinci's notes. He apparently intended it to track how far troops moved each day. Many sources credit Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, with inventing the pedometer in the 1780s, although there is conflicting evidence that perhaps he merely imported the technology from France. He never applied for patents on any of his inventions, so who should receive the precise credit remains unknown. It is known that in 1780 a French watchmaker named Abraham-Louis Perrelet invented one that relied on the same technological developments as the self-winding watch, which he and others developed in the 1770s.
Widespread use of pedometers for biofeedback began in the 1960s in Japan when Y. Hatano sold and marketed the Manpo-kei, meaning "10,000 steps meter." Hatano provided research to prove his marketing claim that 10,000 daily steps was the perfect balance of activity for a healthy lifestyle. This round number, amounting to around five miles for the average person, persists to this day as the recommendation for "how much exercise is necessary to manage your weight," by the U.S. Surgeon General.
The recent development of portable information devices has increased the accuracy and multi-functionality of modern designs. While the pendulum-based models are still in widespread use and are cheap, they can be inaccurate. This is exacerbated when converting steps taken to distance traveled or calories burned. Accelerometers are electronic devices that can sense movement in up to three dimensions. Smartphones contain accelerometers to orient the device for viewing the screen, and applications have been recently developed to use them as pedometers. In some cases these can be run without using the central CPU of the device, and thus don't drain the battery.
A pedometer in its classic form, (a little box attached to your sneaker lace), reminds us of something straight out of VH1's, I love the 90's! These days, you can get pretty creative with ways to track mileage using items that you likely already own: The latest and greatest sports watches obviously boast functions that record detailed cadence data, but even your car odometer has the ability to second as a pedometer. If you're environmentally conscious, re-visit your grade school days and use some basic multiplication.
Take a look below if you're curious about ways to step out of the box, (the little box that attaches to your shoe, that is).
Watches are convenient because they're an all-in-one gadget. These days, most sport watches have the ability to double up as pedometers. Not only do these watches have the ability to record all-day activity, they also connect to platforms where you can track progress and even compare your data with others. Check out our Best GPS Watch for Running and Training to compare different brands and models. Our Editor's Choice Award, the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport, syncs with external after-market sensors to collect information on running foot-cadence and other pertinent training info.
If you can do basic math, you can be your own pedometer!
If the end goal of logging step information is to measure distance, the classic car re-trace is one way to record your run or walk. If you've never tried this alternative, here's how to do it: upon completing your walk or run, jump in your car and re-trace your path from start to finish. You can capture progress by resetting your odometer at the start point of the re-trace. This method certainly isn't the most environmentally friendly option, but if it's all you have in a pinch, it will get the job done. Happy tracking!
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— Jediah Porter
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