The Pacer app is by far the least expensive in our test. Provided you already have an Apple or Android smartphone, this app is free. You'll entertain a few ads, and be presented with paid upgrade opportunities, but otherwise, there are no strings attached. At such an inexpensive price, this is an easy choice for our Best Buy award. However, like any piece of equipment, there are very real limitations at such a bargain. The Editors' Choice winning Striiv Smart is far more accurate and the co-award-winning Ozeri Razor Digital Pocket 3D collects excellent data in a device that can remain attached to the user while his or her smartphone gets left on desks or kitchen counters.
Cons: less accurate. no distance measure. Requires carrying a smartphone everywhere.
Our Analysis and Test Results
Using the instrumentation in your existing smartphone, Michael Caldwell's Pacer app is an excellent and very basic way to keep track of daily activity. There are very real limitations, but for many this will be an excellent way to start documenting and motivating for more steps in a day.
Interface and Data Management
The Pacer app uses your smartphone's big screen, keyboard, and memory to great effect. A few simple fitness planning tools are included with the app, as well as fields to record body weight and blood pressure. Over time, the user can correlate these physiological markers with amount of activity. The app displays a simple, large numbers outlining how many steps the user has taken today. The user can look back through all the days the app has been in use. Pacer has a basic training plan to motivate and organize the efforts of a beginner fitness aspirant. If the user finds that he or she desires more detailed planning and data management, there are a few paid upgrades that are available. We only reviewed the free version of this app. However, if the function and utility of the unpaid app is any indication, the paid upgrades are apt to be well-designed and effective.
If you already carry a smartphone, this could be excellent for you. Note, however, that you will always need to have the phone on your body in order for it to record movement. Ideally, for best calibration from one day to the next, it should be carried in the same place on the user's body. If you leave the phone on your desk while walking to a coworker's office, your steps won't be counted. If you carry the phone in your pants pocket one day, and then in your shoulder bag the day you wear a skirt, the two days' data won't be very comparable. If you regularly vary the location of where you carry your phone, or leave it in place while you walk around, this app isn't for you. In those cases, a dedicated pedometer is apt to serve you better. The Editors' Choice winning Striiv Smart offers great data management in a dedicated device.
This app is as durable as your phone. We had no glitches or crashes with the app.
The Pacer app was the least accurate in our test. Our experience with all activity tracking smartphone apps is similar. The instrumentation crammed into a smartphone is simply not as finely tuned as that in a dedicated pedometer. Smartphones are built with many different sensors in order to accomplish their various tasks. For a variety of reasons, basically all phones are equipped with an accelerometer. This sensor detects movement and is mainly used to sense which way the screen is turned and in support of bump and shake style input. The Pacer app taps into the integrated accelerometer and translates the movement it senses into a rough count of steps. Because a smartphone is crowded with lots of other technology, and the accelerometer is only asked to tackle relatively simple tasks, the ability of any pedometer app to gather accurate information is inherently compromised. For a more accurate distance counter, check out the Top Pick winning Nike+ Stand Alone.
Ease of Set-up
For anyone already savvy with their smartphone, the Pacer app is easily set-up. It only counts steps and does not extrapolate to distance, so no step length measurement is necessary. Basically, one downloads the app and starts walking. The app records in the background, so the user can forget it is there for days at a time, and check in occasionally. You'll be charging the battery of your phone anyway, and you are guaranteed to have it with you at least some of the time. This is the easiest pedometer in our test to set-up and use.
The Pacer offers a casual and basic easy-entry activity tracking function. If you are not sure whether you will understand and incorporate pedometer data into your exercise motivation, the Pacer is an excellent way to try it out. If this sort of information gathering and impetus works for you, you'll quickly find reason to upgrade to a dedicated device. The additional accuracy and compact, brainless carry options of something like the Striiv Smart easily justifies its cost for the dedicated user.
Free in addition to the cost of your smartphone and data plan, this app is a great way to try out formalized activity tracking. And for many who already own a phone, it will be all they need. There are certainly limitations, but for free it is an excellent value.
Just like many functions of a smartphone, this pedometer app is inherently compromised in effectiveness as compared to a dedicated, stand-alone device. However, by tapping into the ubiquity and processing power of your phone, the Pacer app can provide valuable and relevant information to the user with very little investment or complication. If you want more than just step-counting in a smartphone app, also check out Strava, which works well for biking, running, and other athletic pursuits.
— Jediah Porter