We all know how hard it is to keep those New Year’s resolutions, and the number one resolution year in, year out is to lose weight. If you’ve managed to stick to a diet since January 1st, you’re doing better than most people.

We’re not going to talk much about diets here, though. We’re far more interested in what technology can bring to the table to help you exercise. Over the last year or two, wearable technology has exploded and you can now buy affordable fitness gadgets such as the Fitbit One and Nike Fuelband.

See also: Nike+ Fuelband vs Fitbit One comparison review

These and other devices promise to help you achieve your goals, including walking or running longer distances, being more active, or losing weight. Alternatively, you can use them to find out how active you are in general, then use that information to work out whether you need to do more.

Given that most of us probably don’t eat as well as we could, nor exercise as much as we should, this is undoubtedly a good thing.

The growing trend is that fitness gadgets work with your smartphone or tablet to give you at-a-glance updates as well as extensive reports on your progress. We'll take a look at some apps which need no extra equipment at all, taking advantage of your smartphone's GPS receiver and other features to turn it into an activity tracker.

Polar Beat iOS app

On the whole, you don't need a mobile device for most fitness gadgets as the same information is available via the web, so a basic PC or laptop will do just fine.

We'll also investigate other gadgets such as Nike's collaboration with Microsoft - a Kinect-based Xbox 'game' which gives you a personal trainer on your TV, plus other products such as TV-connected exercise bikes and a fork that claims to make you eat less.

Fitness gadgets: right for you?

Whether you’re a fitness freak, a couch potato or anywhere in between, fitness tech should have a place in your life.

There's a huge range of gadgets on offer to appeal to just about everyone, whether you're a runner, cyclist, swimmer or just want to walk more to burn calories.

Such gadgets can be both inexpensive (there are plenty of free fitness apps and websites) and effective at helping you to achieve more.

Of course, some gadgets are better than others, but technology really can be a huge help in getting you fitter whether you’re using a basic free app on your smartphone or a pricier wireless gadget that can give you more information such as the number of floors you've climbed, the quality of your sleep or your heart rate.

The real advantage technology brings is capturing data and allowing you to see how much exercise you’re doing; which days or times you’re active or not active; how well you’re sleeping; how much you’re eating and drinking and more.

In many ways it’s similar to those energy meters which have also become popular over the last few years. Until you can see a figure on an LCD screen, it’s pretty hard to know how many watts your appliances are using.

Flick on the kitchen lights, for example, and the figure jumps up immediately, revealing just how much power those halogen down-lighters really consume. A paper bill arriving through your letterbox every three months simply doesn’t have the same effect.

Fitness gadgets: activity trackers

While detractors might say that activity trackers are nothing but overpriced pedometers, there are many who will appreciate and genuinely benefit from seeing a graph showing how many steps they’ve walked each day for the past month - something that will spur them on to doing more exercise the next month.

See also: Top 10 tips for hitting your daily step goals

Fitbit One

Most trackers will give you a lot more information than this, of course. The Fitbit One, for example, has a built-in altimeter so can give you a pretty accurate gauge of how high you climbed on a particular day, and a more accurate number of calories burned as a result. With the One you also get a pop-up message on your smartphone screen when you get close to your daily goal, giving you that nudge you might need to hit those 10,000 steps.

Fitbit One iOS app

In most cases, all you have to do wear the device and go about your daily life. It’s no hassle at all, and you’ll probably forget about it after a while. If you’re willing to put in a little more effort, however, you can also keep a log of what you’re eating, how much water you’re drinking and track your weight (there are even Wi-Fi scales for this - Fitbit's Aria costs £99 - which will automatically upload your weight to an account on the web).

Logging everything you eat can be a chore, but if you tend to eat the same things it’s very quick to pick those items from the ‘recent’ list. Plus, some trackers have a tie-in with MyFitnessPal, a popular app which has an unrivalled food database because it includes every item of food and drink users have entered. Although there are errors as with any crowd-sourced project, you’ll almost never have to work out the number of calories a meal contains – just search for it in the app.

Many activity trackers involve gamification, which means there’s one more reason to be active. As long as one or more friends also have a compatible gadget, you can see how they’re doing (typically via a website or app) and try and beat them. If you’re so far ahead of the curve that none of your friends have, say, a Nike Fuelband, you’ll still be rewarded with badges and achievements so you can still feel as if you’re getting somewhere.  

There is a danger, however, that you merely use a tracker to record your daily activity. That's why the best models are the ones which provide an incentive to do more exercise. Whether that's because you're able to compete with friends, or through gamification, you should always be trying to   do more, whether that's leaving your desk at lunchtime do a quick run or simply walking to the watercooler at the other end of the office instead of the one by your desk.

Another disadvantage with some activity trackers is that they don't monitor your heart rate, so they can't accurately measure how hard you're exercising. Those that do tend to be costly, but it can be worth it if you're doing some serious training.

In fact, it's worth pointing out that activity trackers aren't intended to make to head to the gym. You should do some strenuous cardio workouts each week, of course, but a tracker should motivate you to keep active throughout each day.

See also: Jawbone Up review


Fitbit Zip

Fitbit Zip

Fitbit One

Fitbit One

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex

Fitbug Orb

Fitbug Orb

Jawbone Up

Jawbone Up

Nike Fuelband

Nike Fuelband

Scosche Rhythm

Scosche Rhythm










Steps, distance, calories

Steps, distance, calories, floors climbed, sleep

Steps, distance, calories, sleep

Steps, distance, calories, sleep

Steps, distance, calories, sleep

Steps, distance, calories

Steps, distance, calories

Extra features


Vibrating alarm, altimeter

Vibrating alarm


Vibrating alarm


Heart rate monitor, music control


Inexpensive, built-in Bluetooth and display

Built-in display

Convenient to wear all the time

Realtime updates during workouts

Idle alerts, waterproof

Easy to charge, waterproof

Waterproof, real-time voice feedback to maintain intensity


Not rechargeable

Proprietary charging cable, inconvenient to wear at night

Basic display, no altimeter

Subscription fee, no display, not rechargeable

No wireless sync, basic LED indicators

Expensive, doesn’t track sleep or stairs climbed

Designed to monitor workouts only, not a standalone device (requires phone or tablet)

Phone support

iPhone 4S/5, Samsung Galaxy S3/Note II

iPhone 4S/5, Samsung Galaxy S3/Note II

iPhone 4S/5, Samsung Galaxy S3/Note II

iPhone 4S/5, Samsung Galaxy S3

iOS 5.1 or later and Android 4.0 or later

iPhone 4S/5

All iPhones, Samsung Galaxy S3

Next page: Fitness apps and games

Here we continue our feature on fitness gadgets with smartphone and tablet apps, plus console games.

Fitness gadgets: apps and accessories

If you have a smartphone, particularly an iPhone or Android handset, there are plenty of apps on offer which can turn it into an activity tracker. Some are designed for specific activities, such as running or cycling, while others are more generic.

 Beurer PM200+

Yet others can help with fitness in other ways, such as letting you log your food and drink. For some people, this is the most effective way to lose weight. It can be the simple fact of seeing how much you eat that helps you to cut down, or change your eating habits.

We've already mentioned MyFitnessPal, which is available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone smartphones. This can synchronise with Fitbit, Scosche, Runtastic, Withings and other apps making it easier to keep diet and exercise tracking in one place.


You set a calorie goal and then add the food and drink you eat throughout each day. Chances are you won't have to add much manually, and if you tend to eat the same things it's fast to add items from the 'recent' list.

Apps like MyFitnessPal can help you see exactly how many calories you're consuming (and how many you're burning through exercise) and can help you to lose weight by either changing how much (or what) you eat or showing you how much exercise you need to do to offset those calories.

Another example of a fitness app is Runtastic. Although primarily for runners, it's also good for tracking your cycle rides, since it uses your phone's GPS to record your route. Such apps will drain your battery fairly quickly, but it may work out cheaper than buying a separate GPS device, since the apps are either free or a couple of pounds, and an external USB battery can prolong or recharge your phone for £10 to £20. You can even pair Runtastic with a Runtastic-branded Bluetooth heart rate monitor for £70 to get a more accurate assessment of how intensely you exercised.


Or, you might consider the Beurer PM200+ runner's kit which includes a heart rate monitor, receiver (which plugs into your phone's headphone socket) and armband to hold the phone and receiver. The kit allows you to track elapsed time, distance, calories burned, speed, elevation, heart rate. This kit works with iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry, and costs £80 from Argos.

An alternative to Runtastic, if you have an iPhone 4S or 5, is Polar Beat. The heart rate monitor costs around £60. Polar Beat iOS app

Both apps can give you vocal feedback or guidance, and Runtastic lets you set a 'power song' which you can activate when you need a boost.

Unless you can pop your phone in a convenient pocket or backpack, you'll need to budget for an armband or bike mount as well.

Of course, there are many other apps available for iOS or Android (and in some cases BlackBerry and Windows Phone). You might want to investigate MapMyRun, SmartRunner, Nike+ GPS, Adidas MiCoach and Endomondo. With Bike Hub and CycleStreets you can use your phone as a cycle satnav and if you have a Symbian device, check out Sports Tracker.

Nike+ GPS app

You can also put your smartphone (or tablet) to use as a virtual reality trainer and make indoor sessions more fun. Kinomap is a relatively new app which works with exercise bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. It features user-captured video, which is geolocated, so that you can virtually ride, row or run the course and see your progress on a map.

Kinomap trainer

The app needs specialist hardware - it won't work with any old gym equipment - and also requires you to pay a monthly subscription to access the videos. However, if you're willing to invest and can output the video to a big TV, it can be a great way to get fit during winter before the weather improves.

Fitness gadgets: games consoles

Games consoles can also be used to improve your fitness. The Nintendo Wii cornered the market years ago with Wii Fit, an exercise game which requires the Wii Balance Board to work. If you already own a Wii, the game and Balance Board can cost as little as £50 these days, but you might be disappointed that the exercises lack intensity.

The same can't be said about the new Nike+ Kinect Training 'game' for the Xbox 360. As the title implies, you need a Kinect for it to work, so the overall package is more expensive.

Nike+ Kinect training

However, it's well worth it since Nike+ Kinect is effectively a personal trainer that gives you a customised workout regime based on your current fitness and your goal (lose weight, get toned or get strong). You do an initial set of exercises so the trainer can see in which areas you're strong and others which need improvement, such as balance or endurance.

The Kinect integration is ingenious as it uses the camera to monitor your movements. The virtual trainer can then guide you to carry out the exercises (down to instructions such as "make sure you keep your heels off the floor") and warn you if you're doing an exercise incorrectly.  It's so accurate that it will only count reps when you're doing them properly, and the voice guidance means you don't need to look at the TV.

There's also a companion app for the iPhone that lets you keep track of your progress through a programme, will remind you when your next session is coming up and let you compete with friends.

If there's one disadvantage, it's that you need quite a bit of room as some exercises require you to stand or move to certain positions on the floor. In most lounges, you'll need to move furniture out of the way to clear at least a 7x7ft square.

There are plenty of other Kinect games which fall into the exercise category, albeit in a much less serious way. Kinect Sports will get you moving, as will Kinect Adventures (which comes with the Kinect sensor) and the Dance Central and Just Dance series. There are also a couple of Zumba titles.

Next page: other fitness gadgets

We continue our feature on fitness gadgets with a look at fitness equipement for cycling, swimming and even a fork that helps you eat more slowly.

Fitness gadgets: cycling

If you don't have a smartphone, or at least not one that's compatible with all the apps we've mentioned, there are still plenty of other fitness gadgets available.

For cyclists, there's the range of Tacx VR trainers. Unlike a regular turbo trainer, which many cyclists use to build up or maintain fitness throughout the winter, a VR trainer removes the boredom.

Tacx VR Turbo Trainer

You can take part in races, which are displayed on your laptop or PC's monitor, along with Google Earth maps and elevation / speed graphs. It's similar to the Kinomap app we mentioned earlier, but it provides more realism thanks to the use of a motor brake which varies the resistance according to the gradient you're currently cycling.

This means hills are as tough to climb as in real life, and your rear wheel will spin on downhill sections.

Such systems aren't cheap: they range from around £500 to £1500, and you'll pay more if you want to buy more virtual routes to cycle. Multiplayer versions are available to provide more entertainment.

Amazingly, you can buy an exercise bike which will work with a Samsung Smart TV, PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii and provide entertainment for the more casual rider.

BigBen's Cyberbike can be picked up for as little as £100 if you hunt around, but make sure you buy the right version for your games console or TV (you'll need a Samsung Series 6000 TV or above from the 2012 or 2013 ranges if you don't have a Wii or PS3).

Bigben Cyberbike

Instead of recreating real-world routes, the Cyberbike is all about entertainment. In Cyclobooster you can ride through a village, canyon or forest avoiding obstacles (steering using the handlebars) and collecting coins. Popstar run off is even wackier: you control a popstar being chased through a city by crazy fans. Finally, there's a game where you control an ostrich and have to find its eggs.

When the weather is good enough to ride in the real world, one of the best cycling satnavs and activity trackers is the Garmin Edge 810. As well as providing all the functions of a normal bike computer, the 810 works with wireless sensors (such as a heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor) and can record your ride. It works with the free iPhone app, too.

Garmin Edge 810

You can also use it as a traditional satnav for calculating routes and directing you, or you can plan a route in advance and upload it wirelessly to the 810. It has a 2.6in colour touchscreen which, unlike smartphone screens, is easily readable in direct sunlight. It's also waterproof and costs around £450 with the sensors.

Garmin Edge 500

If you're not bothered about wireless connectivity and apps, the Edge 800 is almost identical and costs closer to £300 with the sensors and basemap. You'll need a more detailed map for it to be any use as a satnav, though, and you have a choice of City Navigator street maps or using free maps from the Open Street Maps project.

There are also cheaper models in Garmin's Edge range, including the Edge 500 which has a mono screen and is available without sensors for £150.

Fitness gadgets: watches

For runners and swimmers, there are a variety of watches available which will track your activity. Some work with heart rate monitors and also have GPS trackers, while others are cheaper and have more basic functions.

Polar's RCX3 watch, below left, comes with a heart rate monitor and costs around £125. It aims to help you train at the right intensity to hit your goals - typically training for an event such as a marathon - and is compatible with most of Polar's sensors including GPS (a bundle is available for roughly £250).

Polar RCX3 and Garmin Forerunner 10

Garmin also has a range of watches including the Forerunner 10 (above in black) which includes a GPS receiver for under £100. It can track your speed, distance, calories burned and more.

Garmin SwimGarmin also has a watch designed for swimmers called, appropriately, Swim. It costs around £130 and will track your distance, pace and stroke count and estimate calories burned. You simply set the pool length and it automatically detects which stroke you're using and records your lengths and calculates your swolf score. When you're finished, you can automatically sync the data with your computer and upload it to Gamin's website (just as with the Edge 810 cycling GPS and Forerunner watches).

One of the more bizarre fitness gadgets is the HappiLabs HapiFork. It's one of the strangest we've seen, and claims to help you eat more slowly in order to aid digestion and weight loss. The idea is that you will end up eating less as you feel full before you've eaten too much.

Happilabs HappiFork

Using vibration alerts and LED indicators, the HapiFork will let you know when you're eating too fast by accurately detecting when you bring the fork to your mouth. You can upload the data via USB to the website and keep a track of how long it took to eat each meal, intervals between "fork servings" and enter other data such as your sleep and physical activity. The HapiFork can be washed as normal (even in a dishwasher) and costs around £100.

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