Activity trackers have become pretty popular gadgets, with plenty of them around to choose from. I’ve previously reviewed the Mi Band and the Fitbit Zip. While the Mi Band also tracks sleep quality, both tracker devices have just basic pedometer functions. Just how accurate are the pedometers?
I’ve thrown in a Pebble for comparison. I’ve not previously reviewed the Pebble for its pedometer functions, because it’s not something that comes with it out of the box. You’ll need to download and install the Misfit app. Once you’ve the app, the Pebble pretty much gets pedometer and sleep activity tracker capabilities.
I ran a number of tests. Except for the last test, I counted my actual steps manually, keeping track of it to compare against what the various trackers recorded.
The first test is a standard walking test, going up and down a long corridor. As you know, both the Pebble and Mi Band are worn my the wrist, so I made sure that my hands were not doing anything apart from swinging naturally beside my body, and I took regular and consistent steps. My actual steps is 416. The steps recorded by the three trackers:
- Pebble: 360 (-13%)
- Fitbit Zip: (-1%)
- Mi Band (+12%)
The next test involved walking a little more casually, meaning there were some small variations in speed. The ground was not totally flat, so there were some steps up and down, but not to the extent of climbing up or down an entire floor. I walked 536 steps. The recorded steps by the three trackers:
- Pebble: 466 (-13%)
- Fitbit Zip: 525 (+2%)
- Mi Band: 400 (-25%)
Next, I walked another circuit that matches more realistically how you’d typically walk. It includes some step variations, stopping from time to time, and taking the stairs. My actual steps is 800. The trackers recorded:
- Pebble: 664 (-17%)
- Fitbit Zip: 792 (-1%)
- Mi Band: 640 (-20%)
The next test involves much more variations in movements. On top of the above, I also ran up the stairs two steps at a time, jogged down the stairs, used my phone a little bit (with the hand on which side I wore the Pebble and Mi Band), and a couple of other things. I walked 800 steps. The trackers recorded:
- Pebble: 550 (-31%)
- Fitbit Zip: 796 (0.5%)
- Mi Band: 696 (-13%)
Overall, while walking over longer distances, in the course of a day, which means it is impractical for me to count my actual steps, the three trackers produced the following counts:
- Pebble: 2996
- Fitbit Zip: 3216
- Mi Band: 2723
What can I conclude in this simple experiment? The Fitbit Zip seems to be awfully accurate under all circumstances. The Pebble and Mi Band are somewhat less accurate, even in the first test where I walked with proper regular steps, arms swinging naturally by my side.
There were also significant variations in the accuracy of the Pebble and Mi Band. I believe when worn on the wrist, these trackers are often confused by arm movements and hand gestures unrelated to actual walking. Over long distances, some of the errors might cancel each other out, or not. At best the Pebble and Mi Band can give you an indication of the amount of walking activity, with an error rate of about +/- 20%. This may be good enough for some people.
If you are after accuracy, the Fitbit Zip, which is reasonably affordable, is the one to go to. The Mi Band, at just S$19.99, clearly wins in price. The Pebble is best thought of as a great smart watch, which happens to have a working pedometer app.