Smartphones Track Activity as Well as Wearables Can

By Jamie Condliffe on at

The proliferation of fitness trackers available alone may be enough to convince you that strapping one to your wrist will quantify yourself better than any other piece of hardware. But, as a new study shows, your smartphone can do just as good a job.

A new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that smartphone apps are just as accurate as the wearable fitness trackers available on the market. The experiment was simple: the researchers had 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, each twice, recording their step counts using a variety of fitness monitoring hardware as they went.

Indeed, the team, from the Perelman School of Medicine and the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, tested three waistband devices, three wrist-worn devices and two smartphones using a total of four different apps. They included a Galaxy S4, iPhone 5s, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP24, and several Fitbits.

The results? When step counts were compared to actual counts, smartphone records deviated from the actual by a maximum of 6.7 per cent, while wearable devices differed more by up to 22.7 to per cent. (For what it's worth, the Fuelband faired really rather badly.)

"In this study, we wanted to address one of the challenges with using wearable devices: they must be accurate. After all, if a device is going to be effective at monitoring — and potentially changing — behaviour, individuals have to be able to trust the data," said lead study author Meredith A. Case, to EurekAlert. "We found that smartphone apps are just as accurate as wearable devices for tracking physical activity."

Given that most people carry a smartphone already, it may make more economic sense to use it to record your fitness rather than a wearable. That is, unless you want to measure other psychological parameters such as blood glucose or heart rate, in which case, a more dedicated device is still your best bet. [Journal of the American Medical Association via Engadget]

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