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Looking for a fitness band or smartwatch? What to keep in mind when choosing one right now

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The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has hit India hard. It has also made many of us take our health and fitness a lot more seriously. If you are looking to improve your overall health and get back into fitness mode, even if it is some indoor exercises, wearables can make it easier to get back on that path and keep your motivation going.

The good bit is that even budget fitness trackers now offer tracking for heart rate and blood oxygen or SpO2 levels, along the usual steps and exercise tracking. So you don’t need to miss out on these features, if your budget is limited.

Here’s a quick buying guide for you to understand what all features a fitness wearable should have before you decide to hit buy. We also recommend that you read reviews for an individual product before buying one to make sure it suits your needs.

How to choose the right smartwatch

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Design, build quality, display

If you are spending on a smartwatch, make sure it has a big display and good resolution. Some smartwatches come with an AMOLED panel, which is better if you want a crisp, vivid screen. A watch with sapphire glass display or at least Corning Gorilla Glass DX+ will have another added advantage as it will protect the display from scratches or any type of damage even when the watch is hit by a hard object.

Another aspect of the design to keep in mind is ruggedness. Look for a waterproof smartwatch, so that you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged during the rainy season. It should have 5ATM water resistance, so that it can survive pressures up to 50 metres. Several smartwatches sport such features, and can even be taken for swimming, though remember not all water-resistant watches are swim-proof.

But don’t take your smartwatch for sea diving or any type of water sports, unless it is specifically approved by the manufacturer.

When considering the design, remember a thinner watch will be easier to wear all day. The smartwatch should have a rugged build quality. It should also support interchangeable watch straps, so that you can buy third-party straps to match your outfits or for other purposes.

While you will get good quality straps with an expensive watch, it is still advisable to keep this in check when buying a watch. You need to check if the strap is durable enough, premium and comfortable against the skin.

Fitness features to keep in mind 

Heart-rate tracking is now available on most budget smartwatches.

SpO2 (blood oxygen levels) monitoring is a must now and whichever smartwatch you are buying should ideally support it. Plenty of watches have this feature, even the ones being sold at a budget price. The accuracy of the feature will be vary depending on the product, but at least it can give some indication if there is trouble or signs of it.

Blood oxygen monitoring has become crucial in today’s world due to COVID-19. Many are relying on pulse-oximeters to check their pulse rate and blood oxygen levels, and smartwatches can also help in this area. Monitoring SpO2 is important because if the blood oxygen is less than 92 per cent, it indicates that someone’s health might be worsening especially if they have COVID-19 or have recovered from it.

How this feature works on smartwatches and fitness bands is that red and infrared sensors on the back of the device shine a light onto your skin. The reflected light is used to estimate the blood oxygen levels; more red light means higher levels, more infrared light means poor levels. The Apple Watch 6 supports the feature, so does the Fitbit Versa, Iconic series and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, as do watches from AmazFit, Noise, Huawei, GoQii. Realme Watch S and Redmi Watch S.

Real-time heart rate tracking and sleeping patterns are also supported across most smartwatches, including by the brands mentioned above. Users will be able to see their daily sleep duration, deep/light analysis, regularity, and interruptions overnight. Some watches like Apple Watches support ECG sensors, but not everyone really needs those.

For outdoor workouts, a smartwatch should have a built-in GPS, so that you can leave your phone behind and get the distance and route information on the watch. Features like stress and hydration tracking are also part of some watches, though these are more software tweaks.

The former will keep a track of your stress levels. Some watches now offer breathing exercises also to help users regain composure, even if it is for a brief minute. The hydration feature will help those who need to improve their daily water consumption.

Look for wearables that offer a number of sports or workout modes. The watch should be able to offer data on the total time taken, calorie burn, steps taken, heart rate zones, average cadence, pace, speed, heart rate, VO2 max (oxygen consumption during exercise), heart rate zones, and energy consumption.

While you may not get running analysis on most smartwatches, this feature can offer data on asymmetry, ground contact time, flight time, regularity, and vertical oscillation (running efficiency). This is a good feature for runners and one will find it on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3.

Women users should look for a smartwatch that also supports menstrual cycle or pregnancy tracking features as well if they aren’t already using an app on their phone to track this data.

Long battery life, connectivity, compatibility

A look at fitness smartwatches from Apple and Samsung. (Express image)

The watches offered by Fitbit are mostly rated to deliver up to 7 days of battery life. But, you usually don’t get a full week’s battery life with feature-rich smartwatches. Features like Always-on Display (AoD), continuous heart rate monitoring, activity tracking, GPS, high-resolution AMOLED panel and overnight sleep tracking will drain battery. The battery life of every wearable essentially depends on your usage patterns. Try and get a smartwatch that can at least offer two-three days of battery life.

There are smartwatches that don’t offer support for all the core apps, so make sure the watch supports most of the apps. Having NFC support would mean that you will be able to make payments using the watch. Before finalising a fitness wearable, make sure it is compatible with iOS and Android platforms. Try and see if you can find online reviews for the product as well before buying.

Connectivity is one of the important things that you should consider. I have reviewed a few wearables that used to get disconnected after a few hours and then I had to reconnect to get heart rate, steps and other data. Additionally, you can buy the LTE variant of a smartwatch if you don’t want to carry your phone for outdoor workouts. However, the LTE model will cost a lot more.

How to choose the right budget fitness band?

Sensors, features

A budget fitness band might not offer you as detailed data as you get on expensive smartwatches, it can at least give some data that could prove to be useful for many people. Look for fitness bands that come with features like continuous heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and SpO2 (blood oxygen tracking). These features should be present in a fitness band.

Xiaomi’s Mi Band series is considered to offer users the best experience when it comes to accuracy and fitness features. Look for a wearable that offers multiple sport modes, including outdoor running, treadmill, cycling, walking, pool swimming, elliptical, indoor cycling, yoga, and more. These are the basic features that you will likely find in most fitness bands. But, you should check all the sports modes before buying a wearable, so that the activities you do are also available.

For women who are buying fitness wearables, many are supporting ability to record menstrual cycle as well as ovulation phases. There are smart bands that can send reminders before each period as well.

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Waterproof design with all smarts, long battery life

One should buy an AMOLED touchscreen fitness band. It should have 2.5D glass and AF (Anti-fingerprint) coating. A fitness band is expected to have a 5 ATM waterproof rating or at least an IP68 rating to provide some durability against water damage.

When buying a budget smart band, make sure it offers durable and removable straps.  Apart from this, app notifications and phone call/ message alerts on a smart band could come in handy. Each brand adds some extra features as well to offer users more convenience.

Xiaomi’s Mi band 5 has a Night mode that can dim the screen as per your preference. Some of the wearables support the lift-to-wake feature, dedicated breathing guide, music control, and more. The connectivity and compatibility that I have mentioned above are also applicable here. A fitness tracker should offer more than seven days of battery life.

Why smartwatches are better than fitness bands?

Smartwatches offer more screen real estate than a fitness band. The navigating experience on watches is much smoother and easier. It is a bit annoying to control music or reply to messages from a fitness band that have a very small screen. A smartwatch can act as your analog watch as well.

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