Feeling the “burn” from your fitness band or watch — but not in the way you planned? There was (and still is) a lot of hype around high-tech fitness watches that in some instances cost several hundred dollars. Are any of them worth it, and what’s up with those subpar reviews? It turns out that they might not be as effective or on track as marketers promised, and that has some fitness buffs steaming.

In an effort to level the playing field, some researchers undertook the exact same workouts wearing two different Nike FuelBands. They ran the same miles, tackled the same hills, cycled the same loops and did everything the exact same way. However, one FuelBand promised a researcher he’d logged thousands more steps than the other. What’s up with that huge disparity, especially considering it was the same device?

An expensive sugar pill

At the end of this research, it was concluded that bands and watches simply don’t work (or at least they’re nowhere near highly accurate). It suddenly makes sense why Nike has quietly killed most marketing for FuelBand, right at the same time as other manufacturers are dishing up more devices. The official word is that Nike is focusing more on other things, like apps, and shifting away from hardware like FuelBands. But is there more to the story?

The FuelBand certainly isn’t an anomaly. Podiatrist, fitness and tech writer Jim McDannald says that several of these devices are more marketing hype than reality. “People are getting fitness tracker fatigue; in large part, it’s because many of these devices are simply inaccurate,” he told the New York Times. “You may have burned more, or fewer, calories than they say. Or in my case, walked more steps.”

Fitbit data

A person wearing the Fitbit Force holds a smartphone displaying data collected by the recently recalled fitness tracker. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A better, more affordable solution

What’s a fitness fanatic to do? “Even a cheap pedometer is more accurate than these wristband trackers,” says McDannald, although he does note that such devices can encourage couch potatoes to get moving. Along similar lines, sleep trackers don’t have a much better reputation. Popular options like Jawbone Up, which is supposed to track sleep movements, is notorious for inaccuracy. However, this hasn’t stopped shoppers from buying.

The market research firm Canalys says that 17 million devices like fitness bands and sleep monitors are slated to be sold in 2014. In 2015, that number will reach 23 million and then 45 million in 2017. The report states, “Though currently a relatively small market serving fitness enthusiasts, wearable bands represent a massive opportunity in the medical and wellness segment.”

Apps not any better

If you think it’s just hardware that has problems, think again. In another field test, the Moves and Breeze apps were tested on the same iPhone. Moves recorded 3,070 steps and Breeze reported 3,363. It was the exact same walk, the same phone, but a huge discrepancy. Even worse, on another day Breeze reported a goal of 3,500 steps had been taken even though the tester hadn’t taken a single step (he was sitting in a cube farm all day).

The next big player in this iffy industry is Apple, which has been rumored to be fine-tuning a wearable device. The company is seeking medical applications under the governance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has hired experts on medical sensors. However, for the time being, Apple is still in R&D (and hopefully, working out all those bumps).

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