Taking 10,000 steps a day (about 4 miles or so) is often touted as the ideal fitness goal. But even 7,000 steps can have health benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine says. Pedometers can help you get motivated, plus track your progress.
Consumer Reports found that you don’t have to spend much to get an accurate model. The magazine tested 10 regular pedometers, three GPS watches, and three cellphone apps that claim to measure steps and distance through your phone’s movement. The recommended models range in price from $3 for the Pedometer Pro GPS+ app (for iPhone) to $300 for the Timex Ironman Global Trainer GPS watch.
All of the conventional pedometers had excellent or very good step-count accuracy. Two of the three phone apps were also accurate. The exception was the Max CA Apps, $1, which didn’t perform well. All three GPS watches were excellent outdoors for distance measurement.
How CR tested
Conventional pedometers count steps by detecting movement. Some also calculate calories and distance based on your weight and a stride length that you program in at the beginning of the workout. GPS models are pricier - $200 to $300 - and measure distance outdoors via satellite information. (Garmin and Nike sell shoe pods to use when the satellite can’t be accessed because you’re indoors or somewhere heavily wooded, but we didn’t test them.)
Since GPS watches track distance, not steps, they can also be used for biking and, in some cases, swimming, though we didn’t test those uses. The phone apps measure steps by sensing body motion. They may take more trial and error to use, but cost the least, $4 or less.
To test the conventional pedometers and apps, Consumer Reports staff clipped each device to their waistband or belt while walking on a treadmill at various speeds, climbing and descending stairs, and walking outside. For the apps, the phone was clipped to a belt with a cellphone holder or carried in a pocket.
Testers compared the pedometer step counts to the testers’ own counts. For GPS watches, volunteers ran 1 mile outside on level terrain and another 0.8 mile downhill. Consumer Reports measured accuracy against a professional distance-measuring wheel. Sensory panelists also evaluated each device on how easy it was to use.
All of the regular pedometers scored highly, but the best were the Mio Trace Acc-Tek and Omron GOSmart, both $30. Walmart’s Sportline Step & Distance, $5, is a Best Buy but has limited features, and you can unintentionally switch between the distance and step displays if your thumb hits the “mode’’ button.
Most of the models suggest walking 10 paces to measure your stride length (which enables the device to track your distance), but walking at your normal pace over a longer known distance, such as a high-school track, might give a better measure.
For the GPS watches, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS and Garmin Forerunner 210 were excellent overall. The Timex Ironman is also very accurate, but it was bulkier than the other models, and the directions were difficult to follow.
Both of the higher-scoring apps were accurate. But they lacked detailed instructions, and you may have to adjust the sensitivity setting to maximize accuracy.
How to choose. If you run, walk, bike, or swim and want to precisely track your distance and speed, consider getting a GPS watch. But the average walker probably doesn’t need one. Note that phone apps use a lot of battery power, and the GPS watches have to be recharged, similar to a cellphone.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.