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Should I keep my activity tracker? The great debate.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Right after the first of the year, I received my Spark Activity Tracker. I was super excited about it, because I loved the idea of the little "light show" to help me track my fitness through the day, and I wanted something that would track my mileage when I went wandering.

I'm still inside my 30-day return, and I'm trying to decide if I want to keep it. I'm reviewing the pros and cons of it, and my major issues with it.


The SPAT as they call it has to be worn on certain places in order for it to be accurate. (Okay, this isn't really that big a deal, but I was considering one of the bracelet style trackers, and placement for those is no issue.) The most accurate place to wear the SPAT is on your shoe, which is fine if you're wearing a shoe with laces, but not so good for boots or if you go barefoot around the house, as I often do.

HOWEVER, the SPAT tracks my steps when I'm pushing a stroller or my son's toy car, and the bracelet style trackers won't do that. They rely on the arm swinging back and forth to track your steps, or so I'm told. (I'm still trying to confirm that.)

I haven't tried wearing the SPAT on my hip or anywhere else. I'm still testing it, so I plan to do that this week. People tell me the bra placement is REALLY inaccurate, so I wasn't even going to try that.


This is almost the deal-breaker for me. My winter exercise routine does not usually involve long walks in zero temperatures, and I don't have a treadmill. I do have an exercise bike, and I guess I could adjust, but my favorite winter and rainy day fitness activity is Step Aerobics and Tae Bo. Well, for some weird reason the SPAT can't recognize the steps on a step bench as actual steps, so for an hour workout, I get "credit" for about 75 steps. Yes, you can go back into the log and reclassify your activity, but then the lights don't light up accordingly, which brings me to the next point.


One of the main reasons I wanted a Nike FuelBand or this tracker was the visual readout -- a progression of lights that would tell you how close to your "goal" you were.

The only goal you can set with the SPAT is your number of steps. I don't know what I was really looking for -- anything more complicated than that would have to be set up with a heart rate monitor, I guess, or require you to input a lot of your own data.

In any case, when you "reclassify" a workout (as I had to do when the SPAT thought my hour-long step class was nothing more than a walk to the mailbox) the website goal changes, but your lights remain the same. This isn't terribly motivating -- BUT, and I'll mention this in a minute, I might be able to adjust the "step goal" to reflect my desire to get off my butt more at home.


This complaint actually isn't. It was more my misunderstanding of how to read the website.

I have a route that I walk/run, that is quite clearly defined in mileage. I've confirmed this with two different GPS devices and also the googlemap and mapmyrun programs. The distance is 1.25 miles, almost exactly. I run it four times for my 5-mile goal.

So I set out on the trail Sunday, pushing Little Bear in his toy car since the weather wasn't horrific. I only did one lap, then checked my results on the computer. The SPAT appeared to have given me credit for 1.75 miles -- almost a half a mile difference!!! I was very annoyed. Yes, I had the device on my shoe, properly placed, etc. How could it mistrack a whole half mile in only a mile and a quarter distance?????

I tried again yesterday, doing the same route. I got a much different result for the SPAT distance, and played around on the website for a bit. What was weird was that although the step counter told me I'd walked x number of miles, my actual "workout" mileage (SPAT only tracks a "workout" as something that is 10 minutes or longer. I like that about it.) was correct! Well, it told me I had walked 1.3 miles, which is pretty darn close, and I'll accept that deviation, considering I had to walk back and forth from the house twice to bring in and out the toy car.

So my "workout" miles tracked accurately, which made me very happy. Now I can wander the neighborhood and get a good estimate of how far I've gone :)

For that, the SPAT is good, and I'll probably keep it, especially since I have a different thought about the "goal" and the light-show thing.


The first week of January here was a mess. We had the Snowpocalyse and ridiculously freezing temperatures, and mostly I just sat around the house reading to Little Bear, drinking wine, and eating a lot. When I got my SPAT, I stuck it on my shoe and went about business as usual. I was really surprised to see that a day without dancing or planned physical activity left me with a VERY low step count. Like REALLY low. Couch potato low.

I'm thinking it might be a good idea for me to try to get my step goal in WITHOUT trying to use the SPAT to track my planned fitness. What I mean is, I wonder if I should take off the tracker when I'm doing aerobics, and try to get the step goal from being more active around the house: cleaning, chasing Little Bear, walking at work, etc.

I guess all that is something I have to decide on my own, but as I'm writing this, I think I might keep the little guy for at least another week. All the different trackers have different things going for them (the bracelet ones that wake you up with a vibration is pretty cool) and Polar just released one that looks promising, but everyone says wait for the next edition. I may keep the SPAT and then "upgrade" in a year or so to a device that better suits my needs then. For the money, the SPAT isn't really a bad deal I guess. And if gets me off my butt, it's worth it, right? LOL. Plus the mileage thing is pretty cool.

Later I'm going to try tap dancing with it on to see how it reacts to that. That's the last activity I have to experiment with. :)
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I used to use pedometers on my waistband, but they kept falling off. One of them even fell into the toilet!

    I like the SPAT because it stays put. I usually wear it on my shoes, but if I'm not wearing shoes where it can be flat on top of my foot, I wear it on my waistband. It seems to be fairly accurate to me, although when I ride behind my husband on his motorcycle I think it counts the vibrations as steps.

    Still, this does motivate me to be more active. On days when the weather is too bad outside, I pace in my RV (where we live) or I go to Walmart and walk around the aisles a few times. I am inspired to get all 12 lights lit up!
    993 days ago
    1356 days ago
    1356 days ago
    For a long time, I pondered whether to get one. I love my Fitbit, which I've had for a year now. But I like to support SP by purchasing their stuff. However, with tax and shipping, $70 is over my budget. And I am not motivated by flashing lights, I have to see numbers.
    1365 days ago
  • EJB2801
    I had to laugh when you said about getting outdoors without crampons on your shoes. What a winter!

    1365 days ago
    Thank you all so much for your comments. I DID decide to keep it, and now I'm really glad I did. The mileage tracker was my "excuse" for keeping it, but I also found myself really slacking over the last few weeks, and knowing that I was supposed to get 6000 steps in REALLY made a difference. I walked a lot more than I probably planned to!

    As soon as spring really settles in, and I can spend some time walking and running outside without crampons on my shoes (!) I plan to up the goal to 10k daily and see if I can do 20 miles a week. :)
    1372 days ago
  • EJB2801
    Is the final decision in yet? Just wondering.
    1380 days ago
    Thank you for the in depth review. It's nice to hear from some one who has used it more than a day or two. I think I'll stick with my Fitbit One. I wear it in my bra and it seems to track step aerobics accurately.
    1404 days ago
    I have pros and cons with the SPAT also. I have my step goal set at 10,000 but during the week I usually hit 14,000 to 17,000. One day I was at 19,900 and if I could have easily looked at the SPAT and seen I only had 100 steps to go I would have made an effort to do it but I didn't check in until the next morning.
    1405 days ago
    I love my Omron pedometer and find it pretty accurate for what I do around the house and walking my neighborhood. But I love reading about people's experiences with other devices. You gave a very thorough report on your findings, and I know it would not be for me. I don't want one I have to wear on my shoe. Hope you find something that works for you. We need all the motivation we can get!
    1405 days ago
    If you want to track steps, get a pedometer or a FitBit.
    If it helps get you up and moving, keep it.
    If it isn't giving you what you personally need, you might want to try something else.
    Ultimately, you need to decide what works best in your day and life.
    Glad your weather is improving. That polar vortex stuff was miserable! Keep smiling and dancing!
    1406 days ago
  • MISSG180
    I like mine, but I, too, wear it on my sock, and I almost always have on socks, even when I don't have on shoes.
    1406 days ago
    I also really didn't like the SPAT at first. But I do use it for motivation... and I already bought the darn thing. Good luck with your journey!
    1406 days ago
    I have an Omicron that I can put in a pocket or it can be hooked on a belt/pocket or shoe. It seems to be pretty accurate for when I bounce a bit with steps. I found I am a pretty smooth walker so some of my steps at work end up not counting (me counting my steps and checking on the Omicron), but the nice thing is that I can track back days on both total steps, aerobic steps and if I wish calorie counts. Rarely use the calorie counts since those are only a baseline. But with the amount of information that is initially entered it is pretty accurate.
    1406 days ago
    I wear mine on my SOCK and so far, it's been pretty accurate. i hate wearing shoes, and I'm home most of the day, so socks seemed like the perfect answer to me! :)

    I love that I can tell how many steps I've gone in a day without the activity in there, i have a "steps per day goal" and a separate activity/fitness goal.
    1406 days ago
    You've convinced me that my $20 pedometer from Wal-Mart is just as good for my purposes as one of the fancy counters. When I started doing water aerobics, I decided to only count non-workout steps for my daily steps. I never rely on the mileage on the pedometer, because my stride length varies so greatly (smaller steps around the house, longer when walking-with-purpose, who knows when walking around the mall). My treadmill has a mileage counter on it (alas in storage since I moved, but I think I have room for it now). When I did the Walk to Rivendell, I averaged my steps and mileage over several normal days to get good estimate of my non-workout, non-walking-with-purpose mileage. Once the weather gets better here, I hope to start walking outdoors again and will have to figure something out. I'll probably do an average based on steps combined with mapping. I'm okay with underestimating.
    1406 days ago
    I HATRED mine. for a lot of the reasons you talked about but especially since I could not wear it on my shoes since I can't wear shoes a lot . also I did wear it on the opposite side of my bra from my fitbit one, and could tell the steps and activity level differences.

    1406 days ago
    If you don't feel it's helping you, then I'd get rid of it.
    1406 days ago
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