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February 1, 2018

How to Get a Free Activity Tracker (a.k.a. Fitbit)

Fitbits and activity trackers became trendy a few years ago and continue to be pretty popular. Chrissy and I each had one. We got them free through the HumanaVitality (now called Go365) program where I worked and used them to get more than $400 in rewards from that program. However, my Fitbit was recalled and Chrissy's died, so we lost our activity tracking abilities. I'm the first to admit tracking your steps isn't terribly important, but as an engineer, I appreciated having that data. That's why I was thinking about getting a new activity tracker, but I didn't want to spend any money. Luckily, I found a free alternative, Google Fit.

Editor's Note:  I can only confirm this little hack works for those with Android phones. It appears Apple Health will accomplish the same thing for iPhone users.

In addition to not wanting to spend money, I didn't want to have to charge yet another gadget. Luckily, I stumbled upon an article that informed me I could track my activities with the free Google Fit app on my phone, which I already own, carry everywhere, and have to charge anyway. It was the perfect solution for me.

A few years ago, I tried some pedometer apps on my phone, but none of them worked because all the phone's sensors went to sleep when the screen was off (I think), so they couldn't detect steps. After that experience, I pretty much gave up on the idea of using my phone as an activity tracker.

When Google released the Fit app, I was vaguely aware of it, but I didn't realize it worked as a pedometer. After reading the article about it, I excitedly downloaded the app and gave it a try. Mercifully, it worked really well. Not surprisingly, Google is able to do things others can't on Android.
There are some privacy concerns with this app because it will use your location to track your workouts, but you don't have to enable those features. Also, Google already knows everything about you, so you shouldn't be too worried about this one app. My biggest concern with this app was that it might hurt my phone's battery life since it was constantly sensing my steps, but I haven't noticed much if any impact, which is good.

Google Fit is definitely a bit more limited than many of the dedicated activity trackers out there. It won't track your heart rate* or your sleep, but I don't really care about that. The main thing I wanted was a pedometer, which I got with this app. And it's free, so you can't really complain about the functionality.

So, if you have an Android phone and you want a free activity tracker (and you always carry your phone in your pocket), give Google Fit a try. If you have an iPhone, try Apple Health and let me know if it works.

Do you use an activity tracker? Did you know your phone could do the same thing for free? Let us know in the comments.

*I am actually put off by heart rate monitors on activity trackers. I don't feel like I need the data, they make the device much bulkier, and they kill the battery life. No thank you.

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  1. I use some sort of native activity tracker on my phone (Galaxy S5). I believe it's called Samsung Health. I mostly use it to track daily steps, although I sometimes use it to map walks and hikes me and my wife take with our dogs.

    1. That's great! I didn't realize Samsung included a pedometer function on their phones.
      One big advantage Google Fit has over the Samsung app is that it is compatible with all Android phones, so you will be able to maintain your data if your next phone isn't a Samsung.