There are apps out there to count your steps, the number of calories you eat, and the hours you sleep. These apps are meant to help you take care of your health, something important to everyone, and what better way to help measure and monitor your health than something you carry around with you everywhere?
Your smartphone is almost always with you, complete with sensors, and connected to the internet at all hours, making it great to monitor your health. More companies are launching applications designed to improve and maintain your physical health, understood as a combination of physical activity, vital signs, and diet. I’ve selected the best health and fitness apps for mobile phones, comparing their functions so that you can choose the best one for you.
The best apps for health and fitness
There are tens of thousands of apps dedicated to health and physical exercise (over 30,000 for Android alone). Most are devoted to specific aspects of health, such as counting your steps, weight, or following a diet. I won’t include these in this comparison. Instead, following criteria based on quality and popularity, I chose four apps that record physical health as a whole, without focusing on a single aspect. Some are associated with a specific device, but almost all support manual data entry from your smartphone:
- FitBit (Android | iOS)
- Noom (Android | iOS)
- Apple Health (iOS 8)
- Bing Health & Fitness (Windows Phone | Windows 8)
Sports and other physical activities
Monitoring physical activity is the biggest feature of most health apps. It’s a feature in almost all of them, but the process used to record data can vary.
FitBit counts steps taken, uploading data to various devices, and from there, calculating the intensity of the activity carried out, distance, and calories, although without using GPS. Other exercises like cycling or lifting weights can be entered manually. The catalog is huge, and it includes more miscellaneous actions, like mowing the lawn or traveling by bus.
Noom records physical activity using the sensors on your phone, GPS, and, if available, a Bluetooth heart rate monitor. It calculates distance, calories, and speed. The exercise interface isn’t as sophisticated as the other apps, but information is integrated with food intake (just like FitBit) to give you a picture of your calorie usage.
Apple Health can record all activities, but being a data aggregator, it lacks its own database. The data (distance, calories, and steps) can be entered manually, although you have to enter them through one of the many existing exercise apps like RunKeeper or Moves. It’s also compatible with a wide range of devices.
Bing Health & Fitness records activity using the phone’s sensors, although the type of activity is limited to 20 choices. You can track pace, speed, calorie consumption, and movement on a map, with a geographical history similar to apps you might use to measure a run. A unique feature is the panel which allows you to see the split times per mile.
Verdict: FitBit wins for the ease with which it allows you to record your physical activity, as well as its great catalog of activities. On the other hand, it doesn’t let you record runs.
Food, calories and hydration
The second major section of health and fitness is food: logging meals, getting nutritional advice, and noting the amount of water you’re drinking are staples in this category.
FitBit lets you enter food into its comprehensive database, which includes many ready made meals and fast food chains. Entering food is simple, and there’s also a favorites menu, but there are no details on the ingredients of each type of food. It can also record the water you drank over the course of a day.
Noom has a huge catalog of food that’s separated into three groups: light, medium, and heavy (and without calories). Noting each meal -including water – is fast, and the database is extensive, with foods from around the world; if one doesn’t exist, you can add it. You can also scan the barcode of some package to identify foods.
Apple Health has a complete menu in which different daily values can be noted down, including fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, vitamins, and water. The data entry can be manual, but it’s clear that the system is intended to be used with other nutrition apps acting as catalogs.
Bing Health & Fitness uses a similar system to Noom, with food separated into times of the day. The database is available in many languages and is pretty extensive. Unlike Noom, Bing Health & Fitness defines the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates for each food, but it’s a less intuitive system.
Verdict: It’s a tie between Noom and Bing; while Noom uses a more intuitive classification, the Bing Health & Fitness database seems more complete.
Sleep and other physiological indicators
Your health depends on more than just exercise and diet; quality of sleep is also a very important factor. At the same time, other indicators, such as blood pressure or respiratory rate, can say a lot about your health.
FitBit records your sleep through hardware, but also allows you to manually make a note of the hours you sleep. If you’re using the hardware, FitBit can determine the quality of sleep from detected movements (your movements throughout the night). Heart rate, blood glucose, and blood pressure are entered from the website.
Apple Health also tracks sleep, along with many other physiological indicators (including analytic blood pressure and respiratory rate), but it can only be done by hand, or from data from other sensors.
Bing Health & Fitness and Noom, on the other hand, have no such function.
Verdict: FitBit wins this category because of how easy it is to record your sleep through its combination of hardware and software, and the possibility of keeping track of your blood pressure, heart rate and glucose.
Monitoring objectives and motivation
People tend to exercise to keep fit or lose weight. An exercise app should facilitate the identification of targets and monitoring through reminders and graphs.
FitBit defines targets for each indicator, like steps, calories burned, weight, or body fat. It’s easy to read and is intuitive, and badges are awarded whenever goals are exceeded. Moreover, the great advantage is the hardware, and its premium features help you keep on top of your goals and take accurate measurements.
Noom tries its best to track target goals. It gives you reminders to enter data for food, weight, and exercise, and has a system of “levels” with dots indicating your personal progress. The graphics are easy to read, but they’re not always obvious.
Apple Health is limited to displaying graphics (although very nice ones) in the main panel, but it doesn’t give you reminders or objectives, leaving the task to the wearable devices and other health apps. Although Apple Health collects data from various sources, the lack of an incentive system and goals is disappointing.
Bing Health & Fitness has graphics to let you check your intake, calorie consumption, and exercise, but they’re less comprehensive than those from Noom or FitBit. The version for Windows 8 is the most convenient to check, and only FitBit offers something better through its web interface.
Verdict: FitBit wins with its unique possibilities offered by the union of specialized hardware and software. The system of badges and quality graphics give it the top spot.
Let’s not forget your medical records & emergency contacts
Your phone can save your life: if you store medical records on it, physicians can access it to know what diseases you suffer from and what medications you might be taking.
Apple Health is an app that’s designed to collect data on all types of health issues, without making interpretations or giving advice (Apple states that that’s up to doctors). In its Medical ID section, you can enter diseases, medications, allergies, and other issues of interest. You can also add an emergency contact.
Bing Health & Fitness connects with HealthVault, Microsoft’s equivalent to Apple Health. It can’t create a full-fledged medical record on the app, but Bing Health & Fitness synchronizes its data with your HealthVault account, which is accessible from the web browser. HealthVault is great, but your data isn’t actually on the app.
Noom and FitBit are excluded because it doesn’t let you enter medical or physiological information of any kind: the focus is on solely exercise and diet.
Verdict: Apple Health wins for the quality and usefulness of the Medical ID card, which, privacy considerations aside, might just become a new standard.
Informative articles and tips
Not everything is about data. To look after your health, education is also important. Articles, recipes, diets, and exercise routines inform and motivate you to keep fit and stick with your goals.
Noom provides articles on nutrition and wellness, and the Pro version also gives recipes, along with questionnaires and small challenges, which aim to educate you on specific aspects of diet and exercise. The Pro version also receives newsletters regularly.
Bing Health & Fitness shows you articles and news from reputable magazines and newspapers about food, sport, and health, and has a large database of exercises. It even has videos with nutritional tips. Your symptoms checker can also help if you’re experiencing unexplained pain.
Again, Apple Health and FitBit don’t show this type of content, so they’re excluded.
Verdict: Bing Health & Fitness wins for the impressive amount of useful content in multiple languages, as well as its superb medical symptoms checker.
Socializing and support groups
FitBit attaches great importance to the social aspect, and from both the web and the app, you can follow your friends and send messages of encouragement. You can also share your achievements on social networks.
Noom has a great social aspect through the groups, a unique feature of the Pro version. Groups are mini-forums of people who share goals and physical characteristics, letting participants encourage each other and share their achievements and discoveries.
Apple Health and Bing Health & Fitness don’t offer anything remarkable in this section.
Verdict: Noom wins for its help and support groups, a well thought out and very well produced feature which is absent from most other industry applications.
Compatibility with apps and devices
FitBit is compatible with many apps. The hardware (FitBit One, FitBit Aria, etc.) is excellent, but for obvious reasons, it doesn’t support third-party devices.
Noom supports Bluetooth heart rate monitors, but uses the phone as the main source of data. Bing Health & Fitness, on the other hand, doesn’t connect to other sensors or apps.
Apple Health aims to be the center of information on health and wellness for the iPhone, and therefore has a communication standard (HealthKit) which all sensor manufacturers and app authors can use to submit theirdata.
Verdict: Apple Health wins for their potential compatibility with all devices and applications available for the iPhone.
And the winner is…FitBit
The number of apps that can help you live a healthier life is overwhelming, and as you can see, there are many ifferent approaches: while some opt to collect information from many sources (Apple Health), others prefer to use their own hardware (FitBit) or the same phone (Noom, Bing).
For its quality, the fact that it can be used for free, and the advantages of connecting with its own hardware and other apps, FitBit is the winner in this comparison, followed closely by Noom, which is ideal for those who only want to use the phone sensor. Bing takes third place as the best option for Windows Phone users.
If you want to know more about fitness apps or activity trackers, check out our article Fitness apps and location tracking: risk or reward?