Every cheap gadget nowadays has a step counter, all Suunto watches must have one, DC Rainmaker claimed when the Ambit3 Vertical was released (without a step counter, since it was a watch focused on ascent/descent).

Suunto obliged, every watch since then has had a step counter, even as they want to (mainly, supposedly) make watches for serious sports training and the great outdoors – and now the complaint is that their step counters seriously overestimate steps.

The Problem with Step Tracking

Two things I’d like to suggest, first:

Steps ≠ Training?

One, I would really like step counters or similar measures of activity to give an overview of how active one has been, not just in training.

One of my big training-related problems is that I seem to do basically no training, according to activity logs such as on Movescount or Strava – where you’re welcome to follow me, by the way. In the meantime, though, my everyday steps when I’m not just sitting at home tend to be in the 10,000+ range.

But, on a portal like Movescount or Strava, that doesn’t count for anything. And the way Movescount now syncs and shows steps isn’t really a step forward for that.

Talk like an Italian, Walk like an Active Person?

Two, step counters in watches or wristband-style fitness trackers are seriously overrated in my opinion, anyways.

You don’t just use your arms when you walk, after all, so such trackers have to either be really good at filtering out all gesticulation and similar movement from actual walking – or they will overestimate how active you are.
Step trackers ought to go on the waistband or into a pocket.

That said, it’s all just more reason to have a look at some data and comparisons. And again, it’s mainly Suunto I could compare, but fortunately not only.

Steps, Spartan Ultra vs Spartan Sport WHR Baro

It doesn’t say much about tracking accuracy if two watch models of the same line give similar results. Then again, it would be a concerning result if they gave seriously different results… and so, how does it look when one compares a Spartan Ultra and a Spartan Sport WHR Baro?

Not too bad…


… but, guess what?

You can tell exactly when I decided to switch the watches around from one wrist to the other:

I wore the SSU on my right – my dominant arm’s – wrist on 12/4 and 12/5, then switched it to my left arm/wrist on 12/6. With that, the step tracking also switched from counting more “steps” on the SSU to counting more on the WHR Baro.

For the most part, not taking step counts from the wrist too seriously, I am not seriously disappointed in the results of the step tracking, but it is clear that a lot of arm movement is being counted as steps when it probably wasn’t – assuming that I move my right arm more than my left, which looks safe to assume.

Spartan Sport WHR Baro vs. TomTom Adventurer

It should be yet more interesting and telling to compare the results from two different manufacturer’s watches, and I fortunately could compare the Suunto Spartan WHR Baro with a TomTom Adventurer:

One problem (?): I always wore the TomTom on my right wrist, so I can’t tell how this would look if I had also switched.

Having had the Suunto Spartan Sport WHR Baro on my left arm, which we have already established as being the one I use less (and that Suunto Spartan watches definitely count fewer steps on), it is obvious that the TomTom uses a different algorithm or is, at the very least, less sensitive.

After all, except for the one day (1/12), the TomTom Adventurer always counted fewer steps, even as I had worn it on my right wrist.

On the other hand, though, (again, given my misgivings about step tracking that lead me to not expect good things from it, anyways) I do not find the comparative results horrible.

Track Trends, Not Steps…

If you wanted an exact count of your steps and only your steps, sure, you could not like the result. “Not exact,” you could definitely claim.

In terms of an indication of level of activity or amount of movement in everyday life, though, what counts is whether the tracking reflects those relative, comparative levels of activity across days – and on that count, it is all good enough:
On days that were certainly more active, all devices show more activity; on days when there was definitely less activity, all devices show less activity.

(In that regard, the one strange day where the TomTom Adventurer counted more steps than the Spartan Baro would concern me more than the inexact/exaggerated tracking overall – but one exception doesn’t really say anything, either.)

More, you shouldn’t really ask from a step counter, least of all one on your wrist.

(And no, your phone isn’t the ideal measure, either. Well, maybe it is for you, but if you always have it in your pants pocket, where it could perhaps track steps well, I’d just advise you to drop it off somewhere more often and walk away from it 😉 )

 

 

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