Numerous wrist-wearable devices to measure physical activity are currently available, but there is a need to unify the evidence on how they compare in terms of acceptability and accuracy.
The aim of this study is to perform a systematic review of the literature to assess the accuracy and acceptability (willingness to use the device for the task it is designed to support) of wrist-wearable activity trackers.
We searched MEDLINE, Embase, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and SPORTDiscus for studies measuring physical activity in the general population using wrist-wearable activity trackers. We screened articles for inclusion and, for the included studies, reported data on the studies’ setting and population, outcome measured, and risk of bias.
A total of 65 articles were included in our review. Accuracy was assessed for 14 different outcomes, which can be classified in the following categories: count of specific activities (including step counts), time spent being active, intensity of physical activity (including energy expenditure), heart rate, distance, and speed. Substantial clinical heterogeneity did not allow us to perform a meta-analysis of the results. The outcomes assessed most frequently were step counts, heart rate, and energy expenditure. For step counts, the Fitbit Charge (or the Fitbit Charge HR) had a mean absolute percentage error (MAPE) <25% across 20 studies. For heart rate, the Apple Watch had a MAPE <10% in 2 studies. For energy expenditure, the MAPE was >30% for all the brands, showing poor accuracy across devices. Acceptability was most frequently measured through data availability and wearing time. Data availability was ≥75% for the Fitbit Charge HR, Fitbit Flex 2, and Garmin Vivofit. The wearing time was 89% for both the GENEActiv and Nike FuelBand.
The Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR were consistently shown to have a good accuracy for step counts and the Apple Watch for measuring heart rate. None of the tested devices proved to be accurate in measuring energy expenditure. Efforts should be made to reduce the heterogeneity among studies.