The 3 best activity trackers that cost less than $100

You don't have to spend a small fortune to get a reliable fitness tracker. These three options, from Misfit and Fitbit, each cost less $100.

fitbit office
Credit: Thinkstock

A friend of mine uses the top button of his jeans as an activity tracker; when it starts to pinch, it's time for some exercise.

I prefer a more high-tech approach, and I frequently test the latest and greatest fitness wearables. The following three options each cost $100 or less, and I recommend them all ... with a few caveats.

Misfit Shine 2 is fashionable and functional

Misfit's recently released Shine 2 ($99.99) wearable is ideal for swimmers and others who want to rack up points each day instead of counting steps. Misfit Shine 2 also counts steps, along with miles walked and calories burned, but it assigns daily points to specific aerobic activities, especially walking, running, and swimming.

Misfit Shine 2

Misfit Shine 2 automatically differentiates activity levels. A brisk walk may be labeled "Vigorous Activity," for instance, while a leisurely stroll might be automatically recorded as "Light Activity."

The small black disc uses colored LEDs rather than a screen to convey information, such as how close you are to meeting your daily goal. The advantage of the LEDs is that battery life (from a CR2032 cell) reportedly lasts up to six months. The downside is you have to look at the Misfit app to glean any real insights.

Misfit Shine 2 is attractive and can be worn in the included wristband or in a separate clasp. However, the disc is slippery and can be tough to grasp, so transferring it from wristband to clasp, or vice versa, is sometimes tricky. (Misfit produced a video demonstration to help users avoid potential problems.)

Misfit Shine 2 also automatically tracks sleep, but in my experience, it's not particularly accurate. During five consecutive nights, for instance, Shine 2 significantly under-reported the hours I slept twice and over-reported once.

As is the case with the popular Fitbit trackers, you can connect with other Misfit users to keep track of your buddies' progress — which can be highly motivating for competitive types.

Misfit Shine is right for you, if ...

... you want an all-around activity tracker for swimming, running and other sports that doesn't need to be recharged frequently and is easily accessorized.

Misfit Shine is NOT right for you, if ... 

... you want a device with a display, so you don't have to constantly check a mobile app.

Misfit Link delivers bang for your buck

Misfit Link  is noteworthy for a number of reason. First, Misfit's screen-less activity tracker costs only $25. Aside from the Mi Band ($15), you'll be hard pressed to find any other wearable from a reputable company that's as affordable.

misfit link Misfit

Link, in conjunction with Misfit's Link Android and iOS apps, lets you take selfies and control music playlists. Of course, these aren't essential features — but they are cool. (The more expensive Misfit Shine 2, mentioned above, can also trigger selfies and control audio.)

Finally, Misfit Link automatically tracks sleep, though again, it's far from perfect.

Misfit Link is right for you, if ...

... you want a reliable activity tracker, but don't want to invest a lot money.

Misfit Link is NOT right for you, if ...

... you want an advanced activity tracker with lots of different features.

Fitbit One gets you in the game

Fitbit's One ($99.95) activity tracker slips easily into a pocket, or attaches to a belt or bra, and it's the best the activity tracker for people who don't want to spend more than $100.

The gadget is by no means flawless, however. Its hardware is long overdue for a refresh. One doesn't automatically track sleep or certain exercises, unlike the company's more expensive Charge HR ($150) and Surge ($250) devices. Its display is difficult to read in bright sunlight, and One is not nearly as stylish as Misfit's Shine 2. You also can't wear One in the pool, and it doesn't always accurately track activities other than steps.

fitbit one

Pain points aside, Fitbit products tend to be highly reliable. They easily connect to smartphones and other gadgets via Bluetooth (in most cases) and stay connected. Fitbit has a large ecosystem of compatible devices, such as the Thermos Connected Hydration Bottle with Smart Lid, as well as fitness and diet apps. With the largest percent of the worldwide wearable market (22 percent), according to IDC, a sister company, you're more likely to find friends and family on the Fitbit leaderboard than in other wearable community. 

Fitbit One is right for you, if ...

... you primarily run or walk, want to compete against friends on the Fitbit leaderboard, and value a large ecosystem of integrated apps and devices.

Fitbit One is NOT right for you, if ... 

... you swim, or you want automatic sleep and exercise-session tracking.

This story, "The 3 best activity trackers that cost less than $100" was originally published by CIO.