Fourteen times last summer and fall, I and nine other Consumer Reports staffers took a mile walk down and back past the cemetery near our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. Each time, we wore two pedometers, devices used to count steps and, in some cases, compute distance traveled. Our walks were postponed at times—by freak tropical storms, record floods, and, in my case, an injured knee. But by the end we had logged a total of 140 miles and gathered enough data to come up with Ratings of 13 pedometers, including 10 standard ones and three cell-phone apps.
There was nothing particularly high-tech about our pedometer testing. Marc McEntee, assistant project leader for fitness, would bike down to meet us at the halfway, turn-around point, where he compared the steps we recorded on the manual clicker we each carried with what the pedometers said. Then we swapped the pedometers from our right and left hips, and walked back to work, where Marc would again record the data on his clipboard.
Other volunteers tested the standard pedometers and apps while walking on treadmills and going up and down stairs. And a few more vigorous volunteers tested three GPS watches, running with them for a little under two miles.
But there was no special track, no special clothing, no specially trained exercise professionals. Just regular people taking a walk or a jog in the neighborhood or at work. Ed Kippel, senior program leader for personal care and wellness, explains that’s the point. “We want to see how the devices work in the real world, with real people, in the same way they’re used by our readers," he says.
And we think we ended up with some useful information. For example, all of the regular pedometers, which ranged from $5 to $45, were very good or excellent for step-count accuracy. Two of the three apps were also accurate, though they might be harder to learn to use. And all three GPS watches were excellent at measuring distance traveled, though they are more expensive devices—they cost $200 to $300—and probably aren’t necessary for the average walker.
For details, see our pedometer Ratings.