You don’t need a smartwatch, fitness band, or pedometer to track your steps. Your phone can track how many steps you take and how far you walk all by itself, assuming you just carry it with you in your pocket.
Sure, fitness trackers have a lot of useful features, but if all you want is the basic stuff, your phone allows you to track those things without actually wearing and charging another device. It’s built into the Apple Health app on iPhones and the Google Fit app on Android phones.
Step Tracking Works Best on Newer Phones
This is possible thanks to the low-power movement sensors included in modern smartphones. That’s why it’s only possible with the iPhone 5s and newer — older iPhones won’t have this feature. If you carry your iPhone with you, it can track how you’re moving and identify how many steps you’re taking, how far you walk or run, and how many flights of stairs you climb.
On the Android side, it’s a bit more complicated. Google Fit will attempt to work even on older Android phones, but it will work most accurately — and with the least battery drain — on newer phones that include these low-power sensors. As a Google Fit engineer explained on StackOverFlow:
We periodically poll accelerometer and use Machine Learning and heuristics to correctly identify the activity and duration. For devices with hardware step counters, we use these step counters to monitor step counts. For older devices, we use the activity detected to predict the right number of steps.
So, if you have a new phone that has a sensor similar to the ones found in the new iPhone, it should work about as well. If you have an older phone, it will use data from other sensors to guess how many steps you’ve taken, and it may not be quite as accurate.
Apple Health on iPhones
To access this information, just tap the “Health” application icon on your home screen. By default, the Dashboard will appear with the “Steps”, “Walking + Running Distance”, and “Flights Climbed” cards. You can tap the “Day”, “Week”, “Month”, and “Year” cards to see how many steps you’ve taken, how far you’ve walked and run, and how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, complete with averages. It’s easy to see how active you’ve been and how that’s changed over time, complete with your most active and least active days.
Google Fit is Google’s competitor to Apple Health, and is included on some new Android phones. You can still install it from Google Play on older phones, but as we mentioned before, it’ll work better on newer phones with the appropriate motion-tracking hardware.
You’ll have to set up Google Fit, including giving it access to the sensors it needs to monitor your step count. After you’ve done so, open the Google Fit app and swipe around to see how many steps you’ve taken and other fitness details, such as an estimate of the number of calories you’ve burned.
This information is tied to your Google account, so you can also access it at Google Fit on the web.
Both the Apple Health and Google Fit apps are the same apps you’d use if you had an Apple Watch, Android Wear watch, or another fitness-tracking device that integrated with these platforms. Dedicated watches and fitness-tracking devices may be able to provide more data to these health and fitness apps, but your phone can provide some of the basics.
Just remember to take your phone with you! Using a “wearable” is effective because you’ll always have it on throughout the day, while you might leave your phone sitting somewhere while you walk around instead of keeping it in your pocket. If you do that, it’ll end up under-counting the amount of steps and distance you’ve traveled. You may take quite a few steps just while walking around the house or office, and you’ll need your phone on you to track those.