How accurate is a smartwatch step counter? – In Depth Analysis

Do you rely on your smartwatch to track your steps throughout the day?

You’re not alone – many people use their smartwatch as a step counter. But how accurate is this data? Is it capturing all of the steps you’re taking, or are you relying on inaccurate information? In this blog post, we’ll explore the accuracy of smartwatch step counters and share some tips on ensuring that your data is as accurate as possible.

Before I talk about accuracy, you should know how a smartwatch step counter works.

How does a smartwatch step counter work?

Accelerometer sensor
Acclerometer Sensor Layout

Smartwatches try to detect steps using the two built-in sensors with the device. They are Accelerometer and Gyroscopes. The accelerometer can detect the movement in multiple axes, where Gyroscopes detect rotational movement and direction. With the help of these two sensors, your smartwatch can detect changes in orientation and acceleration. So if any forces are detected by the sensors, will be registered by the smartwatch.

As you take steps, your hands move and create some forces. This data can be counted as a step in your smartwatch.

If you remember Newton’s third law, “When two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction,” that means that when your feet create forces, the ground imparts an equal and opposite force back up through your feet and into your body. That is the upward force that your smartwatch counts through the accelerometer and gets counted as a step.

A smartwatch can count false steps as the sheer amount of data generated by these sensors can overwhelm the device’s controller, which results in a false reading.

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What factors can affect the accuracy of a step counter?

A smartwatch uses two sensors to detect motion and forces to track the step counter. Unfortunately, there are a number of daily activities that also create forces, but they do not step that your smartwatch should count.

1. Non-movable task

If you u use a hammer to bang on nails, that will also create a force on the smartwatch sensors, and it can count as a step as this type of activity creates the same force as walking. This activity can be misinterpreted as walking by the smartwatch.

man wash car using shampoo

Your daily activities also can be counted as steps that are no steps at all. Such as washing your hand, washing clothes, preparing food, using a computer mouse, woodworking, and any kind of work that is not actually walking but creates the same type of force on the smartwatch can be counted as steps.

For example, if you take your smartwatch and move around with your hand in the air for a minute, it will count hundreds of steps which is inaccurate. I hope it is now clear to you.

Read Also: Does Fitbit Track Blood Pressure?

2. Vibrations

There are actually a number of different activities that can also be counted by a step counter. Riding in a car, bus, or train creates vibrations that can be detected by the sensors in a step counter, resulting in an inaccurate step count.

Additionally, any activity that involves repetitive motions, such as gardening or dancing, can also cause the sensors to register false steps. However, not all vibrations will be counted as steps – for example, standing still or sitting down will not register on a step counter. In order to get an accurate step count, it is important to only use a step counter when you are actually moving your feet.

Read also: How to Fix a Smartwatch That Won’t Turn On

3. Elevator and Sudden weather change

If you use your smartwatch to detect your flights, it can cause the wrong results because the smartwatches use two sensors. They combine motion sensors and another sensor that detects air pressure. If you go higher, the air pressure decreases.

Unfortunately, if you use an elevator, your watch can register it as a flight as the air pressure decreases fast in the elevator. The sudden changes in weather also can be tracked as climbing floors.

4. Loose on your wrist

If you wear your smartwatch loose on your wrist, it can count as a false step. If your smartwatch falls again and again on your wrist due to the baggy condition, it creates forces that can lead to a false step.

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5. Very slow speed of walking

The technology behind a smartwatch’s step detection is based on accelerometers, which are tiny sensors that measure movement and acceleration. When you walk, your arm swings back and forth, and this motion creates forces that are detected by the accelerometer.

The data from the accelerometer is then analyzed to determine how far you have walked and how many steps you have taken. However, if you walk too slowly(below 2 mph), the accelerometer may not be able to detect the motion, and as a result, your smartwatch may not accurately track your steps.

6. Stationary Arm while walking

If you keep your arms stationary while walking, your smartwatch is not capable of identifying that you are actually walking. As a result, it won’t track your steps while walking.

So finally,

How accurate is a smartwatch step counter?

It is generally accepted that if you follow the steps specified by the watch’s manual, you can expect to have 98% accuracy. However, smartwatches have been known to under-or over-count the number of steps taken daily.

The reason for this inaccurate tracking is that people do different types of activities during the course of a day, and smartwatches are not equipped to detect steps accurately among the various activities.

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How to improve the accuracy of your smartwatch step counter

1. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines properly

When you get a new fitness tracker, it’s important to take some time to read through the manufacturer’s instructions. It might seem like a tedious process, but ensuring you understand how to set up and use your device correctly will help ensure more accurate counts. For example, many fitness tracker manufacturers recommend wearing the device on your non-dominant wrist.

This is because movement in your dominant hand can lead to false readings. Additionally, it’s important to calibrate your fitness tracker regularly. This means resetting it to zero to accurately track your steps and other activity data. By using your fitness tracker correctly, you can help ensure that it provides accurate information about your activity level.

2. Provide Accurate personal data during setup

It’s important to provide accurate personal data when using a fitness tracker. This information is used in calculations to estimate parameters such as calories burned, and distance walked. If one of these changes a lot (such as weight) update your information. This will help the tracker to provide more accurate estimates.

In addition, be sure to update your stride length if you change your shoes or walking surface. A longer stride length will result in greater distance covered, so it’s important to adjust this setting accordingly. By taking the time to input accurate data, you can ensure that your fitness tracker is working properly and providing useful information.

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3. Consider wearing the watch on the non-dominant hand

It is important to wear your fitness tracker on your non-dominant wrist. This is because your dominant hand is used for daily tasks such as washing clothes, using the computer mouse, doing household chores, and feeding your pets.

These activities can all cause false readings on your fitness tracker. by wearing the device on your non-dominant wrist, you can avoid these false readings and get accurate information about your fitness level. Additionally, wearing the device on your non-dominant wrist also ensures that it is not in the way when you are doing your daily tasks.

4. Do steps that are specified

In order to get the most accurate reading from your fitness tracker, it is important to follow the specific steps that are outlined in the watch user manual.

For example, if you are looking to track your steps while walking or running, the user manual will explain how the sensors work and what is the best way to walk or run in order to get an accurate reading. By following the specific steps that are outlined by the manufacturer, you can be sure that you are getting the most accurate information from your fitness tracker.

5. Look for the software update

Step counter uses an algorithm to estimate the number of steps taken by the user. However, over time, the algorithm may become less accurate. For this reason, it is important to look for software updates regularly.

The updated version will change the algorithm to detect your steps better. In addition, the updated version may also include new features and bug fixes. Therefore, it is important to stay up-to-date with the latest software in

6. Wear your smartwatch properly

Make sure to wear your smartwatch tighter on your wrist so that it doesn’t fall off as easily. Additionally, avoid placing your hand in a position where the watch can fall off easily. By taking these precautions, you can help prevent false steps from occurring.

7. Take the tracker off when not needed

If you’re wearing a fitness tracker, it’s important to be aware of the potential for false step counts. False step counts can occur when the tracker is shaken or jostled, as well as during certain types of activities, such as swimming or cycling.

To avoid false step counts, you can take the tracker off before starting any activity that is likely to generate them. You can also calibrate the tracker regularly to ensure accuracy.

By taking these precautions, you can avoid inaccurate readings and get the most accurate picture of your fitness level.


Dan Graziano in CNET researched this topic to test the steps counter accuracy on different smartwatches on a treadmill. Here is the result

Apple Watch (calibrated)2,097 avg0.0030.3%
Samsung Gear S2,082 avg0.022%
Garmin Vivoactive2,086 avg0.022%
Microsoft Band2,111 avg-0.033%
Fitbit Surge2,107 avg-0.077%
Samsung Gear 2 Neo2,103 avg0.088%
Moto 3602,190 avg-0.099%
Apple Watch (out of the box)2,107 avg0.110%
Samsung Gear Fit2,116 avg0.110%
*As measured on device vs. 1 mile as measured on a gym treadmill

Read Also: Garmin Fenix 7 vs 7s vs 7x – What Are The Differences?

The benefits of using a smartwatch step counter

Though the step counter is not 100% accurate, it benefits from using a smartwatch as your step counter. They are:

  1. Get a more accurate estimate of your daily steps.
  2. Keep track of your progress over time.
  3. Set goals and track your progress.
  4. Emotional benefits:
  5. Feel motivated to reach your fitness goals.
  6. Feel a sense of accomplishment when you reach your goals.

Why is my smartwatch not counting my steps?

If your smartwatch isn’t counting your steps, there are a few possible explanations. First, ensure that the Step Count feature is turned on in the settings menu. If it is, check to see if the watch is properly calibrated. Most smartwatches need to be calibrated periodically in order to accurately track steps.

If your watch is still not counting steps correctly, it’s possible that the sensors are damaged or dirty. Try cleaning the sensors with a soft, dry cloth and restarting the device. If that doesn’t work, you may need to take it in for repairs. Whatever the cause, there’s no need to worry–with a little troubleshooting, you should be able to get your smartwatch back up and running in no time.

Which smartwatch gives an accurate step count?

According to NYTimes, The Fitbit Charge 5 is the most accurate for measuring steps and heart rate. According to Dan Graziano in CNET, the Apple Watch is the best device to calibrate step counts though it’s worth saluting the three devices that delivered the most reliable out-of-box results in our test. They are Garmin Vivosmart, Samsung Gear S, and Garmin Vivoactive.

In conclusion, all smartwatches have their own algorithm to estimate the number of steps taken. And the accuracy depends on how you wear it, the type of activities you do, and how often you update the software.

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