The wearables market has come on leaps and bounds in the past decade, and smart rings are the latest addition to the world of watches, earbuds and bands. Although they have been around in some form or other for around a decade, 2022 is set to be the year that the tech goes mainstream, and there are a number of exciting cutting-edge releases for consumers to get their hands on (literally).
What are smart rings?
A smart ring condenses some of the technology you’d find in a smartwatch or smart band into a piece of kit that can be worn on a finger. Most have NFC chips or Bluetooth connectivity, enabling syncing to a smartphone, and the ability to use some of the phone’s features (such as making Apple Pay or Google Pay payments or skipping a song) hands-free. Some of the more fitness-focused rings include sensors that can track metrics like steps, heart rate and even body temperature.
What are smart rings used for?
As smart rings are still in their infancy, the limits to what you can do with them and who they are best suited to are yet to be fully explored, but there are already some positive signs for runners. The current crop will allow you to do things like control your music on the go and record your heart rate during an activity, while some even offer insights based on heart rate data (resting heart rate and heart rate variability) to reveal how rested and ready for a workout you are.
Why choose a smart ring instead of a fitness tracker?
If you’ve always seen a fitness tracker as a bulky addition to your wrist, then a smart ring might be the tech-focused accessory for you. The more premium offerings even manage to juggle being discreet with some slick designs, doing for smart rings what the Apple Watch did for smartwatches. Finally, a finger-worn device is ideal for logging your sleep if you’ve struggled to get comfortable wearing a wrist-worn device in bed.
The best smart rings for health and fitness enthusiasts you can currently buy
The latest iteration of Oura’s Ring is certainly one of the best-looking smart rings around, but it’s more than just a pretty face. It’s one of the most advanced devices you can currently buy and features a suite of sensors that can track heart rate (both resting and during a workout), body temperature and even SpO2 – the percentage of oxygen in your blood, which can flag illnesses such as a Covid-19 infection.
It pairs with a smartphone app via Bluetooth and provides detailed health insights, including sleeping advice and a ‘readiness score’ for exercise – flagging when it might be better to have a rest day rather than embark on a fartlek session. It is also compatible with Apple Health and Google Fit, meaning it should fit seamlessly into your current setup. Lightweight, water-resistant and with a battery life of between four to seven days, the only downside is its price: it’s $299 for the ring (around £246 at the time of writing) and $6.99 per month for app access (£5.76).
This offering from French-based start-up Circular looks set to go toe-to-toe with the Oura offering. It too can track your heart rate, temperature and SpO2, but also logs your heart rate variability (the variation in time intervals between heartbeats, where a high number is a signal of good health and enough recovery) and your breathing rate. It logs all this information on the accompanying app, which the ring can sync to via Bluetooth.
One trick it has up its sleeve is the ability to program its button to control apps on your smartphone (meaning you can pause or knock a song on mid-run), while it’s possible to customise its colour courtesy of four different shells. Although not as slick-looking as the Oura, it certainly doesn’t scream ‘smart ring’, meaning it should fit seamlessly into your running and non-running wardrobes. Available to pre-order with a nice discount, it’s one to opt for if you’re happy to wait to get your hands on a smart ring.
SpO2 (or the percentage of oxygen in your blood) became an important health metric during the pandemic with low readings on a pulse oximeter (below 92%) indicating that you needed medical help. The only downside is that finger clip-based oximeters aren’t practical to wear at all times. Enter the Circul ring. The ring-shaped device can track your SpO2 24 hours a day without interfering with other activities and provides alerts to its corresponding smartphone app if there are any oxygen or heart rate abnormalities – key if you’re doing a high-intensity effort and start to get chest pains. The ring will also track step count and your sleep stages – from awake through to REM. At $199 (around £164 at the time of writing), it falls in the middle of the pack in terms of price but does fall down in the looks department.
When searching for the best smart ring, it’s likely that you’ll come across a lot of write-ups about yet-to-be-released models that you’ll be itching to get your hands on. This offering from Movano is a case in point. Its release date is pencilled in for the ‘second half of 2022’ but with no pre-order availability, there’s a good chance it might be one for 2023. Details on specs like battery life, app pairing and price are scarce, but its touted health and fitness tracking features make it something to get excited about. Metrics such as heart rate, heart rate variability and sleep can be tracked in tandem with steps and calories burnt, while its svelte design may well make it the most fashion-focused smart ring around.
The ArcX is one of the more basic smart rings on the market. There are no in-built sensors, fitness tracking capabilities, or ‘sleep scores’, but our tester found it could still become a valuable addition to a runner’s armoury. At its core, the ring is a Bluetooth-enabled joystick, that when paired to a smartphone, allows you to skip, pause and control the volume of your music with the flick of your thumb. While this might not sound as ‘smart’ as the other rings on this list, our tester’s health metrics were already being logged by a Garmin smartwatch, so all of these fancy flourishes would have been wasted on a tried-and-tested set-up. Plus, at £34, it’s a fraction of the cost of alternatives, making it a smart investment if you’re after a way of cycling through a playlist without reaching for your phone.