I tried 5 different step counter apps in the Lake District and had a major revelation

I would walk 10,000 steps... 👞
  • National World tech writer Matt Mohan-Hickson tested five different step counter apps on a trip to the Lakes. 
  • He tried using all five at the same time for seven days while on the holiday. 
  • Did they manage to record the same figures - or was it a complete tangled mess?

How many steps do you take in a day? I know this sounds like the start of a riddle that Gollum would use to bamboozle Bilbo in The Hobbit but it is a question that has been bubbling in my mind recently. 

I’ve never really been one for a step counter, preferring to focus more on how long my workout is (or isn’t) daily. But as I was heading to the Lake District for a week for a family holiday, it felt like the perfect time to actually find out the number of steps I take. 

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Although I will admit that it was a tad opportunistic, since it was a trip where I knew I would be walking plenty, instead of trying it during my normal day-to-day life. I did however hope that by seeing how easy it would be to walk 10,000 steps, it would translate into my daily routine once this little experiment was over. 

So how did it go? Let’s find out: 

Which apps did I try out? 

I downloaded the following five step counter apps from Apple’s App Store to start my week in the Lake District. My process in deciding on the number to download and which to try was more simple than scientific - I went with five because it gave a nice wide range, without it becoming overly cumbersome to actually check them all regularly. 

And then when it came to picking the apps themselves, I left it in the hands of the gods. I simply typed ‘step counter’ into the search bar on the App Store and hit download on the first five. 

The lucky five were: 

  • StepsApp 
  • ActivityTracker 
  • Steps 
  • Pedometer 
  • Pedomaster 

Not going to be handing out any awards for creativity when it comes to naming these apps, but on the other hand at least you know exactly what you are going to get. But a pun, like the very best Fish and Chip shops have, wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

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How many steps do you take a day? Photo: CanvaHow many steps do you take a day? Photo: Canva
How many steps do you take a day? Photo: Canva | Canva

First impressions 

It was a bit overwhelming opening the apps one after another, I am going to be honest. It was a bit like being stuck in a really, really cheap remake of Groundhog Day as I set up app after another. 

But one initial thought that did cross my mind was the convenience of being able to link Apple Health to each app, so that the actual step counts would be identical across all five. That was the theory at least. 

The app that jumped out to me most was ActivityTracker, it had a clean design and it was simple to find key stats like calories burned. It was also easy to set up a goal and track your progress with a circle chart that fills up and changes colour from red to green as you advance. 

Some of the other apps I found lacking in design when using them - in particular Steps which is very paired back with just the steps and a percentage for how you are progressing towards your daily goal.

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A few of the others were a little too heavy handed when it came to trying to get money out of you. I was left feeling a tad bombarded with adverts and pop-ups to sign up for premium versions, which did make me hesitate every time I opened them up. 

Thoughts after a week 

I kept a close eye on all five apps throughout my trip to the Lake District, barring one day when I was struck down with an unseasonable summer cold that left me bedridden, and it was a bit of an eye-opening experience. My lowest step count during the seven days was just over 600, which unsurprisingly came on the day I was as sick as a dog, and the highest it got to was just over 11,000. 

For most of the apps I’d set a daily target of 10,000 steps - with a couple set to 7,500, just to see if it made any difference. I figured that 10,000 steps would be relatively reasonable and I would be able to easily clear it, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. 

Step counter apps trialled by tech writer Matt Mohan-HicksonStep counter apps trialled by tech writer Matt Mohan-Hickson
Step counter apps trialled by tech writer Matt Mohan-Hickson | Apple/ Matt Hickson

Despite being in the Lakes and going for walks at Windermere, etc, and exploring museums, I often found that I failed to hit my goal. Which is not what I was expecting heading into the trip - caveats being due to a relative’s recent knee operation, it wasn’t the most hike heavy holiday. 

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But I also found that it made me really conscious of where my phone was at any given time. When I’m at home, I often put my phone away somewhere, to give myself a break from screen time, but since I had my step counters on my mind, I always felt like I needed my phone close - so I could put it in my pocket if I had to run upstairs or go to the kitchen. 

It is perhaps the best push I’ve had towards maybe buying a smart watch, because it did feel like if I wanted to truly track my steps throughout a day that would be the best possible way. I would often lose a couple of hours progress as I had to leave my phone charging - so how many steps were I missing out on in that time. 

I also found that beyond the steps, which came from Apple Health and so were uniform, the other figures often didn’t match up between the disparate apps. How many calories were I burning from my steps - it could be 300, or it could be 250 or 350, it depends which app I opened at any given moment. 

Buttermere, Lake District. Image: Pawel Pajor/stock.adobeButtermere, Lake District. Image: Pawel Pajor/stock.adobe
Buttermere, Lake District. Image: Pawel Pajor/stock.adobe | Image: Pawel Pajor/stock.adobe

How many flights of stairs had I climbed? Once again, it depended on the app. As a result I found myself gravitating towards ActivityTracker as a touchstone, not because it appeared to be providing the empirically best data, but simply because I preferred using it (for previously mentioned aesthetic reasons, mostly). 

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I would not recommend downloading five different step counters, it truly is unwieldy and over the top. But out of the ones I grabbed from the App Store, ActivityTracker is the one I’m probably going to keep. 

My week watching my step counters also made me realise that if you do want to be super vigilant about your daily steps, a smartwatch or fitness tracker are a necessity. And that resolve keeping me from finally adding an Apple Watch to my ever expanding rogues gallery of gadgets may start to be cracking… 

If you are thinking of buying a fitness tracker to keep an eye on your daily steps, FitBit might be one of the brands you are considering. CNET have an in-depth 8 minute video review of the FitBit Charge 6 on its YouTube channel that might be worth a watch before making your mind up. 

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