Fitness face-off: Nintendo Wii U vs. Xbox One

Sure, your kids (or you!) could camp out on the couch and play video games all day on either of these consoles. But they also offer ways for you (and your kids) to get into better shape. Wii Fit U, Nintendo’s major fitness offering for the Wii U, is pretty much inseparable from the console. The Microsoft Xbox One with Kinect (its motion-sensing camera) hosts a wide variety of fitness videos. (There are other fitness programs for each, some of which we tested last year. We left out the PlayStation 4, the third major gaming console, though, as it doesn’t really focus on fitness.)

Our health testers evaluated each console to see which one has more muscle. Check the table at the end to see the specific fitness goals each console addresses.

What the Nintendo Wii U offers

The strength of Wii Fit U and the included Balance Board lies in its ability to detect and measure applied forces—including body weight, whether applied through the feet, hands, or seat. It offers five activity categories: balance games (which are a natural for the platform), dance, yoga, aerobics. and strength training.

Wii Fit U uses your BMI (body mass index) as a criterion for determining your fitness, and the intensity of the aerobic and strength activities is low, so the target audience is those who are less fit, and there's a focus on weight loss.

Wii Fit U’s features include an initial fitness assessment, which establishes a baseline for monitoring progress. It offers exercise sessions (though not really a program), a variety of activities, tracking, and support systems.

The program provides feedback by analyzing your weight distribution as you exercise. The Fit Meter and other capabilities automate the tracking of your workout results, weight fluctuations, and activity. The varied skill-based challenges are entertaining and they provide great neuromotor training, which is a strength of this product.

The assessment concentrates on your balancing skills, though, as opposed to health-based aspects of fitness such as cardio and strength. And the Balance Board is limited in its ability to determine proper exercise form.

Wii Fit U has all the components of a fitness program—but the implementation is thin in areas. We like that it provides an assessment and tracks progress. But it’s hard to tell, given the feedback of the program, whether your form is correct. And any exercises you need to do without using the balance board, such as pull-ups or certain yoga poses, can’t be monitored.

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What the Xbox One offers

The strength of Xbox One Fitness and the console’s Kinect motion-sensing camera lies in its movement-recognition feature and the many popular exercise videos that have been adapted to the platform. The quality of the fitness program depends on which videos you use (from Jillian Michaels, P90X, Insanity’s Shaun T, and many others); the Xbox adds monitoring and feedback, and tracks your workout history.

For example, the Kinect can measure your heart rate; you don’t even need to wear a sensor. We compared its measurements to the measurements taken by a chest-strap heart-rate monitor, and the results were consistent. It can also track movement accuracy, and it adds up “fitness points” as you exercise to create a workout-session score. For motivation, during a workout session, you’re issued periodic challenges geared toward your age group.

At the end of your workout, you can check the total calories you burned, calories per hour, minutes of activity, scores for your current session and best session, as well as an average score for all of your sessions, your age group’s average, and your friends’ scores. The ability to compare your scores with friends and access online communities adds a nice social component.

The Xbox One can offer a comprehensive approach to exercise for the serious fitness enthusiast as well as for those who are, well, less fit—but the ultimate value and impact on your exercise depends on how well the videos you use are integrated into the platform. It doesn’t offer fitness assessments or indications of your progress, beyond the “fitness points” and the instruction each individual video offers. And the videos we tried don’t take full advantage of the movement monitoring capabilities or provide form correction.

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Which is best for you?

Get the Wii U with Wii Fit U if:

  • You’re not in great shape yet
  • You’re looking for one all-inclusive program
  • You want the console to track your workout results and weight for you
  • You already have a sense of proper exercise form
  • You like entertaining, game-based activities

Get the Xbox One wtih Xbox Fitness if:

  • You’re already in good shape and looking for challenges (although it’s fine for the less-fit as well)
  • You like the wide variety of video choices
  • You’re interested in the platform’s body monitoring and movement-tracking feedback
  • You don’t mind keeping records of your workout history or progress on your own
  • You have favorite exercise videos that have been adapted to the Xbox One platform

—Carol Mangis

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Fitness goals addressed Wii Fit U Xbox Fitness
Health-related fitness    
Body composition Yes Yes
Cardiopulmonary Somewhat Yes
Strength (muscular) No Yes
Endurance (muscular) Yes Yes
Flexibility Yes Yes
Performance-related fitness (skills)    
Power No Yes
Speed Yes Yes
Agility No Yes
Balance Yes Yes
Coordination Yes Yes
Reaction time Yes Yes

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