One of the most buzzy terms in the technology industry right now is
The Quantified Self.
That’s really just a fancy term tech wonks like to use when they talk about using gadgets to track everything you do in the real world — how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, how well you’re sleeping, and so on.
There are a bunch of gadgets and apps out there that promise to do this, but Fitbit, an electronic wristband from the company of the same name, is one of the most popular right now. Fitbit recently released a new version of its wristband called the Fitbit Force, which has most of the same features as previous bands, but now includes a tiny screen for displaying the time and your day’s fitness stats. (Previous Fitbits made you look at a smartphone or a Web app to get your data.) The Fitbit Force costs $US129.95, $US30 more than the Fitbit Flex model which doesn’t have a screen.
I’ve been testing the Fitbit Force for about a week. It’s my first time using such a device for an extended period of time, so I can’t really compare it to competing products like the Nike FuelBand. But if you’ll excuse the humblebrag, I found it a useful companion for someone like me who works out three or four times a week. I’ve been an indoor kid most of my life, but since I decided two and a half years ago to get off my butt and start being more active, I’ve become obsessed with my personal fitness. I’ve been looking for something like the Fitbit.
How It Works
The FitBit Force connects to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth. It only works with the iPhone 4S or newer and some select Android devices like Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones. On the go, your stats download to your phone periodically throughout the day, and you can monitor your progress through a dashboard menu.
The Force tracks how many steps you’ve taken, how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, how much sleep you got, and how many miles you’ve traveled on foot. The app can do more like monitor how many calories you take in and how much water you’ve had, but you have to manually type all that stuff in. (More on that later.) You can get a quick glance at your stats either from the app on your phone or the Web, or by scrolling through each item by pressing the button on the side of the band’s tiny display.
For iPhone users, Fitbit also promises a software update soon that will display incoming calls on the wristband’s screen, effectively turning the device into a smart watch of sorts.
The band itself is very comfortable to wear. It feels a lot like one of those rubbery Livestrong bracelets, and it’s about as unassuming to look at too. That’s a good thing. If I’m going to wear a gizmo on my wrist all day, I don’t want it to be heavy and gaudy. The Force is water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about getting it wet when washing your hands or sweating at the gym. The only time I took it off was in the shower, but I have a feeling it would’ve been fine there too.
My biggest complaint with the design is the adjustable clasp. Like the rest of the band, it’s made from a rubbery plastic, but that makes it really difficult to snap into place. It took me a few days to master putting the Force on without fumbling around. The clasp is a trade off though. It’s nearly flat design means you won’t have to worry about the Fitbit clanking against your keyboard like some metal watches do. And the plastic means the device is so light that you’ll forget it’s even on your wrist.
At its essence, the FitBit is just a step counter. It uses that data to estimate how many calories you’ve burned and how far you’ve walked/run on foot. It can also monitor your sleeping habits by logging how many times you get up in the night and how long you’ve been in a still, deep sleep. It then graphs that data so you can get a nice visual representation of how well you slept throughout the night.
But to get the most out of the Fitbit Force and its accompanying app, you need to do a lot of the work yourself. When you first launch the app it asks you some basic questions like your, gender, height, age, and current weight. You then tell the app what your goal is — to lose, gain, or maintain weight. The app then works its magic, pulling in the data it receives from the Fitbit Force band to tell you what you need to do throughout the day in order to reach your goal.
The display is a nice addition, and definitely worth the extra $US30 over the cheaper Fitbit Flex band. Tapping the button on the side of the Force once pulls up the current time. You can keep tapping to cycle through steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, and distance traveled. My only complaint is that the Fitbit Force doesn’t make a great watch replacement because you still have to switch the display on to check the time. I either wish there was an option to keep the time on at all times, or that Fitbit had included a motion sensor that flips the screen on whenever you raise your wrist. (Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart watch has that feature and it’s very useful.)
I only had the patience to log my food/calorie intake for the first few days. And even then, the Fitbit app kept nagging me to eat more, just like my mother used to when I was a kid. (Again, sorry for the humblebrag.) The same goes for exercising. The Fitbit can’t tell if you’ve been doing stationary exercises like lifting weights, so you have to enter that into the app manually, which is tedious and annoying.
The bottom line: unless you’re obsessive about logging every calorie you put in your body and every activity you do, you’re simply not going to get the most out of the Fitbit. I suspect most people will use the Fitbit to get a high-level look at what they did throughout the day.
The Fitbit Force works as advertised, but its quirks could be a turn off for some people. Technology hasn’t found a way to automatically log everything you do or eat, so you still have to tediously enter all that stuff into the Fitbit app in order to get the most accurate representation of your health.
Still, for those looking for a general overview of their activity and sleep patterns, the Fitbit Force is a great device.
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