For the past two weeks I’ve been testing out two wearable fitness-tracking devices, the Nike FuelBand SE, and the Fitbit Force.
Nike’s FuelBand SE is a follow up to last year’s FuelBand. There aren’t major overhauls to the FuelBand this year. It added more sensors for better accuracy, and Bluetooth 4.0 for better connectivity.
The Fitbit Force is a new product from Fitbit. It has a small screen that tells you time, steps, calories burned, and a few other details. It can track your sleep, its app allows you to enter what you’re eating, and how much water your drinking. It’s a bit of a pain to enter those details, but if you’re really obsessed with tracking yourself, it’s quite useful.
The FuelBand is more limited but it can tell time, track steps taken, and calories burned.
Both devices sync with apps on the iPhone. Nike doesn’t have an Android app.
Where Nike differentiates itself is with Fuel points, a proprietary system that measures overall activity. Fuel points only serve one real purpose — to tell you if you’ve been a lump all day, or if you’re actually moving around.
Nike says the whole point of the FuelBand is to promote activity. (Presumably, activity leads to buying more Nike sneakers.)
I wore both of them on my left wrist as I’ve gone to work, traveled, played golf, rode a bike, and skateboarded around the city.
Both gadgets are highly flawed, and if I was paying with my own money I’m not sure I would buy either one. (I tested loaners from the companies.)
However, if I was going to get one, I would go with the FitBit Force.
Why do I prefer the Force?
It snaps onto my wrist more comfortably than the FuelBand. It feels lighter and less obtrusive than the Fuelband which is sort of like a bangle around the wrist.
The Force does more. Through the app, I can track all the water I drink. Two weeks ago I started to feel like I was getting a headache. I realised I didn’t drink much water during the day, started guzzling water and started to feel better.
It also tracks my sleep. Right before going to bed, I hold the button on the Force and it buzzes to let me know it’s started a timer. Then when I wake up, I hold it again and the Force tells me how long I slept. It also says if I was restless and when I woke up. It’s not perfect for tracking sleep, since I woke up a few times, but laid still, which wasn’t tracked, but it’s good for giving a sense of how long I was laying in bed for.
The Fuelband, on the other hand, only does one thing: It tracks whether or not I was active. This is somewhat helpful, but it largely reinforces what I already knew. During the work week I don’t move around very much. On the weekends, I move around more.
The Force also tracks my activity by monitoring my steps for the day.
However, the Force’s step monitor is not accurate. But neither is the FuelBand’s.
For instance, this morning, I walked 100 steps in our office wearing each gadget on my wrist. The Force counted 84 steps. The Fuelband counted 64 steps.
Last weekend I was on a plane, and I walked from my seat to the bathroom at the back of the plane. I counted 42 steps to get there and back. The Force counted 50 steps, and the FuelBand counted 14.
I was in a car on a bumpy ride last week and the Force gave me 29 steps even though I was sitting still. The FuelBand gave me 37 steps.
The disparities between the two devices add up. On Saturday, I played a round of golf. At the end of the day, the FuelBand had me at ~12,000 steps. The Force had me at ~19,000 steps. I have no idea which one is most accurate.
In this way, Nike’s Fuel points can be a blessing. Since they’re proprietary, and basically made up, they can’t be inaccurate. They’re just motivation to move around.
However, if you can break your mind from thinking about steps on the Force as being literal steps, and think of them as activity monitors that push you to move, then they do the same thing as Fuel points.
The flaws in both of these devices reminds me of the Kindle e-reader before the iPad. The Kindle was good for one thing — reading. The iPad did so much more. Likewise, these things are good for tracking movement, but nothing else. It seems like Apple, or someone else, is about to come out with a smart watch that does a lot more.
Until then, if you’re only looking for a reminder to do more stuff and you like the look and feel of the FuelBand, you should get it. If you’re looking for a device than can do a lot more, then go with the Force.
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