There are other fitness trackers on the market – the Nike+ is perhaps one of the most well known, though limited to specific activities like running rather than measuring a full day’s worth of activity. A selection of similar devices was also announced at CES 2013 this year, so expect the market to be flooded soon; most offer the same functionality as the Fitbit One, though this Withings device is purported to have a pulse monitor too. More recently, a free iPhone app called Moves has been launched that offers similar, all-day background tracking; however, it doesn’t appear to tie into any particular web service so the data remains in the app (for now).
Initial Impressions of the Fitbit One
Inside the box, you’ll find:
- The small, plastic Fitbit device itself
- USB charging dongle
- USB Bluetooth adapter (not needed if you sync with iOS device)
- Rubber and metal clip for day use
- Velcro sleep band for night use
The Fitbit One itself is small and made of plastic; it has bright and clear LED display that’s visible in any light. I was afraid it would get scratched up fairly soon, but that hasn’t been the case. The clip has a stiff metal core to securely attach to any pocket, bra or other item of clothing, while the rest is made from lightweight rubber. Otherwise, everything is solid and feels well made. The Bluetooth adapter is tiny; it protrudes less than a centimetre when in a USB port.
The Fitbit One is a general activity tracker; it is designed to be attached to your body throughout the day, so that it may measure your overall level of movement. Specifically, it records:
- Steps taken
- Approximate distance travelled (presumably a function of the number of steps, since it isn’t equipped with a GPS)
- Floors climbed
- Approximate calories burnt
Pressing the only button will cycle through the various displays – the last is a curious flower which grows taller the more active you are at any given time. It’s not particularly useful, actually.
You don’t need to press start when you begin a specific activity, nor does it allow for any fine grained control to differentiate between say a jog or a leisurely stroll – it simply measures the steps. For the kind of people who like to track thier run route around the city, or get statistics on average speed and elevation, or have words like “power jog” in their vocabulary – this device probably isn’t for you.
It is in fact perfectly aimed at people like myself; people who would like some degree of activity tracking with predefined goals, but who don’t really care for all the effort that goes into typical run-logging applications. This is the Fitbit’s greatest strength then; transparency. I clip it onto my trouser pocket in the morning, check it periodically throughout the day, and review my online dashboard when I want.
In terms of syncing the data, the process is again completely automated and invisible to the end user. It syncs over Bluetooth, either using the supplied USB Bluetooth dongle, or when paired with any latest generation iOS device (iPad 3, iPhone 4S or newer). Either way, it occurs seemlessly in the background when in range – this is how all device syncing should be done. Do note however that there’s only an iPhone-optimized app available, so accessing it from your iPad will mean running in 2X compatibility mode, as you can see below.
Initial installation is relatively simple on either iOS, Mac, or Windows. Simply head over to Fitbit’s setup page and the neccessary software will be auto-detected to download.
The only real interaction you need with the device is to activate sleep mode; you do this by holding down the button for a few seconds. Do the same when you wake up. A wrist band is also supplied with a pouch that the device fits in rather loosely. The opening is fairly large and although it does feel like the small plastic Fitbit One might slip out, it has yet to happen to me.
Night time monitoring is essentially divided into either asleep or active, indicated by red and blue on the graph. Using the data, you’re given stats on how long it took you to fall asleep, how many times you awoke, and how long you were actually asleep for; this results in a sleep efficiency score percentage.
While the sleep tracking functionality is a nice feature, it’s difficult to make any actionable goals. However, if you’re tried various methods to sleep better then perhaps you could get some value from this; general trends can be seen at a glance on the sidebar. I’ve always slept rather well so this data is so useful to me, but it’s interesting to look at none the less.
This review wouldn’t complete without at least mentioning the web app with which it interfaces. Fitbit.com is clean and functional, yet it lacks a certain pizazz that some gamification based sites have. The interface is clinical, with easy to read graphs and lots of data breakdowns.
In addition to the basic Fitbit One syncing functionality, you can also manually specify activities, and even track your dietary intake if you wish. Again, for me, this would entail more effort than it’s worth.
There’s a social aspect to the system too; however, the default privacy settings appear to mean nothing is shared at all. Even with sharing enabled, the competitive element is largely irrelevant; you’ll see a summary of your friends on the sidebar, but there’s no encouragement to “beat” them in a particular task.
Badges are standard fare; achievements for 5,000 steps or 25 flights of stairs, but again, not really fully utilised to be motivational. I just feel there’s more that could have been done here. Functional then, but lacklustre.
The silent alarm feature, a new addition which requires a firmware update before you can use it, is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Fitbit One. First and perhaps most importantly, it has yet to actually wake me up, which is obviously a fundamental flaw in anything that is designed to be an alarm. You must absolutely have a backup alarm in place in case this is the same for you. In fact, the only time I ever felt it was when I was already awake, and even then I dreamily assumed it was the dog snoring quietly with its face on my hand (it made perfect sense at the the time). That said, I wake up exactly 8 hours after throwing my head on the pillow anyway (whether I want to or not), so the only time I was really able to test this was after the drunken late nights of Yule and New Year, and it may be that even a foghorn wouldn’t have woken me up then; I have been known to sleep through fire alarms before. The point is; don’t rely soley on this alarm if your job depends on it.
My other concern is that it’s just a regular set time alarm when it could have been so much more – the device is sitting on your wrist, identifying sleep patterns – surely the alarm could be a little more intelligent? There is an iPhone app called SleepCycle which I’ve used very successfully in the past. The phone would sit on my bed, watching my movements via the accelerometer – and given a window of about half an hour, it would identify the best time to wake me. I would wake up feeling thoroughly refreshed – not that typically groggy feeling which so often happens with obnoxiously timed alarms. I was hoping therefore that the Fitbit One would be able to do this too; it has better access to the sleep data than the iPhone app did; it could theoretically interface with my iPad if it needed additional computing power (it syncs over Bluetooth without any effort on my part anyway). Yet, it doesn’t. It’s a simple vibration alarm at a set time, and a huge wasted potential. However, given that the silent alarm feature was available via a firmware update, it is conceivable more updates will allow for intelligent alarms in future that do react to your sleep pattern.
Considering that it stays on day and night, the battery in the Fitbit One is incredible – it needs a recharge about once a week for me, though this may vary if you’re more active. Even when it indicates a low battery though, you needn’t recharge immediately. I waited a full day until recharging, when I was planning to veg out in front of the TV anyway, so no activity tracking was lost.
Charging is done through the supplied USB base station; you’ll need another USB port for this, in addition to the Bluetooth sync dongle, though you could also charge using a mains USB adapter I suppose.
Living With the Fitbit One
The Fitbit One embodies succinctly the new “internet of things”; interconnected devices that become a part of our lives so effortlessly. Yes, you can track the same data by launching an iPhone app and hitting the start button, then waiting for it to upload, or manually entering data – but can you really be bothered? I know I can’t, and that’s why the Fitbit One works so well for me. It syncs without my input, seamlessly in the background. It counts my every step and gives me a tangible and beneficial goal to work toward every single day. It makes me strive to be healthier in a way which fits my life – who could ever ask for more than that?
That said, after using the device for a month now, I’ve managed to hit the daily step targets only a handful of days. It may be just a little too invisible in daily use, because it doesn’t really motivate. The gamification element of the website is weak, basically. There’s no reminder emails to hit a daily target, no badges or achievements.
One minor point – the bottom part of the rubber clip case has developed a small rip; it still holds the Fitbit One securely, but it could be a problem if it gets bigger. Some users have managed to get free replacements, but there doesn’t appear to be an official policy on this.
Ultimately, there’s no device in the world that’s going to make me get fitter without any effort on my part. If you are prepared to put in the effort though, the Fitbit One is a great way to track your progress -just don’t expect it to give you anything more than a mild nudge in the right direction.
MakeUseOf Recommends: Buy it to effortlessly track your activity, but add your own motivation.
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