The concept of a fitness tracking device isn’t new, but FitBit offers new features and convenience. At the heart of the service is small accelerometer device you wear that wirelessly communicates with a USB base. As long as you’re within 15 feet of your base station and your computer in on, your data uploads to the web. You can also force a data transfer by docking the device in the cradle. I thought this continual data polling would drain the unit, but my charge lasts about a week. Typically, I recharge my device while I’m sitting at the computer.
Because the device stores your activity data for 7 days, there isn’t a need to take the USB base station when you travel. You can fill out your food intake on the website as normal and then just sync the data on your return. Your step and distance goals will be off while you’re away, but will adjust when you sync.
The form factor is well thought out for both its purposes. The small device is slightly longer than a large paperclip and a bit thicker than a CD. The company has a good size comparison photo on their product page. You can clip your device to clothing such as your waistband or bra. You can also just put the device into a pocket. I slip mine onto the tiny change pocket on my jeans. This allows me easy access to the control button and display where I can track my progress. In the three weeks I’ve been testing, I’ve not had it fall off. The package also includes an accessory you can use for belts or the thick waistbands you have on some workout pants.
Based on your movement, the device records your steps. And like many pedometers such as the Omron HJ-720ITC I reviewed earlier, you can adjust your stride length if needed through the web interface. If you’re concerned more about the distance accuracy, I would personalize the stride by editing your profile. Your profile page has fields for stride length and running stride length.
The device has an OLED display that shows cumulative details for the current day including:
- Calories burned
There’s also a flower icon display that shows overall activity. If you’re more active you get a longer flower stem with more leaves. The flower is supposed to adjust to your behavior. This isn’t a feature I use because I don’t fully understand it. This feature and some others aren’t fully documented. It seems like each week I discover some new feature.
More than a Pedometer
One big difference is FitBit provides useful sleep information on a daily and historical basis. While the device probably isn’t as accurate as the medical sensors you find in a sleep lab, it’s a simple and reliable alternative system you can use anywhere. Using the same device, you insert your FitBit into a wrist band that you wear on your non-dominant hand. When you’re ready to sleep, you press the FitBit button until the word “START” appears. This puts the device in “sleep” mode. When you awake, you press the button again to stop the recording. The next morning you get a snapshot of your activity.
In the FAQ section, the company mentions the results strongly correlates to the data of polysomnograms. I can’t comment on this as I’ve never been to a sleep lab. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep in 9 minutes, but I don’t obsess over this as I never had any sleep data till now. I look at this as a benchmarking tool, not something that has to have 99% accuracy.
Another helpful feature is the ability to record activities. This is useful if you want to track the distance and record calorie expenditure for a specific route. The process is the same as sleep monitoring and involves two button presses. You press and hold the FitBit button until you see the word “START” displayed. When you’re done, you press the button till “STOP” shows on the display. Even if you don’t record the activity by pressing the buttons, FitBit still counts the steps. You just don’t get the time breakout.
The record below shows my round trip to the library. Looking at the bar chart you can probably guess when I was walking versus browsing the books. It’s also interesting to look at the details and reconstruct your actions.
The feature that most appeals to me is the online dashboard you see when you log in to the web. It quickly shows you where you are now in relationship to your goals. Currently, there are three types of goals:
In the partial screen print below you can see I’ve met my steps goal and am 85% towards my daily distance goal. In addition, you can anonymously compare yourself against other FitBit members by gender, age and BMI. Or, you can also invite other users if you want to have some friendly competition.
Tracking Your Food Intake
The other area where FitBit has done a good job is their food logs. Anyone who has tried to log this type of information knows it can be tedious. Granted the device doesn’t know what you ate, but it does allow you to easily add items to a daily log. This gives you the basis of your daily caloric intake and is compared to your calories burned. The calories burned section also accounts for metabolic functions which is why you see calories burned while you slept.
The system has a food database with about 50,000 food items that has most brand name items and even regional ones. If your item isn’t there, you can add it. The input screen looks very similar to the nutritional panel you see on store packaging. Fortunately, you’re not required to fill in all the fields.
The food log area is well laid out with sections for each meal and snacks. The screen snap below shows an entry for an afternoon snack that has items from the food database and my custom entries. While this may look like a lot of work to enter, it’s not since I created a “meal” and used “favorites".
A meal allows me to link multiple items with one food label and reuse it. As example, I have a meal called “home coffee” that includes coffee (decaf and regular), half & half and Splenda. The last item, Natasha’s Health Nut Cookie, is a custom item I entered. You’ll see I also marked that item as “Fav” so it shows with a gold star.
For convenience, the food log has both Meals and Favorites prominently listed to make it easier to log them. If you edit a food, you also see additional information such as the last time you logged a specific food and how many times. As example, I’ve eaten 11 of Natasha’s cookies and the last one I logged was today.
One area where I would like to see improvement is multiple serving meals. While it’s easy to create a meal based on 1 serving, it’s somewhat cumbersome to create a meal designed for multiple servings like your favorite casserole. I also haven’t figured out how to rename a meal.
Every one has different criteria when it comes to fitness trackers. Some folks focus primarily on data accuracy and others on ease of use. For me, it comes down to 3 key questions:
1. Is the system simple enough to use that I will maintain the habit of recording what I eat?
2. Is the data useful?
3. If I lost the device, would I shell out $99 to buy another?
The answer to all three questions is “yes”. I’m a believer in the concept that what gets measured can be improved. Currently, FitBit provides useful information for me although I hope they allow us to export our data soon for additional analysis. Their FAQ page indicates they are working on an API. Along that line, I would like to see them allow users to create goals based on other data variable or create their own “health score”. Until then, I’m going to enjoy FitBit one step at a time
FitBit Product Information
- Cost: $99
- Rating: ★★★★
- Website: http://www.fitbit.com/
- Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or OS X
Last Updated (Friday, 30 December 2011 12:27)