Join Lynda.com Staff Authors for an in-depth discussion in this video Using the FitBit, part of Home Techonomics.
- Hi, I'm Garrick Chow and welcome again to Home Techonomics. Now, it probably depends on the people you hang out with, but these days, I think we all know at least one person who wears something like this. This is a Fitbit Flex and it's one of several wearable daily fitness trackers that are available on the market these days. Now as a runner and a data junkie, anytime I hit the road or the trail, I'm usually wearing my iPhone on my arm, and using a dedicated app to track my pace, my heart rate and my location, and then I can obsess over the stats when I get home. And while I've been aware of devices like the Fitbit Flex for a while, I never really looked into them, until I started considering that I generally only run or work out a few times a week, and it would be interesting to see what my level of day-to-day activity amounted to, when I wasn't deliberately exercising.
The Fitbit Flex and similar devices like the Jawbone UP24, the Nike Fuelband, and the Garmin Vivofit, are all bracelets you can wear throughout the day. A built-in motion sensor detects your movement, and you can check a companion mobile app or website, or the device itself to keep track of your activity. Now right off the bat, I will say that I wouldn't use the Flex or similar devices as the main tracker for my workout routines. Since it's basically just a step counter, it doesn't have the ability to monitor things like my heart rate, or track my location with GPS, although its companion app does have that ability.
However, the Fitbit app isn't currently as fully featured as other popular running and workout apps like RunKeeper, Runtastic, or MapMyRun which offer features like built-in coaching, setting distance or time goals, and live tracking. So I think devices like the Fitbit are currently best suited for monitoring your activity when you're not actually working out and just going about your day. The Flex is essentially comprised of two parts, you have the bracelet, which is a lightweight, soft silicone, and the motion tracker itself, which just pops in and out of the bracelet like this.
This is the part that contains the battery, and all the electronics. The bracelet has no electronics, and its only real distinguishing feature is this plastic window, through which you can see the tracker lights. Now when you buy a Flex, it actually comes with two bracelets, one large, and one smaller. You pick the one that fits best for you. If you're fashion conscious, you can purchase additional colors and some third-party manufacturers even offer higher-end jewelry stock bracelets for when you want to wear your Flex out for a night on the town.
But fashion aside, let's talk about how the Flex performs. The manual instructs you to wear the Flex on the wrist of your non-dominant hand for the most accurate tracking. It does this best counting of the steps you take when your arm is free to swing naturally at your side when walking, although I have found that it still does a good job of tracking my activity in motion when I'm doing things like pushing a lawnmower or a baby stroller. This is not quite as accurate as when your arm is swinging naturally. But how do you see the information it's tracking since it doesn't really have a display screen? Well, what it does have is this row of five lights, and by pairing it with its companion app on your iOS or Android device, you can specify what these lights represent when you double tap the Flex.
I have mine set up to help me reach the default goal of taking 10,000 steps per day. A double-tap to the flex shows me the progress I've made so far today. If I see one or two lights, that tells me I'm not quite halfway there. When the 5th light is blinking, I can tell I'm getting close. And when I reach my goal, the Flex vibrates and the lights flash, letting me know I've hit the 10,000 steps for the day I think the most surprising thing to me is how motivating these little lights are. I spend a lot of my days sitting in front of a computer, but since I've been wearing the Flex, I've been a lot more goal-oriented in getting my steps in, so I'll get up more often to walk around the house or the neighborhood.
Now in addition to the steps you've taken, the Flex also calculates the calories you've burned, the distance you've traveled, and what the app labels as very active minutes, so it can tell the difference between when you're just walking, and when you're doing things like running, playing basketball, or any other activities where your body is jostling around more than normal. Now at any time during the day, you can pop open the app on your smartphone to see your data. The Fitbit app also includes a food journal, so you can enter the foods you eat and track your calories, and a recent update to the app added the ability to track your exercises using your device's built-in GPS capabilities, again which the Flex doesn't have on its own, and gives you a much more accurate reading of your distance traveled, than just using the step counter.
You'll also notice here that the Fitbit can track your sleep When you get into bed at night, you just give the Flex five quick taps to let it know you're going to sleep, it then tracks the number of times you've moved at night. And when you wake up, you can take it out of sleep mode, and you can then see on the graph which parts of the night were the most restful, and which parts were the most restless. And speaking of sleep, the Flex also includes a silent alarm capability. You can set up to eight alarms through the app, and at the programmed time, the Flex will vibrate. Now whether that wakes you up depends on how heavy a sleeper you are, but it's worked great for me.
And you don't even have to use it just to wake yourself up. Say you're giving a talk or a presentation, and you wanna make sure you don't go over your allotted time. Before you begin, you can set an alarm to go off five minutes before you're supposed to be done. And you'll never have to look at your watch, or check the time during your entire presentation. You'll just feel a vibration on your wrist, and you'll know to start wrapping things up. Now in terms of battery life, I've found that the manual is accurate in saying that the Flex will last about five days of steady use between charges. To charge it all you do is remove the tracker from the wristband, and insert it into the included usb charger, and then plug the charger into your computer's usb port, or into a usb wall charger.
I've found that about two and a half to three hours will give you a complete charge good for another five days. The Flex is also completely sweatproof, rainproof, and water-resistant, meaning you can wear it in the shower or go swimming with it, but you probably wouldn't want to go diving while wearing one. Also, from personal experience, I recommend rinsing and drying the tracker and bracelet after exercising or getting it wet, as some moisture can get trapped between the band and the tracker. Now, I will say that I question the preciseness of the Flex in terms of whether it's really counting my steps accurately.
In my own testing on long walks and runs, using just the step counter and not the app's built-in GPS capabilities, I've found that I lost about two-tenths of a mile on a three-mile run but really, that's not too bad. And personally, I think you shouldn't get too caught up in the exact numbers with devices like this. Whether it's completely accurate or not, it's still close enough that you can still use a step goal as a base line and try to hit that mark every day. But I think the big question in terms of whether this device is worth it's 99-dollar retail price, is whether you're going to benefit from it.
Sure you can track how many steps you take, but if it's not going to change your activity level, then what's the point? And I think it really depends on whether you're the type of person that's motivated by reminders. I surprise myself with how annoyed I get if I don't hit my step goal every day, and I can say that it has caused me to stand up and go for walks more frequently. Also, depending on your preferences, you can set email reminders from Fitbit, letting you know how close you are to reaching your goal and generally just motivating you to be a little more active Overall, I do think it's had a positive effect for me, and I've enjoyed adding it to my collection of tools for keeping track of, and quantifying my activity levels.
I definitely see myself continuing to wear this, or trying out other trackers in the future. And that does it for me this week. I'm Garrick Chow, and I'll see you next time on Home Techonomics.