FitBit Activity Tracker Review
Wearable tech is really breaking into the mainstream and the health market is at the forefront of this new trend. Many runners and fitness enthusiasts have been using heart rate monitors, gps watches and smart phone apps for some time now, all with the intention of learning more about your body, tracking your exercises intensities and training smarter. These have tended to be for slightly more serious exercisers, until the launch of the FitBit. The FitBit is a physical activity tracker and first model the Flex hit the market in 2013. The Flex requires the user to wear the device 24hours a day on the wrist. The FitBit then tracks a host of details including the number of steps taken in a day as well as recording your sleep patterns. The FitBit Flex uses a series of small LED lights to indicate how many steps have been completed and vibrates when you have hit your goals for the day.
To see if these new innovations are up to the job I decided to invest in a FitBit Charge HR and put it through its paces. The Charge is the part of the “Active” range and can be picked up for £100-120 depending where you look online. The Charge will track your sleep, automatically sync with your smart phone, provide continuous heart rate monitoring, count steps and active minutes as well as the flights of stairs climbed. As with other models it is designed to be worn 24 hours a day.
I decided to test my FitBit over a specific two week period. Week one would be a typical work week training my clients In-Home with my mobile PT service. This gives a good mix of busy training time and sedentary office time as well as a normal week’s personal exercise. The second week (10 days) would be during my holiday to Italy. This would include days where I walked a lot, climbed lots of hills and stairs as well as big periods of down time where I would be relaxing by the pool. I felt this would give me a good idea of how the FitBit would cope in different situations and levels of activity.
After a very quick charge time the FitBit was ready to go for up to five days, which it certainly managed very well. The FitBit itself is a very stylish design and small details like the watch face appearing when you flick the wrist are nice touches. The unit itself is quite ridged and its face is longer than a normal watch. I found that this caught on my sleeves, made getting things out of my pockets tricky and the frequency at which I caught it made me worry I would tear it off.
The first two days were busy training mornings with my clients and as such I hit my 10,000 recommended steps by mid-morning on both days. On the third day I was in the office in the morning and out in the afternoon. The FitBit seemed to track this fairly well as the number of steps counted was around 4000 less than the previous two days by lunch time.
By days four and five I had got into the swing of the tracker and was finding it quite addictive to check my numbers, Heart Rate and how I was progressing for the day compared to the last. I even went out for a walk in the evening to hit my 20,000 step mark and not drop below the previous days score. This could be a real benefit for a sedentary individual and the real time tracking on the unit with my smart phone allows for a very visual and easy way to monitor progress. It also makes it impossible to hide from your laziness.
I would be concerned however that this could encourage some people to reward themselves with a treat for effectively doing the same amount of steps they have always done, or to over reward a small improvement and undo the good work. This is where tracking alone is only so helpful if you don’t have a plan to achieving your goals.
The sleep tracking proved to be interesting as I was able to understand on the days I felt sluggish how restful my night sleep had actually been. This will be a big help for those who are looking to lose weight and recover well from their training. Not getting enough sleep is vitally important and it’s an area I consistently people struggle. This visual aid makes it feel more real for people and it could help encourage them to try and address it.
By the end of the week I decided to leave the FitBit off for a day as per the recommendations. The rubber strap and flashing LED were starting to irritate my skin a little. I had also had to stop wearing the FitBit to bed after the first week as it was uncomfortable and the flashing green LED was annoying my partner in the night and keeping her awake.
A relatively successful first week despite some adjustments to wearing the unit itself. I really enjoyed the use of the app to see my progress and loved how it tracked active mins when walking or exercising and showed these separately. I had noticed a few mornings that 50-100 steps had been counted in my sleep along with several flights of stairs on days when I had gone straight out to work and not used any.
After a very sedentary day travelling to Italy I had been on the train, Plane and bus until we finally made it to the hotel. The FitBit was reading much lower than my previous days yet I had still hit 17000 steps. I was a little concerned as I had been considerably sedentary for the majority of the day.
The next few days were spent exploring the town of Serrento which included a reasonable amount of walking. The FitBit seemed to be recording very high numbers of steps very early into the day and had started recording more and more steps while I was in bed not wearing the unit. I had even managed to climb a flight of stairs in the night apparently.
Despite spending time by the pool, dining out and generally relaxing I still managed to maintain a very high number of steps. Now while I was doing a fair bit of walking and climbing of the hills I was starting become suspicious that the recording was not quite right as the numbers were always very high. Sadly confirmation of this came on day three when we visited the ancient city of Pompeii and Vesuvius. We spent in excess of 6 hours on the bus that day, plus another sat down eating lunch. We then returned to the hotel in the evening and jumped straight into a transfer car which took us off to the town of Amalfi. This was another hour and a half in the car.
This was a very low step day and when I left for Amalfi I had done around 8000 steps. When we arrived at our apartment we went straight out for our evening meal which was a short 5min walk down the road. While sat in the restaurant eating dinner my FitBit vibrated and told me I had just hit my 10000 step target for the day. Now we both had a little laugh that I had managed to hit my goal while eating out, it does however go to prove how sensitive the tracker actually is when recording steps. I managed to hit 11,172 steps that day and I would guess that this was at least 2-3000 adrift from when I left Sorrento.
I continued to wear the FitBit but was starting to lose confidence in its ability to accurately track the numbers on the stepping. It actually become a running joke between me and Kirsty as to how many had I actually done today. Disappointingly my fears were confirmed on the final day when I was in the transfer bus back to the airport and my alarm went off again to tell me I had just hit my 10000 step target for the day despite having been sat still for two hours on a bus. At this point I actually watched the step counter adding steps by itself in very quick succession. When I arrived at the airport I had amassed 1200 steps or 2000 since hitting the 10000 mark, all while sat on the bus.
As a fitness professional I understand that these types of technology need to be taken with a pinch of salt and that they potentially could help very sedentary people improve the amount of activity performed each day. However the number of steps adrift on this device is really quite alarming and could easily lead someone to think they are performing much better than they actually are.
Considering the hefty price tag for this mid-range model I would not be confident investing in the more expensive models. FitBIt does however do a lot of things right, its tracking and app on your smart phone are superb, the weekly email is very good to see how your progressing and the ability to set goals, share with your friends in the community and link up with the FitBit scales to track your weight is a solid step in the right direction. The sleep tracking is a useful addition, although I would question how many people would actually know what to do with this information.
This technology will eventually be an important step towards helping people get a better handle on their activity levels, for now though I feel it still needs refining further to have confidence in the product for long term use. I also feel that most people don’t know how to best use this information to set smarter goals and therefor it could represent a very big investment (£300 for FitBit & scales) that may just go unused by the end of the first month.
I decided to return my FitBit as I had lost confidence in its accuracy. I would consider revisiting the product in the future but for now I was left feeling disappointed. I had been very keen to recommend this to my clients as it would have given me additional ways of measuring progress and help them be self-sufficient. For now though it feel like the early days of the iPod, close but not quite ready.
By Andy Strong
Fundamentally FIT Ltd