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When I started using a FitBit, I thought it was indispensable and really cool. Even though it only tracked steps and sometimes flights, I could have raw data on how I was moving! I didn’t have any real use for this information, but it appealed to the compulsive data nerd in me. I tried a bunch of alternatives to Fitbit but navigated back to the FitBit brand. Ostensibly, it was because the web and app interface was superior, but I think it was a whole bunch of little things that just made it easier to use.

This is a FitBit is good and FitBit is bad post. As with most things, the newness of the service wore off. I’ve been wearing a FitBit on my wrist for probably five years now. The data tracking is still there but I don’t really care for it anymore. The most useful feature is the slim profile that lets me see the time on my wrist. That’s not underselling it though, that feature really is useful.

I’ve gone through many FitBits. Started with the Force and then returned that for full credit as part of a product recall. Then I bought a first generation Flex and used it for awhile. The battery died (couldn’t hold a charge) and their support team replaced it with another Flex. Then the battery on that died the same way. Recently I bought a Charge for cheap on eBay (was new) and after three months, the band broke. Support replaced it once again, but because the product was so old, I received an Alta instead.

Their support is great but I wonder if there are just quality and design issues in their product line. When I owned the Flex, I probably bought and went through 20 different bands. They would just break after a few months of use. Luckily I bought them for cheap from China ($2-3 a pop) instead of the full retail price ($20+??). I can’t imagine the cost of ownership would be worth it otherwise. I also spent a bunch on chargers because different models had different connections.

The Alta I just received is the new hotness but I’m not sure I get enough benefit from it to deal with the accessories, charging (only 5 days of battery life) and the slow but eventual death of the hardware. Maybe I should just get a nice watch instead.

Ever since I returned my Fitbit Force, I kind of missed having it. Sure it enabled me to wear a watch again, but I never really did. So I’ve been thinking about getting another fitness tracker for awhile.

I ended up buying a new Fitbit Flex, which is the old model prior to the Force. I debated awhile, because I was also very keen on getting the Xiaomi fitness band that was announced in August. It retails (in China) for only $13 – shipped to Canada would cost about $30 total, which is still less than a third of the cost of a Flex.

In the end, I decided on the Fitbit. 2 reasons:

  1. I was able to buy it on double sale. From a regular price of $99, there was a 25% F&F sale at SportChek, and then another 10% newsletter signup coupon. It ended up costing $67 instead of $100.
  2. Since I already had a Force, I already had data in the FitBit system and getting another FitBit device would contribute to that (instead of starting over)

One thing that weighed on my mind though, was that FitBit had already announced that they would replace the Force with something better! Should I wait for that? I decided no, and I think I did the right thing. Now, the rumors are that FitBit will release the Charge and Charge HR. I’m kind of interested in having a heart rate monitor in my fitness band, but certainly not at a cost of $220!

Although the Hackathon which I entered A Healthier Commute has completed, I’ve been continuing to work on the product. It’s interesting to me because I want to do some research into whether I can track commutes using just a phone. Well, certainly you can do it, which is what apps like Waze or Uber (in reverse) do. You could even use something similar like Strava or MyTracks to do it. But I think what’s different is that all of those require active user intervention.

I have a FitBit Force and it has this neat feature that does sleep tracking. It collects data, processes it and spits out all sorts of neat conclusions like your sleep efficiency. You can see how long it took you to fall asleep, whether your sleep was restless and how many times you were awake. The thing I hate the most about it is that you need to remember to tell it start tracking when you go to sleep. Not only that, when you wake up, you have to remember to tell it to stop tracking. It’s very easy to forget one or the other.

I think it’s the same with commutes and/or driving. You might come up with a clever marketing strategy and get people to track their commutes for a week; but after that people tend to forget or get tired of doing things. And it’s the aggregate data that holds the most value, so it’s important that people keep tracking for longer than a week.

So with A Healthier Commute, I’m trying to make all this tracking automatic and passive. No buttons. It’ll just be smart enough to display your commutes. That’s challenging, difficult and interesting.

A few weeks ago, I happened on some news that said that there was a voluntary recall on the Fitbit Force. It turns out that retailers had stopped selling the Force as well too. I have a Force so I was curious why this was happening, and it was quite easy to find out. Basically, 1.7% of people reported skin irritation (although the number might be higher as not everyone reports problems). I didn’t get the problem and was debating whether to return it.

In the end I figure I will return it (still waiting for my return kit). Although it’s an interesting toy, and it’s interesting to know my activity and sleep patterns; I am not enamoured enough with it that I desperately need it. It’s not every day that you can try out a product and then return it for a full refund, so that in itself is a solid reason (and I can put the money towards the next model).

Wearing a Fitbit also bothers me a bit because now that it is on my wrist, I can’t wear a watch! In fact I was dreaming of a better FitBit device which would latch on the frame of your glasses. It would be unobtrusive and would go where ever you go (I guess it wouldn’t track sleep that well).

I think the person who will miss my Force the most is Apollo, he loves being able to turn the OLED on and watching it animate off.

I’ve been using my Fitbit for about half a month now. I’ve been pretty good at using it constantly, just taking it off to shower (it’s supposedly waterproof, but there is a tiny hole for the altimeter which can possibly let water in if the water pressure is too high). Here are some of my observations:

  • The step tracking is not accurate at all. I even changed to setting so that it’s on my “dominant” hand even though I’m wearing it on my non-dominant hand. It records steps even though I am just working at my desk. The Fitbit marketing material even says that it’s not the actual number that counts, but the trend. I think this is why some competitors (like Nike) don’t show the actual steps.
  • The initial 10,000 step per day goal is really tough. I can only make it on the weekends when I walk around a mall for a few hours or have to run a lot of errands
  • The floor climbing seems to be pretty accurate, assuming you know two things: 1) It tracks entire flights and not individual stairs), and 2) It only tracks flights that you climb (not decline).
  • Living in a house, the initial 10 flight goal is way too easy. I increased it to 25 flights, and I can still surpass the goal on most days
  • The sleep tracker is pretty neat. Initially, I thought it was pretty accurate, but I’m not entirely sure that it is true. For example, when I’m trying to sleep, I don’t move my hand around so I’m not sure how it still knows that I’m restless/awake.
  • I think the sleep tracker and the stats that come out of that (how long you sleep on average, how many times you wake up etc) are the most interesting data that I get out of the Fitbit

For the most part, the Force is still interesting to use. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to, or remember to, turn on/off the sleep tracker every night after awhile though.

I am using a Fitbit Force nowadays as part of a focus on quantified self for work, but of course the data that it records is also interesting to me. It is a strange device if you think about it, because it’s really a glorified pedometer. If you truly wanted a pedometer, you could buy one for a couple of bucks at the dollar store. The Force will set you back $130.

From a tech POV, it’s novel because there aren’t many devices that are similar (but there are other players in this market too). It’s a piece of wearable tech that is beneficial and not too expensive. It packs a 7-day battery, OLED screen, vibration mechanism, pedometer, altimeter, NFC and bluetooth radio into the rubber wristband. I decided to get the Force over the previous model (Flex) because the Force had a clock display, and in general, a more detailed display (you can see actual counts instead of just a relative-to-goal indicator)

However, most of the tech is auxiliary, and the primary function is that of a pedometer. The hardware itself is not necessarily worth the 30x or 50x price difference between a dollar store version, but there is also substantial software around it. The Force syncs wirelessly with your device and uploads your data to your online dashboard. You can set goals, see your progress, and track your behaviour across days, weeks and months. I think that’s interesting and perhaps worth the premium.