Fitbit Flex: Pros and Cons of the Wearable Activity Tracker

13 Aug

To anyone reading this entry who doesn’t know me very well, let me inform you that I am a big time tech nerd. I’m always reading articles on the latest Apple rumors, listening to podcasts and following tech trends.

As of late, I’ve really gotten back into fitness, too. My fitness frenzy stemmed from a goal I set going into the year 2013: to run 500 miles en route to completing my first full marathon.

Being the tech nut that I am, and with my new drive to become physically fit, getting a wearable piece of technology was a no-brainer. For me, the choice of which device to get was not terribly difficult, either. There are really only three main players in the activity tracking game: Fitbit (multiple devices), Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP.

Image courtesy of Arstechnica.com.

I reviewed a few articles from trusted sources to help justify my decision, although I was always very sure I wanted the latest and greatest piece of technology from Fitbit, the Flex.

I pre-ordered the Flex through Fitbit.com on May 10, 2013, which brings me to the first of several cons:

Fitbit made me wait. I waited almost exactly two months before the Flex arrived at my doorstep. Similar waiting complaints, including those by unfortunate souls who pre-ordered the device, only to find it was sold in select retail stores before their orders were fulfilled, can be found all over the Internet.

Fitbit does not play well with bicycles. Fitbit it great, but it does have limitations. Of which, most involve activity where the arms are stationary, like biking, for example. I have gone on 30-mile bikes with Fitbit where no distance is recorded, although my fitness level appears to be high during that timeframe. To get a true measurement of miles travelled in a day with Fitbit, it’s best to stick to running, walking or any activities that involve free swinging of the arms.

Fitbit is narcoleptic. It’s sleep mode is great when tracking sleep sessions, but I’ve run into issues with Fitbit going into sleep mode from excessive vibration of the wrist, frequently from biking.

Fitbit accessories are hard to come by. The Flex comes standard with two bands (small and large sizes) which house the “brain.” These sturdy rubber bands come in many different colors as accessory packs; they are available for purchase, but it can take weeks for them to ship, as most Flex devices and accessories are on backorder. Once again, and I repeat, Fitbit makes you wait.

Now for the pros, of which there are many.

Fitbit’s battery will last seven days on a single charge. Even with active sync turned on, where the device is constantly sending data to the smartphone app, the battery still makes it from Monday morning to Sunday night.

Fitbit can hold its breath. Yes, I’ve tested it, and indeed, Fitbit is waterproof. (However, I do not condone showering with it.) I only wear it completely submerged in water while swimming.

Fitbit sees me when I’m sleeping. I was skeptical as to how well Fitbit’s sleep tracking would work. For me, it wasn’t a make-or-break deal, but I was delighted to discover that sleep tracking works and the data it provides is very insightful. It tracks movement throughout the night—not sleepwalking spells—but rather, movements of the wrist while in bed—like when you roll over, or reposition. Flex records how long it took the wearer to fall asleep, how many hours/minutes they slept and how many times they awakened in the night; then, it compiles all those stats into a single sleep efficiency grade from 0-100 percent. ( I am consistently above 95 percent.)

Fitbit knows when I should be awake. The silent alarm feature wakes you up by gently vibrating at the time you tell it to wake you up. The gentle vibrating is much less harsh than my alarm clock, although, I still set it as a backup.

Fitbit keeps me hydrated. I have become increasingly aware of the number of ounces of water I drink in a day since using Fitbit. My daily goal is to drink at least 50 ounces, which is pretty easy as an on-the-go person. Ounces of water drank, as well as other foods and drinks consumed, can also be easily recorded during the day via the mobile app—convenient for those who like to monitor their caloric intake.

Fitbit is elegant. Other adjectives to describe it include: lightweight, durable, resilient, and most importantly, stylish. Other than the few times a day when I double-tap the device to see progress towards my daily step total, I hardly know it’s there. When I do notice it’s there, I think, “Dang, what a cool looking wristband!”

In summary, the Fitbit Flex is a great fitness tool that has the potential to benefit just about anyone. It’s great for the person who is already active and wants to start tracking their daily movements more in-depth. It’s also great for the person whose motivation to move is fueled by data. Wearers of Fitbit Flex do not need to be athletic, they just need to have a desire to be healthier.

Although owning a Fitbit Flex may require several weeks (or months) of waiting, in the end, it’s worth it. I can’t personally rank the Flex against its competition, but I can say that my experience thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, motivating and enlightening.

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Thanks for reading my blog. If you found this Fitbit review useful, please, share it on Twitter and mention me, @benlippert. If you already use Fitbit, friend me! Get active, stay healthy and be happy.

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