Recently my work’s (as in my 825 job) wellness program sponsored me a Fitbit device and so far I have mixed feelings about the Fitbit. Should you get a Fitbit, read on and you will get a better idea if a Fitbit is right for you.
Fitbit Review — My Story
My fitness biography is probably like yours. I was once young, fit, and could not gain a single gram of weight. Then I crossed an unknown line in life and started gaining weight, getting out of shape, and acquired some bad health habits. Habitual overeating and overdrinking as well as little or no exercise. I glommed onto a four-hour commute for work that cut into my sleep and chances to exercise all combined for a perfect storm of being on track for a future of poor health. The photos of myself from that time show a fat man, even though I recall not thinking of myself that way.
I lost the commute (down to a 40 minute daily commute) and saw the consequences of bad diet and excessive drinking in people near and dear to me and it was as jarring as the 5:00 am alarm clock going off. I vowed to change for the better and I did. I took up bicycling in a serious way (last 3 years I have logged 1,100+ miles, 2,100+ miles, and 1,600+ miles) and am making more effort to improve the quantity (less) and quality of my diet.
What role does getting the Fitbit play into all of this?
Fitbit Review — Getting It
My employer in its goal of increasing fitness among its insurance group wants us to get active! So in the spring of 2014 it started a program for its employees to get and use Fitbits. It has a program that fosters friendly competition among employees and offers prizes via raffle. I did not participate in that first offering. However, they commenced with a second round and this time I joined in. Getting the Fitbit was easy and was a matter of ordering the device on Fitbit’s site and (IIRC) entering a coupon code and a few days later the device was in my possession and in my case I chose the Fitbit Flex.
Fitbit Review — Wearing It
I charged it up and put it on, and it wears much like a wristwatch. I really do not like the clasp mechanism of the Flex, it consists of two pegs that push through perforations on the band, it holds just fine, but it can be a bit tricky to put on. The device once on wears nicely, you hardly notice it and it is water-resistant so you do not have to take it off to bathe or wash up. Essentially, I never take it off.
The Fitbit Flex comes with a specialized charger and that is its biggest weakness. It plugs in via USB plug but the part that interfaces to the Fitbit Flex is a loop with contacts. Yes, I have lost track of my charger for periods of time and that resulted in me removing the Fitbit Flex until I was able to locate the charger, I have since relocated the charger and dedicated an outlet for Fitbit charging. The Fitbit Flex requires charging about every seven to eight days and takes two to three hours.
Fitbit — Tracking Activity
How does it do in tracking activity? So-so, as I stated above I like to cycle and now that cycling is not so much of an option I attend spin classes, lift weights, engage in body-weight exercises, and want to add Yoga to the mix. Fitbit does not really track any of those activities very well. I have found that when I spin or am cycling to attach the Fitbit Flex to my shoe and it does a better job of registering the activity. Unless you do that, your 45 minutes of vigorous spinning may register has a few steps and count as a minute of activity (when in reality it was 45 minutes of heart pounding action and even when worn on the shoe it does not register the entire time of spinning as active time). Of course, the Fitbit is nothing more than a fancy pedometer so what do we expect here? Same too with the other activities, not much registers despite the fact you are being active and getting your heart pumping.
I wonder how it would do with swimming? My guess is it would track better as it is your arm in motion and the acceleration your arm undergoes entering and exiting the water may register as a step.
Fitbit Review — Sleep
Getting good sleep is also a contributing factor in my improved health situation. I am on a CPAP machine after a sleep study reported I had frequent disruptive sleep apneas. The Fitbit Flex purports to record and report on the quality of your sleep. I think its sleep reporting is good but not perfect.
You have to put it into sleep mode by rapidly double-tapping it or by indicating you are in sleep mode on your phone application. I find some activities that jar the Fitbit cause it to go into sleep mode. I noticed this the other day when in spin class, I would look down and see the lights on my Fitbit twinkling to indicate it is going into sleep mode and the sleep stats from that night while appear to be in the correct time just do not match my sleep experience that night.
Fitbit Review — Reporting
As with all such devices we need a reporting interface. The Fitbit comes with a bluetooth USB dongle and you can download and install software on your WINDOWS or (I suppose) APPLE desk or laptop. However, if you use Linux forget it, even via WINE the interface software does not exist or does not work. There are phone applications to harvest the data and at least my iPhone version works well. I get some message about synching problems with my Android Motorola Razr Maxx (which I suspect is due to the bluetooth on the phone being old and substandard, this affects other bluetooth devices or functionality I want). When I start the Fitbit app on the iPhone within about 15 seconds the Fitbit has its updated data uploaded and reported.
The web-based client in my opinion is clunky. The process to add friends to your account does not work very well, I know I have more than three Facebook friends that use the Fitbit and it never allows me to add them. But it does know a few folks who do not have a Fitbit and wants me to lobby them to buy one.
Fitbit Review — Skiing With it
How does the Fitbit work when one skis with it? Not to bad, I spent about three hours skiing and when I was complete I was just under my 10,000 step goal. My heart rate monitor put my heart rate as fluctuating in zones ones, two, and three. In this case I believe the value reported by the Fitbit was fair. In the end though, I’m more concerned about speed and vertical than about steps and that the Fitbit can not discern.
Fitbit Review — My Final Opinion
While I am grateful for having it I am glad I did not pay for it. I do use a heart rate monitor when working out and that provides me with better and more detailed data on my work out. That is why I know my 45 minutes of spin class should count for more than the Fitbit gives me credit for.
However, if you are looking for a way to motivate yourself to start becoming more active the Fitbit is not the worst way to go but it is not the best either. Do you really need another device and charger? Do you really need to track your activity to the step? There are many free phone apps that will serve just as well, Endomondo being a good all-purpose activity tracker!
Do not miss my story on how the Fitbit performs while skiing.