Keeping Track of Your Life –
Everyone wants to be healthier, right? But Americans are busier than ever and finding the time to properly exercise is impossible… Blah blah, we have all heard this before. But have you wondered how active, or inactive, you really are?
What is a FitBit? In short, it is very fancy pedometer – a device that tracks your steps and physical activity. For about the last two years, I have been religiously using the FitBit Classic model. Yes, this review is two years in the making and here is my story. The Classic Model was recently updated to the Ultra model that included a few new features like tracking steps climbed.
A couple years ago my brother bought me a FitBit Classic (this model is now obsolete and has been replaced by the new FitBit One unit, but more on this later) for my birthday. I immediately laughed and brushed it off as another expensive and wasted gadget. Was this his subtle way to telling me to lost weight? I am 6’3” and just a hair under 160lbs, so I didn’t think this was his goal. But after hearing his explanation of the device, I was actually rather impressed and was anxious to see my daily activity level.
So here is how it works.
You clip the FitBit to your pocket, belt, or any other part of your clothing (bra straps and even attaching it to your purse is supposed to work but I obviously didn’t test this out) and it keeps track of all your steps and level of activity. The Classic model is about the length of a large paper clip and features a simple black exterior that can easily blend in with almost any type of clothing. It is “U” shaped and can easily clip to almost any piece of clothing. The fifth pocket on jeans is one great example.
The unit uses an internal battery that can last for about a week on a single charge. When it needs to be recharged, simply attach the FitBit to the included USB docking station. As soon as the device is docked, the LED display clearly indicates how much battery juice is left on the hardware. The USB docking station is also very compact, about half the size of a business card so you don’t have to worry about it taking up precious desk space.
The cool part is, this tiny gizmo keeps track of pretty much all your movement, not just your steps. However, the biggest bragging rights come from how all this information is gathered and displayed.
In order to get the most out of your FitBit, users need to make a free account on the FitBit website. Once an account is made, all your FitBit data can then be wirelessly uploaded to the FitBit website via the docking station; just walk within a 10-15 foot range of the docking station and everything will magically get uploaded. It is as simple as that.
Once you log in, the user is treated to a wealth of data: the number of steps taken, calories burned, your activity level, when you were most/least active, it even charts everything out in colored Excel-like graphs. Everything is monitored in detail and effortlessly. It is very, very cool. The biggest kicker is there is no additional cost for all these features.
For example, one friend’s activity was pretty consistent throughout the day because of his job. Me, because I sit at my desk for much longer that I should, my activity levels would spike off the charts when I was at the gym. The point is, FitBit can tell you what time of the day you were most active as it breaks down activity through an hourly colored graph. Users can then use this information to make adjustments to your lifestyle. Maybe instead of killing myself at the gym I should try and spread out my activity through the entire day, for example.
If you are familiar with Xbox 360’s Achievement Point system or Sony’s Trophies, you will feel right at home with FitBit’s Badge system. After you reach certain milestones, like getting 10,000 steps in one day or walking 1,000 total miles, the system rewards you with a corresponding Badge. All your Badges are then displayed when you log in and can be shared with friends. And speaking of friends, it is also possible to create a Friends List where you can easily track the activity level of your friends, coworkers, and family members. Want to make a friendly bet to see who can get the most steps in a week? Or want to reward your child if they burn a certain amount of calories? Start a friendly office competition? Or do you want to really see how much exercise Dad is receiving when he plays golf? All this data is easily stored and shared with friends (if you choose, of course). You can even see where you rank against all over FitBit users on the Leaderboards, just like any Xbox Live game. This friendly competition can make walking more enjoyable.
The FitBit website also has many other option features. You can keep track of your weight, the food you ate, sleep, even the number of cigarettes you smoked. Anything and everything that you can possible want to keep track of can be monitored with the FitBit website. “Eye opening” does not even begin to describe the amount of data that is continually stored.
Yes, the highlighting feature of the FitBit is to monitor your steps. But there is also a sleep tracking feature that is just as cool and informative as monitoring how active you are during the day. As you go to bed, just activate sleep mode on the device by holding down the button for a couple seconds. Then attach the FitBit to the included wrist sleeve and go to sleep as you normally would. When you walk up, just hold the button down again to wake it up. The next time you log into your online profile, you will not only see the duration of your sleep but the quality of sleep too. Because this thing monitors movement, you can basically see how much you toss and turn. Do you wake up still feeling groggy? Well, it could be because you are moving around and not even aware of it. If you have sleep problems, this device can help diagnose what the issue is as well as how severe it is. Also, it keeps tracks of how much sleep you get. After playing around with this device for a couple years, I found that if I average 5-6 hours of sleep per day, my weight tends to fluxuate by 1-5 lbs. But if I average 6-8 hours, my weight tends to be more stable. Again, keeping track of all this stuff can open your eyes to your lifestyle so you can make proper changes.
Using the device is also as simple as can be as there is only one easy-to-use button. Hitting it once will display the amount of steps you have taken, distanced traveled, calories burned, and a little flower image will grow the more you walk. The button itself is small and has a low profile so accidentally hitting it will be minimal. The bright blue LED display can be difficult to read in bright sunlight but will shine when in darker areas or normally lit rooms. Users should know that the more this LED screen is used, the shorter the battery life will be, just like any cell phone or anything else with a battery.
After using this device basically every day for the last two years, I can honestly say it has become a big part of my life. Needless to say, this pocket clip will inevitably get dinged up just from walking around and living life. Unfortunately, my FitBit bit the dust about one week ago; I walked too close to my kitchen chair and just clipped the edge of it causing the FitBit to shatter into several pieces. But after two years of use, this unit was getting banged up anyway. Even though it was destroyed from regular use, I must admit that it held up pretty well. I always take this to the gym, bring it on the golf course, fly with it, and even just clip it to my pants when lounging around the house. I would rarely, if ever, take it off – every step counts after all. But now that it is destroyed, I feel naked without it. I have gone to the gym several times since it broke but found myself not working out as hard because now it doesn’t “count.” I feel a certain sadness when I do my routine pocket check and do not find it by my side. And I am disappointed that my friends on my Friend List are blowing me away since I now have no steps to track. After having this for so long, it sucks not having it.
The funny thing is, FitBit has done the exact opposite of what it set out to do; instead of telling me how ACTIVE I am, it actually told me how INACTIVE I am.
In order to maintain a healthier lifestyle, everyone should be taking 10,000 steps per day. When I first got my FitBit, I was lucky if I hit the 3,000 step mark. Sitting at my desk all day, driving from Point A to Point B, and just walking occasionally to the bathroom made me realize that I need to move more. Not that I am trying to lose weight, I just was not active enough to keep my heart and body healthy.
Because of FitBit, I am now much more in tune with my physical activity. I am just as busy as everyone else is so I needed to get more creative in finding ways to earn more steps. In an attempt to reach the daily 10,000 step goal, I will always park at the back of the lot when going to the store, I get up and take a quick tour around the office every hour, and I will squeeze out an extra lap at the gym just to hit the proper mark. FitBit keeps track of everything for you, but this device will make you realize more things about yourself than you ever knew.
The FitBit Ultra sold for $99 and could be bought at any Microsoft store, Amazon, and even BestBuy and Target now sells them. However, FitBit just launched two new versions: FitBit One and FitBit Zip. The One ($99) is basically an upgraded version of the Ultra and even keeps tracks of stairs climbed and added a few other new features. The Zip ($59) is a little different because the battery is replaceable instead of rechargeable. It also features smiley faces instead of flower, someone similar to a Digi-Pet. There is also a WiFi Smart Scale that can sync into your FitBit account to wireless monitor your weight.
There are a million other pedometers on the market. Some have similar tracking features to the FitBit but you have to pay a monthly fee or simply are not as accurate. Some even require an uncomfortable bulky armband. Even Nintendo got into the pedometer business a couple of times and tried to introduce game elements into walking. Sure it was a nice incentive to unlock special in-game content by being physically active, but FitBit keeps track of all this data better than anything else. Users also get an automatic weekly email that summarizes their activity for the previous week.
The FitBit knows when you are taking a step and when you are just tossing the unit around in your hand too. If you hold the unit in your hand and tap the unit on a desk, yes, it will register steps. However, it does a pretty good job of eliminating cheating by trying to “artificially” create more steps. But cheating this device is only cheating yourself.
If I could make a suggestion, I think it would be beneficial if there was a place to write an email address or phone number on this unit. Because it is small and merely clings to your pants, there is the ever present possibility of having it fall off. As an example, my Dad lost one on a golf course and I actually lost mine at a doctor’s office. I was lucky enough to recover my FitBit a week later but my Dad was not as fortunate. The lack of a built-in lost-and-found feature is probably its biggest flaw. With the higher price point, you are going to want to take care of this thing.
I encourage everyone to take the FitBit challenge. It is guaranteed that your eyes will be open to many aspects of your lifestyle. If you take the time to use all the features that the website has to offer, you will get that much more out of it. And buy one for your friends and family to create friendly challenges as it makes a great holiday or birthday gift. But like my brother, be sure to explain the device in a positive way – you won’t want to give the wrong impression… or would you?
Better Than: pretty much any other pedometer
Also Try: Wii Fit
Wait For It: a futuristic model that you swallow and runs off body energy