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Life-changing gadgetOct 09, 2011
By Liora Hess
Update November 2012: There's a newer Fitbit out -- the Fitbit One! You can check out my video review by cutting and pasting this link into your browser:
I purchased the original Fitbit (now referred to as the Fitbit Classic) only to have the company roll out the Fitbit Ultra a couple of days later. The overlap between the two devices has given me a great opportunity to experience both and know what's different about this one.
How both Fitbits Work: You have a few choices on where to wear the Fitbit (typically waist, pocket, chest pocket or bra), and you keep that Fitbit on you for 24 hours. There's another piece that can be attached to the Fitbit if you have thicker clothing on in order not to spread the Fitbit apart too far and damage it. Every time you're within 15-ft range of your WiFi base station plugged into your computer, the Fitbit attempts to upload your data. After an upload it then doesn't try again for another 15 minutes. You can force an update by placing your Fitbit actually on the base. This is also the way you charge the Fitbit.
Speaking of the charge, it is fast and lasts days, maybe even weeks. Many choose to charge the Fitbit in the base while they're in the shower. Since I work at the computer, I just take it off once a day or so and rest it in the base until I'm ready to get up and go do something.
I should also mention installing and pairing the device is hassle-free. The instructions are clear. You download the software from their web site. Pairing the device with the software on your computer is a piece of cake. It's also easy enough to do if you have a replacement Fitbit you're installing. Just right-click on Account Setup in the system tray, and the Fitbit guides you through the quick process.
What will the Fitbit Ultra do? The Fitbit Ultra is a very accurate step counter. It also shows calories burned and distance walked. There's a cute (not too girly, guys) flower that you make "grow" the more activity you do. And it tracks your sleep. You have a little Velcro wrist band (perfect size for women and men) with a pocket. At night, you slip the Fitbit into the pocket and press and hold the button, which puts the Fitbit in sleep mode. You have a choice between normal and sensitive setting, adjustable from the web site.
The sleep was something I thought would be kind of gimmicky and not really that important to me. Boy was I wrong. I really enjoy seeing how many times I wake up during the night and if there's that typical 90-minute cycle of sleep reflected or if I barely moved at all. On the web site, this information is reflected as a sleep efficiency percentage. Now, it's not extremely accurate, because Fitbit doesn't know the difference between your lying there still and your being asleep. However, you'll probably realize soon that if you're lying there, reading a book, just move your hand every one in a while. Later, in the morning, you can adjust your sleep times through the web site to cut off any unnecessary activity at the beginning.
What is Fitbit Not Good at? It's very step-oriented, so that means it's not going to accurately record your use of an elliptical machine, Pilates, weight lifting, rowing machine, swimming (don't get it wet!) or anything else that doesn't result in a typical stepping motion. However, you can manually record these activities on the web site, and it will overwrite the data for that period of time.
New to this version: ---It will also count stairs climbed (hills count) and translate those into floors. It's just one more way to challenge yourself. On the web site you can earn badges for how many stairs and floors you've climbed. The site also gives you interesting little messages about what that climbing equals, such as "you've just climbed the world's tallest snowman," and if you're the curious type, you can click the message to learn more. ---You've got a clock! Since I almost always have a phone on me, I underestimated how much I was going to enjoy this feature. It's so much easier and to just press a button at your waist and look down to see the time. ---There's a stopwatch. Training for a race? Just trying to beat your previous times? You can use the stopwatch to record an activity. ---Righty and lefty friendly. I'm right-handed, but I like to wear the Fitbit at the left side of my waist. The words were backwards, but I learned that through the web site I could change the direction of the words. ---Give it a name. You have 8 characters to input a name or other info. That's not enough for a full phone number with area code. However, you if you search the Internet for "short email address," there are a number of email address services that would fit that 8-character allotment and allow you to forward any email to your regular email address. This might come in handy if you (heaven forbid) were to lose your Fitbit. ---Friendly little chatter. So you're sitting on the sofa and you realize you should really get up and move your body. You stand up, and a blinked message catches your eye: GO GO GO or Hello! or I like you. You're bonding already, and the feeling is mutual. And if it isn't, you can disable this from the web site. You can actually disable any of the features you don't want to see on your Fitbit.
With either version of the Fitbit, you get a great web site with plenty of features to keep you busy. Track your nutrition, specific activities (like swimming, weight lifting or yoga) that aren't reflected well on Fitbit (you cannot expose it to water). Monitor your weight, blood pressure, glucose, fat, and more. With the free version, you have one customizable tracker as well. Wanting even more motivation, you can upgrade to their Premium plan for 50 bucks a year and get more detailed records on how you compare against your peers, your records over time, unlimited number of customizable trackers, and my personal favorite -- the Trainer. The Trainer looks at your history and devises a plan to slowly increase your activity. It's just a slow, steady increase that you'll barely notice at all, and over time, those are the kinds of changes that last. After a week, the Trainer noted I was exceeding its plan for me, so it asked me if I wanted to ramp up a little faster. I loved the choice!
If you're debating, I'll tell you this. The device has made me more aware of my activity (or inactivity) and pushes me to do more. It becomes rather addictive to hit those marks and have those successes daily. I'm moving more and losing weight. I'm drinking more water, as that's also tracked on the web site. Fitbit just makes you more aware in general. I don't think money is ever wasted if it makes you more active and healthy and you use whatever it is you buy (be it a gym membership or a Fitbit).
If you have a now Fitbit Classic and are wondering whether to upgrade, I'll tell you that I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like some of the features. Some things I felt that I could take or leave ended up being my favorite -- such as the clock. Also know that the color of blue in the Fitbit Ultra is not the same as the sort of teal color of the Fitbit Classic. It's not better or worse, but different.
In summary, I highly recommend this Fitbit Ultra, whether you're new to Fitbit or considering upgrading. It's well worth the money. In the meantime, you don't have to own a Fitbit to be able to use the web site. If you're on the fence, why not join the web site and start recording things like your weight and get active in the Community forum? That will get you a feel for how things work and how Fitbit might be life changing for you as well.
p.s. If/when you do take the plunge, I highly recommend ordering this inexpensive lanyard Safety Leash for Pedometer (1) Unit. Helps Save Pedometers From Loss and Misplacing and Not Lose Them While Running or Walking and Exercising. Too many users have horror stories of losing their Fitbits, drowning them in toilets and oceans, etc. Both items work very well together and provide peace of mind.
UPDATE September 20, 2012: I wanted to let any readers know that Fitbit is coming out with TWO new trackers that are currently in preorder, due to be released in mid-October, so you may want to hold off on this purchase and get the new model that has more features.
So almost a year later, this remains one of the best purchases I've ever made. And no, I've still not received anything from the company for my reviews -- I'm just an enthusiastic customer. I have lost around 30 pounds since I received my Fitbit. Although that lanyard seemed to be a really important thing, I'm pretty careful, so I eventually quit using the lanyard. I have had some close calls, but so far the Fitbit hasn't been flushed, laundered or otherwise lost.
Things I'm finding I haven't gotten the use from: The Premium membership. Some people swear by this. I thought it was pretty cool at first, but then my life became busier and I didn't have time to get the use out of this feature. Food logging is good but still inferior to some popular apps (like Calorie Countery by MyNetDiary) that aren't yet integrated. I haven't found an easier way to log nutrition than use a smartphone to scan the barcode on a product, and Fitbit doesn't yet have this capability. It also doesn't have the database of foods that some other apps have.
Mostly, I attribute the weight loss to gradual life changes of eating less and moving more PLUS Fitbit making me more aware of movement or lack thereof. It feels good to set a daily step goal (even if less than 10,000) and reach it. It's not been a fast way to weight loss, but it's been one of the sanest, and hopefully lasting, ways. I've rewarded myself by going ahead and preordering the Fitbit One and am looking forward to reviewing it.
UPDATE November 7, 2012: If you found this review helpful, you can check out my review of the new Fitbit One here:
Great Idea, Still Needs WorkDec 29, 2011
By CrazyFitness I received my first Fitbit for an early Christmas present last year in 2010 and LOVED the features. I had been increasing my workouts at the gym and was working retail at the time, so I loved seeing my steps and calories burned adding up. I also don't sleep well, and the Fitbit was able to tell me how restlessly I actually slept. After having the Fitbit for a month, I was in love.
HOWEVER...by the end of February, my Fitbit was falling apart. I was attaching the device to my bra as suggested or to slim pants. If you want your Fitbit to last beyond two months, I suggest you NEVER do this. The blue plastic part on the inside separated from the outside shell revealing the hardware inside and making it impossible to attach to the base station and charge. I'm the kind of person who is never hard on things I own and was very frustrated by the seemingly cheap, inflexible plastic. I did wear the device every day, but being that it is a device meant for tracking fitness progression, I assume the goal IS to wear the Fitbit every day.
I finally contacted customer service in March describing my disappointment in the product and to their credit they did send me a new Fitbit with no questions asked and simply asked me to return my old one. Unfortunately, when my new Fitbit arrived, the display was so faded that I could only read my stats in a completely dark room. Once again customer service had to ship me a new device.
I am now using the same device that was replaced in March and while it still works, it started falling apart again in November. I had ONLY been using the Fitbit with the included belt clip so as not to break the device's delicate structure, but the outer shell still started breaking away from the blue plastic. The belt clip is also made from the same cheap, inflexible plastic so I'm on my second one of those as well.
In short, I love what the Fitbit is aiming to achieve. The features are great, and I became almost obsessed with trying to beat my personal bests. Unfortunately, a lot needs to be done to improve durability. If you plan on using the Fitbit every day with the belt clip, it still may only last you a year or so. If the company comes up with a way to solve these problems, I would rate this product five stars. Until then, it is only just so-so for me.
245 of 255 found the following review helpful:
Fitbit vs. BodybugJan 14, 2012
I was an avid user of the bodymedia bodybug (now named the "Armband Advantage") for the past year. When it came time to renew my bodybug subscription at $9.95 a month, I did a little shopping around and opted to pay $100 for the fitbit with no subscription. Be forewarned that I can't really sing the praises of the fitbit without comparing it to the bodybug.
- LIGHTWEIGHT AND SMALL. It is MUCH easier to inconspicuously wear the fitbit than the bodybug. I'm looking forward to wearing tank tops this summer without having a conspicuous armband on. It was fine for bumming around and shopping; people would ask me about it and I didn't mind answering questions. But when it came to going out at night or attending weddings in sleeveless dresses, I was forced to leave the bodybug at home. Sometimes I'd pop it out of the armband and put it in my bra, but even that was sometimes a challenge. The fitbit easily clips on my bra with no bulges or discomfort.
- NO BEEPS OR SOUNDS. The bodybug made 3 beeps any time it made contact with your body for the first time, or if it lost contact with your body. Kinda embarrassing if you're in a quiet atmosphere.
- COMFORTABLE. Fitbit doesn't sit against your skin, so it's much more comfortable. I don't care what bodymedia says, it's not always comfortable to have a sweaty piece of plastic against your skin all day. (In their instructions they recommend you take it off for an hour a day, so no calorie tracking on the bodybugg for that time period).
- AFFORDABLE. The unit itself is about half the price of bodybugg. As for the online data, the graphs and info on fitbit.com are comparable, if not better than those on bodymedia.com; with no monthly subscription needed (saving you about $10 a month). You can buy the 'premium' fitbit access for $49 a year (still less than half the price of bodymedia.com), but I find the charts on fitbit.com are fine for my needs. Charts show activity throughout the day in 5-minute increments. The one thing that it doesn't offer is the ability to see how many calories you burned for a specific time period. Bodymedia.com allows you to drag your mouse across the graphs to hone in on certain time frames (i.e. show me the total calories burned from 3pm to 3:30pm). But you can a) add it up manually (mouse over the bars in the chart for each 5-minute increment between 3pm and 3:30pm. A popup shows the number of burned calories/steps, etc. during each 5-minute increment) or b) use the recording feature mentioned below.
- EASY TO TRACK WORKOUTS. Fitbit has a small button that is pretty much a stopwatch, but works well in tracking workouts and sleep. Press and hold the button for a few seconds to start the stopwatch/"recording" and press again to stop it. The duration of the activity will be displayed on your activity log on Fitbit.com. If it's during the day, fitbit assumes it's a workout. If it's at night, fitbit assumes it's sleeping (but you can manually change it). To make a short story long, I use this feature for my workouts and I can easily see data just for the workout session. In comparison, Bodybugg didn't have this feature. I had to take note of what time I started and stopped my workout, then use my mouse to "hone in" on that time frame in the graph in order see the calorie burn.
- WIRELESS. I love the wireless functionality. If I'm within 15 feet of my laptop, data is automatically uploaded. Bodybugg has this functionality, too, but I had the version that you have to pop out of the armband and connect via USB to your computer.
- ACCURATE. The fitbit is every bit as accurate as the bodybug. I do the elliptical machine and clip fitbit onto my sock. I've gotten good results doing this. There's a lot of hype that bodybug has "4 different sensors," but I'm not convinced that 4 are any better than the 2 in the fitbit. As far as I can tell, the bodybug only uses accelerometer data for its calcs. Anyway, the fitbit is just as accurate.
- INTERACTIVE. Love that you can personalize a message to show up on the fitbit. In addition to displaying your personal message, random fitbit messages like "Vamos!" or "Walk Me" are displayed randomly. Too cute! I also like getting weekly emails that show me my progress or congratulate me on certain achievements (10000 steps, 10 flights of stairs, etc.)
- DISPLAY IS ON THE UNIT. Unlike Bodybugg, which is kind of a 'black box' until you sync it to your computer, you can push the button on your fitbit at any time and see all the data for that day (steps, calories, miles, stairs, etc.). I found this to be very handy when it's getting towards midnight and I need to get more steps in. I just walk around my apartment, then check the display to see if I've met my goal. Also has a clock, which is nice.
- SMALL. Okay, if I HAVE to pick a con, it's that it takes some time to get in the habit of taking the fitbit off one set of clothes and putting them on another. In the beginning I'd change clothes to go out, only to later remember that my fitbit was clipped on the first outfit. I can definitely see how people have accidentally washed their fitbits. No biggy.
- NO DATA EXPORT. You can't export your data from the fitbit site unless you buy the premium access. Not a deal breaker for me (and premium access is still cheaper than bodymedia anyway).
- DAILY DATA DOESN'T RESET UNTIL YOU SYNC IT. I haven't fully tested this, but there was a 2-day period where I was traveling and unable to sync to my computer. I noticed that the data on the second day looked pretty high, so I assume it was still counting from the day before. Everything was fine in the online dashboard once I synced it. Not a big deal for me.
SUMMARY: Any pedometer or similar tool will be a great asset to any fitness program. I find myself wanting to take extra steps and take the stairs just to get "credit" for them in my daily tallies. I think fitbit is an affordable and easy tool to use. Hope this helps!
UPDATE June 2012: NEW "PRO:" Two of my family members now have fitbits so we can compete against each other on the website. I see my ranking in steps, activity level & distance. I got one for my mom 'cuz I figured she'd be easy to beat, and she beats me everyday! As such, I'm trying to up my steps to compete with her. This is a great feature that's definitely on the "PRO" list. When other people can see how many steps you do, it adds accountability. If I'm watching tv it will force me to get up and get some steps in while thinking "I don't want friends to see I've only done 2000 steps today." Competing against others is optional; you have to send them an invite to be your fitbit friend.
You can also link your fitbit account to your foursquare account to 'unlock' more fitness badges.
185 of 192 found the following review helpful:
The centerpiece of your fitness gadgetsOct 18, 2011
By Gaz Rendar I've been a Fitbit user for 2 years now and have convinced several people to buy Fitbits and join my social fitness group. The new Fitbit Ultra is a small upgrade over the old Fitbit, and as such, doesn't warrant replacing your old Fitbit with the Ultra version. However, the Ultra is still a 5-star product when used properly. Even if you already have a heart rate monitor and a GPS unit, the Fitbit can become the center of your active world.
I'll start by saying that no one "needs" a Fitbit. It is a luxury item. If you're active, and goto the gym on a regular basis, and do a decent job watching what you eat, this device might not seem useful. I've also had plenty of people defiantly tell me that they just need a cheap pedometer that costs 1/10th the price of a Fitbit plus a journal and they can get the same functionality. To a degree, these statements are all true. The power of the Fitbit resides in its simplicity and social networking, but it's very hard to fully appreciate without using the device for two weeks. Once you understand what the Fitbit provides, though, you can never go back.
INSTALLATION There are minimal instructions included with the Fitbit. Luckily the install is rather simple. Goto the Fitbit website, create a user name and login for yourself, download and install the driver, plug in the USB charging stand and you should be ready. You'll have to place your Fitbit onto the charger when prompted in order to obtain a pin number that identifies your Fitbit with your user name, but the entire process only takes about 5 minutes.
HARDWARE The Fitbit Ultra looks and feels the same as the original `bit (you can get the plum accent color, though). There is only 1 button on the device and a small OLED screen. The screen has a sharp, attractive blue hue and is bright enough to read in all conditions except broad daylight. The button is nothing fancy, but has a solid enough click for my taste. I guess you can say that the Fitbit has a hinge, but it only opens a few degrees, which is sufficient to clip the device directly onto a bra strap or that little coin pocket on a pair a of jeans. A belt clip attachment is included to situate the Fitbit on belts of most thicknesses. There is also a USB charging stand that doubles as the wireless data base and a soft wrist strap for wearing your tracker while you sleep. The Fitbit is durable, but the one thing it cannot handle is water. Obviously, you can't swim with it, but I've had friends of mine wear their `bits in their bra strap underneath a shirt and fleece on a cool fall day, work up a sweat, and have their Fitbits die due to the highly humid environment within their shirt. Its fine during a gym workout, just be careful if you're keeping it contained in a non-breathable location while sweating.
PERFORMANCE At its core, yes, the Fitbit is an expensive pedometer--but a highly accurate one. I've counted 150 steps in my head many times and it was spot-on. I've used a PreCor elliptical that told me I went 2873 steps and the Fitbit told me I went 2870. That's quality. Distance accuracy can get close to 5% error, but only if you calibrate your walking and running stride lengths in your profile settings (calibrate by measuring off 50 feet, walk the 50 feet and count the # of steps, divide the 600 inches by your number of walking steps. Repeat 2 more times and take the average. Do the same for running). Otherwise your distance can be off by 20%. The Ultra's main difference from the previous model is that it keeps track of flights of stairs. In a 3 step ranch house, walking up and down the 3 steps 8 times in a 5 minute period didn't seem to register as a flight or two. However, when I've gone up 5 consecutive flights all at once it does seem to be pretty accurate. As long as you keep the Fitbit clipped to your waist/pocket areas or bra strap, it seems to be good. The Ultra also has a stopwatch function, but looking down to my waist, hitting the button and trying to see the timer wasn't really practical during a run. Just wear a watch instead. Finally, the sleep tracking works well, but I find it to be a bit of an annoyance. If you want to wear the soft wrist strap and keep track of your sleep efficiency, it will definitely help you. But after 2 weeks I found that I was such a sound sleeper that I didn't want to deal with the 2 minutes of set up time to find the wrist strap and put it on. Instead, I now just start the sleep timer when I crawl in bed and put the Fitbit on my nightstand. When I wake up, I hit stop. This way it still gives me a very good idea of how many hours I'm sleeping per night. It's helped me realize that if I average under 6.25-6.5 hours of sleep per day for a week, I feel awful, but if I'm over that mark, I perform better during the day.
WEBSITE Simply sitting near the wireless base while your computer is on will upload the data from your Fitbit (it takes seconds to upload all data) for analysis into 5-minute, binned increments. Meaning, it keeps track of all the steps you take from 7:30-7:35 and then 7:35-7:40, and so on...for 24 hrs a day, up to 7 days. You do not need to charge the Fitbit on the base for it to transfer data. My battery lasts about 6-7 days with normal use, and I only have to leave it on the charger for 30 minutes to go from low battery to full.
Once the data are uploaded to the website (it all happens automatically, you don't have to hit any upload buttons), they are ready to be analyzed. There is a lot of data to mine through, but the website is well organized and very accessible. Just by looking at your day's 5-minute bins, you can essentially identify where you walked from the parking garage to your office, where you walked to the far conference room, how many times you walked to the bathroom, etc. For me, once I saw my sedentary daily life, the Fitbit helped me break my lazy habits. Once you're keeping track of your life stats, anyone with a shred of competitiveness will want to improve on them. The Fitbit drives you to walk to the far bathroom instead of the once close to your desk. When you get home from work and see that you only have 5000 steps it compels you to goto the gym for 5000 more, especially if you see that you've only been averaging 7,000 steps a day for the past two weeks.
The final incentive for getting a Fitbit is for the social aspects. I'm not a social website kinda guy, but here is an example where the social connections make sense. You can invite friends to your profile, and depending on everyones' privacy settings, you can see their daily stats. The website even makes a comprehensive leaderboard section where you can compare yourself to your friends and the Fitbit community as a whole. The company has also redesigned the website several times in the past 2 years. Now you can track your lifetime steps (I have over 3.5 million so far), flights, and distance. There are badges that you can earn (think achievements for xbox games) for goals such as 10,000 step days.
The site also keeps track of manually inputted data. I enter my weight every day and it has kept those numbers for over a year. It's much more valuable, and powerful, to see your weight loss over the course of months and years instead of just day-to-day. And it is all automatically graphed for you after you enter the numbers. There are tracking tabs for glucose, heart rate, blood pressure, and custom categories that you can create. The final tracking option is food, and it is incredibly comprehensive. The website has a huge log of foods and their calorie contents, just start typing "hamburger," and options for generic hamburgers, McDonald's, Bob Evans, Wendy's, In-N-Out and LOTS more will appear from a drop down list. You can create favorites for 1-click logging, which is convenient if you have the same bag lunch a couple times a week. It does take awhile to log everything here, so I rarely use the food track feature, but it very much there if you want to take advantage of it.
CONCLUSION You don't need to get a Fitbit. It is a toy, a gadget, a luxury. However, it does its job extremely well. You still need to have the right mindset to use the device, though. If you've NEVER worked out and have no interest in doing so, this device won't yell at you like a personal trainer will. But if you have some motivation, even a weak kindling fire, and perhaps need to be a little bit more efficient to get you moving more and more, the Fitbit will definitely help. Even more so if you have friends with Fitbits so you can challenge yourselves on the leaderboards. Once you get used to mindlessly putting it on everyday like I have, it simply becomes part of your life. Tracking your stats for your life is incredibly helpful and cannot fully be appreciated until you wear this device for 2 weeks. After those two weeks, try giving this little gadget up...I doubt anyone will be able to unclip it from your jeans coin pocket without a fight.
I hope this review was helpful if you've been on the fence about buying one, but overall I feel like this is a 5-star product.
90 of 97 found the following review helpful:
Nice Design, Well Made, Website is great tooFeb 06, 2012
By Martin Stiefer The device is well made, and has a sleek design to it. It doesn't feel like it would break open if it got dropped. The button is hard enough to push that you won't push it by accident, but easy to push when you want to.
I've come to really appreciate the ability to track my sleep patterns, especially helpful as I'm a life long insomniac who has taken every sleeping pill ever made. To be able to see the real difference in how I feel on 5 hours of sleep versus 8 hours has been very helpful. And to be able to track the number of times I wake up during the night especially when I'm taking these so-called prescription meds that guarantee me a peaceful nights sleep has been eye-opening, to say the least. Melatonin 10 Grams Melatonin 99% Bulk Powder, as a side bar, has resulted in less "wake ups" than the prescribed meds. Sometimes natural is better for getting a full nights rest, who knew.
The website is very impressive. Good overall feedback of your productivity on any given day/night. You can track just about anything you can imagine with regards to health/wellness. It also correlates that information with your tracker to give you a better picture of health.
I do agree with other reviewers' comments about using the leash, Safety Leash for Pedometer (1) Unit. Helps Save Pedometers From Loss. For a couple extra dollars it's well worth it.
I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to track their daily activity levels or just be more conscious of how much effort they put out during the day. Really a great little device.
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