Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: A Year With The Fitbit Flex

Over a year ago, I started wearing a fitbit flex.  I said on twitter that at some point I'd write a review on it, and now I've had sufficient time with it, here goes.

What is it?  
This is a fitness tracker/pedometer that encompasses a battery, accelerometer, LED display and bluetooth antenna in a wristband and looks like this:

The Fitbit Flex

How good is it?
Depending on what you want to get out of it, it's going to be either a hit or a miss.  When I bought mine, I bought an identical one for my significant other. If she recharged her device twice that may be overstating it. Why? Simply that wearing it doesn't make you slimmer, faster, fitter - it tracks the work you still need to do yourself - and for most people that's still not fun.

Personally, I'm a partial practitioner of the Quantified Self movement - whilst I'm not "all in", I can't help being driven by data about myself and my own habits.  That alone makes this device a hit for me, whether I opted to be a couch-potato or an athlete. 

For Example:
Me: "Oh, that's interesting:  I just learned that if I sit on the couch all day and watch movies, I still get in 500 steps a day."

Next day... 
Me: "Oh, that's interesting:  I just learned that if I track a normal working day, I get in 9,000 steps a day."

Yes, this was going to be a hit for me as long as I can understand the data.  For someone like my partner, it was not likely to be as enthusiastically received.

What does it record?
This has two modes; During daytime mode, it's tracking steps (so it's a pedometer). During nighttime mode, it tracks the duration of your sleep and how restless you are.  The sleep-tracking part was a big factor for me as I wanted to find out why I was so tired in the mornings. 

The data is then uploaded to an app that runs on your smartphone or tablet.  Personally, I run it on my iPad.  I then enter manual weight information from my scales to the same app, this then allows the app to calculate your calories expended throughout the day.  Combined with a food log (also in the app), you can work out if you're eating too little or too much.  The app is then tied as a feed provider to my account and everything is dashboard-presented there alongside my runkeeper data and other apps.

There's two flaws with the fitbit flex:
  • The rubber they use for the band splits. The flex comes with a large and a small bracelet band. Only the large one fit me - and it split in four places.  Luckily, I had a spare band (see unused purchase at top of article) to fall back on.  The band scuffs and scratches easily too.
  • There was a period where it stopped syncing.  Support to get this working again wasn't exactly good.  A hard reset (put it in the charger and drive a paperclip into a hole) in addition to an app update seemed to fix all of these issues, but for the month of problems I had to endure waiting for a fix still nags in my mind.
Battery life is good.  It generally runs for about 9 days - and I recharge it every weekend, so it never runs out.  You get a warning via iOS notification when the batteries are getting low if you sync every day, however, if you skip a day of sync'ing and the battery is low, it does have a habit of just dying on you.  After a year though, it does not show any sign of capacity shrinkage.

Switching Modes
Switching modes is done by repeatedly tapping on it a few times for about a second.  It's actually fairly sensitive - and this means it often goes into night mode when doing things like pushing a supermarket trolley over 12 inch ceramic tiles.  (The "ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk" of the wheels will send vibrations through the handle into your wrist and put the device into sleep mode).  

A handy feature is the alarm - you can set it to buzz in the morning at a set time and it'll quietly wake you up, without disturbing others.  The only gripe have with it is I can sleep through it some times as it doesn't vibrate very long. 

All in all, it does what it's supposed to do, and it does it well.  The $99 price tag is a little steep for some, especially if you find out you don't like it.  The wrist band could do with some updating to a more durable material because it didn't last as long as I'd expect (being someone with a desk job, I'd expect more than 9 months out of it).  The fact the data is open to services like tictrac is a big bonus, and the battery life is quite amazing.  

In short, I don't regret buying it.