John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Fitbit One review

A while back I discovered the pedometer functionality within the Samsung S.Health app and found it useful in that it encouraged me to walk more through a day to meet a goal of 10,000 steps. Some artificial number but at the end of the day a little more exercise (assuming you don’t get killed in the process πŸ™‚ ) is good for you. The older version of the app even tried to differentiate when you were doing stairs (although this feature was later removed). Then along came my Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch and the pedometer got better and more accurate because I always wore the watch. Sadly when I moved to a Samsung Gear Live Android wear watch this functionality moved into the woefully inadequate Google fit leaving me without a convenient pedometer. Add to that I moved to a larger phone (a Note 3) meaning I leave the phone sitting more often leading to an inaccurate number of steps taken. I saw this product and was curious so I snagged one on the cheap. $50. Technical curiosity always seem to hit my bank account 😦

So what can this puppy do? Well … it’s an uber small, super convenient device you can toss in your pocket, clip to your clothes or wear in a small pouch on your wrist while you sleep. It get’s 10-14 days of battery life so it is a set it an forget it device. What you get out of it is the following stats: Steps taken, approx kms, calories (more on this later), stairs taken, and some basic sleep data (again more on this in a bit).

In the box comes the sensor itself, a clip for your clothes/belt, the wrist band, a USB charging cable and a bluetooth low energy dongle if you want to connect it to a computer without bluetooth. Of course you can also connect it to your smartphone.

Physically this device is well made/designed. The display is easily readable, albeit small and allows you to walk through (pun intended) the stats. You can also use the one button to put it into sleep mode or use it to record an individual workout although this is displayed only on the fitbit itself and lost when you stop it. The Android app does not show this individual workout. It is oddly available on the web portal in activities. The device is so small as to easily be forgotten, all the while collecting your exercise stats for you. Just don’t forget to remove it from your pocket/clothes before you put it in the wash πŸ™‚

Sleep mode
Taking it out of the clothes holder and putting it into the wrist band while you sleep returns some basic sleep data. How long were you in bed (a simple timing of when you manually pushed start sleep and stop sleep, it does not figure this out automatically) as well as some data for how many times you woke up and how restless you were. And if you forget to manually stop your sleep there is no way on the Android app to fix what is now bad data (you can edit it on the portal). All used to determine your quality of sleep. You need to do some mental comparisons to make use of that data. And then you would need to figure out what might be causing better or worse sleep. There’s little guidance for what to do with the data. There isn’t even a sleep debt calculator. Stats of the quality of sleep are also light. Very basic …

To put the unit into sleep you simply press and hold the button until it flashes and then push and hold it until it stops flashing to exit sleep. It’s the same process to start a separate workout, the fitbit figures out which you meant.

There is a third party app called sleep debt that goes into the Fitbit portal to pull your sleep data and tells you if you are getting enough sleep. A very basic calculation based on when you went to sleep and what your defined target is. An example of something simple Fitbit could add.

Here are some charts you get from the Android app:

And from the portal:

First and foremost this is a pedometer, ie count your number of steps. So I put it up against my Samsung app running on my phone and made a concerted effort to keep my phone in my pocket. I have done some correlation of S.Health with GPS and they track reasonably well. Comparing the fitbit against the over the period of 3 days I saw as much as an 11% difference in steps counted and a difference of as much 7% in Kms. We all have our thresholds for accuracy, mine personally is 10%. Just an arbitrary number. This seems to be acceptable to me. And this includes times when I left my phone sitting while the fitbit was always on me. This is one of the benefits of the fitbit. Set it and forget it.

And now we come to one of my biggest complaints with the fitbit. The calorie count. If you were to sit totally still for a day the body consumes a certain amount of calories to exist. This is called the basal calorie. There are calculators that can give you an approximate number for your age/sex (yes please πŸ™‚ )/weight based on averages. The fitbit includes this number not only on your end of day numbers but throughout the day. And does not even tell you what it uses as your basal calorie count. So you are left trying to see a number from walking in the hundreds of calories buried within a number that is 10s of hundreds of calories. It makes it difficult to see or encourage you to do extra steps or stairs. Totally stupid IMHO. I’ve seen comments that you can turn this off but I have tried and see no way.

Let’s use my numbers to illustrate the issue. Using the calculator I mentioned above I would guess my basal number to be 1462 calories. And remember fitbit is doing some sort of math to spread the basal calories out throughout the day as well as when you sleep, meaning you can only do this calculation at the end of the day. So as an example, at the end of a day when I had walked over 10,000 steps it said I had consumed 2171 calories. Now if I manually (because Fitbit doesn’t do it for you) subtract the numbers I get that walking consumed 709 calories. Samsung S.Health says 308 calories. Now that’s not to say that S.Health’s number are unquestionable but the difference, over 50% seems suspicious. Now Fitbit does take stairs into account (which it says I did 30 flights of stairs), so maybe the calorie count has some foundation. But all in all this is a very poorly thought out feature. Here’s fitbit’s article on it’s calorie counting.There is an app called Fitwatchr for Fitbit which does take care of this.

I kept a close eye on my step count while in a car (someone else was driving) and the fitbit correctly did not count steps. One thing that is missing is an ability to turn off, or pause the step counter when your doing an activity the Fitbit does not count. Like say snowboarding or cycling. And it does count something as steps while doing these.

Stair Counter
The Fitbit counts stairs climbed (in the up direction). I’m not too sure what or how it does this. I did a little test and walked up 14 flights of stairs. Fitbit saw it as 18. Fitbit said I had consumed 48 calories. I used Endomondo with my heart rate monitor on my Samsung Gear Live and it said I consumed 118 calories. Now adding the heart rate monitor does allow it to be more accurate anyway so not sure what to say about the calorie count on stairs. I watched my step count as I went up an escalator and it correctly did not register the escalator as stairs! Nice.

You can use the Fitbit as a vibrating alarm (there’s no speaker). You can set the alarm on your phone/pc or the web portal. Better hope someone doesn’t crack your web portal or they can wake you up anytime they want πŸ™‚ The alarm works fine if your wearing the wrist strap, otherwise you might miss it. Fitbit does warn you that the alarm can effect battery life.

Oh and the fitbit also tells you the time of day (but not the date).

Fitbit Android app
Here’s a screen shot from the Android app:
Pairing the Fitbit with my Android phone was simple. The app itself is pretty trouble free and easy to use. The Fitbit can background wirelessly (over Bluetooth low energy) sync data with your phone which then uploads to the portal. You can turn that off in the settings which would save battery on your phone and Fitbit. You will need to insure your phone is supported by the Fitbit if this is something you want to use. Bluetooth low energy is a newer feature and is different than good old bluetooth that has been around for a very long time.

The app can also be used to enter your food consumption, manual exercises that Fibit does not cover (cycling, swimming etc) and fluids consumed. I used none of these, (nor would I) so I will not comment on it.

All of the data is backed up to the Fitbit cloud and there is a web portal front end to get at the data. So if having all this data in the cloud concerns you, be aware. I do like having the ability to view the data on the portal instead of only on the phone.

Fitbit states that Fitbit users with at least one friend are 27% more active than those without πŸ™‚ To that end Fitbit will (if you ask it to) search your contact list for Fitbit users and makes it easy to add friends. Other than that I see no way of sharing your status/progress on things like Facebook. Once you have friends on Fitbit you can see how many steps that person averages per day, and you can see their friends (friends of friends). You can add and friends of friends as your friends too. You can send messages from within Fitbit to your friends. You can also throw down the gauntlet and challenge your friends!

The battery on the device lasts quite a while which is great, but it also means it’s easy to forget to charge it and loose a days (or more) worth of data. The display that shows the battery status on the Android app does not give any kind of a precise value, or estimate of when the battery might be dead. There also does not appear to be a warning on the Android app as the battery is getting close to dead. There is an Android app (called Low Battery Alert for Fitbit) that queries the web portal and alerts when the battery is getting close to dead. On my phone it kept crashing. The Fitbit Portal itself does send you an email (assuming your connected to the net) to remind you to charge the Fitbit but nothing from the device itself, or on the device itself. The email said:
Your One battery level is low. Charge your battery as soon as possible.

To charge:
1. Connect the charging cord to your computer
2. Slide the the One tracker into the open end of the charging cord, matching up the gold contacts on the tracker and the charging cord
3. It will take one to two hours to charge to full, depending on the current power level
Your battery should last 5-7 days under normal use.
Happy stepping!

By the way, to top it off you can not see the battery status on the Fitbit itself. I got 10 days or battery life with background sync turned on, which is excellent.

There is a flower icon that shows you how active you have been. The more the flower grows and add leaves the more active you’ve been. An odd way of showing it but heh …

Once a week you get a nice summary of your exercise:

Loosing your fitbit
The clothes holder is pretty firm, but it’s still possible to loose your Fitbit. In fact I lost mine after a mere 2 weeks. This pointed out a number of things that could have been done better. First there could have been a small lanyard cable to fasten around your belt to act as a safety. Next they could have had an alarm to indicate that the connection with the Fitbit was lost. Next they could have provided a find me feature. Instead they point you to a generic bluetooth scanner that you have to figure out. They know the MAC address of the Fitbit so a feature could be developed to implement this. Next they could have provided some kind of Owner Information display, like maybe your phone number. (Alternatively you may want to attach a label to yours with your phone number). Next they could have implemented a buzz/flash feature so that in the event you were in the vicinity of the fitbit it could more easily be found. Lastly Fitbit could have implemented a report it lost feature so that if someone found it an tried to use it they could provide an avenue to get it back to you. Sadly none of this has been done leaving you with a lost Fitbit. Sadly none of this have been done, so you are simple shit out of luck 😦 Now I always say, one of the factors in determining how useful something is/was is in the event you lost or broke it, would you replace it? For me that’s a pretty simple one … nope. I would have kept using it but will not replace it. The wrist based Fitbits are a better design from a loss point of view, but even that could be misplaced.

As much as I think the technical solutions could and should have been implemented, I contacted Fitbit to report it lost. And they were amazing. Compassionate, understanding, and offered to replace the fitbit under warranty. Wow. In under three days a Fitbit was delivered to my door. Unbelievable. What amazing customer service and even more to the point … customer retention. I am in awe.

As with any of these wearables there are always a ton of things that could have been implemented. Here are some of my thoughts on what’s missing:
– social networking as already mentioned
– an alarm function that would alert you when it became disconnected from your phone. This could alert you to not forget your phone, or if the Fitbit fell off your clothes
– I did see an app that would automatically lock your phone if the Fitbit became disconnected called BLE AutoLock for Fitbit Flex
– at this point there is no support whatsoever for Android wear. There are a number of apps in the playstore to bridge this gap including Fit Wear, FitIt Wear Pro and others
– Fitbit could be used for notifications such as when your phone is wringing
– but for me the MAJOR miss of the Fitbit is something that the Jawbone already does. Alerts you if you’ve been inactive to remind you to get up and walk around. There is an app called BActive.

There are a variety of portals and apps that link with the Fitbit site. Fitbit have centralized this list to make it easy for you to find! I linked in Endomono (an Android exercise app) and was thoroughly impressed how seemlessly the data crossed over from Fitbit to Endomono. Interestingly, the calorie count comes over without the above mentioned basal number, so just the calories burned walking! Yay!

So all in all I like the Fitbit. It’s simple and easy and just works. If Google Fit had been as good as Samsung S.Health on the Gear 2 Neo I never would have considered buying one of these. But since it’s not this is a neat add.


January 28, 2015 - Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android

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