Synchronize Your Fitness With Fitbit

Earlier today, Joe Casabona detailed to you his experience with the Jawbone Up, a bracelet that belongs in the new category of “quantified self” gadgets and tracks your steps, sleep, and calorie intake.

At almost the same time Joe began his Up experience, I got another wearable gadget, the Fitbit One. What’s the One, how does it work, and what can you do with the Fitbit Android app? Let’s find out.


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Why the Fitbit One

When I set out looking for a wearable activity tracker, I was quickly overwhelmed by the choices. Joe’s decision might have been impulsive when buying the Jawbone Up, but I agonized over my decision for several months weighing the pros and cons of every solution. Eventually, I settled on the One for a few reasons:

  • The Fitbit One uses a clip design that can be worn on a bra. Being a woman, I like this convenience and the fact that the One remains inconspicuous, even if worn all day.
  • Given that the One is meant to be worn near to the torso — clipped on pants or on a bra — it doesn’t rely on hand movement to track steps, so it’s still accurate even when walking on a treadmill and gripping the side rails (ie walking with the hands rather steady) which I do quite often.
  • The One has a small screen and a button that you can click at any time to get a reading of your activity for the day, even when away from a computer or a phone.
  • The One uses Bluetooth 4.0 — specifically Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE — to sync with the app on my Galaxy S3 so I set it up and never have to remember to manually sync.
How to wear the Fitbit One: in a pocket, clipped on a pocket, or clipped on a bra.

How to wear the Fitbit One: in a pocket, clipped on a pocket, or clipped on a bra.

Of course, the One doesn’t come without some inconveniences. While its design as a clipped gadget constitutes its strength, it’s also the reason of the One’s “issues”.

  • The One tracks sleep, but in order for that to be accurate, you need to wear it on your wrist with a small band. This means that you’ll have to remember to un-clip it every night before you go to bed, wear it in the band all night, and re-clip it every morning.
  • Given that you clip the One on your clothing, you have to always remain alert when taking them off. Forget it once, and it might end up spending some quality time inside the washing machine with the rest of your laundry.
  • Although the One seems big enough to handle microUSB charging, it still uses some proprietary charging technology that requires a specific cable.
The Fitbit One, its metal clip, wireless dongle, sleep wristband, and proprietary charging cord.

The Fitbit One, its metal clip, wireless dongle, sleep wristband, and proprietary charging cord.

But honestly, all of these aren’t real problems unless you’re the forgetful type and you don’t remember to wear the band at night, unclip the One from your clothes, or charge it once a week with its cable.

Quick Sync

When you first receive the One — or any wirelessly-enabled Fitbit tracker — you can set it up to continuously sync via the Fitbit Android app on Bluetooth 4.0 supported devices. These include the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and Note II for now, but should expand to more devices when BLE support is added to Android 4.3 later this year.

The Fitbit app lets you check the One’s battery level — it’s a missed opportunity that you can’t see that directly on the One’s screen except when charging — and set background sync or force a sync at any moment. It also lets you add, repeat, or modify the alarms that specify when the Fitbit should vibrate and silently wake you up.

The app is shy on Settings, only offering the option to edit your personal profile, activate Push Notifications for badges and goal progress, and pick a default food database from Germany, France, Spain or the US.

Fitbit One tracker sync settings and food database picker.

Fitbit One tracker sync settings and food database picker.

Track Your Activity and Sleep

The main function of the Fitbit One is its ability to track your daily steps and stairs. The Fitbit app launches to a Dashboard view of your daily stats and goal progression going back to 14 days only. Visible are your steps, floors climbed, calculated traveled distance, burned calories — based on your activity but also your body weight — along with your sleep, and food and water consumption.

One of the annoyances of the app is that it doesn’t obey to common UX principles most times. For example, clicking on any of these doesn’t take you to their detailed view, instead you’ll have to tap the upper menu and pick between Activity, Food, Body, Water, Friends and Sleep. Another issue is the fact that swiping doesn’t switch between days, forcing you to use the arrows on the upper date bar to navigate.

Fitbit Dashboard and drop-down section chooser.

Fitbit Dashboard and drop-down section chooser.

Switching to the Activity view, you’re presented with 3 scrollable graphs, detailing your progression through the day for Steps, Calories and Floors Climbed. You can also manually add activities. These can range anywhere from step-based exercises like walking or running, to non-trackable activities like swimming, or even driving times — which help Fitbit remove the false road bumps from your daily steps.

Fitbit Activity screen with calorie graph, and manually adding a new activity.

Fitbit Activity screen with calorie graph, and manually adding a new activity.

The Sleep screen offers a summary of your night, including the duration of your sleep, the time you went to bed, the time you awakened, and a graph of your restless, asleep and awake moments. Here, you can add your sleep logs by either manually selecting the times, or by activating a beautiful sleep screen with a dark blue sky and moon along with a simple “I’m Awake” button that leads into a bright sunny screen when clicked in the morning.

Fitbit Sleep screen and its nice night-time sleep logging feature.

Fitbit Sleep screen and its nice night-time sleep logging feature.

Another downfall of Fitbit looms its head in the Activity and Sleep areas, with the app severely lacking any form of long term stats. Weekly, monthly or average stats are inexistent, although they are available on Fitbit’s site. Also missing are the “very active minutes”, the “badges”, and the ability to modify the daily and weekly goals — these functions remain tied to the Fitbit site as well.

Log Your Food and Water

Given that I live in Lebanon, and our food database is quite different from any of the 4 available countries, I found it difficult to accurately log most of my food items. I resorted to a “best-guess, seems close enough” approach with most of my logs, then eventually found myself using MyFitnessPal because of its extensive database. Both apps can plug into each other, so using them together is quite seamless.

Water consumption logging however is very straightforward, with a manual option alongside 4 quick volumes ranging from a cup to a big bottle.

Food and water logging.

Food and water logging.

More Fitbit Features

One of the reasons Fitbit became quite popular in the US was its competitive approach to fitness. The daily and weekly goals as well as the badges aren’t the only aspect of that, there’s also the friendly competition. Add friends from your contacts and you will see a 7-day leaderboard based on the total steps taken.

One of Fitbit's competitive aspects: Badges.

One of Fitbit’s competitive aspects: Badges.

And Fitbit doesn’t stop at the app or the service’s website. Thanks to its open UI, several services can plug into it, including the aforementioned MyFitnessPal, but also Lose It!, Endomondo, MapMyRun, EveryMove, and more — check the full list on Fitbit’s website.

For Android users, a few third-party apps have been developed to help expand and/or simplify Fitbit’s use. Worth mentioning are:

  • Low Battery Alert for Fitbit: an app that checks your Fitbit for its battery level and alerts you to charge it when it’s low. It also reminds you to sync your Fitbit when your data hasn’t been updated in a while.
  • DriveBit: a simple app that lets you log your driving times. Given that Fitbit’s main errors come when driving, this should allow you to remove those inaccurately added steps and floors from your daily total.
  • FitTap: an NFC Fitbit task launcher that uses tags to log your most frequent activities such as a jog, a drive, or drinking a bottle of water.

Compromises and Novelty

For the past month that I have been using Fitbit, it has become a part of my daily life. I love checking the app’s Dashboard regularly, or clicking the device’s button to see my progress, and I actively try to move more to improve my stats. Along with a healthy diet, I’ve shed about 6Kgs (about 13 pounds) and I plan to lose more. Fitbit has made me more aware of my activity level, and that’s a big step forward for someone whose job involves highly active but also highly sedentary days.

Sure, both the tracker and the apps aren’t without their compromises, but they are still being updated and improved — yes, the tracker itself can receive software updates via the accompanying PC or Mac app. Eventually, you can decide to join the quantified self movement now, and accept that you’re making some concessions here and there, or you can decide to wait until the novelty factor wanes out and only the best companies/services remain with most of the issues ironed out. I decided to join, what about you?


Summary

Fitbit wirelessly syncs the data collected by the Fitbit gadgets (One, Zip, Flex, Ultra) and lets you track your steps, stairs, sleep, and food and water consumption. Compromises aside, you're getting a detailed report on your daily activity and joining the new "quantified self" generation.

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