Juha Saarinen

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Review: Fitbit activity tracker

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The Fitbit is a nifty device to track your daily activity. Photo / Supplied
The Fitbit is a nifty device to track your daily activity. Photo / Supplied

Measuring physical activity or the lack thereof through a device is not new but much more interesting thanks to electronics and the internet.

Fitbit One is such a device, an electronic pedometer that can be used to collect data how active you are every day. It is wireless, using Bluetooth for communication, and features an accelerometer to detect movement and an altimeter for heights, all of which is logged to a website for record keeping and if you wish, to share with others.

You get four bits and pieces for $159. This includes the Fitbit device, a sturdy sleeve for it so you can clip it onto your clothes, a USB cable and a Bluetooth USB module so the activity tracker can sync with your computer and the website.

Apple iDevice users can skip the computer and sync Fitbit directly with their devices. Android people need to do it over Wi-Fi however, as Fitbit uses the new, low-power Bluetooth protocol.

The Fitbit itself is small and unobtrusive, about the size of a child's thumb. It has bright, easy to read display that shows time, alarm if set, day, steps taken, stairs climbed, distance, walked, calories burned, and a flower that grows longer with more leaves on the stem as your physical activity increases. You also see encouraging messages, like MOVE IT, every now and then.

There are also other accessories such as wireless scales that measure weight and body fat, and log the data to the website.

All in all, getting going with Fitbit and the bundled software for Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X is no drama. The little devices charges quickly over USB and lasts for well over a week, counting your moves diligently.

The website the website offers a very comprehensive range of things to record, ranging from steps and distance counted and sleeping time to measurements not recorded by the Fitbit such as different physical activities, food eaten, blood pressure, weight, and glucose levels.

There are "badges" that you get when you reach certain goals like 10,000 steps a day and a weekly emailed report to encourage you to do more.

Bits that don't quite fit

Fitbit as an activity system is somewhat clumsy however. Don't lose any of the different Fit bits, because you can't yet buy replacements.

Second, the device can't be with you at all times like when you hop in the shower which is a must for accurate results.

While the clip works well if you're wearing trousers and t-shirt it's not really suitable for other clothing. If you're a woman wearing a dress (or a man for that matter) there's nowhere really to clip on the Fitbit.

The most annoying shortcoming of Fitbit is the software however. None of the Fitbit data is kept locally on your computer so you have to use the very US-centric website.

This uses mostly Imperial measurements, not metric ones, and American foods (although you can add your own ones too).

It's not that hard to convert between calories and Joules yourself, or fluid ounces and millilitres but that's what software should do for you. I was also a bit miffed at being asked to pay another $95 for a premium upgrade to see reports on my Fitbit-recorded activity, but you do get training plans and other things for that money.

One interesting measurement taken by the Fitbit is the amount of time spent sleeping and how many times you wake up at night.

For obvious reasons, it's impossible to tell how accurate that is, but one morning I woke up and the website told me I'd slept for over fourteen hours having got up 37 times at night. I'm pretty sure I didn't have a long, somnambulant spell of sleep like that, however.

The black wrist sleeve that you wear the Fitbit in at night so it can time your sleep is also liable to elicit less than favourable comment from your bed partner.

That said the sleeve is great for the vibrating alarm on the Fitbit, which is just enough to wake you up without disturbing anyone else.

If it makes you fit

Even with the above flaws, if Fitbit gets you off your fat butt it's arguably the best $159 anyone could spend. I got bored of entering things on the website after two weeks, but Fitbit pushed me to get out of my office chair and get going. In other words, Fitbit works as advertised.

With a few improvements, like water-proofing the device and being able to wear it all the time and most importantly, sorting out the website, Fitbit would be easy to recommend without hesitation. For now however you need to weigh up how much some of the more significant cons are likely to annoy you.

Rating: 3/5 - would be 4/5 with a better website.

Further info: Click here.

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