1. Fitbit Flex
Best for Beginners Award:
Not only does the Fitbit Flex cover all the basics like counting steps taken, calories burned, and sleep patterns, it's also waterproof, includes a silent alarm, and has a sleek minimalistic design. Vr2020 recommends the Fitbit Flex to our beginners and everyone just starting down the path to health-tracking.
Founded in 2007, Fitbit was one of the early leaders in wireless fitness band technology. To date the company has released five different versions of fitness bands with various capabilities, the most recent being the Fitbit Flex, which was released in May of 2013.
The Fitbit Flex is a small and relatively simple device worn on the wrist of the user that tracks steps taken, calories burned, and sleep patterns. Aesthetically, it is relatively benign -- containing a base color and a small display of LED lights that track your progress throughout the day. It also comes with a silent alarm that will wake the wearer up by lightly vibrating.
The Flex is also waterproof and able to be worn while swimming for short periods of time, which is definitely a positive considering the vast majority of other fitness bands do not offer this functionality. With exercises that involve swimming, a good option for individuals that have joint or back pain issues, waterproof fitness band devices are an excellent option that allows the user to still quantify their routines and get the most out of their fitness band device while in the water.
Lack of altimeter: Previous iterations of Fitbit's fitness band offerings contained an altimeter -- an instrument that measures the altitude of an object above a fixed point. The lack of an altimeter in the Flex means that individuals who do a lot of their exercise when hiking and/or running stairs will miss a core chunk of their personal data being chronicled. Much like other devices that aren't waterproof (the Flex is, which makes it good for swimmers), the lack of an altimeter means that hiking and/or vertical exercisers should be wary of picking up the Flex. If you require an altimeter in your fitness band, the Fitbit Flex is not for you.
Inefficient Data: Another downside to the Flex is ironically one of its upsides. Worn on the wrist of the user, the Fitbit Flex is comfortable and doesn't interfere with any daily routines or become uncomfortable like the BodyMedia FIT LINK does while sleeping. This comes with a cost however, as the Flex has a tendency to count steps when going through your daily routine—whether it's bringing a fork to your mouth to eat, washing dishes, playing guitar or any other number of normally mundane actions completed with the arm you have the device on, the Flex has a tendency to count those actions as steps. Furthermore, when riding a bike or completing an exercise that has a lock of hand/arm movement, the Flex will undercount steps. This is an issue that plagues a lot of wrist-worn fitness bands (i.e. it's not unique to the Flex), but it appears that Flex users complain about this more often than other fitness band users.
Proprietary Charger: A lot of devices around your home today can be charged with a USB cable, which makes replacing them fairly easy considering the widespread use of USB cables for a variety of uses. However, the Fitbit Flex comes with an autonomous charger that can only be used with the Flex—in other words, if the charger is misplaced you will have to purchase a replacement from Fitbit or a supplier that has inventory of one. The charger costs $20, which isn't a huge outlay, but the inconvenience is definitely something to keep in mind if you are traveling with the charger. The plus side to all of this is that the Fitbit Flex only requires charging about once every five days or so (this varies per user of course), which means that the chance you misplace your charger is minimal considering it wouldn't be required for you to bring it on short weekend trips.
Fixes and Advice:
In regards to the lack of an altimeter in the new version of the Flex-- there is no real fix as the device does not come with an altimeter. Users can manually estimate any data related to altitude themselves and add it to their totals, but this approach essentially defeats the purpose of using a fitness band as the most appealing feature is simplicity and ease of use.
For the inefficiency of data being reported to the Flex, your best option is to build this into your end of day totals and recognize that the amount of steps you've taken each day is going to be overcounted. Simply enter an estimate in manually and you'll be better off. If users know they will be sedentary for awhile and wish to avoid counting "false" steps, taking off the band and putting it back on when you start moving around again is an option.
The proprietary charger is another issue without a fast and true fix. Our recommendation is to avoid taking the charger on short trips or removing it from your home unnecessarily in order to reduce the risk of losing it. As stated above, the battery charge on the Flex is pretty darn good and does not require constant charging. Make sure you have a full charge before you leave your house a couple days and you should be fine. If you lose the charger, buying a replacement is your only option.
2. Nike+ FuelBand
Best Online Community Award:
There has always been a strong community of Nike supporters, so naturally it would make sense that the Nike+ FuelBand would have a strong online community. By gamifying the process – including trophies and awards – and discouraging any cheaters by having all data entered automatically, The Nike+ Fueldband earns our Best Online Community Award for this report.
Anytime a big-name brand with a variety of products has a product that competes with smaller companies whose focus is on that specific market a couple of things usually happen. In general, the product produced by the big-name brand isn't trying to revolutionize the sphere with their product. They're going to leverage their existing customer base, package it as a tie-in to some existing products, rely on their marketing prowess, and deliver a squeaky clean user experience right out of the gate. It's going to be simple, fun to use, and effective—however, it usually isn't a game-changer. This isn't always the case of course, but it's something that consumers should always keep in mind when looking at what works best for them and their needs.
It's fair to say the Nike+ Fuelband fits this bill. The fitness band is a sleek and smooth experience that doesn't take many chances but also doesn't make many mistakes. Worn on the wrist, the Fuelband tracks physical activity, daily steps taken, and the amount of calories that were burned per day. It doesn't come close to hitting hardcore metrics that the FIT LINK does (to be fair most fitness bands don't either—the Fuelband is hardly unique in that aspect), but it also misses out on some fairly basic features of other fitness bands like sleep-monitoring.
What the Fuelband does right is in its delivery. The web and mobile based data presentation is simple and easy to understand, and the gamification of trophies, goals, and achievements does help users feel like they're not just on a deserted island working out by themselves. The community surrounding Nike's various Nike+ properties is a rich and vibrant one, which makes acquiring NikeFuel points to see how you compare to other users a rewarding experience, especially if you have trouble finding motivation to work it. It's a simple approach, but having your totals out there for the world to see does make an impact and help you find the motivation within yourself to maybe take that extra jog around the block.
The Fuelband is sleek and a breeze to use, this much is undeniable. For the casual fitness user or someone who is making a renewed effort to get in shape, the Fuelband is a perfect entry-level fitness band that will motivate you to work out. However, it does have its issues that hold it back from being one of the top fitness bands on the market and shouldn't be considered a fitness accessory for the hard-core exercise aficionado.
Inefficient Data: Stop us if you've heard this one before—a wrist based fitness band has trouble consistently tracking data. Whether it's over-counting basic everyday activities or not counting big things that matter (like bike riding, where wrist movement is limited), the Fuelband can sometimes act like a glorified pedometer when it comes to certain activities. If you're a hardcore athlete we recommend you stay away from the Fuelband as the level of detail you receive on steps taken as well as calories burned has a pretty wide margin of error. For those who are just trying to get and stay in shape, recognize what activities you plan on doing the most before diving into a purchase. If you're going to be biking a lot, the Fuelband certainly is not for you.
No Manual Data Entry: When inefficient data is present, sometimes a manual correction is necessary. Unfortunately, the Fuelband nor its app allows users to go in and manually add workout sessions to their totals. As we've explained above, things that don't require a lot of wrist movement are undercounted (bike riding) while non-physical activities that do contain wrist movement have a tendency to be overcounted (vigorously brushing teeth). No manual data entry option is a big drawback with this; however, it should be noted that a possible reason Nike made this decision (it makes sense if this is in fact the case) is due to the fact that so much of their Fuelband experience is built around games, achievements, and leaderboards with others. Allowing users to enter in manual data would skew the public data to make it nearly unusable and remove a major selling feature of the device.
Still, for those users who wouldn't cheat to climb the online leaderboard and realize the purpose of the Fuelband is to get you in shape (we hope that's everyone, but alas…), not having a manual entry option is a real downside that can't be ignored.
No Sleep Features: Unlike a lot of other fitness bands, the Nike Fuelband doesn't have any features associated with sleeping. Whether that's telling you how well you're sleeping, if you're getting enough hours sleep, or if your quality of sleep can be improved, the Fuelband is conspicuously lacking a fairly simple feature that numerous other fitness bands have developed. Furthermore, the Fuelband does not have a silent alarm like the Flex and UP, a common feature of the wrist-worn fitness band that a lot of device users enjoyed.
Fixes and Advice:
The main user issues with the Fuelband are missing product features and not hardware or software issues. By and large the Fuelband functions exactly as it was intended. In other words, if you're content with a simple experience that gives you a extra motivation to work out and start quantifying your daily routines, the Fuelband is a fine choice that isn't going to give you many headaches. As we've stressed throughout our write-up however, the Fuelband certainly isn't going to be for everyone as the missing product features do put a damper on a device that avoids the day-to-day troubleshooting other fitness bands may require.
3. Jawbone UP
Although Jawbone made a serious effort to improve (and make up for) the disappointing original release of their fitness band, and succeeds in many ways where the original did not, the Jawbone still continues to frustrate user. From battery troubles to annoying quirks during the data upload process, Vr2020 users have found the UP to still be more frustrating than anything else – which is why the Jawbone UP has been deemed the Most Frustrating of this group.
Jawbone's history in the fitness band market is one filled with a gigantic pothole that some felt could have sunk the company. Jawbone, a company primarily known for its high-end Bluetooth headsets, first entered the fitness band market with a previous iteration of the UP in 2011. Disaster struck quickly however—major issues with the battery were observed by a plethora of users, as the battery capacity dropped significantly from 10 days to 3 days following the device being charged a couple times. Furthermore, some users even experienced a complete failure of the device within one month of using it, which made the device unusable in any form without a fix. In response, Jawbone offered a no-questions asked refund guarantee for users.
After going back to the drawing board and implementing new testing processes to ensure a reliable product, the new Jawbone was released. Numerous improvements with the device have been implemented that vastly improve on the largely disastrous first version that experienced massive recalls -- including seamless integration with their mobile apps, an improved pedometer for tracking movements, sleep tracking, one of the best battery lifes amongst all fitness bands, and a sleek and simple silent alarm clock that is similar to the Fitbit Flex's feature.
But although the device has largely avoided the major issues that plagued the first version, such as a widespread number of devices becoming unusable, some major issues with the device remain.
Battery Issues: Following the controversy following the first Jawbone UP fitness band device that caused a large number of users seeing their device fail before their eyes and become unusable, user reports of this iteration experiencing the same issues have begun to make headway. These reports aren't as widespread as they were with the first product which is a positive and shows Jawbone clearly made a concerted effort to improve their device, but the prevalence of these reports are clearly a huge cause for concern (considering a wrist-based fitness band device that doesn't work at all is just a $100+ Livestrong band). The issue of a complete battery drain commonly crops up around the three-month mark -- the battery going from working perfectly (10 days per charge) to completely going down the drain (1/2 day charge in best case scenarios). Again, it should be noted that this issue isn't as common as the first version of Jawbone UP—there isn't as widespread of an issue with devices across the board. But considering there are still a substantial amount of users who have reported this problem, consumers interested in purchasing a Jawbone UP should be cognizant of the fact that the device is prone to experiencing the same issues as the first version.
Syncing Issues: Unlike a lot of other fitness trackers, Jawbone UP does not have Bluetooth capability installed which means that there is no automatic syncing process that takes the data from your band and puts it on either the app or the web for you to look at. This lack of a Bluetooth sync feature is especially frustrating following a workout. At this point in the process you are theoretically most engaged with the UP and ready to see where your metrics are, but the lack of an automatic sync means you either have to wait until you get home or bring around the sync cord with you to get automatic access to your data.
Another downside to the sync is the fact that it sometimes will take multiple attempts to sync properly. Jawbone recommends you do not bend your UP during the syncing process and it's wise for users to take that advice to heart—an ever so slight bend of the UP during the process can cause a "Sync Failed" message to appear, and sometimes even making sure the band is completely flat can cause a sync failure. Syncing eventually works itself out over time, but with some users reporting 4-7 failures before a successful sync, this is an issue that can cause some headaches.
Proprietary Charger: Similar to the Fitbit Flex, the Jawbone UP's charging cable is completely unique and cannot be used with any other device. Like the Flex, a normally functioning UP usually has a pretty good battery life that makes taking it on weekend trips a non-necessity, but be careful whenever you take it out of the house because losing it will leave you needing to purchase a replacement.
Fixes and Advice:
If you are dealing with a non-functioning device or one that isn't holding a battery charge for a sufficient amount of time, your first option is to call Jawbone customer service and seek a refund. There have been various reports from users who have either gotten a full refund for their product or, at the very least, received a replacement device. Jawbone's customer service team should be aware of the battery issues with the device considering the last three years have exposed them to dealing with customers with similar issues.
Another option if your UP battery dies is counting and entering your data into the app manually—the app obviously works best with a functioning device (it was built for it after all), but if you are diligent about recording and tracking your movements the Jawbone UP app is one of the better mobile fitness apps available. Obviously this is a worst-case scenario, but it's the only real workable option you have if your Jawbone UP goes the way of the dinosaurs.
In order to ensure a successful sync, make sure the UP band is completely unbent and layed out flat when in the process of syncing. This is the number one issue users encounter when syncing their device. Furthermore, make sure no lint is present in your headphone jack as even the smallest amount can cause the syncing process to fail. Another common issue that is easily fixable is the volume on the device you are syncing with your device—anything set at a low volume has a higher tendency to fail. Ensuring that the volume is turned all the way up on your device alleviates the syncing issues.
4. Basis B1
Best Overall Award
Working to provide a product that looks good that also goes a step beyond other fitness bands, we at Vr2020 have given the Basis B1 the award for Best Overall. By giving you advice on what you could be doing better to improve, the Basis B1 has proved to be the best of the best of today's fitness bands.
The Basis B1 fitness band contains a host of features that surpass and expand upon the general step counting and calorie-burning metrics found amongst the majority of fitness bands on the market today. The basic Basis B1 a simple watch-looking device worn on the wrist of the user throughout the day. For users who feel that the basic band lacks aesthetic appeal and want fashion to coincide with fitness, Basis has worked (and continues to work) with artists to develop watches that look much more like accessories. Basis' website says that these bands are being offered on a limited basis, but as of this report, all versions of the band are in stock and available to purchase.
Many users and critics have called wrist-based fitness bands "glorified pedometers", and while that may be simplifying the point a bit and ignoring the fact that nearly every fitness band found in this report does provide extra motivation to work out (which should be the end goal of any device), the Basis B1 does go multiple steps beyond the Fitbit Flex, Nike+ Fuelband, and Jawbone UP to deliver an experience that not only tracks what you do but tells you what you should/could be doing. The device and its web/mobile apps give you goals to meet which include but are not limited to exercise thresholds, sleep achievements, and everyday positive habits like avoiding staying sedentary for extended periods of time as well as getting up for short brief exercises throughout the day like morning, afternoon and night.
Much like the BodyMedia FIT LINK (which is covered below), the Basis B1 is a cut above the rest of the competition and allows you to truly quantify your life in ways that extend beyond basic data tracking. The B1 does the majority of what you'd expect out of a fitness band like counting steps, but adds onto that by boasting features such as your heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration. These detailed metrics give you a much better idea of where your personal fitness level is at and ensure that the inconsistent data issues plaguing other fitness bands are not an issue.
Heart Rate Data When Exercising: When exercising, the Basis B1's heart rate measurements are often delayed, inconsistent, or do not reflect what your current heart rate is. It appears that some users originally thought the Basis B1 provided real-time heart rate analysis – a feature that obviously would come in very handy during workouts, but a feature that the B1 does not actually possess. It should be noted however (and this is important), that the team at Basis has a page on their website published in November of 2012 that explains the device does not offer "consistent real-time coverage for heart rate training…you'd expect from a traditional chest-strap heart rate monitor", "continuous precision tracking needed for medical-type uses", and "traditional heart rate training functionality such as heart-rate zones, GPS or lap interval times".
In other words, while this lack of a feature is something that is clearly disappointing for some users, it's hard for us to label this a design flaw or a device feature that does not work as intended—Basis acknowledged that the B1 would not have a "traditional" heart rate tracking system when they launched the product. If you are looking for a constant and traditional heart-rate monitor to be a key feature of your fitness band then the Basis B1 is not for you; if you are content with gleaning insight from your heart rate on a level that is more in-depth than the majority of fitness bands, you will be fine with the Basis B1.
Uncomfortable on wrist: Some users report that the Basis B1 is tight on their wrist, providing a level of discomfort that varies depending upon the user. It appears to be something that users can get used to over time (especially if they're used to wearing a watch), but keep in mind that the Basis at this point in time can become slightly uncomfortable to wear 24/7. The flip-side to this is that the Basis' powerful sensors that track heart rate, perspiration levels, and skin temperature are located on the bottom of the watch close to your skin. Since these sensors are what delivers your personal data, keeping the watch snug on your wrist is what allows you to reap the benefits.
No food entry system: Another downside to the Basis B1 is that the website and mobile apps which display your habits, achievements, and personal data do not have a caloric intake tracker where you can input your food. Considering the very well-rounded nature of the Basis B1 this could be considered an oversight, although the choice not to include something as simple as a food tracker is likely a design choice made by the product team to keep their product slimmer and less bogged down by resources they feel their users would not use. If you are looking for a one-stop shop to see your caloric intake as well as fitness levels, the Basis B1 is not for you.
Fixes and Advice:
As mentioned above, the B1's heart-rate monitor is not designed to be an up-to-the-minute heart rate tracking device and will not be a replacement for traditional devices that do so.
If you are experiencing discomfort on your wrist with the B1, loosening the strap one notch is your only solution. However, make sure that the sensors located at the bottom of the watch face are able to do your job and read your levels properly—loosening the device too much will present issues in how your data is collected and analyzed. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to experiencing discomfort from snug-fitting watches, the Basis B1 is not for you.
The only workaround for a lack of a food entry system is to either get an app that you use exclusively for food tracking or set up a personal Excel spreadsheet on your own. As of this time the Basis B1 does not offer a caloric intake tracker on either their website or mobile apps, meaning users who are extremely interested in tracking their food will have to use the B1 and a separate program to get a full and complete look at their daily lives.
5. BodyMedia FIT LINK
Most Comprehensive Data Award:
A bit different from other bands (recommended to be worn around the arm, rather than the wrist), the BodyMedia FIT LINK breaks away from the pack to win Vr2020's Most Comprehensive Data Award. Giving users detailed charts and graphs of analyzed data (from skin temperature to sleep cycles), the BodyMedia FIT LINK has taken personal fitness data to the next level for fitness junkies around the world.
Used by contestants on The Biggest Loser, an NBC reality show that takes a group of obese contestants and pairs them with personal trainers to lose as much weight as possible, the BodyMedia FIT LINK is one of the most advanced fitness bands on the market today. It is recommended to be worn around the arm and differs from other competitors' fitness bands that are worn around the wrist or attached to your pants.
While some fitness bands will count steps or other fairly rudimentary metrics related to weight loss, the BodyMedia FIT LINK is able to measure things like surface temperature of the skin, how quickly (and how much) heat is dissipating from the body, and how much motion the individual goes through each day, and sleep cycles in order to estimate the amount of calories burned. Paired with the online website and/or mobile app, which presents the data to the user in charts and graphs, individuals are able to truly quantify their exercise and activity levels.
Furthermore, unlike some other fitness bands on the market, the BodyMedia FIT LINK's online and mobile presence allows users to input their daily food intake as well. These features generate a consistent and comprehensive look at the individual's body health, making setting goals a simpler experience than the majority of the competing bands.
Water-Resistant, Not Waterproof: Unlike some other fitness bands, the BodyMedia FIT LINK band cannot be used when it comes in constant contact with water. This is not an issue when going through a particularly strenuous workout (i.e. the fitness band can handle sweat), running in the rain, or with accidentally spilling water on your device.
However, you are not able to use this band in the pool or other situations where water contact is constant. Considering the fact that swimming and other exercises dealing with water are becoming more prevalent amongst exercise aficionados due to those exercises having a low-impact effect on the knees and back, the fact that BodyMedia FIT LINK is able to track every exercise besides swimming is disappointing and makes it a non-starter for individuals who will be using those types of exercises.
Data Subscription: Outside of purchasing the fitness band outright, BodyMedia FIT LINK also requires you to access your data from the web and/or a mobile phone application. However, following a free introductory trial that comes along with the purchase of any new BodyMedia FIT LINK, users are required to pay a nominal monthly fee to continue to access their data. It should be noted that the data you are able to access (which includes inputting what you ate) is extremely valuable for many users; however, the monthly subscription fee is undoubtedly a downside to a device that users have already paid for. Furthermore, without the online and/or mobile application subscription, the BodyMedia FIT LINK is significantly less effective at helping to track your fitness levels.
Uncomfortable To Sleep With: In order for the BodyMedia FIT LINK to work as well as possible, it's suggested that users wear it when they are sleeping in order to track how much sleep they are getting and how well they are sleeping. This is a core component of a healthy lifestyle and can make the difference for a large amount of individuals. The BodyMedia FIT LINK's recommended placement around the upper arm can be uncomfortable when sleeping according to FixYa users however, making this aspect of the band slightly cumbersome.
Fixes and Advice:
If you're going to get the BodyMedia FIT LINK be prepared to pay a monthly charge. This is something that doesn't have a workaround as all of the data presented to you that makes the FitLink so powerful and useful will require you to pay a subscription fee for. When purchasing your FitLink, shop around-- some users have reported Costco selling the BodyMedia FIT LINK with a 12-month subscription in their area, while other online deals can also extend the amount of time you have with the device before you begin to pay the subscription fee. If you want to avoid these types of fees altogether the FitLink probably isn't for you, but it should be noted that the data that comes along with your subscription is very useful and NOT a case of a company taking advantage of their customers.
If the FitLink is becoming uncomfortable when you sleep, wearing a sweatshirt or wrapping your arm in a towel is an option-- the most uncomfortable part of sleeping with the FIT LINK is usually when you roll over onto it while sleeping and the band presses it into your skin. If any of those quick fixes don't work and the FitLink continues to affect your sleep the best route is probably going to be to take it off every night before you go to bed. The data gleaned from your sleep is important as it provides you a much more detailed measure of your sleeping patterns, but struggling with it and not getting a good night's sleep because you're trying to measure your sleeping patterns is obviously counterintuitive. A better night's sleep is what you're aiming for.