The Vr2020 2015 Fitness Band Report covers common issues and their solutions from popular wearable manufacturers Fitbit, Nike, Jawbone, and Basis, delivering users a unique look into the state of the industry and the common problems associated with the most highly sought-after fitness bands on the market today. Overall, our report discovered consistent problems across all manufacturers with their feature sets and product execution. However, we also found that each individual brand had varying severity of their common problems, as well as unique and specific issues with their products that could not be found with their competitors.
The wearables industry has rapidly increased in size over the past five years, with more and more individuals using fitness bands as a way to stay on top of their health and reach fitness goals in an easy and convenient way. With a wide variety of product offerings that provide consumers with what may appear to be small, but prove to be significant, differences in their experience, making the right choice in buying your next fitness band is essential. Picking one that works for your needs could be the difference between reaching your fitness goals and coming up short.
Which is where we come in.
Drawing from our unique and proprietary data found on Vr2020, as well as the Vr2020 Fixboard which provides unique actionable insight on today's top wearables, we will cover some of the the most common issues and solutions that each company has with their fitness bands and give you the tools to find a solution.
Let's get started.
Nike Fuelband Synopsis:
Nike entered the wearables market with a bang in 2012, leveraging its brand-name and vast marketing prowess to provide a seemingly large challenge for its competitors in the market. However, after some less than desirable sales figures and a few hiccups along the way, Nike effectively pulled the plug on the device and gave every indication that it wouldn't be creating a next-gen version of the Fuelband any time soon (if ever again).
Where Nike goes from here is anybody's guess. But existing (as well as new) users can still get value from the Fuelband, as it still provides a solid experience overall.
What the Fuelband does right is in its delivery. The fitness band is a sleek and smooth experience that doesn't take many chances but also doesn't make many mistakes. 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.
In essence, 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.
In addition, users should be aware that Nike's support of the Fuelband is going to continue to wane as the months move forward. With no plans to release a new version anytime soon, and the community as a whole starting to stagnate due to a lack of employees working on the product, any prospective consumer looking to dive into the wearables market should be aware of the potential support limitations moving forward.
Let's take a look at the common problems with the Nike Fuelband below.
Common Problems & Solutions with Nike Fitness Bands:
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.
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 Fitbit and Jawbone, a common feature of the wrist-worn fitness band that a lot of device users enjoyed.
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 under counted (bike riding) while non-physical activities that do contain wrist movement have a tendency to be over counted (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.
Basis has made itself a nice little niche in the wearable fitness band market by focusing on data and analytics. Although its competitors have made headway in this area to compete, Basis still has an upper hand in this sector of the market and looks like it will continue to focus on this value proposition as their devices progress forward.
Their current offerings certainly deliver in this area.
The Basis 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 Basis a simple watch-looking device worn on the wrist of the user throughout the day.
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 does go multiple steps beyond Fitbit, Nike, and Jawbone 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.
In other words, the Basis feels 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 Basis 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.
Common Problems & Solutions with Basis Fitness Bands:
Make no mistake, Basis' app offering is quite good. As we mentioned before in our synopsis of the product, Basis' data offerings are extremely nimble and well-versed. It's a definite competitive advantage the company has in the space, and one that has allowed them to carve out a niche that has put pressure on competitors to adapt and evolve.
However, a primary concern with the Basis app is the look and feel of the product. While this may not be a massive issue for some users, companies like Jawbone, Fitbit, and Nike offer a much sleeker and well-designed user experience when interacting with the data provided from their fitness band. And while this data may not be as robust as what Basis provides, this area is one where Basis can improve.
Data matters, but the presentation of the data (especially for casual to intermediate users) arguably matters just as much, if not more. Basis falls a little short in this area and that could potentially cause some concern for users who are looking for a sleek user experience to go along with their metric-based tracking.
Heart Rate Data
When exercising, the Basis' 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 provided real-time heart rate analysis - a feature that obviously would come in very handy during workouts, but a feature that Basis 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 their device 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 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' offerings.
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.
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.
Fitbit Fitness Bands
Founded in 2007, Fitbit was one of the early leaders in wireless fitness band technology. That long road in the game paid off in the public sector, with the company recently unveiling an IPO that now currently values the company at an $8.6 billion (yes, billion) market cap.
In a word, Fitbit's massive success on the public market definitely has shined a light on the fitness bands and wearables industry, and with Apple's entry into the smartwatch market, shows that wearables definitely have a place in the consumer market and could be a big player for years to come.
How Fitbit does it is by providing consumers with a small and relatively simple device worn on the wrist of the user. The device tracks steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, sleep patterns, and a wide variety of useful . 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.
All in all, Fitbit's the market leader in this sector. But even the market leader has some issues it has to deal with. Here is what they are.
Common Problems & Solutions with Fitbit Fitness Bands:
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 Fitbit 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 (including Fitbit's device) the lack of an altimeter means that hiking and/or vertical exercisers should be wary of picking up a Fitbit. If you require an altimeter in your fitness band, Fitbit is not for you.
In regards to the lack of an altimeter in the new version — 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.
A fairly significant issue for exercise aficionados is that the Fitbit isn't waterproof. Unlike some other fitness bands, the Fitbit 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 Fitbit 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.
Another downside to Fitbit's offering is ironically one of its upsides. Worn on the wrist of the user, the Fitbit is comfortable and doesn't interfere with any daily routines or become uncomfortable like other wearables can while going through your daily routine.
This comes with a cost however, as Fitbit 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. Fitbit 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, Fitbit will undercount steps. This is an issue that plagues a lot of wrist-worn fitness bands (i.e. it's not unique to Fitbit), but it appears that Fitbit users complain about this more often than other fitness band users.
For a market leader, this is really a potential issue that they should be aware of and working to improve on coming versions. They have made strides from previous iterations, but clearly need to focus on improving this aspect of their product for consumers as well.
Jawbone Fitness Bands
Jawbone Up Synopsis:
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 Blue-tooth headsets, first entered the fitness band market with a previous iteration of their device 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 lives 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.
Common Problems & Solutions with Jawbone Fitness Bands:
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.
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.
Although this isn't an uncommon lack of feature in the wearable market today, the lack of a screen from the Jawbone is a fairly significant issue for the company and its core product offerings moving forward. With more competitors directly and indirectly entering the wearable market, including marketing and hardware juggernaut Apple with their recent Apple Watch offering, the lack of a screen to check daily progress and see your statistics could hurt Jawbone's market share moving forward.
Although this is definitely a catch-22, as the simplicity and sleekness of Jawbone's device is a calling card that appeals to customers, a strategic decision by Jawbone to explore a screen (even a small offering) could be beneficial as they move on to their next release.
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.
In order to ensure a successful sync, make sure the UP band is completely unbent and laid 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.