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Nov 17, 2013 | A week with the Fitbit Force

Ever since I learned about the Quantified Self movement and some of my early work around commitment devices I have been interested in actually owning one of these new-fangled data-tracking devices. About a week ago when I was in the United States I grabbed a Fitbit Force at a BestBuy that had just stocked them, and decided to give it a thorough test.

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The good parts

The Fitbit is worn like a watch with a nice smooth clasping mechanism that makes sure nothing moves around much when you’re wearing it. The bright OLED display lights up when you press the one button available to the side, and it lets you know a variety of metrics like steps taken, active minutes, and flights of stairs taken. You can rearrange this order using the web-based GUI. It’ll also show time, which is much more accessible for me than taking out my phone. You sync your data with a small dongle that can pretty much stay permanently inserted into a USB port on your laptop or computer. The software that syncs the Fitbit also keeps it up to date with the latest software.

The battery is solid and I haven’t had to worry about the battery since I first fully charged it. The Force is definitely shower-proof. The Android app is simple and gives me a summary of my stats, though because I have the Nexus 4 apparently I can’t sync my data with my phone. Apparently the iPhone app will notify you of calls on the watch, which is another neat feature.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me what it was, which I think is a nice conversation starter.

The web-based UI is simple, though they ask you for an extra $50 a year if you want access to a more detailed dashboard. I tried the premium features but the UI looked rather unpolished and I couldn’t see anything particularly compelling to justify the price, so I’m staying with the free stuff I get for now. My primary interests are around the sleep metrics, and I think once I’ve amassed enough data to be able to get a decent “big picture” overview of my sleep, I might fork over the money to unlock the “aggregate data” views.

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The not-so-good parts

It’s a bit annoying to have to remember to turn the sleep tracker on by holding the button for 2 seconds right before going to sleep. Still, it’s a fairly minimal interaction required. The Fitbit silent alarm will turn off if you move a little bit while it’s going off, which is pretty much useless – I would never count on it to wake me up, but it’s a nice feature if you know you want to be interrupted by an alarm without letting other people around you know. The Fitbit also apparently doesn’t monitor flights of stairs going downwards, though I suspect the energy spent going down stairs is a fraction of the opposite direction.

It would be neat if it had a heart rate monitor or something cardio-related. Unless you’re super motivated, any information about food and water intake needs to be entered manually. I suspect there’s not much that can be done around that, but it just means I ignore those panels of information I get online.

Conclusion

For $129, I can hardly complain about a sleep wristwatch that tracks my sleep behavior as well as my daily activities. Having it on has definitely changed certain nuances of my behavior (for example, I’m more inclined to take stairs or walk more vigorously if it means increasing my “Active Minutes” count), and since I have yet to develop a regular sleep schedule I’m excited to see what conclusions I might be able to get about how to get the most out of my sleep. It definitely makes for a good Christmas gift, and even more so if you have one to show how it works.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 17th, 2013 at 6:26 pm, EST under the category of Articles. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.