Fitness tracking wristbands reviewed

David Pogue reviews two fitness armbands, the Nike Fuel Band and the Jawbone Up. He prefers the former, but appears impressed by neither.

The Nike band is polished and professional, it has that awesome screen and the wireless Bluetooth syncing is the way to go. This pony performs its trick brilliantly, but it’s still just one trick. The Up band is saddled by its goofy headphone-jack syncing method and rather weird software design.
I looked at these recently and came to the same conclusion: the wristband pedometers are great gadgets, but limited by bizarre software. Nike's, for example, wants you to focus on some weird "Nike Fuel" metric based on "oxygen kinetics"--even if it isn't bullshit, it couldn't look more like it.

So, even though I wanted a band, I instead bought the Fitbit One, a traditional 'clip on' model. I'm not ready to recommend it yet, as I'm just a few days into using it, but at under $100 it's cheaper than the other brands. It does come with a wristband into which it can be slotted, but the band is stretchy black gymwear and clearly not as pretty as the gadgets from Nike and Jawbone. The Fitbit One's wireless background sync works perfectly—the Jawbone wristband doesn't even have wireless, and must be taken off and plugged in!— and it's cool to be able to just jump into a smartphone app and see how long I've slept, how much I've eaten, and estimates of far I've walked and how many calories I've burned today.


  1. I bought a Fitbit back in May and have had it somewhere on my person (clipped on, in pocket) ever since.  Never did bother with the elastic band.  I use it to track steps and miles in my goal of 10,000 a day, more so than calories burned.  I’m leery of all software that calculates metabolic rates.  They tend to be ‘optimistic’, when I know I have to push pretty hard just to get my rate up to something these companies consider “normal”.  Really, it’s just a pretty good pedometer for me.  As for the goal of 10,000 – my average is 8200.  My feet went all ‘activist’ on me and successfully launched a protest, backed up by the ankles, so I caved and just take it day by day, doing the best I can.

  2. Anyone have any suggestions for similar activity tracking devices that do not have any sort of “social” or web component? I am not exactly comfortable with uploading this sort of information to the company’s servers. I’d rather have software on my computer that does the same exact thing as the web server, with the added benefit of retaining sole ownership of my own activity logs. 

  3. Had the Flex band, didn’t like it. Have been a UP band tester for the last month. I love the sleep tracking, and you can scan bar codes with your iPhone to enter nutritional information. Syncing it isn’t as hard as the reviewer makes it sound. I run about 20 miles a week and have found the UP to be about 15% more accurate than the Nike band. Just saying…

  4. Behold the power of bOINGbOING… when I started reading the post there were only two left in stock at the FitBit link above. When I clicked back to go ahead and buy, it’s out of stock.

  5. I was looking at a fitbit, but I’m not sure how accurate it is. I had a friend with one, and could wrack up 2000 calories burned just by making dinner, and wandering around the house when they forgot to take it off after a workout. 

    It does sync with Myfitnesspal, I hear, but there are some other issues there. I do find Myfitnesspal is one of the best online/app calorie counters, but if you get into the specifics, it gets a bit wonky. Plus, I don’t subscribe to “eating my exercise calories” because that’s not helping my goal, and Myfitnesspal automatically logs all exercise in as extra calories you can eat. 

    I’m still thinking about buying a fitbit, though. 

  6. I can’t see why you would bother going beyond the cheap and cheerful pedometers that you get in a cereal packet if all you are going to do is track number of steps walked.

    If you want to track stuff a bit more intelligently, then a GPS enabled watch is surely the way to go? This will give you distance over time, track your runs against georefs so you can see where on the route your are improving (uphill/downhill etc.) and what physical areas you might want to work on to improve performance.

    However, GPS is is not going to work indoors or on treadmills, so I guess these wristbands are targetting “gym bunnies” ? In which case, unless you are tracking metrics such as pace length, stepping rates etc. then I refer you back to the cereal packet pedometers.

    1. I like the Up’s silent alarm feature, and I like the idea of using it at the gym when my GPS tracker doesn’t work. Combine these two features and it becomes worth it.

  7. The UP band had been great for me. I train for triathlons, and the App allows me to track each work out, and I slap the GPS tracker on my iPhone and I know how far I ran, in how much time, and it’s been with a 10% margin of error. You can calibrate the band to your exact stride which has reduced the margin of error down to about 3-5%. I always get compliments on it too, and my Droid friends are all Jelly.

  8. The best motivator I’ve found for actually exercising is Gympact – an app that bills you for NOT going to the gym, and pays you FOR going to the gym. It’s not perfect, but it’s a clever idea that so far has worked pretty well at getting me off my couch.

    I might try one of these fitness trackers, but honestly I’m not sure what the value is of tracking “ordinary” activity because that level of activity has only succeeded in getting me to my current slightly-overweight state.

    1. Gympact sounds interesting. Just the fact that the UP App lords your low activity level over your head all day makes me want to exercise to get my activity level up into that of a sloth at least. Anytime I break the 10,000 step mark I get all happy and eat a little more guilt free at night.

  9. I’ve used BodyBugg from 24HourFitness off and on for a couple of years.  It’s got a pretty complicated setup and registration process but it does work rather well for accurately tracking your daily calorie expenditures.  It also connects via bluetooth to your iphone or android app.

    The included food diary in the app sucks so I log everything to SparkPeople first and just transfer over my daily fat, carbs, and protein totals.

  10. Oh yeah I forgot the smart alarm. It wakes you up in a lighter stage of your sleep cycle and let’s me start the day in a good mood, rather than being abruptly woken up by a blaring alarm clock out of a deep stage of REM. I noticed in the first week, I was waking up more refreshed and couldn’t figure out why!

  11. The stretchy band on the fitbit is really intended for the sleep tracking. I don’t use that part. I’m not sure it’s accurate when used for step counting.

    Wearing mine on my belt the step counter is very accurate. It’s really the only stat I pay attention to. I don’t do the sleep tracking, and don’t really look at the calorie counter either as it’s an estimate based on what you enter for your weight.

    When you connect with someone else in the social part the only thing they can see is your step count. Weight, sleep other items are private. I’ve found it pushes me a bit to see others ahead of me in steps so I do like the social aspects.

    The range on the wireless (I have the older original model, it won’t sync via bluetooth like the new one) is pretty good. It syncs as soon as I walk in my house. I’ve got it set to email me whenever the battery gets low so I remember to recharge it. Roughly every week and a half to 2 weeks it needs to be charged.

    I’m pretty happy with mine and like seeing the step counts on my phone every day.

  12. I bought a Fitbit and it didn’t work with my treadmill desk.   After about 5 emails back and forth they basically said it wasn’t meant to work when you’re going slow (in my case it seemed erroneous under 1.6mph or thereabouts).   They didn’t give a flying a fig.   Buyer beware.  Also, I tried to join a treadmill desk community to talk with others and they never approved my membership.  I swear, why is all of this so hard?  Sigh.  And yes, it was not feasible to keep taking the damn thing on and off again so I could add up treadmill vs. not treadmill.  I hop off too often.

  13. I got a Nike+ Fuelband for my birthday earlier this year and I quite like it.  I realize all it does is use an accelerometer to measure movement.  The “NikeFuel” points are pretty much nonsense and the calorie measurement even more so.  You enter your height, weight, and age and it magically calculates how many calories you burn.  Right.

    That being said, it does track my activity level.  It’s a fun little game to play.  I’ve set my goal at 3000 points per day.  If it looks like I’m running short for the day, I play the drums for a half hour or so.  That really racks up the points.

    1. While playing drums may be slightly aerobic, anything that moves your hands a lot is going to rack up Nike points, without necessarily representing any real work.  The fuel band will also register a lot of points on a long car drive, just because of bumps in the road.

      Props to Nike for design, though.  They have the coolest device and website of any of the trackers out there. The integrated USB connector on the fuel band is really a great idea.

  14. I considered the UP when it originally came out, but it got awful reviews–apparently quite a few didn’t work straight out of the box, and others suddenly stopped working; a number of people had to go through a few returns to get one that worked reliably. I wonder if they’ve improved quality since then.

    1. The reason it failed was because of a water leak.  It was supposed to be “shower proof” but they didn’t account for the impact of soap and all that other stuff people use in the shower. People who didn’t use it in the shower had no problems, but that diminishes part of the convenience of the device.  Like any corporation, they tried to play down the severity.  They eventually did offer refunds to everyone.who wanted it, and didn’t even ask for the device back.

      The new one has supposedly gone through millions of dollars of water-proofing and other kinds of durability testing.

  15. I purchased the Nike Fuelband. Seems like a cool gadget. It seems in a 2 hour workout combining an hour of cardio on a treadmill which is a fairly intense speed and inclines with an hour of weight exercises — I accumulate less fuel than about an hour of walking around and making supper….. so I am unimpressed with the fuelband. Looks cool to show off but deep down you will know it is a joke. To hit my 3000 mark I would need to stay working out for approx 4 hours. I have tested it for about 6 months now. was wearing it every single day.

  16. If you want to do the Maker thing, the TI Chronos watch is really cool.  It has an MSP430-compatible development environment, accelerometer, clock (duh), and a low-power radio link that can connect to a heart-rate sensor band so you can display and track your heart rate while exercising as well as connect back to a PC.  (No GPS, and the radio link isn’t Bluetooth, which burns way too much power for a wristwatch running on battery.)  They’re about $50 (occasionally discounted to $25), so if you want to use it for something like a sleep tracker it’s a lot cheaper than many of the alternatives.  

  17. I was using a FitBit until a few weeks ago when it snagged on my kitchen table and broke. I found it to be somewhat useful as a motivator, especially for taking stairs instead of the elevator. However, its performance as a pedometer is mixed. It does a reasonable job of measuring steps when you’re walking, but it’s TERRIBLE (and practically useless) at measuring steps when running. I know this because I compared the results of my calibrated Garmin GPS watch + Footpod against the FitBit. The FitBit consistently estimated my pace at around 120 steps per minute, compared to the correct pace of around 180 steps per minute. 

    I contacted the FitBit people about this and just got the standard “have you counted the number of steps you ran and compared it to the FitBit?” I did, in fact, count steps and I also described how the results compared to my Garmin watch, but they basically ignored that information.

    Incidentally, I’ve seen several similar reports about the FitBit’s performance for running, so I doubt this was associated with my particular device.

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