UPDATED! Fitness tech gadgets: My “road test” results

Up

I’ve updated this post based on my experience after it was published. See text in blue bold for updates.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeking ways to reinforce my motivation to meet health goals. This time of year, it’s all too easy not to be active enough due to long hours at work and colder weather outside.

So, after hearing about friends’ experiences using fitness devices, I decided to try a few myself:

All three devices worked as advertised for me, although there are some caveats potential buyers should be aware of…

Jawbone UP (pictured above):

PROS –

  • Easy to wear “bracelet” design
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Push button to change modes is easy to use and works well
  • Tracks activity (tracks steps when not in “active” mode)
  • Tracks sleep in a fairly granular manner. Comfortable to wear while sleeping. (It’s helped me understand why I’m so tired during the day… I don’t sleep very soundly at night.)

CONS –

  • First generation product with (an apparently) high failure rate. (More on this below.)
  • Only syncs with iPhone app (no joy for folks with other smartphones or even laptop users)
  • Surprisingly, doesn’t sync via bluetooth: User must connect UP to iPhone via headphone jack
  • iPhone sync process can be fussy: I find it works best if I restart my iPhone, open UP app, insert UP into headset jack, turn up headset volume, then initiate sync right away within UP app. (It really shouldn’t require such a precise process!)
  • Progress and metrics can only be viewed on iPhone app (not able to view metric tracking/dashboard on web site)
  • Food tracking is limited
  • Doesn’t automatically sync activity metrics with my favorite fitness/food journal app, Lose It!
  • Due to bracelet design, your arms must be swinging during exercise to accurately register activity (not happy news for bikers!)

UP

Caveats:
The Jawbone UP’s early failure rate almost dissuaded me from purchasing this product. Even so, I bought at my Apple Store, taking care to keep the package and receipt *just in case*. And the failure rates are not just anonymous metrics — I know someone who is on his third Jawbone UP — the 1st two failed.

With so many reports of early hardware failure, I’m not sure I’d give it as a gift until Jawbone comes out with UP v.2

UPDATED: A big con arose for me… it completely stopped syncing. No matter what I did, it would not sync. I finally wound up returning it to Apple (where I bought it) as defective.

Fitbit

Fitbit Ultra:

 

PROS –

  • Syncs wirelessly (dock connected via USB to your laptop)
  • Comes with seemingly handy plastic clip to connect to your clothing. (More on this below.)
  • Tracks activity and sleep
  • Offers detailed online dashboard at fitbit.com
  • Offers an iPhone app, as well as a mobile web site for other smartphones

UPDATE: I decided to keep the Fitbit after the UP stopped syncing. Based on the variety of tracking devices available on the market, Fitbit is among the best. I wrapped the Fitbit “holster” in electrical tape to make it less slippery (less likely to slide off my belt), and added a layer of electrical tape inside the holster to add friction (make it less likely the device itself would slide out on its own).

CONS –

  • Sleep tracking requires inserting device into cloth wristband (I found this a little uncomfortable)
  • Sleep tracking is not as granular as Jawbone UP
  • Integrates with Lose It! mobile app but in a confusing way. (More on this below.)
  • SUPER easy to lose! It’s flown off my belt several times.
  • Fitbit iPhone app is okay but not as granular as I’d like

Caveats:
The plastic clip is slippery! It’s far too easy to lose the Fitbit Ultra (and at $99, you don’t want to risk losing it!). Integrates with Lose It! app but only populates Lose It’s exercise metrics if you burn a certain number of calories (hey, I want credit for all activity, as a motivator to be even more active!).

If you buy a Fitbit Ultra, be sure to find a way to affix it to your clothing so that it won’t fly off.

Withings

Withings Scale:

PROS –

  • Super easy to use… just weigh yourself and your weight is automatically synced to your my.withings.com dashboard
  • Easy to set up: Insert batteries, then connect scale to your computer via USB to complete set up (including enabling WIFI sync).
  • User can enable integration with Lose It! app and Fitbit dashboard.
  • Offers multiple mobile apps (WiScale app for iPhone and Withings app for Android).

CONS –

  • Expensive at $159 (see Amazon page for product details & reviews).

Caveats:
Aside from cost, no caveats I can think of. Does what it promises.

Loseit

Special mention: Lose It! fitness / food journal app

I first started using Lose It! a few years ago on my iPhone and missed it terribly when I moved to an android phone.

I love its robust food database and how easy it is to update and review my food and activity metrics.

However, since then, a Lose It! Android app has been released. Glad to see this great app available for more phones!

UPDATE to add another special mention: F.lux. It’s software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and jailbroken iOS devices. It automatically adjusts your screen brightness by time of day. If you use your computer before bedtime, it’s a must have… I installed it yesterday and noticed a big difference in how soundly I slept last night.

So what combination works best for me?

I’m still using the Jawbone UP and Withings scale with Lose It! iPhone app and web site dashboard:

  • I manually add activity tracked on the UP into Lose It!
  • Since I have Lose It! linked to my Withings scale, my weight is automatically posted to my LoseIt! account.
  • I monitor my sleep metrics via the UP iPhone app.

Both the UP bracelet and Withings scale have been a good fit for me, offering motivation while not requiring a lot of effort or workarounds.

  • I found the Fitbit Ultra works well but wasn’t practical for me because it kept coming off my belt — I decided it would be too easy to lose. (UPDATED: Fixed this with some electrical tape)
  • I recommend Jawbone UP with some reservation. It does what it does well, but seems prone to early hardware failure based on user reports. (UPDATED: And my UP failed as well. Great device, disappointing quality issues.)
  • I recommend Withings scale without reservation.
  • You can’t go wrong with the Lose It! app for iPhone and android!
  • UPDATED: F.lux is a must have, as well!
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5 responses to “UPDATED! Fitness tech gadgets: My “road test” results

  1. Thanks, Karen. I had wondered, particularly, about the Jawbone UP, and how well that worked. The comments here are helpful. I’ve been thinking that now that I can again walk short distances, with slow recovery with my broken leg, that I’d like to set some goals for longer distances, continuing to extend what my leg can do. For a techie, having some technology like this I think would give added incentive 🙂

  2. Discovered that neither FitBit nor Jawbone UP ship outside the US!

  3. Not totally true. I got mine in Canada. Apple store has it.

  4. I have a withings and i agree. It is brilliant. I bought a fitbit but returned it because i took a course of measured steps and it says i took 2-3 times as many steps. With every step it did not go up 1 at a time it would jump up 3-5 or more at a time. Not to accuracy i was wanting. Withings also has a bp cuff the works with the scale. Outstanding product line and combination. Digifits makes an app to use ant+ heart rate monitors. Great. Will sync with scale and bp data. Also sync with zeos sleep monitor i highly recommend. Just wish it would sync with lose it ;( as well. But in the end thats like complaining that my free golden spoon is 18k and not 24k. Love that withings can have several users. I just Wish you could see multiple peope at one time ( husband and wife competeing 🙂 )

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