Tag Archives: iphone

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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Hulu Plus: Now cheaper

hulu

I’ve used Hulu since it came out and love how it lets me catch up on recent episodes I’ve missed. However, it doesn’t help when I’ve found a show I like and want to catch up on a larger back catalogue of episodes:

  • Comcast pay per view sometimes only lists 4 – 5 recent episodes (like Hulu)
  • Often Netflix has the series available for streaming, but not every season
  • For seasons / episodes not available on Comcast pay per view or Netflix, I’d wind up going to iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand (VoD). Unfortunately, that approach can get expensive quickly.

I happened across an article yesterday that mentioned Hulu Plus recently had a price drop from $9.99 to $7.99. That price drop coupled with the week-long free trial convinced me to give Hulu Plus a shot.

Getting set up was easy. I entered my info onto the Hulu Plus web page and then added Hulu Plus as a channel on my Roku XR box. Roku directed me to a web page to activate my Hulu Plus subscription on that box, and I was able to start watching TV instantly.

If you don’t have a Roku box, there are other devices you can use to watch Hulu Plus, including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and several other listed here.

From what I’ve seen so far, the biggest benefits to Hulu Plus are:

  • HD quality streaming (vs SD quality offered by the free Hulu subscription). Picture quality is very good, especially considering my Roku box is connected wirelessly to my router.
  • Large back catalogues for many shows, and in many cases, the full back catalogue (all episodes for all seasons)

And here are the downsides that I’ve noticed so far:

  • Not all U.S. TV series are available via Hulu Plus. My recent favorite, Sons of Anarchy, is nowhere to be found. But series such as The Office (both US & UK versions) are available, and there’s enough variety that I’ve been able to watch shows that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • Unlike Hulu, Hulu Plus lists only TV series. You won’t find movies listed in the Hulu Plus catalogue. EDIT: Actually, the previous sentence is incorrect — there are both TV series and movies available for viewing on Hulu Plus.

For me, being able to catch up on back catalogues of interesting TV series is worth $7.99/month and I’ll continue to pay for Hulu Plus after my trial ends.

Interested? Use this referral code for a free 2-week (vs only 1 week) trial: http://hulu.com/r/VD6hSw (Updated: Sorry, all the referral codes have now been used)

January 20, 2009: An historic day

president-barack-obama

IPhone App Review: NatsuLion

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I recently ran across a new Twitter app: NatsuLion for iPhone. It has a cute little icon, but don’t underestimate this app – it’s well-designed, fast, and full-featured. And did I mention… free?

 

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Like every other Twitter app for iPhone, NatsuLion displays “tweets” from your friends. What sets NatsuLion apart is how much information it packs into each screen: Until I view a tweet directed to me in the main stream, NatsuLion displays the number of replies, direct messages, etc. as a number on the Replies badge at the bottom of the screen.

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It also color-codes tweets directed to me within the main twitter stream:

Red = Reply

Blue = Direct Message

Yellow = Auto-search on my username

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Aside from enabling quick “at a glance” viewing of my Twitter stream, NatsuLion provides a variety of settings to enable a personalized experience. For example, “Use Safari” means that NatsuLion opens web sites within the app rather than in Safari (something I find very handy). I like having the ability to fetch 200 messages, and then have NatsuLion fetch even more messages (by enabling “Autopagerize”) if I get to the bottom of the 200 message list. There are 2 themes: Dark and Light – I prefer Light, but Dark is also attractive.

I’ve tried all the major Twitter apps for Iphone (both free & paid), and consider NatsuLion a significant find. It loads fast, helps me identify messages I need to review quickly via color-coding and unread count, and has an attractive, easy to use interface.

Highly recommended. Get it at the iPhone app store here.

Revisiting Shozu

I used Shozu extensively two years ago with my Nokia N73. It was a handy tool for uploading photos to Flickr but I found the software buggy on my Nokia.

Flash forward to October 2008. I ran across Shozu when browsing the iPhone app store and decide to give it another spin.

I’m impressed. Shozu has added some interesting partnerships, including BBC and Reuters for citizen news reporting. I can still upload to Flickr in just a few clicks but more impressively, Shozu iPhone photos upload at 1600 x 1200 rather than just 800 x 600 (the limit when uploading via email from iPhone).

In addition, Shozu now supports WordPress blog posts. In fact, this post was authored on my iPhone. Nice! No longer need separate WordPress app on my iPhone.

If you haven’t used Shozu in a while, it’s worth revisiting, especially considering that Shozu is compatible with so many mobile phones.

My 30+ favorite iPhone apps (this week :-)

Apple's iPhone 3G

Air Sharing: Enables you to use wifi to copy files from your computer onto your iPhone.

AirMe: Using this app, you can shoot photos & upload to Flickr with additional data embedded into tags (e.g., location, weather). Here’s an example.

AP Mobile News Network: Great news app.

Bloomberg: Excellent stock news app. Think of it like the iPhone Stocks app on steroids.

Camerabag: Apply cool film effects to your photos. Choose from Helga, 1974, Lolo, Cinema, and 1962. (You can see a sample photo with 1962 effect applied here.)

Crosswords: Robust crossword app with ability to download a variety of free puzzles.

Equivalence: Calculator with conversion functionality. Very handy!  

Fizz Weather: Excellent weather app that includes radar, 2-day & 5-day forecast, etc.

Flickr: This is actually Flickr’s web app (not an app store download). http://m.flickr.com

i.TV: New (and very well done) app that downloads your local movie and TV listings.

iChillout: Relaxation sounds with timer.

iGas: Gas prices for nearby stations.

iZen Garden: Sand garden with relaxing music.

Kiwi: Wikipedia-type app.

Koi Pond: Beautiful koi fish pond with relaxing music (not practical by any means, but very elegant).

Last.fm: Another radio app. Similar to Pandora Radio, but Last.fm tracks tend to be less mainstream.

Meditator: Meditation app (timer & meditation sounds).

MyDelicious: Lists your delicious bookmarks.

Newsstand: Very cool RSS reader that displays feeds as magazines on rack.

Pandora Radio: My favorite radio app. I love Pandora’s Spa radio.

Photogene: Excellent photo editing app.

ReMovem (free): Basic but fun game.

Solebon Solitaire: Solitaire game suite.

Stanza: Excellent ebook reader.

ToDo: To Do app that syncs with your online ToodleDo or Remember the Milk account.

Twittelator Pro: Twitter app (can view by replies, all friends, everyone, search, etc).

WhitePages Mobile: Includes business search, people search, and reverse phone directory.

WordBook: Dictionary

WordPress: Great for publishing to one’s WordPress blog while on the go.

WriteRoom: I use it to create notes to myself. More robust and elegant than the default notes app.

WunderRadio: Excellent radio app – lots of radio stations. (I use WunderRadio to listen to CNN-TV on my phone.)

Mad Men box set

The Mad Men season 1 box set is shaped like a retro metal cigarette lighter. Interesting…. apparently, a nod to the series’ use of cigarettes and smoking to create a certain ambience.

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