Friday, April 10, 2015

Updated: A Tale of Two Fitbits - Flex & Charge

*Updated 5/25/16, all updates are in red.*

As a person who never thought they would enjoy an exercise tracking wearable, I have been won over by my Fitbit Flex. Purchasing the Fitbit for research purposes I had little by way of expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became accustomed to having the Fitbit on, how little I noticed it on my wrist, and how motivated I became of hitting my daily goal.  Over a year later I am still wearing the same fitbit, well sort of. My first Fitbit stopped working about 7 months after purchase, but once reported it was promptly replaced no questions asked. As a result, I continue to track my health and fitness having purchased only a single Fitbit Flex.

Software for both the Flex and Charge can track:
  • Hours where the goal of a minimum of 250 steps is achieved
  • Water consumption
  • Number of steps taken
  • Distance walked
  • Calories burned
  • Active minutes
  • Daily weight
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
Compare the 2 images below, the one on the left is from a year ago while the image on the right is what the app looks like after the 5/25/16 update. A benefit to the update is that the modules can be moved around into any configuration so that the most important information for each individual cab be displayed at the top. For instance, by clicking the Edit button in the top right corner in the updated version of the app, water consumption or sleep logs could replace weekly exercise or hourly step tracking.


Comparison of the Fitbit app interface from 4/2015 and 5/2016.

The Charge version also tracks flights of stairs climbed which is obviously more of a workout than regular steps and can be a valuable number.  Even more importantly, the Charge automatically tracks sleep patterns. Through an update since this was originally posted, the Flex also tracks sleep automatically. Having said that, I prefer to tell my Fitbit when I am planning to sleep and when I awake as it is a bit more accurate. For instance, sometimes when I take off my Fitbit, say to work at my computer for hours at a time, it has on occasion inaccurately thought I was taking a nap. When this happens, you can simply delete that instance of sleep tracking. 

The Flex device also tracks sleep manually in 2 ways:
  • First, double tap the device until it vibrates and two lights alternate positions to put it into sleep mode. When you wake up, tab the device and when the two lights appear tap quickly until all five lights appear to wake it from sleep mode. OR
  • Open the app on a smart phone and click to add a sleep pattern. Once you wake up, open the same window and stop the sleep pattern. Once sleep is tracked the results are the same for both devices. 
The sleep portion of the software shows the details for:  
  • How long you were asleep
  • How many times you were restless
  • How many times you were awake
  • The time in minutes for being restless and awake
  • Net amount of sleep achieved

As you wear the Fitbit you earn badges for accomplishments and if allowed, receive alerts on connected smartphones encouraging you to finish the remainder of activity to reach your daily goal. Goals can be set to a number of steps, distance traveled, or calories burned. Since the Charge is wider than the Flex, it has a built-in display that scrolls between time, steps, distance in miles, calories burned, and stair steps for the current day by pressing a button on the side. The Flex represents daily progress using a set of five lights. Double tap on the top of the Flex and solid lights will appear for each 20% accomplished towards your goal. The Fitbit software tracks progress over time so daily, weekly, and monthly results can easily be compared and viewed using the app.

Although it is common to think a Fitbit is not a life necessity, after a few weeks using one it is easy to see how its tracking and integration of an overall snapshot of your health is convenient. With flexible goal types and values, which can be changed at any time to fit individual needs, the Fitbit truly is working with you. Is a Fitbit or other health tracking wearable necessary to daily life, not exactly. Does it synthesize health information into an easy to read interface with plenty of options, absolutely! Last but not least, the encouraging software reminders will be appreciated by many users. Adding the hourly minimum step goal of 250+ steps is probably one of the most motivating features for me personally and I find myself checking it often throughout the day, though I am sure this will vary for everyone. Knowing how close you are to a goal is often good motivation to finishing. Having no idea where you are in activity for a day makes it easy to stop pushing yourself.

As always, enjoy the ways technology can work for you and make life easier!

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