Friday, January 24, 2014

Product Review: Fitbit Flex

True confessions - I'm about to review a Christmas Gift.

Hopefully I don't sound ungrateful for the gift in this review.  Since I'm not.  It is a pretty cool gift!  (Thanks to my brother in law for the holiday swag!!)

In fact, several months ago I had been eyeing a fitness monitor ... mostly out of curiosity in regards to my sleep patterns.  I mean, I know I work out a lot, so I'm not so worried about that.  I'm more curious about how much sleep I'm getting, and at what quality. 

But, at the time, I also needed a GPS watch.  And given the fact that I was increasing my run volumes for three half marathons in just over 1 month (Chicago, Mankato and Monster), the GPS won out.

Long story short, getting a Fitbit Flex for Christmas was kind of like getting a wish granted... that I forgot I had made? 

LOL!  If only I had two more wishes!

Anyway, so begins my review of the Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband (black).


First off, I have to admit - when I got this, I wasn't totally in the know about the brand. So I headed on over to Amazon to start reading about it. 

In doing so, I stumbled across this review.  After using my Fitbit for a few weeks now, I have to say I agree with many of those points.  So, I'm going to steal a portion of that review rather than re-inventing the wheel here. 

Of course, I can't keep my own mouth shut, though.  So I'll throw a few of my own thoughts in there, too.

Ok, ready? 



Let's begin.

Since the first thing you do with this is open the box and put it on, I'm going to start with that.  And yes, that means I have to admit, I'm the kind of person who rips open a box, totally skips instructions, and just goes for it. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened my Fitbit and found not one, but TWO Fitbits inside (along with a USB charging piece, a dongle... and some instructions - but who needs those?!). 

Happy day!  The factory screwed up and gave me a spare!!

I quickly slapped on the first Fitbit and realized it was HUGE!  The first band must be made for a giant.  So, I grabbed the second to see how it fits and...

Punch in the face! 

I realized it's not actually a second Fitbit.  Boo.  Rather, it's just an empty, smaller band.  Apparently, you have to take the Fitbit device OUT of the first band and slide it into the second band if you desire a smaller fit.  Oh, you also have to pop out the connector clip that holds the watch together on the back side and put that onto the other band as well.

Oh well.  No free Fitbit spare for me.

I switched out the device and was set to go... except the Fitbit wasn't charged enough at the factory.  Bah.  Since it was late in the evening, I hooked it up to charge and went to bed.

Next morning... queue singing birds and a rosy sunrise! 

My Fitbit charged overnight, so time to try this sucka out!  I proceed, over about two week's time, to wear the Fitbit through the following:

- multiple cardio classes (both during my own teaching and as a student)
- during step aerobic classes (mostly teaching)
- out for runs (track, treadmill, elliptical)
- during day to day activities / casual walks
- at night while sleeping
- and in the shower once just to try it

Basically, I rarely took it off except for to shower, since I didn't really like the idea of wearing it in the shower on a regular basis.

And this is where I'm going to lift the Amazon review because I like how they summed everything up.  I've done some Frankenstein work to make the review a little easier to follow, and I've added a few of my own words to make it read better, but whatever, here goes...

Overall Summary

The Flex is pretty good - IF you understand its limitations.
Fitbit markets the Flex as an "activity monitor", implying that it is capable of keeping stats on your physical activities. Unfortunately, the wrist location and using two stride lengths for all calculations (your walking and running stride lengths), means pretty much any activity that is NOT walking or running cannot be accurately monitored. This includes stair-climbing, hiking, tennis, golf, biking, working out, and pretty much every other "activity" that is not walking or running.

Thus, the Flex is not really an "activity monitor"; it's a pedometer, albeit one with "sleep analysis". It does accurately keep track of your walking and running (non-elliptical), it does keep track of your sleeping patterns, and it also wakes you with a silent vibration on your wrist at the time you set to get up in the morning (I love this feature). And it keeps you focused on your exercise goals.

The Flex really should not be marketed as a calorie-burning monitor. No device without a heart-rate monitor can accurately determine calorie burning. But, when using the Flex to simply analyze a run or a long walk, it can 'ballpark' calories burned fairly well.

I agree with everything the Amazon review says above, even if it's a little less positive than I would have put it.  The Fitbit is a fun tool for running/walking, but has failed me in all of my aerobic classes by logging my activity as sedentary/moderate rather than the intensity that it actually was.  Since I'm not totally worried about my activity levels (I'm a workout beast - rawr!), this doesn't bother me too much.  But, I can see how it would get frustrating. 

Basic Functionality

First, there's the 'onboard' function to keep you aware of your progress towards your daily goals (total distance traveled, number of steps taken, or calories burned).  A tap on the band will light up 1-5 points of light on the band, with each light representing 20% of your goal.  So, a quick glance and a tap on the band will tell you how you're doing.

For the actual stats of your progress, or reviewing your daily/weekly/ longer stats, you can view them in real time on your phone via the Fitbit App for iPhone and Android, or on your tablet or PC/Mac with the Fitbit 'Dashboard'. (Note: this was more challenging for me, as I have an old iPhone 4 and iPad, neither of which had the required Bluetooth technology. As a result, I kept my dongle to sync at work during the day and borrowed my husband’s iPhone to sync in the evenings.)

Online is where you set your daily and longer-term goals, review charts and graphs, and log other information such as weight, weight changes, and food consumed. Overall, the software is very good and keeps you aware of whether or not you are staying on track of goals.

There are also options for sleep mode. You can log sleep hours on your dashboard, or you can fast tap the band when going to bed and do the same when you wake up – thus “telling” the band the hours you sleep. (Note: I still can’t make this function work right, so I always manually log my sleep). The Flex determines amounts of restful vs. wakeful/restless sleep simply by wrist movement.

For a normal account there is no additional charge for the above features. A 'Premium Account' at $49.95/year gives additional analysis and tips such as a 'Fitbit Trainer' 12-week plan, more data analysis, a 'peer ranking', etc. (Note: I really doubt I would benefit from this service, since I know how to plan my own fitness routines, but it may be helpful for someone who is overwhelmed and trying to come up with a plan to get fit…?)
Here's an example of a dashboard and a sleep report:

Features of Note

The Flex comes with both a small and a large band. The large band goes from about 6 1/4" to 8 1/4" and the small, 5 1/2" to almost 7" and both are fully adjustable between those lengths. 

It takes about 2 hours to fully charge using the dedicated USB cord. The battery lasts about a week.

It is not entirely waterproof, but you can wear it in the shower or along the surface of a pool.

Features Lacking

The Flex does not have an altimeter and therefore cannot count stairs climbed. 

There is no heart rate monitor.


So what says the Great Oz Natalie?

Well, I guess, it depends. 

Overall I really like the idea behind the Fitbit.  And, it's easy to use and comfortable to wear.  Plus, I've seen a lot of health bloggers write that they prefer the Fitbit over other options.

That being said, I think most people would fall into one of these buckets, and would enjoy the Fitbit accordingly:

(1) You're like me - an active person who gets in plenty of workouts, doesn't need motivation, and isn't worried about hitting your workout goals.  In short, this might not be your thing.  I still really do like it for the silent wake up alarms though (works out great when I have to get up at 4 am to teach aerobics and I want to avoid waking the husband), and I think the sleep tool will help encourage me to get more sleep (since I know I really need to work on that).

(2) You're like MOST Americans - you need a little extra motivation to get up off your tush and workout, then I think this is a great option.  There's just enough information to make you aware of your activity levels, and you can make it fun by being competitive and working towards various goals.

Either way, I would actually recommend you get the step up version called the Force.  It includes a watch for only $20 more... and I figure, if you're wearing this thing all day, might as well have additional reasons to have it on, right?  Right.

And now, I open the floor to you.  Do you own a Fitbit, a Nike Fuel Band, a Jawbone ... or something else even?  Let me know what you think of your activity tracker in the comments below!


  1. I got the Fitbit Force for Christmas. I was disappointed in the sleep tracking, or lack there of, I thought it would track it and not me telling it when I was sleeping. You can be awake all night and not move, yet it says you had 8 hours of sleep.

    1. Yeah - that's true. It doesn't truly measure when you are asleep. Instead, it just measures whether or not you tossed and turned much during the night. I was interested in how restful I was once unconscious, so for me, the report was good enough. But I agree, it's not as accurate as one would hope.

    2. PS - did you ever use yours swimming, "Coach" Amanda?