My thoughts on the Fitbit One

Like pretty much anyone interested in technology I was curious from the very beginning what body or fitness trackers can provide of value to our every day lives at this point in time. The ability to accurately judge your level of fitness and what to do about staying healthy is something I’d truly appreciate. I’ve been struggling with my body weight since I was a small child and still struggling with staying healthy, positive and depression free to this very date.

The next chapter recounts my experience using the Fitbit One for three weeks. And while I also purchased a Jawbone UP2, I won’t give an account of its performance here since it didn’t do any better than the One, in fact, it performed considerably worse in most categories.

Fitbit One

I mainly purchased the Fitbit One to help me with the seemingly never-ending quest of losing/keeping weight, staying in good health and also to maybe improve my sleeping habits. I turned to the One for a couple of of reasons:

  • I sweat. A lot at times. Especially when I’m at practice/working out. It’s just something I’ve come to terms with. It used to be worse, back when I still had 20+ pounds more to carry around with me, but it’s still noticeably different from other people working out barely breaking a sweat. The One is a simple tracker you fix to your clothing, it’s sweat resistant, and thus ideal for me to work out with. A bracelet would probably be itching after half a day or two without taking it off in between (which is not what I’m after) with all the sweat and grease accumulating under its band. Furthermore, pretty much any of these straps are said to cause allergic skin reactions at some point time (which my family, myself to a lesser extend, are prone to).

  • I like the prospect of being woken up lightly. And without disturbing the sleep of my significant other. The discrete vibrations the One is giving off is good enough for getting me up in the morning. I was torn at first, still keeping my iPhone’s alarm set for a comfortable time, but I’ve done away with it. The One’s good enough.

  • Heartbeat enabled wrist trackers are a sham. There, I’ve set it. Yes, and even your beloved Apple Watch is barely accurate at judging your pulse/activity. It still takes professional equipment (read: a proper heart rate sensor strapped to your chest) to measure your workouts accurately. I’m not paying extra for technology that barely works as advertised.

For keeping track of my meals, I also connected it to MyFitnessPal to let the One know about my calorie intake and my weight.

I then started wearing it tucked away in my trousers' pockets.

What I liked about it

  • Accuracy: I never had the impression that the One wasn’t up to the task of measuring what it’s meant to be measuring accurately. That is, steps and floors climbed. Anything else it needs to extrapolate from the limited data it’s getting.
  • Size, weight: For me, these tracker will have to be hardly noticeable to wear them comfortably. The One is tiny, you can basically stick anywhere on your body (except for your limbs) and it’ll work reliably.
  • Battery life: While some appreciate getting through the day on a single charge while using their mobile phone I’m continuously baffled by lack of juice most wireless appliances carry around these days. The One comes with at least 5 - 7 days of battery power, well enough to get me through a week. And it’s charger is micro USB, just like your phone’s, which makes it a good travel companion.
  • Software/dashboard/app: Fitbit did a great job at their online software functionality. Their website has a dashboard with your most important data that you may adjust and rearrange to your liking. Consequently, the mobile app (tested on iOS) you’re using on a day-to-day basis is just as beautiful and easy to use. I hardly felt at home so quickly with any other connected app before. It’s also modestly good at visualizing your daily/weekly goals, although I sort of missed reminders or encouragement throughout the day.
  • Silent wake-up calls: The One is able to wake you silently at a time of your choosing. It doesn’t do any “smart” alarms (i.e. wake you up according to your sleep cycle) but I found the feature to work sufficiently well and didn’t miss any of the features other manufactures are tooting for their product line.

What I didn’t like

  • Activity tracking: So, as I mentioned, the one’s good at tracking your steps and the amount of floors traversed each day. It really sucks at tracking pretty much anything else though. Riding your bike? Out of luck, the One doesn’t know about it. Going for a run? Better make sure you tell the One that you’re going for a run. Going to sleep? Push the right button and put it in a sleeve you have to wear throughout the whole night. Just the sleeve itself is infuriating at times, since it clearly is exposed to a lot of tear and wear after just a couple of nights. But the sleep tracking is also lacking in granularity severely, and it doesn’t figure out when you’re going to sleep and have woken up automatically, despite setting the alarm. The fact that you constantly have to think about “Do I need to tell it what I’m doing right now?” is really distracting and I just couldn’t figure at times why the One wasn’t able to gather enough data to guess what I’m doing at the specific moment in time. A serious flaw to me.
  • Water resistence: “Splash proof” just doesn’t cut it for something that is supposed to be tracking all my activities throughout the day. Plus, the design of the One could’ve allowed for a tighter, more resistant casing. Why Fitbit didn’t go for that obvious advantage is beyond me.
  • Calorie burn: This is largely based on the steps you take and the floors you climb throughout the day. Therefore, it’s horrendously off in precisely the situations you actually want it to be accurate: When you exercise, i.e. actually trying to change your life for the better. While running would be accounted for semi-accurately, others like lifting weights, boxing or swimming would be out of the question. Either the One’s count is awfully off or you’re not able to track the activity at all.
  • Product cycle: The One’s been on the market for almost 3 years. It’s save to say Fitbit isn’t going to invest a lot of time into improving a product that’s 3 years old. In a market that changing as rapidly as the tracker landscape that’s not really an option and I reckon the One is going to (or as some might argue, already does) suffer from the same level of negligence as its sister product, the Aria smart scale, does.

What I ended up doing

Well, I sent it back.

All in all I couldn’t shake the feeling of using inadequate technology for a task it never was meant to cover. I’d love to get technology that helps me live a healthier life, but I’m afraid the current standard isn’t quite there yet. It’s probably going to take at least another year until it’s viable enough.

Also, all of these trackers do not come in cheap, the One is available from 95€, it’s fiercest competitor, the Jawbone UP2, costs upwards of 120€. That’s not exactly pocket change, at least not for me. Which puts a heavier emphasize on my last argument.

It was worth a try, but for now I’m as well off without a fitness tracker than I am with one.