April 2014 UPDATE: The Fitbit Force was recalled due to rash issues, so I received a Fitbit One instead. See the more recent Fitbit Comparison post for more info!
The timing of this Fitbit Force review opportunity couldn't have been better! It's as though the PR person just knew I totally pork out over the holidays and begin each new year with a predictable freak-fest of obsessive calorie and exercise tracking. This year was no exception.
And yes, I did consume this entire box myself--
Including the fruit-centered ones I don't even like.
Plus, many of my friends have been parading around with Fitbits and Nike Fuelband etc, and I was getting jealous. I haven't had a daily activity monitor since I fell in and out of love with the Body Media Fit armband.
And the usual disclaimer: I got my Force for free--which could lead a nicer blogger to be be overly friendly and positive in hopes of more loot in the future. As it happens, I am constitutionally incapable of being nice and friendly and overlooking downsides. The whole reason this blog exists at all is that I love to complain! But you are forewarned anyway.
So, What's it Like when the Force is With You?
I'll answer a few questions in the hopes that even if this review bores regular readers to tears,
What Does the FitBit Force Look Like?
Here's the package:
And here's how it looks like on a middle-aged sun-damaged wrist:
What Does the Fitbit Force Measure?
- Steps taken;
- Distance traveled;
- Calories burned;
- Stairs climbed;
- Active minutes throughout the day; and
What Features Does the Fitbit Force Have?
The Force wristband has a watch, stopwatch, and a vibrating alarm. The display uses a single button that steps through time, steps, distance, stairs, calories burned, and total activity.
The Force uses an accelerometer and altimeter and incorporates data you log about your height and weight, so it's more personalized and presumably more accurate than a simple pedometer.
The wristwatch syncs wirelessly with PC, Mac, and most mobile phones. To use it wirelessly on your computer you use a usb port. You just grab your dongle and insert it firmly and you're good! Which--sorry boys--is a completely G-rated procedure.
The app allows you to view your stats, set an alarm, see reports on activity and sleep, and is compatible with many well-known online calorie and fitness trackers.
The wristband needs periodic charging, which is a pain, but on the plus side, weekly is sufficient and it could probably go the promised 10 days but I haven't tested that. I think you even get an email if you haven't charged recently and your unit is dying.
Does the Fitbit Force have GPS or a Heart Rate Monitor?No. Nor does it measure galvanic skin response, skin temperature, or heat flux like the BodyMedia fit. And to measure sleep it just goes by movement; it can't track brainwaves like the Zeo.
Is the Fitbit Force Waterproof and Can You Wear the Force in the Shower or Swimming Pool?
No. It's water resistant so you can sweat in and get caught in the rain, but you are supposed to take it off to shower or swim.
Is the Fitbit Force Accurate?
The answer to that question is... a weasely, equivocal: It depends!
Let's just say right off the bat that it is not 100% accurate, but depending on what you want to measure, it can fit squarely in the "not bad at all" category. Common sense says that something sitting on your wrist measuring your arm movements is not going to be the way to go when biking, strength training etc. You have to log those separately.
It's best for straightforward walking, and at least one super fit person, Kim at Day with KT has reported in her Fitbit Force Review that it's pretty much total crap at capturing her intense workouts or her sleep. (Though as I recall, she put it more elegantly than that).
In repeated attempts to compare Fitbit Force data with independent measures of steps and distance... I pretty much totally forgot I was supposed to be measuring anything by the time I finished.
Seriously, I must have run a couple of dozen experiments where I all have is a "note to self" email or a scribble on a notepad telling me when and where I started.. then nothing.
When I finally started and completed a couple of very short experiments, I discovered that the Force over-estimated a .25 treadmill test as .3, but I believe that test was too short to extrapolate from. I did it at the end of my workout and I was bored and hungry and figured I'd do another treadmill test later but didn't.
A 1 mile outdoor walk as measured by google maps came out at .93 miles on the Force. It was a slightly downhill walk, so it could be the altimeter function jumped in and added a correction, or it could be just that it was about 93% accurate. I'm fine with either possibility but others might not be.
It was completely accurate at counting 100 steps with a normal arm swing, and seemed to guess a bit more with hands in pockets, but only by a few stpes and it was not a consistent under or over-count when tried on a few 100 step trials. One longer trial of hands out/hands in over the same loop had 612 steps with arms swinging vs 552 with hands in pockets. But hey, how is it even figuring out I'm walking at all with my hands in my pockets, if it doesn't have gps? You have to give the thing credit for giving it a good shot.
And for most of us, what we're really interested in is relative activity. Our bodies all take steps/miles/calories and do different things with them, and we get to know what we need to do to meet our goals via trial in error. So in my mind, if I have 3.75 miles one day and 9.4 the next, that's useful information. If the 3.75 was really 3.68 or 3.84, that's less important than knowing it ain't gonna cut it if I'm going to eat bigger meals than an NFL linebacker.
Is the Fitbit Force a Good Sleep Tracker?
It logs total time in bed, and also tracks when you are Awake or are Restless.
You have two choices of sensitivity to movement: one has you sleeping in a deep coma-like state most of the night, and the other has you thrashing around hour after hour getting very little actual snooze time. So given the discrepancy, it's hard to trust as objective information--but if you're looking for correlations and trends over time, it could be helpful.
What's Great About the Fitbit Force:
- The PC app is very helpful and user friendly (I don't tend to use the phone one; I'm old and like a big screen). It's compatible with MyFitnessPal which I've been using, making it pretty easy to become insanely fixated on tracking every movement and morsel throughout the day.
- The constantly updated step and distance and calorie data are very motivating! Especially in terms of "unofficial" daily activity that I never tend to count. When I've tracked before, it's been more about miles run or hours bikes or gym workouts. For example: I hate household chores. But now, chores=steps! Or I get where I'm going and realize I left something in the car? Instead of "oh shit, what a moron," now it's more like: "oh shit, what a moron, but yay, more steps!
- It's slim and way less ugly and unattractive than most sports watches.
What Totally Sucks: The Fitbit Force Wristband Fastener Won't Close Properly!
Yes, the wristband is slim and cute, but the damn thing is often nearly impossible to snap closed, and it is prone to coming off unexpectedly. Your $129 investment could be ... poof! ... completely gone, lost down a sewer grate or left behind on a trail or dropped roadside and run over by a caravan full of clowns on the way to a clown convention through no fault of your own!
I don't know who the idiots were who didn't catch this obvious flaw. Did they not do any testing on actual human wrists?
It may not be a universal problem, and perhaps large beefy male wrists make a flatter, firmer, more ideal surface to press against, who knows. But The Lobster struggles with hers too, and on the Fitbit Force product forums there are many lengthy threads about the frustrations of this major design fuck-up.
One thing that helps a bit: hot water on the wrist band before attempting to fasten. (But not on the monitor part, as it's not waterproof). And over time, the problem has gotten a bit better.
I would suggest making sure yours is returnable if it won't close reasonably easily and securely. Or even better, see if the people in a brick and mortar store will let you take it out of the box and try it, but given these things are popular and hard to find, good luck with that. Or wait until they upgrade this because they'd be imbeciles not to eventually get this right.
Bottom line, I'm still using and enjoying the Fitbit Force and finding it very motivating. I think it's actually a pretty good product. But it still pops off unpredictably, and at times can be totally obstinate about doing what it's supposed to... um, sort of like its owner!
Do you guys use activity trackers? What do you think about them?