Gadget Review: Fitbit Flex

As I mentioned last week, for the past little while I’ve been testing out my new Fitbit Flex. I haven’t been using it for long, but I think I’ve gotten enough of an idea of it that I can write a decent review.

First, let me state that there are several different Fitbit options to be had, as can be seen by this comparison chart of products. Originally I had thought to go straight to the top of the pack and try out the Fitbit Force, but after a little bit of research I decided that the extra money wasn’t worth it. The main differences between the Flex and the Force are that the Force records “stairs climbed” (which, according to other reviews, is an extra feature that doesn’t work particularly well), and the Force has a small display on it that, amongst other things, shows the time. Basically, the extra money you’re paying is to turn your Fitbit into a watch, which for me wasn’t worth the $30 difference. I expect that the Force’s screen shows more than just the time, but since both devices can wirelessly sync with your smartphone in order to view your info, and I always have my phone with me, I didn’t see the need for the screen. To be fair, I should also add that when I was deciding what I wanted to get, Futureshop was having an excellent sale on the Flex, so that did affect my decision a bit.

Moving on, the Fitbit Flex is a wireless activity and sleep wristband. It’s worn like a bracelet, and as you go about your day it tracks steps walked, distance moved, and calories burned. While you’re asleep it tracks your sleep quality and, if you choose, can wake you via a silent vibration option. You can sync the device with your PC or Mac, or a variety of iOS and Android devices. If you so choose to use a smartphone with Bluetooth capabilities, you can sync the Flex with your device so that all your info updates automatically as soon as you open the app.

So, now that you know a little bit about the Flex, let’s move on to the review itself, shall we?

Comfort Factor

This might seem like the least important part of the review, but for me it’s actually pretty high up there because I can easily be pushed over the edge of annoyance by something that fits poorly or is uncomfortable to wear. Luckily this device is neither. In a market full of devices that are both enormous and unwieldy (I’m looking at you, BodyMedia), the Fitbit Flex is refreshing in that it feels no different from wearing a watch or thick bracelet. It’s only half an inch wide, and about a third of an inch thick at the thickest part (where the actual electronics are), and it comes with two different band lengths so that you can chose the one that will fit you more comfortably. The bands latch using a small grey clip, which I’ll admit was annoying at first because it didn’t seem to want to push through the holes properly. However it only took three or four times taking the band off and putting it on again for everything to loosen up and become easier to attach. Now I can just push against the clip and it pops right in. All in all, the device is no more annoying, uncomfortable, or noticeable than a watch would be. It even comes in several colors so you can coordinate with your own personal style if you wish.

Ease of Use

This is a topic on which I’m going to hop back and forth across the fence a few times. Firstly, as far as hardware goes, the Flex is easy as pie. The electronic bit slides out of a slit on the inner side of the band and plugs into an included cord for charging purposes. The cord has a USB end on it and is intended to be plugged in via your computer, but I’ve personally found that it works just as well using the charging block from my iPhone or my Samsung tablet. Five little LEDs on the miniature screen show you how charged the Flex is, and when fully charged you just slip it back into the band, put it on, and get moving.

For software, I downloaded the iPhone app, and it took a grand total of about two minutes to set up and have the two devices synced. More on the software later.

My one major complaint is that the device itself didn’t come with anything that I would consider to be instructions. For the most part they aren’t required anyway, but there are a few things that would be nice to know, or to have explained a little better. For instance, I had to do a Google search to find out how to put the Flex into “sleep monitoring” mode, and even then I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it via the Flex itself instead of the iPhone app. There’s supposed to be some kind of method where you tap the device for one second and it knows that it’s supposed to be in sleep mode, but all I got was a few blinking lights and no sleep recording. On the other hand, it seems to record my sleep whether I put it into the mode or not, because the readings pop up automatically if I tell the app which hours I was sleeping during. It’s the kind of thing that makes me frown, because I like to understand what’s going on, but it still technically works just fine, so I can’t complain too much.

For the most part, I have to give the Flex a thumbs up as far as ease of use because you pretty much just wear it and let it do the rest.

Software

I’ve only used the iPhone app version of the Fitbit software so far, but I assume that most of the options are pretty similar.

When you first start up the program it asks for your basic information such as height, current weight, desired weight, etc – the same information you’d be asked by any such device or online weight-loss program. Once that information is in and your Flex is synced, you get to see a variety of information. At the top of the screen you see a picture of your device along with a little battery symbol to show you how much power it still has. Beneath that is your steps for the day, the distance you’ve traveled, and your “active minutes”. A colored bar depicts the percentage of “goal steps” you’re currently at, based on 10,000 steps a day (which can be altered in the program if you want to up it or take it a little easier). The distance is based on the steps and (I’m guessing) your stride, which would be determined by your height input. The active minutes are something else that it would be nice to have a better explanation of. At first I assumed that this category was for you to log alternate exercise, because when you enter that section you have the option to add activity. However, I noticed that on the first day that I walked a decent amount, the app told me that I’d had 3 “active minutes”. I cannot explain this. If I figure it out, I’ll come back and let you all know.

Beneath that information is calories burned, which is also something that could benefit from more explanation. I assume that the calculation incorporates some calculation of the calories that a body normally burns just by being awake and active, but I couldn’t tell you exactly. All I know is that when I wake up every morning and open the app it is already showing that I’ve burned something like 500 calories. This is something that I hope to find a better explanation of in the future.

Beneath that is a bar that shows your current weight and how many pounds (or kg) you have to go to reach your goal. Nothing too amazing there.

Moving on is a bar that shows how long you slept last night, how many times you awoke, and how many times you were restless, based on your level of movement throughout the night. If you click on this bar you will see a graph that depicts your night in three colors. Dark blue is asleep, light blue is restless, and pink is awake. I’ve seen iPhone apps that do a better job at depicting this information (Sleep Cycle is an excellent one), but considering that it’s an added feature, it’s a decent display.

Finally, there are bars for calories eaten and liquid drunk, which of course requires some input on your part. I haven’t used these options too much myself so far, but I’ve checked them out and it’s fairly simple. The program uses an internet connection to search for the nutritional info of whatever you input. You then add the item to whichever meal of the day it was consumed during, and the program keeps track of where you are as far as calories consumed.

All in all, the program is clean looking, easy to read, easy to use, and though I’m not too clear on how some of the information is calculated, it seems like good information to have.

The key, of course, is to make sure that your calories burned exceeds your calories eaten so that you end up losing weight. In theory. πŸ™‚

Battery Life

I had to mention this because to be honest, I’m amazed by how good it is. Granted that I haven’t been as active as I could be, so the Flex hasn’t had to work as hard as it might in the future, but on my first full charge the device lasted almost a full ten days. Not too shabby considering how quickly some devices die these days. I’m impressed that I don’t have to plug the Flex every day like many other devices.

As an additional note, when my device finally began to die, I was surprised to find an email pop up on my phone to let me know that my Flex needed to be charged. A cute little extra consideration for people who might not actually bother to look at their info more than a couple of times a week.

Helpful Emails

This was actually a surprise to me, but apparently when you sign up with your email, you’re sent a message each week to tell you how you’ve been doing. The email shows such stats as your most and least active days, and all the previously mentioned stats in terms of totals for the entire week, daily average, and best days. It also shows where you fall on the “leaderboard” if you’ve added friends to your account. Nothing overly amazing, but still a cute little addition and also a bit of extra motivation.

Conclusion

Overall, thus far, I’m fairly impressed with the Fitbit Flex. It doesn’t offer quite as many options or helpful bits of information as some other devices, but it can also boast that it’s cheaper, more comfortable, and in many cases much easier to use. When you add in that the software aspect is 100% free (unlike some other devices, and I’m looking at you again, BodyMedia), it’s a neat little gadget that won’t break the bank. Whether or not it is able to assist you in your health and weight loss goals really depends on how you choose to use the data gathered, but it is definitely a useful tool that has the capability to be a great asset toward healthy living. Simply put, I won’t be removing it from my wrist any time soon. πŸ™‚

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2 thoughts on “Gadget Review: Fitbit Flex

  1. Thanks for this excellent review. I’ve been using the Fitbit app for quite a while now and have occasionally considered getting the band. This is very helpful information and I may make the small investment now.

    • No problem! I’m sure it seems like a total waste of money to some people, but if it’s helpful to you to be able to see numbers like steps taken and calories burned this is a great device for that. πŸ™‚

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