So, yeah. If you’ve missed all of my earlier references to it, I’ve got a FitBit. I acquired it through a work program, so I didn’t actually spend any money on the purchase. Specifically, I’ve got a Fitbit ChargeHR, as well as the FitBit app on my phone. And, overall, it’s been a really handy thing. It does a whole lot, as well, so I’m going to make this a two-part review. This week I’ll focus on the device, and next week I’ll focus on the app.
The FitBit is surprisingly comfortable. I’d been worried about this, because I haven’t worn a watch in a decade, and I wasn’t really excited about getting back into the habit. But it’s light, and the band is smooth, and I’ve largely stopped noticing it unless I don’t have it on (at which point, my wrist feels naked). It tracks number of steps, pulse rate, distance walked (default is miles), calories burned, and stairs climbed. It also functions as a watch, and will time workouts.
The “stairs climbed” feature is a little buggy. It uses an altimeter to tell if you’re going up (so it won’t count anything if you’re using a stairclimbing machine), and counts every 10 feet of altitude change as a flight of stairs. Moderate wind will also trigger the altimeter, though, which can vastly skew your results. Just last week, my FitBit congratulated me for earning my “Ferris Wheel” badge by climbing 75 flights of stairs in a single day. And since 20 flights is still an achievement, and since I haven’t had a heart attack and died from the strain of the attempt, I know that’s wrong.
The calories burned feature is based on two things: your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and your activity. BMR, if you’re not familiar with it, is the amount of energy you burn just by living. It doesn’t count in any sort of movement other than autonomic activity (such as breathing and heartbeat), and is a function of your gender, your height, and your weight. Wikipedia has several different equations, if you really want to look at them. FitBit doesn’t disclose how the device calculates the calories burned from activity, but it is presumably based on the number of steps taken and your heart rate (using a formula similar to the ones found here). Naturally, the calories burned is an estimate – particularly since, for optimal calculations, the device has to remain in contact with your skin at all times. But the estimate is probably slightly on the low end, so that’s not a big deal.
Oh, one other thing the device does is vibrate. This kicks in when you start or stop tracking a workout, when you reach your primary goal for the day, if you have an alarm set, and if you’re using the Caller ID feature. Yes, it can be an alarm clock. And yes, it will tell you who’s calling if you’ve synced it with your phone.
Battery life is decent, but nowhere near the “up to five days” claimed by the package and the web site. That’s because the “five days” estimate is based on not tracking exercise, not using the alarm feature, not using Caller ID, and not automatically syncing it with the app. Since I do all of those things, the battery life is more like two days. Maybe three. I’m not sure because it’s not waterproof (although it is water resistant), so I plug it in before I get in the shower.
Next time: I’ll review the app, and then talk about whether or not I’d be willing to spend actual money to get one of these things.