Until this past December I hadn’t paid much attention to fitness trackers like the Fitbit Flex or Jawbone Up. I was aware of them on my periphery I suppose, but I had little to no idea regarding their exact function, nor did I have any knowledge relating to the type of information they captured. If I had to explain my disinterest at the time, I suppose I would have related it to the fact I spend the vast majority of my time sitting at a desk. Lord knows I didn’t want to completely depress myself by being the least active person on the internet!
I’ve recently started to play ball hockey twice a week though, and the data nerd in me began to wonder what my stats might look like on one of these trackers. A few days prior to Christmas I did a quick search and I saw a lot of good reviews on the Fitbit Flex, so I added it to my Christmas list as a last minute addition. Luckily, my wife came through for me at the last minute!
I went in to this little journey completely fresh (there’s a reference there at 0:38, albeit an obscure one). From the moment I took it out of the box I was pretty oblivious to the potential benefits so let me begin to tell you how this thing works, and what you may like and not like about it.
First of all, I was given the Fitbit Flex for Christmas as I’ve mentioned. For $30 more you can upgrade to the Fitbit Force and add a slightly larger display to the device, which more or less turns your wristband into a full-blown watch as it can display the time. It also tracks steps climbed, something the Flex does not. I may be in the minority by saying this, but I don’t care about stairs and for my use I want this thing to be as minimalistic as possible. For me, the Flex was a better fit – pardon the pun.
So How Do I Get Started?
When you open the box you’ll see two silicon wristbands. They look similar by comparison but one is a bit larger than the other, so the idea is to choose the one that fits you the best. With your wristband selected, you simply insert the tracking device and put it on. There’s also a small USB attachment that connects to your computer. By plugging this in, your wristband will sync to your computer whenever you’re in range (about 15-20ft). There’s also a “dongle” (that’s actually what it’s called) that allows you to charge the Flex via the USB port on your computer. God help you if you lose this thing, so keep it close (pictured below).
The next step would be to download the Fitbit app for iOS to sync all of this information to your iPhone – at least I’ll assume that’s what you’re doing since you’re on this blog. We all have iPhone’s, right?
At this point you’ll want to go into the settings and tell the app if you’re wearing the wristband on your dominant or non-dominant wrist. You can do so by clicking on the “Account” button in the bottom right-hand corner of the app and selecting your Flex wristband. If you don’t see it in the list at this point, click on “Setup a New Fitbit Device”. With your wristband setup correctly and selected, choose “Wrist” and then make your selection.
What Does the Fitbit Flex Track, Exactly?
I’ve attached an image from my phone below to give you an example as to what the dashboard looks like. As you can see the Fitbit tracks the number of steps you’ve taken throughout the day, calories consumed (if you’ve entered this data or have it synced to another app like MyFitnessPal), active minutes, calories burned (based on activity read by the Fitbit wristband), water consumed (if you enter it into the app), distance travelled, sleep time and patterns, and weight (again, if you enter it).
Can you view the data in even more detail?
To a certain extent, yes. Taking “Calories Burned” as an example, you can see from my previous picture that I burned 3,471 calories. Yes, it was obviously a ball-hockey day – you didn’t think I’d use one of my 3,000 step days as an example, did you?
If you click on the calories burned section the app will take you into an hourly bar graph showing you where your calories were burned throughout the day. This also works with the other metrics like steps taken and distance travelled. Likewise for sleeping patterns as covered in the next step.
Does it actually track your sleeping patterns? If so, is it accurate?
If you read reviews of the Flex online you’ll see varied results where the sleep tracking is concerned. For me personally, I’ve found the data to be stunningly accurate. When you get into bed at night you tap the device five or six times until it vibrates and shows two lights to indicate “sleep mode”. This tells the Fitbit you are going to sleep. When you wake up you tap the Flex repeatedly again to end your sleep. This results in a graph like the following, showing you where you were disturbed through the night. If you happen to forget turning sleep mode on you can manually enter your sleep times at any time and still produce a graph as displayed below.
The pink areas above show periods that I was awake, while the light blue areas are my restless moments. This graph in particular shows my response to my son’s call in the night last night at 4am. If you do find the tracker isn’t responding well to your sleep cycle there is a more sensitive mode you can turn on, but I’ve not needed it.
Okay, so you’ve found the sleep tracking to be fairly accurate. What about the other stats?
I’ve tested the Flex a few times by syncing it to my phone, taking 50 steps and then syncing it back to my phone again to see what it registers. Most times it’s within a step or two of my count, so I deem that to be pretty good. In my mind though, it doesn’t really matter if it misfires by a few hundred steps a day so long as it remains consistent and it provides me with a valuable measure from which to base my progress. That said, I do find it to be quite accurate.
What are the lights on the front of my Fitbit Flex?
The front of the Fitbit Flex has a display consisting of five lights. Each light represents 20% of your daily goal. The default is 10,000 steps, but you can set it to calories burned, distance travelled – whatever you like within the application. You can double-tap the display anytime during the day and the lights will turn on accordingly. For example, if you’re between 0 and 2000 steps the first light will flash for a moment. When you find yourself at 4,500 steps, you’ll see 2 solid lights and a blinking third light to indicate you’re somewhere between 40% and 60% of your goal.
How does the silent alarm work?
This is a feature I use everyday. You can set alarms on the Flex (I use the iOS app but the website probably works too) instead of using an annoying alarm clock. If you set the alarm for 6:00am the Fitbit will gently pulse and wake you up until you disable the alarm by tapping the wristband a few times. I’ve found it to be fairly jarring at times actually, but it’s still a much more gentle wakeup call than your radio or phone coming on. I guess my thought here is that it’s quiet enough to be only moderately jarring, but loud enough that you won’t sleep through it’s alarm unless you’re heavily, heavily sedated.
How long does it last between charges?
The Fitbit site claims that the device lasts between 3 and 5 days on a single charge. So far, I’ve found nothing to disprove this. In fact, I’d say I’m typically more on the 5 day side of things, so no complaints there. The app also has a pretty slick notification system that will even send you an email when your battery is getting low.
Can you shower with the Flex?
Yes, but if you take the wristband off two hours later there will be a few drips of water between the sensor and the silicon wristband.
I don’t really have any major gripes with the Flex – it’s a pretty slick little device. If I had to nitpick I’d say the way in which you activate/deactivate “sleep mode” is a little cumbersome. Sometimes five quick taps register perfectly, and other times I find myself drumming on the thing to get it to recognize my command.
I’ve also found that the wristband can slip into sleep mode acidentally on occasion. For example, tapping a wooden spoon on a frying pan or driving a screw with a power drill can make the Flex think you’re tapping it into sleep mode. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.
Would you buy one again?
I would. I stand firm on my choice to get the Flex as well because it’s small and it stays out of the way. In the month I’ve been wearing the Flex I’ve only had a few people take note of it, and they’re all fitness tracker experts. Most people I run across don’t even notice it or they think it’s just a charity bracelet of some kind.
The Flex has also done a great job at showing me how little things throughout the day can make a big difference. I work in a large geographical area so on the days where I’m in meetings or walking around on my lunch break I burn significantly more calories than I do when I’m just sitting at my desk.
I’ve also linked the app to another iOS app called MyFitnessPal which tracks your daily caloric intake. The premise is fairly simple in that you record all of your food using MyFitnessPal while the Fitbit tracks your activity levels. Seeing the two apps interact with one another is a pretty cool thing to watch, especially on the days where I’ve burned a few extra calories and the Fitbit tells MyFitnessPal I’m entitled to a few more calories. It’s kind of a cool way of controlling your diet based on your daily activity.
So are there any Flex owners out there who want to share their experience? Or we could make it interesting and invite all the Nike/Jawbone users to comment.