For the past week I've been inseparable from a small bit of black plastic hooked onto my left pocket. It's not a cell phone, or a security card for work. Instead, it's the Fitbit, a high-tech pedometer with a neat trick--it tracks your daily and nightly activities, then sends that information to the cloud wirelessly.
The $99 device was first unveiled at last year's TechCrunch50 show in San Francisco, but the company only began shipping out its first pre-orders last week. I've spent the past seven days using it to track my daily activity levels, as well as my sleeping and eating habits.
Unsurprisingly, it hasn't moved me to make a dramatic shift in the way I live my life, but it has given me a benchmark of how active or inactive I am on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. In other words, you can be a non-gym rat and still get a multitude of uses out of this, but it will always be more beneficial for highly active people.
The Fitbit itself is a clip, and almost symmetrical except for a button on one of the sides. This is the only button on the entire device that controls what you see on its small, but very readable OLED display. Each time you click it, it cycles through how many steps you've taken, how far you've gone in miles, how many calories you've burned, as well as your current activity level which is displayed as a flower; the taller it is, the more active you've been.
Compared with some other pedometers from companies like Omron, Sportline, and Apex Fitness, many of which feature onboard clocks, stopwatches, and "trip" meters, this may seem a bit anemic. But there's more than meets the eye. The device tracks things like duration of activity, and what time of day you're doing it--two things that can be seen back on Fitbit's site once it syncs up.
The Fitbit can be stashed in your pocket, on your belt, or anything else you can clip it on. (Fitbit's product manual mentions something about bras--I didn't get to try that out.) It then uses a three-dimensional motion sensor--like what's inside of Nintendo's Wii remote--to track your movements.
Besides tracking steps, caloric burn, and distance, the Fitbit can be used to monitor sleep duration and habits. This requires users sliding the Fitbit into the included cloth wrist wrap, then holding the Fibit's one button for a few seconds before going to bed, and then again when they wake up.
I found this an easy habit to pick up and build into my normal routine, though worth noting is that the included strap's velcro is basically glued on, and can be accidentally removed quite easily. I also had one night of sleep where the device came out of the strap, forcing me to fish it out of the bed the next morning.
Once you've held the button for a few seconds to start the sleep cycle, the device then waits for you to stop moving to begin its count. It also keeps track of any movements during the night, like if you sleepwalk, start waving your arms around, or get up to go to the bathroom. This information is tracked on Fitbit's site, including how "efficient" your sleep was, which is a percentage of how much time you spent sleeping versus how long it took you to go to bed and how many times you became "active."
Software and Webware
While the Fitbit can be used as a pedometer in the traditional sense, installing software on your computer lets you sync it up with Fitbit's site. To do this you have to make use of a special base station which comes with the Fitbit, and is the only way to both charge it, and check its battery level (which is rated at 10 days between charges).… Read more