Feb 24, 2014 Nick Rego
It seems that everyone is waking up and realizing how unfit they are. And so start the long hours at the gym, the crash diets, the vows to never binge at a brunch ever again, and so on. But in the middle of all of this, technology has evolved to come up with new ways to remind us that we seriously need to get in shape. Whether it’s scale that proudly announces your weight, or an app that reports your BMI as being close to that of a blimp, there’s a piece of tech out there that presumably will help you on your road to fitness. Fitness trackers are one such breed of devices, and have been thrust into the spotlight in the past year or so. But are fitness trackers really of any use? Do they actually motivate people to get in shape at all? To answer this, I wore a Fitbit Flex for a week, to determine if wearing this small black band would really give me incentive to be more active.
Available in a variety of colors, the Fitbit Flex is a rather unassuming little device. It doesn’t have any buttons and only contains a thin strip of LED lights in the front which let you know how you’re doing with your daily step goal. There are two bands included in the box to accommodate various wrist sizes, and swapping them around is simply a matter of bending the wrist and popping out the small pill-shaped device. This tiny device is what makes the Flex tick, and you also pop it out when you want to recharge it via the included USB dongle. Battery life on the Flex is quite impressive, with the device lasting for a full six days before needing a recharge.
From a design point of view, the Flex can easily be worn on an empty wrist or even alongside your watch. It isn’t distracting at all and frankly you could wear this with either formal or informal clothes, for the fashion conscious ones among you. The device itself is waterproof, and I never took it off once while washing dishes or taking a shower.
Setting up the Flex is ludicrously simple. You first need to decide if you want to sync the Flex with a smartphone or tablet or with your PC. If you want to link it with your smartphone, you need to download the Fitbit app and pair the Flex using Bluetooth. You’ll also need to keep Bluetooth active on your phone if you want regular syncing and stats.
The other option of syncing is through your PC. There’s a very small USB connector included in the box – plug that into a free USB port and download the Fitbit software onto your PC and you’re good to go. The software will then detect what kind of device you’re pairing and connect to the nearest device available. One the pairing has been made, you simply right click the icon in your system tray and choose ‘Sync Now’ to download the latest stats from your Flex to your account. Speaking of which, you’ll need to sign up for an account with Fitbit in order to access your dashboard of statistics and log other information. Signing up takes a few seconds, and once you’re logged in, you get in-depth information of your activity.
At its core, the Flex really only monitors two things – your step count and your sleep patterns. Double-tapping on the front of the Flex will illuminate small LEDs – these light up as a sort of progress bar to indicate how close you are to achieving your daily step goal. When you’re getting ready to sleep, tap rapidly to activate the ‘Sleep’ mode of the Flex. In this mode the Flex will monitor how many times you were awake in the night (whether you remember it or not) and how many hours of actual sleep you got. When you wake up in the morning, just tap a few times on the Flex to resume normal tracking. You can also set an Alarm on the Flex, so that it will vibrate to wake you up rather than relying on a loud alarm in the morning.
Tracking sleep and steps alone aren’t enough. Fitbit urges you to log other things as well, such as your daily food and water intake, as well as heart rate and blood pressure if you have these available. Entering food is as simple as typing out what food you had and the portion size, and Fitbit will present you a list of matching food items. It uses this log to assess your calorie intake versus outtake and make recommendations. You can also log how much water you’re drinking, which I found to be quite alarming because at times I was drinking as little as 600ml in an entire day.
Fitness is about motivation, and what Fitbit encourages you to do is to go up against friends who are using Fitbit products to try and edge out their daily step count. It’s hardly competitive, but it’s still a good feeling when you log in to the Dashboard and see that you’re the most active among your friends. There are also various groups that you can join to discuss fitness tips, as well as trying to edge out each other’s step count.
The burning question is whether or not I was more active when wearing the Flex. The surprise answer, is yes. There’s definitely something motivating about tapping on the Flex and seeing that you’re just one dot away from your step goal from the day. Not to mention, the Dashboard provides a very good breakdown of your food consumption as well as your overall sleep patterns – information that can be very useful to monitor and regulate your food habits. Of course none of this is automatic – you still have to log in and add the food that you’ve been consuming, but if you’re able to spend a few minutes entering all this information in, you’ll reap the rewards in the long run. You can also specify if you’d like to lose, gain, or maintain weight, and the app and Dashboard will present you with relevant calorie meters to let you know when you’re straying from your recommended intake.
Some might think of the Fitbit Flex as a glorified pedometer. It may appear to be that, but the addition of a comprehensive online dashboard means that you can take the information collected by the Flex and apply that with your current diet and levels of activity. I found myself walking out to get lunch rather than driving, simply because I wanted to hit my daily step goal. While the Flex obviously won’t monitor things like how many dumbbell curls you’ve done or how many flights of stairs you climb, it’s still a lightweight and discreet device that when configured properly and given time each day, can reveal some important statistics about your lifestyle. If you’re looking for a fuss-free fitness tracker to help start you off on a healthier routine, then this is the one to try.
The Fitbit Flex is priced at AED 529 from Modvito.com
A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys playing videogames during work hours and tinkering with the latest gadgets.
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