Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

Raise App Makes Exchanging Gift Cards Easy

Raise app photoGift cards are the “go-to” gift for friends and family. Pick a store, choose how much you want to put on the card – and you have an instant gift. Sometimes, despite the best intentions, people get “stuck” with a gift card for a store that doesn’t match their personal tastes or style. Raise has launched a brand new app that will make it easy for you to exchange an unwanted gift card for one that you will like better.

Raise.com has a gift card marketplace that you can browse from their website. They recently launched an iOS app that is an extension of the full Raise.com marketplace. (There isn’t an Android version of the app at this time). Now, you can exchange gift cards on-the-go. You can also use the app to buy a gift card while you wait in line to make a purchase at a “brick and mortar” store.

Use the Raise app to find a gift card from thousands of brands and stores. Sellers list their gift cards at a discounted price, and this enables users to purchase them at a discounted price. Raise does not charge sales tax, shipping costs, or processing fees. The price you see is the price you will pay for the gift card.

It takes 3 – 14 business days for a physical gift card to be delivered. An eGift card can be delivered to your Raise account within the hour. (It might take up to 24 hours if further verification is needed.)

Want to use the Raise app to sell a gift card? They accept gift cards from any brand, retailer, or restaurant. Physical gift cards must have a minimum of $10.00 on them. The eGift cards must have a minimum balance of $1.00 on them. You can sell a partially used gift card.

If your gift card sells, Raise will deduct a 15% commission from the selling price. Physical gift cards will also have either $1.00 or 1% of the value deducted (whichever is greater). Electronic gift cards won’t have any additional fees added (beyond the 15% commission). None of this happens until and unless your gift card sells. There is no charge placed upon gift cards that do not sell.

At this time, Raise does not support international transactions. The app (and the Raise marketplace) is useful for those who live in the United States. There is potential for that to expand in the future.

Overall, it seems to me that the Raise app provides people with a hassle-free way of exchanging an unwanted gift card without requiring them to stand in a “returns” line at the store the gift card was from. It also provides a unique way for people to buy a gift card, at a discount price, while they are shopping. A gift card on Raise could cost less than buying one from the store itself.

Amazon Prime Videos Come To Android Phones

Amazon_Android_Prime_Video_PlayerFinally, Amazon has made available an Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android phones.

However, there is a bit of a catch. Rather than making the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player available in the Google Play Store, it is available only via Amazon Android Apps, which are now part of the regular Amazon Store app that you probably already have installed. Update — it is also available ONLY for Android phones and NOT Android tablets.

To download the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player, it is necessary to go into the Android security settings and temporarily enable installation of apps from “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” – a.ka. non-Google Play Store sources.

Inside the regular Amazon Store app, go to the Movie and TV section and find a Prime Instant Video and click on play. Simply follow the on-screen prompts to download and install the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player app.

After you have downloaded the app, go back into the Android settings and remove the checkmark from the “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” in order to lock the phone back down to apps installed from the Google Play Store only.

Once installed the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android seems to work flawlessly. It was able to pick up my user name and password directly from the existing Amazon app.

Until now Android has been lacking an Amazon Prime Video playback app, even though it has been available for iOS for quite some time.

The last streaming video reason to keep an iOS device around has just been removed. Netflix and Hulu Plus have had Android players for a long time. Now with the addition of Amazon Prime Videos the big three video streamers are now all available via Android phones. The next step is to make the videos playable on regular Android tablets.

Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Ignore No More App Locks Your Kid’s Phone

Ignore No More! app logoWant to take complete and total control of your kid’s cellphone? There’s an app for that! It is called Ignore No More! The purpose of the app is to enable parents to remotely lock down their kid’s (or teen’s) phone. The only way to get the phone unlocked is to call mom (or dad) back and ask for the four digit lock code.

It was created by Sharon Stindifird a Texas mom who was got “absolutely livid” one day when she texted her teens and they refused to text or call her back. This motivated her to learn how to create an app that would force her teens to stop ignoring her.

The Ignore No More! app is only available on Android. It requires Android Version 3.0 and costs just $1.99. The description of the app states that it can “be up and running in less than 10 minutes”. It says it is easy to install, cannot be disabled, and does not interfere with ICE or First Responder calls.

What if you have more than one teen whose phone you want to be able to lock on a whim? One account can control multiple “child” devices from multiple “parent” devices. Locking a child’s phone prevents that phone from being used to call friends, to send text messages to anyone, and to play games. Suddenly, the phone has only one function.

Full disclosure, I’m not a parent, so this isn’t something I would have a need for. I can see where it might be useful for parents who have grounded their teen from using their phone for a certain amount of time. The parent can give the four digit code to the teen after they are done being grounded.

However, I don’t think this app is going to improve communication between parents and their teens. Yes, it can force teens to call their parent and listen to what the parent has to say. The problem is that this communication is being forced upon them. I think it will cause a lot of resentment, especially if a parent frequently uses the lock. This is not going to build trust between parent and teen.

There are some quoted reviews on Google Play store where you can purchase this app. One man gave it four out of five stars and wrote: “This is a very good idea.. It also is great for locking my wife’s phone if she is ignoring me…lol…” Ignore No More! is going to be a very attractive app for control freaks. I mean, if this guy feels comfortable announcing that he wants to use it to force his wife to call him, imagine how many other guys out there thought the same thing!

Mogees Makes Music at The Gadget Show

The Gadget Show has all kinds of tech on display, from mainstream suppliers with latest tablets to niche fun products that bring a smile to your face and Mogees is definitely in the latter camp. Many of us will have seen those vibration speakers that turn any surface into a speaker….Mogees does the reverse, converting any surface or object into a musical instrument. Here’s a Mogees on a bicycle.

Mogees Microphone

Mogees on a Bicycle

Developed on the back of Kickstarter funding, the Mogees microphone connects into an iPhone running a Mogees app that converts the vibrations into musical tones and with a bit of skill, a tune. The app does a great deal of audio processing to help produce the music in a tuneful way so learning to play your chosen object is fairly easy, however bizarre the instrument is.

The Mogees will be available towards the end of the year and I interview Bruno about the development of Mogees: there’s a demonstration of the instrument in the audio too.

AccuWeather Introduced New StoryTeller App at NAB

Storyteller by AccuweatherAccuWeather is the “go-to” website for when you want to know what the weather is like. At NAB, they introduced the new StoryTeller AlertID Crime App. It is powered by AlertID and allows newsrooms to access important data that they need in order to keep their audiences well informed.

The StoryTeller app lets newsrooms access data from communications between citizens, law enforcement, and both federal and state authorities. Use it to access national sex offender data and alerts and Amber Alerts issued by local law enforcement. It also will give information about missing adult alerts, national weather, earthquake, wildfire, and hazardous materials warnings and alerts.

The idea is that the StoryTeller app will help newsrooms quickly respond to the breaking crime news and to news about dangerous weather alerts. This, in turn, will help them to keep the public well informed. The information in the StoryTeller app is drawn from over 170 types of local crime-related data, covering more than 140 million people.

People can also use the StoryTeller app with social media. It interfaces with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram. Soon, it will also connect with Vine. Newsrooms can use the social media function to sort through the information and pre-screen all posts for on-air use. AccuWeather was at booth SL-6819 at NAB 2014.

KineMaster Pro Video Editor

For several years I have had feet planted firmly in the two dominant mobile device camps — Android and iOS. I have a 64 gigabyte iPad Air, but I also have an original Nexus 7 as well as my third Android phone, a Galaxy Note 3. The Galaxy Note 3 is an incredible piece of hardware. It has an awesome 1080p 5.7″ display, excellent battery life, and a 2.3 gigahertz quad core processor. The Galaxy Note 3 is the most powerful computing device I have ever owned, including more powerful than every Apple or Windows computer I currently have.

In the past iOS has had a distinct advantage in the form of more sophisticated apps. However, that is rapidly changing.

I usually end up finding ways of pushing my hardware to its limits. I used to do video the conventional way by recording it on a separate device such as a Sony HD camcorder. I would have to go through the arduous task of capturing it to the computer, editing it in a video editor, rendering the file out and finally uploading it to a service such as YouTube.

Now with the Galaxy Note 3 I have a device that is capable of recording excellent video, but it also has a touchscreen that is large enough to edit on.

Up until recently, there were no good Android video editing apps available.

That has all changed with the release of an Android video editing app called KineMaster Pro. There is a free watermarked version which I tried out initially. I quickly determined that KineMaster Pro was worth the $2.99 price tag so I bought it. KineMaster Pro offers themes, along with the ability to easily add background music. It also offers different variable-length scene transitions. It’s possible to export the final rendered result in 1080p, 720p or 360p. It gives a very accurate countdown timer once the rendering process is started. On the Galaxy Note 3, a 13.5 minute long video will render to 720p resolution in about 8 minutes to a 621 megabyte file.

The seller is adding in extra themes that can be applied from within the app.

At one time, even a short video represented several hours’ worth of work to go from initial recording to the final rendered file. If the process can be fully handled on one device, video production actually becomes quick, painless and fun.

VideoMix App Makes Video and Photo Collages

VideoMix appNeed a simple way to turn your photos and videos into a collage? The VideoMix app can do that! Select some of your photos, or choose some of your videos. Pick from more than 70 layouts to put them into. Add some music, use a custom text title, and your collage is ready to be shared on your Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. It is also possible to share your collage with someone else via email.

VideoMix is free to download and free to use without advertising. Premium features are locked under a single in-app purchase of $0.99. It is currently available for iOS, only. There is no information about when, or if, an Android version will appear. VideoMix requires iOS 6.0 or later. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The app is optimized for iPhone 5.

There is a four-step wizard that will walk you through the process. The first step involves selecting a layout template. The second step allows you to not only add photos and videos to the template, but also to alter the border width, curvature, color and texture. You can drag and drop things into the template. VideoMix lets you select which segment of the video to play.

The third step lets you pick an iTunes song that will play while your collage is being viewed. Customize a text title and select the font and color you want. The last step allows you to preview your creation and then share it.

June Measures Sun Exposure at CES

Netatmo June BraceletConsumer electronics company Netatmo have announced June, a sun exposure monitoring bracelet aimed at women. June tracks UV intensity and total sun exposure during the day, feeding information to the app which then provides advice on how to best protect their skin. As most of us know, excessive sun exposure causes sunburn and leads to premature skin ageing.

Depending on the user’s skin type, the app calculates the suggested maximum daily UV dose and then presents the percentage of sun exposure as the day goes by. The app can notify the owner when its time to protect her skin by putting on a hat, applying sunscreen or seeking shade.

Designed by French jewellery designer, Camille Toupet, June can either be worn as a bracelet or a brooch and comes in three colours; gold, platinum and gunmetal. June will be available in the second quarter of 2014 priced at US$99 from select fashion, beauty and consumer electronics stores. The June app will be downloadable from iTunes for iPhone 4S and above.

The June bracelet has won two CES Innovations Design and Engineering Awards in both “Wearable Technologies” and “Tech for a Better World” categories. The bracelet will be on show at CES in the Convention Centre, South Hall 2, Stand 26 700, if you want to take a look.

I really like the concept behind this and as a parent, I could see a great deal of mileage in a waterproof version for children (and watersports enthusiasts) to wear. If little Johnny spends too long in the sun, the alarm goes off on Dad’s mobile phone.