All too often we hear stories of poor customer service so I want to give some props to Fitbit who replaced my Flex with no fuss or special blogger treatment. Here’s how it went down….
I’ve had a Fitbit Flex for nearly two years and it’s one of my favourites as it’s waterproof and I wear it while swimming. A couple of months ago the middle LED stopped working and last week another one seemed to stop. All other functions worked fine, so the Flex was still counting steps and syncing to my Fitbit app. In reality the fault was largely cosmetic.
Still, I decided to contact Fitbit’s customer services via email. I paraphrase each message.
Me: I’m having trouble with the LEDs on my Flex dying one by one. See photo.
Fitbit: Ok. I see that. Could you try resetting the Flex followed by a full charge. Me: I’ve done that and yes, one of the LEDs is now working but the middle one still isn’t. See new photo.
Fitbit: Ok, I see that it’s still not working. When and where did you get the Flex? Me: I got it in November 2014 and here are the details.
Fitbit: No problem, that’s fine. We’re going to send a replacement. What’s your address? Me: Thanks. Here’s my address.
Fitbit: The replacement Flex is on its way. Me: Thanks again.
And sure enough, the replacement Fitbit Flex arrived in the post yesterday. All the LEDs work fine.
Reviewing the email exchange, it really couldn’t have been sorted it out in anything less. A big thumbs up to Fitbit for sorting it out easily and painlessly.
On review here is Fitbit’s ChargeHR activity tracker, one of its most popular models which provides heart rate monitoring in addition to steps taken, calories burnt and eyes shut. Designed for “active fitness”, it’s aimed at those people who take control of their fitness level rather than simply walking 10,000 steps. That’s me then. On a good day. Let’s take a look.
You can watch the unboxing and setup video above, though what you don’t see is that I completely destroyed the box getting the tracker and accessories out because you’re supposed to open the bottom not the top. Doh! Fitbit, you need “Open other end” printed on the top. Inside the box is the Fitbit ChargeHR, a Bluetooth dongle, a charging cable and small instruction booklet that directs you to the Fitbit site for more information. The dongle is only required for syncing to a PC.
The ChargeHR is available in six colours; black, blue, teal, plum, tangerine and pink. As you’ll see from the pictures, I had the teal one, which was fine when I was exercising but I did feel a little self-conscious wearing it with a suit at work. Unlike the Alta and Flex range, there’s no switching round of bands, so buy a colour you’re comfortable with. The ChargeHR band comes in three sizes, small, large and extra large, though the XL size can only be bought through fitbit.com. Small is 13.7 cm–15.7 cm, large is 15.7 cm–19.3 cm and extra-large is19.3 cm–22.1 cm. Fitbit provide a handy sizing chart here. The ChargeHR has a proper watch-style buckle for the band, rather than the push through style of the Flex.
Getting started is easy. Charge the ChargeHR with the supplied cable, install the app on a smartphone or tablet, register if you aren’t already with Fitbit, follow the pairing instructions and job done. Now all you have to do is some exercise!
The ChargeHR is a extremely easy to use as there’s only one button which is situated on the left side of the unit. Pressing the button cycles through time, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, stories climbed and next alarm. For each statistics, there’s a little graphic followed by the number – footprints for steps, a heart for pulse and so on.
The main differentiator of the ChargeHR is the heart rate tracking. I don’t know much about the science but it appears to use a couple of greenish LEDs on the back of device to measure the pulse. The ChargeHR measures the pulse every second under normal circumstances, but when it detects exercise, it ups the data rate for real-time information so you can keep your pulse in the zone.
The charging port is visible on the back in the picture. Charging typically takes less than hour for a couple of days wear.
Clever as the ChargeHR is, it’s only once you start looking at the data generated that you really start to get benefit from the tracker. The Fitbit app can provide graphs and charts for most metrics. Here are a few showing steps, resting heart rate and sleep. I didn’t wear the ChargeHR every night, hence why there’s some missing data. Activity can be reviewed, giving heart rate zones – peak, cardio, fat burning – exercise duration and max heart rate. There’s lots of useful info.
If you’re using a PC rather than a smartphone or tablet, Fitbit provide a web-based portal that provides similar information and analysis. For the really serious fitness fans, $50 per annum gets Premium privileges and extra analysis (which I didn’t investigate).
The ChargeHR does vibrating alarms too which is very handy if you need to get up without your bedside alarm waking your significant other. The alarm is set via the app and then sync’d to the tracker. I like this, though it’s not exclusive to the ChargeHR.
As expected in this day and age, there’s a social element too. You can add friends who also have Fitbits (of whatever variety) and see a leaderboard of steps taken each week. You can also earn badges for steps taken per day and lifetime achievements – I’ve a Nile badge for 6,649 lifetime kilometres.
I’ve had the ChargeHR for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been wearing it as much as I can. Sometimes I have to wear my Fitbit Zip on my belt when a teal bracelet wouldn’t be appropriate. Fortunately the Fitbit app (at least on Android) allows cross-syncing, so if you do 1,000 steps on one device and 1,000 on another, both will show 2,000 after a sync (or two). I like that feature as it lets me wear the Fitbit that suits my day.
Overall, I feel Fitbit have slightly stolen my thunder here, as the ChargeHR is being phased out and replaced by the Charge 2, but this could be an opportunity to get an excellent tracker for less money. Although officially priced at a penny under GB£120, it’s widely available for £89.99, even in shops such as PC World. The Charge 2 is currently £129.99, so there’s an effective saving of £40.
Fitbit has continued the refresh of its fitness tracker range with new iterations of the Flex and Charge HR models. The Flex 2 is a direct replacement for the original Flex and the Charge 2 takes over from the Charge HR. If you were wondering, the Alta took over from the standard Charge.
As with the original the Flex, the Flex 2 comprises a small capsule tracker fitted into a range of bands, bangles and pendants to suit the activity. The key point about the Flex range is that its swim-proof, making it the essential tracker for the swimmer. As with the first one, the Flex 2 uses the same LED dots to denote steps taken, albeit in a different orientation. The new tracker auto recognises exercise and notifies on calls or texts coming into your mobile phone. As before, the Flex 2 shows steps taken, calories burned and records sleep. I’m slightly disappointed that the wristband (available in four colours for now) doesn’t have a standard buckle to avoid loss, but it does appear to have been re-designed. Pre-order in the UK for just under GB£80. Expected to ship in October.
The new Charge 2 falls into FitBit’s Active Fitness range and takes the fitness tracker to the next level, with multisport tracking, cardio fitness level and guided breathing sessions. Of course it measures paces, steps, calories, steps, sleep and heart rate as the original Charge HR (although the HR moniker has been dropped) and it now has connected GPS, which means that the Charge 2 can use the paired phone’s GPS to track routes. The Charge 2’s screen is customisable and there’s a choice of clock faces.
An improvement on the original is that the wristbands can be switched out, with a tasty looking leather band available (at GB£59.99 mind you!) The screen’s bigger as well and can show calendar alerts in addition to calls and texts. If the Charge 2 appeals, it can be pre-ordered for GB£129.99 for delivery in 2-3 weeks.
I’m currently testing the Charge HR, courtesy of Fitbit, and I’ll be reporting on my impressions of that soon.
Over 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fitbit is well-known in the activity tracking space with their diminutive gadgets which monitor the wearer’s every move and snooze. It’s a busy space, with competitors hot on their heels, Fitbit has been expanding its portfolio with new colours, swappable wrist bands, wireless syncing with more devices and pre-installing its app on new smartphones. I chat with Peter from Fitbit about the company’s recent activity and the direction of travel for activity watchers.
Those of you who are currently using the Fitbit Force need to be aware of a voluntary recall on it. Fitbit chose to recall the product after learning that some people are having allergic reactions to it. More specifically, some people are experiencing allergic contact dermatitis after using Fitbit Force.
Only 1.7% have reported any type allergic reaction. Even so, Fitbit has issued an apology to anyone who has been affected. As a person who has severe allergies (including some that result in allergic contact dermatitis) I applaud Fitbit’s willingness to empathize with people who had an allergic reaction to one of their products.
I do not currently use any of Fitbit’s products. If, later on, I decide I want a wearable activity tracker, I will consider Fitbit over other companies who sell similar devices. Personally, it feels like the products from Fitbit could be more “allergy-friendly” than the products from competitors.
How did the allergic reactions occur? Fitbit hired independent medical experts to investigate. It appears that the allergic contact dermatitis that some people are experiencing is a reaction to either the nickel present in the surgical grade stainless steel that is used in the Fitbit Force. Or, it could be a reaction to the materials used in the strap or the adhesives used to put the product together.
So, Fitbit offered an apology and did a voluntary recall of Fitbit Force. They also took things two steps further. Not only have they stopped selling Fitbit Force, but they also are offering a refund directly to customers for the full retail price of their Fitbit Force. I think Fitbit made excellent decisions after learning that some customers were experiencing skin irritation from Fitbit Force.
You might be forgiven in thinking that we’ve moved from a tech blog into a lifestyle magazine but I wanted to share a little of my life from the past 18 months. In late spring last year, I visited my doctor and she pointed out that in the 20 years since I joined her practice, I’d put on over 20 kg in weight – about 44 lb – and that my blood pressure was up. All classic signs of a heart attack waiting to happen. I had to lose some weight, get the pounds off and lower that blood pressure or an early exit beckoned. Obviously I’m still here but did I shed the pounds and how did I do it.
First of all, let’s get over the fact that there’s no diet in existence that will make you magically lose weight; you have to work at it. However, the recipe for weight loss is very straightforward – there are only three ingredients really.
While the recipe for weight loss is easy, I’ll admit that following it isn’t. The good news is that you can have three square meals a day; the bad news is that it means no junk – no crisps (chips), sweets or late night peanut butter sandwiches. There’s no need to starve: just take smaller portions and if you are full, stop eating.
As a geek, I also employed a bit of tech to help achieve my goal – a Nintendo Wii with Balance Board, a Fitbit Zip and food apps / web sites.
Most people will be familiar with the Nintendo Wii though sadly its discontinuation has been announced in the past few day. The Balance Board is bundled with WiiFit and WiiFit Plus, and while the associated programs are fun enough, I used the Balance Board as electronic scales to record my weight. Each morning, shortly after getting up, I’d weigh myself on the Balance Board. If my weight was down, I gave myself a mental high five. If my weight was up, it was a mental “you need to do better”. The Wii records your weight day by day and will show a graph of your progress.
The second piece of gadgetry is the Fitbit Zip. It’s an advanced digital pedometer that will upload its data to your PC and onwards to Fitbit’s portal. I received this for Christmas and Fitbit tries to gamify the activity of walking further by competing against friends and awarding badges. While I don’t need any stinkin’ badges, I was quite chuffed to be awarded my 1000 mile badge last month. The Zip doesn’t make you fitter by itself, but it does make you aware of walking and now I often choose to walk where previously I might have taken the car. Every little bit helps.
Finally to help eat better, I used a range of foodie websites and apps to find new, interesting and low calorie recipes. I find the BBC’s offerings both on their main site and on the Good Food site are excellent. Many of the supermarkets, such as Tesco, have good recipes too. Look for sections on healthy eating. App-wise, there’s a Good Food app on Android too. It helps if the app and website cater to metric as well as imperial units and do the conversions properly as directly converting from oz to g doesn’t work terribly well.
A word of advice. When browsing the supermarket shelves, “low fat” is not a particular benefit when the product is laden with sugar to make up the taste so approach with caution any food which loudly makes those claims. Ultimately, I found that weight and calories were the best guides so read the nutritional information on the back of food.
Did I succeed in losing weight with help from this tech? Absolutely – I’ve managed to lose nearly 18 kg (40 lb) and 4″ in waistline. There’s still a few pounds to lose but I do feel tremendously better for it. It has been hard work even with the tech – it requires willpower to say “no” to food, and food is so very much part of Western culture. But you can do it as I did. Remember; eat less, eat better, exercise more. Take encouragement from your success and determination from your setbacks.
Most of us could do with being a little bit fitter and shedding a few pounds. Fitbit wants to help us achieve that goal by combining technology with peer pressure and our natural competitiveness.
The Fitbit Ultra wireless tracker is the 21st century equivalent of a pedometer, recording the steps taken during the day for later upload to your home PC. It’s tiny and can easily be clipped to a waist band or left in a pocket. In addition to recording physical activity, it can also record your sleep – how long were you in bed, were you restless, did you have to get up?
The second gadget is the Fitbit Aria, smart scales that measure weight, BMI and % body, and wirelessly transmits the information on to your PC.
The Fitbit combines all this information with smartphone apps (iOS & Android) and dietary information to create a personal portfolio of your lifestyle. Of course, you can also tweet your successes to friends and family, though you might want to keep it quiet when you pile on the pounds.
You can find out more from their website or you can listen to this interview with Peter Groom, Fitbit’s UK Country Manager.