With summer just 'round the corner, many minds are salivating for a beach break; fun and games, and of course, a Flake ’99, but many others are looking to impress and show off their beach bod. Taking one for the team, we jumped off the sofa and hit the sunny South to test out the latest offerings from Nike and Fitbit, on some open-air basketball courts and sandy beaches.
With both gadgets needing the user to be, well, active to work, we had to get away from our laptops and get some exercise for a change. From hectic days of shopping the early sales, to playing fast-paced games of pick-up basketball, to general jogging in the rain, we tested each gadget in the same busy situation and assessed how well they each did.
We also looked into how well they did on a day-to-day basis with little exercise; the ease of use for each gizmo; what features they had, and how practical they are in a physical environment. Not to mention rigorously tested the software each device comes with, and how they compare in the digital realm.
The Fitbit Ultra is a nifty little gadget and is quite similar to the Nike FuelBand in terms of tracking activity. But it does have its major differences, too. Packed into the super-cute and almost toy-like plastic enclosure is an OLED display combined with a stat-tracking duo of an accelerometer and altimeter, all in one handy, clip-on package. With a singular button, the Fitbit allows you to check out a variety of information, from calories burnt, to steps taken, floors climbed, distance covered, and it can even help track details in your sleep.
As the device is clip-like in nature, as well as being absolutely tiny, you can clip it anywhere on your person, or just keep it in your pocket. Both of these are great options if you want to just leave the device on you and check your statistics when you get home, but if you want to quickly check the time, activity level or even your calories burnt, you have to fiddle around with it in your pocket or clipped-on area, which can start to get annoying if you want a quick glance. The onboard stopwatch is a handy feature though, and is sorely missed on the FuelBand. The Fitbit also feels a bit fragile, and opening the clip made me rather worried I would snap the whole thing. Being tiny can have its advantages, but it’s so small, you'll inevitably fear losing it or sending it through the wash.
After installing the software, charging up the device and registering it on the website, you can then take the device away and start to get active. It’s really simple and intuitive, and the website is a great companion to the device. With the Fitbit, you could force the device to sync by plugging it into your computer, but the USB base also serves as a wireless receiver, so you don’t have to plug-in the device every time -- only when you want to charge the device. Of which, the Fitbit’s battery life is good for up to a week of general use. While you can’t sync the device on the go, there are companion Fitbit apps for both iOS and Android that let you check your progress and statistics, and then go a few steps further, by letting you log details such as activities and meals. The tracker goes hand-in-hand with the mobile apps, but live-syncing straight to a device is a missed feature that the FuelBand does provide.
What’s great about the Fitbit experience though, is that the online service lets you sync data from other apps such as Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal and LoseIt, which are great apps for tracking fitness and food. Combined with the Calories In vs Out graphs and stats, the Fitbit tracker paired with the online app is a great way for watching what you eat and losing weight, but does involve a bit more effort into inputting every single detail. While the main online site is quite similar to the effort from Nike, right down to achievements and social media integration, the site has a lot more features and can give a lot more feedback if you’re willing to put the time into it. Those who are heavily invested in pure statistics will love this aspect to the Fitbit, but not everyone has the time to log everything and many might rather see an immediate reaction.
Nike, on the other hand, aims to make life a sport, and judging by the promotional videos for the FuelBand, the company has made a device that is suitable to any lifestyle. Including hipsters. The FuelBand tracks all sorts of various activities throughout the day via the inbuilt accelerometers, and then translates that into what Nike calls ‘NikeFuel’, which is a measure they've come up with to monitor activity. The more active you are, the more NikeFuel you gain – and that is part of what makes the FuelBand so addictive. Set a goal for the day, hit your goal and then feel good about yourself. Until the next day, that is.
Getting started with the FuelBand is a pretty simple affair. After installing the software, plugging in the FuelBand will take you to the Nike+ website where you can set up a Nike+ profile and set a goal that is similar to your active level. After charging up the band, the display will display an inspiring ‘Go!’ and then the rest is up to you to fill the bar up to the sweet green spot.
At first glance the band is a simple little device, and it looks like a rather non-descript, rubber black band that is a bit chunkier than other sports bands. But one touch of the singular button located on the device, and a whole set of 120 LEDs light up to tell you a set of figures ranging from the time; calories burnt; NikeFuel earned; steps taken -- and if you’ve hit it -- a note to tell you that you’ve achieved your goal for the day.
It’s certainly a snazzy device, and it received quite a few compliments among my peers. Slapping the FuelBand onto your wrist allows you to forget that it's there, as it barely weighs anything, and with a single press of the singular button on the device you can check your progress and details which makes it a lot easier than having to reach into your pocket or unclip the device from your shorts. It also feels very rugged, and definitely stood up to our punishing basketball sessions. The band is also water-resistant, so jogging in the rain will have no impact on it at all, and you can rack up the NikeFuel in the shower if you are so inclined. Just don’t expect to jump in the pool with it.
Packed inside the FuelBand’s small enclosure is a Bluetooth chip that lets you sync your activity on the fly with your iOS device (an Android app is coming in this summer), and with a data connection, you can then upload that straight to the Nike+ dashboard which logs all your details. The software itself is also simple to use, and the Nike+ website is accessible from any computer so you can check your progress 'round a friend’s house and even share and compare stats on Facebook or Twitter for a bit of an ego boost or for even more motivation. The iOS app is a slimmer version of the site dashboard, but is still functional enough for an on-the-go fix.
Overall, while the tiny device from Fitbit has quite a few more features packed into its small enclosure, it doesn’t scream motivation right away like the FuelBand does, and it does feel quite cheap in comparison. Saying that, the Fitbit is the cheaper option and has a few more features that might appeal to the more statistical-inclined, but the FuelBand looks the part and it definitely seems to give me more motivation over the Fitbit. It is also straight to the point with a daily target to hit, and also gives you real-time fulfilment; not to mention syncing straight to your phone for those moments when you are away from a computer.
Both devices let you tweet your achievements -- one sooner that the other -- but glancing at your wrist and seeing the word GOAL blinking at you just makes you feel so good. And that’s why the Nike FuelBand has the edge for us.
Photos by Jacob Lewis