Troy Angrignon

Entrepreneur, Athlete, Adventurer

Fitness Device Comparison: Nike Fuel, Jawbone, Fitbit Flex, Basis B1, Fitbit Force, Misfit Shine, Polar Loop

Fitness Device Comparison

Fitness Device Comparison

(Revision 4 – Updated Jan 11, 2014)

There are hundreds of reviews out there on the current and upcoming fitness bands. I’ve destroyed and/or lost many of them and have a high bar for what they need to do to be useful.

My plan is to keep this table up to date as I test new devices to give my extremely opinionated view of the most recent fitness bands. I hope it will help you choose the right band for you.

First, let’s get my bias out of the way. I’m an athlete who loves data. I’ve tried many systems, many apps, and many devices. I also have a passion for good design and user experience so my summaries are a combination of my thoughts on these from many angles: industrial design, daily survivability, daily usability, ruggedness, user experience, feel, app quality and function, and data interoperability.

Here is my current assessment of devices and systems. I’ve used all of these for periods of time.

If you’re looking for just the punchline:

  • Best Sleep Tracking: Jawbone Up24
  • Most Waterproof: Misfit Shine (Fitbit Flex is second place);
  • Best overall durability: Misfit Shine
  • Most complete web app: Jawbone Up24
  • Most accessible data: Fitbit
  • Avoid: Nike is okay but I hate that your data is stuck in their walled garden. Basis doesn’t really work 99% of the time, and Polar Loop is ugly and very pre-production.

Screenshot 2014-01-11 17.01.33

Note 1: I’m only listing wristbands. I’m not including things like the FitBit Ultra or Withings Pulse. They are totally unsustainable and unusable because you just lose them. I’m pretty sure this category will eventually die off. I lost several and everybody I know who had one lost it too.

(10) Comments

  1. Troy, thanks! I love your assessment. I still have my fuel band, which lives a quiet life. One sport and no water or sand. I totally agree with you about how proprietary they are with the data.

    Give that apple has hired 2 of the nike gurus, do you have any sense of Apple’s iWatch plans???
    Are you cycling at all? How does the misfit do on cycling?

  2. I don’t have any idea about Apple’s plans. Interestingly, Nike’s stuff was mostly done by Flextronics. Nike was really the brand in the front and Flextronics managed the supply chain on the back. Nike (and Apple) are both so into walled gardens, I don’t see anything really interesting coming out of them but I’m willing to eat those words if something amazing happens. For starters, they put the M7 co-processor in the iPhone 5s so it can manage sensor data without having that data burn the main cycles of the primary CPU so they’re obviously realizing that it will be a multi-sensor world.

    The Misfit, like all bands, sucks at counting cycling. Of course, they all suck at understanding actual load on the body too (like strength training / crossfit).

    I’m going to write another article soon on what I actually want to see. So far, there isn’t anything in the market that can do what I want.

  3. Troy,

    Your comment on Nike+Flextronics is inaccurate. Care to link to a source? All of the above use contract manufacturing (multiple use Flextronics) and those CM’s also tend to manage supply chain of sub-componentry, but the FuelBand was not designed by Flextronics. I know this as fact.

    Interestingly, you omit any reference to richness of on-device display. Many people feel that not telling time is a deal breaker. You should reflect that in your list.

    Also, the M7 does not allow access to the same data fidelity as the other devices above, so its not an equivalent. It gives access only to a total step count and a state change (i.e., transition from walking to sitting, sitting to in-car).

    What makes the FitBit’s sync method so superior? My experience is that the BT sync has been hit-and-miss. I’d prefer a more robust transaction of BT w/ USB option.

  4. Please re-read my post Jordan. I did not say Flextronics “designed” it. I said (inarticulately) that “Nike’s stuff was mostly done by Flextronics.” I believe you’re correct – that the product / application design was done by Nike – that was also my understanding. The application development was outsourced to a third-party and the band manufacturing was outsourced to Flextronics. I know you’re aware of this. So I basically agree – the product design came from Nike as far as I know. It sounds like you have even more personal information on that.

    You know, I’ve wrestled with the display issues. My first band was the Nike. I hated the fact that you had to hit it so many times to cycle through the data and you had those LEDs. It was awkward and a big step back from just looking at your damned watch to see the time in .05s. Then I tried (and lost) multiple Fitbit Ones and Ultras. Their displays were pretty good but irrelevant when you lose them or wash them in the laundry anyway. Then I went to the Jawbone, which as you know, has no display. I did it because I just needed something that would survive my day to day living and training. As you know from the post above, 4 band replacements later, I gave up on that. The Basis screen was a watch but it was like a watch from the first days of LED watches – terrible aesthetically, dim, and just plain ugly. I also tested the Withings Pulse (like a Fitbit One/Ultra for those of you who don’t know it). Cool, but that form factor (the device you pin to things and move around and put into a wrist band at night for sleeping) is not useable in the long run so again the display was irrelevant. The display on the Polar loop is AWFUL – huge bright red LEDs from 1980.

    This leaves only the Fitbit Flex/Force and the Shine. I actually LOVE the OLED display on the Fitbit Flex/Force. It’s super easy to read. Having said that, I never use it anyway. Because I don’t “check progress” through the day. I just need the aggregate data over time and generally need the more rich data I get from the phone where I can see all the stats at once. Same with the Shine. I don’t tap it to look at progress because I don’t care about the little info it can give me. I’d prefer to open the app, sync it, and look at the stats there.

    Waterproofness and the ability to stay attached at all times in all circumstances and just collect the data 24×7 is a combined and very important set of factors for me and people like me who like to train and workout in a lot of varied environments. I’ll probably drop the Force because the band sucks (it falls off all the time just from being scraped on things), and the sleep tracking sucks anyway. So even though it has the fastest, sharpest, cleanest, brightest screen, it still is a poor choice for people like me who are used to owning sports equipment like Timex, Garmin, and Suunto that you can leave on 24×7, beat the shit out of, and never worry about. Taking the Force off before I shower or having to worry about it if I’m in the ocean completely defeats the purpose of having a passive data collection device because now I have mental overhead involved. It’s a total non-starter for multi-sport athletes or industrial athletes or military personnel.

    Speaking of bands, I can’t figure out why the fitness band industry thinks they need to be clever about the band design? We’ve been keeping watches on our wrists since 1920 for God’s sake and making waterproof watches with rubber wrist straps for at least the last 20-30 years and yet each of these manufacturers comes up with some lame new design that falls off if you scrape it on something.

    I was not aware what the M7 was actually tracking – interesting to know that it’s that limited. I didn’t expect it to be a replacement but it is a way of picking that data up from edge sensors without burning primary CPU cycles right? That was my understanding anyway.

    Jeez…sync method. In short, I want it wireless and I want it to work. Nike Fuel – had to unclasp and plug in to USB. Lame. Jawbone – had to uncap that goofy speaker jack and plug it in. Very high failure rate using audio as a transit method. It would fail 90% of the time, requiring either turning up the volume on the iPhone, quitting and restarting the app, shutting down all other audio apps, and/or a complete phone reboot. Total joke. The Polar Loop was so poorly designed I won’t even discuss it. The Fitbits I’ve used – Ultra, Flex, and Force – have basically just worked. I’ve never had any BT sync issues with them. The Shine had sync issues in the early days. I had to take the thing off my wrist and put it on the iPhone which was annoying. Now I can sync it by holding it close to the phone. It’s less reliable and robust than the Fitbit but it works (and it’s waterproof and stays *mostly* on my wrist – hence it’s winning).

    I’m definitely not the “fat part of the market” (read that however you want – ;-)) and recognize that. Your colleague and I have had many hours of conversation about this. People like me who I train with are way more into the “fitness” end of the spectrum than the “lifestyle” end of the spectrum so we have a different set of priorities. I think of it as a hierarchy of priority where certain things take priority over certain other things. In short, mine has evolved to be:

    REALLY CARE
    – waterproof
    – stay on my wrist
    – track activity and sleep 24×7 (steps, total sleep, light sleep, deep sleep)
    – simple sync to the phone (where I’ll read the data)
    – be aesthetically bearable (not so completely horribly ugly I won’t wear it – Like the Polar Loop. Frankly I hate the design of the Shine – too girly for me but I put up with it because of the higher level priorities.)

    DON’T CARE
    – display
    – charging method / times

    Frankly it’s baffling to me that nobody can even get the first couple of items correct – waterproof and stays on the wrist under all circumstances. Look at any Timex ironman watch. They’ve been able to do it for years.

  5. Your usual analytical thoroughness :) Your “bias” of hardcore multisport wet / sand / etc. is excellent — but could be highlighted more. e.g. I could care less about sleep, so ones that are “good” at that don’t get more points from me.

    I know what you mean by walled garden. But I see Human API (I can intro if you’re interested) and APIs plugging in everywhere. Lose It (weight loss / calorie counting) has Fuelband integration, and in general, the APIs win and the data doesn’t seem to have a hard time getting everywhere.

    I definitely think display is a big part of it. Once I figured out that you could configure Fuelband to only display time & fuel points, and kept it “scrolled” to time, then one quick button hit showed me time. I love that, it has the best display for this purpose (once you do the config so you’re not button pressing your way through multiple data bits).

    Nike Fuel has wireless syncing that works to phone. Press and hold until sync appears, it Bluetooths to phone, and done. I only take it off / plug into USB to charge it (roughly every 5 days).

    Would be interesting to do a review of “soft” trackers — I’m now on Moves, and spent a chunk of time with Argus (that also let me track cups of coffee, glasses of water, etc.). When the M7 gets into the next gen of “cheap” iPhones, we’ll see the soft trackers be that much more viable. And perhaps the mythical iWatch, too.

  6. Yeah, that’s part of why I wanted to be clear up front what my particular bias was. Most of the market won’t care about durability, ruggedness, or waterproofing. They just want something that they can wear and read on their wrist. For them, the Fuel band or Fitbits are probably the best fit. Shine is also a good option for people who want something less dorky and more “fashionable” although it’s still not my style.

    Also, as you mentioned, if you don’t care about sleep then the Nike is perfectly adequate and their app quality is nice. Just don’t try to use it with an Android – because you can’t. I’m pretty sure somebody at Apple strong-armed Nike to kill off their Android development. Why else would you kill off 80% of the mobile market?

    Re data flows, Fuel was entirely closed for a long time. If they are now moving their data around, that’s something I wasn’t aware of. Their whole “Nike startup” thing where they tried to entice people to build apps on the Nike+ platform seemed to fizzle and they’ve seemed sort of clueless about data portability and clean integrations. Sort of like Suunto actually except in a different part of the market.

  7. Oh and yeah you know I had forgotten about Nike’s syncing via BT or whatever it uses now. It was my first device, waaaay back 2 years ago so I haven’t honestly kept up with it. After ruining 4 of them I didn’t see the point in continuing to care about anything they did. Again, that is not how they are for normal people and I’m sure there are many happy Fuel band owners out there that are not replacing the bands every 5 weeks. This is why I was clear about my biases up front. Other people have different priorities.

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