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Summary:

Thinking about another wearable activity tracker to replace your recalled Fitbit Force? Here are a few options.

Fitbit Force
photo: Gigaom

As most Fitbit users are aware, some Fitbit Force users have developed a skin irritation and the product is subject to a recall. I’m one of those victims, and have had to return my Force. What to buy with my $140 refund from Fitbit (see disclosure)? A Flex? A Jawbone? Something else such as a Garmin or a Polar?
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All these devices use Bluetooth Low Energy to connect with your iOS or Android phone and track steps, calories burned, and other data. They all fit on your wrist and claim to be water-resistant. The true accuracy of the devices is hard to determine, but the calorie count and step counts were within 15 percent for all the devices I tested on average. Jawbone counted the least number of steps per day for me and the Fitbit Force counted the most. Even the Force and Flex were off by this same number when comparing steps and calories burned. They should be used as guides to determine if you burned more calories and did more steps than the day before.

Jawbone Up 24 $149.99

I compared the original Jawbone Up to the Fitbit Flex and the key difference between the original Jawbone and the new 24 is the Bluetooth sync. All other features remain pretty much the same. The 24 has slightly less time between charges (7 days for the 24, 10 days for the original) and one less color choice. When I had it review my social media feeds, it found some previous Fitbit users now using Jawbone, so I now have regained some competitors I lost. The same food tracking, insights, and sleep tracking are included with the UP 24 app, but the 24 adds an optional vibrating idle warning if you’ve been sitting too long and need a reminder to stretch. For anyone who sits at a computer screen too long, this is a very welcome feature.

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Since I wrote that review, IFTTT popularity has grown with additional channels allowing some very intresting “recipes”. As IFTTT grows, so does the power of the Jawbone. I miss not having a display but I have an IFTTT recipe that sends me an SMS when i meet my goal.

Garmin Vivofit $129.99

Garmin has had a variety of GPS tracking products and fitness monitoring products, but the Vivofit is its first fitness band. Garmin’s product relies on the ANT+ standard to talk to other products and in particular its users’ heart monitors. Similar to the Force, the Garmin has a digital readout showing steps as well as the date and time using an LCD rather than the OLED of the Force. It doesn’t have a stopwatch function like the Fitbit Force or a lap function but it has a countdown of the number of steps you have left to meet your goal as well as the steps total. That’s a nice feature to view your data in two ways. It also adds a “move bar,” visually showing you if you’ve been idle to long. What I really like here is that the goal changes on a daily basis and the device slowly moves your goal or down to push you a bit without making it too hard to achieve.

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Unlike the other products though, the Garmin doesn’t need to be charged. It has a replaceable battery that is advertised as lasting a year. To achieve this, the product has no backlight and is difficult to read without proper light. This achieves a middle ground between no readout on the Jawbone, minimal readout on the Fitbit Flex and full information on the Force. Also, the device doesn’t provide vibrating alarms to wake or notify you, but will track sleep. The band is replaceable just like the Flex and comes in five different colors. I absolutely love the fact I never have to worry about my tracker running out of battery nor traveling with a proprietary charger.

The compelling feature here is the optional heart monitor. I already had one that was ANT+ compatible and it worked fine. While wearing it, I was able to see the realtime readout on my wrist. For dedicated exercise enthusiasts (weekend warrior here), tracking your heart rate and staying in your “zone” is a key aspect of fitness. Here was one workout I did trying to keep my heart rate up via intervals. Boy, that was a workout!
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Garmin’s solution is missing the food tracker found with other products as well as the stair monitoring function or the stopwatch of the Force, but it does have a social component in which you can compete with others. I found a few friends here, but to be fair Garmin is located in Kansas and many people in my social network are connected. These are people who use other Garmin fitness products such as the Forerunner and the Fenix, so the competition here is a bit fierce. The product looks nice, is customizable and easy to use and is exactly the type of product I’d expect from Garmin.

Polar Loop $99.95

Polar is a direct competitor to Garmin and it’s no surprise it has its own wrist tracker on the market. Just like Garmin’s it has an optional heart monitor to track your workouts. Unlike the Garmin, the Polar has an illuminated display of red LEDs that can be seen in low light situations but will only stay illuminated for a few seconds, similar to the Force. This device (which lasts up to five days per charge) also has an optional heart monitor that uses Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate. I tested the Loop both with Polar Heart Monitor as well as the Wahoo Blue HR Heart Monitor. In actual use, I had to tap each time on the loop to see my heart rate while the Garmin has a continuous display.

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Currently, no competition or food tracking features are available but this is an excellent app that provides details not just about steps but how long you were sleeping, sitting, and in low, medium, and high intensity activities. Not all steps are created equal and the Loop gives additional insights as well as a idle buzz on the phone reminding you to get up and move. The Loop does not vibrate when delivering notifications.

In actual usage, the Loop is clunky. It requires you to cut your band to a custom size, which included removing tiny pins on the band and an instructional video. This device has a metal clasp similar to a watch band, and while I don’t expect any reaction to the metal, it gives me pause for concern. I had trouble syncing the heart monitor via Bluetooth, but support walked me through the nuances.

Fitbit Flex? Not for me!

Personally, I’ve been burned (maybe literally) by Fitbit so I’m reluctant to buy another of their products and the class action lawsuit makes me question the long term viability of the company. I really didn’t want to return it, but I have no choice now and the whole motivation of this article is trying to find a replacement.

When Jawbone had problems they gave refunds and allowed the user to keep the product. This was smart. Fitbit dropped the ball here. I believe they should have offered Force customers a Flex or another product to allow us to stay in the competition while waiting for our refunds, as as a goodwill gesture, still refund the full money. This would allow me to continue to compete and not lose my history while I wait for the refund. Personal trackers, are well, personal, so I hate to say goodbye to mine but at this point enough early adopter friends have left my scoreboard that I’m not as much motivated and once my rash started developing I stopped using it on my wrist. I can’t even sell my Force on eBay or Craiglist ever since they don’t allow resale of recalled products.

fitbit rash

However, if you want a wrist tracker the Flex is still a good product, but with more friends leaving the product, the competitive features aren’t as compelling. The market for trackers is opening up so I don’t expect as many people to join in. The Flex still has the same dotted lights to tell you how close you are to your goal and has a vibrating alarm and your history will be retained if you move from the Force to the Flex. You’ll need to consider how motivating your competitors are to you and if that’s a key factor and they intend to stay on the Fitbit platform, the Flex is the logical next step.

Decision?

Here is a summary of the products and features to help you decide:

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My choice? I haven’t decided yet except that Fitbit and I have parted ways. I lean towards the simple elegance of the Jawbone but the data junkie in me loves being able to track my heart while working out and having something on my wrist to tell time, but then I’ll have to decide between the lack of a backlight on the Garmin (but no recharge needed) or the Loop with its lack of community.

For those who returned their Fitbit Force, what have you replaced it with?

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.

  1. Withings Pulse…

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    1. Bill,

      Thanks for that suggestion. Pulse isn’t a wrist tracker. I love the trackers but wearing them on my waist they tend to get forgotten and go through the wash. Once I moved to wrist based it’s hard to move back to the “old tech” ways

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  2. Did you ever consider ‘basis’ (considered to be the most advanced tracker) ? I recently bought one & am happy with it.

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    1. Yes Sathish I did and got into quite the heated discussion with a few people :-) The Basis is $200 which is much more than any of the trackers here. Also some people I’ve spoken with about the Basis get kinda overwhelmed with so much data being tracked they get intimidated by it. It’s the “advanced” part that scare them. Honestly I haven’t tried one but $200 is a serious investment while $99 is a bit more palatable

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  3. Since Fitbit did a recall with the Consumer Product Safety Commission the Federal rules/regs prevent them from offering you any option other than return for a cash refund.

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  4. I just dug out my old fitbit classic and am using it for now.

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    1. I gave mine to another family member and sold another. That’s the viral nature of the product. Due to the recall, I can’t sell my old Force on eBay and other places. I could have kept it on my belt loop in theory, but decided to take the money and move on.

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  5. I’m still wearing my FitBit Force and am loathe to give it up. I bought it in February right before learning of the recall and have no adverse reactions (yet). In many ways it does all that I need, I just don’t like the tiny screen that’s hard for 50-something eyes to see and the fact that it requires another hand to pinch a small button just to read the screen. I think a watch battery is really the way to go. Weekly charging is a hassle and you’re without a watch or step tracker for the hours it takes to charge.

    Tried the Garmin and hated the fact that there was no way to see it at night! What a dumb design! I like the larger screen, but it’s unintuitive that the text cannot display perpendicular to the arm. Steve Jobs would have laughed it out of the room as an Apple prototype.

    My friend wears the Jawbone UP, but why or why would it NOT have a screen?… That makes no sense at all and I like the fact that I can at least get the time and how many steps I’ve taken off of the FitBit.

    I’m not really sure where else to go, but such are the breaks for early adopters of immature technology like this.

    Dave, with all due respect, are you seriously not willing to pay $200 for wearable technology? That seems a really arbitrary, mostly anecdotal watermark. The Basis (or any other tracker at that $ amount) is not even all that much higher than the devices that come with heart monitors. The Garmin Heart monitor combo is only $20 less. Hope you’ll rethink that and review the Basis as you have the others.

    Speaking of $. You do know the iWatch will probably come in at $299, $399, and $499 right? Hopefully, it will be worth it. It’s obvious to see why Apple is taking it’s time watching all of these early leaders flounder a bit.

    I was unconvinced about wearable technology before I got the FitBit. Seemed like just another part of our lives to create a market in. Figured it was only for the super fit athletic types, but now I see that it’s motivating me, a far too sedentary dood, to get off my ass and move around a lot more. I’m making sure I walk 5 miles a day now and it’s really having an impact. The sleep tracking is fantastic as well! I’m sure it’s not perfectly accurate, but just to get a read on how much I may toss and turn is invaluable data.

    Please Apple, please. Put something out there that really transforms the market that competitors can copy. We need something better than all of these options FAST!

    Mick

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    1. Apple could definitely change the field. Personally I could see myself paying $200 for a Basis, but the target market I don’t think is the same. Did you get a Basis? I did think the Force did everything I needed and it took almost 4 months for my rash to develop and long after the first reports of it. Came on suddenly. The Garmin or Polar Heart Monitors work with other devices so I’m inclined to lean towards those. Also it helps spread the cost as they can be bought separately. I’ve also read the Basis, being wrist based, isn’t as accurate as chest based monitors for high intensity activities such as running and interval training.

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      1. No, I never picked up the Basis, but I might try it out if I finally get “the rash.” I’ve only personally seen and worn the 2 primary FitBits and the Garmin.

        I’m not so sure about your assessment of the market. Not that I have a crystal ball, but I think Apple has proven many times that people will pay twice as much for the privilege of having really excellent tech that works. And I’m not drinking KoolAide here, just saying that they’re pretty good about timing their jumps into these markets by waiting, seeing everything that’s wrong with what’s out there, and then redefining the space. I’m not sure if they can still do that without Jobs as the gatekeeper, but I hope they can. I still think they’re a company in search of a true leader. Cook is a solid guy, but Apple needs a cheerleader. It needs a Richard Branson, or maybe a Musk, or somebody with charisma and VISION.

        The whole wearable tech space right now needs vision. There are good ideas, but they’re not thinking long enough about them and really developing them as I think they should. I’d rather pay $200-$300 for something that works, than pay half that for something that doesn’t.

        cheers,

        Mick

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        1. I agree that Apple’s target would be the higher end products and, given the proper features and performance, $200 and up wouldn’t be a problem for the monitoring. Years ago I did a story on Body Media and the fact that it is subscription based makes it much more expensive than any of these devices in the long term. For the absolute most accurate info it’s the way to go but it really more for weight loss rather than fitness given how much it measures

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        2. MIck, on the contrary, I can see the apple kool aid stains on your lips. I do agree that they have seemed to innovate a somewhat better product, and all one has to do is wait about 6 months and the market “copies” the tech with something better, and MUCH less expensive. I’ve seen this occur with both laptops and smart phones (if you’re not a microsoft hater, take a look at the Windows 8.1 phones. They’ve passed iPhone in many ways already. Funny though, nobody was either interested or able to make a better and cheaper MP3 player, so as far as I know ipods are the only real viable choice.

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  6. Despite the price, I went with the Basis because of it’s ability (through heart rate and smarts) to track non-step-based workouts, like bike commuting and a circuit training fitness class. But, I will not recommend it in its current form because of the band design. Not only is it quite bulky for a girl wrist, but the band pops off. While the customer service has been great (I have both my money back and a replacement device) until they redesign it, there is no solution to keep the band securely attached to the computer portion. This poor design makes it easy to lose, and this is compounded by the bulkiness, because it can easily catch on sleeves, such as when taking off a jacket. Function wise, the only thing I wish the Basis had was a vibrating alert for both wake-up alarms and when sitting too long. Also, the automatic syncing is not always reliable due to Basis server issues.

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    1. Ouch. A $200 monitoring device falling off your wrist is an expensive design flaw but I read that from others. The Force had a terrible clasp as well. The Garmin had the most adjustable and reliable fit.

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    2. Yeah, I wondered about that, Rachel. The unit is HUGE! Waaaay too bulky and suffers from early tech gigantism. It’s a heartbreaking disease.

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  7. No Fuel Band?

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    1. They declined to comment or provide samples so I couldn’t include them. Also, as I understand, still no Android app.

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  8. Josephine Picard Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    I think a good alternative to wrist fitness trackers are the clip-on fitness trackers. They are more accurate and they also come with a wristband, so you can wear them on your wrist if you want. For example, Moov has 3D motion sensing, which allows it to track more complex exercises such as boxing or yoga: http://versus.com/en/moov
    Misfit Shine is also quite good and I would prefer it to the Jawbone UP24 because of its longer battery life: http://versus.com/en/misfit-shine-vs-jawbone-up24

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  9. Josephine,

    I’m personally not a fan of the clip-ons because they can get lost so easily. I know when I had my Fitbit I had dozens of near panicked stop the laundry alerts when I realized it was still clipped on. Moov sounds great but it isn’t out yet and Shine didn’t respond to my requests for a review unit. Have you tried the Shine. What do you think of it?

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    1. Do you keep your phone on wrist also, so you don’t lose it.

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  10. I replaced my Force with the Polar Loop and have been quite happy with it.

    Two of the things I like most aren’t mentioned:

    Instead of a rubber material that kinda grabs long sleeves, etc, its more of a pliable plastic.

    Getting the band to fit correctly is a bit more involved than other bands, but the stainless clasp should hold up much better over time than those with pegs that go through a rubber band. In 6 wks my Force was already popping off easier, and it looks like the Garmin might have develop a similar affliction.

    Its almost totally waterproof, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

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    1. I am also very pleased with Polar Loop especially with the HR heart rate H7 which this article failed to mention and the waterproof issue. Loop is way ahead of all these trackers.

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