A weekend with Misfit’s Shine: an activity tracker for people tired of fugly fitness gadgets

Misfit Shine

How popular the quarter-sized Shine activity tracker becomes will show just how important hardware design has become to the emerging wearable industry. I played with the aluminum, LED-lined Shine — created by the Indiegogo– and venture capital-backed startup Misfit Wearables — this weekend, and there were a variety of things I loved about it, as well as a few things I would have liked to change.

Here’s what I discovered in my (admittedly limited) couple-day experience using the Shine as I walked, ran, biked and rowed (yay, canals) around the cities of London and Brighton.

The unboxing

I’m not a regular gadget reviewer, so I’ll start out by giving a review nod to my days at Engadget many (many) moons ago and start with the proper unboxing.

Misfit's Shine arrives

Misfit’s Shine arrives

This is what the packaging looks like:

The Misfit Shine packaging

The Misfit Shine’s packaging

The instructions for starting it up:

Starting up the Misfit Shine

Starting up the Misfit Shine

Starting up the Misfit Shine was pretty easy. As you can see, you click it out of the packaging, open it up with the custom tool that comes in the package, align the battery and close it up. It lights right up and starts working.

The unusual thing about the Shine compared to many other activity trackers is that its battery doesn’t need to be continuously recharged. It runs on a coin cell battery that’s supposed to last between four and six months (a proper long review would need to take that into account).

Unlike with the Fitbit and other fitness devices, you don’t have to recharge the Shine every few days (or weeks). That’s way more convenient on a daily basis. As a former Fitbit user (of about six months), a number of times I fell out of the routine of using my Fibit because I would forget to charge it.

On the flip side, after the battery eventually dies, it could be a slight pain to get (or at least remember to get) a replacement battery. Yes, they’re just basic coin cell batteries (and can be bought at drugstores and the Misfit website), but it’s just a little hurdle that the user has to clear. Also environmentally, going through a number of batteries over the Shine’s lifetime is a considerable waste compared to rechargeable batteries.

The design of the Shine

The Shine, in its purest form.

The Shine, in its purest form.

The hardware design of the Shine device is its best asset. Its matte-aluminum material and thumb-print-sized form both ask to be touched and also look industrial and strong enough to be an activity gadget — an interesting combination. I caught myself over the weekend just wanting to touch the surface of the Shine, without using the tapping language that Misfit has created to act as the interface.

The Shine’s metal design wasn’t easy to achieve. Misfit CEO Sonny Vu previously told me that it takes four different factories just to make the various pieces of the shell, and the metal also created some usability restrictions (like syncing it without touching it to the surface of the phone). Vu joked with me during an interview a few months ago, “The next time I think of doing an entirely metal product, someone shoot me.”

The backside of the Misfit Shine

The backside of the Misfit Shine

Since the Shine is a perfectly round sphere, you need an accessory to wear it. The Fitbit uses a casing and belt clip (among other options) for this. There are other companies like Nike and its FuelBand that have focused squarely on a wristband. The thing is, I would never wear a wristband fitness tracker (and I think many women feel the same way). It’s just too much and many of them are way too fugly.

The Shine, picture from website, with edge and LEDs lit up.

Picture of the Shine (from the website) that shows the edge and how the LEDs light up.

I really liked the design of the magnetic clip that works with the Shine as its basic accessory. One side of it slips around the outside of the Shine, and the other side has a magnet that closes completely around a piece of clothing (belt hook, collar, shoe laces, bra strap, etc).

Misfit ShineAnother issue I have had with the Fitbit is that I would clip it to my belt hook or pant waist and it could easily come off when I sat down or moved in a certain way. Because the magnetic clip closes the entire way — and has some force from the magnet — it feels much more secure than using the Fitbit clip.

The Shine with the magnetic clip.

Me wearing the Shine with the magnetic clip.

The magnetic clip and Shine:

The Shine with the magnetic clip.

The Shine with the magnetic clip.

There’s also a sports band, which I tested at the gym. It works fine (though, like I said, I would never wear a wristband activity tracker).

The Shine in the sports watch accessory.

The Shine in the sports watch accessory.

Another shot of the sports watch:

The Shine in the sports watch accessory

The Shine in the sports watch accessory

The Shine’s accessories are another solid aspect of its design. You can buy higher-end leather wrist bands, or a necklace and Misfit will also sell other accessories in the future. I particularly like how they are giving the consumer options to mold the Shine into their own fashion.

The glanceable UI:

With the Shine, Misfit is trying to create a brand new type of “glanceable” interface that keeps users engaged, keeps them touching the device and gives the user the information they need and want (but not too much data) in a couple-second glance. It’s a difficult task. There’s no digital “screen” with information, and the Shine uses a combination of LED lights and a language of finger taps to deliver you information.

The interface of the white lights works well, and I am glad they didn’t try to add in different light colors. It’s basically a much-more paired down style of the Nike FuelBand.

The very basic information the Shine gives you is how close to your activity goal you are. The closer to your activity goal, the more LED lights will be displayed around a circle. If you’ve completed your 1,000 steps (or whatever your goal is), then there will be a complete circle of LED lights — if you’re half-way done, there will be a half circle. Figuring out your proper activity goal will take some time. I set mine at 1,000 steps, which I think was too little.

Misfit ShineI also like the idea that Misfit has developed a new language of taps with the device to create different states. To see how far along you are Misfit Shinetoward your goal you tap the Shine twice. To log an activity you tap it three times. You’re supposed to be able to get the Shine to show the time, but I couldn’t figure out the right tapping language for that function (even after provisioning it to show the time in the app).

However, getting the tapping right was one of the problems I had while using the Shine this weekend. It seemed like I would have to double tap it more than once to get it to show my activity progress. About half of the times I tap it, it reacts and shows activity progress (the other half of the time it doesn’t react). It was particularly hard to get it to react when it was really hot out and my fingers were also warm. Misfit ShinePerhaps it needs to be more sensitive, or perhaps I need to train more on the proper tapping method. Also remember that this is the first version to launch.

Four days of trying out the device also wasn’t enough time to get a handle on the activity logging function. Misfit asks users to log activities by tapping the Shine three times before they start an activity. Since a lot of my physical activities this weekend — walking around Brighton, riding bikes around East London, rowing in the East London canal — weren’t totally planned, most of the time I forgot to log the activities before I started. Users also have provision which activities the logging function is tracking (sleep, bike, swim) in the mobile app, and the default is the sleeping log, so I while playing with activity logging I logged a few fake naps during one of the days (see random purple nap at 4:46pm).

Misfit ShineEither as a result of me missing my logging, or because activity trackers seem to have a hard time picking up bike riding, the Shine didn’t seem to calculate in many hours of riding bikes on Sunday. Bike riding was always a hard one for Fitbit to track, too — I always had to manually enter bike rides. I need a few more days to play with the activity logging function to see how it would affect my use of the Shine.

Similar to the design of the Shine device, the design of the Shine mobile app is clean, well-thought out and easy to use. The team focuses on simplicity, which is great and something that many activity trackers and apps lack. The mistake many companies make is trying to add in too much information and the apps get too complex and cluttered.

Finally, one of the things that is unique about the Shine is that because of the metal casing (which blocks more robust wireless) you have to sync the Shine with your iPhone by placing it directly on the surface of the screen. I was expecting to not like this function, but I actually really liked the feeling of matching the Shine onto the circle of the iPhone screen. There was something oddly satisfying about physically connecting the devices through the touch screen and watching while it downloads your information. You feel like you’re accomplishing something.

The only drawback of the touch screen sync is that I found myself syncing less often than if it was happening automatically. The other drawback of the syncing is that you have to take the Shine out of the accessory to sync it on the screen, which just adds another step (yes, first world problems).

In terms of the software, Misfit faced a bit of an issue because they recently decided to launch the product with iPhone-only functionality, instead of launching it also for Android. Because the company raised funding on Indiegogo with the promise of Android functionality, that could be disappointing to any backers that were expecting to use a Shine with Android.

Overall, the Shine was a well-designed breath of fresh air in a world of fugly fitness gadgets, and with a bit more attention to the tapping interface, I could really love this gadget. I haven’t mentioned the price yet, but its $99.95, which is in the same range as Fitbit’s various offerings, and Jawbone’s UP (and below the Nike FuelBand). The Shine is competitive to these products, albeit probably less hard core fitness-oriented.

We’ll be focused on experience design at our annual RoadMap conference in November in San Francisco. Tickets will go on sale shortly.

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