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