Editor’s note: please read latest updates at the bottom.
To encourage more walking (10,000 steps a day to strengthen my bones) I decided to get one of those digital pedometers. I wanted one worn on the wrist. I thought I’d share my research.
FitBit is the most familiar name and has two models the Flex ($100) and Force ($130). The Force is newer, wider, syncs wirelessly and has a small display that serves as a clock. They actually had a recall due to the bands causing rashes.
Jawbone also has two models. The $130 one has to be plugged into your phone to sync data and the $150 UP24 now syncs with both Androids & iPhones. HOWEVER… it uses Bluetooth 4 (my phone isn’t new enough). But the Bluetooth sucks your phone battery dry.
Both have about the same capabilities. The Jawbone has significantly better customer service (American humans that are helpful vs no phone number at all for FitBit). And their app is far superior as well. Jawbone’s return policy is 60 days if you order off their website. I think it’s nicer looking and easier to use. It also comes in an assortment of colors.
Here is an article from Huffington Post about fitness bands and sleep detection. It basically concludes they can’t realistically tell whether or not you are sleeping, much less what stage sleep it is if they only rely on an accelerometer. And the New York Times did a whole feature section on this burgeoning category of consumer gadgets.
There are a wide host of apps to track your fitness both in conjunction and separate from a device. For tracking both activities and nutrition, including both macro and micro nutrients I found SparkPeople to be the comprehensive (free) website. It does sync with FitBit but not Jawbone UP.
I chose the UP (shown in the image) and have enjoyed it since January 2014.
Update (October 2014)
I’ve had to exchange my band twice since January due to the sleep button not functioning correctly. Both times they readily sent out a replacement with a pre-paid label to return the broken one. Also, I’ve been using a site called EveryMove that syncs the data and allows you to earn points toward purchases or donations to non-profits. Pretty cool to be able to donate money just for walking which I do anyhow.
Update (December 2014)
Jawbone has come out with UP3 which now includes heart rate monitor functionality. I also researched the online food tracking apps and found Spark People to be the best from the standpoint of being able to track micro-nutrients such as sodium and calcium and not just the macro-nutrients (carbs, fat and protein). There are many free choices and these devices generally will sync with them.
Update (January 2015)
It’s been a full year. This device has successfully motivated me to walk. The recommended goal is 10,000 steps a day and I nailed it! I felt pretty proud when I saw this. To be fair I did wear it on my shoe when cycling. But even so, I definitely got significantly more weight-bearing exercise last year due to this band.
BBC Article (June 17, 2015)
NEW! Thanks to friend Arden Clise for turning me on to this great resource where you try 5 different bands for two weeks! Sweet.
Update (May, 2017) – Bought a FitBit Alta HR
While my UP24 continued to work, the older blue tooth technology was competing with my phone’s headset necessitating too many gyrations. After some comparative shopping I decided to get a new band. My priority was small size for my tiny wrist. I settled on the FitBit Alta HR. I didn’t feel like I needed the HR version which includes heart rate, however when I found a deal that made them nearly the same price and realized that the band on the original Alta was inferior to the new Alta HR model, I used a 20% off coupon and went for it. I’ve had it a month now and really like it.
Pros – I no longer have to look at my phone for the time or my number of steps. And it’s nice to also have the heart rate when riding the tandem. I’m pretty happy. The app allows a lot of customization in how the display looks, what’s included, etc. And there does seem to be some community built around it.
Cons – Everyone on the FB user group and on the FitBit forums is complaining about the lack of ability to read the device outside. And it’s true. However, on my old band I always had to use the phone app. So for me it’s still a huge boon to be able to see the time and steps when indoors and even outside if it’s shady. It takes about two hours to charge rather than 90 minutes and only lasts 7-8 days instead of two weeks. Some of that depends on the settings you choose but I think I have it maximized.
Spring 2020 we learned that our Medicare was covering a free Fitbit (low end model) or for a mere $18 we could get an upgraded model. Spencer already had a Charge 2 but I wasn’t sure my little wrist would tolerate such a fat band. I’d been increasingly frustrated with my AltaHR as I couldn’t read it outside on sunny days. So I tried wearing his for a few days and decided it wasn’t that huge and for the price it was worth it. I sold my old band and upgraded to a Charge 3 which has many additional features and since it’s larger is easier to read in the sun. I’ve had it nearly a year and I’m glad I upgraded. I can receive texts on it and they buzz on my wrist.