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Fitness after the Force injury: my dubious experience with 11 other devices

Fitbit Flex continues to fall apart and injure many, many users
Fitbit Flex continues to fall apart and injure many, many users

1. After being burned by the Force, literally, I switched to their Flex, thinking it couldn’t be as harmful. It was. Fitbit burned me literally and figuratively, in that I’m still stuck with a seemingly permanent scar, along with extra bands and clips that took 4 months to arrive. By that time, I had to get rid of the Flex for the same reasons as I dumped the Force—the Flex was causing the same types of injuries in scores of people, as well as virtually disintegrating. Just like the Force, the Flex falls apart, and even those with oozing burning blisters often misguidedly just order more bands and clips when it does. These often subsequently fall apart, as well. This leads many of the questioning injured to believe the harmful substance which scars, burns and blisters, is in the adhesive, which then either gasses out or breaks down, leaving the band in pieces.

My quest for a good fitness tracker
Judith Nelson

2. My next contestant for fitness band replacement was the Garmin Vivofit. Its positives included a long-lasting replaceable battery and more flexible band than Fitbit. However, it was not LED and the display was unlit, so that both in the sun and in a darkened room you cannot see the display at all. Its sleep monitoring was useless to me because I couldn’t set it for sleep when in bed without balancing a flashlight to see when the display was in the correct mode. Too expensive for not enough benefit for me, so it was returned.

3. While at an Apple store, I looked at the Misfit Shine. The Shine’s unattractive metallic dome of circular lights did nothing for me as an informative fitness bracelet. I need a basic display with numbers and words, not dots of light.

4. So I tried the Nike+ Fuelband SE, which debuted about the same time as the Force. This looked more interesting to me. It had a great display, great band design, with the charger as part of the band. Just take off the end and plug the band into your computer. However, my arm was between sizes they offered; and, although they included extra pieces that could be added to the band, it was never quite right. And, it didn’t count steps; rather, forced you to think in terms of “fuel points”, which to me was a waste of time. Why should I have to convert its progress into steps? Isn’t that what a fitness device is for?

5. Then I auditioned the promising-looking Soleus Go, which looked great, had a good display, fit well, but was a nightmare to try to charge or to navigate through the maze of menus and sub-menus. Way too complicated for just a fitness tracker! It had the most convoluted charging apparatus I had even seen or used, and it took a long time to get it right. Plus, it had two confusing buttons to push to navigate. I seemed to always do it wrong. Not for me.

6. Withings came out with their intriguing Withings Pulse O2, which promised not only to track everything typical trackers do, but your pulse rate and blood oxygen levels as well. Since Withings is such a solid and well-respected manufacturer of fitness equipment, I suspended my apprehensions about the tracker that slipped into a metal bracket on top of a rubber bracelet. When I received it, some of my fears were realized by seeing how wide the tracker was in relation to my wrist. The removable rectangular tracker was at least the full width of my wrist. It had a good display, and was relatively easy to use.

However, to use the pulse or blood oxygen level feature, you had to remove the tracker from its bracket (while wearing it), then navigate to the menu for those readings, then hold your finger under the red light emitted from the back of the tracker. For me, this was useless. It was very clumsy to have to stop my hike or workout, coax the tracker out of the bracelet with the other hand, then find the menu and stand still with my finger under the red light. Then you replace it into its metal bracket in the bracelet. Since this feature was too awkward to be useful to me, and since the metal bracket and large tracker made the band less than sleek, plus heavier, it was returned. I would love a pulse and O2 reading in a fitness band, but not through this method. Withings is a solid company, and currently promises the release of a fitness band disguised as a French designed elegant round classic wristwatch. It is thin and stylish, and comes with a leather and rubber-type band, and is completely waterproof. More a man’s style, but it is thin and elegant enough to be worn by women. It is expected to be very pricey, however.

7. During all my forays into the world of fitness bands, friends continued to extoll the benefits and reliability of the Jawbone UP24. The predecessor, the UP, did not sync via Bluetooth, but the UP24 did. It was light, thin, and had a wrap around the wrist design without bulky or annoying fasteners or buckles. I resisted because it had no display, and I would be totally app-dependent for my progress. It is not always convenient for me to get to my iPhone, so app dependency due to lack of display was a big obstacle for me. However, I wanted something reliable for steps, and that also measured sleep and quality of sleep. The UP24 did all that. It has a long battery life between charges, probably due to the lack of display. It has a great app that gives you useful messages and suggestions as it learns your habits. It has vibration alarms, and most especially, a fantastic sleep analysis feature. You simply press the end of the band when you go to bed, and a moon will light up briefly on the band. When you awaken (it can be set to gently awaken you with vibrations when in the desirable sleep pattern), you again press the end of the band and a sun will illuminate to show that you are in daytime mode. Almost immediately you receive a notification on your phone telling you how much sleep you actually got, as compared with the time spent in bed. It also gives an excellent analysis of your sleep patterns. To charge the UP24, you remove the larger cap on one end and plug it into its very short and easy USB adapter. If this unit had a display, I would be totally in love with it! But, alas, it does not, and I can’t be app dependent.

8. When LG announced its stylized and unusual LG Lifeband Touch, I thought it would be perfect. Similar to the UP24, it had no bulky fasteners, rather had a gap between the semi-rigid band and the integrated touch display. The band was easy to get on, and felt much like a bangle bracelet. It felt a bit large, but after the Force fiasco, my wrist is more comfortable in a loose-fitting band. The touch screen is sleek on the top of the band, with a single button almost invisible as it is part of the screen. This band did almost everything but sleep analysis. So for a long time I wore both it and the UP24. I don’t wear a watch, so require a time display from a band, which it provided. There is a really interesting (albeit battery-consuming) feature on the LG that allows you to get the time or whatever reading you desire by just tilting your wrist towards you. The display wakes up, and you can choose the amount of time it stays illuminated. I set it to display the time when I tilted my wrist, and it was very convenient not to have to push a button to get the time. The touch screen interface supported swipe movements, so after a button push, you could swipe through all your stats, including the day and date. There was also a stopwatch workout feature; and with the iPhone it showed a phone symbol and vibrated when you received a call. This was handy for me, as my phone was often inaccessibly buried deep in my cavernous purse. I believe it may show the caller ID on Android devices, but since I have an iPhone, did not research it further. It had a fairly straightforward charging system where the bottom of the display arm of the band slid into a charging cradle without much effort. It also has a neat feature that lets you control your music from the band. I heard from another user, however, that the customer service is unresponsive.

9. I wore both the LG and the UP24 for a long time, and was as satisfied as I could be wearing two bands. I still wanted one band that would give me a good display and sleep analysis. I recently heard about a band that promised to do it all called Runtastic. I preordered it from Amazon. It has a removable tracker and thereby interchangeable bands. It comes with a unisex sized blue band, a black band, and a black clip holder for clothing or necklace. I thought it would be perfect. Unlike Fitbit’s policy of charging extra for the fastener clip for each band, each of these bands came with a fastener attached. Also unlike Fitbit, the bands were pliable and secure and easy to fasten, however the non-sizing made the tail of my band very long and a bit awkward to fasten. It promised to be totally waterproof, have a long battery life, a well-lit display showing steps, calories and active minutes, plus a simple push button to engage sleep and scroll through the modes. A single press of the rather large silver domed button gave you the time and a progress line. I wore it at night with the UP24 to compare the readings. The app for the Runtastic is somewhat overly simplified, and it gives as sleep your total time in bed, not how long you actually slept. It also gives you a percentage of your “sleep efficiency”, which is pretty useless to me. I am used to a clear graph on the UP showing exactly how long I was asleep, and how much of that was light or deep sleep. The Runtastic gives a feeble graph, which, when you touch it gives an unreadable message about the quality of sleep, as half of the message is cut off. Although it allows for some self-expression through a variety of different colored bands, and although the charging is very simple, it is not sleek, a bit bulky, and the sleep analysis is not useful to me. Certainly not enough to give up my reliable UP24.

10. I also bought a rather different kind of tracker that I thought could be useful. It is the Lumo Lift, a small oval tracker that attaches with a magnet to your clothing or with a clasp to a bra strap. It was supposed to let you know when your posture was incorrect by buzzing you as a reminder, plus it was to count steps. My first problem with this device was charging it. It has a horseshoe shaped magnetic base with an attached USB cord. As I have countess USB devices always needing plugging in, I have several USB AC adapters, which, without exception, accommodate all my USB cords. Except the Lumo Lift charger cord. For some reason, the USB plug would not go all the way into the adapters. I thought it was charging for hours before I realized it wasn’t. It turns out that there is a pinhole-sized light sunken into one end of the oval device, and it is supposed to show red or green when charging or charged. It never illuminated, so it wasn’t charging. I dug through numerous AC adapters until I finally found one that worked with it. However, the microscopic light was so tiny and dim I had to use a magnifying glass just to try to establish that, not only was it on, but what color it was.

The second challenge with the Lumo Lift was that the first time I used it, I used the recommended bra strap clip, as it keeps the device more stable than on a shirt. I found both on the floor a few hours after attaching it. The glue that held the magnet onto the clip had come off, and so did the device. Had I not been home and found it on my carpet, it would have been lost the first time worn. I contacted customer support who was very responsive, and told me that was a known issue, and they would send me another clip. Many days later, it has still not arrived. So, I started trying to wear it with a fitted tee shirt (they say it can’t be on loose clothing), just below my collarbone as they recommend. I then discovered that the only time it would buzz for incorrect posture is when you enter a “coaching session” , activated either through the app or long-pressing the device. These sessions only last a maximum of 1 hour then must be reinitiated if you actually want to continue to be reminded when your posture was incorrect. Even after initiating a coaching session, my unit did not buzz. Customer service told me to close the app and reopen it. I did, and this worked. However, I found it annoying to have to continue to do this. I found it vastly under counting steps compared to my other devices, and even with a fitted tee shirt, it didn’t have enough skin contact to buzz. About the only really interesting feature I found was taking your phone off auto-lock, placing it next to your computer in a stand-up dock, then initiating a coaching session. Out of the corner of your eye, even when it doesn’t buzz properly, the entire phone screen (in the app) turns either green or pink to let you know if your posture is good or not. This alone, however, is not enough to make me want to keep the device, and I am attempting to return it.

11. But, I still wanted that band that is reliable, has a display, tells time asleep, and preferably lets me know of incoming texts and phone calls. And, it has to be somewhat good looking; as it is something you wear 24/7. So, I ordered the Striiv Touch. It is one of the least expensive trackers available, has a touch screen, sleek appearance, adjustable band, is water resistant (shower, rain, sweat), does sleep analysis, steps and has notifications for incoming texts and calls. When it arrived, I immediately charged it. The charging mechanism seemed defective, and the charge would not hold. After a few hours, a 100% charge was down to 35%. Then, after a day, it was dead, would take no charge.

Fortunately I got it through Amazon, and not Striiv, as Striiv’s customer service (2 part-time employees) took longer to get back with me about the problem than it took to get a replacement from Amazon. The second Striiv works perfectly! My gold standard for sleep analysis is the Jawbone UP24, and the Striiv’s time asleep was almost the same. Although it is a bit generous in steps, and when I am wrapping a package it awards me steps, it is a good and easy tracker to use and wear. It is the lightest of any of the tracker bands I have tried, and you forget you have it on. It is easy to fasten, and comes with a “tighter fit” extra clasp if needed. It is one-size-fits-all, and marks show where the band can be cut to customize your fit.

The display can be rotated 180 degrees so that it faces either out or you. It has a great display which you press and hold a bit to get the time and date, then supports swiping to get to steps, distance, calories and more. It also has an “apps” icon, which when pressed, gives you access to battery level, version, sleep and recent messages or emails. One of my favorite features is a subtle vibrate notification that an email, call, or text has arrived. It instantly displays whom the emails are from, and the full text message. It gives complete caller ID with my iPhone 5s. Its app is nice and compact, with all information on the first page. More in-depth settings are on subsequent pages. Their weakness seems to be customer support, which they told me consists of 2 part-time overworked employees, as they are still in startup mode.

After the 2nd Striiv was used 2 nights and 1½ days, it, too, died. I was away from home, so I could not try to charge it. Just before it died, it showed about 50% battery. When I got home and plugged it in, it said 7%, then 27%. All the settings were frozen at the time it died until I reset the unit and closed and reopened the app. I will give it one more try; but customer service says 1 day or more on a charge is normal, and that the device’s battery readings are often incorrect. They plan to fix these issues in future updates, but it may not be soon enough for me. I need something reliable now.

One of the other negatives I have with the Striiv is the method of charging, which seems more convoluted than necessary. The band has to be placed into a box-type enclosure where you match up the contacts on the band with the box, and then it snaps closed over the band. It is connected to a USB AC adapter by way of a mini USB cord. It has no continuous charging light; you must push on the screen to find the charging progress. I really hope Striiv irons out the kinks, as so far, this is my favorite!

Clearly, this is a crowded arena, and soon to be more populated by Apple’s and Swatch’s smart watches, LG’s and Samsung’s new entries, the much-anticipated Nabu Razer, and Withings’ elegant French-made fitness watch that looks like an expensive, slim timepiece. The upcoming Angel Sensor promises pulse and O2 as well.

However, for those of us who just want the basics (I would like pulse and O2 as well), when it works, I am thrilled with the Striiv, which is a fraction of most other brands and offers so much more! My search continues!

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