Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gadgets to help with getting or keeping in shape: The New Nike+ FuelBand SE and the New Fitbit Force

With the holiday season approaching and that eventual dip (or leap depending on your family and friends) in your diet too, maybe a little technical motivation will help you stay on course.  The two biggest players in fit technology are about to release updates to their wearable fitness motivations and to help you decide which is best for you, I have written up information to help you decide.

The Nike+ FuelBand SE

Nike has unveiled the new Nike+ FuelBand SE at an event in New York City. The new band looks almost exactly the same as the old version except for a small splash of color. It's still available in all black, but now there's Volt (a neon yellow), Total Crimson (red), and Pink Foil. The new colors are tastefully done, lining the inside of the bracelet and only a small stripe near the latch. Other than the color additions, the new FuelBand SE feels exactly the same. There's still the pleasant slightly rubbery texture and clasp that unlocks to reveal the USB connector. It feels exactly the same weight, too, which is light enough that it doesn't get in the way.

The biggest addition to the new bracelet is Bluetooth 4.0, which enables users to track individual sessions and view the Fuel point earnings in real time. Similar to the Jawbone UP!, the device will remind you to keep moving – though hourly instead if you’re just sitting still.  It’s also water resistant this time around. Session tracking is part of the new Nike+ FuelBand app and can be used for a variety of different activities that Nike has already programmed into the app, from running to boxing or playing football. Nike is also releasing its Nike+ application for the iPhone 5s that takes advantage of the phone’s brand new M7 co-processor. That can be used to track your movement, too, and keep track of your runs and your Fuel Score separately from the FuelBand. Session tracking can also be used to track sleep.

Nike says that real fitness isn't just about short spurts of activity, but users should maintain constant movement throughout the day in order to stay healthy and live longer. Like the Jawbone Up, the FuelBand SE now has an hourly reminder to get up and move, as well as a curve graph that charts activity hour by hour. Users need to have at least five minutes of sustained activity in order to meet the hourly goal.

There's still no Android app, so users will need to stick with iOS or the web interface if they want to interact with the Nike+ activity. The FuelBand SE will be available on November 6th for $149, and will be released alongside the updated version of the free app.

The FitBit Force

Fitbit is making its latest device to quantify your activity, the wrist-worn Force fitness tracker, in the coming weeks. The Force is an evolution of the Flex, Fitbit’s other wrist-worn tracker, and offers an OLED display and altimeter on top of the features included in the Flex. It's very similar to the company's One tracker, but with a wristband so you don't have to clip it to your pants. The Force is available in black or a handsome bluish-gray color (Fitbit calls it "slate") today for $129.95, slightly more than the $99 Flex, which is remaining in Fitbit’s lineup.

With the Force, Fitbit addressed many of the complaints we had with the Flex. The Force includes a new OLED display, which is far more informative than the Flex’s nebulous blinking lights, allowing you to check the time and your fitness stats without having to look at the app. That display can also show incoming call information (name or phone number) when the Force is paired to an iOS 7 device, giving the device slightly more function when it’s on your wrist. Unfortunately, the display is not always on and glanceable — you wake it with the single button on the side of the Force, and you can long-press that same button to start a basic stopwatch timer. It’s no replacement for a Pebble or other smartwatch, but it’s a step forward.

Different from the Flex, Fitbit designed the Force as a single, contained unit. While the Flex required you to remove the actual tracking unit from the wristband to charge and sync with your computer, the Force has a proprietary charging port right on it, and it can sync with your computer wirelessly with the new USB dongle. It can also still sync with your Android or iOS device over Bluetooth 4.0, so there are fewer reasons than ever to actually take the thing off of your wrist. Fitbit claims that the Force has seven to ten days of battery life with regular use, and that the device is water resistant against sweat and splashes. It’s not designed to go swimming or in the shower with you, however.

The rubber wrist band on the Force is more or less the same as on the Flex; it’s soft touch and doesn’t snag too much on your skin. The two-pronged clasp is exactly the same, for better or worse, and the entire device is light enough to wear all day without becoming irritating. Like the Flex, the Force can be worn at night to monitor sleep habits, and the silent alarm function is calmer and less annoying than on the Flex — it just vibrates quietly at the time you set, and can be easily shut off with the button on the side of the device. That also means that it can be easily ignored since the Force doesn’t have a snooze function. If you forget to tell it that you are going to sleep, the Force will still track your activity and you can manually input the times you went to bed and woke up to see how well you slept in the app.  The drawback, however, is the limited number of devices it will work with at this time which comes down to the Galaxy SIII, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 2 and the original Galaxy Note 10.1. Additional devices are sure to be added, but that is a pretty short list at launch.

If you’re looking for a fitness companion, and you’re on a budget, the Fitbit Force could be fore you, depending if you have the right device.

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