Why I chose a Fitbit Flex over other devices on the market:

Fitbit Flex

First of all, I need to offer my apologies: This post was meant to hit the blog just after Christmas. In fact, I thought it had, but a comment on my earlier post about using the Fitbit in my wheelchair showed me I hadn’t. Then, life and illness got in the way, so, sorry.

Secondly, I just want to say how pleased I am that this is grabbing people’s interest. I even had a Paralympic Medalist show interest in my post, which was a great inspiration. I have also had several people reach out to me through the comments section of the earlier post asking for updates and advice. To those people, I say sorry this has taken so long to post and thank you for getting in contact. I will try to answer as many questions as I can and always give you an honest answer.

So, without further ado…

Last month, I wrote an article about buying an activity tracker to help me keep healthy. I thought in this article, I’d outline my reasons about why I chose the Fitbit in particular and how I’ve come to like the online dashboard and phone apps.

Why did I choose the Fitbit Flex?

There are a lot of features advertised on the Fitbit website, as well as some others that aren’t (like having NFC, that wasn’t mentioned anywhere!), so here’s why I chose the Fitbit Flex. Other than the reason that my wife, Lorna, also chose it, that is.

  1. Silent alarms: One of the major pulls towards a fitness tracker was the silent alarm feature. Working shifts, I would often have to wake up very early, and a usual alarm clock wasn’t very sociable in a house with two young boys and a wife. The silent alarms are very good. The Fitbit Flex has a small vibrating motor in it which will buzz when you set it. It’s quite a strong vibration, so it should wake you (unless you’re a really really heavy sleeper). As it happens, I’m no longer working shifts, but the point still stands. The vibration also lets you know when you have passed you daily goal, or when you have correctly set the Flex in/out of sleep mode.
  2. Social Features: Fitbit’s API means that any other website/services can help integrate the Fitbit into their service and vice versa. This means I’m able to integrate my Fitbit in with MyFitnessPal.com, the diet logging app I chose to use (yes you can log food on the Fitbit, but more on that later). The other advantage is that Fitbit is so popular, I already had several friends using the Fitbit, so I had people to ‘compete’ against.
  3. Long Battery: It’s true, some other trackers have longer battery life than the Fitbit, but I was happy with the 5-6 days. Most every other day I have a bath anyway, during which I top up the battery of the unit. This is simple enough to do, you just slip the little unit out from the wristband (the unit itself is about an inch long by a quarter-inch wide) and place it in the cradle of the charger. Once the unit is fully charged, all 5 LED’s flash together (and not remain solid like the instructions say). Most of the time, I get roughly 4-6 days use out of one charge, depending on how much I move and how often it synchs to my phone in the background.
  4. Fitbit’s Support: When I was thinking of buying an activity tracker, I searched the internet to see if anyone had done what I’m doing now, writing about using a tracker in wheelchair. I didn’t find one. I sent emails to the three companies at the top of my list: Jawbone, Withings and Fitbit. The only answer I got from Withings was their holding email and nothing else, not a great first impression. Jawbone answered and were very helpful, but couldn’t comment on whether the device would be suitable for use in a wheelchair. Fitbit support, however, were very helpful in saying that it had been used by people in wheelchairs, and whilst he admitted it wasn’t designed with wheelchair users in mind, it would still record steps as if I were walking. They then went on to say that they would be happy to take any feedback towards making it a more friendly wheelchair friendly device.

Day-to-day life with a Fitbit Flex:

I’ve used the Fitbit Flex for over a month now, and I have to say I’m really impressed. The device has taught me a lot about myself and how I move throughout the day. It in fact showed me that I move more than I thought.

I had originally set my daily target (after finding out I could change it, which was a large relief. I didn’t like the idea of being taunted at not reaching 10000 steps each day) to 100 steps. On the first day out of bed, I reached that walking down the corridor to the kitchen, having waved my hand round whilst sitting up in bed. After a bit of trial and error, I actually found that, on average, I would register about 2000 steps a day, which isn’t bad when you consider I mainly walk around the house, getting myself cups of tea and writing at the kitchen table.

This is where I think a distinction has to be made. What the Fitbit Flex records isn’t steps, but activity. When I power my manual wheelchair, I’m using my arms. The Fitbit will record it as steps, but actually, I’m rolling round. The fact is, I’ve moved, and not stay sitting in a chair doing nothing or being pushed round. I think that Nike’s concept of ‘Fuel’ isn’t actually a bad one. Many reviews I read when looking into these trackers said that the Nike Fuel Band was a bad choice because it used a random concept, fuel, and not a quantifiable measurement as a step. In actual fact, for a wrist worn tracker, they probably had the better terminology. To prove my point, the other day, my Fitbit Flex buzzed at me to tell me I had passed my daily activity goal. I was drying my hair at the time.

What ever you call your activity log, when you want to view it, because the Flex has no screen, you can either use the Mobile app (iOS or Android), or you can use the Fitbit Dashboard via their website.

Fitbit Mobile and Web Apps:

First the Apps.

Fitbit Flex, Wheelchair

This is the Android Fitbit app as seen from my Nexus 7.

Both are well laid out and allow you to see all the most important details you want in a list. Tap on each section, and you’re taken to a screen with more detail about the choice.

Fitbit Flex Android App

This is the details screen for the amount of steps taken.

If you press the button at the top right of the graph, the graph rotates 90 degrees to show you a bit more detail of the times and steps taken. What’s frustrating is that it doesn’t do this automatically when you rotate the device, you have to press that icon.

Fitbit Android App3

This shows the horizontal information given, this time in the sleep tab. The dark blue is sleep, the light blue is activity whilst I sleep, and the pink is movement/awake.

Swipe to the left, and you are shown a graph for the distance reached, then calories burned and finally most active minutes. I don’t know what it classes as a most active minute, but needless to say, I don’t reach them often.

You can also see the leaderboard between you and all your Fitbit friends as show below (I have removed their names for privacy):

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Friends Leaderboard on the Android App. You can add a friend, as long as you know their email address.

Although well implemented, the apps don’t really give you a lot of detail other than being able to your current stats. For better information, you have to head to the Web Dashboard, where you can see all your data with more detailed information. Similar to the apps, you are presented with a range of panels, each displaying their own stats (one for steps, one for calories burnt, one for food etc.) Clicking on the little arrow at the bottom of each panel will take you to another screen with much more information about each and enable you to log extra activity (or even give the activities you have done a title and not just “x amount of steps”).

Fitbit Flex

This is as much as I could fit of the Fitbit online dashboard onto my screen.

The mobile apps are frustratingly simple. They are fine for checking in on your stats to see how you’re doing for the day, but for a proper detailed analysis, you’ll have to go to the Dashboard. Also, on iOS, there is no iPad app, so you have to deal with heavy pixelation to view your stats.

If you thought “I’ll just view the dashboard in my mobile browser” I’m sorry to say this is not responsive design, meaning you get the same look as you would on a computer with a 15′ screen. Although not a big problem, zooming and panning around all that data can be difficult.

Remember I said above (in the second bullet point about social features) that I chose to use MyFitbessPall to log all my food entries? The reason for this is simple. Fitbit doesn’t have a UK-based food database. It is said to be in the pipeline, but frankly, because I was already using MyFitnessPal, and their app allows you to scan the barcode of the item you want to enter. With the API, it means that, as long as I have linked the two accounts together, my calorie content is transferred to Fitbit’s so you can see how much you’ve burned against how many you have consumed.

Final Conclusion:

To finish, I just want to say that I’m really glad Lorna, and I got these trackers. Lorna has definitely found it a help, and we have both been keeping an eye on our food intake and exercise output. Even over Christmas, we tried to be as careful and make good decisions whilst enjoying a yummy Christmas dinner.

I will be writing more updates and keeping you all informed about how using this Fitbit Flex has kept me healthy. I’m planning on showing the difference between a wrist worn device verses a hip worn device.

Oh, and Happy New Year readers! I hope 2014 is good to you. After all, it’s a new year, make a fresh start.


20 thoughts on “Why I chose a Fitbit Flex over other devices on the market:

  1. carlos marroquin

    hi, i am in a wheelchair too, can you sendme and update of the fitbit an how it Works with the wheelchair. thanks and have a nice day

    • Hi Carlos,
      Thanks for getting in touch. I have an update ready to write up, but have been pre-ocupied recently with looking after my wife after an emotional dip. I will write it up as soon as I can.
      Thanks again for reading, I hope you enjoy my blog.
      Dominic Ross

  2. Katie

    I was interested to see your comparisons and experience with the fitbit. I also ended up getting the fitbit after doing quite a bit of research, but have had kind of mixed results. I have both a clip on fitbit and a wrist one (can’t remember the model name), and if I wear them both at the same time I get vastly different results when I exercise. I’m 100% in a wheelchair so there are no actual “steps” involved. What I was hoping for was that I could correlate the steps recorded on the fitbit with what an actual person that could walk got for the same short circuit. I realize that everyone walks differently, but thought I could come up with something that made sense. Alas, that didn’t really happen.

    My first “test” was over a quarter mile on flat ground. I counted the times I pushed my wheelchair and had my partner count their steps. My wheelchair pushes on flat ground were slightly less than their steps, significantly more on uphills, and significantly less on downhills. The clip on fitbit showed lots fewer steps than I had pushes, while the wrist band fitbit recorded almost double the pushes I had. I think it registered a “step” when I started in the back of the wheel and then counted again when I came around to the front, just before I let go. I then tried the same procedure on both and uphill and a downhill quarter mile. I got lots more “steps” going downhill than I did going uphill which is pretty counter-intuitive. However, when I added the two together I was almost right on with the number of pushes I counted. My conclusion is that it’s not very accurate :). If you go around a circular hilly track everything should balance out. If you zip around on flat ground you need to cut the recorded “steps” in half. If you have a combination, which is most common I’m not quite sure what to do.

    I then tried all my tests clipping my fitbit directly onto my wheelchair–onto the clothing guard, and got fairly good results with that when I measured my “steps” against my partners, and the number of pushes I was doing. Where I got into trouble with that was if I was on a bumpy surface, such as gravel, screenings, or even a lumpy asphalt road, it would record more steps than I actually had pushes. If I was rolling on concrete, the fitbit would count an extra “step” every time I would roll over a seam in the concrete, so again I had to pay way more attention than I prefer when I’m exercising.

    Having said all this, I still think I made the right choice going with the fitbit. If I quite worrying about numbers of steps and do the same circuit regularly I can at least compare apples to apples for a workout, which is still useful even if not as good as I think it could/should be. I try to go about 4 miles a day in a concentrated stretch, although the distance doesn’t really matter, its the number of pushes imo

    • Hi Katie, Thanks for getting in touch.
      What you describe is a great experiment and one you should be proud of. It’s also way more in depth than I have gone.
      Whilst I agree, the Fitbit may not be the most accurate means for measuring a wheelchair users activity, I find it a handy guide. I appreciate that it wasn’t designed to measure people swinging their arms up, round and down to power their wheelchair, but it does give you a reasonable log of your activity, which is all I want. Like I said, rather than thinking of what the Fitbit tracks as steps, maybe we should think of it as “Effort” or “Energy” rather than “Steps”, as we don’t take steps.

      If you are after something to accurately measure your distance and speed whilst out and about in your wheelchair, you should think about installing your wheelchair with a speedometer. This sounds silly, but a simple bike speedo from your local sports store or from the internet will do. I know of people who have a bike speedo on their wheelchair, and it works just the same as it would on a bike. They are usually very easy to set up and some can even tell you how many calories you’ve burnt as well as your total distance and average speed.

      Good Luck with your wheelchair fitness and thanks again for reading my blog.

  3. My problem with all this is that your steps taken or energy used equate to calories burned. Being a few calories out is all well and good but to say you have done twice as many steps as you think you should have means you have burned twice as many calories this artificially would increase the number of calories you would be allowed and if your goal is to lose weight then this can be very much counter intuitive and even have a negative impact on your goals.

    Endomondo Fitness App has a wheelchair activity, it would be interesting to know how accurate that is and how the two compare with regards to energy burn.

    • Hi Craig,
      You raise a good point, and point out something I probably didn’t explain very well.

      In my tests, I found that the FitBit did, in fact, keep better track of my progress. I have also used a phone app (track my run I think) to track my Wheeling about which showed more or less the same as the FItbit.

  4. Nicole

    Hi.I’mnewtousing FitBit and I’m actually glad that I got it. I’m looking for advice to using it because I have Spina Bifida and I use a manual wheelchair. 🙂

  5. Dan P

    I’m thinking about getting a Fitbit to replace my Nike Fuel SE that died suddenly. I’m glad I found this page to read other wheelchair user’s experience with the Fitbit.
    The Nike Fuel was a great device. I had no intention of getting a tracker but I received it at a conference and it turned out to be a good motivator for me.

    I hear that Nike has discontinued the Fuel so a report on it is not very relevant but some of you may find it useful.
    The advantage of the Fuel is that as some pointed out it uses some calculation of steps and probably your height and weight to determine Fuel points. I work from my home office when I’m not on business travel so I am very sedentary, sometime not heaving home for 2-3 days. When traveling I’m a lot more active, especially at conferences or trade shows.

    What I did is use the Points from what I felt was a good activity day at a conference at set that as my daily goal. With the Fuel’s on screen display you can track your steps, points and calories which lets you see how you’re doing throughout the day. As a point of reference, my goal was 1500 points and I think the average for a 40 year old male was 5000 or something like that. I wasn’t surprised at the difference but it was still good to know.

    I found the Fuel was a good motivator to get out and move. It can be set to remind you to move every hour but that got annoying and I turned it off. I wasn’t very upset when it broke because I didn’t pay for it. However, I did realize that my activity level went down when I didn’t have the device on my wrist reminding me to be active. It’s the same as using MtFitnessPal. When I’m disciplined (and honest with myself) about entering food I eat a lot less and I like it because it becomes more of a game than a diet. I actually try to eat just 2/3 of my calorie goal. When I first got serious about using MyFitnessPal I lost about 35 pounds (I’m 6′ 6″ and went from 230 to 195 lbs.) in barely 3 months.

    Back to the Fitbit – has anyone found the sleep monitor useful? It was a feature I wished I had on the Fuel. Some days I feel really tired and lethargic and I wonder if I’m not sleeping well.


    • I did the same search when making a decision to buy the Fitbit. That’s why I decided to write a post in the hope that people who needed to know would find it and have the information.

      I would be delighted for you to link to it, thank you!

  6. Samantha Clonch

    Hi! I’ve been to your blog a couple times, looking at your posts about your Fitbit and I have to say, they’ve been really informative. I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was seven (I’m 20 now), and after hearing about the Fitbit, the idea of having one really appealed to me. However, as many people have pointed out, there isn’t a lot of information on how useful and accurate is for wheelchair users. I noticed that it’s been a little while since you added this update on your use of the Fitbit, and I was wondering if you could give me an idea of how it’s working for you now that you’ve had some time to get used to it and really observe its effectiveness. My mom wants a Christmas list from me, and I’ve considered adding the Fitbit to it, but I don’t want to add it if other wheelchair users don’t think it’s effective. Thanks so much!!!!

    • Hi Samantha, thanks for reading my blog.
      You’re right, it has been a while since I posted anything, I will try and fix that soon.
      To answer your question, I still use the Fitbit as it gives me a rough indication of how active I’ve been. It also helps me see how well (or badly) I slept.
      I’ll say it again that the Fitbit isn’t the most accurate of devices, purely because you can add ‘steps’ by washing your hair. However, it does give you a good indication of how active you’ve been, which is important for everyone, but especially people who are sedentary all the time ( like people in wheelchairs!)

      I hope this helps you decide, and I will try to post a proper update soon. Thanks again for reading.

      • Denice

        I am interested in using a tracker too and have enjoyed this blog. What do you think of it now since its been many months of use? My situation is a little different in that I use a powerchair not manual, but I still want to be active and watch my calories. I swim and would love to know what I could use in the pool to track my activity. Thanks for any information

      • Hi Denice,

        Any activity tracker which is waterproof would be great for tracking your swimming. I’m a little out of date as to which are and aren’t at the moment, so do some searching on Google for ‘waterproof activity trackers’ or even ‘swimming activity tracker’. I would say that any tracker that also records your heart rate would work well.

        Good luck, and happy swimming.

  7. Mantisweb

    Many thanks for the review. I just purchased a FitBit Flex which will be arriving Monday. I need to lose weight and get in to shape for a project I’m involved with next year. You can read about it here. http://www.tracktotrack.co.uk

    I’m a wheelchair user as well so I am looking forward to have the FitBit on my wrist recording my excersice sessions.

    All the best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s