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

Fitbit Flex
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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.

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My top 5 recommended Android apps:

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My wife has recently changed her phone. She moved from an iPhone 4 running iOS 6, to a Nexus 4 running Jelly Bean. Having fought the move to any smart phone for a while, she has now spent over two years using iOS and has become used to the variety of apps. Now that she is moving to Android, there is an obvious disadvantage that none of her current iOS apps will work on Android.

Because I have been using Android for a year now, I thought I would suggest some apps I felt she would enjoy, want or need. Fortunately, there are many app developers who build apps for both iOS and Android, so the transfer is no problem. However, some developers are staying with Apple only, which means if you have an app you used frequently, you will need to find a replacement. This is my list of apps I think are strongly recommended for any Android user (although if they have an iTunes App Store version, I have linked to this too). Bare in mind, this is only my opinion.

Avast! Anti-Virus:

Avast Logo Apple’s iOS is often believed to not be susceptible to viruses. This is false. Although there are much fewer viruses and Trojans on iOS, they are still possible.

Android, on the other hand, is more susceptible to viruses and Trojans. As such, it is strongly recommended to use an anti-virus app, which will protect your phone. My app of choice is Avast.

I used to use Avast on my PC, and now on my Mac. There is a free option, which will keep you safe from viruses and malware, as well as a paid service, which has more options. Avast’s Android app is very similar to their desktop app in terms of functionality and protects you against viruses and malware, has a web and email shield to ensure that you don’t suffer attack and has a very handy anti-theft feature.

The anti-theft feature will install an innocuous app on your device to resemble something it isn’t, so that it doesn’t become the first thing the thief will delete. With it installed, you are able to remotely connect to it either through the Avast! Website, or send a message to it from a trusted phone number. This will allow you to lock the phone and keep track of the location.

Avast! Anti-Virus is free from the Google Play Store.

Smart WiFi Toggler:

Smart WiFi Togler Logo

Battery is at a premium in mobile devices. If you’re lucky enough to have a device with a replaceable battery, you have the option of getting a spare and keeping it at hand. Not all phones, however, have a replaceable battery, meaning that you either have to carry a charger around with you, or have to constantly keep an eye on your battery.

Wifi is a big drainer of battery, especially when it doesn’t have a network to connect to, as it will keep searching for something to latch on to.
Smart WiFi Toggler will help you regain battery life by automatically turning your WiFi on and off depending on location. When you connect to a network you want to use (at home, work, coffee shop) you tell the app this is a priority network. When the signal is lost from a priority network, and there isn’t another one nearby, your WiFi signal will be turned off to save battery. When you arrive at the location of a priority network Smart WiFi will automatically turn your wifi signal on, allowing you to connect.

I have used the app for at least six months and have had no problems with it at all. I have never even noticed my wifi being off at home, and it’s only when you look at the settings that you can see it is on/off.

Smart WiFi Toggler is available for free in the Google Play Store.

Battery HD: 

Battery HD Logo

In a similar effort to safe battery, good information on how long your battery is likely to last is important. Will you be able to squeeze one more call in before the phone dies? Will your battery last the flight if you watch a film?

Battery HD gives you this type of information allowing you to make an informed decision.

To give you the most accurate estimate of time left for various tasks (watching video, playing music, playing games, calls, internet browsing etc), the app goes through a calibration process, which takes approximately an hour. You can also use the community database of similar devices, but every device is different.

Battery HD is available from the Google Play Store, and the iTunes App Store with a free app and a paid app.

Contacts +:

Contacts+ Logo

 Android has a contacts app (which is called people), but it is the most basic app available, allowing you to add, edit, and delete names into your address book. There are hundreds of other contacts apps on the Play Store, and my favorite is Contacts +.

In reality, Contacts + is three apps in one: A contacts app, SMS app and Dialer. Along with a contact’s details held on your phone, this app will also allow you to connect to their Twitter, Facebook and Linked In profiles all on the same page.

In the sms tab, it will take over from the stock sms app. You won’t lose any previous messages and will receive notifications as usual. You can even reply from the popup without having to open the full app.

The dialer is useful in that it supports gesture typing, quick dial numbers, and voice typing.

In all, this is a very good app, and well maintained by the developer. I highly recommend it.

Contacts + is available from the Google Play Store.

Waze:

Waze logo

Waze is a GPS system with traffic updates. It sounds expensive, but is 100% free. All the traffic updates are community sourced and routes are intelligent and traffic aware, meaning that they know what roads are busy when and will dynamically update on the go.

You can report traffic jams, hazards, and road closures on a very simple user interface, which will take a minimum of 3 taps to complete. You can also update fuel prices, check-in on foursquare and “map chat” with other users. You can even update the map by driving the correct route. Once sent to the developers, it will be updated to all users very quickly.

Included in all of this, is a social function, which allows users to share drives with friends on Facebook or email. Users can even request a pick up through the app, and will see a live update of the route the user is taking to come pick you up. If using Facebook, you can see when other friends are getting to an event.

Sign up is been free and very much worth it. Waze has saved me hours in the commute to work. They have just been bought-out by Google for a massive $1.3 Billion, and Google promising to keep it independent, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Waze is available on the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store for free.

I have numerous other apps I think are worthy of mention, but these are definitely my top five. To see what other apps I recommend, find my reviews on PocketDroid.

Steve Jobs’ death pushed me to Android

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The Twitter Hashtag #firstworldproblems is very apt here. My two year contract with my mobile operator O2 ran out in the summer. I of course waited for the iPhone 5 to be launched to upgrade, like I have done for the last two times. However, something then threw a spanner in the works; I started to like Android.
When we got the Google Nexus 7, I was interested to see what Android OS was like, having never used it. After playing with it for a couple of weeks, I started to see the system for what it was: integrated, open and fast.
Having used iOS for the last four years, which in comparison is quite a closed system, I loved the freedom. But it wasn’t going to stop me from upgrading to the iPhone 5, as Apple have tended to make a big upgrade every two years (which is why I was always happy to sign a 2 year contract).
I was excited when Apple introduced their Keynote for the iPhone 5. I stayed away from twitter, the news and anything that would remotely tell me about the upgrade to the iPhone. I watched it the next day in the train on the way to Crewe for a friends wedding (looking very business like with my bluetooth headset and posh phone). I have to say, I wasn’t blown away, as I usually am. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice update, but nothing amazing (like the change from iPhone 3G to iPhone 4 was). Obviously the half inch of extra screen real-estate will make a nice difference, the addition (for me) of Siri will be a nice touch and there is a nice improvement to the camera, but that is really it. If my contract wasn’t up, or my phone wasn’t slow and had a sticky button, I wouldn’t really be bothered about upgrading.
I downloaded iOS this week, and again, I’m not amazed. The main feature I like is the “Don’t disturb” feature, which will stop all calls from ringing at night, unless it’s called back within 3 minutes. Passbooks won’t be much of addition to me, I don’t really go to concerts much, I don’t go to sports events or get on a plane all that often (that is if any company in UK/Europe decides to integrate it). The less said about Apple’s complete cock-up with their new maps app, the better. Yes, you can report errors, which is just as well, and every new major software has it’s hiccups, but to me this shows the loss of Steve Jobs. I can’t imagine Mr Jobs would let iOS maps see the light of day with satellite images of heavy cloud, directions that will take you off a bridge or locations of shops in the middle of a river. If this is how Apple is going to be with the loss of Steve Jobs, I’m not interested. Fingers crossed it’s just a blip.

So my geek-mind turned to alternatives. Windows phone? Stupid question. Next up was Android. There are so many phones out there with Android it’s no wonder they have the highest market share. But I still had issues with switching to Android. Other than the Nexus 7, I’d never tried Android. Sure it works on a tablet, but what about a phone? There was only one way to find out. I went in to the local shops and tried them out. I had my eye on the Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II. One because it was the most popular and therefore most recommended. The other because I like the idea of the S-Pen and big screen. With my aching hands and possibility of the CRPS spreading, a bigger screen with big keyboard seemed like a good idea. Plus they are both ready for 4G.
I spoke to a previous colleague who had recently made the same jump from Apple to Android. Did he have any concerns, regrets, things he missed?
-“Best thing I’ve done!” came the answer. Promising, but only one friend’s answer.
My biggest concern is that I have everything tied up in my iMac like Photos, contacts, Music, Videos, Calendars. When we got the Nexus, I made an effort to swap from iCal to Google Cal. A couple of hiccups on the Mac, but they eventually played nice. But I never moved any music (other than one MP3 to test the speaker). Would I have to go back to phone and iPod situation? Another quick Google search and playing with a demo in the shop showed not. Samsung use an app called Easy Phone Sync which will transfer contacts, music, movies, photo’s and messages between Mac and Phone. I was quite happy to see this.

Pros for iPhone:
Already have everything set up (Apps, Music, Photos, Podcasts, Contacts).
Know how the OS works.
Lot’s of apps.

Cons:
Nothing major improved other than screen.
Maps broken (albeit at the moment).
Popular and a long wait.
Brand new connector making all accessories obsolete.

Pros for Android:
Rough idea how it works.
Feature rich and open.
Good apps, many free.
Still works with iMac.
Charges with Micro USB.
Expandable memory for reasonable prices with MicroSD.

Cons:
Completely different system.
Very strange way of releasing new OS updates.
Can be more susceptible to bugs

Hmm, the maths speaks for itself.

Guest Article on PocketDroid.net

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I was recently asked (much to my delight) to write a guest review for my newly acquired Google Nexus 7 Tablet. As it was good writing practice, I was delighted to oblige.

It spent a week intensively testing the Nexus 7 (partly to give a full review, partly because I had never used Android before being an Apple user). I tried everything I could find on the little device and finally submitted my review to the website editors on Thursday. It was published later that day much to my excitement.

I have since been asked to do regular reviews for the website on apps and games. I am delighted to accept and will share here when ever a new review is up.

You can find my review here.