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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Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair:

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Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair

So many to chose from, all with good and bad points.

Being in a wheelchair, exercise isn’t as easy as ‘popping’ to the gym and using the treadmill, or going for a morning run. Because the lives of wheelchair users are more sedentary than the average office worker, who at least walk to the car/toilet/lunch, we have to make a bit more of an effort at it. Or so I thought.

Motivation to track my steps:

In an effort to help my wife in her battle in losing weight, I decided to get us an activity tracker for Christmas. I spent two weeks looking into the different types of devices on the market which included the Fitbit family of devices (Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Force), the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse.  Each device had advantages and disadvantages. My thoughts of the best suitable trackers for me was:

  • A wrist mounted devices so that I’m less likely to lose it.
  • Be able to track my sleep, steps and calories burnt.
  • Connect with the other fitness apps I use.
  • The ability to connect to my phone to sync data and view stats.

In all my research, I couldn’t find any blog post, article or even forum post on all the fitness forums about the use of an activity tracker, like the ones mentioned above, in a wheelchair. The whole ‘raison d’ étre’ for an activity tracker is to track steps, which obviously not something I do a lot of. I can just about hobble around the flat on a good day, but anything beyond my front door is achieved using a wheelchair or mobility scooter. I sent Fitbit, Jawbone and Withings an email asking if it was any use in me buying a device being that I would be in a wheelchair most of the time. Only Fitbit had the decency to reply. Although written from a heavily marketing point of view, they did say that although the device is designed to be to track steps, it would give a reasonable measure of activity, allowing for a slightly larger margin of error than for walking. They reassured me that they were trying their best to make it as compatible with wheelchair users and would work on getting the margin of error down to a more acceptable level. I’d like to think this series of posts will help and maybe encourage other wheelchair or disabled readers to buy a tracker to stay fit and healthy.

Final decision:

After many hours reading all the reviews, comparisons and walk-through, I decided that as this was going to be a present for both me and my wife, I had to ask for her advice, despite ‘ruining’ the surprise.

We both decided that if we were going to get one, we ought to get the same one for compatibility. There wouldn’t be much point in me getting a different device as we wouldn’t be able to link up and compare stats. Lorna looked through all the devices I suggested, and we decided to get the Fitbit Flex tracker.

Why?

I can almost hear people making comments saying something like “Why don’t you use [xyz] app which will track your steps, and [xyz] to track your sleep?” or “Wouldn’t a pedometer be cheaper?”. Here is my answer to those comments.

The point of using a wristband format and not a clip on at the waist device is simple: I’m very forgetful, and sooner or later, it would end up in the wash. There are plenty of posts on the internet about people who have forgotten to take off their tracker from their trousers/bra/shirt, and it ends up in the wash. 7 times out of 10, the device is unusable, and they need to buy a new one. Pedometers are no more reliable than the wristband. Most cheap ones can be given a shake, and they add ten steps. Plus, when in the wheelchair, pushing myself along, the pedometer or clip on tracker is less likely to pick up the movement, where as being attached to my arm which is pushing the wheels to get around, it records the activity.

With regards to using phone based apps to track my sleep and steps, I’ve tried them. The step based apps usually do ok, as long as the device is in my pocket. But often, when I’m sitting round at home, it’s on the table, or on the sofa or (more often than not) being charged. Something attached to my wrist is always there, just like my watch.
The phone based sleep tracking apps are usually unsatisfactory because they rely on you having the phone placed on the mattress, and it records the vibration and noise. The problem is, I often move round in my sleep, and will knock the phone off the mattress, therefore rendering the stats null. Furthermore, it means that the phone has to be on and charging all night, which makes it hotter and it’s not recommended to have it under the pillow, which would secure it.

Stay tuned…

This is only the first of many posts to do with the Fitbit use in a wheelchair. I urge you, should you come across this in months to come without a recent update, to send me a message or comment asking for an update, and I will do so ASAP.

Next up: My thoughts on the Fitbit dashboard and phone apps