Fitbit has been at this activity tracking business for some time now, and that hard work is really starting to show. Its latest gadget, the Force, is its best yet. You’ve never been reminded that you’re a lazy bastard so intelligently.
What Is It?
A fitness tracker from Fitbit you wear on your wrist 24/7. It has a tiny little screen and a button on the left of it which, when pressed, flashes up your vital stats. The time, your steps, distance travelled, stairs climbed, number of minutes active and calories burned: all on a tiny green and black LED display.
Most wrist-based trackers make you look like an idiot, but the Fitbit Force actually looks pretty sensible. It almost looks like an unconventional watch instead of a fitness tracker, which is good for those who want something to just blend in with their lives rather than screech “I am tracking everything about my life because geekstats, yo”. If you do want to make that sort of a statement, however, it comes in a variety of interesting colours.
Most importantly, it’s reasonably accurate at tracking the number of steps you’re doing. Wrist-based trackers have a habit of overcounting, and this one’s no different, but after a few careful step counts we can attest that the Force usually knows when you’re treading. More on that soon.
The band on the Force is thin, rubbery and lightweight, so you won’t have to worry about pinching your skin or scratching surfaces like your laptop while you work with it on your wrist. The small aluminium square used to clip the band to itself is even slightly recessed so you especially don’t have to worry about that last bit.
The Force is designed so that you can see everything vital to your movements at a glance: steps, distance travelled, calories burned, steps climbed and minutes active. It even shows you the time with three different, customisable faces.
It connects to your phone via low-energy Bluetooth 4.0, so every now and then it pings your phone with the latest movement data to be stored in the Fitbit app. There’s no way you can connect it to your phone physically like a Jawbone Up, so older Android users without Bluetooth 4.0 might be left out with this one.
The app itself is meant for tracking everything else relevant to your fitness, like weight, food and water consumption and your food plan provided that you have one. It’s easy to use and set up, but not exactly flashy. We’ll get to that also.
The Best Part
The best part has to be the battery. Most fitness trackers, especially fitness watches, require you to charge them more than once a week, but we got 13 days out of the Force before it ran out of charge. Even better was the fact that I was on the go again with the Force within 30 minutes.
You charge the thing via a magnetic charging clip you stick into a small slot on the underside of the Force. That means everything stays in one, convenient piece to charge unlike the Fitbit Flex where the battery needs to be popped out to charge.
The Force is largely great, but a few things could be better.
As per usual, because it’s a wrist-based fitness tracker, it’s never going to give you a 100 per cent accurate snapshot of your steps. You should instead treat it like it’s giving you a ballpark of your steps. If you want to be really hardcore at counting your steps, get something below the waist like the Fitbit One. We found that at the end of the day we’d see the Force track about 10 per cent more steps than I’d actually done, but that's not as wild an overcount as it could have been.
The Force is also influenced by the movements of your hands doing different tasks. I jumped on my motorbike and racked up 50 steps in a short 15-minute ride through the Sydney CBD for example. Pobody’s Nerfect.
The Fitbit app could also use a bit of work. It’s one of the most cumbersome things to use when you want to input your food intake. There’s so much manual clickety-clack back and forth that goes into it that you just leave it and instead go with MyFitnessPal or something which isn’t hateful to use.
It also isn’t great at tracking sleep. You trigger a sleep state by telling the app that you’re going to sleep at that second, or you can simply input the time when you fell asleep and when you woke up. Both of these actions convert the movement data during that period into sleep data and you see how you went. For people to use that functionality, it really needs to something you can trigger be on the band itself rather than dig through the app for. You can also trigger sleep mode by holding the button down and starting the stopwatch, but we didn't see that record a shred of data when we went to sync.
It’s also pretty wild in reporting how you sleep. We found that the Jawbone Up is slightly better at giving you data you can understand in this respect. Sensitive sleep mode registers that you barely sleep at all, while Normal sleep mode tells you that you barely moved. Which is true? We'll never really know with the Force.
Should You Buy It?
This is where it gets weird. I’m a Jawbone Up user and I love the damn thing. It looks good, feels good, works well in terms of software integration and it partners with a lot of other services I already use like MyFitnessPal and Runkeeper. Having said all this, however, I’ll never recommend the Up to anyone to buy.
Most of the Australian tech journos I know have the Jawbone, and some of them are on their sixth wristband in just over a year. They've all died for one reason or another, and if you're nowhere near an Apple Store, replacing them gets especially cumbersone. I’m personally on my second after the rubber on my Up expanded to the point that the button disappeared inside the band.
Fitness trackers aren’t cheap, so buying something that’s almost guaranteed to work longer than the competition and give you more data on the go is what I’ll recommend. That’s why whenever anyone asks which fitness tracker they should buy, I’ll recommend Fitbit. Of all the Fitbit products on the market right now, the Force is the very best.