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Fitbit Force review and comparison with Fitbit Flex & Jawbone Up
, November 6, 2013
QUICK SUMMARY - I switched between the Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex for the past several months, both have had their strengths and shortcomings. Compared to both these devices, the latest Fitbit Force is two steps forward (altimeter, wrist OLED display, call notification, easier sleep button) and one step back (not water resistant). Fitbit has incorporated some excellent new features in the Force though it still lacks a much needed heart rate monitor and is not water resistant. In my opinion, there is no clear winner between these three devices but I hope this review can help you make a more informed decision on whether this is the correct device for you.
1. Sleek, elegant, light, comfortable to wear on your wrist at all times even when sleeping
2. Easy set up - download Fitbit app, create an account, register device, you're all set
3. Battery life - Advertised battery life is 7-10 days which is plenty for me. Like the Flex, I planned to charge this every weekend. It takes just over an hour to charge fully.
4. Low profile OLED display on your wrist that instantly shows stats for the day, the display can otherwise be used as a watch. Display is low profile and doesn't stand out.
5. Incorporates an altimeter to track stairs climbed. Floors climbed shows up on the app as an added daily metric along with steps, miles, distance, etc.
6. Tracks duration and quality of sleep
7. Discrete alarm that gently wakes you with a vibration on your wrist
8. Wirelessly syncs with smartphone as soon as you open the app (via bluetooth). Syncs with a PC/Mac via included bluetooth adapter.
9. Smart call notification (I haven't tried this yet, I believe this feature will soon be available pending a firmware upgrade) - the wristband display shows caller ID data from iPhones
(for features that the Force should ideally have but doesn't, I have listed them separately below after Cons)
1. NOT water resistant - why Fitbit...why? The Flex was water resistant and I loved the fact that I could wear it in the shower and in the pool. According to a Fitbit support representative who I contacted to confirm this - "The Flex is water resistant up to 10 meters. The Force, however, is rain, splash, and sweat proof but cannot be worn in the pool or shower". Huge disappointment. I prefer the convenience of the Flex in this regard - I didn't need to remove that at all except to charge once a week. Two reasons why this is a deal breaker for me personally - (i) I swim 3-4 times a week and want the device to include the swimming time in my activity log, and more importantly (ii) if I have to remove the device every day before a shower, I am afraid the wristband will give way pretty soon with the added wear and tear. I have read several reviews of the Flex where the wristband gave way after a few months. At least with the Flex, the wristband was available separately for purchase. With the Force, the wristband IS the device. If the wristband breaks, I will have to buy a whole new device.
2. For Android devices, wireless sync is possible only for Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and Note 2
3. "Active" minutes are still driven largely by hand movement. If you regularly walk, run, or use an elliptical trainer (you have to move your arms as well on the trainer), this will be fairly accurate. However, if you are a cyclist, do yoga, or do other non-step activities, the active minutes will likely not register (see Tips below to partially address this issue). Heart rate monitor could help resolve this to some extent.
4. Smart call notification - once this feature is available, it is expected to be compatible only with the iPhone
1. Heart rate monitor - heart rate monitor is a key feature that can significantly enhance the accuracy, value, and performance of this device in my opinion. With a HRM, it could truly be called a fitness tracker. In its present form, however, it's really just an activity or movement (hand) tracker.
2. Doesn't automatically enter sleep mode.
3. A feature that would make this the ultimate device (along with heart rate monitor) - GPS and mapping abilities, like what Garmin GPS watches have. The GPS would map the route you do, calculate elevation, speed, and all related stats. Some day!
1. Locking in the band - One common complaint I read for the Fitbit Flex is the difficulty of locking in the clasp on the band. The Force has the exact same locking mechanism. It does take some getting used to, but after the first 3-4 times of removing and putting on the band, I found that it became easier. The key is to place a finger below the bottom strap to raise it just a bit, and then insert the clasp into the top band. The openings for the clasp loosen up after the first few days making it easier to put on. That said, I have read several reviews for the Flex where people have complained about the wristband breaking. So clasping and removing the wristband will require due care.
2. Recording activities that don't involve hand movement - As I mentioned above as a Con, the Force doesn't register activities like cycling or elliptical trainers without arm movement. One way to get around this is to attach the wristband on your shoes or ankles. I tried this once with the wristband looped around my ankles. This worked much better, the device added this time to my active minutes and also increased the day's mileage. However, the data was no where close to being accurate. That said, it is still better than recording nothing at all.
3. Your Fitbit data can be synced with MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness (MapMyRunRun, MapMyRide, etc). MyFitnessPal allows food barcodes to be scanned, a feature lacking in the Force. MapMyFitness gathers more accurate data regarding your runs or bike rides. Both these combined with your daily Fitbit recordings will likely give a better overview of your activity and food intake level each day.
While the overall data is not entirely accurate to the tee, it is in the general ballpark to give you an idea of your activity level and sleep quality on an ongoing basis. If nothing else, it keeps you motivated to stay active. Just to give you an idea of its effect - I constantly monitor my activity level using this device. Naturally, I want to keep the activity level high for each day. So when I'm doing regular activities, like say talking on the phone at work, instead of remaining seated, I get up and walk around. This adds anywhere from 100-200 steps, at least I'm burning those few extra calories that I wouldn't have burnt otherwise. I admit I could do this without the device as well, but the device just provides instant feedback increasing motivation to stay active. Sometimes it's all psychological but it works.
FORCE V/s THE FLEX -
1. Flex - $99, Force - $129
2. The Force has some key added features - watch, display unit on the band itself which allows you to toggle through all recorded metrics, and the much needed altimeter.
3. Triggering sleep mode is MUCH easier on the Force compared to Flex. Simply press the toggle button for a few seconds to start the timer, and press it again when you wake up.
4. Waterproof - Flex is waterproof up to 10 meters, Force is not water proof
5. Wearing a watch with Flex is tricky, particularly if you prefer to wear both the Flex and the watch on your non-dominant hand. With the Force, you don't need a watch any more. If you still prefer wearing a watch, this issue could still remain.
6. With the Flex, you have to fire up the app on your smartphone and wait till it transfers data from the Flex. This takes only a minute or so. The Force displays all updated information in real time right on the wrist.
7. Size wise, the Force is slightly wider and marginally heavier than the Flex. But after wearing it for a few hours, you forget about the size difference.
8. The Flex had a tracker that had to be slipped into the rubber strap after charging. I liked this design but occasionally water would settle in this opening and I had to wipe it dry when charging the tracker. The Force is one unit in itself, so no need to remove any piece.
9. Flex - you could order different color bands and insert the tracker into any band. Since the Force has the tracker built-in, you're stuck with one color.
Bottom line - If you already own a Flex and are not really particular about the added benefits of the Force, it might be worthwhile to stick with the Flex and wait for the next product release from Fitbit. I would think a similar device with a HRM should be in the works already, and it would be a matter of time before we see the next iteration. If you are contemplating between the Flex and the Force, I personally prefer the Flex (I need a water resistant band) but I hope I have given a good enough comparison to help you decide between the two.
TIP - If you recently bought a Flex and want to swap it out for the Force, Fitbit allows returns within 45 days if bought directly from them. You can return the Flex, get your money back, and order the Force.
FORCE V/s JAWBONE UP -
1. Both priced at $129
2. Jawbone Up is a little more stylish in my opinion, Force is more bland. However, Force's material makes it far more comfortable and low-profile to wear.
3. Jawbone Up needs to be physically connected to your phone to transfer data. Only then is the daily activity visible on your phone. With the Force, it's all available on the wrist with a simple toggle switch allowing you to view the various metrics like steps, miles, calories, active minutes, etc. The Force also wirelessly syncs with your phone as soon as you open the Fitbit app.
5. Force requires a physical wall outlet to charge, Jawbone Up can be charged on the go with your phone or computer
6. Jawbone's app/software is what makes it excel in my opinion. The data breakdown and accompanying graphs are a dream come true for any stats junkie. The graphs are in-depth and give a quick screenshot of anything you may wish to view about your activity levels. Also, the graphs show your lifestyle trends over time, say a week or month. The Fitbit app shows mostly basic information about activity levels, and is not as intuitive to use. Jawbone really is brilliant in this respect.
7. Jawbone has three nice features that the Force doesn't - Power Nap (wakes you up at a pre-determined interval after you fall asleep), Idle Alert (vibrates if you've been inactive for a certain period of time), and food intake (you can scan or manually enter the food intake, and it automatically calculates calorie information). With the Force, you need to manually enter the foods and it will calculate calories as well, but it's not as user-friendly as the Up. Or you can also use MyFitnessPal to scan food barcodes, and sync that account with the Fitbit app.
8. Force is not water resistant, Jawbone Up is said to be good for showers, but not for swimming.
9. In my personal experience, the defect rate with the Up has been high. I had to exchange two defective units in a matter of 4 months. The most recent one I have has been working fine for 6 months now. With the Force, it's too early to tell, but the Flex has worked fine for the 5 months that I used it.
Bottom line - I think the biggest advantage Jawbone has over the Force is its software and the additional features like water resistance, power nap and idle alert. However, given that it lacks the ability to display immediate feedback, and can't sync wirelessly, it falls short of the Force in its present form. Based on these parameters, I would recommend the Force over the Up. However, if you already have the Up, the added benefits offered by the Force may or may not be sufficient to switch, you may wish to wait for the new iteration from either company.
OVERALL thoughts on the Fitbit Force - Even though this device is far from perfect, I think it is still a great device in terms of comfort, features, functionality, ease of use, and feedback. It is a step in the right direction as far as data accuracy (incorporated altimeter), features (OLED display, call notification), and user friendliness (easier to trigger sleep mode) are concerned. In my humble opinion, this could help you decide if this is the device for you:
Go for the Force if, aside from wanting to simply track your activity, you
(i) climb a lot of stairs as part of your daily routine and want it logged in daily stats,
(ii) don't mind removing the wristband every day before getting in the shower,
(iii) prefer the convenience of having instant access to all your stats 24/7,
(iv) must have the watch feature, or
(v) see a definite need for the call notification feature.
If you want an activity tracker but don't necessarily fall in the above camp, the Flex is the device of choice (and $30 cheaper).
If you already have a similar device like the Flex or Jawbone Up and don't really care for the above features, you are probably better off staying with your current device till either company releases the next iteration.