The wrist. It’s the part of the body that many thought would largely become forgotten when cell phones replaced watches. But, the wrist has made a surprising comeback lately as the focal point for new smart devices that combine fashion and functionality. Apple’s mythical “iWatch” is one of the most anticipated products of the year, and Nike, Jawbone, Lark, and other companies all have integrated fitness tracking technology into stylish wristbands.
Fitbit, the company behind health products like the Fitbit One tracker and the Fitbit Aria scale, has followed suit with the new Fitbit Flex. Much like the Fitbit One, it tracks your steps and monitors your sleep, helping to motivate you to reach your health and fitness goals, all in a sleek bracelet. We spent a week with the Flex around our wrists to see if the latest fitness wearable can improve health and turn heads.
Much like every other fitness band out there, the Flex consists of a silicone band with embedded LEDs to display your progress. We weren’t wowed by the Flex’s design; it’s simple and subdued, but still stylish enough to receive some curious glances. Unlike the flashy display of the Nike+ Fuelband which turns your wrist into a Vegas billboard, the Flex’s visual indicator is a simple row of five LED lights that illuminate when you tap on the band. While we found the band to be aesthetically pleasing, we were puzzled by some of Fitbit’s design choices. First, we found the band to be a bit difficult to put on. It required a good amount of force to secure, force that we couldn’t manage with just one hand. Also, we weren’t huge fans of the tiny, removable sensor that makes up the brains of the Flex. We thought it annoying having to remove the sensor unit to charge it. The sensor, which is a little smaller than a french fry, could easily get lost and render your Flex into an expensive silicone piece of jewelry. Thankfully, the battery, which is rated for five days of use, lasted us six days, so we didn’t have to remove the sensor too often.
Setting up the Flex was practically identical to setting up the Fitbit One and the Fitbit Zip. For our experiences setting up these devices, you can take a look back at our reviews of the One and Zip.
It’s certainly convenient having a fitness tracker on your wrist. Unlike Fitbit’s other trackers, you don’t have to think about where on your body to place it, and you don’t really have to worry about it falling off. However, like all wrist-worn fitness trackers, the Flex wasn’t able to tell the difference between running and gluttonous shoving of potato chips into your mouth. There’s a good deal of variability for how all the trackers count your steps, and we weren’t able to test the Flex for accuracy. But we did like how Fitbit utilized the accelerometer in other ways: as the Flex lacks any buttons, tapping the band once will illuminate the LEDs and show you your progress toward your daily goal, while tapping on it three times turns on sleep tracking. However, even this feature isn’t without its drawbacks, as we managed to activate sleep tracking a few times simply by chopping onions!
Similar to our experiences with the Fitbit One, we found the sleep tracking features to be interesting, but not entirely useful. The silent alarm worked as advertised, gently waking us with a vibration of the wrist instead of the obnoxious noises that emanate from our phone every morning. However, we weren’t big on wearing a silicone bracelet to bed. Since the actual sensor is removable anyway, we wonder why Fitbit didn’t design a separate, more appropriate wristband to use at night?
As with all Fitbit products, when synced, your stats are updated on either the Fitbit app for Android or iOS, or the Fitbit dashboard, and on both you can set goals, log your food, and track your weight (especially easy if you own a Fitbit Aria scale). The dashboard, which we talked a little more about in our review of the Aria, is a little more fully featured than the mobile apps, and includes integration with a growing number of 3rd party health and wellness tracking programs.
So, how does the Flex stack up against the growing number of fitness bracelets? In terms of price, the $99 Flex is the best of the bunch, beating the $149 Nike+ Fuelband and the Larklife and the $129 Jawbone UP. We feel it also beats Lark’s and Jawbone’s products in terms of features and integration with other products and services. However, in the end, the Flex is simply another fitness tracker that really just counts your steps and monitors when you move during sleep. If Fitbit hopes to compete with other upcoming contenders in the wearables market, they’ll need to soon think of more reasons why every wrist should have a Fitbit device around it.
- Sleep tracking features and a great silent alarm
- Robust suite of 3rd-party tools through Fitbit dashboard
- Least expensive fitness bracelet currently on the market
- Bracelet difficult to put on
- Removable sensor is small and easy to lose
- Accelerometer too sensitive to unintentional movements
- No new tracking features
More info: Fitbit Flex website…