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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fitbit Flex vs Jawbone Up


Fitbit Flex
Jawbone Up
If you have been keeping up with this blog and read some of the first posts, you know that I am a big fan of tracking devices in order to create awareness in regard to your eating habits and activity level.  After doing a bit of research before beginning this journey of weight loss, fitness and better health, I initially decided on the Jawbone Up as my activity tracker of choice.  The features looked great and it combined both a food tracker in the form of an iPhone app as well as pretty robust activity and sleep tracker.  This put it instantly ahead of the Nike Fuel band which only measures activity.  Unfortunately, the Fitbit Flex had yet to be released and I wasn't interested in the highly rated Fitbit One, which is a clip on device.  I'm used to wearing watches and I wanted something I could put on my wrist and forget about.  Although in the course of this review, I will be laying out some major setbacks of the Up and why I eventually chose the Fitbit Flex to replace my Up band, it is the activity tracker I used to lose thirty pounds.

So, any review needs categories by which to judge the opposing products.  After all, it wouldn't do you much good for me to just ramble on without some way to organize my thoughts.  Like anything though, once you pigeonhole things into categories you are automatically undertaking constraints to your thoughts and the object as a whole.  There are many factors on which you could judge a product and some of my categories, as universal as I might try to make them could have little to no relevance for you and your concerns.  That being said, I chose the following categories for my review: Function and Features, Interface, Accuracy, and Reliability. 

Function and Features:
Jawbone Up
The Up has a very simple design that translates into the way in which the band functions.  It is a coil that comes in three sizes: small, medium and large.  As far as fit goes, on my wrist it was never an issue.  The large size fit well and because of the coil design, never really seamed in danger of falling off.  There is some wiggle room between sizes, but I could see some people with unusual wrist sizes having to settle for something that feels too lose or a bit too tight, that latter meaning that the band wouldn't lay flush against the wrist and wouldn't be as comfortable to wear.  At one end of the band is a cap that hides the earphone style jack which is the means to sync the device to your phone and charge the battery.  The other end sports the Up's only button and two lights set underneath the surgical rubber skin showing a green sun or blue moon.  Using differing sequences of the button, one is able to change the band from active mode to sleep mode, activate the stopwatch for timing specific activities and engage the power nap function.  Pretty simple and easy to remember and use.  The power nap feature and the stopwatch along with the idle alert which can be set to vibrate after a set period of inactivity are unique to the Jawbone Up and can be pretty cool if you are the type of person who needs that extra reminder to get up off the couch.  You can also set alarms with the Up that vibrate on your wrist so that you don't disturb your partner when waking in the morning and through the analysis of your sleep, this smart alarm will also wake you up to 30 minutes before your set alarm depending on your lightest period of sleep, thereby ensuring that you wake up refreshed.  I found that after the initial fascination,  however, the stopwatch and the silent alarm were the only features I continued to use.  Through the use of the stopwatch feature you can also calibrate the Up band in order to achieve better accuracy.  There is no wireless syncing option on the Up band and so you must physically connect the band to your phone in order to view your up to date data.  As this was my fist band and it is easy to take on and off, this didn't bother me, but in this day and age of wireless everything, I can see where this would bother people.  As for the battery, each charge on the Up lasted me about 10 days which is the longest of any of the bands I've tried or researched.
When the Up band is functioning, it does a lot of things well.  The controls are simple and intuitive and the band itself is comfortable and relatively discrete.

Fitbit Flex

 The Fitbit Flex is industry leader and maker of the highly rated Fitbit One, Fitbit's entry into the wrist worn activity tracker.  The Fitbit Flex consists of two parts: the tracker itself, which is about the size of a peanut in the shell and a rubber band that comes in a variety of colors and holds the tracker in place on your wrist.  The Flex sports a variety of features, some of which the Up also has, but one other significant feature that the Up does not.  The Flex will track activity, sleep and boasts the silent alarm which was one of my favorite features of the Up band.  Unlike the Up band, however, the alarm on the Flex is straightforward and goes off at the exact time you set it.  There is no stopwatch feature on the Flex, but by measuring your stride both walking and running, you can enter this into the Flex to achieve better accuracy.  Because of the this lack of timer, the use of a complementary app like Runkeeper is best if you're interested in tracking specific runs rather than your activity as a whole.  The function of the Flex is all through a series of taps to the top of the band.  Tap twice to see you progress with a series of lights, tap five times to switch between sleep and active modes. 
A lot of people claimed to have trouble switching but I have experienced no problems.  The one thing that sets the Flex truly apart from the Up is in the wireless technology.  The Flex syncs through Bluetooth or Wifi and so your data is always up to date.  Although I thought this might create an issue with the battery on my phone and the band itself, there has been no noticeable difference in my phone's battery life and the Flex requires a charge about once a week.  Not quite as long on a charge as the Up, but plenty long considering the wireless feature.
The Fitbit Flex is easy to use, comfortable and discrete and has enough features to get the job done with the bonus of wireless connectivity.  Both the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone Up are water resistant and can be worn in the shower, rain and during activities with heavy sweating.  Submersion is not advised.

 
  Interface:
Jawbone Up
With the exception of the sun and moon indicators and vibration, the phone app is the only means of interfacing with the data the Jawbone Up collects.  The app, available on iPhone and select Android devices is extremely well done.  The data is presented in clear and fun graphs and it is easy to see your progress and even track your improvement over time.  If your friends are also using an Up, you can have full access to their meals and activities and congratulate or gloat accordingly.  I had a couple of issues with the food portion of the app as I was used to using Lose It! and there is no feature to enter previous meals and recipes like on Lose It!.  The Up app will sync with a number of other apps, including Lose It!, though and the only loss in doing so is that your friends can only view your calories as that is the only information that transfers.  I enjoyed the Up app thoroughly and it was definitely a mark in the Jawbone's favor.  The Up band itself is not wireless and although it didn't bother me when the Up was the only band I had, there is a definite advantage to having your information kept constantly up to date as with the Flex.  There is also no computer access with the Up so a smartphone is a must.

Fitbit Flex
The Fitbit gives you more options than the Up when it comes to interface.  There is a smartphone app, a robust computer site and the progress lights on the band itself.  The app is very basic.  It gets the job done, but it seems that a lot more work went into the user experience of the Up app.  If you never had the two to compare, you might not be as disappointed as I was, but the Fitbit's app leaves a lot to be desired.  When syncing with other applications like Lose It! though, all of your food information is transferred so that is a definite plus.  The computer site is where a great deal of the more robust features of the Fitbit come to light.  Once you're logged into the computer, everything that you kinda wish the phone app could do is now available.  I carry my phone with me all the time however, not my computer, and so I hope that a big update to Fitbit's smartphone app is forthcoming.  The big advantage the Flex has, touched on several times already, is the fact that it's wireless.  Whether you log into your computer or bring up the app on your phone, your data is always there and current.

Accuracy:
Jawbone Up
Although the Up gives you the capability of calibrating using the stopwatch feature, it is extremely generous with its steps.  Part of the reason, at least in my case was due to the fact that I had to wear it on the wrist of my dominant hand.  Jawbone suggests you use your non-dominant wrist.  As I mentioned before, I've worn a watch all my life and switching my watch just wasn't an option for me and my watch, which I like more than the Up band, didn't allow for both to be worn on the same wrist.  When compared to Runkeeper, which isn't infallible, but uses GPS tracking, I would notice as much as a 2 mile difference in runs over six miles.  Your ddominant hand doesn't and shouldn't make a difference during a run.  Same proved true on a treadmill.  But cconsistency is the key and so the Up being generous, as long as its consistently generous, is not that big of a deal if staying active is your only goal.  It does pose a problem if you are using it to hit specific fitness benchmarks.  

Fitbit Flex
And here is where the Fitbit stars to pull to the head of the pack.  The Fitbit Flex enables you to select which hand you are going to wear it on, dominant or non-dominant.  Whatever the magical formula it uses to determine how to track this, I don't know, but it works.  I was shocked the first day I wore the Fitbit, after having gotten used to the Up, just how many fewer steps I achieved.  Measured on a tread mill and against Runkeeper however, showed the Fitbit to be, to my ego's disappointment, spot on.  I made the proper adjustments in my activity level and have reaped the rewards.  Most reviews, some of which took much more of a scientific approach than I did have touted the Fitbit's accuracy and I have to agree.

Reliability:
Jawbone Up:
Earlier, if you were paying attention, you might have noted that I wrote, "when it works" in regard to the Up.  Unfortunately I currently own my fourth Up band after having three replaced by Jawbone because of defects.  While the replacement process was relatively easy, I waited fifteen days for my first replacement, twelve days for the second and thirteen for the third.  All in a period of six months.  The first time the band ceased functioning.  The second, the Up stopped vibrating and the third had a worn out battery.  If you are relying on the band for anything other than curiosity, don't.  When it works it's great.  The rest of the time you'll be checking your mailbox.

Fitbit Flex
It works.  Need I say more.  As of yet, I have not had a single problem.  The band I bought is still the band on my wrist.

In closing I'll mention price.  The Jawbone Up sells for $129, the Flex for $99.  For 30 dollars less, I would chose the more reliable product and I have.  I wear the Flex and my 4th replacement Up is in a drawer.  There is a lot to like about the Up, but ultimately if it doesn't work reliably, especially when you are using it for an alarm, it just isn't worth the extra money and hassle.  My recommendation goes to the Fitbit Flex.
                       
          
    
    

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