Activity Trackers: A Review of Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike

Fitness Trackers: Jawbone UP, Fitbit Flex, Nike Fuelband

My long term readers know that I’m not exactly a fitness fanatic, and my waistline has just jumped over a horrible milestone of over 100 centimeters. (maybe sharing my humiliation will motivate me…) I desperately need inspiration to keep me fitter, and I’m also a tech geek, so I’ve been very excited with the burgeoning quantified self movement. This emphasizes electronic gadgets to track health data, with the goal to encourage you to be more active and live a healthier lifestyle. I recently borrowed a few of these activity trackers from the chief editor of Sports Illustrated’s Chinese version, to help with his upcoming review on them. My wrist was heavy with three popular models: the Fitbit Flex; the Jawbone UP; and the Nike+ Fuelband. Are they worth it, or are they just expensive pedometers? Here’s my review.

(If you’ve never heard of activity trackers before, you may want to read a few reviews first, such as from another doctor at iMedicalApps, or this or this; the New York Times; or follow the blog from Quantified Self.)

Features: all three perform the main function of counting your steps for the day, in varying degrees of success. Some were quite far from each other, but overall I didn’t see any major advantage of any. This begged a larger question from me: is monitoring steps is an accurate surrogate for measuring someone’s health? The good news is that there actually is data showing that pedometers can help; a systematic review of the data published in JAMA in 2007, showed that pedometer use lowered blood pressure and also lowered weight. Both of those are serious health risks in our modern world!

I did find myself trying to reach that magic number of 10,000 steps a day, and pushing more in the evenings to reach that goal — especially with the Nike Fuelband, a clear winner here due to its display showing steps as well as calories and the time.

Regarding other features, all three models also track food and calorie counting, but you have to manually enter every meal, every time. This is definitely a potentially useful feature, but unfortunately it could never be automated too easily. I tried to enter a few meals, especially by syncing with the popular app MyFitnessPal. But I stopped after just a couple days of data entry.

I actually found the sleep tracking features to be the most interesting and useful, especially the Jawbone UP’s easy ability to set up naps and quietly wake you up after a specified time. I really liked this feature for a quick afternoon nap, and its vibrating alarm was much more natural to me than any noisy alarm.

Comfort: I was surprised that all were relatively comfortable, even wearing overnight to take advantage of their sleep tracking (except for the Fuelband, which doesn’t offer this). All are water resistant and worked fine in the shower. In terms of style, I personally prefer something very sedate and small that won’t look silly in my doctor’s coat or in business meetings. I think all are fairly cool this way, especially the Jawbone in black. Perhaps the Fuelband is too thick for me, but it certainly gets attention.

Data Reading: These devices are useless if you can’t access the data in an easy to read manner. Clearly the internet is the key, and all have smartphone apps. While I am happily free of Apple’s ecosystem since last year, I apparently am limiting my app selection via my Android smartphone and tablets. Jawbone’s UP app clearly was the most useful, with outstanding and easy to read graphs on my sleep pattern and steps. Their Trends graphs also are super helpful. The Fitbit app doesn’t look nearly as good, plus I also never got it to sync via Bluetooth. If I can’t set something up easily, I’m not going to use it at all.

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3 thoughts on “Activity Trackers: A Review of Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike”

  1. Interesting article but i would have to say that these gadgets can only work in conjunction with self motivation. I am a workout junky but by no means a gym rat. I exercise everywhere, from doing Insanity workouts, bodyweight metabolic training and TRX at home to running on all kinds of surfaces including my apartment building stairs where I get funny looks from the cleaning staff. The only time i go to a gym is in the winter where I use the treadmill a few times a week. Having said all that, it took me moving to Beijing to get creative with my workouts… used to be just running and because of BJ’s air , all these other methods of getting my workouts in had to be implemented. And now i love exercising even more…..i still hate biking though!

  2. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading this article and despite your desire for a few modifications, I would love to own one of these devices. I was wondering where I could purchase a fitbit or similar tracking device here in Beijing?
    I look forward to hearing back from you!


    1. These are sold everywhere in electronics stores like Buynow, or just order online from Tmall, Amazon China, Jingdong etc…

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