Review of the FitBit Ultra wireless tracking device
The FitBit Ultra is a wireless self tracking device to help you monitor the steps you take, the level of daily activity you make and how much you wake (…it tracks your sleep; I just wanted to make a rhyme).
I used the FitBit for a full month before writing this review, since then I have stopped – I’ll tell you why later. But to summarise the experience (should you wish to get a quick grasp of my thoughts) the FitBit is a great device for anyone interested in tracking their levels of activity, studying graphs and trends of their own body data to find ways to improve, while offering the best all-round experience of any other tracker on the market.
Read on for the full review…
What is tracked?
The FitBit, as mentioned, is a great all rounder as it tracks the following data:
- Climbs (stairs, hills)
- Calories burned
- and plenty more with the app and online dashboard, such as; calories in, blood pressure, glucose etc.
This is essentially steps and sleep. But with the quite in-depth analysis, visual graphs, weekly email reports and badges, it becomes incredibly interesting and valuable incredibly fast.
When it comes to steps, FitBit is king of the pedometers. It is very accurate at measuring walks and runs, with the added bonus of knowing the distance travelled and calories burned as it asks for stride length during set up.
But it is not without problems. Steps can sometimes be tracked whilst doing other act ivies, such as cycling. The problem is the movement is different and not all of the activity is tracked, only some – so figures become slightly skewed. Of course this is only a minor issues; the device never claims to track any other activity that walking or running and for most of us we can make do – I’m sure Bradley Wiggins uses something a little less mass market for his jaunts across the continent.
I found the sleep tracker to be very accurate. In fact I was able to see trends from when FitBit suggested I had a bad night’s sleep and what I’d suggest to be quite a grouchy day. The next step is to simply do something about it – potentially testing out changing your routine and seeing what happens (i.e. no coffee after noon, no falling asleep to TV etc.)
This is where the FitBit really shines. Having opened up their API, the developer ninjas of the world got to work and hooked up their apps to the FitBit ecosystem. Because of this you are able to do so much more with the device.
There are quite a few apps to connect to, but here is my advice:
My Fitness Pal
FitBit lacks a good UK based food directory in their native app, so use My Fitness Pal instead. This app has every food under the UK sun in its directory and boasts a barcode scanner for easily recording what you eat. It doesn’t just find calories, but also records fats, sugar, salt and anything else you’d expect to see on a food label; all of which syncs perfectly to your FitBit dashboard.
I mentioned before that the FitBit is designed to just track steps and nothing much else. So if you swim, ski, cycle, surf, or do any other sport than running, then you’ll want to connect to Endomondo. This app allows you to track each activity through the mobile app, even including GPS data, and then syncs the activity and calories burned directly with your FitBit device.
I’ve written about these ‘FitBit hacks’ in more depth here.
There is one fundamental flaw with the FitBit – and most people I have spoken to feel I am being harsh here, so please comment if you feel the same way – the FitBit must be worn on items of clothing. This opens it up to being well forgotten about, supposedly a good thing, but come wash day it could be quite fatal (for the FitBit at least – and yes, this is the very reason I am not using my device anymore; it drowned the poor little mite).
This does also affect the sleep tracking part of the FitBit too. If the FitBit is on your clothes, which are usually ditched when going to bed, you may forget to put the wristband on and then attach the FitBit – especially if you are pretty tired and all you want to do is let your head hit the pillow.
I would like to see the FitBit developed to be worn on the arm or wrist, much like a watch, this would be far more obvious and the whole washing machine scenario would disappear and you’d go to bed wearing the device. The only problem then would be the shower – maybe water resistance could be built in too? Just a thought.
The FitBit is a relatively inexpensive device. At £80 it reaches a mainstream audience and brings the quantified self movement to the masses – which is a great thing to be able to do.
The other devices on the market are either more expensive or do not offer as much tracking. For example, the Nike Fuelband is costlier and tracks less (although I am yet to try the device myself) and while the Jawbone UP tracks in similar ways to the FitBit, many reviews suggest it is prone to breaking.
You do, however, need to assess what you want from the device. If you are solely interested in a pedometer; you’re paying big bucks. But if you want to make use of the entire ecosystem that FitBit offers, then you’ll be receiving a rich experience without having to be rich yourself.
The FitBit is a great device and is certainly worth a purchase if you are interested in recording your body data and seeing ways to improve.
From looking at the competition and the spec of the other devices out there, it does seem to be the best all rounder, and the user experience issues I found really do depend on how forgetful you are. The key is to create a new habit of putting the FitBit on and taking it off.
I’d recommend the FitBit to anyone starting out in the self tracking movement or with a basic interest in their body data. If you want something more complex, maybe look around, but the FitBit isn’t a bad place to start – especially with the ecosystem of apps built around it. And at £80, it’s hardly a bank breaking experiment.