Review: FitBit Force

NOTE: On February 21, 2014, FitBit issued a voluntary recall for all FitBit Force units.

Tech Review FitBit Force

As the new year came along, there was a sudden surge in interest in some of my tech reviews, specifically my reviews of the UP by Jawbone and the FitBit Flex. But, wait! There is a new fitness tracking piece of wearable technology from the folks at FitBit. Behold, the FitBit Force. Thanks to Verizon Wireless, I was sent a demo unit to try out and compare.

For the most part, the Force has the same functions and capabilities as the Flex, but better. In addition to tracking your steps, distance, calories burned and sleep, it also tracks when you go up a flight of stairs. As you can see from the photo above, the Force is a bit wider than the Flex and has a watch built in. By pushing the button on the side (you can see it below), you can scroll through the information that you have to sync with your smart phone to get on the Flex. No more trying to remember what the dots mean. I was disappointed that the watch display wasn’t on all of the time, but I understand why. The battery life would drop dramatically if it was. But, I’d love to be able to make that choice myself. Perhaps on at work and off for night time. A toggle switch on the smart phone app would be perfect.

FitBit Force Cord

To charge the Force, you connect the cord that’s included to the back. Unlike the Flex, you can’t change your wristbands. You have a choice of black or slate and that’s what it’s always going to be. But the battery life for the Force is about double that of the Flex. That’s a definite plus.

Because I already have a Flex linked to my FitBit.com account and my FitBit app, I tried something different this time. I created a new account at FitBit.com for the Force and used the wireless sync dongle to sync to an older Windows laptop we had. Conclusion? Unlike the Flex, the Force is a great option for people who don’t have a smart phone. You get so much information displayed on the OLED display that having the smartphone app is nice, but not a must have.

FitBit Force Back

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If you’ve been on social media much or watching Good Morning America, you may have heard that some people are having problems with the Force giving them a rash. The issue seems to be with folks who have nickel allergies. The back connector where the charging cord connects contains some nickel apparently and is considered the culprit.

So, here’s my experience with the Force. First of all, I have skin problems to begin with. I’ve had eczema and acne all my life. I wore the FitBit Force on my left wrist for one week solid and never had an issue. In fact, because it was where I usually wear my watch, the skin on my left wrist was actually a bit better. Now, it may take more than a week for rash to show up, but I saw no irritation of any kind.

Recently, Time magazine did a ranking of 26 fitness trackers from worst to first. Of the three I’ve reviewed so far, the UP was ranked 8th and the FitBit Flex was ranked 6th. The top ranking fitness tracker? Yep, you guessed it. The FitBit Force. It’s that good.

I am actually getting my own Force as a hand-me-down from my husband soon. You know if I develop a rash later on, I will be sure to update this review. But, to be very honest, I’m really looking forward to having one of my own. Now, if they would only fix that watch issue…

— Carla

Review: UP by Jawbone

Review: UP by Jawbone

As you may remember, I recently reviewed the FitBit Flex and mentioned that I was able to track mine down at my local Verizon Wireless store. The kind folks at Verizon Wireless liked my (unsponsored, unsolicited) FitBit Flex review so much that they offered me an UP by Jawbone demo unit to try next.

The UP Health Wristband comes in five colors (light grey, blue, navy, light mint, hunter green, orange, red and onyx/black though many locations only have grey, blue & black), three sizes (small for wrists 5.5-6″, medium for wrists 6-7″ and large for wrist 7-8″) and runs about $129.99 most places I checked. The textured appearance, especially in the black, reminded many of the people who saw it to a tire. The color is solid and can’t be changed without buying another unit.

The silver JAWBONE cap you see above removes to reveal a mini-stereo plug that goes into the headphone jack of your smart phone to sync. It also connects to the charging cable (included). A quick review of Jawbone forums showed that there were many incidents reported of UP owners losing their cap. The Jawbone store online sells replacements in a pack of three for $9.99.

The UP by Jawbone is listed as water resistant, but several official comments on the UP forums said that you couldn’t swim with it on but you could leave it on in the shower. Some users reported being able to wear it in a pool with no problem. However, some also reported wearing it in the shower caused issues.

The demo unit I was sent was a large sized one which was good since I have large wrists. The spring motion that allows you to open it up to put it on also applies slight pressure at times.

UP App

The UP companion app is available for both iOS and Android. The colors are bright and bold and the app is set up like a vertical time line with your information. Swiping to the right makes your account information, lifeline, trends, team, apps, notifications and other settings available. Swiping to the left shows your goals, gives you the sync button, lets you set sleep alarms or idle alerts, use the stopwatch, take a power nap or log a workout or your sleep.

Food is logged by tapping the small knife & fork icon on the main timeline page. You can enter it manually, scan a bar code or take a photo of your food with your phone. Companion apps for the UP include RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, Withings, IFTTT, Wello, notch.me, Lose It!, Sleepio, Maxwell Health, CarePass, TicTrac and GymPact.


For me, I found the slight pressure from the UP wristband to be a bit annoying at times. I found myself taking the wristband to rub my wrist because I thought the skin was getting irritated.

While I liked the option of an idle alert or setting a power nap alarm, I didn’t care for the food logging aspects of the companion app and I could never get the “take a picture of your food” part to work correctly. I also thought the app was a bit garish, especially on iOS 7 now.

One of the interesting things I ran into was inconsistency on the number of steps counted. Since I’ve been wearing the FitBit Flex since June, I have a good idea of how many steps I take in a typical day. I wore my Flex on my right hand and the UP by Jawbone on my left. The first day there was a difference of 1,000 steps. I mentioned on Facebook that I only took the UP off to shower and someone asked how big my shower was! The next day, there was only a difference of 28 steps which made more sense.

I’ve tried to avoid comparing the UP by Jawbone to the FitBit Flex as much as I could. But, another post will be coming with a feature by feature comparison of the two devices. For me, since I need to be able to wear it in the pool, the FitBit Flex was the only choice. But the UP by Jawbone may be more to your style. My suggestion is to try them both on and see which one suits your lifestyle.

Review: FitBit Flex

Wearable computing is one of the hottest topics in technology right now and the health & fitness segment of this area is one of the biggest within that sector. Lord knows I love a gadget, but other than the occasional pedometer (which usually didn’t work correctly), I always passed on the various version of fitness wearable computing because they didn’t work in water where I do the majority of my fitness training. Until now, that is. FitBit recently released their new Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband and it’s water resistant! Finally, a fitness gadget for me!

FitBit Flex Tracker

I first got to check out the FitBit Flex when my friend Julie let me check hers out. I was a bit worried about the actual wristband fitting my larger than average wrist. Not to worry! Each FitBit Flex comes with both a small and a large wristband. And, if the large still doesn’t work for you, FitBit will send you an XL wristband just for asking (you do have to send them a copy of your receipt). The wristband comes in black or slate when you buy the initial FitBit Flex and you can buy additional wristbands in teal, tangerine, and navy as a three pack or individually online at the FitBit Store. The actual tracker (seen in the blowup circle above) can be easily moved from wristband to wristband. The tracker needs to be charge about every five days using the USB dongle provided.

For a while, it was hard to find the BitFit Flex in stores due to high demand. I wanted mine before a trip I had planned and it was quite the search to find one. Luckily, my local Verizon Wireless store had just got in two of them when I called so I snagged one up for $99. I also learned to check the Verizon Wireless store for more than just cell phones.

My trip was a travel agent training at the Disneyland Resort. Having previously done one in 2005, I knew that we would be walking A LOT so I knew it would be a great time to try out the FitBit Flex.

You can see how you are doing towards your steps goal by tapping the wristband twice. You can also put it in sleep mode by tapping it quickly five or so times. I have problems with that myself so I just mainly use the FitBit app (available for iOS and Android).

FitBit Flex App

By default, the FitBit app shows you your steps, distance, calories burned, weight, very active minutes, sleep and water. You can modify these as you prefer. One of the benefits of the FitBit Flex is that you can add non-walking/running activities on the app. Again, perfect for someone who does water aerobics like me. Yes, you need to enter your weight for the app to be able to correctly calculate how many calories you have burned. It will also track your weight if you enter it on a regular basis.

FitBit Flex Sleep

The sleep function is one of the best parts of the FitBit Flex. Ever wake up and feel like you didn’t sleep at all even though you don’t actually remember waking up? This will try you why that is. As I mentioned before, you can put Flex in and out of sleep mode by tapping it briskly about five times. When it is in sleep mode, two separated dots on the wristband will move from side to side. Warning! You can put your Flex into sleep mode during normal daytime activities by hitting against things like walls. Check it throughout the day and be sure to take it out of sleep mode as soon as possible.

The sleep monitor diagram shows you your periods of sleep, restlessness and being awake. It uses that information to tell you how much actual sleep you got the night before. This side view (just turn your iOS or Android device horizontal) gives you more information than the standard view.

The food portion of the FitBit app isn’t the best. But, because you can link your FitBit.com account with your SparkPeople account, I just let FitBit log my fitness minutes on SparkPeople and enter all of my food intake using the much more robust SparkPeople app on my phone. There are many other applications that you can link with your FitBit account. You can also add friends who have FitBits and see how they are doing each week. The web dashboard on FitBit.com is very nice, but honestly I mainly just use my iPhone.

I thoroughly enjoy using the FitBit Flex. It encourages me to park farther away and walk a little more each day. I even bought one for Tom so now we often compare steps and sleep patterns. I finally found the fitness gadget for me!

— Carla

Walking: Slow Re-Start

July was a rough month for our household. It seemed like life threw everything it could at us at once. Between trips to Atlanta (unexpected) and New England (planned months ago), we put over 3,000 miles on Tom’s CRV in twelve days. The last few days of July were spent recuperating from all that traveling. I hadn’t really done any real walking since the Disneyland training trip in June, so August became a slow re-start for my walking.

As much as I love the Ease into 5K app, I had run into a problem with it that is more an Apple issue than the app’s. When I walk, I prefer to listen to podcasts or audio books rather than music. I think some of it is linked to the fact that when I worked in radio, music was part of the job. So music often reminds me of working. Because Apple decided to create their own (awful) Podcast app, having podcast playlists in iTunes wasn’t possible for a while. Apple now lets you create playlists for your podcasts again, but they don’t show up on your iPhone or iPod which kind of defeats the purpose for most folks.

So, instead of using the Ease into 5K app, I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and then started my Downcast app to listen to my podcasts. The best was when I had about 30 minutes of “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” left so I knew by what segment it was how much time I had left.

On Tuesday and Thursday, I got in 30 minutes of walking in. I have no idea what speed I was walking at or exactly how many calories I burned. I have a rough idea on the number of steps and calories burned from my FitBit Flex (which I will be reviewing soon). I hope to get out again tomorrow for three times this week.

My plan is to get comfortable again with walking and then maybe try the Ease into 5K app again. I’m currently testing a Blackberry Q10 for a future review and I may try playing podcasts on it while running the 5K app on my iPhone. That should be interesting!

— Carla