20140303_161713Activity Tracker #1 – Nike Fuelband+

“Too many to choose from! How do I know I’m buying the right one?” That’s what a lot of people say when asked about buying a fitness tracker. These wearable ‘high-end pedometers’ track everything from number of steps you’ve walked, distance traveled, flights of stairs climbed, and more. They keep you motivated, hold you accountable, and get you thinking differently about how you’ll incorporate movement into your day. And they work, so the choice to wear one should be easy. But with literally dozens of the devices on the market the choice of which device to wear isn’t quite as straight-forward.

I’ve been testing a few of the markets top-rated fitness trackers against my day-day-day activity and been sharing what I like (and dislike) about each, and why. Last week I shared my thoughts on the Jawbone UP. Read that blog post here.

This week I’m sharing my thoughts on the Nike+ Fuelband.

I have a love/hate relationship with my Nike+ Fuelband. It misses the mark for me on a number of levels but has a few interesting features that keep my interest and will make it appealing to some. So here are my thoughts: 

Wearability: The Nike+ Fuelband is the least attractive of the three bands I’ve been wearing. It’s a bit clunky looking and isn’t as easy to adjust for size. The bands are mostly black and you can choose a bright accent colour if you like. The band costs about $150 and is available in three slightly adjustable sizes.

What it tracks: Nike+ Fuelband is an oddity (some would say stand out) with regards to what it tracks. The device itself displays number of steps you’ve taken, calories burned during activity and it displays hours won and nike fuel points (more on those later).

It doesn’t have any tracking to account for stairs climbed or elevation gained, and doesn’t measure the distance you’ve traveled. I sort of wish it did.

20140303_161833But what’s with Nike Fuel though? According to the Nike Plus website, Nike Fuel “is a single, universal way to measure all kinds of activities—from your morning workout to your big night out. Uniquely designed to measure whole-body movement no matter your age, weight or gender, NikeFuel tracks your active life.”

Put a different way, it’s Nike’s attempt to side-step calorie counting or step counting as the ‘go to’ measurement units since both are limiting. Accurate calorie counts need to factor in body weight, gender, age and heart rate, and without that important information, calories will always be averaged and inaccurate.

And if your activity preferences move beyond simply walking or running, Nike Fuel points may be right for you.

At first I wasn’t in love with Nike Fuel because it seemed such an arbitrary measure, but then I changed my mind. Nike Fuel captures my dog walk or run movements (just like my other activity trackers)…but also measures my sidewalk shoveling, snowboarding, or Dancestrong classes … even my house cleaning movement. So I started to pay more attention. Once I learned how FUEL worked, I set my goal at a realistic but challenging level and noticed that I had to work harder to achieve my fuel goal in a day than I did my step goal.

Nike Fuel captures my overall energy expenditure in a day better than (or perhaps in a different way) than the other devices and makes me strive for intensity in more of my activity. That’s a bonus to me, and will be attractive to people who like to push themselves or work hard in whatever they do.

Data display: Yodashboard nikeu can view your data via a desktop app or on any iOS device. It doesn’t have an Android app yet, and since I’m a Samsung fan that irritated me because the computer dashboard doesn’t sync wirelessly and doesn’t provide reminders as well as the app.

Last week I bought an iPad mini so I was finally able to download the app, and I have been having more fun with my fuelband since then. It syncs wirelessly to the app as long as the devices are near each other.

One feature that I’ve found surprisingly motivating is the ‘hours won’ measure I mentioned above. At first I thought this was hours of activity I had achieved in a day but got confused when one day the device said I’d won 3 hours and I’d only done a 45 minute dog walk. Read the directions Michelle.

Hours won: Every hour my iPad app reminds me that it’s time to get up from my desk and ‘WIN THE HOUR’, which will only happen if I move for five minutes (getting up and walking around kind of movement) continuously before I get back to work. Sounds simple right? The other day I attempted vigilance in winning my hours and only managed to do four 5-minute move breaks. Yesterday I upped it to 8 but it required stepping away from emails and blog writing to pace the hallways or climb the stairs for 5 minutes. I think it’s a good feature if you don’t ignore it. You need to be mindful to win the day (7 hours won) and I definitely feel more energized after my 5 minute move breaks. And all of those breaks add up to real energy expenditure. Yesterday’s 5 minute efforts helped me log an extra 40 minutes of movement. That stuff adds up friends. Good idea Nike!

The dashboard is pretty easy to navigate and allows you to view your progress for the day, the week, the month, and even the year. You can add friends, adjust your goals, and work toward achieving a number of trophies that are based on your fuel goals, intensity of movement, hours won, number of days active etc. The trophies aren’t easy (at all) to obtain so if you decide to go after them you really need to choose effort and intensity over a simple dog walk. Another feature that will appeal to the exercise enthusiast!

To be aware of: 

1) The step counts on the Nike+ Fuelband don’t seem accurate at all compared to the other trackers I used. The Fuelband tends to underestimate steps taken. Today for instance, my Fit Bit has measured 7665 steps and the Nike Fuelband has only logged 5750. That’s almost 2000 steps difference despite the fact that I’ve worn them both since I got up this morning.

I want to assume that the Fitbit is more accurate since it won in measured accuracy over 1 km and 2.5 km walking tests. I mapped both distances and walked wearing all three trackers. Both the Jawbone UP and the Fit Bit Force measure distance as well as steps, and both logged within metres of the measured distance, and had step counts that were paces apart.

The upside is that the Nike+ Fuelband under estimates steps so if you log your 10,000 steps a day you’re probably actually walking closer to 12,000 steps.

2) I mentioned this in a previous post but it’s a real bee in my cycling helmet…I’m a cyclist. I teach 2-4 high intensity indoor cycle classes each week and not only will this device not accurately measure that activity.

Fuel points don’t solve this problem either. If I teach an indoor spin class, or sit on my trainer for 2 hours the device doesn’t capture the intensity of that movement through steps, calories or fuel points. And the Nike dashboard doesn’t make it easy for you to log missed activities. Where some devices allow you to note what activity you did and for how long (some even let you manually enter the calories you burned), the fuelband decides on the intensity of your logged activity and is usually too low – especially where my cycle output is concerned.

Who is this device good for?
I’ve mentioned before that any device that helps you become more aware of your movement and causes you to move more as a result is a good device to have. If you’re not fussed about distance traveled and accuracy of steps (not everyone wears three bands on their wrist) you will get usable feedback from the fuelband.

I think it’s less ideal for the new or returning exerciser who will benefit from information around number of stairs climbed, or distance traveled, and who will also appreciate accuracy in step counts. It’s about getting acquainted with your capabilities in the early stages after all.

So in saying that, I believe the fuelband is best for seasoned exercisers and athletes who know how to push themselves through a variety of activities beyond walking or running, and enjoy the challenge of going after some really tough trophies via the app. The seasoned exerciser has a heightened awareness of what they need to do and how close they are to achieving daily goals even without tracker feedback, so the fuelband just adds fuel to their efforts. I for one am not ready to take my fuelband off for that reason.

These are my thoughts. If you have questions or comments please email me here. Next week I’ll review Fit Bit Force. Happy tracking!