The Fitbit Flex is the first wearable fitness device I’ve worn, and it probably won’t be the last. Putting measurable numbers to everything we do is big business these days, and Fitbit has been synonymous with wearable fitness tech since 2007. At $99, the Flex is Fitbit’s basic wristband that tracks activity as well as sleep, and syncs with your phone or computer. However, The Flex might be too basic for some as it is designed for very casual fitness, or even simple “awareness.”
How It Works
The Flex tracks your movements, and gives you a general idea of how many steps you’ve taken throughout the day. I say general because I often clock several hundred steps in my sleep, which either tells me that I’ve been sleepwalking, or that the Flex is not 100% accurate.
It’s set to a default goal of 10,000 steps per day, which you can use as a base to get started. By tapping the Flex’s display, it will show you how close you are to completing this goal in the form of white dots. One dot means you’re nowhere near, and five means you’ve completed the goal. To celebrate, the Flex will vibrate jubilantly on your wrist, and you’ll get a congratulatory message on your phone, turning your achievement into an exciting affair.
It also calculates distance, calories burned, very active minutes, weight, and even sleep. These are very general approximations, which is fine for casual fitness. Otherwise, you need to manually input the relevant information, such as specific activity or food you’ve eaten, which seems like a pain. You could get Fitbit’s $129.99 Aria smart scale to help with tracking weight, body and BMI. It connects to Wi-Fi and syncs with your Fitbit account to give you more in-depth detail of your progress.
Part of the reason I got the Flex over the Zip was the sleep tracking, and it seems to work fairly well. There were some anomalies where it registered that I was awake when I was fast asleep, and vice versa, so it’s not entirely accurate, but fine for casual use.
The online Fitbit Dashboard gives you some interesting readings. If you want more “in-depth analysis” of your activity, progress and sleep, you need to go premium for $49.99/year. However, I don’t think there’s any point unless you’re going to be hardcore about tracking and manually inputting information. On its own, the Flex doesn’t record accurately enough to provide good, detailed analysis worth $50 per year; it needs human input.
You can also set alarms on the Flex through the mobile app. It wakes you up with silent vibrations pretty effectively, and can be used as silent alarm, or to complement your regular alarm.
Design and Battery Life
The Flex is very easy to set up with the included USB charging dongle and a discrete USB receiver which is used for syncing. The part that registers your motions is a small and lightweight device that fits into the wristband, which you can easily take in and out for charging. The display is on the device itself, and projects through a clear plastic window on the wristband.
As a whole, the Flex looks great and is very comfortable. However, it is quite thick at the point where the device is housed, perhaps thicker than a regular watch. This means it could become an obstacle if you try to squeeze your arm through a tight space, but its hardly a complaint.
Fitbit claims the battery lasts about five days on a single charge, and they’re about right. When the battery starts getting low, you’ll receive a notification on the devices you’ve synced it with, and you’ll also get an email. So far, this system has worked very well, but the proprietary charging dongle means you can’t use a standard charger, such as micro-USB; it makes it impossible to charge if you’re not close to the charger. You could lose a few hours of activity registration if you’re at work and left the charger at home. Those lost few hours could make the difference in a friendly rivalry if you’re competing over steps with friends and family.
The Flex is water-resistant, which means its fine for sweat, washing hands and showering, but might not withstand a swim.
People use it in different ways for different reasons. I can firmly say that the Flex does actually encourage me to get off my ass more often, mostly due to competition with myself and others (the trash-talk that comes of this can get pretty inspired). Random walks “just to get out of the apartment” have a point now, even in the middle of a polar vortex. It could lead me to become a little healthier simply from awareness of my utter laziness during my usual day before I donned the Flex.
It could be OK for casual runners, but who’s ever heard of a casual runner? I’d say the Fitbit is too simple and basic for most runners or fitness enthusiasts who might find other smart watches much more alluring, such as Garmin’s Forerunner series with GPS and other bells and whistles. Also, the display doesn’t show enough information for tracking while running, forcing users to get details from the phone app.
In conclusions, the Flex is more of an awareness device that encourages users to walk more with healthy (or home-wrecking) competition from friends and family. It’s a great start for beginners, but if you break through the 3 month gym barrier and keep going, you’ll probably look elsewhere.