Back in 2010, I introduced to SodaStream, a product that allows you to make your own soda at home. I loved the product so much that I dubbed my Product of the Year. In a twist of irony, I almost never make soda with the SodaStream. I mix the carbonated water with True Orange for a refreshing zero calorie drink with no chemicals or artificial sweeteners.
It is the year of the Fitbit Wireless Activity/Sleep Tracker. Had someone clued me in a year ago, it would have one then too.
What makes a pedometer a Product of the Year? I’m going to with a combination of superior usability, great design, and the motivation through accountability. I’ll give you a run through of how it works and then circle back and address these in more detail.
The Fitbit activity tracker (which I call Fitbit for short) is about the size of a USB thumb drive and in a shape of a money clip. You can put it your pocket, but most people wear them on a belt. (The website suggests that women wear them on a bra.) It weighs almost nothing, so you’ll never notice it is there. You can wear it for 3-5 days at a time without charging it. I like when technology fits my lifestyle instead of me having to adapt my life to technology.
The Fitbit tracks daily steps, stairs climbed, distance, and calories burned. I haven’t found that the distance is that important to me. The calories that it keeps track include your daily metabolic rate. This gives you a good estimate of how many calories you burn for the day. That’s much easier than trying to figure out that if I do an hour of hiking I burned 300 calories and adding up my exercise for the day. The step tracker is a key motivational tool. Fitbit sets you up with a goal of getting 10,000 steps in a day. In the two weeks that I’ve had it, I’ve found myself saying a dozen times, “Time to take the dog for another walk, we need to get our steps in.” I’ll do other things like purposely park far away from the store or take the stairs when the elevator is an option.
My wife saw how Fitbit changed my routine and wanted one herself. So I bought her one too. She’s now taking the stairs and walking more too.
The other thing that the Fitbit has is a flower that grows as you are more active. My wife and I will occasionally ask our each others’ flowers are. It sounds silly, but whatever works to get you going, right?
Every 15 minutes or so, Fitbit’s wifi connects through your computer to upload your information to their server. You don’t do anything to make this happen, it just does. This gives you great charts to compare daily, weekly, and monthly progress. The website has a food log, which allows you keep track of whether you are on the plus side of the minus of calories for the day. The Fitbit website has a number of partnership with other related companies and websites. Instead of using Fitbit’s food tracker, I use LoseIt.com that will import the information to Fitbit’s website. Loseit.com has a more robust food tracking database, smartphone apps, and their community seems to more active. I also have my activity synced with Earndit.com, a website that rewards people for being active. The rewards don’t seem to be particularly great, almost all of them are like Groupon’s, such as $25 off when you spend $50 on some product or service. I’m doing the exercise anyway, maybe there’s something of good value in there if I dig a little deeper.
The Fitbit also comes with a sleep tracker. I’ve only used it a few times and my sleep was at 97% efficiency. My wife has used it as well as similarly efficient. For me, this information isn’t very helpful, or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to make good use of it.
There is one last feature of the Fitbit that I’ve found handy. It has a built in stopwatch/trip counter mode. This is where the distance traveled comes in handy for me. It’s handy to know how far you’ve gone. While smartphones with GPS can do this as well, the Fitbit is very easy and accessible at your side.
There is one thing that the company needs to work on. It is almost impossible to read in direct sunlight. That’s an inconvenience, but it is not a deal breaker for me. Creating a shadow with your hand is a quick fix.
I’m still missing one piece from the fitness puzzle. The Fitbit Aria Wi-fi Smart Scale is to bathroom scales what the Fitbit activity tracker is to pedometers. At $130 it isn’t cheap. However, it completes the feedback cycle that you get with the food tracking and the activity tracker. When you put in the effort you get rewarded with better numbers on the scale and that pushes you to continue the effort. Maybe next month we’ll see if the Aria makes an appearance in our home.
Lastly, I know this article isn’t focused on personal finance, but maintaining healthy habits does pay off financially through reduced health care costs and not having to buy bigger clothes. For a couple of days, I like to switch up the topic, when I find something that I feel is worth sharing.
Do you have a Fitbit? Are you thinking of getting one? Let me know in the comments.