Finding the best activity tracker / by Josh Li

Announced in 2011, the Jawbone UP drew my attention mainly because of its "smart alarm", which touted the ability to wake you when you come out of deep sleep. I have tried similar sleep monitoring / alarm apps on my iPhone, but never got comfortable with putting my phone next to my head for 7 / 8 hours a night.

But the UP had two major flaws:

  • To sync with the iPhone, you would have to remove a cap and connect the UP band via the headphone jack; the cap was easily lost (and I did lose one)
  • The software was very buggy

I was happy to live with those flaws given it was a Gen 1 device, except eventually the band stopped working. Jawbone did the right thing and refunded everybody.

What I did learn from the 3 weeks my UP band worked was that I enjoyed being able to track not only my sleep, but my daily activity. It made sense to me that given our iPhone is always with us, we should be able to get up-to-date information on ourselves.

Around the time of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Nike launched its big update to the Nike+ products. Of most relevance to me was Nike Hyperdunk+, which would track my activity (movement, foot speed, vertical leap) during a game.

I loved this.

While the app left a lot to be desired, the summary statistics after each game did in fact motivate me to play harder and more often. And, being Nike, the Hyperdunks were one of the best shoes I have played in.

Given how satisfied I was with the shoes, I purchased the Nike+ FuelBand -- since I was earning Fuel Points during basketball games, tracking my activity throughout the day seemed like a natural next step. That was when I ran into a couple of issues:

  • The Nike+ FuelBand app and the Nike+ Basketball app did not talk to each other: my points did not automatically aggregate across the Nike+ ecosystem
  • Both Nike+ apps were buggy and poorly designed (especially the annoying videos that popped up when certain achievements were reached)
  • The FuelBand required recharging every ~3 days
  • The FuelBand, while arguably very cool looking, was very conspicuous and did not fit well with my work attire (suit and tie)

Finally, what Nike did not provide was sleep tracking -- the thing I wanted to track most. So, I used Nike+ during the day, I used Lark at night to track sleep. While it served its purpose, Lark created a lot of friction at times I least wanted:

  • There are no buttons on the sleep sensor. To turn off the vibrating alarm every morning, I had to fidget with my phone while my eyes were barely open
  • The pro reports -- and I only tried the trial -- did not provide any useful information, or at least not easily digestible, actionable items that helped improve my sleep in any way
  • It required charging every day, which meant I had to make sure I plugged the sensor back into the cradle every morning

Around the same time I bought my Nike+ FuelBand, I bought my wife a Fitbit Ultra -- I looked at it as a hedge: I could try the FuelBand, and she could test the Fitbit. In fact, my wife ended up walking a lot more after owning the Fitbit, and was competing with friends online. So while I did not immediately jump ship, I knew Fitbit had a solid line of products that I could potentially switch to.

Then came the recent announcement of the Fitbit One, which was the first activity tracking device that effectively suited all my needs:

  • It has batteries that last 7 to 10 days (2 hours for full recharge)
  • It syncs with the iPhone via Bluetooth 4.0
  • It tracks both activity during the day, sleep at night, and has a vibrating alarm
  • It has an ecosystem of devices that talk to each other (although I do not own the Aria because I don't need to monitor my weight, it is tempting)
  • It is small and inconspicuous

I have only been using the Fitbit One for 2 days, and already it has eliminated all friction related to my desire to track my daily activity. Like the name, the Fitbit One really is the one to track it all. Highly recommended.