A new article from lifestyle blog Lifehacker, ‘How I Got in Shape with the Help of Technology,’ reviews multiple consumer connected health devices, including Fitbit, Withings Scale, RunKeeper and BodyMedia Fit. Writer Adam Pash combined the devices with regular exercise over an eight month period and lost ten pounds in the process. Back in 2009, the New York Times’ David Pogue and AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg reviewed Fitbit, DirectLife, and ContourUSB devices.
Here’s a summary of Pash’s criticism of each device:
BodyMedia Positive: The BodyMedia armband is data rich. “Among all the tools I tested, it clearly does the most, it presents it all in a friendly dashboard, and one charge lasts for days, so you don’t need to worry about charging it all the time. Most of that data is tracked automatically, so all you have to do is wear the arm band.”
BodyMedia Negative: The downside to constant data-monitoring is obvious: “You have to wear an armband around all the time. I wore the Fit around for a good six weeks, and frankly, I found wearing it kind of gross. My arm would feel a little sweaty, so I’d pull the rubber-y elastic band away from my arm to get a little air in there like you would if you were wearing tight, poorly breathing underwear.”
Pash found the BodyMedia armband to be effective, but cumbersome overall: “The Fit was the best tracker I tested in terms of accuracy and breadth of information. Unfortunately I’m not a convict, and unless required by law, I, like most people, find wearing a bulky armband every day to be overkill.”
Fitbit Positive: Fitbit’s small size and easy syncing were key strengths. “Fitbit is small, fits easily into your pocket (or wherever you want to clip it on), and syncs wirelessly to a USB dongle-plus-charger that plugs into your computer. The device’s onscreen display gives you on-the-fly stats, displaying steps taken, distance walked, and a surprisingly effective flower that grows taller the more you’re walking. (I was always disappointed in myself when I didn’t max out that flower height.)”
Fitbit Negative: “The Fitbit’s battery life is a little on the weak side, but it’s not a dealbreaker. If you want to track your sleep with the Fitbit, you have to wear it on a wristband, which suffers the same problems as the Fit: Namely, it sucks to wear an uncomfortable band to sleep.”
Pash views the Fitbit as a more convenient but less feature-filled device than the BodyMedia Fit. “Its wireless activity sync, on-device stats, and small size make it an addictive gadget to carry around in your pocket. I found myself regularly checking (and actually caring about) my daily steps taken, [but] it’s much more of a walker’s device.”
Withings Positive: “There’s nothing easier than stepping on a scale when you get out of the shower, so Withings has the lowest hassle to adoption. The weight change over time is, for me, effective. Rather than having a vague idea that I’ve gained or lost weight, I know exactly how much I’ve gained or lost, and even though it doesn’t have any way of tracking your caloric intake/output, normally I have a pretty good idea of when and why it’s happening. As an added bonus, Withings can incorporate its data with third-party fitness tools—including RunKeeper.”
Withings Negative: “The Withings scale can’t track the same data as the Fit or Fitbit for obvious reasons. It’s limited to the three weight measurements.”
The ease of use of the scale impressed Pash. “I really like the Withings scale. Incorporating gadgets like the Fit or Fitbit into your life is a big commitment, but there’s nothing to using a scale. You just stand on it. Everyone understands that, and beyond the initial setup, that’s all there is to it. A good weight history is, for me, really powerful. It’s hard data saying, “Adam, you’re getting a little on the heavy side for you. Time to shape up.”
RunKeeper Positive: RunKeeper’s effective is very dependent on the GPS the user pairs with it. “The app is customizable, allowing you to set time- or distance-based announcements for your distance and pace, place specific playlists, and so on. The feature that really blew my mind was the Coaching feature, which allows you to create your own workouts with specific time- or distance-based intervals. (E.g., run fast for .25 miles, then slow for 1 minute; rinse and repeat as often as you like). Once I discovered coaching, I was hooked.”
RunKeeper Negative: “The RunKeeper app is free, but some really nice advanced features are only available once you’ve signed up for the $20/year RunKeeper Elite. I’m motivated by personal bests, so the main benefit of the subscription is the full-featured Personal Records and Trends. I count the Elite requirement as a con in the context of a free app, but it’s also pretty cheap relative to buying any of the gadgets above.”
Pash thinks that each device is an effective tool for understanding and monitoring ones fitness, but ease of use trumps all. “Any feedback loop is better than no feedback loop. Still, I found that the less painful the path to adoption, the more likely I was to actually keep up with and pay attention to the results of the tool. Even if I started with the best intentions, I could never convince myself to log everything I eat, and for me, wearing a dedicated tracking device everywhere I went got annoying after a while. My sweet spot combined the Withings scale and RunKeeper.”
You can read the full Lifehacker article here.