Fitbit Force

I broke down and entered the wearable market. Specifically, I replace my analog watch with a Fitbit Force.
The Force is a wrist mounted wearable that tracks the following:
Steps taken
distance walked/ran
calories burned
Flights of Stairs climbed
Active minutes
Sleep time/activity

It actually does that reasonably well. The Force can display most of that data using a OLED display, unlike the older Fitbit Flex wrist based wearable monitor. I like the immediate feedback right on the device. It reminds me when I’m sitting down too much. Getting up and walking around on a frequent/irregular basis actually helps me with my focus. The Force measures all of this using accelerometers and an air pressure monitor.

The Force will also display the time, but that is one of the two major downsides to the design. To find out the time, Fitbit has recreated that genuine early 1980s experience oh having to press a button on your digital watch in order to find out what time it is.

I’ll get to the other major design flaw later. First I want to cover more of the good points.

The Force syncs with my iPhone over Bluetooth. The Fitbit app then allows me to review the data collected in more detail and over periods of time (day, week, month). I can also log other items, including hydration input.

I can also sync my Force with my Windows 7 desktop, but I have to use the Fitbit custom Bluetooth USB dongle to do so. If I wanted to sync to my Macbook, I have to use the Fitbit custom Bluetooth USB dongle, despite the MacBook having Bluetooth 4.0 built in. Thus sayith Fitbit support, which is a PITA.

On the plus side, the desktop view is a web based app, which gives you everything the mobile app does, but bigger, which is good.

The second major design flaw is the crappy wrist band. I have fairly large wrists, so I’m wearing the Large version of the Force. I’ve found that the “latch” on the wrist band will pop loose when I put on or take off a jacket or long sleeved pullover shirt. The bloody thing will also pop loose if I flex my wrist the wrong way. There are very long threads on the Fitbit forums about this problem. People have lost multiple Force devices (many of which Fitbit has replaced, at $130 retail each), and Fitbits response so far has been to post a video on how to properly insert the slots into the tabs, which is the poor design of the wristband latch. User feedback has been better, including the suggestion of adding an O-Ring over the latch.

Overall I’m happy with the device. The geek portion functions well and gives me data to crunch, which makes me happy. The whole crappy wristband thing is a disappointment, but one you can work around as long as you are aware of it.

Serious though. Wristband design is a pretty mature technology. Somebody at Fitbit who valued form way over function green lighted this Charlie Fox of a design. A decision that has cost them a lot of customer good will. The question is what will Fitbit due in order to get that customer good will back?

Update: Fitbit has stopped selling the Force and issued a recall.  The reason given was the skin rash some users were getting from it.  The crappy wristband design probably didn’t help.  Since Fitbit has dropped this product and will not longer provide firmare updates or other support, I put it to return mine for the full retail value.  Fitbit claims to be working on  new tracker.  I posted the following to the Fitbit user forums:

With all the complaints about the Force wristband, there was an underlying theme of the issue being so frustrating because the Force was the best fitness tracker on the market. The users loved it, except for the bloody thing wanting to jump off the user’s wrist every time they took a jacket off.

I’m sure the Force replacement will be an even better fitness tracker, and have the ability to show messages and phone notification from your phone that the Force will now never have.

However, if it uses the same consumer hostile wristband, I certainly won’t be buying one. That move would certainly alienate the Force customers who love their Force but hate with deep passion the low quality wristband that is integral to the device.

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6 Responses

  1. I’ve got a Pebble. It has no health-related sensors, but on the bright side it vibrates when I get a phone call or alert and my phone is silent, and the e-ink display is always on.

  2. The Pebble is nice. A little clunky, but pretty good for first gen smart watch. The Force is supposed to get a firmware upgrade this month to show call & text data.

    • Yeah, there’s some issues with it on Android, but nothing that makes me want to return it. Certainly I’d like to see a more sophisticated set of watch apps out of the box — set a countdown timer on my phone, see the remaining time on my watch, that sort of thing.

      The band it comes with is a joke, but I bought a metal band and mounted it; since the Pebble uses a standard watchband you can swap it out pretty easily.

      It doesn’t have a MicroUSB recharging port, which is a bit of a pain, but the battery’s good enough that I’m able to go a week or so between charges, if I turn it off at night.

      But for me the deal maker is the e-ink display. It’s always on, so you don’t have the “touch watch to tell time” problem.

      • The standard wristband on the Pebble is a major win. I hear you on the non-standard charger. There are two major reasons not to use a microUSB slot for charging, and neither is consumer friendly.

        First is that you have pay a licensing fee for USB. Slight increase in the fixed cost of of BOM. A factor if your margins are really tight. The other, much bigger factor, is that you get to charge ridiculous prices for a second non-standard charging cables. Which a properly paranoid geek will do to avoid having a paperweight if they loose one cable.

      • The stated reason is that a microUSB charge socket is not watertight, while the charger for the Pebble, which uses magnets to hold the cord against two metal points, is. And I’m mixed.

        According to their blog, they were going with MicroUSB when the water-proof charger came up. And I’m inclined to agree that a watch needs to be more water-tight than most electronics.

        Still, issues you raised are also valid.

  3. […] John Nowak on Fitbit Force […]

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