I’ve tested 10 connected bracelets, here’s how I feel about it

I’ve tested 10 connected bracelets, here’s how I feel about it
Opinions

Wristbands and smartwatches are going to be a major trend in the upcoming years according to Canalys due to significant improvements into both hardware and software components. As a result, smartbands sales will grow rapidly in 2014 : around 17 million of these connected objects will be sold this year. Connected objects manufacturers are expected to sell around 9 millions wristbands in 2014 and up to 13 millions in 2017.

I tested 10 connected bracelets, here’s how I feel about it :

As far as I know, Fitbit  based in San Francisco, has been polishing its hardware since September 2008 and now dominates the market with 58% of connected bracelets sold last year, far beyond Jawbone (21%) or Nike (14%). These 3 actors have adopted similar product development cycles and each released two versions of their bracelets. I had the opportunity to wear most of them for days or weeks for test purposes and I have mixed feelings about it. They all have pros and cons whether it is about durability, accuracy or community. I thought I would stop wearing these things a couple of weeks after my reviews were published on the site but somehow, I’m still wearing one today (the Fitbit Force which serves as the etalon of my next tests on the site).

fitbit_force_650w

My first experience with a fitness tracker was with a Fitbit product. It was the Fitbit One, which design is very close to a pedometer repackaged in a sleek body with a bluetooth connection that displays your results on your smartphone’s screen. Then, Fitbit launched the Flex, where the small tracker is included in a silicon bracelet. The Flex can be worn day and night for around 6 to 7 days and has a 5-LEDs jauge to display your progress directly on the device. Then came the Fitbit Force in October 2013, which I’m wearing today. The Force (119,95€) is much more sophisticated and integrates an altimeter to the initial accelerometer that enables to track steps walked, calories burned and the equivalent in stairs. Also, Fitbit’s Force is a standout offering because it has this nice OLED screen which make it a discreet, thick rubber wristwatch that I keep wearing at the fitness center.

Last friday, Fitbit stopped sales of the Force and issued a voluntary recall of the product following multiple consumer complaints of skin irritation after prolonged use of the band. These allergies are most likely common allergic reactions to nickel, a component of the surgical-grade steel according to Fibit’s CEO. I personally wear the Force daily since the beginning of November and I have not experiences such irritations, maybe because I was the Force on a regular basis.

jawbone-up24-650

Jawbone’s latest bracelet called Up24 (129,90€) hasn’t much differences with the original Up except it has a wireless Bluetooth syncing instead of the audio jack of the previous generation of Up, that you had to plug to your smartphone headphone jack to sync the data. Jawbone’s app is well crafted and probably the best overall. It will reward you with praise when you hit your daily goal several days in a row and celebrate some activity milestones, such as when you hit 1 million steps, for instance. More often the Up will distilate some tailor-made advice to encourage you drink more water or get to bed earlier. But to get this kind of insights you’ll need to manually select into the app every single piece of food you eat, which I personnally don’t do.

fuelband-se

Nike’s Fulband SE, sells roughly for 150€, is definitely the most sports-oriented of them all (well…maybe not, see below) but also the most expensive by far. Nike’s experience in making sports devices with its long-term relationship with Apple making shoe sensors linked to iPods must have benefited to the Fuelband as it feels strong in hand and well-finished. Although its 4-day battery life is quite deceptive it has a gorgeous LED screen and a multi-colors jauge that gives you instant information on how you’re doing versus your daily goal. By the way, Nike has chosen not to count steps, calories but to convert activity in its own measurement unit called « fuels »… So remember, you don’t burn calories (that’s for Fitbits owners you know..) you earn Fuels! Plus, the Fuelband is also the most social bracelet out there. It has a huge community of users in France who are very active and share their results and accomplishments over the web and on social networks.

I have also to mention that a lot of alternatives exists or will eventually be launched within the next few months, including Garmin Vivofit, Razer’s Nabu or the Shine from Misfit Wearables. I could also add a dozen more, found on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Making a choice :

I’ve used Nike’s Fuelband SE and Jawbone’s Up for a few days, and I prefer the Fitbit Force to both because it’s the lowest maintenance (I only have to charge my Force once a week, if not less, via a USB cable) with the maximum amount of insights without being distracted by it at all time. However, I truly think that Nike has achieved something important in building national communities of joggers in France (like @FrenchFuel on Twitter). On the other hand, I find the Fitbit app a bit weak in comparison to the splendid app designed by Jawbone, that must have focused more energy and ressources on the mobile experience, as it has no web-based application for desktop use whereas Fitbit has one.

But in my case, the decision-making happens to be made on a very tenuous aspect : sleep tracking. The Force and most of all other fitness trackers also tracks sleep, but you have to trigger the sleep mode by pressing a button before falling asleep, which I personally find very annoying as I tend to forget at least twice a week. But the Jawbone Up24 is smarter than that : it notices the prolonged stillness and starts tracking sleep anyway. Why not use the Jawbone then? Because the Force has a secret weapon : it allows you to set a silent alarm that gently wakes you up by buzzing the wristband at a preset wakeup time. (No more awful smartphone alarm at 6.00 am!) That alone is worth the cost of the Force to me.

polar-loop

That said, my current test could eventually change my mind (I’m wearing the Polar Loop as I type this). Overall and even the test is not finished I find that the Finnish manufacturer has done a pretty impressive job with its first connected bracelet, which sells for only 89.90€. The Polar Loop is thin yet robust and has a LED display screen. The Loop also comes with a superb online tracking service called Polar Flow, designed both for quantified self and sports activity tracking. I’m not far from saying that Polar achieved to gather the best of all worlds.

We’ll be talking more about Wearables at the Connected Conference June 18th-19th – Early Bird tickets are available today starting at 269€.

21 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Peter

    Wait, Jawbone UP also will gently wake you up with vibrations…

    • Avatar
      Tom

      Definitely – the UP has this function as well, and it’s the best thing about any device I owned (fitbit and up).
      It’s even better than that: you set an interval when you want to be awaken – say 6-7AM – and the band vibrates when your sleep is the lightest. It works very well for me, and way better than a fixed time. Sorry Force!

  2. Avatar
    y3ty

    I think you miss one big competitor of all these bands, Basis – http://www.mybasis.com

    Using it for 6 months now and I converted my Jawbone and Fitbit friends.

    • Avatar
      G.Sylvain

      You’re absolutely right, but it’s not in it for 2 reasons :
      1°) Basis looks like a watch to me,
      2°) I haven’t tested it, [Mr Basis if you read this, I’d like to fix that asap]

  3. Avatar
    Romain

    Thanks for the article !

    Using the Fitbit Force more a month now, I really think it’s one of the best available atm.

    The only thing that I think is missing is a REAL waterproof function. Going out swimming with it will be the end of your bracelet 🙁

    The Jawbone Up however also wakes you up with vibrations 😉

  4. Avatar
    Hedi Smida (@hedismida)

    I’ve had the Fuelband (original version) for a few months, then tried the Up / Force and eventually switched to the Misfit Shine.
    Honestly, besides the vibrating alarm, this one tops all other easily.. 4-5 months battery, slick design and super comfy, efficient whether you’re running, playing basketball, volleyball or swimming, it does sleep tracking, and the app’s design is great too.
    Check it out 😉

  5. Avatar
    Martin

    I know the Jawbone Up and the Misfit Shine, and commend the latter for durability, water resistance and 3 month + battery life.
    The reviewer misses out a crucial element however which is how the device and app provide an effective psychological tool to keep you motivated. The Nike Fuel is streets ahead of competitors here and in a few weeks testing the reviewer will not have seen this. The Nike also enables all sports, including weight training, yoga and cycling to be converted into points. The support provided by Nike is also excellent. I m no Nike fanboy, but i have 14 months of using the Fuelband and it motivates me more than ever. It is not a good sleep tracker, but be clear about what you are reviewing. It sounds like the reviewer wants an alarm clock, when most people will be looking for a fitness aid.

    • Avatar
      G.Sylvain

      Martin,
      I appreciate the input but you have to know that most of tests are made within hours, not days, not weeks. So a product that you must wear for decades to appreciate the advantages ain’t no good product to me.
      That said, the Fuelband is an >excellent< product for people looking for fitness aid, you're absolutely right about that. But a common mistake that people make is to think that their expectations from a product will be what most people are looking for. Generally speaking, it's a mistake.

  6. Avatar
    Jack

    I am not sure how well you could have tested these devices without knowing and finding out that the Jawbone UP has a vibration feature; many actually. 1) It will vibrate to wake you up within a window of time that you designate – it will vibrate when you are in light sleep, thus not waking you up groggy. You can set different time & windows for different days. 2) It will also vibrate between 30-45 minutes when you have taken a nap. 3) It will vibrate when you hit a certain period of Idleness Ie; not moving for an hour. 4) It will vibrate when it is getting low on battery.

    That seems like a lot you missed.

  7. Avatar
    Doris

    Wow, thank you for this review. Do you ever do any giveaways? I find them all a bit to pricey as a grad student on a very narrow budget, but trying to stay healthy…

  8. Avatar
    Robert

    Your reasons for choosing the Fitbit Force over the Up24 are flawed, it is the UP24 that has the alarm:

    From the Jawbone Website for the UP24

    “UP24 and UP analyzes your sleep cycle to wake you with a gentle vibration, at the most ideal time within a 10, 20 or 30-minute window or an exact time you specify”

  9. Avatar
    Robert

    http://jawbone.com/store/buy/up24

    «UP24 et UP analysent ton cycle de sommeil et te réveillent en émettant une légère vibration au moment le plus propice situé dans une fenêtre de 10, 20 ou 30 minutes ou à l’heure exacte spécifiée.»

  10. Avatar
    Nick.T

    Nice post but just lacking one aspect I’m desperate to find : can I use it in the swimming pool?
    All these devices (and the smartwatches) are designed for people who sleep, walk, run and cycle. But what about the others?
    I know for sure that the Jawbone UP can’t be used in the pool (says on the website), the smartwatches can’t be used either (IP67 at best). So how am I to track my activity without buying another device.

    Je me ferai un plaisir de t’aider dans le secteur natation…

  11. Avatar
    Sarah

    Hi Geoffrey, I would love to read a follow-up post concerning the Polar Loop!

  12. Avatar
    Sandeep Makwana

    How to use it with skin ?
    Also we know regarding bracelets and cell phone between distance of work ?
    And how to connect with cell phone ?

  13. Avatar
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