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).
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’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.
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.
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.