Three fitness trackers (compared in great detail)

Last Christmas, my big gift from Ted was a Fitbit Force. I liked it a lot; it fit my small-boned wrists reasonably well, was water-proof enough to wear while rowing, and displayed time of day, steps taken, distance covered, calories burned and flights of stairs climbed. It also could sync with my phone to show quality of sleep. I did have a few complaints, though; the biggest was that the sporty look didn’t go well with business or dressy clothing, but I still want to know how far I walk when I’m dressed up. Also, the short (8″ or less) USB charging cord was annoying, since I tend to charge USB devices from a plug adapter rather than from my computer, and it read erratically on the erg, sometimes giving me credit for as much as a thousand strokes for a 10 km workout and sometimes much less. It was a useful tool, though – but then they recalled it, because it caused skin irritation in some people. That wasn’t an issue for me, but shortly after the recall I lost the charging cord – and couldn’t order a replacement because it’s not a standard charger and the product was off the market. Once I gave up on finding the charger, I returned the Force to Fitbit as part of the recall (supposedly, they’ll send me a check someday – it’s been a few weeks).

I then waited a while for the announcement of the Apple Watch, but once it was announced that it wouldn’t be available until next year, I decided to order both a Fitbit One and a Misfit Shine to see which I like better. Incidentally, I found that I did really walk less in thos months without a fitness tracker, because I didn’t get “credit” for extra steps. For example, I’d wait until my next trip upstairs to put something away instead of just doing it right away. In theory, you get the real “credit” for increased activity in improved fitness levels, but apparently getting points or steps in a report I can see is more motivating for me. (Possibly someone needs to invent a fitness tracker that hands out gold star stickers.)

I’ve been wearing both the One and the Shine for about a week now, so it’s time to write a comparison. The cost of the two is similar; both are under $100 (I bought both for around $85-$89 at Amazon, but the price of the One seems to have gone up to around $99 there – it seems to vary a lot.

For form factor, the Shine is way better. It comes with both a clip and a wristband. They both feel a bit fragile, but seem to be holding up so far (necklaces and sturdier watchbands are available). The Shine is so flat and unobtrusive it’s easy to clip anywhere. Some women have said they clip the Fibit One to a bra strap but if I do that I get an unsightly lump. The Shine doesn’t show at all. Still, I like having it out where I can check the display. Places I’ve worn it so far include my wrist, my belt loop, my shirt collar, my badge lanyard, and even to my hair (while sleeping – on top of my head so I wouldn’t lay on it. The Shine’s wristband is sturdy enough that I often clip the Fitbit One to it as well, while rowing or sleeping – as noted, it feels fragile, but hasn’t broken yet. Without its clip on, The Fitbit One’s jellybean shape is so slippery and streamlined that it would be easy to just keep in a pocket – but much of my clothing doesn’t have pockets. (I suppose I could keep it in my bra without it showing – but as mentioned above, I like it out where I can check the display.) Also, without its clip on, the Fitbit seems like it would be easy to lose. Even with the clip, I’ve lost it once already. I had the One clipped to my pocket, with the clip on the outside and the One itself sitting in the pocket; when I came back from picking up lunch and a couple other walking errands, it was missing. I’d pulled my phone out of that pocket to make a call at one point, so I went back to where I’d made that call, and sure enough the One was still there on the pavement. (It was at a stop light that gets a fair bit of pedestrian traffic, so I was lucky – apparently it’s also unobtrusive enough not to attract others’ attention.)

The Fitbit One gives a lot more information on its display: time, steps, calories burned, flights of stairs, and distance traveled. THere’s also a flower that grows to show the amount of recent activity, and occasional random affirmations. (I can’t say I find having my fitness tracker giving me attagirls to be all that affiriming.) The Shine is a lot more minimal; lights around the bezel show how many points you’ve achieved toward the daily goal and then the time (you can change it to show time first, instead). The points seem to award one for about every 10 steps, so if your daily goal is 1000 steps, you’re shooting for 100 points. There are 12 lights around the bezel, so you’re not getting exact steps unless you feel like doing mental math, but for me at least, it’s enough to know if I’m halfway there, barely getting started, almost done or whatever. The time display is a bit odd, because it’s showing an analog clock on a digital display. Thus, if the time is 5:50, first it shows orientation dots at 12, 3, 6, and 9 to demonstrate the clock face (12 is slightly brighter so you know which way is up), then there’s a bright light at the 5:00 position and a flashing light at 11:00 to show minutes. This is different from a normal analog clock, which would show 5:50 with the hour hand at 6, not 5, and the minute hand at 11, so it takes a little getting used to. (It might be even more confusing in countries where 5:30 is described as “half six”.) The Fitbit One display is also easier to access – just push a button to bring up the display and cycle through the various readouts. A nice feature is that it always brings up whatver you displayed last, so if you always want to see steps or time first, it’s right there (my memory says the Fitbit Foroce always started with time, but I could be wrong). WIth the Shine, you have to double-tap it to get the display,a nd it usually takes me a couple tries. You also have to wait if you want to see the full information; if you have points set to display first and you want to see the time, you have to wait to see the points for a couple seconds, then the orientation dots, the hour dot, and finally the minute dot. That display stays up for a couple of second and then goes away.

Accuracy: the step count is usually pretty close on the two devices for me, but the Shine is WAY better at tracking exercises like rowing or cycling. You’re supposed to have to triple-tap it to tell it to begin counting cycling (or a few other activities) but it sometimes works for me without a triple tap and it does consistently count “steps” while I row. The Force was erratic in how it counted rowing; the One counts steps but not very many. However, the Fitbit app will let me log an activity later, which then counts toward the day’s calories (not steps). The Shine app doesn’t have that capability, though if it logs an activity as swimming, for example, when it should be cycling, you can change that in the app. On the other hand, the Fitbit system tells you how many stairs you’ve climbed, while the Misfit doesn’t.

The sleep tracker seems to be pretty close, as far as telling me how much restful sleep I’ve gotten. I’m not completely convinced in either case, because while they both can tell reliably if I’m awake or asleep, I can feel like I’ve gotten a great night’s sleep only to be told I was “restless” for most of the night. I think they’re implying that REM sleep isn’t restful, but it is a necessary part of sleep. The Shine can figure out on its own when I’m sleeping; the Fitbit Force and One both need to be told (by holding the button) when I go to bed. Both apps allow you to enter or correct your sleeping and waking times manually (after which it will tell you how restless you were between those times).

The apps are fairly comparable; the Fitbit (both Force and One) will sync from a little further away, maybe 10′ from the smartphone. All of the Misfit information says you have to lay the device on the phone screen and tap to sync, but they must have made unannounced improvements; it will sync any time the app is open and the device is within a couple feet. Both apps show a chart of activity for both waking and sleeping periods; the SHine’s Misfit app is easier to read to see what you did when (though you can tap the Fitbit graphs to see them bigger). I wish the Misfit app would let you select more different sports; so far they only list walking, running, cycling, tennis, basketball or soccer – of course I don’t expect it to sense if I’m rowing or kayaking or weighlifting, but it would be nice to be able to go in and tell it what I’ve done. Fitbit does have a wider range – but then again, it doesn’t seem to know that I’m exercising at all when I’m on a bike or erg and the Shine does.

Other features (most of which I don’t use): For those who want to track intake, the Fitbit app will let you add foods to track from a fairly wide menu, and will tell you how many calories you’ve consumed and how many you have left to go. The Misfit app takes a different approach: you use the phone to take a picture of your food to keep a video diary. This seems less accurate but also less troublesome, and might be good for someone like me who tends to snack througout the day. The Fitbit also lets you track how many glasses of water you’ve drunk (not a problem for me – ten years of living in the desert left me with a drinking (water) habit). Both apps let you track your weight and progress toward a weight target; at least you can set the target to whatever you want. Both apps let you connect to friends using the same app; I don’t do this because I just want to track how active I am – other people’s activity is their own business, though I know that for some people it helps to feel like they’re competing. The Fitbit One, like the Force and Flex, has silent vibrating alarms that will wake or notify you without alerting anyone else. The Misfit app has alarms but they’re just sounds played by the phone. It also has “sleep sounds”, allowing you to play different types of white noise to get to sleep (forest, waves, etc).

The Fitbit One information says it’s water-resistant; they tell you not to wear it while swimming, but it’s not clear if it’s OK to wear int he shower. The Misfit Shine is really waterproof, OK to wear in the pool.

Power: The Fitbit One is rechargeable, while the Shine runs on a battery. Normally I prefer rechargeable devices, but I’m not sure how I feel in this case; I always hated having to recharge my Force, because while that was happening it wasn’t tracking my steps! Like the Force, it has a special proprietary tracker, which is annoying. I’d prefer something like a micro-USB, to cut down on the number of chargers I need to carry. This charger also has an annoyingly short cable. The best compromise I’ve come up with is to charge it from my computer at work, at a time when I’m sitting still anyway. At least the One, like the Force before it, charges fast and only needs to be charged every week or so. I don’t know if the Shine will give me any warning when the battery is low; they claim you need to replace it every 4-6 months. One smart thing they did was to have it use a CR-2032 battery; that’s about the most common size among flat batteries and has been easy to find, pretty much anywhere I’ve been. (Just try looking for hearing-aid-size batteries in Asia, if you want a challenge sometime.) Because it’s commonly used, we tend to keep a spare on hand – but on the downside, it is an additional expense. Then again, losing that ridiculously short cable was the main reason I had to stop using my old Force in the first place!

I do think I’m more active when I wear a tracker. For one thing, I got *lots* more walking in the time I lost the Fitbit One and had to search for it! But they do remind me to take walks through the day, to stand up more, or to go put things away instead of trying to consrve trips.

I still tentatively plan to get an Apple Watch when it comes out next year. It looks like a watch, not sports equipment, unlike the Fitbit; it gives you full information on the screen, unlike the Shine. It’s waterproof. Unlike either, it uses a GPS (in your phone) for tracking distance and has built-in sensors to track heartrate. It has smartwatch functions as well as fitness functions – it shows texts, for instance. On the down side, it costs a whole lot more than the One and the Shine put together, and it’s not clear yet how functional it will be when separated from its phone (when on the water in a rowing shell or kayak, I don’t want to take a phone along but it would be nice to track my distance). But of the two toys high-tech pieces of fitness tracking equipment I have right now, I like the Shine a little better. The Fitbit might be nicer for someone who always has pockets and doesn’t tend to lose things, and whose main activity is walking or running, but for me the Shine works well. I wish it had a screen somewhere to show me all the information the Fitbits have, and silent vibrating alarms would be nice, but I love the flat shape and elegant design. It stays on better and there are more ways to wear it. It tells me the minimum I need to know, and the additional information I want is there in the phone app. I can imagine using it now and then even after the Apple Watch is released, because it can be worn unobtrusively at times when the Watch is too big and bulky (also, it still remains to be seen whether even the smaller version of the Apple Watch will fit on my small wrists). As well as form, the Shine functions better for me. since I rarely run (I tried the Couch to 5K program a few months ago, but my calves kept hurting) it matters a lot to me to have a tracker that registers the activities I do, whether cycling to work, rowing or erging.

Since I bought my trackers a week ago, Misfit has released a new device, the Flash. It’s similar to the Shine but is a bit thicker, and costs only $50. I think they’re trying to position it as a sportier look – it has a rubberized surface and comes in bright colors, whereas the Shine is slimmer, metallic, and comes in a wider range of colors – they’ve even added a few in the week since I bought mine. (I bought the black one since it was $10 cheaper at Amazon at the time; I wish I’d bought a different color, just so it would be easier to find when I inevitably lose it!)

If there’s anything I’ve left out that you want to know about any of the three fitness trackers I’ve mentioned, feel free to email me ( or comment wherever this blog entry is published – on my own Dichroic Reflections site, DreamWidth or LiveJournal.

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