FITBIT FLEX REVIEW
Updated Aug 10, 2014
The FitBit Flex features all the strengths of the FitBit One, other than an on-device screen and stair tracking, and does it in the form of a fashionable, durable 24/7 wristband.
(Note, 11/9/14: FitBit recently released new fitness trackers -- the FitBit Charge HR & FitBit Charge and the FitBit Surge)
I Own My FitBit Flex
As with all of my first hand reviews, I disclose how I obtained my tracker. FitBit didn't ask me to review their product or write this review. I went out and bought my FitBit Flex with my own dollars, and now I'm telling you what I think. Just wanted to get that out of the way! However, if you do buy anything through my site I usually get paid a small advertising fee (it doesn't bring your price up, though, so don't worry!). My opinions are my own, and I'm going to tell you the what I honestly think about the product in addition to listing its features. If and when a company does give me a test unit to review, I'll always be up-front about letting you know.
FitBit Flexes its Muscles with the Flex (har har har)
The FitBit Flex is almost as comprehensive a tracker as the FitBit One, other than not tracking stairs and not having an on-device screen. It captures not only steps and activity intensity, but also your sleep (duration and quality). It uses the data collected to further calculate distance travelled (based on your stride length) and calories burned (based on your height, gender, weight, and steps/activity level).
The magic all happens in one little nugget of digital greatness that you can jam into and out of a rubbery, colored wristband. The band comes in two colors that you can choose between and a growing variety of accessory band colors. You can also buy flashy jewelry encasements designed by Tory Burch as of summer 2014, as well as patterned plastic Tory Burch bands -- though I don't recommend those, because there are many one star reviews about the band coming unclasped. The Flex band comes in small and large -- both sizes are shipped in each package along with the small tracker that can pop in and out of each band -- and its adjustable notch-based band style make the sizing more customizable than the Nike+ FuelBand (unadjustable: S, M/L, XL) or the Jawbone UP (unadjustable: S, M, L)
While the band's LEDs give you an idea of progress toward your goal over the course of the day, you can also log in to your personal FitBit dashboard online (or on the mobile app) to view all of your detailed data over time. The dashboard lets you connect socially with other FitBit users - both those you know in the real world and those you don't - and see how you rank against them on your personal "leaderboard." There are also communities you can join (marathon runners, local walkers, etc), and a robust forum of FitBit users who help answer each other's questions and provide support. You can track calories consumed, weight over time, and customize a calorie-tracking plan for weight loss. FitBit's Aria Smart Scale, sold separately, will wireless transmit your weight and body fat percentage to your dashboard as well, helping to provide a full picture of your health journey over time.
In addition to viewing your data via Mac or PC, you can also view your data on select iOS and Android devices. The data the Flex collects is transferred wirelessly to your computer or compatible mobile device. The flexibility of access from multiple devices and ability to sync wirelessly are significant benefits over trackers that sync to only web or only smartphone -- and a huge leg up over trackers that only can be synced manually.
The FitBit Flex has a rechargeable battery with a 5 day battery life. This is on the long end compared to other trackers that require recharging. FitBit also sends you an email warning you when it's about time to recharge -- a courtesy I find very helpful.
Sleep tracking features are basic, but they work well. Just like the Jawbone UP, you need to set the device into "sleep mode" to track your sleep. In the case of the FitBit Flex, you enter sleep mode by tapping the device for a few seconds. If you forget, you can log sleep manually the next morning. While many trackers require you to manually enter sleep mode by pressing a button, the Basis B1 Band band and the Misfit Shine try to automatically guess when you're asleep based on your body position and motion (in my experience, they both do a pretty good job of it).
The Flex also features a silent alarm that gently buzzes to wake you up without disturbing your partner. To turn it off, you need to gently tap the device for a few consecutive seconds.
My Personal Experience with the FitBit Flex
I've owned a FitBit Flex since late February 2014 (in addition to having owned a FitBit One, FitBit Force, Jawbone UP, Misfit Shine, Basis Watch and several others). You can read more about how I came to own so many activity trackers (and why I went through so many of them) on the About page.
In general, I really enjoy the FitBit Flex -- it's my go-to fitness tracker, largely because I prefer the company's website and app. In particular, I like the ability to add friends I do know and people I've never met (in case no one I know uses the device) to my competitive "leaderboard" and compete against them to get the most steps in a week. I also like the feature of being able to "cheer" and "taunt" your friends with the push of a button. You can read more about the social features of FitBit in the main body of the Detailed Reviews page.
In terms of sleep comfort, the Flex is much more comfortable than the Force, and both are more comfortable than the Basis. I tend to forget the Flex is even there. Still, I'm not really picky in the arena of sleep comfort: while comparing trackers, I've been able to sleep with a Flex, UP, and Basis all on the same wrist at night without real problems. The slimmest and most comfortable tracker for sleeping in that I've found so far is the Misfit Shine.
In terms of tracking, I've found it to be pretty accurate. The biggest source of under-counting for me comes from when I hold my wrist steady while pushing a shopping cart. The biggest source of over-counting comes from when I'm shoveling dirt in the garden or intensely chopping veggies -- the sharp, repetitive wrist motions get logged as steps. In some sense, I actually appreciate the false logging of upper body activity, since it usually is legitimate, intense activity and I do want to get credit for it!
The automatic syncing is lovely - it is an essential feature for me in any fitness tracker. I've never had major issues getting the FitBit to sync. I sync to a Macbook and an iPod Touch. And, whenever I have had issues with or questions about any of my FitBit products, I've always had excellent customer service interactions ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
By comparison, not having auto-syncing in the Jawbone UP hampered my use of the UP data along with the device's ability to motivate me; if you're interested in the UP, spring for the wireless-syncing UP24. Also, I have found the Jawbone UP to have sharp edges on the ends of the band (these have been rounded down a bit in the UP24). You can read more about my perceived downsides (and positives) of the UP in the corresponding "Personal Experience" section on the Jawbone UP Review Page and the FitBit One Review Page.
Despite my love for my FitBit Flex, I've uncovered some issues with it over the last seven months I've been wearing it. So far, no tracker is perfect in my book. But quite a few do a pretty good job, and the FitBit is squarely in that category. I hope that by listing my perceived downsides, you can decide which are least important to you and can pick the right tracker for your needs the first time around.
To begin with, I miss the screen of the FitBit One and FitBit Force. A screen on the device that tells me -- using real text -- exactly how many steps, etc, I've racked up as the day progresses is a huge motivator. I also miss having a device that counts flights of stairs climbed (both features that the FitBit Force and FitBit One have) -- as soon as my device starts measuring steps, I start climbing more of them. If I didn't lose the One so easily, and if I didn't have a skin reaction to the Force, I'd rather have one of those two trackers instead.
To start and stop sleep mode or "activity mode", or to stop the silent sleep alarm, you need to tap the band continuously for about three seconds. This is not a pleasant user interaction for me; in the morning, I slap my wrist repeatedly until my point gets across and the silent alarm stops buzzing -- often disturbing the person next to me and kind of defeating the purpose of a nice, silent alarm. At night, I have to remember to slap my wrist again. Sometimes, I need to slap my wrist several times in a row until it registers. I wish I could just push a button. Not to mention that it's a weird thing to be seen doing in public.
A small gripe is that condensation builds up between the insertable electronic device and the clear plastic viewing area on the band. Not enough to obscure the view of the data, but just enough in the corners to look gross. If you shower with it, it won't quite dry out in there on its own.
Additionally, the band is hard to snap on. You will have to apply a painful amount of pressure to get the clasp to snap into the holes on the wristband. Once connected, it still runs the risk of coming disconnected and popping off. Activities likely to cause the band to pop off are those where the band will catch across something as you pass your arm over it:
What's wrong with a traditional watch band? I honestly wish that all fitness tracker companies -- not just FitBit -- would recognize the years of wisdom that have gone into the planning and design of the watch band. Belt-buckle-like clasp, holes, a small loop to hold it all in place; watch bands are incredibly secure. Yet many tracker companies keep trying to come up with their own solution. I have high praise for those who've accepted the wisdom of the watch band: Basis band, the Misfit Shine and Wellograph watch are some of the few in this category. The new FitBit Charge HR (review here) and FitBit Surge, to be released in late 2014/early 2015, will also feature watch bands.
Finally, I *have* had a skin reaction to the small metal clasp that secures the FitBit Flex wristband. I have a very mild nickel allergy, and I think there must be some nickel on the clasp's coating. This reaction wasn't nearly as bad as my reaction to the FitBit Force, and it first occurred under extreme circumstances: 5 hours of shoveling dirt in the garden resulted in a wet, hot wrist in constant contact with the clasp and one large blister where the clasp touched my wrist. Heat and moisture tend to exacerbate the allergic reaction. But the rash also has manifested itself as tiny itchy bumps all long the circumference of my wrist where the clasp touches. I initially solved the problem by coating the clasp with a thin layer of clear nail polish, but it tends to wear off too quickly. My latest solution: put a piece of first aid tape on the inside of the band where the clasp would otherwise touch my skin. So far, so good, though it leaves a gross residue behind.
Another band gripe: The holes that the clasp pops into become gross. They collect sweat, the dirt, and other stuff over time, and you have to clean them out. This is not a problem I had with the Jawbone UP's clasp-less form factor.
One last band gripe: My band was not super durable. In a period of six months, it got scuffed up, the plastic viewing band cracked, and the area where the band attaches to the viewing port separated (my bad -- I tried to put the FitBit nugget in upside-down). To be fair, I'm not an office-worker; I'm a very physically active and my wrists take a lot of abuse in the course of a day. Still, my ideal band would have more than a six month life span. I've had to start using the "Large" band on the smallest setting.
Based on my past positive interactions with FitBit's customer support, I wouldn't be surprised if they offered to send me a replacement band if I expressed my dissatisfaction with how long the first band lasted. However, I'm not planning to do that, because the Large band is working just fine, and when that gets beat up I wouldn't mind getting a new color.
Here's a picture of the band I laid waste to:
Ten Tips for FitBit Users
FitBit Products: What's the difference between the Zip, the One, the Flex and the Force?
LET'S BREAK IT DOWN
Where To Buy
Buy the FitBit Flex on the FitBit site. They provide free Shipping for orders over $50.
You can also order it through Amazon, LLC.
Features & Added Benefits
The FitBit Flex has a 3-axis accelerometer that captures your daytime and nightime motion to categorize steps, activity intensity, and sleep patterns.
The device uses this information to present various data to you, including steps, distance traveled, calories burned, hours slept and times awoken.
A number of features add appeal to this health gadget including a silent wake-up alarm, a social aspect that lets you add friends and strangers to a competitive leaderboard, goal setting and tracking, weight tracking, and food logging/calorie counting via the FitBit dashboard.
Hardware & Wearing
The FitBit Flex has a wristband form factor when the tracking device is inserted into its rubbery wristband case. It is water resistant, safe to wear while doing the dishes, in the rain, and in the shower, but not while swimming.
A set of 5 LEDs on the device, when tapped, light up to show you your progress toward your daily goal. The device + band is available in two colors: black and slate. You can also buy additional accessory bands in a growing variety of other colors, including metal jewelry and plastic bands designed by Tory Burch. However, many customers have found that the Tory Burch plastic band clasp doesn't stay put (scroll down on the product page here for those reviews).
You can also buy pretty jewelry-like accessories to snazzy-up your FitBit from an independent company, bytten: http://www.bytten.com/
Battery Life & Charging
The FitBit Flex charges manually via a USB cable that comes with the device. It needs to be charged about every 5 days.
Bluetooth 4.0 syncing allows your data to automatically transfer to the website/app when you get within 10 to 20 feet of your paired computer or mobile device.
You can view your FitBit Flex data via a Mac or PC and through select iOS and Android devices. The company is planning to add compatibility with more mobile devices soon. An API is available, and the device interfaces with many popular fitness apps and websites, including MyFitnessPal and Lose It!