Review: Fitbit One Wireless Activity + Sleep Tracker

Whenever the topic of fitness tracker comes up, the Fitbit brand is always mentioned. In fact, it’s even becoming a bit of a generic name for a wearable fitness tracker – this is because they are the leader in the market at the time.

As I’m a regular Mi Band Pulse user, I didn’t have any plans to go and try the Fitbit until it was gifted to me. As a result, I thought it would be nice to put it through a review.

Unboxing

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The Fitbit One is one of their more basic fitness tracker units. The body of the unit is visible through a large window on the front of the package, and is a striking burgundy colour. Some of its abilities include activity and sleep tracking, and it is pictured with its “wear resistant clip” for wearing in a pocket, on a belt or clipped on a bra.

Even though it is one of the more basic units in their lineup, the unit retails for AU$129.95 from Fitbit’s own online shop, and can be found on eBay from about AU$95, making it a fairly expensive tracker especially when compared with the Chinese offerings.

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The side of the box indicates the compatibility of the device, which includes iPhone 4S or later, iPad (3rd generation) or later and “leading Android devices”. Surprisingly, it is also compatible with laptops and desktops running Windows XP or Mac OSX 10.6 or later. A look at the inclusions listed on the other side shows that it includes a wireless sync dongle – essentially a Bluetooth low-energy interface, so people without Bluetooth low-energy capable smartphones can still make use of the Fitbit One.

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As promised, within the package is the tracker, the sync dongle with a non-standard USB shroud, a charger lead, wear-resistant clip and a sleep wristband. A single sheet leaflet is also present to tell you how to set-up the device, which involves visiting www.fitbit.com/setup.

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The unit is charged through the pads at the back, using a special clip-in cradle. This is similar to many of the other fitness trackers. Before doing anything with the unit, it pays to charge it up at least enough to set it up, so I hooked it up to a USB port to get some juice.

PC-based Setup and Use

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When visiting the setup page, you are greeted with two different ways to get started – either you can install and use the mobile app, or you can install the Fitbit Connect software and use the Wireless Sync Dongle. I opted for the latter, because it’s a special feature not found in other competitors.

dongleWhen the dongle was plugged in, it appeared as a USB Human-Interface Device rather than a Bluetooth device. I suspect because this is because the dongle itself has its own “intelligence” and is intended for use with Fitbit trackers only, and by doing this, it doesn’t need special drivers to operate with the software.

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Setup was fairly straightforward, and is a matter of following the prompts and giving it all the information it wants. Along the way, there are some basic tutorials telling you about the features and how to use them, as well as a need to verify Bluetooth pairing PIN. Once it is setup, the software runs in the background, allowing for syncing automatically or manually.

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When using the tracker with the PC, the main interface can be reached from fitbit.com, and is a web-based dashboard.

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The dashboard can be customized by removing and rearranging the tiles. It’s nice to see a truly “cross-platform” experience, with all the relevant data visible at a glance including steps, weight, sleep, logged exercise, etc. There is a food plan feature to help you lose weight as well as a water/drink logging feature. There is also a friends feature which allows you to compete with other Fitbit users, which can be found either via Facebook connect, or by inviting them by e-mail.

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The log tab allows you to access various logging features, as the platform has a food plan and calorie balance system to help you determine whether you are eating enough, or too much. The calorie count seems to take into account the basal metabolic rate, so you can be doing no steps a day and still burn about 1800 calories. There are also tabs for tracking activity (exercise), weight (manually, or in conjunction with the Aria smart-scales) and sleep. The food stats graph appears to require Flash Player plugin, which seems a little old-fashioned.

The community tab allows you to access forums for product support.

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The premium tab is where you’re exposed to the upsell – namely they want to be more than just a basic tracker and instead get another AU$59.95/year from you to show how your data compares with the other Fitbit users (paid or not). It also unlocks various reports which mine your data for you, as well as a virtual trainer.

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The cog allows you to access settings, where you can configure all your details, as well as your alarms, privacy settings and data sharing. A particularly useful feature not available on competing platforms is the ability to export data for your own analysis. This tool is limited to exporting up to 31 days at a time, but it’s good to see that your data isn’t “trapped” in the platform as it commonly is with its competitors.

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When it comes to sharing, where the Mi Fit has a link with Google Fit, it seems that Fitbit has partnered with Microsoft HealthVault, which is something I’ve not even heard of prior to owning this unit. It also has a linkage with Twitter, which allows Fitbit to automatically tweet your statistics every day. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any other integrated sharing ability.

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Thins don’t stop there, as Fitbit also has many e-mails sent to you on events such as low-battery, and weekly statistics. Everything to get you moving, I suppose, but this is also unique to them.

Mobile Application

2016-06-10-17-43-10Of course, the majority of users would probably have a compatible smartphone and desire to use that with their tracker instead for set-up and daily use. The good thing is that once you have been set-up, there’s no need to go through the set-up process again. You just have to install the app and sign in with the credentials you created during your original sign-up. Even then, you can still use the web dashboard to check the results, as the sync uses the phone to talk to the Fitbit tracker and upload its results to their servers. If you want to use the Fitbit connect USB dongle, you will have to ensure your phone is not connected to the tracker (i.e. turn off Bluetooth) otherwise the USB dongle can’t sync with the dongle.

Anyway, the app itself looks pretty clean and simple at a glance, with the Dashboard being the default screen. By long pressing on the items, you can customize which items are shown. Short-pressing on an item brings up the historical trend information, which allows you to see how you have been doing in the past. You can also expand the graph by tapping on it, which gives you the possibility to see aggregate figures for a time period as given by the bar above.

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2016-06-10-17-44-57If that’s not enough, by clicking on the steps listed underneath, you can get the daily step trend graph. But if it’s a little too small for your liking, you can expand that too. The navigation experience really “goes deep”.

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2016-06-10-17-46-44It’s a very similar story when it comes to sleep logging, where the data is presented as coloured bars, and while higher detail is available, it’s not always meaningful.

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The displays for food, water, and weight look pretty similar. In the case of food, manual entry and barcode scan is available, although I didn’t use it. In the case of water, you can “quick add” standard volumes with a single press, which is a little more convenient, but still too much hassle for me.

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2016-06-10-17-45-48Exercise can also be logged, with the type of exercise, and what appears to be GPS logging capability using the GPS within your phone.

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Fitbit has their own “friends” system which allows you to compete with others, and improve your score. This is a common feature amongst most fitness trackers.

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A little less common is the “gamification” of the fitness process, with badges and trophies you can earn with your fitness progress, and challenges you and friends can work towards.

2016-06-10-17-48-38All of the above mentioned features are accessed via the sidebar menu, which can be bought up using the menu button.

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Settings allows you to configure your goals, and your stride length, the latter of which is rarely found in other fitness trackers.

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There is also a silent alarms panel to set up to eight alarms. These are updated every time the tracker is synced.

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The Devices panel lets you see the status of your devices and their synchronization status. It’s also a place where it attempts to upsell the user to another device. The Help menu allows you to view information about the mobile app version and access documentation regarding the app and the tracker.

User Experience

While in use as a step tracker, I felt the One had its merits and disadvantages. One of the best features is the OLED screen, similar to that on the Vidonn X6, which allows for immediate viewing of the tracker’s status –

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This includes the current time, the next alarm day and time, number of steps, number of floors climbed, distance, calories burnt and a flower indicating the amount of activity within the past three hours. The OLED display also randomly shows motivational messages, known as “Chatter” which can be disabled.

While the OLED display is great, the form factor of the unit is a little on the larger side, hence it is supplied with a clip rather than a wrist-band. When mounted in your pocket, it’s much less useful than it otherwise would be.

The One doesn’t come with an IP rating in its documentation, only noting that it’s sweat-proof. The unit has a physical push button that has a cut-out in the shell, so I suspect the unit isn’t going to survive going through the wash very well. This is quite important since the unit is likely to be clipped inside a pants pocket, and could easily be forgotten there.

In fact, because it needs to be clipped whenever changing pants, I have had several instances where I remembered that I didn’t move the tracker over to my new pants and lost a few counts as a result.

The step counting was fairly consistent and accurate – within about 10% of the other trackers I was simultaneously wearing. The reason for the differences also proves to be a potential strength. Now that we are approaching the coldness of winter, when going out for a walk, I have a tendency to put my hands in my pockets. A wrist-worn tracker is likely to under-report steps under this circumstance, whereas the clip-on seems to perform just fine. Another scenario where the clip seems better is when carrying a bag or an item, and the wrist is otherwise immobilized. It also can be used unobtrusively, and discreetly. The downside, of course, is that you have to remember to actually clip the unit on.

The unit does have some rather interesting features, such as the steps climbed functionality which isn’t duplicated by my other fitness trackers, which detects when going up a certain distance and counts it as a floor.

I didn’t have any problems with the silicone clip, which had a tough stainless steel metal clip embedded within it. I can see that after a long period of use, the silicone may tear through and the clip may need to be replaced.

The unit uses a custom charging cable, as with most other trackers, so you have to be careful not to lose on. The site claims the unit is good for a week to two weeks, and my testing seemed to bear that out with the unit lasting 11 days when checked a few times a day with one alarm each day. This is much shorter than the Mi Band Pulse’s over 40 days of battery life, and means needing a lot more attention to ensure the unit is periodically charged.

Another downside with the battery is the app’s reporting of the status. Only three levels are reported – Fully charged, Medium and Low. As a result, it’s about as bad as an old digital camera, as Low really means “get to the charger”.

The unit is advertised as a sleep tracker as well, and technically speaking, this is true. However, sleep mode is not timed (as in the Vidonn) nor automatic (as in the Mi Band), instead requiring the user to manually engage it through a long press of the button on the front panel, and disengage it upon waking with the same process. It also requires users take the unit out of the clip and put it into the rather thick velcro wristband which is both uncomfortable and somewhat frustrating to do. This makes its sleep functionality relatively impractical to use – it’s just too much hassle, and even if you forego the wristband, it’s too easy to forget to turn it on as you get into bed. It’s notable that their more expensive models just so happen to not need such hassle.

I also found syncing in the mobile app to be quite slow, and even after the sync completes, the screen does not immediately update with the new figures. It’s as if the app uploads the new data, and has to wait for the cloud back-end to process and then show the updated figures. This can take up to a minute, leaving you a little confused as the screen was showing zero steps but sync completed. When actually connected and updated, the screen will update step counts live.

The app doesn’t seem to have any integration with other services for sharing progress information. That being said, the app does seem to receive periodic updates, which is good.

The One seems to broadcast itself on Bluetooth low energy continuously, with a name of ONE, which can make it a privacy and tracking concern.

Conclusion

The Fitbit One is one of Fitbit’s most basic units. Despite this, it still has a fairly steep retail price compared to the Chinese competitors. It performs reliably, and offers in-addition to the mobile app, a desktop/laptop compatible dongle with software and web-based dashboard functionality. It features a nice OLED display, and also performs floor counting which is unique. The unit’s wear resistant clip felt relatively sturdy, and its clip mounting can be an advantage in some cases. The app featured more complete food plan and water logging features, and the web dashboard also offers the possibility to download raw data for further analysis.

Despite this, it also has some drawbacks, including a complicated and frustrating sleep-tracking procedure, a “sweat proof” rating which may not be enough to save it from an accidental wash, slow syncing with the mobile app, very limited sharing options, a limited 11-day battery life, the need to remember to actually wear the unit and continuous Bluetooth low-energy name broadcasts which could be a privacy issue. It also doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles of heart rate monitoring, which is becoming a more requested feature.

As a result, while it does what it says on the box (for the most part), it’s not particularly good value for a price-conscious consumer, say compared to a Mi Band Pulse. However, if you do intend to take full advantage of the Fitbit platform, including its gamification, friends and Premium features, it’s probably a more affordable option.

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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