I’m not typically an early adopter, but I made an exception for the Nike+ Fuelband. 6 months ago I replaced my old classic iPod with an iPod Nano (6th Generation) and fell in love with the pedometer mode that keeps track of steps towards a daily goal. Syncing the iPod uploads data to nikeplusactive.nike.com (which is currently inactive) where steps are translated into distance around routes through real world cities. Along the way you would see the sights and compete with others to see who can get through the fastest and finishing one city would unlock others. Basically, it’s the gamification of fitness and it motivated me to take more steps. The downside was having to carry my iPod everywhere and having the pedometer on 24/7 would significantly shorten battery life. So when Nike announced that they would be creating a wearable device to capture movement data, I was sold.
The Fuelband is basically a souped-up pedometer with fantastic design. Many people have compared it to a LiveStrong wrist band, which it’s kind of like, but it is also thicker and more rigid. There is one button that calls up the LED display and cycles through the various counts of Fuel, calories, steps, and time. The clasp hides a USB plug which allows you to charge it and sync data to a computer. And that’s really all there is to it. This is elegantly designed and simple technology that serves you rather than you serving it. No monthly subscriptions, no accesories. The Fuelband stands on its own.
Rather than just counting steps like the Nano, the Fuelband uses 3 accelerometers to monitor movement in the arm. This makes sense, if you’re doing an activity like throwing a frisbee, you’re not just moving your legs. Thus movement is captured and data translated into something called “Nike Fuel.” Nike Fuel is a proprietary measurement of activity and the idea is to level the playing field among different activities and different sized people. It’s a measure of movement and doesn’t really have any applicability outside Nike hardware or websites..
A daily Nike Fuel goal is the main feature of the Fuelband. When you hit the button a series of 20 colored LEDs mark your progress towards the goal (you can bring up your actual number as well) and I find myself checking it fairly obsessively through the day. There are no tangible rewards to meeting your daily goal, but there is a feeling of accomplishment and syncing my Fuelband to the free iOS app or to nikeplus.nike.com let’s brings up my accomplishments and analysis of my data. For instance, the site and app have a graph that shows activity level hour-by-hour and breaks down Fuel earnings by time of day. That makes it real obvious when I’m active and when I’m not so I can make adjustments.
Just like the Nano and its game, this works for me. Last week I set hard goals and about 10 pm realized I wouldn’t hit them. This meant impromptu dog walks and carrying the baby around the house while feeding her to squeeze in some last Fuel before bedtime. I’m currently on a 7 days streak of meeting my goal and feel pretty good about the extra movement that has inspired throughout the day.
The one drawback to the Fuelband is accuracy. One afternoon I started up the Nano as well to compare its step count with the Fuelband’s. After about 6 hours the Fuelband recorded 1383 more steps than the Nano. My feeling is that the Nano is pretty accurate and the Fuelband was off as the distances my Nano registers for walks seem to be pretty accurate. I’ve also noticed I tend to get more Fuel per day than others in the Nike+ community without trying very hard. I called customer support about this and they seemed to think it was normal enough. Some will find this inaccuracy to be a big problem, but I don’t see it that way. As a pedometer the Fuelband stinks, but it definitely works as a way of tracking how active I am. While it may not be accurate to the world around it, it is accurate to itself. I can go on the site or the app and know that the scores I am getting are consistent to each other. If it’s late in the day and my Fuel score is in the pits, it will motivate me to go do something. If I’m at 5,000 in the evening, I know I have hit a fairly active day and can go to bed with a clean fitness conscience.
So, to sum up the Fuelband: I am loving it. It is a seriously cool piece of exercise technology that really is helping me to commit to more activity. The app and site both greatly improve the experience and the site will be rolling out more features this summer and fall (and hopefully bringing back the city game!). It’s going to be interesting to see how the Fuelband evolves as there are still plenty of things to improve, but as it stands right now the Fuelband great at motivating me to move more.