There are plenty of reviews of wearable fitness gadgets out there, but one thing that is neglected is what happens later when the novelty and shine wear off. And that’s where this review comes in: my thoughts about the Nike+ FuelBand (and FuelBand SE) after being a daily wearer of the device for over two years. I’ll start with thoughts specific to the FuelBand first and then talk about fitness tracking devices more generally after that. (You can read my original FuelBand review here.)
The first thing I can say about the FuelBand is that I still love it. The only time it’s off my wrist is while I’m swimming, giving Ellie a bath, or it’s charging (yes, I wear it while sleeping). It’s still an elegantly simple device and I love that. I really think that Nike knocked many elements of the FuelBand out of the park: design, ease of use, and simplicity (nothing to subscribe to, no add-ons). Two years later, it’s still motivating me to move more and be active, which is the whole point of the thing. Interestingly, it’s encouraged me to move in new ways too.
Here’s an example about that: as I mentioned in my review of the SE (second generation FuelBand), the “win the hour” function encourages users to move for 5 continuous minutes each hour to win that hour. The Nike+ site and iOS app was tracking this with my original FuelBand, but I never payed much attention to it since that data wasn’t tracked on the actual band like it is on the SE. After a few days, I started to realize that my win the hour rate was pretty dismal and decided to try for more. Thankfully, Nike has gameified these efforts and created trophies to recognize users who hit certain goals. I had already won the trophy for winning 8 hours in a day but waiting to be bagged were trophies for winning 10, 12, and 14 hours in one day and then trophies for hitting 8, 10, and 12 hours a day for a week (there is a 14 hours a day for a week trophy but I haven’t yet unlocked it). So, I made it my goal to get that 12 hours a day for a week trophy, which is a lot harder than it sounds and requires a bit of obsessiveness to make it happen. For hours where I wasn’t fully occupied, I’d slip out the door and find 5 minute loops to walk. Here’s where it gets tricky though: some hours you’re just not going to win because you’re busy so there are certain must-win hours that require some creativity to win. As an example: I left work at 4 pm one and thought I’d be home in plenty of time to get a walk in to win that hour, but found myself stuck in traffic at 4:45. I realized I wasn’t going to make home in time for that walk so I pulled over and did a loop through a Walmart to win that hour. I did end up winning the 12 hours a day for a week trophy and, despite it only existing in pixels, I have to say I’m kinda proud of it and impressed at Nike’s ability to get me moving in a new way even after two years.
So, that’s the good. Here’s a quick summary of the bad:
- The Nike+ website chugs along like a freight train. I have no idea why but it has always been slow.
- This is my sixth FuelBand. SIXTH. The plus side is that Nike+ customer service is top notch. I have never had any hassle getting my FuelBands replaced for free and they will even ship a new one to you before you send in the defective one meaning I have never had to go a day without one. The best part? They start the one year warranty over each time so as long as they have FuelBands in stock and mine keep breaking, I’ll never have to buy one again. The problems I’ve had include: broken button, burned-out LED, and spontaneous battery discharging,
- Nike first pledged to have an Android app when the FuelBand debuted, but then backtracked and said it wouldn’t happen. Then in the last month they released an Android app that is only compatible with the SE and only available on certain devices. Thankfully I just happened to get an SE as a warranty replacement and thankfully my phone is one of the few compatible devices. So far though the Android app is way behind the iOS app in features: no groups, no trophies, no extra info in landscape mode. I expect this to change as Google announced Nike and Adidas would be part of Google Fit that will be included in the next Android upgrade.
- Now, as much as I raved about the winning the hour thing above, it’s the following week and guess how many hours I’ve won the last few days? Hint: it’s not 12. I hit my trophy goal and now I’m cruising this week. I’ve noticed the same thing happen with the streaks you get for hitting your goal. There are trophies for hitting 7, 30, 50, 100, and 365 day streaks and if I miss my goal and break my streak, I’ll usually have a couple more days of missing my goal as I slog through the, “What’s the point now?” mentality. Granted, I recover from that and it’s not really Nike’s fault that happens, but adding some trophies and keeping new challenges coming helps to keep things exciting.
So, those are my thoughts on the FuelBand. But the big question is: did it make a difference? Am I more active and thus more fit? Since this was not a proper experiment with a control and a variable, it’s hard to say for sure. But here’s what I do know: I got the FuelBand about 6 weeks after Ellie was born and my main occupation at the time was sitting on the couch. At a time when it was very easy to play the “I’m too tired to move” card, the FuelBand motivated me to move. At the time I wasn’t running as I was still trying to get my runner’s knee sorted out, but by that fall I did have it sorted out and I was up and moving and seeking opportunities to hit bigger goals and new records for Fuel in a day. Could that have happened any other way besides paying money to wear something on my wrist that is really telling me things that I should already know? Maybe.
I think the real reason that the FuelBand works for me (and other wearable devices would work for me) is that I can be very easily motivated by completely arbitrary numbers. I’m really not a math person, but I do like numbers for some reason. Like everyone else, I basically know if I have been lazy on a given day. Knowing that I have been lazy for no good reason (sickness, injury, rest day from a previously busy day) is vaguely upsetting, but not very motivating. It’s a whole other thing when I can look at my FuelBand though and see I’ve only hit 1,000 Fuel by late afternoon. That’s quantified lazy. Yes, it’s an arbitrary number and yes, it’s something I already knew, but adding a score to laziness/activity makes it more depressing/motivating. When I see 1,000 and know my goal is 2,000 for a day, I suddenly have an actionable, definable, and specific plan: acquire 1,000 more Fuel points. Having a numerical goal makes my real goal (physical activity) more attainable as it’s spelled out in an achievable way. So, I move.
What you just read is why I do not necessarily recommend the FuelBand to everyone who asks me if I like mine. Yes, I love mine, but I’m of the mindset that can be easily motivated by the FuelBand. Not everyone is like that and I’d hate to recommend it to someone and they drop the $100 on it, use it for a few weeks, and then watch it collect dust as it does nothing to motivate them. Clearly, fitness devices are not for everybody.
But here’s what I really love about the FuelBand: it’s technology that helps solve a problem that other technology created. Because of the car and the internet and all the other convenient technology, combined with the trend towards jobs that are not labor-intensive, we aren’t as active as we were once were (at least here in the first world). In other words, technology solved some problems but then also created others, as obesity rates clearly demonstrate. For those who find this sort of thing motivating, wearable fitness tech can help close the gap between technology suppressing activity and technology inspiring us to move. And, even better, when it’s done well it uses old-fashioned motivators like achievement (trophies, goals, etc.) and community as well. Someone at Nike reported that Nike+ users with more “friends” to compare their data to tend to rake in more Fuel. In other words, friendly competition works. I have a lot of fun competing with my friends who have FuelBands and have even made some new ones that I’ve never met (another feather in technology’s hat). So, all that to say I’m a big fan of Nike and Jawbone and FitBit and anyone else who, instead of just wringing their hands at how technology has made us lazy, dream big and come up with ways to put that same technology into use for our benefit.