By Su Reid-St. John
I’m not a gadget person. Instead of a Blackberry, I have a date book. I crank a handle to open my car window. My cell phone has neither camera nor keyboard. Sure, I review lots of techy products for this blog, but I rarely touch them once testing is complete. That’s why I’m so intrigued by the Fitbit Wireless Personal Trainer. I began using it two weeks ago and have yet to go a day without wearing it.
One reason, no doubt, is that it’s so darned easy to use. Despite its billing as a “personal trainer,” the domino-size Fitbit is more of an activity/food/sleep monitor that uploads automatically whenever you’re in range of the base (which I keep plugged into my hard drive). All I have to do is wear it (I clip it to my pocket or waistband), and it records a bunch of neat stuff, like the number of steps I’ve taken and the distance I’ve covered—all of which show up in bright blue whenever I push a button. There’s even a fun little flower that, to my daughter Zoe’s delight, “grows” higher the more active I am.
The coolest thing, though, is the sleep monitor function. Every night I slip the Fitbit into a comfy wristband, push the start button, and close my eyes. When I visit the website in the morning, I can see how long it took to fall asleep, how many times I woke up, and how many hours and minutes worth of z's I actually got.
My dashboard on the Fitbit website—which, by the way, is really easy to navigate—doesn’t just reveal my nocturnal secrets. If I were so inclined, I could check out my estimated calories burned, log the food (and calories) I’ve eaten, enter non-step-related activity (like skating or Spinning) to up my active score, record my weight, set step and mileage goals, and even compare my stats with those of other Fitbit users.
Even fitness editors like me need motivational nudges, and the Fitbit has risen to the challenge. I find myself getting out of my chair to pace during phone calls and doing extra flights of stairs just to increase my step number. I hurry through my bedtime routine so I can try for a few more minutes of shut-eye. I leave my desk for 15-minute brainstorming walks most afternoons, just to see my neon blue flower grow a little taller.
There are some drawbacks to the gadget, of course. While the battery lasts for quite a while (close to two weeks), it takes several hours to recharge. Also, the waistband clip is a little loose; I never feel it’s anchored securely and have developed the habit of reaching down to re-secure it every time I stand up.
It’s also not totally accurate. The step count sometimes increases a little too enthusiastically, and the sleep monitoring depends on a motion sensor; if I’m awake but not moving, it thinks I’m asleep. When I asked the Fitbit folks about these things, they explained that the purpose of the monitor is to get an overall sense of your activity and sleep patterns—and reap the motivation knowing such things can provide.
And you know what, that’s what a monitor like this should be for. At the end of the day, does it really matter if I’ve taken 9,500 or 9,700 steps? If I’ve been asleep for 6 hours and 25 minutes or 6 hours and 30 minutes? Not if, overall, it’s getting me to move more and sleep longer—and it is.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some stairs to climb.
Product: Fitbit Wireless Personal Trainer
Pros: The gadget, which monitors everything from steps to calories to sleep, is almost effortless to use, and the website is extremely user friendly. This is an excellent motivational tool—and it looks cool too.
Cons: The battery takes a while to recharge, the waistband clip is a little loose, and the monitoring can be slightly inaccurate.
Cost: $99 at www.Fitbit.com
Extra tip: Click on the “Historical” button near the top of the dashboard to see 30-day graphs of your daily readings—a simple and really effective way to get an overall view of your lifestyle patterns.