Pedometers have long existed. But let’s be honest, they’re for middle aged, over weight women. There is nothing cool, rad or hip about them. Those of the younger, more stylish generation are attracted to sleeker looking products that complement their lifestyle, not ones that contradict it. Nike’s Plus service emerged a few years ago, and while it provides much needed information for runners, it was, and is, hardly an everyday accessory to help you keep track of your daily activities. Leveraging the popularity of rubber wrist bands, such as Livestrong Lance Armstrong bands, is Nike’s Fuelband bracelet.

Embedded into the bracelect’s face, in addition to a single rubber coated button, are 20 LED lights which indicate how close you are to achieving your daily Fuel goal. There are also 100 white LEDs that spell out your total steps taken, calories burned and your Fuel number for the day. By design, and logically I might add, the information resets everyday at 12am since the goals are designed around a single day.

To get the Fuelband up and running I simply had to plug it into my computer. Unlike many of today’s smartphone and similar products, the Fuelband doesn’t use a micro or mini USB port. Instead the clasp doubles a USB plug, though Nike includes a cord for those using a desktop or aren’t comfortable plugging the band directly into their computer’s USB port. Once plugged in, you’ll need to head to Nikeplus.com/setup where you’ll be prompted to download the accompanying software. Once installed you’ll be walked through a quick setup process where upon you’ll enter your age, height, weight as well as your desired daily Fuel goal. Don’t worry, you can later customize the Fuel number to whatever you’d like, but Nike offers three presets: 2000 (normal), 3000 (active day) and 5000 (high-energy day). If you’ve got a Nike account you can login immediately or sign up. After that, you’ll just need to just charge your Fuelband to full, which takes about 3-4 hours, and you’ll be off and exercising.

So what is Nike Fuel? Nike Fuel is whole integer number that represents your daily activity by calculating your calories burned along with your steps taken, while simultaneously factoring in your age, gender, weight and height. In short order, Nike Fuel is a calculation that allows everyone and anyone to compete regardless of their sex, age and any physical predispositions. All this data can be uploaded to Nike+ Connect or the accompanying smartphone app once you pair the Fuelband using the built-in Bluetooth.

The Fuelband by all accounts is a revolutionary device. At first blush it looks like another black rubber wrist bands. Don’t get me wrong, it is. But once those LED lights illuminate, it felt like all my childhood gadget aspirations had come together simultaneously. Phrased another way, the Fuelband’ design is so innocuous, so unassuming and so simple, that when it shows off its LEDs they’re awe inspiring.

Using the Fuelband is dead simple. A small rubber button that is seamlessly embedded into the facade, illuminates the LED lights. Press it and it will show the last menu viewed: Fuel, Cals, Steps or Time. Each subsequent press cycles through the different menus by scrolling them from right to left in a fashion that could be best described as an electronic billboard – it’s quite slick. The color LEDs, which shows you how close you are to your daily goal – green is the goal as indicated by one LED, while red is your progress – only illuminates during the initial press of the button, not during the cycles. Hold down the button for a few seconds and it will activate the sync feature (as displayed), provided of course you’ve paired it with your smartphone’s Bluetooth connection and downloaded the accompanying app.

With the app installed (on your computer or smartphone) you’ll be able to modify your daily Fuel goal to whatever integer you like, see your progress, calories burned, step taken and distance walked. It also allows you to view your past days, rate your day using a variety of emoticon faces, view your friends activity and review past achievements. If need be you can also modify a few other options, such as the Fuelband’s display orientation for left or right hand wearing, but you’ll need to connect it your computer to change your height, weight or age – hardly a concern though, since those won’t change much.

Unfortunately, there is no way to view the Fuelband’s remaining battery life, unless of course you plug it into your computer’s USB port or you’re almost out of juice. That said, the small version comes with a 50mAh battery, while the medium ships with a 70mAh battery. I tested the medium Fuelband and have gone 7 days without recharging it despite Nike saying that it should last for up to 4 days. Suffice to say, my battery expectations have been managed.

During my testing, I used the Nike Fuelband in a variety of scenarios over the course of 7 days. I ran with it, lifted weights, practiced some Kung Fu and all but slept with the Fuelband on my wrist. Thanks to the accompanying iPhone app I am able to see roughly what time of the day I was active, how many calories I burned, steps taken and total distance traveled (miles or kilometers). You can also review your past days, weeks and years if need be. Achieve a goal and the wrist band will display the word GOAL and upon syncing it run a small video snippet of the Nike Fuel character in celebration. By all means this is great motivition to drive you forward in your daily routine. Unfortunately, this is where the buck stops and the proverbial dime drops.

The Nike Fuelband over counted my steps, no question about it. I first noticed this while driving. Some how I manage to accumulate 50 steps while sitting. Okay, I’m moving forward, so it stands to reason that the Fuelband’s accelerometers mistook this for walking. Fair enough. So I set about with some rudimentary testing. I walked 10 paces in a normal fashion and the Fuelband came close enough, though it rarely captured this to a T. So suffice to say the Fuelband has a tendency to miscount steps and in turn inaccurately calculate miles walked and calories burned. After syncing the Fuelband’s data to my iPhone this gross over counting was further reflected in the miles walked. On March 9th the Fuelband calculated that I walked 5.5 miles or 11k steps. Not possible, since that day I didn’t travel more than a few miles and that was by way of car; I’m a writer, so my days are often spent in front of a computer.

Okay, so the pedometer is hardly accurate, so what about the calorie counter? Would you be surprised if I told you that it over counted my calories burned by a two fold while exercising? During a few trips to the gym, where I ran and lifted weights, I wore a heart rate monitor and accompanying watch. After burning just 200 calories according to the heart rate monitor the Fuelband said I had burned more than 400 calories. Also, following my workout, which mind you is inside a relatively large gym, the Fuelband said I had taken over 6000 steps – just not possible.

It would seem that Nike, in their attempt to capture all things workout related, created too much of a gray area for the Fuelband to capture data. A quick swing or flick of the arm results in steps counted, which is great from a caloric standpoint if you’re lifting weights or punching the air, but hardly satisfactory if your shaking hands with someone. While I applaud Nike for attempting to make a dead simple device, the sacrifice in complexity has resulted is gross overstatements rendering the Fuelband, in my humble opinion, a great start, but most certainly would have benefited from much more Q&A.

But, despite the Fuelband’s inaccuracies, it still remains a great indicator of how often I am active. Run, lift weights and perform any type of exercise and Fuelband records it. Sure, I won’t know exactly how many steps you’ve taken – I most certainly proved that – or what sport you’ve engaged in, or how fast your heart is pumping, but at least I can effortlessly tally the days that I am.

That said, it’s the times when I’m NOT engaging in rigorous exercise that I want to know more about my couch potato, TV watching ways. Tell me how many steps I took to go to the bathroom or what I didn’t do on the days I was just too hungover and tired to remove my eyes from the TV. Needless to say, it’s frustrating that Nike would let a product that clearly has so much R&D invested, out the door and what appears to be all accounts untested. I asked if there was perhaps a way of calibrating the Fuelband, but I was assured that if entered my age, weight and height correctly that it would accurately capture my steps and thus my calories burned and Fuel consumed.

Bottom Line:

Unable to accurately count steps and thus deduce calories burned. However, the design and coolness factor scores big points.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Good

Pros:

  • Array of LED lights and design is awe inspiring
  • Long battery life – 7+ days on a single charge
  • Accompanying smartphone app is easy and simple to use

Cons:

  • Over counted my steps and thus calories and Fuel
  • Band’s black finish will get marred quickly
  • No exercise setting – this might help with accuracy
Want one? The Fuelband’s are selling like hotcakes. You can get one on Nike’s site for $150, though you’ll have to wait, or pay a premium ($200+) if you go the way of Ebay.



Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."