Until recently, if you wanted to check your accumulated steps, floors climbed, or calories burned, you needed to sync your Fitbit to your smartphone or computer.  Not entirely practical if your mid-workout or if you don’t keep Bluetooth activated on your smartphone.  Fortunately, the issue is no longer, thanks to the Fitbit Force. It may just rank among the best fitbit for tracking exercise.

The Fitbit Force is effectively what you’d get if a Fitbit One and  Flex got together and bumped uglies.  In other words, it incorporates the screen from the One and the wrist strap from the Flex. And you know what?  It’s the best Fitbit YET.  But that’s isn’t to say it’s without caveat.

Fitbit Force-003

At a glance the Force isn’t all that much different than the Flex.  It incorporates the same strap and clasp from the Flex and rubber finish.  What is different is a small LED screen, a new charging port and a device that isn’t modular (the Flex was two pieces; a pedometer and a wrist strap).  However, the strap is thicker and the clasp has increased in size.

To the left of the display is a small button that activates the screen. Push it and the display immediately illuminates displaying the last called stat.  Each subsequent press cycles through the stats, which includes the time, steps accumulated, floors climbed, calories burned, distance completed, and active minutes.  Hold the button and it starts the activity tracker.

The activity tracker can do two things: log an activity (i.e. exercise) or sleep.  The Flex can automatically detect between these two types of activities, so no user input is needed.  When you’re ready to snooze, you just hold down the button.  When you wake up you repeat the same action, and once synced to your smartphone it will reflect your sleep by “time asleep” and “times awake”.

Fitbit Force-001

The same action is performed when you want to track an activity, such as running or lifting weights.  And while this arguable defeats the very purpose of the Force  – it tracks steps and floor automatically – it’s a useful feature that allows you to log what can’t otherwise be tracked.  So in the event I want to look back when I went to the gym, and lifted weights, I can simply call up this info.  However, this information is NOT accesible via the Android or iOS app.  Moreover. to access this information via the web interface you’ll need to navigate beyond the Dashboard, into the “Log” and then “Activities” (http://www.fitbit.com/activities).  I found this process too arduous and thus defeating its usefulness.

That in mind, Fitbit’s Android and iOS apps are relatively clean and simple to use.  It’s easy to view collected data at a glance.  Unlike Misfit’s device, there isn’t much in terms of “gamification”, though you can compete with friends for steps completed – it’s hardly motivating.   The app’s screen orientation is largely limited to portrait mode.  As a result viewing stats on the included graphs can be a slightly eye agonizing experience.

The web login holds much more data.  Included is a USB dongle for syncing data to your computer, though I’ve never used it once as my smartphone has served as a proverbial data bridge between the Force and Fitbit’s Dashboard.  When and if you access the web Dashboard, you can enter in a variety of info, such as food consumed, as well as more easily review your activity log, sleeping habits and more.

The Force itself, as well as the app, does little to motivate you.  In fact, the only thing it does do is flash and vibrate when you’ve reached your daily step goal – mine is 5,000.

On occasion I couldn’t help but notice I achieved my goal while standing still, though from what little spot checking I’ve done, Fitbit’s pedometers continue to be one of the most accurate.

Sleep accuracy is forever a lingering question.  Often I just tell people it’s better than nothing, and unlike the headband from Zeo it’s fairly tolerable from a physical standpoint.  At the very, very least, you’re able to tally the time you got to sleep (by hitting the button) and log your hours spent horizontal.  If skepticism is abound, I suggest you tweak your sleeping habit, record your slumber on the Force, and then tally the data and anecdotal data to see if there is a corollary there.

Fitbit Force-002

Comparing the Fitbit Force to some other pedometers is something I just can’t help but do.  Most notable, and top of mind, is Nike’s Fuelband (not the SE – I haven’t used that version, yet).  First and foremost is the clasp.  It’s probably the biggest drawback of the Force.  Yes, it’s stronger and bigger than the Flex, but the same issues remains: it will continue to fall off when and if snag on a bag strap or a sleeve of a jacket.  This happened to me a few times, and although I thought I had lost it on more than 3 occasions, all times I’ve been able to find it.  Moreover, applying the clasp, despite using it for months, hasn’t gotten any easier.  Sure, the rubber holes are broken in a bit more, but for the amount of effort it takes to put it on, the Force should never come loose.

It’s clear that Fitbit needed to address a major short coming of their previous wrist worn pedometer (the Flex), and that was the lack of screen.  So they added a screen.  It’s zippy from stat (screen) to stat (screen), and easy to view.  However, it still lacks the wow factor of an array of LED lights that work in tandem to create text.  But that’s hardly the most glaring of caveats.  This is one I’ve lamented about in the past when testing Fitbit’s other devices: it lacks a universal charging port.  In other words it’s 100% proprietary.  Lose the cord, as I did, and you have no way of charging it.  The Fuelband on the other hand has a USB plug built-in to the clasp, which means you can charge it just about anywhere in the world.  So if you take a trip and forget the little cord included – which mind you works with ONLY the Fitbit Force (not the Flex) – you better hope your vacation isn’t more than 5-7 days, which is the Force’s average battery life.

So what I love is the accuracy of the Fitbit Force, the ability to track sleep and workouts.  The addition of a screen was a must, and it most certainly addresses a chink in Fitbit’s armor.  What I hate is the clasping system.  And I’m not the only one lamenting about this short coming.  Anecdotally speaking I’ve met numerous people who have echoed a similar story; they lost their Fitbit, replaced it once and lost it again.  So buyer be warned.  Check your stats and check them often.

Note: Fitbit has plans to introduce an update that will enable the Force to vibrate when you have an incoming call.  Hopefully, they can also add a proximity sensor, which would cause your phone to vibrate and sound an alarm if you leave the Force behind.

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."

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