Fitness-Oriented Data Lovers Will Adore Fitbit Flex and Aria

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Image: FitBit
Image: Fitbit

I always wished that my body had a readout that kept track of how many calories I consumed and how many I burned–a clear indicator of whether I was gaining or losing weight. Such a thing still doesn’t exist, but the Fitbit products come pretty close.

FitBit logoFitbit makes a variety of devices that track your steps and your sleep. I was able to test out the Flex. It’s a wristband that tracks your movement, and the quality of your movement, so it knows if you’re walking, vigorously exercising, or holding still. If you let it know you’re sleeping, it can also track how restless you are when you sleep.

Fitbit also makes the Aria, which is a digital, wi-fi-enabled scale that also detects body fat composition.

Along with the Flex and the Aria, to get the most out of your experience, there is a smart-phone app and a fantastic web interface, and everything is integrated together. I highly recommend them. Want to lose yourself in weight and fitness data? Fitbit has you covered.

How comfortable is the Flex?

At first, it felt like I was wearing a watch again, after so many years of not wearing one (since college). But I quickly stopped feeling it, and it was really comfortable to wear. It even wasn’t too bad to dry off after a shower (yes, you can wear it in the shower!). It was comfortable, that is, until the weather turned and got warmer, and I started working out regularly at the Y. Water from a shower and sweat are two different animals, and the sweating made the Flex somewhat uncomfortable to wear, at least for me. But if you spend much of your time in air conditioned locations, it still should be comfortable to wear most of the time. Unfortunately, it’s the least comfortable to wear at the times when it’s most important to wear it–when you’re exercising.

The Flex is shipped with two different sized wristbands, so you can wear the one that fits you better. The small one is pretty small, though, and will work best for small-framed people.

Image: FitBit
Image: Fitbit

How accurate are the Flex and the Aria?

I found that the Flex was mostly accurate, but it didn’t accurately track my very active minutes. It might get the steps counted, but doesn’t realize I’ve been sweating myself silly for the past 30 minutes. It also doesn’t account well for exercising on machines such as recumbent bicycles. But if you rest your hand on your leg, it will be able to count those steps.

For sleeping, the Flex measures pretty well how restless you were. When you go to bed, tell the Flex you’re sleeping by tapping on it a few times, or use the app to say you’re going to sleep. The Flex monitors your movement and determines whether you’re asleep, restless, or awake. While it didn’t peg me exactly, on nights when I didn’t sleep as well, there were definitely more restless periods. Being awake and moving around aren’t the same things, though, so on my one night of trouble sleeping, it thought I was asleep for much of my awake time because I was playing on my phone with my dominant hand, and the Flex is on my non-dominant hand. But generally, it’s a good, basic sleep monitor.

Image: FitBit
Image: FitBit

The Aria, for us, has been really useful. It’s super easy to just weigh yourself and forget it. You can look at your results, or not, if you want to avoid checking in on your weight daily. It weighs considerably heavier than my usual scale, but it’s consistent to itself. The percentage body fat varies with levels of hydration and other things that contribute to weight (*cough* menstrual cycles *cough*), but if you look at the long term trends, it works well. I love how it recognizes who I am because of my previous weigh ins.

The scale setup was a bit tricky, since you have to set it up through the Fitbit app on your phone, and then connect it to your home network. But once it is set up, it’s a no-brainer. Up to eight people can be remembered by the scale, plus guests can weigh themselves as well. But hopefully none of those people have very similar weights and body fat percentages, or else the scale might get confused.

What else do the Fitbit products do?

My favorite thing about Fitbit is the web interface. You can look at all of your data in the most user-friendly way, set goals for yourself, and so much more. You can also earn badges such as weight loss goals and step goals. If you record your food and water intake, it keeps track of that as well, and you can record specific exercises that you’ve done. The iPhone Fitbit app can also show you much of this information, which is great when you’re away from your computer. Fitbit is entirely what you make it. You can add friends, for a little friendly rivalry, and it will tell you how many steps they’ve taken in the past week.

The Flex syncs via wi-fi with an included Bluetooth dongle that sits in one of your computer’s USB ports.

How did I do?

Since I sit for much of the day, homeschooling the kids and working on my computer, I don’t get nearly as many steps, usually, as when I’m out running errands. Most days I exercise, though, which results in a lot of steps, but I’ve noticed that I get even more steps shopping at Target than I do exercising. YMMV. So steps aren’t everything when it comes to keeping track of how much you exercise. But it is one indicator of how much you move around.

I get a much better picture of how active I am with the Flex, and it encourages me, from its mere presence, to exercise more and move around. The Aria keeps me from indulging in too much food over time, and keeps me honest.

Conclusion: Fitbit is awesome.

Would I recommend the Fitbit products? Definitely. It’s a “fix it and forget it” type exercise and fitness monitoring system. With it, you can obsess over data on a daily or hourly basis, or you can just wear the Flex, weigh yourself daily, and only check on your progress once per week or month. The numbers aren’t 100% reliable, since there are so many factors involved, but if you want to get a really good idea of how well you are doing in fat loss and being active, the Fitbit products can’t be beat. And if wearing a band on your wrist constantly isn’t something you can get used to, Fitbit makes a variety of other products that clip onto your clothes.

Fitbit also has excellent customer service. GeekMom Jackie lost her Fitbit Flex on a recent trip, and someone found it. They recognized what it was, returned it to Fitbit, and they sent it back to Jackie. I assume they were able to access the information in the memory of the Flex’s electronics which told them where to send it. But they do this often enough that Fitbit has special “lost and found” packaging. I was impressed.

The Fitbit Flex costs $99.95 and comes in a variety of colors. You can also get additional wristbands so you can change the color with your mood. The Aria is $129.95. It’s a bit pricey if you’re just looking for a scale, but the wi-fi integration and data tracking is really fun and useful for those of us who like to focus (a bit too much) on numbers.

Note: I received a Flex and Aria for the purposes of this review.

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