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Fitbit Force Review

Fitbit Force Review
By , Mike Prospero

Part fitness tracker, part smartwatch, the Fitbit Force promises to be one of the most useful fitness trackers yet. The Force has a bright OLED display with an embedded clock function and easy-to-view activity status. It has an altimeter that tracks how many stairs you climb, and embedded sleep-tracking sensors help you keep track of how well you're snoozing. But is this $129 fitness device worth the premium over compelling alternatives?

Editors' Note: This product has been recalled. Check out the Fitbit Flex review.

Design

Like the Flex released before it, Fitbit's upgraded Force fitness tracker has a large rubber strap with a glossy, black screen on the top. The Force connects to your wrist via a plastic clasp that, also like the Flex, was very difficult to close. The Force weighs 1.15 ounces, which is heavier than the Withings Pulse (0.28 ounces) and the 0.8-ounce Jawbone UP24 (which lacks a display), though a bit lighter than the 1.3-ounce Pebble smartwatch. The Force felt very comfortable on our wrist for extended periods of time, which is good for something you typically wear 24/7.

The Force improves upon the Flex's display in almost every way. Gone are the five simple dot LED lights, which are replaced by a full OLED panel that lets you scroll through the various metrics the Force displays: time, steps, distance, calories burned, stories climbed and active minutes. The OLED panel is easy to read even in direct sunlight, so you can keep track of your activities indoors and out.

Unlike the Flex and its removable dongle, the Force tracker is permanently attached to the band. On the underside of the device lies a small port that lets you charge the Force with the included charging cable using your computer or wall charger.

The Force comes in two sizes: small and large, and in two colors: black and slate. Sizing charts for the Force are available on Fitbit's website. Hopefully, we'll see Fitbit launch additional color bands for the Force soon, as being able to cheaply customize the Flex was one of our favorite features.

MORE: Best Fitness Trackers of 2014

Performance

The biggest differentiator between the Flex and the Force on the performance side is the Force's built-in altimeter. With this sensor, the Force can measure how many stairs you go up but not how many you walk down. Despite this shortcoming, we found the Force was reasonably accurate as we ascended from the depths of the New York subway system, though it sometimes gave us some extra credit.

What we found lacking in the Force was a heart-rate monitor like that found in the Withings Pulse. Having this feature would add much more important and concrete data about our overall health and wellness.

When you meet your daily activity goals, the Force vibrates and displays an animation on the screen so you get instant feedback on your achievement. And when you sync your tracker with the mobile app, Fitbit sends you an email for each badge you earn. Examples of badges include walking 10,000 steps in a day, climbing 10 floors or reaching significant lifetime distance markers.

If you want even more help achieving your fitness goals, you can subscribe to the Fitbit Trainer feature for $49 per year. Fitbit Trainer analyzes your daily activity, helps you set goals to boost your activity levels and lets you compare your stats against those of other Fitbit users.

Fitbit's mobile apps for Android, iPhone and the Fitbit Web interface are all colorful and intuitive. All relevant data points are presented on the dashboard, so you can get information at a glance, as well as click on a particular topic to dig farther into that metric. For example, clicking on Steps displayed a timeline showing how many steps we'd taken per day over the last few weeks.

While the Fitbit app gets the job done, we found that Jawbone's app was more intuitive to use and had a better UI. For example, the food-logging section in Fitbit's app feels a bit bare-bones compared to Jawbone's. There are no graphics or photos of individual food items like on the Jawbone, and Jawbone's app organizes food into easy-to-understand categories, such as Drinks, Breakfast and Pastries, and so forth.

MORE: The Best Wearable Tech of CES 2014

Fitbit also works with a collection of third-party companion apps — more than 30 at the time of this writing. These apps include MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, TrendWeight, MyFitLeague and EveryMove, and each integrates your Fitbit data into its service. The Force also links with the Fitbit Aria scale, so you can integrate weight data into your overall dashboard. Future updates to the Force will display incoming-call information on the OLED display, making it more of a smartwatch-fitness device hybrid than the competing trackers. However, the company hasn't specified a time frame for this update.

Sleep Tracking

Like most other fitness trackers, the Force can also track your sleep patterns based on how often you move during the night. You can enter sleep mode by either pressing and holding the button on the band or by toggling sleep mode on the mobile app. The Force will gently buzz and display a stopwatch icon when sleep mode is activated.

We found that the Force did a reasonable job of measuring light and deep sleep, and it was comfortable to wear even while sleeping. If you'd like to use the Force as an alarm clock, you can set it to buzz at a certain time, or at different times on different days, via the mobile app.

Battery Life

Fitbit claims the Force will last seven to 10 days on a single charge. After five days, our unit was holding strong at about 50 percent, so we'd expect 7 to 10 days is a reasonable estimate. That's on a par with most of the other fitness trackers, though it's a little less than the two weeks of battery life you get on the Pulse.

Verdict

Fitbit's $129 Force is a solid addition to the company's product line, and it's perfect for those who want more functionality in their fitness wearables. It's $30 more expensive than the Flex, but you get a better OLED display and an altimeter, with promising future updates that will display calls, and maybe other information, on your wrist. However, for the premium, we wish it had a heart-rate monitor like the $99 Withings Pulse.

The Pebble smartwatch costs just $20 more than the Force, and has a broader range of applications (including fitness apps) to choose from. However, the Pebble doesn't act as an independent device; you'll need to have your smartphone in tow to utilize most of the Pebble's functionality. In that respect, if you want a device to measure your daily activity and sleep, the Force is the device for you.

Follow Anthony Domanico on Google+. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Display 7 Comments.
  • 2 Hide
    KatherineK , February 14, 2014 1:22 PM
    The Force has many great features but some people have developed a serious burn or contact dermatitis where the battery housing touches the arm. About 500 people have posted comments on a Fitbit forum thread called "burned arm." Anyone who is considering a Force should look at the thread or google fitbit rash and decide if they want to take a chance on getting this unpleasant reaction. Fitbit is still calling it an "irritation" but it's much worse than that, and it lasts for weeks. Also people should know that the reaction usually doesn't show up until someone has worn it for a few weeks.
  • 3 Hide
    RHUSTER , February 15, 2014 6:57 AM
    I cannot believe that you did not research this thoroughly. Several hundred complaints have been listed on FitBit's website regarding serious skin reactions to this device. The company claims it is a small number, but under the "forums" tab there are 175 PAGES of complaints. It appears this is some sort of chemical reaction/burn originating from the metal charging port. DO NOT BUY THIS DEVICE UNTIL THIS PROBLEM IS SOLVED AND FIXED!
  • 1 Hide
    Chichi99 , February 16, 2014 3:47 AM
    I have been wearing the Fitbit since December 2013 and a rash appeared yesterday (2/15/14) for the first time. This is very disturbing and something needs to be done by Fitbit to fix this.
  • -3 Hide
    shuimnuc , February 16, 2014 5:43 PM
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  • 0 Hide
    banmaster , February 17, 2014 12:23 AM
    Other than the wrist burn, what I though would at least get a pic is the charging port, as its this where the hardware will breakdown the fastest.On the flex it was the band where the device slips inside, with the Force its going to be the socket for charging.Also, you didn't even mention if it was a regular Micro USB cable, or some Frankenstein proprietary fitbit-only connector.
  • 0 Hide
    burnedonce , February 17, 2014 4:41 AM
    The link to the forum thread people are talking about is here: https://community.fitbit.com/t5/Force/Fitbit-burned-arm/td-p/3661/jump-to/first-unread-message (unfortunately, requires login - but go ahead and set one up - you can signup for a free account here: https://www.fitbit.com/signup)
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    narayana123 , February 25, 2014 10:46 PM
    In this Indian name, the name Prabhu is a patronymic, not a family name, and the person should be referred to by the given name, Samantha.Samantha Ruth PrabhuSamantha Ruth Prabhu at 60th South Filmfare Awards 2013.jpgSamantha at 60th Filmfare Awards South (2013)BornSamantha Ruth Prabhu28 April 1987 (age 26)[1][2]Chennai, Tamil Nadu, IndiaNationalityIndianOther namesYasodha[3]CitizenshipIndianEducationB.Com[4]Alma materStella Maris College, ChennaiOccupationModel, actressYears active2010–presentHome townChennaiParentsPrabhuNinette PrabhuSamantha Ruth Prabhu (born 28 April 1987) is an Indian film actress and model, who mainly works in the Telugu and Tamil film industries. Samantha was raised in Chennai and pursued a career in modeling during her late teens. Despite signing up to Ravi Varman's Moscowin Kavery in 2007, her first release was the critically acclaimed 2010 Telugu romance film, Ye Maaya Chesave directed by Gautham Menon. She went on to appear in several commercially successful Telugu films like Brindavanam, Dookudu, Eega and Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu. Her 2013 film Attarintiki Daredi is regarded as the highest grossing film in the history of Telugu Cinema establishing herself as one of the most sought after actresses of her time.In 2013, Samantha became the second actress after Revathi to win both the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Actress and the Filmfare Award for Best Telugu Actress in the same year, for films Neethaane En Ponvasantham and Eega, respectively.
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