The $99 Fitbit Tracker looks like a cross between a pedometer and a USB stick. It’s perhaps the simplest device we looked at, but it’s very effective.
Clip Fitbit to your belt, pocket or underwear and watch the device keep track of your activity. It even uses the same accelerometer that’s in the Nintendo Wii. Press the button on the front to see how may steps you’ve taken, how many miles and calories that adds up to and an activity flower that grows and gets more leaves and petals as your activity level gets higher (and that’s compared to your overall activity, so to keep it growing you have to keep getting more active). At night you can put the Fitbit onto a soft fabric wristband to track your sleeping habits by how restless you are.
Clip it over the tiny USB-connected base to charge; the battery lasts for days, and the Fitbit stores seven days of minute-by-minute activity (or 30 days of summary information. Once you get within 15 feet of the base, your activity records are automatically uploaded to the Web, where they can be analyzed in more detail. You can pay for extra reports and comparisons to other Fitbit users, a personalized 12-week fitness plan and unlimited custom trackers (how often did you skip dessert or walk home from work).
But the basic information is enough for most users, especially as you can set activity goals and log details of your blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, heart rate, mood, allergies and what you’ve eaten and drunk (the food logging is very easy to use, covering prepared food and restaurant meals so you don’t have to guess) as well as specific activities like swimming or yoga. The Fitbit site isn’t as well organized as it could be (the mobile Web site is particularly good, although the joy of using Fitbit is that you get so much data on the device to motivate you). It shows your activity as graphs and charts, showing how much of the day you were sedentary, lightly, fairly or very active, how many calories you burned and when, what the metabolic equivalent value of that adds up to, and how long you slept and how many times you woke up. You can set goals, integrate your Fitbit data with other services like LoseIt! and share information with friends to encourage each other.
Fitbit is far more effective than a cheap pedometer, the likes of which can be inaccurate and lack record-keeping. It’s simpler than expensive pedometers and it calculates not just the calories you burn exercising, but what you use by breathing, thinking and generally being alive – which means you can understand more clearly how that compares to what you eat (although the calorie count is only estimated, we found it was actually conservative compared to the BodyMedia measures). The simple measurements – and the engaging activity flower – motivate you during the day, and the more detailed information online lets you get as involved as you want in tracking. The main drawback is that it’s not waterproof.