Fitness and Health Gadgets: Tracking your Life

Philips DirectLife Activity Monitor

Like the Fitbit, the DirectLife uses an accelerometer to measure your activity, but the approach is completely different. Instead of giving you figures, the string of green LEDs light up to show you how close you are to your daily activity goal and the $149 price tag includes personal coaching via email.

You start with an eight day assessment when you carry the square white plastic monitor in a pocket, around your neck on its cord or in a pouch on your belt (you need to specify which for more accurate measurements) – and unlike other devices it’s waterproof so you can wear it while swimming.

Drop the DirectLife in your pocket or go swimming with it – but the light display is cryptic.Drop the DirectLife in your pocket or go swimming with it – but the light display is cryptic.

Attach it to the magnetic USB connector (it’s annoyingly fiddly to have the USB connection separate but we like the unusually clear on-screen instructions) to upload your statistics to the Web site and DirectLife asks about your goals and works out a 12-week personal plan for being more active. You get lots of generic tips (park your car a block from work, take the stairs) including suggestions for strenuous housework. You can email your coach for ideas and encouragement, but it’s up to you to remember to be more active throughout the day.

DirectLife only estimates calories from activities, not total calorie count and you can label activity on the Web site (everything from rock climbing to DIY, though not as many categories as with Fitbit). You can see a bar chart for activity on the Web by year, month, week, day, hour or even minutes, which showed the same pattern as Fitbit. The downside is there’s less information in the chart (and no data about sleep patterns).

If you want, you can label the active time the DirectLife records.If you want, you can label the active time the DirectLife records.

That means the activity monitor is more about recording your activity than prompting you on the spot to do a bit more unless feeling it in your pocket reminds you – you even have to tap the monitor on a hard surface to see the display. Each of the nine lights corresponds to 15% of your goal; that may be more useful than an arbitrary number, but it’s also cryptic. The big advantage with DirectLife is the coaching.