The Fitbit HR (Transcript)

The Fitbit HR is a good fitness tracker. It’s comfortable, has acceptable battery life, and the software is easy to use. Although the Fitbit HR device only shows your information, the accompanying app can show aggregated data from your friends, which provides passive, and surprisingly compelling, encouragement to log a few extra hundred steps.

Dr. Christopher B. Durr and I wanted to record a review of our Fitbit HRs, but we couldn’t find time to do so. What we ended up doing was opening a blank Google Doc, and then taking turns typing in our own transcripts.

August 2015

Christopher B. Durr: I guess we should start with a pretty simple question: Why did you want a FitBit? Aside from your susceptibility to 21st century marketing.

K.Q. Dreger: It’s “Fitbit.” Don’t capitalize the “b.”

Durr: “Editor”-in-Chief fits you well.

Dreger: I was always interested in tracking the quantifiable parts of my health. iOS 8 worked pretty well when it came to step counts, but it wasn’t as accurate with sleep or heart rate, there was a lot of manual logging involved. The Fitbit is a set-it-and-forget it type of thing. Which works well for my 21st century mindset.

Durr: I’ve always thought that the Fitbit philosophy, and wearable tech in general, combined our generation’s two favorite things: data analytics and ourselves.

OK, maybe only a few of us are really excited about data analytics, but we have to admit we’re a bit vain.

Dreger: It’s interesting that our generation has grown up with the ability to quantify almost everything we do. Consider Instagram, Facebook, any social media: they all have their own metric. It’s ostensible that as this biotech market expands, we’re going to want the same sort of insight. It also helps with the gamification of the whole thing. I don’t know if it’s vanity — you could argue it is — but I think that we’re just so used to having the numbers there, it wouldn’t feel complete without them. I’d love to ask a doctor what they think about the patients having detailed, historic vital data before they even hit the examination room.

Durr: Gamification is good term for it. (It’s like Ron Swanson’s Chuck E. Cheese quote from “Parks and Recreation.” Only with Fitbit, it’s all about badges and rubbing your own success in your friend’s (read: KD’s) face when you beat them in walking.

Full disclosure, I haven’t beaten anyone at walking since I’ve had the device.

Dreger: It’s a powerful concept. For as much as it feels like a gimmick, I actually did go out for a run one night, because you had closed the gap on our step counts.

But stepping back, I got my Fitbit Charge HR from my wife for my birthday. You, however, went out and bought one, after seeing mine in action over vacation. Talk about that a bit, because I thought you were undecided at that point.

Durr: I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of wearable tech. About a dozen times in my life, I’ve decided to start wearing a watch. My current record is six consecutive days. I had very little faith I’d stick with the Fitbit.

That being said, I’ve logged my meals into the MyFitnessPal app for something like 364 days in a row, so I figured I’d give it a go.

The reason it’s stuck so far is I’m applying my OCD from MyFitnessPal to Fitbit, and the whole thing just gets perpetuated. It is certainly not just a watch, although I think it does play the part quite well.

Dreger: “Quite well” might be a little too generous. I think it’s an OK watch.

This is related to a general issue I with wearables that are meant to replace a watch. In most cases, to save battery, the wearable won’t stay on unless you actually interact with them. Even the Fitbit won’t keep the screen lit for more than ~10 seconds or so. This makes it cumbersome to do things that require short yet precise time tracking. Things like brewing coffee in my AeroPress, or checking my pulse. I know this is nitpicking, but it bugs the crap out of me.

(Editor’s note: At the time of writing, Fitbit briefly released, then pulled, a software update for the Fitbit HR. This update let the HR’s screen be activated with a tilt of the wrist, rather than physically tapping on the device. Durr managed to get the update, before it was pulled.)

Durr: As I’m one of the few to have the tilt functionality, I can tell you that it changes everything. It makes this pedometer on your wrist a legitimate timepiece. (Except for at night when tilting the wrong way will instantly blind your wife.)

Wait for the update and let me know what you think, Father Time.

Dreger: Fair. I just like that most traditional watches function as timers and timepieces constantly and simultaneously, without any extra button presses or interaction. It’s an omnipresent feature. I understand the tradeoffs, but I guess I’m not completely sold on this one yet.

I am completely sold on the battery life, however. It lasts for much longer than I expected, and the charging process is crazy fast. I plug mine into our PS4 while watching Netflix, and it’s near full by the end of an episode or two.

Durr: “I plug my Fitbit into my PS4 while we watch Netflix.” Let’s come back to that quote in 10 years and see if it feels dated.

Dreger: “Dad, what’s a Netflix?”

Durr: “It was a streaming service we used before the government found a way to beam media straight into our minds, son.”

Dreger: I would so do that with books instead of digital media. But books can be a separate topic. Moving on.

Durr: I agree that the battery is great. (So far, I like to judge battery life by how it performs over months and years.) The charging mechanism is also straight forward and quick.

For me though, in terms of design, everything seems polished. Slick look, nice interface, minimal clutter. And the big key is it’s comfortable. I hardly notice it anymore. Even when I sleep.

Dreger: Agreed. It’s very comfortable. I rarely take it off, except to charge and before a shower. It’s not technically waterproof, I believe that they call it “water resistant.” To that end, my anecdotal-don’t-send-me-the-bill-if-it-breaks-yours story is I wore it in the ocean and pool every day for a week, and it was fine. Looking back, it was interesting to see that my heart rate peak with the big waves, then drop with the calmer ones.

Durr: Reader: Don’t let “big waves” fool you; he was on a Finding Nemo boogie board.

But we digress.

The heart rate monitor is excellent and definitely worth the upgrade (from the regular non-HR Fitbit), however the heart rate data is hampered a bit by the app in that I can’t zoom into the trend beyond a 24 hour period. It’s just a lot jammed into the screen.

(Editor’s note: Fitbit has since released a software update that lets you drill down into a 24 hour period for heart rate data.)

48 hours later

Dreger: So, this “Workweek Hustle” competition we’re in is intense. I could not go to bed last night knowing that you were ahead of me in steps, so I went out and ran a 1.5 miles at 10:45pm. Not the best idea with a stomach full of lasagna, but totally worth it for the “Dreger takes the lead!” notification.

Durr: See that is why you’ll win 99% of these Workweek Hustles. I’m an old man. I want to curl up with a nice book and forget that running is a thing.

One of these weeks I will be victorious though. On a totally separate note, do you have any major surgeries planned?

72 hours later

Dreger: So, we left this for a while.

Durr: Day jobs are funny that way.

Dreger: And in the meantime, I bought, then returned, an Apple Watch. But that’s for another review.

Durr: Your Fitbit probably knew you were cheating.

Dreger: Doubtful, I hid the Fitbit in my dresser. Anyhow, I finally got that software update, and the tilt-for-time feature is really nice. Unfortunately, my brief time with Apple Watch spoiled me; Apple’s tilt sensing is just better.

Durr: That extra $400 had to go towards something I guess. I think the Fitbit admirably performs the tilt feature. Though, I do find myself flicking my wrist in an exaggerated manner sometimes, which makes me look even more dumb than usual.

Dreger: What do you like about the physical build / comfortableness?

Durr: Like anything, it takes some time to get used to, but overall, it’s really comfortable and about as discreet as they come. Obviously I’m not a fashion expert (as evident by my college T-shirt collection), but I think it “goes” with most everything.

For $149, everything feels well made, which I greatly appreciate.

Dreger: Agreed. It has good build quality, and the strap material is lovely. Also, it’s not too bulky, so I can wear it with anything semi-casual. If I need to wear anything that requires a tie, I’ll probably forego the Fitbit.

Durr: Ah, good. That means I’ll out-step you at your brother’s wedding next month.

Dreger: I wonder when we stop seeing people without something on their wrist? Like that awkward, social ostracizing that happens when you first met someone who doesn’t have an iPod (2000) or cell phone (2008).

Durr: That’s a good point, but I’m sure there were people who said the same thing when Google Glass came out. Now in 2015, my glasses don’t have a HUD, and when I tell them to take a video, people around me get up and move.

Dreger: Google Glass never really made it to consumer market, though. Especially not at $1,500 a pop.

Durr: Certainly the Fitbit is an easier sell than Google Glass, I’ll give you that. The barrier to entry is much lower, and the technology is almost as worthwhile.

Dreger: This type of wearable technology, do you think this is just a fad? Where is Fitbit in five years? Consider that they just had their IPO.

Durr: I don’t know if it’s a fad. My gut says it’s not, simply because it’s taking a technology and basically making it better. It’s essentially a much more versatile watch. Though, I probably have a calculator watch collecting dust somewhere.

Dreger: That’s what I’m really curious about: what’s the trajectory of this whole industry? I think we’re becoming increasingly aware of the benefits self-monitoring technology brings, but there’s still this huge disconnect between the data and the experts who can interpret it. I can have all the data I want, but I’m not necessarily trained to discern more than “more steps = good.” When will this data a.) get accurate enough to actually be reliable, and b.) be easily accessible by my doctor?

Durr: I don’t know if the medical community will want anyone to have reliable access to the data. We’re already a society of hypochondriacs, thanks to Dr. Google and WebMD.

However, I know some companies give employees better insurance premiums for wearing them and living a healthier lifestyle. The issue cuts both ways.

Dreger: The issue is that we won’t know whether, for the general population, having access to this kind of personal health data makes a difference. Is it enough to curve eating habits, encourage active lifestyles, etc. Right now, we’re all walking more and being coerced into late night runs by social peer pressure, but how long will that last? The problem with “gaming” any type of thing is that the effect eventually wears off. I’m playing one hell of a devil’s advocate right now, but it’s worth noting.

Durr: I agree that the effect will get tired for most, but I think the passive act of wearing it will help in the long run. Maybe you won’t be walking around your apartment to get those last 800 steps, but if it gets you out of your seat two or three more times a day, that’s something. I wouldn’t be surprised if jewelers get into the game, once the technology gets smaller. You could just be wearing a regular watch that did biometrics in the background. Heck one day it could be woven into your clothing. A lot can change in five years.

Dreger: The clothing part really interests me. We don’t have to wear a watch, but clothes are relatively essential.

Durr: I own exactly one expensive shirt, and every time I wash it, I worry I’ll ruin it. I can only imagine if it was wearable tech.

Dreger: Just throw it on the delicate cycle, and you’ll be fine.

Five months later

Dreger: So wait, we never actually gave a recommendation for this thing.

Durr: We should. You first.

Dreger: It’s a great little device for the price.

Durr: Same. I haven’t taken it off for more than a day since I got it. I’d buy again.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

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