For the past couple of years I’ve been getting myself into much better shape and taking my fitness and exercise seriously. I’m even typing this blog post from a standing desk! As such fitness trackers like the FitBit One and the Nike+ FuelBand have been intriguing.
I’ve been using the Nike+ for the past six weeks or so to try it out and see whether these kinds of things provide any use.
I chose the Nike+ over the other options largely because the wrist band seemed a lot less loseable than the belt or pocket clip options like the FitBit. This decision is not without its problems though. Due to the design it’s pretty important to get the right size, and they provide a printable PDF for you to measure your wrist, and the box includes a larger link spacer to provide for an alternate size.
This means the majority of us, myself included, aren’t ever going to be the perfect size for the band. With the smaller link it fit very snugly around my wrist, to the degree where it was uncomfortable at times; also with this fit it was impossible to wear it under gloves when at the gym, or while snowboarding. I experimented with the larger link and found that too lose, the band moving around on my wrist was just annoying.
I also found a large variation in the readings between bands, with a lot more “fuel” (more on that in a moment) being recorded with the tighter fit than the looser.
The band otherwise is pretty attractive, especially in the white “ice” version. A button activates the display and gives you an option between displaying the time, “fuel”, calories and number of steps with a gauge of how close to reach a daily goal you are. If you hit that goal, the next time you press the button it does a cute goal animation.
And the next time. And the next time. In fact unless you set yourself a difficult goal, you’ll get pretty bored of seeing GOAL! when you just want to know what time it is in the evening.
Back to the “fuel”, that’s what this device measures. The more activity you do in a given day, the more fuel you record. Your daily goal is set in fuel, and when you sync with your phone and the Nike+ website, it’s fuel that is charted for you.
Nike claim that fuel is calculated in a clever way to harmonize results between their devices, and between different people, and that’s why it reports that figure rather than a more conventional one. And that’s a huge problem.
Conventional units, such as Calories and joules are part of systems such as metric and SI. The most useful part of these systems isn’t just standardization of that unit, but standard conversion between units of different types.
I know how roughly how many Calories a given amount of food will provide. I know roughly how many Calories a given exercise at the gym that the FuelBand cannot measure will burn. I know roughly how many extra Calories consumed or burnt correspond to a given amount of body weight gained or lost. Unit systems are great!
I don’t know how much Nike+ “fuel” I’ll need to burn if I eat this delicious tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I don’t know how much Nike+ “fuel” I’ll burn bench pressing at the gym. And I certainly don’t know whether the 3,000 “fuel” I burned today will mean I’ll gain or lose half a pound.
The only possible use of the device therefore is gamification, competing with my friends to do more activity, especially given the claim by Nike+ that two different people will burn the same amount of “fuel” for the same activity.
Unfortunately it clearly doesn’t. A friend has the band too, and after a day of snowboarding it recorded over 4,000 fuel for him. After a day of snowboarding, mine recorded less than 1,000.
So it’s not even a suitable game device. It’s a cute watch though, but who wears those nowadays?