GADGET REVIEW: NIKE+ FUELBAND

Rating:  TekYa

Price:  $149.95 Apple Store

Goodieness:  Comfortable design.  When those LEDs come to life you really get that cool factor.  Beautiful and useful accompanying app.  Displays time.

Crummieness:  Not a true pedometer.  No GPS.  Tied to Nike’s formula for Fuel Score which there’s just no benchmark for.   App only available for iOS.

Review

Though on the market for over a year now (Feb. 2012) it’s still Nike’s forerunner piece of tech gear for tracking activity with no replacement as yet announced.  Recently there have been a slew of competing products from the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone to hit the market so I thought it prudent to go ahead and post a review of my current choice of activity tracker.

Design

The device comfortably snaps to your wrist and comes in three flavors; smoke, ice, and black.  Personally I prefer black for two reasons.  First black hides natural build up of dirt and grime.  Second is the wow factor.  The other colors are somewhat translucent so you can see some of the electronics inside them so when the LEDs light up it’s not much of a surprise.  When those LEDs come to life on the black it really does turn heads and has proven to be quite the conversation starter on several occasions.  The band itself is fairly nondescript and aside from a slide-fit metal clasp there’s only an oval shaped button visible.  The magic happens when you press the button and a bank of LEDs lights up to display steps, calories burned, NikeFuel score (I’ll cover that later), and current time.  Built inside the band is a forward thinking battery design, accelerometer, and Bluetooth.  Unsnapping the clasp gives access to the power and syncing port which utilizes a unique charging station included in the box.

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Overall I really like the design particularly how comfortable it is.  It comes with three different extensions so fitting most any wrist shouldn’t be a problem.  What’s best about it is that all the lines are generously curved which lends to it’s comfort.  Most of the time I forget it’s on.  I was confused at first by how to properly wear it because the clasp is wider than the rest of the band plus that familiar swoosh symbol is carved into it so I presumed that the clasp was meant to go face up on my wrist.  I suppose you can wear it as such but I don’t recommend it as you will find yourself inadvertently pressing the display button a lot.

The device I’ve found after six months of constant use is quite durable.  I never take it off except to sleep and shower, period.  To date there’s not a single visible scratch.  It’s supposedly water resistant to the point of showering but I’ve not risked it.  Battery life is not bad thanks in large part to a forward thinking design.  I get consistently 4-5 days out of it.  The battery’s unique design means it’s literally molded into the body to the point of curving with it.  One design annoyance though is the LEDs come on during charging to display charging status and remain lit until you unplug the device which makes for quite the light beacon if you plug it in on your nightstand which for me is the most logical place.

Activity Tracker

The premise of this device is simple and it’s this simplicity that will either suck you in or alienate you.  The Nike+ Fuelband can track things like steps and calories through an algorithm it conveniently names NikeFuel.  NikeFuel is just a score based on your combined activity.  Again the premise is simple; set a NikeFuel goal and beat it every day.

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The trap you must be aware of is not to assume this is a good device for hardcore training but rather a motivational tool.  It doesn’t have GPS so you can’t map your running or biking route and it doesn’t function very well as a pedometer.  The other downside is it heavily relies on arm movement so you’ll probably get a better score walking around the block then you will riding a bike 5 miles.  Essentially it’s a bit gimmicky particularly when you view all the advertisements filled with all those professional athletes.  If you’re in the market for a little bit of motivation just to get more exercise then this is the perfect product.  This does a good job of motivating and the rewards are pleasant.  On the device itself when you reach your goal it will display a fancy pattern with the LEDs to indicate you’ve achieved your daily goal.  Furthermore the app tracks practically everything you can think of such as best days, best weeks, best months, and streaks.  It does this by syncing through the built in Bluetooth.  Once you’ve paired the device syncing with the app (iOS only) is as simple as long pressing the button on the band.

Once synced a clever animated character will perform feats such as pulling down banners or racing across a finish line to congratulate you.  The character is quite amusing and the app’s interface is actually quite stunning as you would expect from a Nike product.  Best of all there are no dirty reminders that you’ve missed your goal or need to pick up the pace, etc.  Personally those type of reminders just don’t motivate me.  Nothing but positive reinforcement with this app.

The lone drawback to interfacing with the device though is that the initial setup must be done on a computer.  Plugging it into your computer through the USB lead connected to the charging station will initiate the process to install another piece of crapware.  Things get a little confusing when you are also taken to an online portal to input your information and complete setup.  Don’t worry though you won’t need to do this often but just know that this is the only way to customize what is displayed when you press the button and to set the time.  What I just don’t understand is why not have all syncing and customization done through the nicely done and otherwise robust app?  It’s a mystery but this is overlooked because you only have to sync to your PC essentially twice a year (daylight savings to reset the time).

Summary

I’ve listed off a healthy dose of both great and annoying things about this device but given all the other products on the market it’s pretty much par for the course for feature/benefits.  Ultimately it serves me well and simply does what I bought it to do…motivate.  The best thing about the Fuelband is it just works as advertised which is why I give it theTekYa Rating.  It’s not complicated and syncing is as easy as long pressing the button.  The app is truly well done and just coaxes you to meet your daily goal.  In fact as I write this on into late evening I paused to go take the dog on a walk, albeit in a light rain, just so I could make my daily goal.  I’ve got a 95 day streak going and I’m not gonna break it!  Bonus…it displays time and that just makes sense for something that you will wear all day on your wrist.  I can’t figure out why the FitBits or Jawbones just don’t offer that?

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