Last week, I was able to get my hands on a Nike+ Fuelband to try out for a few weeks. I have to say, it is quite impressive. The hardware, the software, the whole experience is very well done.
Nike has clearly studied the FitBit and Jawbone up. I think their central design idea of creating a new currency in the fuel points is very smart. No longer will users talk about how many steps they’ve taken. And no longer do the values of separate exercises or sports need to be computed by the user. Their system adds it all up.
Starting with the out of the box experience, the Fuelband was easy to install and link to my Nike+ account. Within a few minutes, it was all working.
When I plug it in the USB slot, the computer automatically launches the data upload widget and pops a new window in my browser, letting me see my recent activity.
The color coding makes it easy to see activity within a day or compare one day’s total activity with another. It is also good at setting clearly quantified goals and fun feedback about those goals. I think the clean design will work across a wide variety of users regardless of their computer experience.
In terms of the physical design, the Fuelband is easy to attach and detach. The clean matte black with one button is simple and clean. When it’s on my wrist, it seems rugged and durable.
The only problem I’ve had is in trying to sync my Fuelband with my iPhone. Nike+ released a mobile app that is supposed to connect over BlueTooth. But repeated tries to sync failed. From the feedback in app store, I can see I am not alone. I assume they will get this worked out in the coming weeks with a software update.
I have to suspect that companies like FitBit are worried about this new release. Nike of course can tackle the mainstream market with their existing customer base and deep pockets easily. But I think they deserve to gain users. I’ve been using a FitBit since January of this year and recently got my second replacement device. The first one broke in January, just a week or two after I bought it. The second one died a slow death over the last month. At first, the readings on the device could be read only some of the time that I pushed the button to see them. Then the display died completely, even though the device was still recording my exercise. But about two weeks ago, I tried to sync it again and it was finally dead. The customer service people were good about getting me a new one free of charge. But I suspect that this Fuelband is more durable. Not only does having it on my wrist instead of my waist mean that I can’t roll over on it while sitting on the count. But more than that, it just seems to be a tougher build.
But beyond the physical durability issues, the feedback loop that Nike+ provides is better. FitBit gave me some feedback when I first started using it, but now only sends me messages every few months. Plus their graphics and website design are not as good.
In the coming months, I will post again with another comparison of the devices. In the mean time, I plan on wearing both so that I can see how many steps and total miles they record. This of course is all relative. The first and second FitBit I had always seemed to always over-report the miles I was running. But this 3rd version is now consistently under-reporting my miles. Nonetheless, we’ll let a few more weeks of data speak for itself.