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Is Fitbit too expensive for too little?

Having jogged since I was a kid, I was accustomed to rubbish plastic pedometers, and knew there was clear room for improvement.

As has been the case with cameras, the best way to get this previously unessential technology into the hands of almost everyone is through bundling it with the most used piece of tech: the phone. This is especially easy considering most phones have accelerometers for games already.

My newest phone, a HTC one M8, comes bundled with apps which cannot be removed. One of the apps is Fitbit. HTC collaborated with Fitbit, allowing them to directly access sensors on the phone.

The HTC phone was not my first exposure to an app that counts steps being bundled into a device. The Nintendo 3DS counts steps and sometimes turns walking achievements into rewards in game, such as in Animal Crossing.

The problem with using the 3DS is that it is slightly bulky, and isn’t as essential as a phone, so whereas a phone will likely end up in your pocket anyway, you have to more deliberately chose to take a 3DS with you.

The size and the fact that it only counts steps, means that the 3DS is more suited to walking or hiking than to jogging. The Fitbit app estimates distance travelled and calories potentially gained, and while the accuracy may be debatable, this is more interesting for those concerned with fitness.

Knowing exactly how far you have run and being sure to push that forward could be useful when running through streets were sense of distance is more obscure, but it is still far from essential.

The app itself can be a bit of fun. After walking through a city, and being a big old tourist, it can be enjoyable to see how many miles you managed to traverse. However, the app does eat up battery power you would desperately need in those contexts for Google maps or an old fashioned phone call.

Not having owned a Fitbit wristband makes it impossible to really judge those, but they do seem like a device for the elite. There are even gold Tory Burch designs for the bracelet, which hint at a role as a status object rather than just a useful piece of technology.

The ‘charge’, which costs 100 pounds, doesn’t seem to provide functionality drastically different from the mobile app. Most expensive is the ‘surge’, costing 200 pounds, which does have interesting uses, such as music Control, a constant heart rate monitor, and notifications to texts on a phone.

The devices also say they can test the quality of sleep, which is another application than any modern smartphone can do. Monitoring sleep is something I had fun with in my first year at Uni, but I since forgot about it, and it really shows that just because its fun to see numbers and graphs pertaining to yourself, that doesn’t mean they will inform you or help you.

Just as the pedometer is now bundled into phones, the functionality of a wristband with the features of Fitbit can be integrated into smart watches.

The ‘surge’ is like a decent digital camera in the age just before the smartphone was popularised. A step above what was available before, but destined to be obsolete very fast.

If you have a Fitbit device and want to give your hands-on views about it, write to:

badger-tech@ussu.sussex.ac.uk

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