Get ready for a lot of Fitbit Ultra love, readers! After our less-than-satisfying experience with the Jawbone UP, I was eager to try another activity tracker, as, at the very least, the UP managed to peak my interest in tracking my daily activities. Enter the Fitbit Ultra Wireless Activity Tracker. Since purchasing my Fitbit Ultra about two weeks ago, I have fallen in love with it and would not hesitate to call it my perfect fitness tool. It is accurate, fun and easy to use, and far more functional than the Jawbone UP.
The Fitbit Ultra, released in 2011, is the follow-up to the original Fitbit. Both versions are still being sold in stores and both carry a price tag of $99.95, so be sure you are picking up a box labeled Fitbit Ultra, not just Fitbit, if you want the 2nd gen version of the device. I would definitely recommend going with the Ultra, as it brings with it a couple extra (and useful) features not included on the original device, including an altimeter (for measuring the # of flights of stairs you climb in a day) and a stopwatch to time your activities (like going for a run!). Here’s a look at some of my favorite features of this device:
- Integration with third-party sites. A few months ago, I can remember having a conversation with Steve about how difficult it was to find an application, service, or device that compiles all of your fitness data. Things can get a little confusing when you have separate apps for running, tracking calories, tracking sleep, etc. etc. etc. The Fitbit has solved this problem by allowing other companies to integrate with the Fitbit website. This feature is by far my favorite part of the device, because it allows to me to store and evaluate all of my fitness data in one place. Currently, I am uploading data from Withings, a wireless scale, and Nike+ to the my Fitbit profile. This means that there is no manually entering my weight onto the website, so my calorie/weight-loss plan can adjust automatically. Additionally, the integration of my Nike+ data allows me to leave my Fitbit at home while I’m running so I don’t have to worry about losing the device or getting it wet. I can continue to use my favorite Nike+ features, like GPS tracking and in-run motivation/pace-time-distance updates. Fitbit also integrates with Facebook and Twitter, so I can post or tweet my daily Fitbit stats to my profile and interact with other Facebook/Twitter friends who have Fitbits.
- Self-adjusting calorie tracker. The Fitbit Ultra keeps track of all of the calories you burn in a day, including both calories burned from being active and those burned from your basal metabolic rate (BMR). On the Fitbit website, you can set a calorie goal based on whether you are looking to maintain your weight or lose weight. This is initially calculated based on your basal metabolic rate, but adjusts throughout the day based on how active you are. For example, if you are interested in losing 1 pound per week, you need to consume 500 calories less than you burn per day (for a total calorie deficit of 3500/wk = 1 lb). Most calorie counters out there ask the user to specify his or her daily activity level (sedentary, light activity, moderate activity, or heavy activity). I, for one, have always struggled with this because my activity level varies so much depending on the day. Some would argue that everything would balance out in the end, e.g., if you set your activity level to low, days that you are moderately active will balance out those where you are sedentary. However, the Fitbit takes all of the guesswork out of the equation, providing you with an accurate measure of calories burned for each unique day, and the number of calories you should be taking in.
- Personalization. Fitbit has done a really great job allowing the user to personalize his or her experience. As mentioned above, you can create an individualized weight-loss plan that takes into account your actual activity levels each day. You can also ensure the accuracy of the distances measured by your device because Fitbit allows you to customize your stride length for both running and walking. Finally, one of the fun features of the device is that you can input your name when you set it up and, periodically, personalized encouraging or motivational messages (dubbed “chatter” by its creators) will scroll across the device’s screen.
- Wireless syncing. The Fitbit comes with a base station that can be connected to a USB port on your computer. Whenever you are within 10-15′ of the base station, the Fitbit will sync wirelessly and your data will be immediately accessible online. As far as I can tell, it only takes a few seconds of being in the same room as the base station for it to finish syncing. The base station can also be plugged into a USB wall-charger (like the one used for the iPhone) if you need to charge your Fitbit when you are away from a computer. If you are going to be away from your computer for an extended period of time, you should be aware that the Fitbit can store up to 7 full days worth of minute-by-minute data before it will need to start compressing some of the older data, i.e. you will only see your summary data for any days past day 7, not minute-by-minute tracking for up to 30 days. The battery lasts for 5-7 days. I usually charge mine while I’m taking a shower. The device isn’t waterproof, so it would be sitting on a counter anyway during that time.
- Data accessibility. The accessibility to data and functionality of the various data-access platforms is one of the areas where the Fitbit truly shines relative to the Jawbone UP. Your Fitbit profile can be accessed using both desktop (available for Mac & PC) and mobile (iPhone app & mobile site) platforms. The data is clearly laid out, and easy to manipulate, in both the mobile and desktop platforms. In addition, you can view your steps, distance, calories burned, and flights of stairs climbed for the day on a small screen on the device itself. This means that no matter where you are, you’re never more than a button press away from being able to evaluate your daily activity.
- Accuracy. I hesitate to call accuracy a “feature”, as it is really a component that should be standard on all activity trackers. However, inaccuracy is clearly a problem with some, as we struggled so much with it using the Jawbone UP, and it renders a tracker near unusable. Out of the box, the Fitbit appears to be much more accurate in terms of measuring the number of steps taken and the number of calories burned during daily activities and during exercise. I used mine a couple times when running, before I discovered that I could use my Nike+ data instead, and found that the number of steps and calories burned seemed reasonable relative to what I would expect. The distance recorded was significantly less than what I recorded with the Nike+ GPS app, but I expect that this could be easily remedied by customizing my stride length on my Fitbit.
- Aesthetics. The appearance of this device is pretty simple. It is also a relatively small device. Both of these features are very appealing to me, as I personally felt that the Jawbone UP was too bulky for my small wrists, even though I supposedly had the correct size. The Fitbit is not much larger than a stick of gum (or a first gen iPod shuffle…anyone?) and is barely noticeable when you are wearing it. I like to clip it to the pocket of my jeans. I’ve also attached it to my bra when wearing a dress. Neither method seems to have an effect on the accuracy of the number of steps recorded, so where you put it is really just a matter of personal preference.
I only have two minor quips about my experience thus far with the Fitbit. The first is in regards to the hardware itself. The “hinge” on the device does not have very much give, so I am a little concerned that it will end up cracking or falling apart much more quickly than I would like it to. I’ve read a couple reviews on Amazon that express this concern, as well as some reviews that have mentioned their Fitbit actually breaking. One way to avoid this is to always place your Fitbit into the included belt-clip to avoid stressing the hinge. Hopefully the next generation of Fitbits will be a bit more durable.
My other complaint is in regards to the food database available on the Fitbit website Food Log. It is relatively limited, as most of the foods are brand-name only or restaurant foods. Foods can be entered manually, but I try to avoid having to enter foods in myself as often as possible. Soon, however, Fitbit will be initiating two-way syncing with Lose It!, a free calorie-tracking app available from most mobile application stores, meaning that any foods you enter on Lose It! will also be uploaded to your Fitbit profile and vice-versa. When this is implemented, I think I will start tracking my calories on Lose It! because it has a much larger food database and the app includes a bar-code scanner, which is great for packaged foods.
To wrap things up, I wholeheartedly recommend the Fitbit Ultra Wireless Activity Tracker to anyone looking to increase their daily activity and compile all of their fitness data. I’ve definitely been more motivated to keep my step counts up since I bought my Fitbit. I take the stairs more often, I walk to class instead of taking the bus, and I’m more aware of my sleep patterns. Now it’s time for me to get off my butt and go get some more steps!
Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.