In November of last year, after a failed trial with the Jawbone Up, Steve and I became Fitbit converts, and for the next 12 months, I diligently used my Fitbit Ultra to record essentially every step I had taken (over 2 million!), every staircase I had climbed (over 4000!), every minute I slept*, and, through their online interface (and LoseIt!), every meal I ate**. Of course, as you might imagine, a device that is on your person during every waking hour, can start to show some wear and tear, especially when it belongs to someone like me who has a propensity to bump into things (sometimes hard enough to knock the device off of myself).
So, with a Fitbit Ultra that was cracking at the hinge, and starting to act a little weird, I was pretty excited to find out that two new Fitbits were being introduced in October/November, and, as I noted in my earlier post about their release, I set my sights on the Fitbit One. I’ve now spent a month with the device, and, although the Ultra and One are, at their cores, very similar devices in terms of how they work and the data they collect, the One boasts several new and improved features that are worth considering if you are in the market for an upgrade.
*At least, I did, for about the first 3 months, until my armband fell apart, and I got tired of seeing the same data night after night.
**You say I skipped entering that pint of ice cream because I felt guilty about eating it? I admit to nothing…
The list of what is brand-new on the Fitbit One relative to the Ultra is actually very short, but the features that have been added really bring the One to the next level in terms of versatility and durability.
1. Water-resistance. I have multiple friends who bought a Fitbit Ultra, and, within a year, put it through the washing machine or got it soaked in the rain, leaving them with a $99 piece of unusable plastic. The Fitbit One is water-resistant, so while it still won’t survive a trip through the washing machine, rain, sweat from an intense workout, or a splash of water from the sink won’t put you out $99 anymore.
2. Silent alarm. This is my favorite feature of the Fitbit One. Even though I ended up hating the Jawbone Up, I loved the silent, vibrating alarm feature, so I was so pleased to see Fitbit implement it. It’s easy to program and is a much gentler way to wake up in the morning. I don’t find myself feeling quite as tired when I get out of bed, and for those people who need to wake up earlier than their significant other, there is a much lower chance of waking them up with your alarm, too.
3. Bluetooth 4.0 syncing. Being able to sync my Fitbit to my iPhone is an incredible leap forward compared to having to wait until I got home at the end of the day to see how my data affected my calorie goal, what badges I had earned, etc. Before, if I was out all day and then went straight out to dinner, there was no way to see how many calories I had left in my budget after adding in all of the steps I had taken throughout the day. It made it pretty easy to overdo it, and I would often end up assuming that I had more calories available than I really did. Now, I just have to open up the app (which, by the way, is very easy to connect to your One), and voila! I know exactly how many extra calories I burned running errands. Furthermore, the Fitbit iOS app, which was updated a couple of months ago to work with the One, now displays notifications letting me know when I get close to, meet, or exceed my step goal for the day. This makes it more motivational, instead of just a display for my data.
1. The clip design. The hinge on the Fitbit Ultra is widely noted to be the weakest part of the design, and the included belt clip, which offers more protection to the device, was horribly sharp and rigid, so wearing it against bare skin was not an option. The Fitbit One has been completely redesigned, so that the device itself no longer has a built-in clip at all. The clip is now a separate silicone/silicone-coated metal piece and is a vast improvement over the original. It is much more durable feeling and the silicone is soft enough that it is comfortable to wear directly against your skin. The silicone is also much more grippy on fabrics, so I am much less worried about the device spontaneously jumping off of me anymore. I should note that others have had trouble with the silicone pocket holding the device securely enough in the clip and have had their Fitbit Ones spontaneously come out of the pocket and get lost within a day of purchasing them. Perhaps there is some variability in the size of the pockets, with some being made too large, and hopefully Fitbit will address this with their manufacturers soon.
2. Increased syncing range. The One is able to sync to your computer over a range of 20 ft instead of 10 ft, like the Fitbit Ultra. This is a very minor change, and hasn’t really impacted the way I use the device, especially since I have the device set to automatically sync via Bluetooth to my phone when the app is running in the background. For those of you with Android, for whom Bluetooth syncing is not yet available, I can see the increased range being a plus, as it allows the Fitbit to sync a few extra times a day.
3. Less intrusive USB presence. Instead of the charging mount attached to a long cable used by the Fitbit Ultra to sync to the computer, the One connects wirelessly to a very small Bluetooth USB dongle, similar to that which comes with many wireless computer mice. However, this means that to charge the device, you have to plug in a separate USB cord. Also, it seems a little strange that Fitbit wouldn’t give the device the capability to sync to the built-in Bluetooth that is present in many computers today. Another thing to note is that the Fitbit One uses a different software program to do the initial set-up for the device. This is great because the software associated with the Fitbit Ultra has some sort of weird glitch that prevents Mac computers from ever shutting down properly after you install it (why was this never fixed, Fitbit software engineers!?), and it seems like this problem does not exist in the new software.
4. Sleep armband. The armband used to hold the device while you were sleeping that came with the Fitbit Ultra, was, for lack of a better phrase, a piece of crap. The fabric was cheap, the velcro was scratchy, and mine was torn within a month of getting the device. The armband that comes with the Fitbit One is so much better. It is made of sturdier, but comfortable, fabric and the velcro is no longer bothersome. I expect that it will last me a great deal longer than my old armband, and wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted for the lifetime of the device.
5. Shorter battery life. The battery life on the Fitbit One, while still very good, is noticeably shorter than the Fitbit Ultra. This is most likely due to it using Bluetooth technology instead of being wireless. My Fitbit Ultra could easily last 10-14 days, and sometimes even longer, on a single battery charge, whereas my Fitbit One starts to alert me that the battery needs to be charged after about a week. It’s not a huge issue, and, again, doesn’t affect my user experience too much, but it’s something to be aware of. If you want to ditch the battery problem all-together, or you frequently spend more than a week away from electricity, you may want to consider the Fitbit Zip, which has fewer features than the Fitbit One, but has a replaceable battery instead of a rechargeable one.
The Final Word
While the Fitbit One is a great little device, and offers significant improvements over the Fitbit Ultra, I would not recommend upgrading if your Ultra is still functioning properly. Save your $99 for when your Ultra actually wears out, or, if you can make it to the next iteration, a greater number of new features on the next generation of Fitbits. Also, although I enjoy having the data that the Fitbit provides, I have moved away from using the data as much as I did a year ago, so I am a little bit torn about whether it is worth having a Fitbit at all anymore. Yes, it is nice to have a check on how active I am, and being able to check up on my calorie consumption vs. calories burned is helpful, but it’s not something I’m keeping up with on a daily basis anymore. This problem of waning user engagement and enthusiasm is one that all all-day tracking devices struggle with, and it certainly has nothing to do with the quality of this device, but I’m still not positive that the Fitbit One has provided enough in terms of new features to get me completely re-engaged with the data I’m collecting. Yes, I have been tracking sleep again, but that’s only to use the silent alarm (which is, again, fantastic). Yes, I’ve been keeping tabs on my calories more in the past few weeks, but that’s something I probably would have done regardless of having the Fitbit One.
So, how can Fitbit improve their device as well as improve and/or revitalize user engagement? The ability to sync via Bluetooth throughout the day has somewhat improved my motivation, but I think the real answer will come from the (likely) success of devices like the Basis band. The Basis band/watch is able to measure heart rate using an optical sensor on the underside of the watch face, and also collects data on skin temperature and perspiration levels to give a more accurate assessment of daily activity and exertion levels. It also attempts to make data collection, monitoring of trends, and adjustment of goals much more hands-off for the user, as they recognize that the more things that people need to do manually, the less likely they are to continue using the device. The Fitbit design does not lend itself as well to being an all-in-one monitoring device like the Basis band, but the ability to connect accessories (especially now that it has Bluetooth), like a heart rate monitor, would be a great step forward and one that I hope to see when next year’s models are released.
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.