Fitness wearables have gone from poorly designed rarities to must-have accessories in a matter of just a couple of years, and there’s no sign of their growth stopping just yet. The good news is that there’s something for everyone. The bad news is how are you to know which one to pick?
We’ve put three of the most popular models out there through their paces. What’s more, each of the three has a clearly different focus, so you should be able to determine which one is right for you with a minimum of difficulty. On your marks, get set, go!
[alert type=alert-blue]At a glance[/alert]
Nike+ FuelBand SE
Weight: 30g (Medium model)
Colours: Volt, PinkFoil, Total Crimson, Black, Rose Gold ( £10 extra)
Compatible operating systems: iOS (version 6.1 and up)
About the company: If you’re looking for a familiar brand name you won’t get much more ubiquitous than Nike. The athletics and sporting apparel corporation is ranked 126th on the Fortune 500 and turns over more than $25bn per year worldwide. Chances are you’ve owned at least one pair of trainers made by them over the company’s 43 year history. After testing the waters with the Nike+ app which featured as a default app on earlier versions of the iPhone they’ve finally made the leap to full-fledged wearable. The FuelBand SE, the second iteration of the FuelBand, is naturally geared more towards the sportier individual.
Weight: 22g (Medium model)
Colours: Persimmon, Onyx, Pink Coral
Compatible operating systems: iOS (on iPhone 4S or newer), Android (version 4.3 and up)
About the company: Originally founded 15 years ago to develop noise cancelling technology, Jawbone branched out into creating bluetooth mobile headsets that would utilise that tech. From there it further expanded upon its line of bluetooth products, creating speakers and speakerphones. This then led to the Jawbone UP, one of the first smartphone-compatible lifestyle wearables on the market. The UP24 is the second attempt at a sleek yet functional band, and is geared more towards general lifestyle and wellbeing than the outright sporting focus of the FuelBand SE.
Weight: 10g (When not attached to strap or clasp)
Colours: Silver, Black, Topaz, Champagne
Compatible operating systems: iOS (version 6.3.1 and up), Android (version 4.3 and up)
About the company: Misfit defines itself as a manufacturer of “‘great wearable computing products’, a fairly small operation based in California with development and engineering departments in South Korea and Vietnam. Unsurprisingly for a company of Misfit’s size, the Shine was crowdfunded via Indiegogo. The product had a goal of $100,000 in funding. In a little over two months it received $846,000. The Shine obviously impressed with its simplicity and value for money without sacrificing style. As such, it’s most likely set to appeal to those on a budget.
Nike+ FuelBand SE
The ‘matte black plastic’ look is apparently very much in vogue for the wearable market, and the FuelBand SE is no exception. Being able to choose a clasp and trim of your preferred colour is a subtle touch, although you’ll be hard pushed to find one which looks appropriate when worn with a smart three-piece suit.
That is, of course, in keeping with the overall philosophy of the device – it’s a sporty wearable for sporty individuals. It fits much more like a bangled wristband than a watch so it might jangle about on your forearm a bit, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. The ability to add and remove little plastic extensions in the band, like links from a watch, is a clever way of tailoring it to your preferred fit. It unclasps and snaps together when you want to take it on and off, but mind you don’t get a bit of skin caught in it – it’s surprisingly easy to do and rather painful.
The rubberised plastic on the outside of the band may feel nice, but you’ll notice it looking worse for wear after as little as a fortnight of use. It holds scuffs and smudges surprisingly easily for a band designed for the physical arena. Its one button, again a solid feature, has a horribly low level of tactile feedback. The more you use it the harder it is to tell whether or not it has registered a press. Still, the retro dot-matrix style display and rainbow-coloured Fuel bar both look great.
For recharging, when you unclasp the band it reveals that one end is in fact also a USB connector. All you need to do is plug it in to your desktop or laptop or even a wall charger when you’ve got a stationary moment and it’ll begin to recharge. One charge cycle can last up to four days, too.
With the UP24 you get three very different colour choices, enabling you to make a much more bold statement than you could with the FuelBand SE. The persimmon and pink coral certainly look nice, but they greatly reduce the versatility of the band. We trialled the black edition, and it looks fantastic. Its distinct squared edges and coiled shape looks vaguely science-fiction, and its outer surface is raised to form a wavy pattern for added texture. Combine that with subtle matte silver trim at each end and you have a device which is understated and versatile enough to work with most outfits.
It comes in multiple different sizes, and everyone’s body is different, but a firm yet flexible frame means that the band should fit snugly and securely against your wrist. If you happen to have a particular preference or an unusually shaped forearm you might bemoan the lack of customisation options though.
To charge it, pulling off the silver-faced end of the band reveals a standard 3.5mm jack. Packaged with the UP24 is a 3.5mm to USB adaptor, so you can charge it through any USB outlet, just like the FuelBand SE. You should get around a week of charge at a time due to the lack of any real display on the device.
The aesthetics of the Shine aren’t as cut and dry as with its two rivals. The device itself is merely a small, flat, round disc meaning that it can be worn or presented in a number of ways. There’s a clasp, which allows you to attach it around belt loops or lapel buttonholes, a necklace, a leather watch strap, and a plastic sport watch band, which is what we used whilst testing.
The device itself looks completely plain, which is probably a good thing. Subtlety is most likely going to be a key factor in the growing success of wearables, and the fact that the Shine is so generic and versatile is a major plus. When worn on the wrist via the sport band the average passer by on the street would be none the wiser as to its true nature (yep, it’s another matte black rubberised wristband). The dozen small, white light-up indicators on the Shine’s face are equally discrete, but add a touch of flair to an otherwise incredibly plain device. As for comfort, there’s something for everybody – although different accessories, such as extra straps or necklace, do cost extra.
Unlike the other two bands in this review, the Shine is not rechargeable – it runs on a button cell battery, more commonly known as a watch battery. This means that whilst it gets excellent longevity (it can last for over a week), you of course have to go through the inconvenience of replacing the battery. You do this by popping off the back of the device with the bundled metal flathead, but it seems an unnecessary annoyance.
Nike+ FuelBand SE
Straight out of the blocks the FuelBand SE has one key feature which its two competitors lack – a full display. This display, activated by pressing the band’s one button, shows five key figures which you can then cycle through by continuing to press the button. The most useful of these figures is undeniably its ability to show the time. If the consumer is to genuinely begin wearable tech as an alternative to their watch, then it has to fulfil the basic functions of a watch. On top of that you can also view your steps taken for the day, calories burned, ‘hours won’ (more on this in a moment) and Fuel.
Fuel is the core concept around which the entire Nike+ brand is structured. It is essentially an intangible unit used to measure general activity. For example, twenty minutes of walking would earn you roughly 450 fuel, whereas more intense activity during the same amount of time would earn you more. Through the device’s app you set your fuel goal for the day, from 2,000 and upwards, and then try and beat it. You can ‘win’ hours by being active for more than five minutes out of the 60, and can even have the app send you reminders through your phone if the end of the hour approaches and you’re still lacking. One unfortunate downside is that the band is incapable of measuring cycling, a rather efficient form of exercise that happens to also be very popular at the moment. It’s also not waterproof, meaning you can’t take it swimming with you. So if you happen to engage in either of those incredibly common workouts then the FuelBand SE won’t be of much use.
One thing the FuelBand SE does feature though is interconnectivity with other friends using the band, and it is excellent. Not only can you add friends via the app so that you can track each others’ progress and compare routines, you can also create groups. Perhaps you and your five-a-side football team all wear the FuelBand SE – you can set a team Fuel goal for the upcoming match and try and break it, and then see who ran the most out of all of you. It’s a great bit of extra motivation, which is really what devices like this are all about.
You’re also rewarded with trophies for performing well, for example setting your best Wednesday total ever, or garnering 150% of your total Fuel goal in one day for the first time. It may sound silly, but it provides a fairly addictive, video game achievement-style incentive which can give you that little push you need. Or how about reading the Fuel level on your band and realising that you’re only a hundred or so away from winning the day? Try jogging home from the bus stop instead of walking and then enjoy your success as your band lights up and performs a little LED-dance for you.
There’s a fairly rigorous statistical breakdown for those interested in that sort of thing, too. It’s handy for those long gym sessions and working out when you’re at your peak and when you begin to slip, or maybe which days of the week you feel the most sluggish on. For those who lead an active lifestyle or are big on their sports, the FuelBand SE is as thorough as you’ll get from a piece of consumer electronics.
With just one glance at the UP24, both the device and its corresponding app, it is immediately apparent that it is much more an overall lifestyle monitor than a sporting utility. The app is a lot more bright and colourful than the sleek, mean looking Nike+ counterpart, and it’s also a lot more interactive.
Through the UP app you can keep track of your daily dietary routines, an incredibly useful feature. When you sit down for a meal just open the app and begin to type in what you’re eating – you will then be provided with an enormous list of suggestions, all with their own pre-entered nutritional values. Simply adjust the portion sizes and you get a fairly accurate measure on how many calories you’re intaking, along with salt and sugar. This means that the ‘calories burned’ statistic is a lot more useful. It also breaks down just how you’re burning calories too, breaking it down into resting burn and active burn.
The UP24’s most impressive feature, though, is one which takes place without you even knowing. The band has a sleep cycle monitor, meaning that it can give you a scarily accurate reading of just how well you slept the night before. Each night as you hit the hay, you can press and hold the smaller end of the UP24 to activate Sleep Mode. When you wake up the next morning the app will tell you how long it took you to fall asleep, how long you slept for in total, how many times you woke up, and how much time was spent in deep or light sleep. It’s really quite incredible, and most likely the result of some sort of witchcraft. What’s more, you can set a ‘Smart Sleep Alarm’. This alarm will only wake you up once you’re in a state of light sleep, so that you don’t feel groggy or disoriented. You inform the app of a window of time within which you would like to wake up (for example anywhere up to 15 minutes before 7:30am) and it will then make the band vibrate to wake you. Once you use it, you will never go back to a conventional alarm clock.
When it comes to tracking physical activity the UP24 is noticeably less varied than the FuelBand SE. You can log different sessions by choosing from a set list, although there’s a lack of variety to them. Again, this device isn’t waterproof nor is it particularly good at tracking cycling – the best it can do is calculate the amount of effort expended when you enter in the details of your workouts after they take place.
The statistical breakdown is impressive though, and it’s useful being able to compare the correlation between sleep and activity on any given day. Presentation is exceptional, and the whole app is intuitive to use whilst harbouring a great deal of information. Using the UP24 can be as serious or as casual as you are willing to be.
Whilst you might expect limited functionality from a device marketed so much cheaper than its rivals, the Shine actually does a great job of offering two key functions which neither the UP24 nor the FuelBand SE provide. Firstly, the Shine is waterproof. Already that makes the device infinitely more versatile, with swimming, water polo or any other sort of aquatic activity now automatically trackable. You can even take it up to 150 feet underwater, pretty impressive. What’s more it’s also fully compatible with cycling. You simply attach it to your ankle and tell the Shine app that you’re about to set off for a session and it changes the way it interprets the data accordingly.
You can do this for more than just cycling, too. Swimming, tennis, soccer and basketball are all included, so before as you begin just set the activity you’re about to undertake through the app. Then once you triple tap the face of the device it begins logging your activity.
Tapping the face of your Shine also performs two other important functions. A double tap will first show you how much of your goal has been achieved, before then telling you the time (you can change in which order these two bits of information are shown, which is a nice touch). The way it does so is by illuminating the dozen small lights placed around the edge of the Shine like a watch face. The closer the circle is to being fully illuminated, the closer you are to completing your daily target. For the time, a solid light dictates the current hour, followed by a flashing light which shows the minute. It may not sound like much, but when you’re wearing the Shine as a watch it’s a massive convenience that it can tell the time.
The design of the Shine app, much like that of the device itself, is fairly plain and minimalistic. You don’t get as much information relayed to you as the Nike+ or UP apps, but what statistics there are are portrayed clearly and cleanly. The basics are all present, such as distance travelled, steps taken and calories burned, and you can also see your activity in the form of a line graph for visualisation of your progress throughout the day.
One measurement which only the Shine app provides is weight. Of course you’ll have to use your own set of scales, but the app allows you to keep track of your weight loss – a feature conspicuously absent from the Nike+ and UP apps, especially as it’s something you would immediately associate with a fitness tracker.
With a recent update the Shine can now also provide sleep tracking, in a similar fashion to the UP24. It’s capacity for sleep tracking is a lot more limited though, and in order to activate it you have to remember to go into the app every evening, set up an activity tag for ‘Sleep’ and then triple tap the device (also remembering to remove it from your trousers or shirt from earlier in the day and attach it to your wrist, if it wasn’t so already). It works okay, but there’s no real way to tell how accurate it is. The app did seem to register imaginary steps taken during periods of long activity sat stationary at the desk, so that isn’t exactly encouraging.
If you want a wearable which isn’t just for the athlete inside of you, but for every aspect of your life, then the Jawbone UP24 is almost perfect. It both looks and feels great, and the app manages to provide incredible amounts of detail without being ugly or overwhelming. Plus, the sleep tracker and smart alarm are revelatory. 4.5 out of 5
Nike+ FuelBand SE
The Nike+ FuelBand SE is close to being the perfect sports tracker. It’s social capabilities combined with its numerous features to keep you motivated ensure that it will be a permanent mainstay in any gym addicts kit bag. You might not be so keen on wearing it every single day, though, with its appealing design being more clearly tailored to a casual setting. Plus, its lack of waterproofing could be a deal-breaker for some. 4 out of 5
When considering the Misfit Shine’s pros and cons, the price should be a big factor to consider – remember, this is a crowd funded device which costs at least £30 less (UPDATE: It’s now £50 cheaper than the competition) than its more esteemed rivals. Still, you may decide that not having to deal with the Shine’s rather limited app is worth the extra cash. With waterproofing, cycling tracking and versatile wearability it still offers plenty of advantages, though. 3.5 out of 5