Category Archives: FitBit

5 Tips for Getting the Most out of a FitBit Flex

I have had my FitBit Flex for something like five months now, long enough to grow comfortable with its benefits and quirks and so I thought I’d put together a list of some tips that can help people who have one (or are thinking about getting one) get the most out of it.

1. Wear it and forget it

Perhaps the best thing about the FitBit Flex is that you wear it on your wrist. No need to clip it onto your clothing the way you had to with a FitBit Ultra, for instance. And since the FitBit Flex is waterproof, you can shower with it, meaning there is little need to take it off. This means you can wear it and forget it. You won’t find that you’ve left the house for the day only to leave your activity tracker on the dresser.

2. But set a recurring reminder to charge it

That said, I have found that I need to charge my FitBit Flex every 5-6 days. The battery has only run completely down once. The way I avoid the battery running completely down is by proactively reminding myself to charge the battery.

I use the reminder feature in Google Calendar and have created a recurring reminder to send a text message to my phone every 5 days, reminding me to charge my Flex.

When I get the reminder, I typically charge the Flex in the evening when I am doing my writing and getting the kids ready for bed. It doesn’t take more than 2 hours or so to get a full charge and by the time I go to bed, the device is once again fully charged.

3. Track specific activities

You can (with the latest firmware update) track individual activities with your Flex, which is useful if you want to know some detail about that activity. You do this by putting your Flex into Activity/Sleep mode (tapping it rapidly until you get the two flashing lights). When your activity is finished, you tap it rapidly again until you see 5 blinking lights.

What this does is sets a “start” and “end” marker. Your FitBit is constantly recording your activity and these markers allow you to look at a specific section of that activity to see the details. When you log into the FitBit dashboard, you will see those activities listed in the day on which you captured them. I’ve used this to capture the distance of my walk from my house to my office, for instance. Or how long a particular hike took. Here is what an activity record looks like for my lunchtime walk, as seen from the FitBit website dashboard:

Lunchtime Walk

Continue reading 5 Tips for Getting the Most out of a FitBit Flex

Three More Tips for FitBit Flex Users

I have been using my FitBit Flex since late April now, and it has been a mostly great experience. Unlike my old FitBit Ultra (which I ultimately lost) I don’t have to worry about losing it because I wear it on my wrist. I also don’t worry about forgetting it in the morning because I sleep with it on each night in order to track my sleep. The data is provides is great, and particularly useful for someone like me, who enjoys playing around with the data.

But I did say I was mostly happy. There have been three problems, both of which have been corrected, but which I wanted to mention here in case anyone else has experienced these problems.

1. Sudden drop in step count, despite the same amount of walking

Not long after I got my Flex, I upped my daily goal to 15,000 steps/day. At first, I had a little difficulty meeting this goal, but once I began spending my entire lunch hour walking, it became routine not just to meet, but to exceed this goal on a regular basis. A typical week of walking looked like this for me:

Steps - June 2
FitBit Flex steps record for the week of June 2, 2013

A few weeks later, beginning around June 23, I noticed a sizable drop off in the step count for the week:

Steps - June 23
FitBit Flex steps recorded for the week of June 23, 2013

Set aside the two days at the end of the week when we were driving up to Maine and I was in the car for most of the day, doing very little walking. What is odd about this week is that my step counts are down across the board, never even reaching 15,000 steps.

But the strangest thing of all is that I was taking the same 3 walks I do every day. I was not walking any more, but I was not walking any less. So why the lower counts?

Take a look at the data for Tuesday, June 5:

Steps on June 4

You can clearly see the steps for my three walks. You can further see that each time, they reach nearly 600 steps for the time interval shown, which I think is 5 minutes. Now take a look at the data for exactly 3 weeks later, the week in which I noticed lower step counts:

Steps on June 25

You can still see all three of my walks, but you’ll note that they barely reach 500 steps/interval, despite the fact that I tend to walk at the same pace and the same distance each time. For some reason, my Flex was under-reporting steps.

Of course, it could have been over-reporting for all of the other weeks, but since this week was the exception, I decided that it was under-reporting.

I tried a number of things, none of which seemed to make a difference, including resetting the device. We’ll come back to this shortly. First…

Continue reading Three More Tips for FitBit Flex Users

Does Pushing a Stroller Affect FitBit Flex Data Capture?

We spent our Memorial Day afternoon hanging out with friends. Kelly took the kids to the local park to meet our friends while I walked to the nearby barber to get a long-overdue haircut. From the barber I walked to the park to meet-up with everyone. After a while, we decided to get something to eat and walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant. Lots of margaritas were consumed and great fun was had by all.

But yesterday evening, when I looked at my FitBit data, I noticed something strange. Although the walk to the Mexican Restaurant was about 1-1/2 miles each way, it seemed that my FitBit Flex had not captured those steps. It had captured the steps when I’d done roughly the same walk a week ago. Here is a profile of my steps for last Sunday:

FitBit Flex - No Stroller

The red arrows indicate the to- and from- of my walk last Sunday. You can see that I started my walk just before 10am. I walked about 2 miles, took a break (that small red line in between the tall green lines) and then walked back. Now, take a look at roughly the same walk yesterday:

FitBit Flex with Stroller

I’ve indicated where I walked to get my haircut and then to the part. The two arrows with question marks are where we all walked to the restaurant. Notice there is almost no steps recorded during nearly 3 miles of walking. But then, at around 6pm, my walk to the nearby grocery store is captured.

I was a little annoyed to lose those steps, and it occurred to me that my steps over the weekend, despite doing a lot of walking, seemed unnaturally low. So I started thinking if there was anything in common during those times when the steps were not captured. And there was!

During the time we walked to- and from- the restaurant yesterday, I was pushing a stroller. I was also pushing a stroller quite a bit over the weekend. But I was not pushing the stroller when I walked to get my haircut or when I walked to the grocery store. It seems to me, therefore, that the FitBit Flex has some problems capturing steps when the arm on which you wear it is fairly steady–as when you are gripping the handle of a stroller or shopping cart.

I planned to contact FitBit about this but checked their FAQs first, and found this tidbit in their accuracy FAQ:

Will Flex count steps when I’m pushing a stroller or a shopping cart?

Flex will count your steps when you are pushing a stroller or a shopping cart as we do want to give you credit for this activity. That said, because your hands are not moving, your step count may be a bit lower during this activity.

Although it is a little frustrating to lose all of those steps (I’d estimate that over the weekend, in excess of 8,000 steps are missing from my data because I was pushing a stroller), it was interesting to make and confirm this discovery entirely from the data and independent of the FAQ. The fix is pretty easy–push the stroller with one hand. And most importantly, I know that while FitBit reported my activity was lower, I was still getting the exercise I need.

My FitBit Flex and Sleep Tracking

One question I’ve been asked on several occasions is just how accurate the sleep tracer in the FitBit devices are. I used a FitBit Ultra for over a year and have been using the FitBit Flex for a couple of weeks now. I’ve used the sleep tracker in both, but unlike the Ultra, which required an awkward armband, the FitBit Flex is always on so it is easy to use the sleep tracker.

My experience has been as follows:

  • On nights when I feel like I’ve slept pretty well, the FitBit Flex shows that by showing that I didn’t wake up very many times, or wasn’t very restless.
  • On nights when I feel like I haven’t slept well, the FitBit shows more restlessness.

It is hard to put this to the test because I tend to sleep in waves of good or bad. That is, when I am sleeping well, I’ll sleep well for weeks on end. Then, when I’m not sleeping well, that will go on for weeks as well.

Last night, however, seemed like a very poor night’s sleep from my perspective. I was tired, but restless. I felt like I was looking at the clock every few minutes and really didn’t settle down into a deep sleep. I figured that last night would be a good test to compare my perception of my sleep to what the FitBit Flex recorded. Here is what the FitBit Flex had to say:

Sleep Chart

The red lines show when I was awake. The light blue lines show when I was “restless.” Looking at this, I think it reflects very well my restlessness throughout the night.The first red line, right around 11am, was when the Little Man came into our room to tell me he needed to use the bathroom. (This is a little difficult operation for him to perform at night by himself with his cast on.) The second red line, right around midnight, was when I awoke after an unusual dream1 and jotted a note about the dream so I wouldn’t forget it.

But look at all of those light blue lines, scattered pretty evenly throughout the night. It seemed to me that I was tossing and turning for most of the night, and that is exactly what the FitBit captured. Still, a more quantitative number would be helpful. When you drill into the details for the night’s sleep you see something like this:

Sleep Details

Here, you can see that I fell asleep in 4 minutes, was awakened 17 times (some of those times count as “restlessness” as opposed to being awake, the difference being how much movement there is each time. I was in bed for 7 hours and 54 minutes and asleep for 7 hour and 16 minutes. This makes my “sleep efficiency” for last night 93%/

I have sleep efficiency data for other nights, and it seems to me that when my sleep efficiency is above 96%, I feel like I’ve slept well. When it is between 94-96%, I slept “okay.” But when it falls below 93%, I feel like I’ve had a rough night.

I think this backs up my feeling that the FitBit does a reasonably good job of capturing the quality of your night’s sleep. The resulting data matches my perceptions very well. So when I am asked how well the FitBit tracks the quality of my sleep, I guess my answer is the same as it has always been:

It does a very good job, as far as I can tell.

  1. About which I’ll have more to say in a subsequent post.

FitBit Flex: My Initial Thoughts After One Week of Use

I got a new FitBit Flex last Friday, one week ago. It was a replacement for the FitBit Ultra that I’d used for more than a year, before losing it back in March. The Flex is FitBit’s newest activity monitoring product. You wear it as a wrist band instead of clipping it onto your clothing and it has some nice new features that make it, in my mind, an almost ideal tool for the job.

FitBit Flex

The basics

The FitBit Flex tracks nearly every activity captured by the Ultra and One devices. It tracks your steps, distance, activity level, calories, and sleep. The only thing it lacks that the Ultra had was an altimeter that allowed the device to track the stairs you climbed. The FitBit Flex doesn’t do this, but its other features more than make up for that.

Convenience

I love the fact that you can wear the Flex on your wrist. It is unobtrusive, easy to put on, and then you can forget about it. You don’t have to take it off if you don’t want to. It is waterproof and safe to wear in the shower. I wore it once in the shower just to see, but I’ve taken it off since because it felt weird to have it on in the shower. But it is nice knowing you don’t have to worry about it getting wet.

The fact that you wear it on your wrist means you don’t have to remember to clip it on in the morning, or if you’ve left it clipped to your pants in the evening (with the subsequent concern that it might go through the laundry). You can’t really forget it if you are wearing it. And because you wear it on your wrist, you can sleep with it on to easily track your sleeping. With the Ultra I had to put on an awkward wristband and then slip the FitBit Ultra into the wristband. With the Flex, you just wear it to sleep the same way you wear it throughout your day.

Notifications

The FitBit Flex does not have a display readout like the Ultra did. If you tap the wristband, you’ll see five dots light up for a second. After a second, the dots will steady to indicate how far toward your step goal you are. Each dot represents 20% of your goal. If you see 4 dots, you are 80% to your goal, if you see 5 dots, you’ve reached your goal for the day. And when you reach your goal, the device will buzz gently on your wrist to let you know.

The Flex also has a silent alarm. You can set a one-time alarm, or a repeating alarm, and you can have more than one alarm. This is a wonderful feature. I’ve setup my device to wake me at 6:15 am Monday through Wednesday, and 6:30 am Thursday and Friday. It wakes you with a gentle buzz that is completely silent, save for those vibrations.

It might seem like a downside not to be able to see your steps directly on the device, but the Flex has lower power WiFi via BlueTooth 4 that will sync with your iPhone (and other devices) so that if you want to see your numbers for the day, you simply pull out your phone and open the app.

Continue reading FitBit Flex: My Initial Thoughts After One Week of Use