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Fitbit versus Bodymedia

March 28, 2012

Because I am feeling disenchanted with my Fitbit due to the high failure rate of the product for me (I am on my third in less than a year!), I started to explore other products.

Much to my chagrin, there really isn’t a competitor to the Fitbit that does everything it does as well as it does.  I spent hours pouring over product reviews and comparing products.  I looked at GPS devices, fitness monitors, pedometers, and accelerometers.  I looked at my own fitness goals and tried to imagine what I would find the most useful and practical.

The deal is this.  The Fitbit does all the things I want.  It’s a single, small object that is easy to wear and not obvious when I wear it.  It tracks my steps, miles, and sleep.  It gives me a nifty web interface that keeps track of my data and shows me trends and changes over time.  It syncs wirelessly.  I push a button and can read it on the fly (though it is hard to see in the sun).  There isn’t anything else that I could find which had all of these features.

The downsides of the Fitbit, aside from the failure rate and my frustrations with customer service, also include my concerns over the accuracy of the data and my problems with syncing.  If I am not syncing it daily, it loses data.  And now that I am hooked on my little reports showing my progress, the idea of lost data gives me angst.

After much deliberation, I am trying a new product.  In what can only be described as geeky, overzealous, and perhaps overly analytical, I am using BOTH products right now.  To compare them and see which I like better.

My new product is the BodyMedia CORE armband

The Core Armband has sensors that take information from the skin of my left tricep, as well as motion sensors that track my movement.  It keeps track of steps, calories expended, and sleep.  It does not track distance in miles, which is part of my data addiction.  But I think that it might do a better job with the calories because it’s taking account of not just my motion, but the sensors on my skin take note of things like sweat and heat emanating from my body.  So, that’s pretty groovy.

The downsides that I have noticed this far include the fact that I can’t read my data on the fly.  I bought a display device, which was not cheap.  (In fact, this whole thing is a lot more expensive than my Fitbit was.)  And it’s a little ungainly, though not terribly so.  The armband is a little uncomfortable.  I am not sure whether it will get more comfortable the more I wear it or more irritating the more I wear it.  It’s not as inconspicuous because it’s on my arm.  In the winter, no one will know I am wearing it.  But in the summer, it will stick out of my sleeve.

The web interface is pretty good, but the focus of this device, for good or bad, is on calories in and calories out.  The problem I have with this is that I don’t eat most of the kinds of foods that show up in a database like this.  Most of the foods I eat are whole foods that I prepare myself from scratch.  To input the nutritional information for all of the foods I eat would take a lot more time at my desk, and I am pretty sure that much sitting will interfere with my fitness goals!

And while I totally get the relationship between calories and weight, my reason for using these products isn’t just about weight management.  It’s more about accountability and tracking of fitness goals.  I realize that’s a fine line and maybe calories would be a better place to put my energy.  And maybe I will get there.  But it feels like a lot more of a chore than I can manage right now.

So far, the recorded data of calories expended and steps are pretty close between the two devices.  There are variances, but they are close enough to not be meaningful.  And neither is consistently higher or lower.  The one area in which there is a consistent difference is in tracking my sleep.  The Bodymedia device consistently has me sleeping less than the Fitbit does.  I don’t know if they record tossing and turning differently or what, or what that means to me.  But I get about 30 minutes less of sleep according to the Bodymedia device than the Fitbit.  I probably need more sleep (without a doubt, I need more sleep), so I could be conservative and go with the Bodymedia advice on sleep.  But I also only have so many hours in the day!  I think my discipline around sleep is going require more than my gadgets to keep me focused.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. jeffo permalink
    March 30, 2012 9:22 pm

    Hi Tara, jeffo here. I enjoyed both of your fitbit posts. I am similarly addicted, but only since Feb. I’d like to echo 2 of your thoughts, and add a third.

    First, I am with you on the food tracking. I type in some ingredient, and get back a bnch of Denny’s and Carl Jr meals. Ugh. Seriously? I make chicken soup–from scratch. A whole chicken from the fermer’s market. Make my own stock. Use veggies from the market or PCC: onion, carrots, mushrooms, leek, kale. Sometimes lemon & lemongrass, sometimes herbs. Add the chicken meat back in. I enter each ingredient and approx weight for a serving. I pick the frikkin meal (Lunch, dinner?) for each and every ingredient. It takes forever and the sw is very clunky and slow. Then, the next day or two, as I finish my soup over another dinner and maybe a lunch, I have to do it all again. Seriously? I can’t save the meal. I have the same breakfast every morning: blueberries with a little milk, smoked salmon, latte. Every day I have to enter the same things (yes, they’re each in favorites), and still I have to pick “breakfast” for each one. Wow. So much room for improvement here. I doubt my actual calorie count is anywhere close to what’s being recorded.

    Second, I find the sleep analytics pretty fascinating. And while I doubt the integrity of this data at a specific level as well, it certainly does reflect a relative judgment quite accurately; that is, when it says I have had a good sleep, I do actually feel much better that day. My one complaint is that I sometimes am so tired when going to bed that I have forgotten to turn it on, and I have messed up on turning it off in the morning too. It’s interesting that it often says I fall asleep in about 2 minutes–a sure sign of being underslept! So, my answer to this (and many of the other issues you have) is that I am looking forward to the day when these things are tiny implants under my skin and just work all the time. 🙂

    And last, one thing is clear about the Fitbit. It is a gadget whose time has come. It is rare that any product can evoke the love, or love/hate, that the Fitbit inspires. It was in the NYT the other day, and the writer could have been you or me, the experience is so universal. If i were more entrepreneurial, I’d be leaping in right now!

    Cheers, and get more sleep…


    • April 1, 2012 11:16 pm

      Hi Jeff. Thanks for validating my experience! I do wish you were involved in the development. Maybe it would work better….What really surprises me is that there aren’t really any competitors doing the same thing that this product does, especially since there are places where the company is falling down. One would think that this would be an area ripe for competition! ~T

  2. May 14, 2012 4:08 am

    You nailed it – nice to see there is another data geek out there. I was using it to guide my training, now I see I wil have to cross compare – I am worried that without accuracy I will get frustrated and stop using it.

  3. May 14, 2012 9:17 pm

    I use MyFitness pal when i need to build a recipe because it calculates the calories per portion , after I can enter it in the fitbit tracker and it is there for next time 🙂

  4. ergo permalink
    June 16, 2012 5:16 pm

    I’ve had the BodyMedia Fit (now called Core) for over a year. When I bought it, I compared it to the FitBit and the BodyMedia Fit seemed like a better product. However, it has it’s drawbacks. Since it calculates calories on movement, I found that it calculates more calories for when I’m riding in the car – not driving, just riding as a passenger. Apparently, it thinks that the movement of the vehicle is really me moving my body.

    I also don’t like having to pay for a subscription in order to see my statistics. I’m seriously considering purchasing a FitBit instead.

    • June 16, 2012 5:51 pm

      I also really like the ability to read the Fitbit on the fly. It doesn’t require a special viewing tool. And the Core was really uncomfortable for me. After a couple of weeks, I started to get a sensitivity to the metal. My only serious complaint with the Fitbit is the problems I have with syncing it when I don’t sync daily (like when I am traveling).


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