The tyranny of Flexbit’s five little lights


Like most people, I probably could do a better job of maintaining my personal level of fitness. It’s not so long ago that I refereed rugby professionally (for instance, check out this highly pixelated video from a 1999 European Challenge Cup match between RC Toulon (France) and Ebbw Vale (Wales) – the clue is that the referee is the guy in the green shirt) but the slope downwards since I retired from active refereeing has been steep. Some action was therefore required.

Having done my fair share of treadmill miles over the years, I was in no hurry to join a gym and acquaint myself with any machines of torture again. In fact, I wasn’t in a hurry to do very much at all, which is the reason why I needed a certain impetus to get going again.

That impetus came from a device called the Fitbit Flex, which I’ve used for a couple of months. Unlike treadmills, which apply their own form of physical torture to the body, the Flex is all about mental torture – the need to satisfy its demand that five lights show when you tap the device to report on your daily progress towards your personal goal. This could be 10,000 steps (the default) or 10km or a certain number of calories burned. You see five lights when your daily goal is achieved. Until that point arrives, a certain pressure exists to do more to move toward the goal, which I guess is the reason why the Flex exists.

Happiness! Five lights are lit - I can go and have a pizza...

Happiness! Five lights are lit – I can go and have a pizza…

As a version 1.0 example of wearable physical measurement technology, the Fitbit Flex is not perfect and the online dashboard that is available to review the data that the device collects is spartan, unless you pay for the premium version (which I do not). However, it’s enough to provide a constant reminder of activity and progress and that’s enough for me. The Flex reports its progress by synchronizing over Bluetooth with an application that’s loaded on my PC. A small USB gadget is plugged in to facilitate the synchronization, which works well.

The Flex comes with two sizes of rubberized wristband. The device itself is waterproof, so I wear it all the time, including when sleeping. The device does its best to track and report on how well you sleep, as long as you remember to tap it (correctly) to put the Flex into sleep mode.  I haven’t tried it when swimming but it certainly doesn’t mind going into the shower.

One thing that is good is that the Flex does a reasonable job of measuring distances that you walk or run. I’ve checked it several times against other pedometers, including the Pedometer Master app that I have on my Nokia Lumia 1020 (a good app of the kind if you’re looking for one on Windows Phone). The Flex is certainly better than other similar devices, including the Misfit Shine that my wife wears. Despite many attempts to calibrate the Shine, it seems to under-record distance by between 10 and 15%. On the other hand, the Shine is a very attractive device and includes a watch function (that can be impossible to view in bright light).

Devices like the Flex and the Shine exist to help give people like me a reason to exercise. For me, it’s been helpful – so much so that when I lost my first Flex, I immediately bought a replacement. I think the Flex fell off my wrist when I took off my coat and dislodged the catch, which taught me a lesson to pay attention to its fastening in future.

You’ll probably never need something like the Flex if you’re a disciplined type of individual who finds it easy to organize exercise into your life. I find it helpful, even if doing enough on a daily basis to satisfy those five blessed lights is sometimes a real pain.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

Update 12 March: Fitbit has announced a recall of the Force model (not the Flex described here) due to an ongoing problem that causes skin irritation for users. You cannot buy a Force from the Fitbit web site but they are still available elsewhere. Don’t buy one until Fitbit fixes the problem!

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
This entry was posted in Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The tyranny of Flexbit’s five little lights

  1. ladewig says:

    I’ve worked my way from the One to the Flex and finally to the Force. Missed the display from the One plus it added a watch. Only downside is the wristband doesn’t secure as well as I’d like, and as you found with the Flex. I’ve lost it three different times and recovered it every time (knock on wood). I’m hopeful that when they release the next version after they address the nickel issue they also come up with a more secure mechanism.

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