Last September I picked up a Nike+ FuelBand while I was wandering around San Francisco. I’d been meaning to get a sample in for review, but hadn’t got around to it, so while I was browsing through the Nike store on Union Square, I just bought one.
Given that the FuelBand is a device that you’re supposed to live with every day, I decided that I wouldn’t write a review until I’d used it for a significant amount of time. This week I clocked up 1-million NikeFuel points, which represents an intensive testing regime, even by FitTechnica standards.
So, after joining the NikeFuel millionaires’ club, what’s my opinion of the Nike+ FuelBand? The short answer is that I really like it, but the longer answer is that it’s far from perfect.
So what is it?
At its most basic level, the FuelBand is a pedometer – that might seem a tad simplistic, but when you break it down the FuelBand is counting your footsteps and estimating how many calories you’re burning as a result. All that data is then transposed into NikeFuel points, to give you an indication of how active you have been.
The accelerometer inside the FuelBand is a pretty decent bit of kit though, and if you wander around counting your footsteps you’ll find that it’s pretty accurate. I’ve certainly used less accurate pedometers in my time, and it’s surprising how quickly you get used to having the FuelBand on your wrist every day.
You can charge the FuelBand via the USB port that’s hidden in the clasp. Plug this into your computer or a USB charger and it will juice itself up. The device will run merrily for around four days on a single charge, after which you need to remember to leave it charging overnight so you don’t miss too much activity logging.
The FuelBand has a single button and an LED matrix display. Pressing the button will cycle through four data displays – NikeFuel, Calories Burned, Steps Taken and Time of Day. It’s the NikeFuel display that really matters, since that’s the one you’ll be judging your personal, daily performance on.
The FuelBand comes in a variety of sizes, but whichever size you go for you’ll get an adjustment link to make it bigger or smaller to suit. Once you’ve found the right size, you’ll barely notice that the FuelBand is there – which is kind of the point.
There’s an app for that.
Although the FuelBand can be synchronised with your Nike+ online account by plugging it into your computer, by far the easiest way to upload your data is via the iPhone app.
The Nike+ FuelBand app is free, and once you’ve installed it and paired your device to your phone via Bluetooth, you can sync your FuelBand data anytime by holding down the button on the band. Once the FuelBand is synchronised with the app, the app will then send all your data to your Nike+ account online.
The app also lets you keep track of your performance on a day-to-day basis, set your daily goal, configure which wrist you’re wearing the FuelBand on etc. The basic daily goal is 2,000 NikeFuel points, but you’d be hard pushed not to nail that bar staying in bed all day. Bump it up to 3,000 if you want to ensure you’re at least trying.
There’s a Friends tab in the app, but strangely it only lets you share with your Facebook friends – there’s no option to share over Twitter, and more bizarrely there’s no way to check on your Nike+ friends.
There’s a second Share option hidden on the Home screen of the app – swipe the screen upwards and it will be revealed along with your weekly target hit rate – here you can share your current NikeFuel score over Twitter, Facebook and Path.
For the most part the Nike+ FuelBand app is a pretty slick affair, and makes the FuelBand itself an even slicker device to live with.
Once you login to your Nike+ account online, you’ll be able to dig even deeper into your data. All of the functionality of the FuelBand app is repeated online, but your data and results are better visualised and more easily analysed.
Here you can measure how you’re doing and set yourself longer term goals on top of your daily NikeFuel goal. You can set yourself a NikeFuel target to hit over a specified number of weeks, or decide on number of calories you’d like to burn before a certain date – whatever goal you set, it’s just another way to challenge yourself and push that bit harder, which is definitely a good thing,
You can share your daily goals and achievements on Twitter or Facebook with a simple button press, and you can make friends with other Nike+ users too. Once you’ve made some friends, you can view how they’re doing each day and how they compare to you.
When you’re logged into the Nike+ website you can also see how you’ve been performing using other Nike+ devices, whether it’s the running app on your iPhone, the integrated Nike+ functionality on your iPod or even Nike+ Kinect on your Xbox. Anything in the Nike+ stable will earn you NikeFuel points.
Will it make you more active?
The FuelBand is a brilliant motivator, because it lives on your wrist all day, every day and needs very little effort to keep it up and running. Once you’re used to having that NikeFuel readout at your fingertip, you’ll find yourself checking your progress throughout the day and making sure that you hit your daily goal.
Once you start nailing those daily goals you’ll start a streak, and once you have a streak going, the last thing you want is for it to end. It’s a strange situation, when you’ve got a good streak going you feel compelled to keep active so you don’t lose it. Even if you’re stuck in bed with flu, you feel the urge to climb up and down the stairs a dozen times just to keep your streak going.
Putting my obsessive behaviour to one side, though, what the FuelBand does very well is make you realise that you’ve been sitting at your desk too long. If you happen to glance down at the FuelBand and note that the NikeFuel number is worryingly low, it’s probably a fair indication that you should take a stroll at lunchtime.
And when you’re counting on hitting that daily goal, you’ll find yourself taking the stairs more often than the lift, and you’ll almost certainly walk to work from the train station rather than catch the bus that isn’t really any faster anyway.
So what’s the bad news?
The bad news is that the FuelBand isn’t really very accurate. You see it’s basically just measuring footsteps, but it has no knowledge of whether your stride is short or long, and no idea of whether you’re walking slowly, briskly or even sprinting. It simply counts what it perceives to be a step and equates that into an estimate of burned calories.
Unfortunately that estimate of calories burned is pretty much just a finger in the air. It’s almost impossible to measure calories burned without knowledge of heart rate, and the FuelBand doesn’t measure heart rate. Without measuring heart rate the FuelBand has no idea how hard you’re working, and therefore no idea of what rate you’re burning calories.
The other problem with relying solely on a pedometer is that any exercise that doesn’t involve footsteps won’t be measured. So, if you decide to go for a 40-mile bike ride, as far as the FuelBand is concerned, you’ve been sitting on your backside doing nothing the whole time.
Another point worth noting is that because the FuelBand lives on your wrist, anyone who’s particularly animated with their hands when they talk is likely to be racking up FuelPoints even if they’re just chatting down the pub.
All that means that comparing your NikeFuel score to anyone else is pretty much pointless, because you have no idea how anyone else is behaving or using their device. If you’re comparing to someone who has a much longer stride than you, you’ll probably be registering more footsteps per day even though they could be walking further. And if you’re cycling 20-miles to work and back, but your mate is walking 15-minutes from the train station each way, he’ll be logged as more active by the FuelBand.
The FuelBand sometimes gets things wrong too. After 68 days of hitting my daily goal my FuelBand app told me that I had missed my goal and consequently ended my streak. Annoyingly on the day in question I’d racked up over 7,000 NikeFuel points and my daily target is only 3,000. But since there’s no way to correct a mistake like that I’ve had to start my streak from scratch, which is somewhat disheartening.
Your trophies mark your effort – they cover all your Nike+ gear, not just the FuelBand.
There’s one very important thing you need to realise about the FuelBand – the only person you can compare your performance to is you. Once you understand that it’s a great little tool. Once you’ve created a relative baseline for your own activity, it’s very easy to judge whether you’re having a good day or a bad one, and act accordingly.
The FuelBand isn’t something that you strap on before you exercise – I have a plethora of gear from the likes of Polar and Garmin for that – it’s a daily tracker that gives you a rough estimate of your activity, making it both accessible and fun along the way.
Yes it would be great if Nike could figure out a way to measure your heart rate, but I wouldn’t want to be wearing a chest strap all day, every day. Perhaps a second generation FuelBand could somehow pick up your heart rate from the pulse in your wrist – the fit would need to be pretty snug, with some built-in electrodes, but it would be great.
I’d also hope that the second generation device would be waterproof, since a device on your wrist could easily measure activity while swimming.
Ultimately, though, the FuelBand is a great addition to all the other fitness tech that I use. It has resided on my wrist for months and will continue to live there until I hit 2-million NikeFuel points and beyond.
- Comfortable to wear
- The iPhone app is great
- Nike+ website gives you loads of data to paw over
- Lets you track and compare your daily activity
- Encourages you to be more active
- No heart rate measurement
- Hard to compare accurately to others
- No Android app
- Relatively expensive