Fitbug Orb

The Fitbug Orb is packed full of features, but there’s one aspect of this activity tracker that really stands out – the price. At £45 the Orb represents amazing value for money, and if cost has been your excuse for not investing in an activity tracker, you can put that excuse to bed.

The Fitbug Orb looks to be the ideal way to kick start a healthier lifestyle – it’s affordable, versatile and measures just about everything. There’s a decent online portal along with a smartphone app, and unlike earlier Fitbug products, you don’t need to pay a monthly subscription.

What’s in the box?

You get a pretty decent bundle with the Orb considering its bargain price. As well as the Orb itself Fitbug supplies a very sturdy belt clip that will keep the device safe no matter how hard you’re running. The Orb sits very snugly within the clip too, so once it’s in place, it’s not going anywhere.

There’s also a wristband that keeps the orb just as secure as the belt clip. The wristband gives you the option of wearing the Orb in the same manner that you would a Nike+ FuelBand or Fitbit Flex (full review coming soon).

Fitbug Orb

The good thing about wearing an activity tracker on your wrist is that you’re far less likely to forget to wear it. That said, the Orb does make a more bulky addition to your arm than the devices from Nike and Fitbit.

Fitbug has also thrown a lanyard into the box in case you want to wear the Orb around your neck, and of course let’s not forget that you can simply carry it in your pocket.

What you won’t find in the box is any type of charging cable, and there’s a reason for that…

Getting started

Unlike the majority of activity trackers out there, the Fitbug Orb doesn’t have a rechargeable battery built into it. Instead the Orb uses a lithium cell that Fitbug estimates is good for around six months of use.

In some respects this is a smart move, since it means that you don’t have to remember to charge the Orb every few days like you do with other activity trackers, and since you’re regularly syncing your data, it’s not like you’ll lose anything when you do have to change the battery.

On the other hand, though, if you do run out of juice and don’t have a battery to hand, you could find your tracking stalls until you get your hands on a new lithium cell.

Once you’ve installed the supplied cell, you need to pair the Orb with your smartphone, but before you can do that, you have to sign up for a Fitbug account. This is a relatively painless experience, and is pretty similar to the procedure you go through for any other activity tracker.

Fitbug-Web-Portal-1

One nice touch with the Fitbug account registration is that it takes you through a health assessment, which involves a series of questions about your lifestyle and current state of health. As long as you’re honest with your answers, this is a great way to determine a benchmark on which to base your health and fitness programme going forward.

The health assessment isn’t without its foibles though. Upon stating that I don’t drink alcohol, the next question demanded to know how many units of alcohol I consume, and it wouldn’t let me proceed until I’d ticked a number. It’s a small annoyance, but one that spoils an otherwise worthy aspect of the Fitbug experience.

When you’ve finished registering your account you can then download the app to your smartphone and pair the Orb. The pairing process went smoothly enough, but although the app promises to regularly synchronise with the Orb in the background using Bluetooth 4.0, I found that this simply didn’t happen. In order to sync my data I always had to press the button on the Orb.

Get tracking

The Fitbug Orb is designed to track all of your activity, day and night. During the day it will measure your steps and equate that activity to calories burned. The Orb can also differentiate between you ambling along gently and when you’re pushing on a bit.

Fitbug App 1

When you’re being active, the Orb will log those steps as “aerobic steps” much like the “very active minutes” that the Fitbit One logs. You can even set a separate goal for your aerobic steps and your general step total for the day. Of course the Orb, like the Fitbit devices, can’t tell when you’re actually running as opposed to walking – the Withings Pulse is the only activity tracker I’ve tested with that particular trick up its sleeve.

The Orb will also track your sleep, logging how long it took you to fall asleep, how long you slept for, and whether you woke up during the night. It even breaks down how many times you woke up and the number of minutes you were awake during each instance. What you don’t get is a differentiation between light and deep sleep, which both Fitbit and Withings supply.

There’s no denying that the Orb tracks a lot of activity considering its price, but unfortunately it doesn’t track particularly accurately. Today the Orb has logged 6,973 steps, while my Fitbit Flex has logged 12,445 steps and my Nike+ FuelBand has logged 12,451 steps.

If you’re thinking that perhaps the Orb is accurate and the other two are wrong, you should consider a couple of points. First, the Flex and FuelBand have logged near identical step counts, making it difficult to accept that they are both wrong. Second, I ran 10km at lunchtime, so there’s no way that I’ve only taken 6,973 steps today! By the Orb’s calculation, my running stride must be close to 2m, and I can assure you that it isn’t.

I’ve tried positioning the Orb in different ways – in my pocket, clipped to my waistband, in the wristband etc. – but regardless of position, it maintains its significant underreporting of my activity.

The only saving grace for the Orb’s tracking is that it’s consistently wrong, which means that the data can still be relatively valuable, since it’s still giving you a consistent measure of your activity. So, you’ll still be able to get a picture of whether you’ve been lazy or active, since each day will be relatively accurate compared with previous days.

Smartphone app

Unlike most other activity trackers, there’s no way to directly connect the Orb to you computer, which means that the only way to synchronise your data is via the smartphone app.

There’s no USB connectivity, whether proprietary or standard, so that Bluetooth 4.0 connection is your only option. There is a Bluetooth dongle available that will allow you to sync directly with your computer, but that will set you back another £10 – Fitbit bundles such a dongle with its devices.

Fitbug App Sleep 1

So, out of the box your only option is smartphone or tablet syncing, and even then you’re somewhat limited. The Fitbug app will run on iOS devices from the iPhone 4S upward, but Android support is limited to just a handful of Samsung models, and even those must be running version 4.2 or above.

Of course you could argue that the Nike+ FuelBand app isn’t available on Android at all, but you could counter that argument with the fact that you can plug the FuelBand directly into any computer’s USB port to sync your data.

The app itself is very nicely presented though, with a monochromatic, minimalist design. It’s split into various tabs showing daily activity, history, goals, sleep, device and settings. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, and have their own sub-screens that break down the information logically.

Strangely, there’s no landscape mode to the app, though. With other apps for devices like the Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit Flex or Withings Pulse, rotating your phone into a landscape aspect will change the way data is presented, and even offer a completely different view – not so with the Fitbug app.

I was also quite surprised at what you can’t do with the app. The dashboard screen of the app will show your activity, as well as the amount of calories you’ve consumed. However, you can’t actually log your food intake via the app, you need to login to the website to do that.

This is a major issue, because if you’re going to have a food diary and log what you’re eating, you want to have that functionality in your phone, because your phone is with you all the time. It’s also worth noting that the Fitbit app does allow this functionality.

You can also log specific activities that make up your exercise regime, but again, these can only be logged through the website and not the app, turning what could be a comprehensive health and lifestyle diary into a frustrating experience.

Conclusion

On paper, the Fitbug Orb looks like the bargain of the century when it comes to activity trackers. With that headline price of only £45, it’s significantly cheaper than any other device with similar features and abilities. But when you dig a little deeper it soon becomes apparent that, as is often the case, you get what you pay for.

Fitbug Orb

My biggest disappointment with the Orb is that it simply doesn’t count your steps accurately, and that’s a pretty major shortcoming in a device that’s essentially a smart pedometer. It’s true that once you set a baseline and compare your results only to yourself, this isn’t as big a problem as it might seem, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Orb should be far more accurate than it is.

But that’s not the Orb’s only issue; it also doesn’t function as it should. During the weeks I’ve been using it I haven’t once seen the device background sync to my iPhone, despite the fact that I have it configured to do so. Even manual syncing doesn’t always work – often when I press the sync button nothing happens, and I’m left with a solid green light for a minute or so, stopping me from trying again until it goes out.

Then there’s the inability to log food or exercise from within the app, which seems totally bizarre considering that you can do so easily through the website. And the fact that you can’t sync via your computer without buying the Bluetooth USB dongle exacerbates the limited smartphone support, especially for Android users.

But despite all those gripes, I still have to admit that Fitbug has created a potential bargain in the shape of the Orb, especially for anyone wanting to dip their toe in the activity tracker waters without spending too much.

If Fitbug can roll out a firmware update that fixes the accuracy issues, and updates the app to allow the kind of functionality it should have had from the start, the Orb will be well on the way to being a decent device. Right now though, I’d recommend spending a bit more on a Fitbit One.

Score: 6/10 7/10

Pros:

  • Very low price
  • Packed with features
  • Monitors sleep
  • Decent web portal
  • Wristband & belt clip bundled

Cons:

  • Step tracking simply isn’t accurate
  • Activating stride extender is horrendously convoluted
  • Poor setup instructions
  • No direct syncing with a computer
  • Limited Android support
  • Non-rechargeable battery
  • Smartphone app won’t log food or exercise
  • Background syncing doesn’t work
  • Can’t detect light / deep sleep
  • Manual sync doesn’t always work

Price: £45

Manufacturer: Fitbug

Update: I was contacted by Fitbug regarding the accuracy of the device that I tested. Fitbug was concerned about the significant under-reporting, and asked if I had set the stride length correctly, which I had. I was then asked if I had used the stride extender feature when I was running, which I hadn’t. The reason I hadn’t used the stride extender feature, is that there was no mention of it, or what it does on the Fitbug Orb setup page. Apparently  the stride extender setting should be used whenever you run with the Orb, allowing it to accurately track your steps at a higher intensity.

Having now tried the Orb with the stride extender activated at the appropriate times, I can confirm that the step tracking is significantly more accurate than it first appeared. In fact, a fairly active day, including about 5km of brisk walking and a 10km run resulted in the Orb being within 150 steps of the Nike+ FuelBand SE, and within 100 steps of the Jawbone up – indicating that all the devices were reporting roughly the same activity.

Fitbug has promised to update the setup page to include information about the stride extender feature, as well as information about how to set your stride length. Interestingly, that information does exist on the page instructing you on how to setup the Orb using the USB Bluetooth dongle, but since that doesn’t come in the box, I didn’t bother reading that page, choosing to read the app setup page instead.

I’m still not completely happy with the way the Fitbug Orb handles itself, though. You see to enable the stride extender you need to open the app, go to devices, select your paired Orb, select device setup, the hold down the button on the Orb until the yellow light appears, select stride extender on the app, then save your settings. The Orb is now ready for you to go running, but you’ll need to repeat that entire procedure after your run to turn stride extender off!

Despite that convoluted and clumsy procedure for maintaining accuracy when you’re running or not, I have decided to increase the Orb’s overall score to 7/10 since it’s tracking accuracy, or lack of, was one of my major gripes with the device. In fact, I still believe that if Fitbug could improve its setup instructions, update the app to be more intuitive, and perhaps have a button press combination to switch stride extender on and off, the Orb could be a great bargain price activity tracker. Let’s hope that Fitbug is working on all that and more…