I have no shortage of activity trackers knocking around in my office. In fact, I probably have more trackers than I have wrists or pockets to put them in. But the one tracker that I’ve used religiously has been my Nike+ FuelBand. This has something to do with the fact that I actually bought my original FuelBand from the Nike store in San Francisco, but also because the Nike+ ecosystem works for me.
Since I also use the Nike+ Running App, as well as an Apple iPod with Nike+ Running built into it, the FuelBand fits into my regime perfectly, with all of the above tracking my activity, running and building on my collection of NikeFuel – I’m closing in on 2.5-million NikeFuel points as I write.
I would never have described the FuelBand as perfect, though. In fact, if you read my original Nike+ FuelBand review, you’ll see that I awarded it 8/10, with a few issues and missing features holding the device back. However, a couple of weeks ago the Nike+ FuelBand SE hit the streets, with the aim of building on the success of the original, while also dealing with the ever growing array of competitors.
What’s in the box?
The bundle isn’t much different from the original FuelBand. You can order the FuelBand SE in Small, Medium/Large and XL sizes, and I was sent the M/L version. There’s a decent degree of flexibility when it comes to sizing, since you get small and large extension links in the box – the perfect fit for my wrist is with no extension links at all.
As well as the band and the links, you also get a tool for removing the links, which was necessary, since the FuelBand SE shipped with the small extension link in situ.
There’s also a USB extension cable in the box, making it simple to plug the band in for charging and syncing duties, rather than having to fiddle around behind your PC trying to find a free USB port when you need one.
It’s also worth mentioning that the FuelBand SE comes in a variety of colours – black with yellow, black with pink, black with red, and black with black – I was sent the latter, which suited me just fine. Black will always be the new black in my book!
If you’re already using a Nike+ FuelBand, it’s simple to add your new FuelBand SE to the mix. But even if you’ve never used any of the Nike+ apps or websites, setting up the FuelBand SE is a simple procedure.
Plugging the FuelBand SE into your computer will allow you to charge it up, while also registering it on your Nike+ account. If you don’t have a Nike+ account, you’ll obviously have to create one first.
Once that’s done, you just need to download the app to your iPhone (there’s still no Android app), and pair your FuelBand SE with your handset. From that point onward, every step you take will be logged by your FuelBand and transmitted to your phone.
One of the key advantages of the FuelBand SE over its predecessor is Bluetooth 4.0 support. So, where you needed to hold the button on the old FuelBand in order to synchronise the data with your phone, the FuelBand SE is constantly connected to your phone, and your data will update automatically whenever you open the app.
Like most activity trackers, the FuelBand SE measures every step you take, and uses that data to estimate the amount of calories you’re burning. Of course it is just an estimate, because without more data – like constant heart rate measurement – it’s pretty hard to accurately count calories burned.
But unlike other activity trackers, Nike has created something different, something divergent from the obvious steps, calories and distance travelled. By creating NikeFuel points, the sporting goods giant has added a whole new dimension to your activity tracking, and given you another metric to measure yourself by.
Obviously the amount of NikeFuel you earn will depend on how active you are, but because it’s not something that’s based solely on steps taken, you can apply it to other pursuits. So, if you choose to use the Nike+ Running app, the distance you cover, as measured by the GPS in your phone, will be translated into NikeFuel points and added to your tally.
Your daily goal is measured in NikeFuel points, and so are many of the trophies you can earn. You’ll get trophies awarded for exceeding your daily goal by various multiples, while also wining trophies for the sheer amount of fuel you’ve earned in a day – it feels good to hit your first 8k or 10k day!
Of course if you’re used to judging your activity by counting steps, you can carry on doing that with the FuelBand SE, but you’ll be surprised how compelling earning NikeFuel becomes after just a few weeks with a FuelBand on your wrist.
Another new addition with the FuelBand SE is sessions. While most activity trackers just measure what you’re doing, whether that’s sitting around on the sofa or running a marathon, Nike has empowered FuelBand SE users with the ability to log specific activities.
To start a session you hold the button on the FuelBand SE down until the word “START” appears. You then release the button and press it again – this will initiate a three second countdown after which your session will start. Don’t worry about not telling the FuelBand what you’re about to do, since you can tag each session after the fact using the app or website.
The beauty of sessions is that it turns the FuelBand SE into more than just a pedometer, making it a more versatile activity tracker. For instance, the FuelBand SE does a very good job of tracking cycling sessions, allowing that 60km bike ride on a Saturday morning to count towards your NikeFuel total.
Keep in mind, however, that despite the sensitive accelerometer and impressive algorithms, the FuelBand SE still has limitations when it comes to the type of activity you’re undertaking. Whereas it can track real world cycling very well, sessions on stationary bikes aren’t so well catered for – but then, pretty much every other activity tracker out there would have the same issue.
If you’re a regular runner, though, the addition of sessions is brilliant. Not only does it log the length and intensity of your run, but it also breaks things down into the average amount of NikeFuel earned per minute – giving you another metric to measure yourself by.
The addition of sessions also allows you to track your sleep patterns with the FuelBand SE. This is a feature that much of the competition has been doing for a while, with the likes of the Withings Pulse and Fitbit One both tracking the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting.
While the FuelBand SE doesn’t have a dedicated sleep mode like other devices, if you start a session before you go to sleep, then end it when you wake up, you can tag that session as “sleeping” and see how long and how deep your sleep was.
Unfortunately my experience of tracking sleep with the FuelBand SE hasn’t been particularly successful. On many occasions I’ve found that my sleep session hasn’t been logged properly, often registering that I started the session and then stopped it immediately.
The problem appears to be tied to a session spanning two days, since I’ve never encountered an issue with any other type of session. Hopefully there will be a firmware update soon to deal with this, since sleeping well is just as important to your healthy lifestyle as being active during the day.
You can also share your sessions with your friends, so they can see when you’re being particularly active. Likewise, you can be notified when your friends start sessions of their own, in the hope that their activity will spur you on to do the same.
There’s a new app for that
Prior to the launch of the FuelBand SE, Nike completely revamped the FuelBand app. The good news about this overhaul is that it added a lot of new features for existing FuelBand users, as well as catering for the enhanced abilities of the new model.
The new app had its fair share of teething problems, and I found myself in constant contact with Nike support for the best part of a week when it rolled out. But, all those little wrinkles have been ironed out now, and the Nike support folk on Twitter did a brilliant job of addressing the issues raised by users during the transition.
One of the new features that the updated app brings to the table is winning hours. This is a clever addition to the FuelBand arsenal and encourages users to stay active throughout the day, rather than being sedentary for most of it, bar a big exercise session to hit your NikeFuel target.
To win an hour, you need to be active for at least five minutes of that hour, and the more hours you win, the more likely you’ll be rewarded with a new trophy for your cabinet. You can set the FuelBand SE to remind you to be active each hour, and even send a message to your phone to give you that extra push.
Obviously if you’re working at your desk all day, it’s hard to be active for hours on end, but when you do get those reminders, perhaps you can walk up a few flights of stairs, or just stretch your legs for a few minutes to get active and win another hour.
Another welcome addition to the app is a gauge of how well you’re doing throughout the day. Every time you open the app it will sync the data on your FuelBand SE automatically and tell you how well you’re doing compared to similar users, and how well you’re doing compared to your average NikeFuel count for that time on that particular day of the week.
Nike has thought hard about how to make the FuelBand ecosystem even more encouraging for users, and to push those users to be even more active, not just every day, but every hour of every day throughout the whole week.
There were a lot of rumours flying around suggesting that the FuelBand SE would include some kind of hear rate functionality, especially after the Withings Pulse launched with a spot heart rate sensor built into it, and the Polar Loop promised support for heart rate straps
Despite the incessant rumour mill that surrounds most technology products prior to launch, Nike chose not to equip the FuelBand SE with any form of heart rate measurement. On the one hand I’m slightly disappointed by that, but on the other, it’s the simplicity of the FuelBand that has made it such a success.
More surprising is the lack of any form of altimeter functionality. I had fully expected the second generation FuelBand to measure elevation, since climbing stairs or hills has a significant impact on your activity intensity, not to mention calories burned throughout the day.
Finally, I was hoping that Nike might have made the FuelBand SE properly waterproof, so that it could measure your activity while swimming. That said, only the Polar Loop professes to be waterproof for swimming, and to make the FuelBand waterproof would have required a complete redesign, rather than the update we have in the SE.
If you’re an existing FuelBand user, the question of whether to upgrade to a FuelBand SE is a tricky one. Because Nike has made many of the new features available to existing FuelBand users, the need to upgrade isn’t as compelling as it could have been. But make no mistake, Nike should be applauded for this, since providing new functionality to its existing user base, rather than forcing them to upgrade is a good thing.
And let’s not forget that the FuelBand SE is, essentially, the new Nike FuelBand. It has completely replaced the older version, and costs exactly the same amount as the model it replaces. So, for anyone who’d been thinking about buying a FuelBand anyway, the SE provides a more advanced, more feature rich experience at no extra cost.
As a long-term FuelBand user, I really like the new device for a couple of key reasons. First and foremost is the addition of sessions, which makes it a far better activity tracker for anyone that’s serious about their training.
Second, the Bluetooth 4.0 support means that you don’t have to manually sync your FuelBand anymore, so anytime you check the app it will have your latest stats displayed. The low-power Bluetooth also means that the battery life is improved – I’m getting about five days’ use out of a full charge, which is about a day more than I got from my old FuelBand.
When it comes to features, though, the Withings Pulse still has the FuelBand SE beaten, but its less convenient form factor sets it back a pace or two. For me, an activity tracker needs to be a wristband to ensure that I have it with me at all times.
There are other options out there such as the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone up – both of which I’ve tested and will be reviewing soon – but neither of those devices has an integrated display. The fact that you don’t have to get your phone out every time you want to check your progress is a major plus for the FuelBand.
It’s also worth remembering that Nike has designed the FuelBand to be incredibly easy to charge and sync, thanks to a full-size USB connecter being built into the device. While other activity trackers need proprietary cables for charging, the FuelBand SE can plug directly into any USB port.
Nike’s updated FuelBand still isn’t perfect, and there are some features that I’d like to see added to the next model. Right now, though, I do feel that the FuelBand SE has the best balance of form, features, functionality and flexibility.
- Great design & fit
- Variety of colours
- Bluetooth 4.0 support
- Sessions feature is excellent
- Well implemented companion app
- NikeFuel is fun to collect
- Nike Running app also uses NikeFuel
- Win the hour is a great motivator
- Improved battery life
- Lots of trophies to win
- Share with friends & groups
- Works with a variety of activities
- Comprehensive on-device display
- Integrated USB connector
- Can double as your wristwatch
- No altimeter
- No heart rate measurement
- It’s still not waterproof
- Sits at the expensive end of the market
- No Android app
- No food tracking in the app
- Sleep tracking doesn’t always work