FitBit Flex – It’s Hardware, It’s Software, It’s Perfect

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The hardest part of reviewing the FitBit Flex was trying to decide if this was a hardware review or a software review. Having used one for six months, we’re still not sure what the best answer is. I never purchased the FitBit Flex to be an activity tracker, to help with weight loss or to track my sleep habits. I bought the FitBit Flex because I was looking for a way to get up in the morning without needing to use a clock radio or the alarm on my iPhone. As it turns out, I got much more than I thought I would.

The Hardware

The hardware that makes up the FitBit Flex is pretty straight-forward. In the box are two sizes of rubberized wrist bands. The small wristband will fit a wrist between 5.5 – 6.9 inches (or 140 – 176 mm). The large wristband will fit a wrist between 6.3 – 8.2 inches (or 161-209 mm). Both wristbands are .06 inches (or 13.99 mm) wide. The bands are closed by using a double pronged metal pin that aligns with the 9 matching holes in the wristband to give plenty of adjustment options for the wearer. In the first few days of use we found it a little difficult to get the pins in to the desired holes but after about a week of use that became much easier.

The heart of the FitBit Flex is a small module that gets inserted into a matching cavity on the underside of the band. The module contains a 3-axis accelerometer that measures your steps taken and converts that to your calories burned and distance traveled. It also measures your sleep quality and contains a vibration motor that can be used as user defined alarms. There are 5 white LEDs that are used to provide feedback to the wearer, with each LED representing 20% of the daily goal set. The module aligns with a small plastic window embedded into the wrist band to make readout easy to see. The module is a sealed unit and there are no switch, buttons to push, or anything else to do. It just silently works all the time. FitBit says the device is water resistant and can be submerged up to 10 meters but we haven’t tried that yet

Also in the box is a small USB syncing dongle that plugs into your computer to connect the FitBit Flex to the software and a short USB charging cable which can plug into the USB port on your computer or a standard USB wall charger like the iPhone charger.

The FitBit Flex module contains, what must be, a very small Lithium-Polymer battery which is rated for five days of use and our experience proves that to be very accurate, due in large part to use of Low Energy Bluetooth.

The FitBit Flex tracks the most recent seven days of detailed, minute-by-minute data as well as your daily total for the past 30 days. While we can’t image that you would ever go that long without syncing the device to your computer or phone (more on that in a minute), it’s nice to know that you have plenty of time before you have to be concerned about it.

You get a readout from the FitBit Flex by tapping on the wrist band just below the LED window. Two or three taps will illuminate the LEDs which flash across all five and then light up to show your progress. Solid LEDs represent 20% milestones and the flashing LED means you are working towards that goal. So, if you have a daily goal of 10,000 steps and see two solid and one flashing LED, you know that you have walked more than 4,000 steps but less than 6,000. That is certainly close enough for a quick check with more detail available from the software. At the end of the day, a few more taps puts the unit into sleep mode and it will record your sleep quality, providing a graphical representation of how many times you were restless during the night and how many times you were awake. The information certainly doesn’t qualify as an official sleep study but provides interesting information to help guide you towards getting more rest.

The Software

The desktop software is available on-line only but is a quick download. It requires a Mac running OS X 10.5 and up, a USB port for the dongle and an Internet connection. You can use a variety of browsers as it supports Safari 5.0.5 and up, Firefox 3.6.18 and up and Chrome 12 and up.

Set up of the Flex was pretty straight forward and took about 5 minutes on my MacBook Pro. The FitBit web site and dashboard are straightforward and easy to use and steps you through the entire process. There really is no learning curve for the Flex as it’s three easy steps.

  • Step 1 – Activate the Flex using the FitBit web site.
  • Step 2 – Place the FitBit Flex into the appropriate size wristband and place it on your wrist
  • Step 3 – There is no Step 3.

What could be easier?

After the initial set up we downloaded the FitBit app from the App Store which was equally easy to set up as it basically self discovers the device on your wrist.

The app provides all of the information you would want during the day like steps taken, miles walked and calories burned. You also have the ability to add calories eaten using the included food database, which then provides an estimate of how many more calories you have left for the day.

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The app allows you to track exercise and calculates active minutes and calories burned. Activities like walking, running and hiking use the GPS of the iPhone to track your actual route and display it on the screen. Other activities can be added manually. Would were disappointed that an activity like biking did not provide the same GPS functionality but the FitBit Flex does partner with numerous other fitness applications like, “My Fitness Pal”and “MapMyRide” as well as “Lose It” and “Weight Watchers”.

The FitBit Flex also partners with numerous other fitness applications like, “My Fitness Pal”, “Lose It” and “Weight Watchers”.

How It Works

The real power of the FitBit Flex is not what it does but how it does it. At its simplest, the Flex estimates your steps taken, active minutes, calories burned and (if you use the software) your calories consumed. It’s all pretty basic and I think many of the competing activity bands on the market would do the same thing. The real power of the FitBit line of products, including the Flex, is the psychology of activity tracking they instill in the user. Their software helps keep you motivated and pushes you to do more (but in a nice way), to help you reach your goal.

I have struggled to lose weight for years and tried to do, what I thought, were all the right things. I belong to a gym, watched what I ate, rode a bike occasionally and felt I was fairly active. In spite of that, over the years, I have watch my weight steadily climb. It seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the weight from adding up.

It wasn’t until I started to use the Flex that things started to change. My ability to track how active I really was and pay close attention to what I was eating, made things different. Not only has that, but the casual encouragement that the FitBit software provides really helped. The ability to “earn badges” seemed silly at first but getting an email to say that I had reached another goal (even a goal you had no idea you were going for) provides the positive reinforcement many people need to keep making progress.

Some people complain that the FitBit Flex is not accurate in the steps you take, the calories you burn, etc. While I can’t say they are completely wrong, I do think the FitBit Flex does a very good job of knowing when I am walking and when I am just moving my arms while standing still. I admit I tried a couple of times to add on a few fake steps by swinging my arms but the Flex knew better. Likewise, while on the elliptical trainer at the gym, keeping my arms still while exercising continues to add the appropriate steps to my total. That said, I think their criticism misses the point. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I take 8,629 steps or 8,296 steps a day. What I really care about is did I meet my goal of 10,000 steps a day? If I burned 2,300 calories and consumed 4,000, I didn’t have a good day.

I think there is a reason FitBit is the industry leader with almost 25% of the activity band market. Their products get results. On April 11, 2015, when I put the FitBit Flex on for the first time I weighed 241lbs. Today I weigh 216. That’s a 25 pound weight loss. I am more than certain I could not have done that without using the Flex.

The Bottom Line

Buying a FitBit Flex will not cause you to lose weight. It takes a commitment to use the Flex as a tool to make the weight loss happen. But if you are looking for something to keep you motivated, at a reasonable price, and are willing to commit to your success, you would be well served to look at the FitBit Flex as your fitness partner.

The FitBit Flex has an MSRP of $99.00 and is available at Amazon, and other fine retailers.

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