You could say that FitBit kicked off the fitness gadget craze. But like most pioneers, the masses followed, and since the first FitBit appeared four years ago, companies like Nike and Motorola have begun making their own fitness gadgets. They not only measure steps and calories burnt, but also integrate with mobile apps.
Today FitBit has announced its plan to reclaim the market with its new FitBit Zip. The Zip is smaller than the previous version, yet still tracks your steps, distance, and calories burned, has Bluetooth to pair with phones, and is also now splash- and rainproof.
It joins the new FitBit One. Oh, and it's only $59.99.
"What is that thing? It's so cute." That's the reaction I have heard from many as I've been wearing the Zip for the last three weeks. About the size of a piece of Godiva chocolate (1.4 x 1.1 x 3.8 inches), the Zip could be easy to misplace on its own but it comes in a matching rubber holder with a clip, which makes it very easy to attach and conceal in your clothes. The .28-ounce device didn't bother me when I clipped it to my bra strap at the gym or to my jeans, though the hot pink version I was sent made it harder to hide. It comes in four other colors -- white, black, lime, pink, and royal blue.
On the front of the little device is a tiny monochrome screen that makes it look a lot like the Tamagotichi toys from the 1990s. The display shows the time, steps you've taken, distance you've gone, and a smiley face (more on that soon). You can tap the screen to rotate through the stats, though because it is a resistive display you have to tap fairly hard (harder than you'd tap on your phone). The screen is easy to see outdoors and in light, but unlike the previous version, it doesn't have a backlight so checking the time or your progress in the dark is a no-go.
As a fitness tracker, the Zip works very much like the previous FitBit. Every night at midnight it clears its memory and tracks your steps, distance, and calories for the next 24 hours. You don't ever have to plug it in to sync it with your FitBit.com account (you did with older FitBits). If you have the iPhone app you will be able to pair the device via Bluetooth. If you prefer to sync it with your computer, the Zip comes with a small USB dongle; plug it in to a computer, download the software, and it will sync everything directly to the web portal.
The web portal provides more ways to look at your recorded fitness data than you will probably care to look at. With graphs and charts, you can see your steps, calories, distance traveled on a daily basis or over time, and you can adjust that all to your liking.
I particularly liked seeing how many calories I burned some days in comparison to others, though after a week of sitting at a computer for most of the day I didn't love seeing how much of my time is spent being "sedentary." You can also set a goal for how many steps you'd like to take each week and it will display how close you are to meeting that goal.
And that brings me back to that little smiley face on the device. The more active you are, the happier the face becomes. I found it to be cheesier than the previous FitBit's growing flower and the Nike Fuelband's bracelet, which tells you how many points you have for the day, but it's easy enough to ignore.
The FitBit app for the iPhone and Android makes it very easy to pair the Zip with your phone and you can easily sync it by tapping the refresh button within the app. Beyond displaying information from your Zip, you can reset your daily goals, share your progress, and log your food and water intake within the app. Because it uses low-power Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to the phone, FitBit says you should be able to sync the device with your phone multiple times on a daily basis without draining the battery of the phone or the device. The Zip holds a small circular battery, which lasts 4 to 6 months. You can check the battery level in the app and on Fitbit's website; after three weeks of use, the battery on my review unit still reads full.
Smiley face aside, I found the Zip to be just as motivational as the previous FitBit Ultra. I found myself checking the number of steps I'd taken often in hope of beating my 10,000-step daily goal and even walking more to rack up the steps. If personal competition isn't enough for you, you can also compete against your friends and watch how you compare to them on the FitBit Leaderboard.
There are some things the Zip doesn't have. FitBit is saving them for the new $99.95 FitBit One, which will have a stairs-climbed counter, sleep tracking capabilities, and a silent alarm that vibrates you to wake you. But if you are looking for a simple fitness tracker that's easier to conceal than others from Nike or Motorola and now has mobile integration, the Zip is worth the $60. And now it's once again a few steps ahead of the competition.