May 23, 2013 -- Most days my exercise consists of getting up from my desk to go to a meeting or walk from the subway to the office. For the most part it's my typing-fingers that get the biggest workout.
But since I've been testing two new fitness bands that has changed. Sure, the motivation of bathing suit season has also helped, but I've been getting up more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and even getting out to the gym or park for a run.
Earlier this month Fitbit released the Flex, a $100 wristband that tracks your steps, distance and calories burned. Sound familiar? It's a lot like the $130 Jawbone Up, which was introduced in November. Both bracelets have the same goal – to get you up, moving and keep track of that movement – but they have some major differences.
So which one would I buy after wearing both of them on my wrist for the last few weeks? Here's what I've found in my test run.
Both the Up and the Flex are like souped-up pedometers. The idea with these trackers is that you wear them all day long – yes, even while you sleep and shower. Both are water resistant.
Since they are visible at all times, design couldn't be any more important. The Flex comes in a selection of colors, including black, bright orange and navy blue. It's very simple looking, with the only indicator on it being a series of small lights. Tap twice on the thicker part of the light bracelet, where the small tracker is embedded, and you can see how far you are into your progress for the day.
It looks cool, yes, but it's a bit of a disappointment when it comes to putting it on. Or at least when try and put it on. The clasp on the bracelet is extremely hard to close.
The Jawbone Up, however, doesn't have those issues; the bracelet doesn't have a clasp and easily slides on your hand. It's also more stylish than the Flex and comes in a range of colors, including black, teal, blue, red and more. That style is a good and a bad thing: it's nicer looking, but also more noticeable than the Flex. There's also only a small indicator on it that tells you if it is in active mode or sleep mode.
Still, when it comes to design, the Jawbone is definitely my preferred choice.
Performance and Syncing
But these aren't meant to be jewelry, of course. The whole point of wearing the bracelets is to tell you more about your activity. Both the Up and the Flex sync with Android phones and iPhones to tell you what you did today – how many steps you've taken, distance you've gone and how many calories you've burned. If you sleep with it on you can track how long you've been out for.
With both of the gadgets you can set goals – how many steps you want to take a day – and then it will congratulate you when you hit that goal. That's the part that motivates you to move. Just knowing that I have a goal of 10,000 steps a day has made me want to get off one subway station earlier to walk home or take the stairs.
The FitBit Flex pairs with your phone and computer wirelessly. Just set it up to wirelessly sync and the software will take care of ingesting your activity information and organizing it into pretty charts and graphs. You can even see how your friends are doing if you have chosen to add them to your FitBit network.
The Jawbone Up does a lot of the same, but with two major downsides. You have to plug the bracelet into your phone to sync and it doesn't have a computer syncing capability. Take the cap off one end of the bracelet and plug the headphone jack into your iPhone or Android phone -- the data will transfer over to the app.
The lack of Mac or PC support and the fact that you have to plug it in every time to sync are the Up's major drawbacks, especially when you've used trackers like the FitBit One, which actually has a screen on it to show you how many steps you've taken. (Nike's Fuelband bracelet, which came out almost two years ago, has a screen on it, but the battery only lasts two or three days.) It's like living in the dark all day long about your progress. On the other hand, when compared with the Fitbit app, the Up's app is much more visually compelling. There is a stream of your activity and the look and graphics are more inviting.
Tracking Food and Sleep
In addition to monitoring your activity, you can also use the Up and Fitbit apps to track your food intake. It requires you to put in what you eat, but both apps have a database of meals and snacks with some caloric information about them. The Up app really shines here again, with photos of the food and charts about the calories.
There's one aspect of your life the gadgets track: your sleep. Both have sleep mode settings that can tell you more about what you do when you're out at night. You get information about how long you slept for and how many times you woke up. The Up provides more detailed information though, with details on how long you were in deep sleep. Both also have a built-in alarm; the bracelets shake to wake you up. Both bands last close to a week on a charge.
The Jawbone Up and the Flex are solid fitness trackers with some interesting tricks, but neither is perfect. While I like the hardware and app design of the Up, I much prefer the Flex for its wireless syncing capabilities. But even then, after a few weeks with them both, I found that I prefer a device that I can conceal – like the Fitbit One or Fitbit Zip. Neither bracelet matched my outfit when I went out for a nice dinner.
Still, both these trackers should do the trick of getting you up from behind the desk. Although, some say you do burn around 100 calories an hour just by typing.