Fitbit Flex – A Usability Test

Equipment: Fitbit Flex with Firmware version 64 and associated IOS App

Background and Context:
If you’re ever considering buying me a present combining my interests of sport and technology will ensure a rapturous response from yours truly. Therefore when I was presented with a Fitbit Flex wristband just over a week ago I was more than a little overjoyed. The wristband is made of a very flexible rubbery-type material with a small rigid area that houses the “processor and data pack”. It is lighter than a watch and could easily pass as one, which makes me wonder why they didn’t include a basic digital read out.

I stopped wearing a watch several years ago, so there is no space contention on my left wrist; however, I suspect watch wearers would simply wear it on their other wrist. As part of the initial setup I selected my non-preferred wrist for placement. Setup also entailed entering my age, height, weight and sex. Technical/help data is available on the product website – this will be tested at a later date.

My initial tests focus on the Usability of the wristband; I have also assigned a score to each feature, so that I have a benchmark for future tests. These initial tests have been conducted both indoors and outdoors (under warm/sunny and rainy/cold conditions). The following tests were conducted on an ad-hoc basis.

Usability Test 1: Fixing the wristband onto my non-preferred (left) wrist
In short, it’s a real pain… The clasp is metallic and quite stiff, requiring my left wrist to perform several contortions and my right-hand fingers to slip between the device and my wrist in order to secure it. On the plus side – it won’t accidentally fall off!! There is definitely room for improvement in the clasp design and attachment/detachment operation.

Score: 3/10

Usability Test 2: The Step Tracker
The Step Tracker counts how many steps I take each day – or does it? To date, I have noticed one significant anomaly – I was playing a card game the other night and my Step Count increased by almost a thousand during this time – even though I remained seated for the entire game. A similar game the following night also caused my Step Count to increase, but not so significantly – maybe I was dealing slower or perhaps my cards weren’t as good and my heart rate was lower – more Testing is definitely required for this feature…..

Score: 4/10

Usability Test 3: The Activity Monitor
Since I first wore the wristband I have played tennis (twice), badminton, golf and been on a fairly tough bike ride. NONE of these activities registered (consistently) as “active minutes” – some of the time (approximately 5%) was identified as active but that’s all. Now, I can accept that golf is not too strenuous on my body but the tennis, badminton and (especially) the bike ride were at times quite strenuous. I have a separate App to monitor my bike rides and based upon an average speed of 25kph for a very hilly course I’d say I was definitely active.

The free App that accompanies the wristband interprets all the data collected and syncs whenever the App is open. In fact, the most impressive feature I’ve witnessed so far is the simultaneous interaction between the wristband and my iPhone, with the App logging my steps in real-time as I walked through a shopping centre the other day. The Bluetooth connectivity is certainly effective.

My current assessment of the Activity Monitor is that it needs further detailed analysis and possibly some tweeking on my part.

Score: 4/10

Usability Test 4: The Sleep Analyser
I have slept for 8 nights since first wearing the wristband overnight and without fail it seems to know when I am sleeping – even if I drop off in front of the TV (while still in the sitting position). It also knows when I have woken up in the morning – probably because I’ve changed from a prone to sitting position. Either way, the sensor to identify whether I am awake or asleep seems to be functioning without a problem.

The second part of this test is reviewing my sleep quality. The App converts the data from the wristband into sleep, restlessness and wakefulness. To date I cannot dispute this data; however, I was expecting a little more detailed analysis as I have been trialling another (stand-alone) App called Sleep Time and this also captures the quality of my sleep. I have performed a one night comparison check of the two Apps and the data does seem to be consistent; however, more analysis is required.

Score: 5/10

All the other features (Calorie burn rate, calories eaten, weight tracker and liquid intake monitor) rely significantly on human intervention and therefore have not been included in this initial test.

I am still getting to know this shining new addition to my wellbeing kitbag. Even though my scores are quite low I am very happy with the wristband from the perspective of the information it is capturing – even if it is sometimes optimistic on the Step Tracker front!! I am certainly going to continue to use the wristband for the foreseeable future. I plan to perform and report another series of tests in about 6 to 8 weeks.

Overall Score: 5/10

On Sunday May 4 my Fitbit Flex stopped logging my activity and to date I have not been able to resolve the issue(s). After an extensive search I found no phone number to call for HELP and therefore I took the device back to where my wife bought it. The sales guy told me that he had sold around 50 of these devices and roughly 40 had been returned with issues!! No contest – give it up. What did he recommend?

I have replaced my Fitbit Flex with a Jawbone UP 24. I am already far more comfortable with my new lifestyle tracker – formal Testing to follow soon….

Updated: Thursday May 8 2014


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