A modern health tracker needs to have two features, aside from standard pedometer chops, to really stand out from the pack. These are wireless syncing with smartphones over Bluetooth, and support for both iOS and Android devices. Thankfully the Fitbit Force can tackle both tasks, though only partially.
Like the Flex, One, and Zip, the Force enjoys a full wireless link to iPhone 4S models on up, which run iOS 7. That means the Force will harness Bluetooth 4.0 to sync activity data in the background (without you having to command it) to your handset and then up to Fitbit servers living in the cloud. Additionally, the Fitbit app has the power to push software updates to the tracker automatically.
Fitbit also expects the Force to channel caller ID data from iPhones to its screen in the near future. Since this function wasn't active when I took the device for a spin, I didn't have the opportunity to give it a try. Another letdown is that the feature, called "smart call notifications," is planned only for iOS products.
Also unfortunate is that on the Android side of the house, the Fitbit application only enables wireless syncing with a select few Samsung products. These include the Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note 2. Other Android gadgets, however, can download the Fitbit app from the Google Play store and use most of its other abilities. Bluetooth communication between the phone and the tracker is off limits, however.
A pedestrian pedometer it's not
The Force takes advantage of Fitbit's deep analytical tools and product ecosystem to paint a more complete picture of your health and fitness lifestyle. Specifically the mobile application, and companion Web site, provide a "Food Plan" section where you can log meals along with their associated calorie count. You can then plot this data against the calories you've powered through based on real-time telemetry the Force collects.
Another piece of the puzzle is Fitbit's Aria Wi-Fi scale, which senses your individual weight, BMI, and percentage body fat every time you step on it. Linked to your home network, the Aria then transmits this info to Fitbit's online database to populate your account with fresh stats.
The Fitbit system has a degree of gamification built into it as well. Users are rewarded with badges for step and stair-climbing achievements and the like. You can also friend other Fitbit users, taunt and cheer each other, and compete with them for activity dominance
My experience using the Fitbit Force has so far been a positive one. The device is light enough not to notice on my wrist, and its relative small size compared with other more conventional watch-style products makes it a cinch to wear around the clock.
One aspect I don't love about the Force is how much effort it takes to clasp its strap shut. Like the Flex before it, the Force uses two metal pegs that you must push through corresponding holes in its wristband. Similar to my troubles with the Flex, often I really had to jam the Force's pegs downward.
Sometimes I thought the strap was securely attached only to discover that Force was about to unhinge or had popped off altogether. With the Fitbit Force correctly strapped, though, it did stay firmly in place. To be fair, Fitbit explained that my Force test unit was preproduction, so hopefully the shipping models won't be so tricky to strap together.
On my daily travels around New York City streets, up and down subway stairs, and chasing my toddlers around, I found that the Force tracked my activities accurately enough. I didn't notice any odd behavior such as steps earned for wrist-heavy activities like drinking beers or washing dishes.
Lesser trackers have failed in these areas in the past, specifically the Nike FuelBand and more recent Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The Force wasn't phased, either, when I pushed shopping carts or strollers around, a hand-stable activity that can fool lesser pedometers.
The Fitbit Force's battery life is acceptably long as well. The company claims the Force's rechargeable battery provides a runtime of 7 to 10 days, the same as the Flex. That seems in line with what I've seen so far. After fully charging the gadget, I've been up and running with the Force for a full six days with the most recent battery status level reading at "medium."
I also had no trouble linking the Force to my Samsung Galaxy S4 wirelessly, and neither did CNET editor Scott Stein to his iPhone 5S test phone. In both cases we were able to sync data automatically and update the Force to new firmware via Bluetooth.
In a nutshell, the $130 Fitbit Force is the best all-around fitness tracker I've ever used. In addition to being light and comfortable to wear for extended periods, the Force's display delivers the activity stats found on Fitbit's earlier clip-on gadgets. Toss in the time and its soon-to-be-added call notification functionality, and the Force is enough of a "smartwatch" to be useful without suffering the feature-itis of the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
The only function the Force lacks, and one that you'll find in other devices such as the Withings Pulse and Basis Band, is a heart rate monitor. That said, I'd rather have the Force's more elegant and stylish design over the bulk or awkwardness of those competing products.