A capability that it inherited from the previous Fitbit is tracking the length and quality of your sleep. It's a feature that sets the Ultra apart from other fitness gadgets, especially given that, in my view, sleep is a crucial activity that affects all facets of life. To activate sleep tracking, just slip the Fitbit into a pouch on the included cloth wrist band, which straps around your arm with Velcro. Pressing the button for 2 seconds starts and stops sleep mode.
In contrast, some of the Fitbit Ultra's other features seem gimmicky. For example, "Chatter" displays cheerful text greetings on the screen when you pick up the device. Examples include mundane questions like, "Ready?" to statements with more personality like "I like U" and "You rock." Yet, it's handy how you can program the Ultra to display your name on screen. It makes telling your Fitbit apart from, say, your spouse's much easier. That's something that the first Fitbit lacked.
If weight loss is your goal, a Food Log lets you input meals by type and amount. You can choose from a large database including many items from popular restaurants menus and supermarket shelves. Each entry has accompanying calorie counts, and you can add your custom dishes, as well. You're able to then see how many calories you consume compared with calories burned. What's more, brave souls can log their actual weight and plot it over time. Other more-abstract services live in the cloud, such as a journal to record your mood along with forums for help and extra encouragement. A level of social media integration is present, but not pervasive. You're able but not forced to link up with other Fitbit account holders or share updates via Twitter and Facebook.
I personally appreciate that Fitbit now offers a free Android app to match its iPhone application. The software displays much of what's offered on the company's Web site, including activity level, calorie count, and your food plan stats. If you set them up online, you also can log favorite workouts on your phone, like swimming or biking, that the Fitbit Ultra can't track. Unlike the Nike FuelBand (Bluetooth) and Motorola MotoActv, however, the Fitbit Ultra doesn't sync data in real time via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
I had much the same experience using the Fitbit Ultra as I did with the original Fitbit device. Despite the addition of an altimeter to supplement its accelerometer, its accuracy was inconsistent and overall tended to overestimate the steps I took. At times, taking one stride made the readout jump up by 10 or 12 steps, while other moments the Fitbit Ultra ticked along perfectly in sync with my movements.
According to the Ultra, I burn between 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day, of which about 1,200 were spent through physical activity. Fitbit's premium service costs $49.99 a year and provides much deeper analysis tools. Through Premium I learned that I'm currently classified as lightly active, or even dare I say sedentary depending on the day, and sit in the 65th percentile of men in my age group and body stats. Grudgingly, I admit that this sounds about right, but I have had my moments. One Saturday I took a ridiculously long 3.5-mile hike across NYC city streets, which helped me to achieve a total step count of 1,957, a personal high.
Another big benefit of the Premium service is its Trainer function, which uses daily activity goals set by you while pushing for greater activity based on individual data. At the moment, my personal quota is 10,000 steps each day, a bar I'm lucky to hit a few times a week. Other motivation incentives include badges for steps, distance, and stairs climbed. But since they merely state bland facts like numbers and units of measurement, they don't feel very inspirational.
The Fitbit Ultra was right on the money when assessing my sleep time, and it accurately reported a particularly rough night I endured. It truthfully logged my ability to drop into a deep slumber quickly, in 6 minutes to be precise, giving me a sleep efficiency of 92 percent. Sadly, though, the device also confirmed my Actual sleep time of just 3 hours and 51 minutes by calculating the 12 times I gained consciousness briefly along with the late bedtime and early rise. It's a crying shame that infants don't respect Daylight Saving Time.
Powered by a lithium ion polymer battery, Fitbit claims that the Ultra will last at least three days without needing a recharge, and can run for up to five to seven days maximum. These ratings are in line with my experience, and I typically had to dock the unit once a week.
The $99.95 Fitbit Ultra offers the same great features and engaging backend analytical tools that the original model did. Admittedly, though, it's not as fancy as higher-priced devices like the $149 Nike FuelBand and Motorola MotoActv that can sync wirelessly directly to iPhones and Android smartphones. The Fitbit Ultra's badge-based incentives aren't extremely engaging, either, and a lot of the more powerful data-sifting tools reside in the Premium service. That said, for its price, it's a fun, well designed fitness gadget that's easy to wear and use.