Fitbit Zip review: A capable, affordable health tracker

Fitbit Zip
A USB adapter lets you sync the Zip via Bluetooth. Sarah Tew/CNET

In fact, the Fitbit Zip, Fitbit One, and upcoming Fitbit Flex products use a compact USB adapter that's more at home linked to laptops than desktop machines. Additionally, the Zip supports sharing data (also over Bluetooth) with iPhones via the Fitbit iOS app. This means you'll be able to have your stats updated in real time as long as your handset has a network connection. Android users are supported through a companion Android app, but Bluetooth syncing between phone and tracker is available only for Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 handsets.

Fitbit has also recently enhanced its companion smartphone app, both on Android and iOS, bringing a more graphical feel to the interface. Indeed, while the home screen will display information such as current steps taken, calories burned, weight, and so on, rotating the handset into landscape orientation opens an interactive graph view.

Here, I was able to quickly see a colorful bar graph showing steps made or calories spent, whether on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Also nice -- or not so nice, depending -- is that you can do the same trick to see your weight over the same intervals. All graphs are fully interactive, too, letting you pinch to zoom in or out, and swipe both horizontally and vertically to gain a larger or smaller viewing area.

For you calorie counters out there, you'll be glad to know that Fitbit's app connects to a large database of foods to track what you consume. You can also create custom foods on the fly and associate them with your account for quick access. Once logged, you can compare calories burned (based on daily activity and personal height, weight, and age info) against meals eaten.

Of course the real judgement comes when you step onto the bathroom scale, and FitBit has a gadget for that too. Called the Aria , the devices measures your weight, BMI, and percentage of body fat, and pushes that data to your Fitbit account in the cloud. The service even nudges you to drinking water each day, with a default recommended amount of 48 ounces.

If you need further encouragement, Fitbit offers a premium service that costs $49.99 per year. Included in the subscription are advanced tools such as a trainer feature to push you toward achieving your weight loss and activity goals through custom 12-week plans. It also generates personal performance reports and ranks you against other Fitbit users.

There are some abilities the Fitbit Zip lacks. Specifically these are tracking the length and quality of your sleep, the steps you climb, along with a motor for haptic feedback.

Clip the Zip's clip to clothing. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
Setting up the Fitbit Zip is a snap; just download the necessary software to either a Windows PC or a Mac, then insert the tiny USB adapter in a free port when prompted. The software will then ask you to tap the Zip, ensuring that it's up and running, and search for the nearby device to link up. Once connected, you log in to your Fitbit account or create a new one, and you're all set. A few times the software had trouble detecting the Zip, but connecting the adapter to a different USB port solved the issue.

In my experience, I've found past Fitbit products to be a little overzealous, or shall I say, too generous in tallying my daily step count. Fitbit explained that its new creations, the Zip, One, and Flex devices, use updated firmware with more-accurate activity measurement. Despite this new step-tracking algorithm, I still felt that the Zip was giving me more credit than was due.

For instance, on one 20-minute test walk of about 13.5 Manhattan city blocks, the Zip clocked 2,534 steps. The Jawbone Up on the other hand logged 1,464 steps during the same exact trip, and during the same interval. Yes, I had both gadgets strapped on simultaneously. That said, in earlier walks the Zip logged a slightly lower step count when I used it side-by-side with its predecessor, the Ultra.

Conclusion
While I personally prefer wrist-style fitness trackers since they're easier to wear around the clock and don't dislodge easily, I have to say I'm impressed with the Fitbit Zip's functionality and ease of use. For a low $59.95, the Zip offers much of the abilities of its pricier competitors. That said, if you can spare it, spending an extra $40 for the Fitbit One or upcoming Fitbit Flex makes more sense to me. Both will provide all the same slick Bluetooth syncing features plus sleep tracking and a rechargeable battery. The same goes for the $129.99 Jawbone Up which can tackle all those tasks save wireless syncing. Also, both the Fitbit One, Jawbone Up, and Fitbit Flex boast haptic feedback for interesting applications such as a vibrating alarm to rouse you out of bed silently.

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