Misfit Shine review: Fitness tracker as futuristic jewelry

Accessories
The Shine is intended to be a more stylish, wearable piece of fitness tech than the bevy of similar fitness trackers, and to that end it has optional leather watchband accessories ($80) and a necklace with pendant attachment ($80). The included silicone sport band ($20) and magnetic clasp ($5) are less expensive, but rely on stretchable silicone rings that snap around an outer groove in the Shine's aluminum edge. They could possibly snap and need replacing, but the Shine earns points for flexibility, and for wearable accessories that are better thought out, for instance, than the Withings Pulse's.

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But the pointedly jewelrylike approach reminds me how preciously small the Shine is. You could lose the Shine all too quickly; in fact, I did, at a cafe. The magnetic clasp must have pulled off when I was taking out my wallet. The aluminum design also means it could scratch, just like any iPhone or MacBook Air. The Shine looks like it can take a beating, but it might not look quite as pretty afterward.

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Setting up
The Shine has no charge cables: it uses a watch battery to power the device for an estimated four months. An included plastic tool pries open the back battery lid: you pop in the included battery and snap it shut. Four months of use is a lot longer than the week or two of a USB-charged tracker, but you'll need to keep stocking up on batteries, which luckily are cheap.

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To initialize pairing, you just download the Misfit Shine app and hold the device to the iPhone/iPad screen. In a weird bit of sleight-of-hand, the capacitive metal contact with the glass display triggers syncing. It's a neat trick, but holding a quarter or your fingers to the display can trigger it, too. Then again, the Shine's Bluetooth range is more limited than other devices', so keeping it close to your iDevice seems like a necessity.

The app
Shine's iOS app is efficient and simple: it uses Facebook to create your account, but doesn't currently share data with it. The app updates the Shine's firmware and is used to change settings -- updating your daily goal, which is counted in points, and keeping the onboard clock's time accurate. The Shine can apparently hold "weeks" of data, but I'd want to keep syncing it at least once a day to see my progress beyond a simple ring of lights.

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The app's clean, flat design already feels like an extension of iOS 7's aesthetic. Each day has its own graph of activity, and little award badges are displayed for personal bests and milestones. A week view expands the data field view a bit, but the app is pretty minimal: distance, estimated calorie count, and steps taken are pretty much the only data points recorded.

The Shine can record swimming and cycling activity as well as walking, but to do that you need to triple-tap the device to start a special activity that gets tagged differently. You can only assign one activity tag at a time -- cycling, swimming, or sleeping -- each of which uses its own algorithm. To swap tags, you need to resync the Shine with your phone, and pop it back out of its wristband/clip (keeping it in, alas, seems to hamper syncing). It can get a little annoying.

Data collected on the app doesn't go anywhere else yet: there's no Web access or cloud syncing, and the Shine's data isn't compatible with other apps or ecosystems. You're on your own specially designed health island for the moment. An API will be available for future cross-compatibility potential, but I'd recommend making sure you feel comfortable with the limited but compelling feature set the Shine currently offers, just to be on the safe side. This is, after all, a startup product.

Lots of quirks
Admittedly it's early days for the Misfit Shine, but it's an odd device to use. Syncing generally worked well, with occasional hiccups where the Shine didn't seem to receive my test-unit iPhone 5's ping.

To track any activity other than walking or running, you have to triple-tap, which starts a separate log. Also, you have to preset what that activity is in your iPhone app and sync it with the Shine: in other words, if you don't swap the activity tag from "Sleep" to "Swimming," your triple-tap before an hour of doing the backstroke will be counted as a 60-minute nap.

The calorie-counting algorithm also seemed pretty generous: after a day of activity amounting to 10,000 steps, I was told I'd burned nearly 3,000 calories. Even at my weight, that seems pretty impossible. The Shine counts off a virtual guesstimate of the days' continuous calorie burn in addition to activity/calorie computing. Shine's CEO, Sonny Vu, admits that the app is currently "version 0.9," in a sense; more features and firmware updates will likely be coming soon as the device makes it out into the wild, but it bears noting that, much like with the Pebble, you'll be in for a bit of kink-ironing-out if you buy one now.

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Conclusion
The Shine isn't the most versatile fitness tracker. That prize probably goes to the Withings Pulse, with its numerous compatible services and devices, its multireadout display, and its ability to double as a heart rate monitor. The Shine isn't a social commodity, either, like a Nike FuelBand or a Fitbit. The Shine stands alone.

The Shine, like the Fitbit Flex or Jawbone Up, is a lifestyle fitness device: it gives minimal data on the gadget, just enough to keep you informed. It's meant to not be about numbers. If I were to pick a fitness tracker to wear with a suit, Shine might be it. But I could also find a way to clip a Fitbit to my inside pocket pretty easily, too.

In a crowded landscape of increasingly identical wireless fitness trackers, the Shine stands out, but mainly on style. If you want your wearable gadgets to feel like finely milled jewelry, the Shine's your toy. But many people might want a more fully featured, less gimmicky design in a practical object like a fitness tracker.

The Shine kept me active, and I had fun using it. Maybe that's the Shine's novelty. But you're either all-in on its sense of style, or you're not.

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