Fitbug Orb review:

Affordable, light, but confusing fitness tracking

I tested the Orb's companion mobile app on an iPhone 5C, but it's also available on Android. That said, it's only technically compatible with Samsung Galaxy handsets such as the GS4 and GS4 Mini.

Features and performance
When you boil it down, the Fitbug Orb's primary function is to measure the steps you take throughout the day. Based on this, the Fitbug platform then calculates how many calories you've torched. Unlike the Fitbit and Nike systems, the Orb doesn't let you select your own goals for movement. Instead the tracker and Fitbug solution monitor your behavior over a week to get an accurate baseline assessment of your activity.

From there the app and Web-based interface will calculate specific step goals tailored to you personally. In my case the Orb suggested a total step count target of 9,600 footfalls. The tracker and companion Kik iOS mobile app broke things down further, splitting out what it calls "Aerobic" steps from my current movement stats. It then set a goal of 2,700 target steps that I should ideally make daily. It's similar to what the Fitbit Force does, logging your "Active Minutes" with the default goal of 30 minutes per day.

Fitbug Orb
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The Fitbug app has big numbers but tiny navigation buttons. Brian Bennett/CNET

I did notice that the Orb tended to award me a higher number of total steps compared with what other wrist-born trackers gave me. For instance on one afternoon, the device stated I had marched 8,483 steps, whereas the Fitbit Force registered a more down-to-earth 6,758 steps. The Basis Band, which is very stingy with its step counting, reported a reading of 5,269. I wore both simultaneously with the Orb.

Sleep tracking
The Orb has the ability to log the length and quality of your sleep. To kick the device into sleep mode you must push the Orb's only button three times in quick succession. After that the gadget's light will flash green fives times to alert you that sleep mode is active. To disengage the function, tap the button again when you rise in the morning. The Orb will also automatically stop sleep tracking in the morning after you've taken 50 steps.

In practice, though, I found the Orb's sleep-tracking skills less than ideal. For instance since the product's button is so small and feels a bit mushy, it was difficult to push the key down all the way. Also, while the Orb and Kik app will list basic data such as sleep efficiency (in percentage), Fitbit devices and the Jawbone Up provide graphs detailing restless periods versus deep slumber. Keep in mind that the Fitbit Zip can't track sleep, the only product in the company's line with this deficiency.

What the Orb can't tackle, either, is counting the stairs you climb, or functioning as a silent alarm -- skills in both the Fitbit Force's and Jawbone Up's tool bags. That said, the more reasonably priced Fitbit Zip lacks these features, too. Where the Zip (and Fitbit's other products) trumps the Orb is by providing a USB dongle that allows the tracker to sync wirelessly with Macs and PCs. Fitbug offers the dongle option, but for an extra $14.99.

A troubled UI
Fitbit, Jawbone, and Basis all boast online and mobile tools that have smooth navigation and intuitive interfaces. Sadly the Fitbug UI, and especially the company's desktop site, was anything but. In truth, the Fitbug mobile app has a certain level of beauty, with clean fonts and large numbers. Unfortunately, the icons for flipping through the app's main features are extremely small and hard to tap. That's mysterious since the icons that run along the bottom have plenty of white space around them. The Fitbug site is worse, a confused mess of tabs, boxes, icons, and eye-jarring colors.

Fitbug Orb Web site
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A taste of Fitbug's cluttered Web site. Brian Bennett/CNET

Calorie counting
Like many personal fitness products, the Fitbug Orb allows users to enter meals to better predict if all their physical toil will offset what they've eaten. Unlike Fitbit's mobile application, which has the power to log food on the fly, the Kik app lacks this ability. Even so, users can use the Fitbug Web site to punch in meals they've enjoyed. However, this forces you to interact with the Fitbug site's cluttered interface, something I'd rather not do often.

Fitbug Orb Web site
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You can log food but only through the Fitbug site. Brian Bennett/CNET

As with many budget products, a rock-bottom price doesn't translate into a sweet deal. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and the Fitbug Orb proves the adage correct. For just $49.95, yes, the Orb provides a functional solution to track steps and basic energy expenditure throughout the day. It also has the ability to log how long you sleep, a trick its nearest competitor (the $59.95 Fitbit Zip) can't perform.

What the Zip can do (and what I think is much more valuable) is offer a simpler setup process, plus a mobile app that's both more powerful and easier to use. Of course the Zip can't be strapped around the wrist like the Orb. But if this is your main criteria for a fitness gadget, you're much better served splurging on the $129.95 Fitbit Force. And with its genuine LED screen, the Force acts as a watch, too.

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