Fitbug Orb review: Affordable, light, but confusing fitness tracking

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The Good For $50, the Fitbug Orb counts steps, calories, and syncs data wirelessly to phones. The fitness tracker is also light, comfortable, and stays put on your wrist. You can also wear the Orb on a bundled clip.

The Bad The Fitbug Orb lacks a display, is complicated to set up, and its button is small and hard to press. You can’t use the Orb’s mobile app to log meals, and it has limited Android compatibility. Sleep mode is tricky to engage, and wireless PC syncing costs extra.

The Bottom Line It’s hard to beat the Fitug Orb’s low price, but for $10 more, the Fitbit Zip has more features, is easier to use, and is ultimately a better buy.

6.4 Overall
  • Style 7
  • Features 6
  • Ease of use 6

On the surface, the Fitbug Orb fitness tracker appears to be a pretty excellent deal. For just $49.95 the gadget promises to let users count their steps, and calculate both calories burned through exercise and consumed in their meals. Additionally the device can push activity data to compatible smartphones over a wireless Bluetooth connection.

Unfortunately, reality is that the Orb's complicated setup, confusing phone software, and messy online tools make it hard to recommend. For just $10 more, the Fitbit Zip can tackle almost everything the Orb can, plus it has some key abilities the Orb can't touch. These include having a real screen and being able to enter the food you eat into a mobile app. Also, operating the Zip is a breeze by comparison.

A round, fat disc, the Fitbug Orb is about the width of a quarter and as thick as two bottle caps stacked back-to-back. To me it almost looks like an oversize Mentos candy or a smashed glass marble. Aside from the standard black, the Orb also comes in tasty pink and white colors.

The gadget's smooth glossy surface doesn't give away any clues to its purpose, either. That's because the Orb lacks a screen and the product's only indicators or controls are a small oval light and tiny button. Sitting in between the button and light, both positioned on the Orb's front face, is a short purple stripe. Don't get too excited, though, this rounded line doesn't serve any function other than ornamental.

I have to say that picking up the Orb right after spending plenty of quality time with the Fitbit Force, made me really miss having a true alphanumeric display. Even the tiny, belt-clipped Fitbit Zip has an LCD that showcases steps and calorie info when your smartphone isn't handy. The Nike FuelBand SE takes the cake, though, with its huge LED array that shows your activity status in larger-than-life technicolor fireworks.

Fitbug Orb
The Fitbug Orb lacks a screen. On its front face are an indicator light and one button. Josh Miller/CNET

Unlike other high-tech pedometers on the market such as the Fitbit Force and Jawbone Up, users have two ways to wear the Orb right out of the box. A rubbery wrist strap lets you latch the device onto your wrist, and a soft, flexible clip pins the Orb to belts or pockets. I opted to use the wristband method since the clip, while it grabs clothing tightly, doesn't lock or snap completely shut.

By contrast, the Orb's wristband has metal teeth on one end that pop securely into holes designed to accept them. As a result, once fastened together the Orb stayed put around my arm no matter how active I was or how many times I changed coats or adjusted long-sleeve shirts. The Orb's strap was easier to fasten than the Force's, too. I also found the Orb's 1.1-ounce weight (with wrist strap) to be light and comfortable enough to wear for days on end.

One thing the Fitbug Orb shares with the Fitbit Zip is that it uses a standard coin-size watch battery (CR2032 3V), which the company claims will power the gadget for four to six months.

The Fitbug Orb also comes with a clip that slips onto clothing. Josh Miller/CNET

The Zip, however, has the Orb beat in terms of water resistance. Like the Nike FuelBand SE, and all Fitbit trackers, the Zip is fully able to withstand showers and soaking deluges of rain. Heck, I've even accidentally thrown the Zip in the wash and the device survived without any hiccups. I don't recommend doing the same to the Orb, which Fitbug explains is merely rated to deal with the occasional splash, say, when scrubbing dirty dishes.

Setting things up
In my experience, the Fitbug Orb's setup process wasn't as easy as getting up and running on other platforms. Trackers such as the Fitbit Force, Basis Band, and Jawbone Up enjoy a streamlined initiation by creating an account with basic body stats and then linking with phones, either physically or by pairing via Bluetooth.

On the other hand, the Orb requires you to do these tasks and also asks you to punch in your stride length, which you'll need to compute manually. Sure, it's not a huge detractor, but it's the first fancy fitness gadget I've reviewed so far to ask this of me. Another drag is that you must enter a special subscription code printed on the Orb's packaging in order to proceed with Fitbug account creation. Lose that box (and code) before doing so, and you may be in hot water.

Fitbug Orb app on a Samsung Galaxy S4.
The Fitbug app works with iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Android handset. Josh Miller/CNET

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