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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.