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Misfit Shine review: Fitness tracker as futuristic jewelry

So sleek some people might not even know what it is: the Shine is almost like fitness-tracking jewelry.

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

7 min read

There's an inevitable conversation about wearable technology that goes like this: all things you wear on your body should emphasize style. So should any gadget.

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7.7

Misfit Shine

The Good

The <b>Misfit Shine</b> fitness tracker has a sharp design, is compatible with a variety of wearable accessories, and lasts four months on a single battery; it's also waterproof and can be used for swimming.

The Bad

Minimal design doesn't display detailed data on the device; currently only works with iOS; needs to be held close to phone screen to sync; currently has a closed app ecosystem.

The Bottom Line

The Shine is one of the most stylish and futuristic-looking wireless fitness trackers out there, but you're trading in extra versatility for minimalist style.

If you care about style, it'll be hard to beat the Misfit Shine. This new Bluetooth-connected activity tracker might be the most eye-catching fitness gadget I've ever seen.

But, in the battle of cheap sub-$100 wearable wireless fitness trackers, can the Shine rise above the competition? Right now, think of it as wearable jewelry that just happens to track your movement. I love its style, but I'm not sure everybody will. It does, however, clearly show that as the wearable landscape gets ever more crowded, design's going to end up being more important than ever before.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What it does
The Shine's really just a fancily designed iOS-connected pedometer. It's really no different from a lot of other fitness trackers that are popping up all over the place like dandelions: It uses a three-axis accelerometer to track movement and act as a pedometer. It has Bluetooth for syncing data with iOS devices. As a wrist-worn device, you could compare this to the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, Basis Watch, or Nike FuelBand. In clip-on mode, which the Shine can also be out of the box, it's more like a Fitbit or a Withings Pulse.

It has some advantages over other trackers: it's waterproof to 5 atm for swimming, showering, or other activities; the Withings Pulse and certain Fitbit models aren't. And, yes, it has an "activity tracking" mode that can be set for swimming, cycling, or sleep at the current moment, besides the Shine's baseline walking/running tracking. It can be worn on your wrist or as a clip-on device with included accessories, or even worn as a pendant.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But it lacks a true number-based display. The hyperminimal Shine instead uses 12 LEDs that pulse clockwise to tell what percentage of your daily progress you've achieved, a little like the Fitbit Ultra. It also acts as a clock, by lighting up one of the 12 points to indicate the hour and another blinking one for minutes.

You'll have to fiddle with the Shine to get it to tell time right-side up: it pops into elastic silicone ring accessories, but a "12" indicator on the back tells you how to spin the Shine around to orient properly.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As a watch, it's quite thin -- more like a standard women's watch than a man's. It has its charm, though: you'll need to double-tap to get the time, but it's readable outdoors, if slightly faint in direct sunlight. The time readout is a great feature, but more of a bonus than a true watch since it only tells time in 5-minute increments, due to its limited array of lights.

Design: from another planet
The Misfit Shine is as odd-looking as its name: no one I've shown it to has been indifferent. It's polarizing; some like its simple, futuristic design. Others think it's too much.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It resembles a prop from the movies "Elysium" or "Oblivion." It's minimalist. It's sleek. It glows and winks at you with embedded LEDs. It also happens to be water-resistant, and has accessories that let you wear it as a wristband or a clip-on, or even a pendant.

The Shine's got a weird, compulsively touchable look. Made out of aluminum, the curved coinlike disc has a matte surface and polished mirror edges. There are no buttons, no charge ports. Hold it in your hand, and someone could easily think it was a fancy bottle top or a piece of odd jewelry.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Shine's so minimal that it's hard to spot it in its packaging. Most people won't even know what it is when they look at it. Pop it out of its plastic box and you'll find an included black silicone wristband and a magnetic clip accessory underneath, along with a battery and a tool to open the Shine and pop it in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Misfit_Shine_35826161_10.jpg
7.7

Misfit Shine

Score Breakdown

Style 9Features 7Ease of use 7
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