Nike was early in the personal fitness market with its Nike + iPod accessories. Its latest creation, the Nike FuelBand, functions as a standard pedometer but uses "gamification" tactics such as awarding badges to lure sedentary people into an active lifestyle. It also measures activity with the new Nike Fuel virtual metric. But can a smart sports wristband really be motivational? Read on to find out if the FuelBand has the stuff to inspire you.
The FuelBand is a somewhat thick, rubber-feeling band that wraps around your wrist, secured by a metal clasp. I was immediately struck by its simplistic design: a single button for scrolling through the categories, a large row of 100 white LEDs that display the readouts, and a smaller line of 20 color LEDs that change from red to green as you get closer to your stated goal. You push the button to get the Nike Fuel score, and push it again to rotate through calories, steps, and the time.
The FuelBand's stylish LED screen shows lots of information such as the number of steps you take, calories burned, and the time.
While it's somewhat bulky, I found the wristband wasn't distracting during my physical activities, in this case a run through Central Park and an hour of tennis. Both times, I barely noticed the device was on my wrist, at least until I looked down to check my score. The design also caught the attention of my friends, who particularly liked the LED readouts, so if nothing else, it makes for a unique fashion accessory.
The FuelBand comes with additional spacers that can lengthen or shorten the circumference of the band for different wrist sizes. Its circumference is 5.79 inches at its smallest and 7.76 inches at its largest. It weighs between 0.95 ounce and 1.13 ounces, depending on the spacers.
Because of its tight, circular design, the FuelBand doesn't fall off even if the clasp gets undone. Instead, it just hangs on the wrist, handy if something knocks the clasp open during a run or game.
As with most fitness devices, the FuelBand is fairly rugged. It's water-resistant, so you can shower with it or take it out in the rain. But it isn't durable enough to handle a swim.
Simplicity really is the key to this device. Aside from the button, there are no other ports or extras. One end of the FuelBand is actually a USB connector, so you need to undo the clasp to connect it to a computer and sync your data this way.
The FuelBand also has a Bluetooth connection through which you can send data to your iOS device using an application found in the App Store. Simply hold down the button on the band until the "sync" notification comes up, and it sends data to your iOS device, which then uploads the data to the Nike+ Web site. Unfortunately, the FuelBand only works with iOS right now, although Nike says an Android app is in development.
To connect the FuelBand to computers, you can use its USB port located at one end. The device also syncs activity data with iPhones via a wireless Bluetooth link.
Once synced, the app tells you your Fuel score, which is the prominent metric used, for better or worse. A different page shows your activity throughout the day, week, month, or year, as well as a reading of your calories, active time, steps, and total distance for the day. You can use Facebook to share your posts, although I opted not to. The last section, titled "Me," is where the FuelBand's motivational tools are located. You get a total count of your Nike Fuel, as well as banners like "Best Day" and "Longest Streak," plus trophies for hitting benchmarks like 10,000 Fuel points. After you pass certain benchmarks, a little mascot does a jig or pulls down a banner in your honor. The gamification of fitness has arrived.
The Web site offers more of the same stats, but with greater detail. You can check on how many Fuel points you've accumulated hourly, the only real way to see how active you've been during a specific activity. Color graphs illustrate how you've done on a day-by-day basis, and compare your Fuel score ranks with people your age and the Nike+ community as a whole.
It's the device's inability to provide an accurate measure from start to stop that is a gap for anyone serious about exercising. There's no way easy way to track time and distance on the FuelBand. Nike says it sells other Nike+ accessories that can complement the device, but at $149, I expected the band to do more.
Nike wants you to buy into the concept that Nike Fuel points will become a new standard measurement for activity. Given that it uses the Nike name, I doubt Reebok or Adidas will be jumping on this bandwagon.
Few people are going to know or care what Fuel score you earn on a given day. So it's really up to individuals to determine the value they place on this score. For me, I found it useful as a general guidepost for activity. Prior to getting the FuelBand, I was slowly getting back into a regular exercise routine, so I found it a great motivational tool.
I've had the FuelBand for nearly a week, and I'll admit I've exercised more in the last few days than in the last few weeks combined. I set my daily goal for 3,000 Fuel points, what Nike defines as a fairly active day. It actually took a good amount of activity to hit that mark, and I was able to exceed it only by running, playing tennis, and hitting the gym on three consecutive days. On the days when I didn't exercise, I fell well below the mark.
A run in Central Park, for instance, garnered 2,500 points, while an hour of tennis earned about 1,000 points. Because the points are accumulated by the movement of the wrist, scoring can get a bit wonky. Cyclists who keep their hands on the steering wheel may get no points for their effort. On the flip side, I earned nearly 400 points by sitting at a bar and drinking beer (lifting mugs is hard work, after all).
The Nike FuelBand measures activity in a unit Nike calls Fuel. LED lights on the FuelBand indicate how close you are to your Fuel score goal in green and red.
The color LEDs on the FuelBand serve as an extra crack of the whip: the lights move from red to green as you approach your daily goal, taunting you to keep moving until you hit your mark. When I was a few hundred points away from the goal, I spent the last hours of the night walking around my apartment to boost my score (your Fuel score resets to zero at midnight).
Overall, as a measure of activity, it can at least give you a clearer picture of whether you actually are exercising, or just staying in the office and working, which got me a score of just below 2,200. One issue: it's difficult to change your daily goal, which can only be altered after you exceed your preset benchmark.
Battery life was satisfying. Nike rates the FuelBand for up to four days of run time between charges. In my experience it exceeded this, lasting six days before it needed recharging, and that included regular syncing with my iPhone plus constantly looking up my score.
The $149 FuelBand certainly isn't for everyone. Despite Nike trotting out a few superstar athletes at the FuelBand's launch event, I doubt many hard-core fitness buffs will find much use for it. For runners or cyclists, there are a lot of other, more useful devices, including gear that incorporates GPS and can more accurately keep track of time and distance. For example, the $249.99 Motorola MotoActv may be a better fit. Still, there are a lot of people who could benefit from such a motivational tool, and the trophies, banners, and color charts from the Web site and app do go a long way toward spurring a less-than-athletic individual into changing up established patterns. A less expensive alternative is the simpler, $99.95 Fitbit Ultra, which also offers activity tracking in a tiny package.