Nike+ FuelBand SE review: A better-built fitness band, but not much smarter

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
MSRP: $149.00

The Good The Nike+ FuelBand SE adds Bluetooth 4.0 for continuous syncing, more water resistance for wearing in the shower, hourly motivational reminders, and solid social connectivity with other Nike+ users.

The Bad No Android support; only works with iPhone 4S and later; Bluetooth syncing can get quirky; no vibration for silent alarms or hourly reminders; app's toolset is a little simplistic; doesn't track sleep.

The Bottom Line The Nike+ FuelBand SE is a minor upgrade to last year's FuelBand, adding Bluetooth 4.0 and a few new motivational wrinkles to its software, but the band's design is more successful than its package of features.

Visit for details.

7.7 Overall
  • Style 9
  • Features 7
  • Ease of use 7

I'm 518 Fuel points ahead of men aged 30-39 at this point in the day, and 678 points ahead of yesterday at this time. But, I still have at least 900 more Fuel points to go to reach my goal.

Welcome to the world of NikeFuel, and the Nike+ FuelBand SE, the latest version of the company's wearable wireless fitness band.

The world of wearable, smart fitness trackers is getting increasingly crowded, and there are a lot of options on the market: the Fitbit, the Jawbone Up, and lots of other assorted pedometers. The FuelBand was one of the first mainstream fitness gadgets, and it's perhaps the best-known, and the best marketed; Nike's presence as a company is far larger than any of the others.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What it does, though, is similar to what other trackers do: it counts your steps and measures your motion, and sends that data to an iPhone app, or to your computer. The difference with Nike's system is the use of universal points system called NikeFuel that serves as a measurement of activity.

What's new from last year? SE stands for "special edition," and the difference mostly amounts to adding Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity for more continuous, energy-efficient syncing, and updating the software to offer more ways to track data and motivate you with video-game-like achievement badges.

But what the FuelBand still boils down to is this: it's a wristband that doubles as a cool watch, counts steps and your Fuel score, syncs with an app, can be worn in the shower, and has some fun social features that link you with friends who use NikeFuel apps. As a deeper coaching tool or life assistant, the FuelBand SE still leaves a lot off the plate.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Best-feeling band around
Many pieces of wrist-worn wearable tech have issues of one sort or another: maybe the clasps are too loose, or the snap-on band not tight enough, or the whole device isn't water-resistant. The FuelBand SE is the best-feeling band I've tried, and the most useful, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's the same idea as the original FuelBand: it's really a giant LED-lit, water-resistant band with a clasp that doubles as a USB stick. The whole band's a USB stick, which is the ingenious part: plug the end into a PC to sync or charge, or into a USB-jack-equipped wall outlet. An additional extended-length USB dongle comes in the box, in case you need extra room.

The FuelBand snaps on your wrist, and on mine it felt cozy, secure, and utterly comfortable. Just make sure you have the right size: it comes in two different sizes, along with an extra piece of band that can enlarge the size a bit if needed, and a tool you can use to pop it in.

A single button operates everything on the FuelBand SE: clicking cycles through Time, Hours Won (see below for what that means), and Fuel "earned" for the day. You can add Calories (measuring estimated daily calorie burn), Steps (a pedometer), and hourly Move reminders by changing settings via the FuelBand iOS app or Nike+ Connect Windows/Mac software and syncing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The FuelBand also has a clever progress bar below the readout, made of a spectrum of lights ranging from red to green. As your day continues, it's a clear and effective gauge (to go along with the overall Fuel number) of how close you are, relatively, to your Fuel goal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Press and hold the button, and you start an activity session timer. Hold longer, and the device cycles through battery-life indicator and Bluetooth on/off controls.

The big, bannerlike LED array feels like a mini billboard on your wrist, and glows futuristically up from the rubberized black band. The readout runs across the band, so you have to turn your wrist -- it's odd, but it works. The FuelBand's color schemes include electric orange, pink, and yellow underbellies (Total Crimson, Pink Foil and Volt), but from the top, everything's black except the Nike logo highlighted around the clasp. Additionally, a limited-edition Rose Gold version sells for a higher $169, with a metallic clasp.

Bluetooth 4.0: Automatic syncing...sometimes
All of the top-of-the-line wearable-tech products have begun adopting Smart Bluetooth, otherwise known as Bluetooth LE or Bluetooth 4.0. The new FuelBand SE has it, and it enables devices to connect and disconnect and sync automatically in the background, with less strain on the battery. Over the course of a week of solid use and many wireless syncs, I only needed one recharge. Charging via USB only took me a little over an hour.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately, my FuelBand SE sometimes decoupled and wouldn't automatically sync again with an iPhone 5S, a problem commenters on the FuelBand iOS app seemed to corroborate. I had to log out and on from the Nike+ app, and even reformat the FuelBand once. My colleague Brian Bennett didn't have any problem syncing it with the iPhone 5C. Meanwhile, for me, the Jawbone Up24 never had a syncing problem over its Bluetooth 4.0 connection.

While wireless syncing seemed a bit buggy, the FuelBand always kept its tracking going, and plugging in and syncing with a PC via USB is always a fallback option, too. The FuelBand holds days of data on its own without needing a connection, but only shows the current day's progress.