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Wearable Tech

McDonald's now-discontinued fitness tracker, reviewed: It was free, but it was terrible

Step-It was the only fitness band I've ever used that came with a cheeseburger.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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McDonald's put a fitness tracker in its Happy Meal. And then it was gone.

You could get one, as of yesterday. I got mine from McDonald's at the corner of 28th and Park. Wrist-worn, no less. It's the first tracker I've used that included lunch.

Today, I went back...and my McDonald's said they have it, in boxes, but they're no longer allowed to sell it. The band's been removed from stores, reportedly due to complaints of skin irritations. Instead, the new Happy Meal toy is a cup.

So, in case you missed the McDonald's fitness tracker, what was it like?

Here's my review of the now-unavailable Happy Meal Step-It. Spoiler alert: it isn't very good.

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Unboxing: comes with optional cheeseburger and fries.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Step-It comes nestled in a plastic bag, battery already in and screen on. It's bulky, plastic and larger than an Apple Watch.

It looks ugly. But it's a toy. It is easy to press the large single button on the center of its face. If you consider that it's basically free, it's not bad-looking.

This isn't a watch, though: it only tracks steps. So if you thought you were giving your kid a watch (and the McDonald's near me called the pack-in toy "a watch"), your kid was going to be sorely disappointed.

The Step-It has a fine design, sorta, for a free toy. It has a clear plastic-rubbery band that attaches snugly. It's a little too tight for my wrist, but it's meant for kids. The band's permanently attached. There's no way to change batteries, either, as far as I can see. Battery life is unclear.

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Tight fit on my grown-up man-child wrist.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The LCD display turns on and off, and it shows your step count. That's it. The Step-It doesn't sync with a phone, or a tablet. It just counts. The Happy Meal box says there's another Step-It band that lights up instead of counting steps, but I didn't get that one. All my McDonald's had, before the recall, was green.

And it's a very, very weird step counter. It counted steps when I was seated. I collected 30 steps just putting the band on my wrist. I got 54 from typing. Twisting my wrist picked up two or three. And yet, a walk around our NY office collected 40 steps, compared to about 500 on my Fitbit Blaze and Apple Watch.

Which is a shame, because it would take me, according to a step-to-calorie estimator I found online adjusted to my stride length, about 10,000 steps, or 4.5 miles, to burn off the 545 calories or so in my cheeseburger Happy Meal according to McDonald's online nutritional information.

I guess as long as the number's always going up and not down it's a victory? Holding the button down resets the tracker, which is helpful, because when I opened mine it already had over 30,000 steps.

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You can't remove that battery. Also, there's a possibility of skin rashes, apparently.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There aren't any fitness games on the Step-It, but the sparse included instructions pointed to a "McPlay" phone app that unlocked mini-games after scanning Step-It on my wrist. These games have nothing to do with fitness, though: all three are junky, simple Crossy Road-type arcade track-and-field games involving an animated Happy Meal box jumping over hurdles or avoiding puddles.

In fact, let's just get right to the obvious absurdity of McDonald's having fitness trackers in the first place. Sure, it's a nice idea. But so is redesigning the nutritional balance and nature of what a "kid meal" is. I'd rather give my kid something healthy than give them a Happy Meal and a fitness tracker.

When I did get home with the Step-It, my 7-year-old son thought it was fun. He was amused that it gave him steps for doing nothing but tilting his wrist.

Then I had to take it away from him this morning, because I don't want him getting weird skin problems like reports are warning. (My wrist was fine after a little bit of use, but I barely wore it. I wouldn't advise that you wear one.) Wearable tech isn't easy, you see. And that's why, if you choose to put something on your wrist, you should aim higher than a free pack-in fast food toy.

I didn't feel very good about the Step-It. But also, that could have been the Happy Meal still sitting like a rock in my stomach.