Ditching the Fitbit Flex after Three Years


After three years and four bands, I think I may be done with my Fitbit Flex. 

It's not that I hadn't enjoyed it. At first, the additional data about my activity was interesting, and several times it did encourage me to get in additional walking. The silent alarm turned out to be the best feature of the device. The week-long battery life still leaves it as a competitive device in the wearable field -- quite an achievement three years after it was introduced! For three years the thing lived on my wrist, and only suffered some superficial deterioration lately. Yet, I'm not planning on replacing the device with a new one. 

Why? The Flex was the first in a subcategory of wearables: fitness trackers. The idea was that additional data and encouragement from the application would improve your health. While this does work for some people, I'm not alone in eventually ditching the device. By their nature, fitness trackers are somewhat limited, and that is particularly true in the Flex's case. With only an accelerometer and minimal on-board processing, it only tracks walking-like motion with any accuracy. I've had the device register bike rides, car rides, and even turbulence during air travel as activity. The net result is that the device gave me a false impression of my overall activity when I relied on it alone. As a result, I didn't exercise when I felt I should have. 

For me, there's also simply a use-case mismatch. Walking is not what I would consider exercise, only a means to get around. I'm a cyclist. I use a bike to get around my city when weather and my body allow. I have a pneumatic trainer for biking indoors. I'm also a bit of a weight lifter. When I was trying to lose weight in preparation for surgery, I regularly broke the women's lifting monthly record at my gym (there are some benefits to having both Polish and Irish ancestry). None of this is tracked by the Flex, of course. You can enter it manually, of course, but that's not the point in having on-body instrumentation. 

When Google Fit came out, everyone considered it a copycat of Apple's efforts. I didn't pay much attention to it until I bought a Nexus 6 about a year ago. I could have gone out of my way to remove the application, but I thought, "What the hell, it can't do any worse?" Imagine my surprise when it tracked my cycling automatically. The combination of a GPS sensor and the phone's accelerometer greatly contributed to GFit's ability to gather activity data. I began to pay more attention to it than Fitbit's application. The advantage, of course, is that you don't think about having your phone on you when exercising. It's a fairly natural thing if you want to listen to music, podcasts, or in my case, get in an episode or two of the original Dark Shadows.

I've gone through four bands on the Flex. The bands are one of the best and worst features of the Flex. They're easily replaceable, and you can find a wide variety of styles and colors. The bands are generally comfortable, fit even my huge wrists (neither the Polish or Irish are lithe people), and generally lasted 6 months before failing. The design has a few drawbacks, however. The back of the band is open to allow you to remove the Flex. Water, spilled liquids, sweat, and other nastiness can easily work between the band and skin, and get into the band's cavity surrounding the device. Cleaning that became a regular horror show, and eventually deteriorated the glossy finish on the device completely. 

The sleep tracking feature was helpful at first, then increasingly became distressing as the numbers claimed I had much less sleep than I had felt. For someone that is generally a fitful sleeper due to mental health issues, the data often become distressful. Even if I had felt I had a proper night's rest, the data could tear that asunder in a glance. I started looking at the instrumentation more than listening to my body. And that's the rub: Like a lot of USians, I tend to ignore my body as much as possible. A headache or illness isn't a sign that you should slow down and perform some self-care, but an obstacle to work and life responsibilities. Instrumentation currently cannot replace the simple act of listening and responding to your body's signals for clemency. 

The only feature that kept me wearing it the last six months was the silent alarm. I hate alarms, they instantly set me on edge after years and years of indoctrination. Having something buzzing on my wrist was useful in not waking partners or hotel roommates when I needed to get up. This morning, however, it occurred to me that three years of waiting for something to buzz on my wrist also means I might have trained myself to be extra mindful of any such physical sensation. This could have led to even more sleep fitfulness and anxiety while trying to sleep. Audible alarms have the benefit of being obvious, at least. 

What will replace the Flex on my wrist, if anything? I've liked the idea of getting the new Moto360, but the price and limited battery life has kept me away. Pebble's offerings solve the battery life issue, but not the price issue. Furthermore, none of their line includes a heart rate monitor, the only enhancement which makes a new device worth considering. For the moment, my wrist may remain bare.