When it comes to activity trackers and pedometers, Fitbit is at the top of the list in brand recognition and popularity. They’ve been around for several years and their fitness products continue to evolve and improve. Earlier this year, they came out with their first wrist worn device – the Fitbit Flex. Now six months later, they are offering another wrist worn tracker – the Fitbit Force. Almost identical in functionality to the Flex, the Force offers two notable features that the Flex lacks. It can count the number of floors you’ve climbed and it has an OLED display. Are these additions worth a $30 premium over the Flex? Let’s find out.
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
Fitbit Force wristband
USB charging cable
USB wireless syncing dongle
The Force uses a MEMS 3-axis accelerometer that measures your motion patterns to determine your calories burned, stairs climbed, distance traveled, steps taken, and sleep quality. Its altimeter also measures stairs (floors) climbed. The Force wrist band is made of a flexible, durable elastomer material and comes in either black or teal and in either large or small sizes. I was sent the black version in large. I have pretty puny wrists, so I was a little worried that it would be too large. Luckily, it fit just fine.
If you are familiar with the Fitbit Flex, you’ll remember that the actual tracker module had to be removed from the band in order to charge it. The Force tracker is sealed into the wrist band, so there are no removable parts. That means you can’t buy a different band if it happens to break or if you want to change the color.
The Force is slightly wider and chunkier than what I remember of the Flex and it has the same clasp design that I loathed. Just like with the Flex, I have a tough time putting on the Force by myself. Although it seems to have gotten slightly easier after a few days of taking it on and off, I still really dislike the clasp design. I also find the wrist band to be a little uncomfortable to wear all the time. Especially while I’m working. It rests against the laptop, which then causes it to rub against my wrist as I’m typing. I should mention that I don’t like wearing a watch or bracelets, so my wrists might be more sensitive than most.
Speaking of taking it on and off, you’ll need do that more often than you had to do with the Flex. That’s because the Force is only water resistant and not water proof. You should not swim or shower while wearing it, but it is sweat and rain proof. You’ll also need to take it off in order to charge it with the included USB cable, which plugs into the bottom side of the wrist band. You can see the electrical contacts in the image above. Battery life is 7-10 days.
What does the Fitbit Force track?
The Force keeps track of your steps, distance, floors climbed, active minutes and calories burned. With the Flex, you had to sync the tracker with your computer to see your stats. That’s where the Force shines…literally. It has a built in OLED display that allows you to easily see the time of day, number of steps, distance, floors climbed, active minutes and calories burned just by pressing the button on the side of the display.
Each button press cycles to the next stat. You can even change the order of the stats if you prefer the first button press to always show the number of steps instead of the time of day. Or maybe you don’t even care to see some of the stats like active minutes and calories burned. No problem, you can turn them off. The white on black display is bright, crisp and clear. It can be easily viewed in bright sun and in the dark.
During the time that I was using the Force (ha!) I found that it was very accurate at counting to my steps and floors climbed. Comparing it to the other trackers that I was wearing and testing at the same time, they all were within a few hundred steps of each other. I think it really depends on how you wear the tracker. If it’s on your shoe, waist, pocket or wrist, I think results will vary. The whole idea is to monitor your activity and not worry about every single step being counted.
The Fitbit Force can track your sleep too. Before you go to bed, you just press and hold the button until the stopwatch icon appears on the display to start recording sleep. Do again when you wake up to turn off sleep mode. In the middle of the night if you wake up, the Force will record it as a restless period. When the band is in sleep mode, you’ll have to press the button more than once to check the time. The first press will show the sleep timer and not the time.
Syncing and viewing your activity data
The Force will automatically sync every 15 minutes whenever it is within range of a compatible mobile device or the wireless sync dongle plugged into your computer. The Force syncs via Bluetooth 4.0 but you’re still required to use a special USB dongle with your PC or Mac for the initial setup and subsequent data syncing. I’m not thrilled that I have to use one of my Macbook Air’s USB ports for the dongle, but syncing worked great with no hiccups. Unfortunately, syncing with my Android devices didn’t fare as well. According to the Fitbit site, the Samsung Galaxy SIII is a compatible device, but the Force would not sync with it until I signed up for the Fitbit beta group to get a beta version of the app. Once that was installed, I was able to sync away from my Macbook.
To see a larger version of the screenshots above, right click and open the link in a new tab.
Your detailed activity info can be viewed through the Fitbit web based dashboard or the mobile app. Both apps show the same basic data, but the web app allows you to enter foods you’ve eaten in order to give you a better idea of your calories in vs. calories out. Minute-by-minute data is available from the last week, and daily totals accumulate for the year.
Other features and info worth mentioning
- The Fitbit Force band will vibrate when you reach your daily goal which by default is set to 10,000 steps
- With select NFC-enabled Android phones, just tap the Force on your device to launch the Fitbit app
- Can set multiple silent alarms through the web or app, which is supposed to vibrate the band. I’ve had this work a couple times, but not consistently. I just set a test alarm and the display on the Force blinked on and off, but did not vibrate
- As part of an upcoming firmware update, with iOS 7 on your iPhone 4S and later, you can choose to receive incoming call notifications right on your wrist when your phone is nearby
Should you use the Force?
Although the Force has a few issues with alarms and mobile syncing, if I were shopping for a wrist worn activity tracker right now, I’d choose the Fitbit Force due to features, brand support and quality. As long as you don’t mind that the Force isn’t water proof, I think it’s a better tracker than the Flex. The display would cause me to definitely choose it over the Flex tracker. I like instant access to my stats, so being able to press a button and see the number of steps I’ve walked without first syncing with my computer or phone is a real advantage. It makes a nifty little watch too. I think it’s well worth spending the extra $30 over the price of the Flex and recommend this tracker to anyone who likes a wrist worn device.