Fitbit Force activity tracker review

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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.

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Package contents

Fitbit Force wristband
USB charging cable
USB wireless syncing dongle

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Physical design

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Product Information

Price:$129.95
Manufacturer:Fitbit
Requirements:
  • PC or Mac for initial setup and syncing
  • iOS or Android devices for mobile syncing
Pros:
  • Bright display
  • Easy to use
  • Tracks stairs and sleep
Cons:
  • Wrist band is a real $%@& to put on by yourself
  • Subpar Android support. Even supported devices don't sync with non-beta app
  • Not water resistant
Posted in: Health, Fitness, Sports, Reviews

36 comments… add one

  • vn33 November 27, 2013, 4:15 pm

    May the Force be with you :)

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  • Betty Widerski November 27, 2013, 9:31 pm

    Glad to hear you like it, as my partner just ordered one for me after my latest round of calls to Nike resulted in my *4th* Fuelband on the way to replace the replacement from September. I’m ready for something that hopefully will just work.

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  • Julie Strietelmeier November 27, 2013, 9:36 pm

    @Betty If/when Nike offers Android support, I’ll finally try the Fuelband.

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  • tivoboy November 28, 2013, 2:08 pm

    Clock works fine when in sleep mode, one does just have to cycle a couple times to get to it. The first press shows the SLEEP TIMER (how long you’ve been sleeping) but the next click goes to clock and then through the other items. So, it’s THERE it’s just not FIRST during sleep mode

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  • Julie Strietelmeier November 28, 2013, 2:51 pm

    @tivoboy Ah! Good to know. I was afraid to press it a 2nd time because I thought it might turn off sleep mode. I’ll update my review.

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  • Nick November 28, 2013, 3:21 pm

    Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Fuelband users having problems and returning units. I have the 2nd gen Jawbone UP and I haven’t had any problems what-so-ever. I’m still debating on whether to pick up the Fitbit Force or wait for a smartwatch that has everything built in. I really like that the Force has support for both iOS and Android markets. Thanks for the great review Julie.

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  • Flip December 2, 2013, 10:13 am

    I’m very interested, but think I’ll probably wait until they make one that is waterproof and works better with Android as I’m a big Android fan.

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  • Julie Strietelmeier December 2, 2013, 10:16 am

    @Flip FYI: the Force does work well (at least so far) with a beta version of their Android app.

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  • Elizabeth Rodriguez December 7, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I just received this as a gift – an upgrade from my Fitbit Flex! I love that it has the screen. It does help a bit, rather than just relying on the phone app to view data. It’s a bummer that I never take advantage of the FULL capability of the thing; I always fall asleep before pressing the button so that I can monitor my sleep. =\

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  • Julie Strietelmeier December 7, 2013, 5:36 pm

    @Elizabeth These devices need to sense when were sleeping and awake so we don’t have to manually change the mode ourselves :)

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  • Ian Lim December 8, 2013, 3:33 am

    Did the sleep tracking on my flex for the first month or so but can’t be bothered now. Yeah pity it doesn’t activate automatically.

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  • Julie Strietelmeier December 8, 2013, 9:50 am

    @Ian I am/was the same way. The sleep tracking feature is a fun novelty at first, but then it’s just a pain. Besides, I’m not sure the info it even gives you is all the useful. What do you do with the fact that you were restless 5 times during the night? Does being restless more than 2 times mean you need a new bed? Pillow?

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  • Steven December 9, 2013, 2:04 am

    It would be nice if it can detect our pulse and then figure out when we first started sleeping. I think it would make the watch a bit uncomfortable to wear if it were able to detect our pulse, IMHO.

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  • icerabbit December 12, 2013, 11:50 am

    Nice review. I like the Force in general, besides software/site improvements that are needed; there really are a couple things FitBit needs to physically solve before I’d recommend them:

    Conventional wrist band. They’re reinventing the wheel with this. It is hard to snap closed, yet manages to open accidentally.

    Induction charging? No cable needed. Which will help with waterproofing. Or how about solar charging. Casio can do it.

    Waterproofing. You should be able to do dishes, jump in the shower, take a bath and go for a swim, without having to take it off.

    Show the time without pressing the button. Why do you need a second hand to view what time it is?

    Quality control. There’s a lot of reviews of bad batteries & dead units.

    As an activity tracker, it is a great idea, but I really want the Casio G-shock Solar Atomic FitBit version. Forget the narrow sleek style. Make it a bit more rugged, conventional in size & weight, put a regular wrist band on it and above all make it waterproof.

    I also think the cost needs to come down because it is fragile, not waterproof, …

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  • Steven December 12, 2013, 7:55 pm

    I wonder if a programmable gesture (shake, rattle, or roll?) would help with it showing the time instead of pressing a button. Or just stick an e-ink or Mirasol display in there and keep it on all the time.

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  • icerabbit December 12, 2013, 9:23 pm

    I actually was thinking about that this afternoon, after an offline conversation about FitBit products needing to be waterproof etc like regular sports watches, that if battery power was that critical to show the time continuously, they should a) put a bigger battery in and b) can use the technology like my solar Casio wrist watch which auto-illuminates in the dark when you raise your wrist from your waist to a readable level. That would be like the programmable gesture you propose. Casio has had it for 10 years, maybe more on some of their watches.

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  • Debbie December 15, 2013, 11:48 am

    I think I liked my force(received as a gift this past week), but unfortunately it fell off my wrist into the toilet yesterday! Guess you can imagine what happened next….

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  • icerabbit December 15, 2013, 4:02 pm

    You flushed it down?

    Electronics have been known to survive a dunk into a clean bowl, as long as they’re retrieved rightaway and put out to dry, possibly aided by rice, hair dryer, …

    I’ve looked at the wrist band failure some more online, and way too many people are having trouble with the clasp (closing and releasing spontaneously) and there are so many people that have the band become unglued. That’s inexcusable really. It is reinventing the wheel for some thin style and has resulted in a wrist band that can’t be trusted.

    My best hope right now for a waterproof and durable model is that Casio joins the trend. I’ve had G shocks survive all kinds of stuff and incidents. They just need to swap out some of the outdoorsman elements … instant winner.

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  • Jan December 17, 2013, 9:32 am

    got one a couple of weeks… nice combination of hard- and software. but I do advice against it, because it is almost impossible to secure it… it keeps on dropping off your wrist a couple of times a day. it is just a matter of time before you’ll loose it.

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  • barbara December 27, 2013, 3:38 pm

    would love some input here….i got a flex as a gift ( i asked for it -got flex and force mixed up & didn’t realize altimeter was missing). anyway, i’m debating on whether the altimeter is worth the exchange. i’m not concerned about the display part on the force. My cardio sport is kickboxing and fitbit support sounded like they were recommending i stick with the flex since it is waterproof and it will be under gloves and wraps. can anyone advise on if the force will hold up under that sweat and is just the altimeter worth the exchange?

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  • icerabbit December 27, 2013, 6:29 pm

    @barbara

    It sounds like the altimeter would not be of much use to you, so, if it were me, under the circumstances, I’d save the hassle, time and money towards an improved future fitbit product.

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  • Stephanie Hayden December 28, 2013, 7:04 pm

    I just got the Fitbit Force for Christmas and I love it. I haven’t tapped into all of its features yet, but I do really appreciate the sleep tracker. I do not have to press the stopwatch feature in,order to track my sleep. It automatically does that. I just make sure I log on with my iPad first thing in the morning and go to the Sleep Tracker feature. I can log my sleep from there quite easily.

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  • Peggy Chervenak December 29, 2013, 10:06 pm

    I sent a comment to fitbit regarding the wristband the the poor design. It takes me about 5 minutes+ and an embarrassing amount of swear words to get it on. I’ve broken nails and normally have several blood blisters by the time I get it snapped. I advised them to fire whomever designed it and then give everyone who bought the existing design and new one. This is really inexcusable. I have yet to have it fall off, but I suspect I will lose it soon and be out the $130 I paid.

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  • tivoboy December 30, 2013, 9:00 am

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but honestly it’s not that hard to put this on and have it stay on..

    Line up the two prongs with any two on the other side of the strap, you’ll find them find holes when they are lined up. Then, with one finger (index works best) under the band and a thumb from the same hand on the outer metal plate, just press down firmly. It doesn’t take a lot of pressure, but it’ll sort of smooth snap. I dont’ have any problems with it falling off.

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  • Julie Strietelmeier December 30, 2013, 9:03 am

    @tivoboy I have to agree with Peggy. I really really really hate the strap design.

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  • icerabbit December 30, 2013, 11:42 am

    @tivoboy

    I have had a terrible time with clasping it the first few times, and I’ve had to wrestle with it for several minutes to put it on my wife’s wrist as well.

    It is an absolutely terrible design, no ifs or buts, hard to put on and not secure as it turns out either.

    Give me a variation on a conventional wrist band any day.

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  • Joe January 5, 2014, 6:06 pm

    DO NOT BUY!
    I was just getting use to the Fitbit Force, but I guess I don’t need this anymore. I’m really frustrated with the Force since it would come off my wrist when I barely bumped it. Most of the time from putting on and off my coat or just walking around, the leather coat sleeve would make it come off. Well today, I went to Starbucks to read the paper and when I got home, the Force was gone. I went back to Starbucks and someone must have found it and kept it. $130 buck and less than a couple weeks really sucks. I’m really frustrated with the Force device and how easy it came off my wrist. I am an active person and no matter what I did to try to prevent it from coming off, it would come off. I tried keeping it tighter and tried it loose and neither worked. I was just thinking about going to a store to find some sort of band or safety chain for the next time it came off though I’m too late now. This is really a poor designed wristband. I recommend that fitbit changes this design.

    I plan on posting the flaw on many review site as I would not recommend this device to anyone. $130.00 down the drain.

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  • Nicole Maroe January 9, 2014, 12:40 am

    Do NOT buy FITBIT FORCE…
    I bought my boyfriend and myself the Fitbit Force for Christmas. We both had trouble with it falling off all the time!! Within only 5 days by boyfriends fell off and could not be found. A few days later my fell off again and the plastic clasp flung into the grass. I could not find the small clasp so it can’t be worn. When I tried to call Fitbit is the message says they are closed and there is no way to contact them via their website. We know several people the love their Flex and we enjoyed the Force when it would stay on our wrist. I believe it is a design flaw and a waste of $260.

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  • Joe January 9, 2014, 8:13 am

    Nicole, Fitbit Support (support@fitbit.com). They can see if someone is using the device or tries to use it. At least register it lost and/or stolen with them.

    I contacted fitbit and they made it right. They also acknowledged the issue. I am going to install a Wrist Watch safety chain when I get the replacement Force.

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  • Adam Anderson January 20, 2014, 4:59 pm

    While the Force may be an amazing product, a technical marvel… my experience as ‘consumer’ remains less than impressive. I ordered late December, product was back-ordered, received Jan 18. Okay, this can happen. Upon opening the box, soon discovered it was missing the wireless sync dongle. Seriously? Now waiting to find out what kind of service I get round #2. I realize this has nothing to do with the product, but it does say something about Fitbit fulfillment and quality control.

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  • WeddingChris January 23, 2014, 2:15 pm

    Twice now I’ve lost the Force because the snap does NOT stay closed and EASILY comes undone. Fortunately I found it both times but I won’t be wearing it again until I can figure out how to keep it on. This is clearly a DESIGN FLAW. FitBit should do something about this and help those who’ve already invested in their products too. Ugh.

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  • icerabbit January 24, 2014, 4:23 pm

    Have to abandon using the FitBit Force due to a severe rash that has developed on the outer side of the wrist, where the metal case around the charge port touches the skin …

    In my entire life I have yet to see myself or somebody else have a rash from a wrist watch or similar device.

    Combined with the other issues that plague FitBit, it really goes from “recommended” to “avoid”.

    Something like a Polar Loop with a conventional wrist band and waterproofing looks more promising. Garmin has the vivofit now too, with conventional 1 yr battery (so no metal charge port to get rash from) but they’ve got the same stupid FitBit band and closing mechanism.

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  • icerabbit January 28, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Just a shout-out that there are lots of complaints online about a rash on the wrist where the metal part of the fitbit makes contact with the skin. Close to 100 page long thread in the fitbit forums. Dozens of maistream websites reporting the issue as well, all the way to national tv news.

    fitbit does seem to offer refunds or exchanges for other devices with a refund of the price difference.

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  • icerabbit February 17, 2014, 6:39 pm

    02/17 Still no word from Fitbit as to what causes the severe rash / burn. They promised to get to the bottom of middle of January. Not a single update since.

    Over 500 people now have reported a severe rash / skin burn that shows up after about 4 weeks of use. It gets worse for 2-3 weeks after one stops wearing the force and then finally starts to subside very very slowly.

    It would be nice for the gadgeteer to post a warning on top of the article to warn potential customers.

    This product continues to harm people and should be recalled.

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  • tivoboy February 21, 2014, 7:37 pm
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  • Sharmon202 March 22, 2014, 7:46 pm

    I loved this product. It took about 7-10 days to get it broken in to snap together easily. It was kind of a pain but I got over it. Then I got the rash. It was red and a little itchy, but not an “injury” or as serious as some have said. It took about 2 weeks to go almost all the way, way. I did return it and told them I would buy another in a minute when the get this fixed. They were very cooperative about it.

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