The Nike+ Fuelband takes on the Jawbone UP
April 29, 2012
After receiving our fifth Jawbone UP, we decided to seriously look into the newest competitor in the self-monitoring gadget race: the Nike+ FuelBand. Unfortunately, as very new accessory on the market with a fair degree of demand, it wasn’t immediately available, so we had to wait several weeks before stock was replenished.
In the meantime, we looked up Nike’s sizing guide for the FuelBand, which came up short. It simply wasn’t clear from any of Nike’s documentation what size we should aim for. We printed out Nike’s sizing band, wrapped it around our wrist, and found that we literally fell on-the-line between two sizes. Per Nike’s Twitter feed, we were told that customers should opt to size up if this happens, so that’s what we did.
When we heard that stock was available, we made our purchase at the Nike online store. We received our FuelBand about a week later. It was packaged nicely, vaguely like you’d expect an Apple device to be boxed, but perhaps with a bit more box than necessary. In addition to the band, the box included a charging cable, a link removal tool, an 8mm extension link, a 16mm extension link, and a stand.1
One link was already in the band when it arrived, and because we fell between sizes, we knew we’d have to remove it in order to get a good fit. This was an easy task, but unfortunately the sizing still seemed off - the band proved very loose even with neither of the additional links installed. If we were to wear the band over a sweatshirt, the fit would be great, but as it was, the band slid up and down our wrist a bit too much. It felt a bit awkward when it slid up our forearm, and when it slid down to our wrist, it hindered our full range of movement.
That’s a design issue.
When we bought the Jawbone UP last year, we questioned why the band didn’t link at both ends, and wished that one end could plug into the other in order to close the band securely. This is how the FuelBand works, and while we like it in theory, it’s problematic. If the Jawbone UP slides down to the base of our hand, it doesn’t restrict wrist movement because the band’s two ends can flex away from one another when pressure is applied.
Practically speaking, let’s take a power clean as an example. Your hands are pointed down at the ground when you start, so whatever fitness band you’re wearing is likely to slip towards the ground. If it slips enough to cover the joint of your hand and wrist, you have a problem as you continue your movement. By the time you jerk the bar from the ground and manipulate it to fall on your shoulders, your wrists should be bent backwards. If you’re wearing the FuelBand in this example, one hand won’t be able to bend back as far as the other because the band is in the way. At best, this causes some discomfort in your wrist. At worst, it throws your exercise off entirely.
If you’re doing the same exercise with the Jawbone UP, as soon as you bend your wrist, the two ends of the UP push away and the band slightly increases in size because of its elasticity. No harm, no foul.
It wasn’t until after we exercised with the FuelBand that we truly appreciated Jawbone’s design. In fact, before this, we cursed the design every time we accidentally tore the UP from our wrist when pulling off a sweater. Yet, it’s the very fact that the UP isn’t securely latched to your wrist that makes it such a great accessory for the weight room.
Back to sizing, we later found out that Nike claims the small FuelBand to be 171mm around with both links in, and the mediam FuelBand to be 172mm around with no links in. Yet, for some reason, Nike doesn’t recommend both links to be used at one time, which seems a little odd. This means that if we do drop down a size, we’ll have to make due with a band that’s 9mm shorter than the one we tried out. We can probably make due, even if the fit will be snug, but this likely wouldn’t correct the issue with the band restricting wrist movement, unless the band is so snug that it won’t slide over our wrist’s joint bones. Unfortunately, that means the band would have to be almost exactly the circumference of our wrists, and we seriously question the liklihood of that scenario.
Otherwise, it’s pretty good.
Beyond that one issue, the FuelBand’s design is pretty nice. The display is pretty much invisible until you press the one button on the surface of the device, giving the band a very plain, but sporty look. The FuelBand should really come in several colours, but they’d likely have to be dark for the LEDs to look nice and crisp, as they do on the black band. We found the addition of a time-keeping function a nice touch, as the FuelBand can easily replace a watch in the workplace. As the band is extremely plain looking, it wouldn’t even look out-of-place wearing a suit-and-tie. In contrast, the Jawbone UP’s slimmer profile, patterned surface, and unconventional parallel ends, make it stick out a lot more in a conservative workplace.
As far as getting the FuelBand working, there’s an additional step or two over the Jawbone UP. As we prefer to sync with the iPhone, we were disappointed that the FuelBand doesn’t work with the iPhone out-of-box. First, the FuelBand didn’t come charged, whereas the Jawbone UP ships with some level of power, even if low. Second, you have to first connect the FuelBand to a PC, after downloading the respective software application. Only once the FuelBand is set up on the PC can you set up the FuelBand app on your iPhone.
This wouldn’t be half bad if the FuelBand didn’t occasionally require reconnecting it to your PC. We love the convenience of syncing the FuelBand with our iPhone over Bluetooth, but after one particular sync cycle, we were told that there was inconsistent information on the device, and that we should sync with our PC to fix this.
The Bluetooth syncing really is nice, though. The best part is that it can sync in real time when the app is running. So as you run, the app updates with the activity you’re doing. You don’t need this functionality because you can just as easily look down at your wrist after pressing the button on the FuelBand, but presumably there are instances where looking at your iPhone is more convenient than looking at your wrist. Maybe you’re on a treadmill, for example, and your phone is propped up already.
The FuelBand’s accuracy is about on par with the Jawbone UP.2 We don’t know how Nike’s tracking algorithm incorporates information on which wrist you wear the FuelBand on, but because you specify this, presumably there’s some accuracy correction for certain movements. Yet, we don’t recall ever entering into the app any information on whether we’re left or right-handed, so it’s not clear what the FuelBand is factoring in here. Otherwise, we could see it not counting certain movements we do throughout the day, like pushing our PC’s mouse around with our dominant hand.
As we mentioned in a previous post, the very fact the FuelBand has Bluetooth may make wearing it situationally dependent. While you can turn Bluetooth on the FuelBand off, the very fact that the device has Bluetooth means certain individuals may not be able to wear it to the office.3
A lot of people have discussed Nike Fuel, the unit the FuelBand tracks. This seems mostly marketing hype, however. While the FuelBand does provide a Nike Fuel reading, it also tracks and reports steps and estimated calories burned. Presumably, the app computes Fuel based on a function of steps taken over time; the more steps taken in a shorter amount of time, the higher the Fuel calculation. We hoped to play with this theory some more, but stopped using the FuelBand because of its loose fit before we could experiment enough.
What it doesn’t have.
After thinking about our band’s sizing, our first instinct was to just exchange the band for a smaller one. But as we went back to rely on the Jawbone UP exclusively again, we realized that the UP’s killer feature isn’t in tracking steps taken, it’s in the sleep alarm and night-time sleep tracker.
That is to say, as much as the FuelBand competes with the UP, the UP is really a different product, aimed at more general lifestyle tracking. In our case, we place a more emphasis on the sleep-related features than we do the day-time step tracking, so we realized the FuelBand will never entirely replace the UP unless it improves its software options.4
For us, then, as long as we have an UP band that works, it will likely trump the FuelBand as our daily tracking accessory.5
Should you get it?
The FuelBand is $50 more expensive than the UP, yet unlike with the UP, there’s no record of defective devices. If you’re big on cardio and that’s the type of movement you want to track, the FuelBand is a better option, as it tracks both steps taken and Nike Fuel, the latter which may be a better assessment of the fitness you’re getting day-by-day. If you’re already using Nike+ to track runs, then the FuelBand will fit into your workflow nicely.
If you plan to track your workouts in the weightroom, or where you’re otherwise manipulating your wrists (like in certain Crossfit movements), the UP may be a better option for you. And if your goal is to track more than just exercise, the FuelBand will obviously fall short.
Finally, if you’re considering the FuelBand, make sure you get your sizing right. The sizing does not match up with the UP (i.e. a medium in the UP is not a medium in the FuelBand), and the UP provides more flexibility despite not having removable links. If you can wait, delay a purchase until you can find the FueldBand in a local store, so you can ensure the sizing is proper. Otherwise, you may have to deal with shipping returns, which are always a hassle.
If it weren’t for the issues Jawbone’s had with the UP, we’d recommend it immediately. Since it’s still unclear where the UP stands regarding these problems, however, the FuelBand is a good alternative, and arguably a much better option if you’re primarily looking to track runs. If that’s not the case, you might want to hold off and see if Jawbone’s UP manufacturing is back on track, as we think more thought went into the design of the UP than the FuelBand.6
Either way, for general movement tracking, the FuelBand and UP are both good devices. It’s just too bad we can’t have the best parts of each in one band.
We found the stand to be a bit silly, as there’s little need to prop the band up while it’s charging. Maybe some people feel they need a stand for every accessory they buy, but that seems a little odd. ↩
The FuelBand was always within 100 steps of the UP. ↩
Take, for example, individuals with a security clearance who work at classified facilities. ↩
With the exception of the silent alarm, the FuelBand could track sleep. There’s an API available for the FuelBand, so someone would simply need to write an app to analyze the FuelBand’s readings at night. ↩
We considered just wearing the FuelBand during the day, and the UP at night, but we’d sooner rely on only one device than two. ↩
It’s Jawbone’s implementation of the ideas that fell short on the technical, manufacturing, end. ↩