If' you've been paying attention at all in recent years, you know that Americans are pretty much (1) obese, (2) addicted to tiny electronic gadgets and (3) fools for social media. Someone out there was paying attention: San Francisco's Fitbit. To take advantage of the food, gadget, and "friend" addictions of Americans, Fitbit built a slick little system: the Fitbit One.


Now I'm kinda anal-retentive about things like tracking exercise: I have paper running logs that go back to the early '80s and a digital log back to about 1989. In the past six or seven years, I've gone through half a dozen pedometers, each slightly more advanced than the one before: the most recent had a USB interface that let me upload stats to a crude database on my 'puter: I was in heaven!



The Fitbit One goes that one better! See what I mean...


Fitbit One WIreless Activity Tracker 2labz 2013-08-08 4.0

Fitbit and their One

The Fitbit One
Credit: fitbit.com

A Fitbit One traks sleep, steps, calories and stairs; and syncs wirelessly - all in a tiny package.

What's a "One"?

Measurements: the FitBit One is built around accelerometers to sense changes in position, the same as most good pedometers. It can identify either walking or running and recognizes climbing stairs. It includes a sleep mode the makers claim can differentiate between full sleep, restless sleep and wakefulness.


Physical Presence: the One is a small bar-shaped plastic pod, less than two inches long and a half inch wide and perhaps a quarter of an inch thick. It has one button and a tiny display window on the face and battery contacts on the back. That's it. All the button does is cycle through the displays (time, steps, distance, floors climbed, calories burned, and activity level). There's nothing else... nothing. The sensor is, supposedly, water-resistant (if you translate the marketspeak "sweatproof and splashproof"), which is probably a good thing if you're going to wear it clipped to a bra while exercising (I don't).

Steps by Step...

Credit: mepaki / morguefile.com

Interface: the Fitbit One is wireless, connecting to a USB receiver that, after you install the Fitbit software, manages the interface. The One will sync with its receiver every fifteen minutes when in range, and the software uploads the new data data to your Fitbit profile when online. That profile stores stats, allowing you to evaluate activity on a yearly, monthly, weekly or daily basis; and even monito step count and calorie burn at a granularity of five minutes. Cool...


More: the One has a rechargeable battery that lasts a week or so before notifying you (by email, if you like) that it's low. The device can only recharge via a dedicated USB cable plugged into a computer or wall charger. Normally, you tuck a One into a tiny silicone holster, which clips to a waistband or other clothing edge (rim of a pocket, strap of a sports bra, etc.). The package includes a Velcro® wristband with a special mesh pocket you wear for  sleep mode; apparently moving your hands suggests restlessness or wakefulness.

Climbing Stairs

Credit: author

Track all 400-plus steps of Jacob's Ladder in Perth, WA, with a Fitbin One.

Online Games

You manage your One from an online profile at Fitbit.com. That's where you record your height, stride length, age, etc.; parameters that are used to calculate not only distance traveled, but also calorie burn totals. You can also track other health data on your profile (it's password protected); including pulse rate, BP, weight, BMI, body measurements, body fat percentage, and glucose (a nod to the diabetes epidemic, I suppose).


The profile lets you track other exercise like cycling or swimming.  The calories burned get added to your daily total. You can also journal your "mood" (snicker) and allergies, and maintain a food diary. I find the food diary by far the most useful aspect of the profile, myself: realizing how many calories, how much fat, and how much sodium are in a meal is a great way to encourage portion control and healthy food choices, which is why so many weight-control programs make you do it.


And, of course, aspects of your profile can be made public through connections with "friends" - a social-media aspect. Fitbit will automatically post progress reports and "awards" to your Facebook account and tweet them for you if you're that... whatever... "Fitbit," the company says, "Is more fun with friends." The jury's still out on that...

Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black
Amazon Price: $99.95 $76.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 8, 2013)
Your choice: black, or a red so dark you'll think it's black.

What Fitbit One Gets Right

The One is a marvelous (though somewhat pricey at $100) little device. Comparison with my previous pedometers suggests it's quite accurate, step-wise, and it's also (usually) accurate about stairs. Some less savvy newbies get confused that the device says they're burning calories even when asleep, but I guess those are people who missed the discussion of basal metabolism in 7th-grade Health. Since we don't know what algorithm they use to calculate calorie consumption at different levels of activity, we pretty much have to trust their estimates.


Your on-line profile has some good features, including a line graph of calories in and out to show you how you're doing (calories in > calories out = fat butt). Just about anything you can graph or chart, the profile graphs or charts. You can even have your profile send you a cute little weekly report.

Sleep Tracking? Really?

Tracking sleep
Credit: click / morguefile.com

Your Fitbit One (supposedly) tracks sleep.

What Fitbit One Gets... "Meh!"

The One "tracks sleep." So what? you don't know how well you slept without a bar graph showing when you were restless or awake? Plus, there's no explanation: 98% "sleep efficiency" is very likely good, but what's bad? 90%? 70%? How can you change your sleep habits if the "efficiency" is "low"? The ads say it "helps you learn how to sleep better," but it hasn't whispered any little hints in my ear yet. This ability is, IYAM, little more than a gimmick added to make it look more high-tech.


The One syncs with its little dongle wirelessly, and will sync with certain mobile devices using Bluetooth: just about anything in the recent world of Appledom, and four Samsung devices. That's it, four Samsung devices out of all the Android phones (more Android phones are sold  than iPhones, Fitbit). For a couple of months, there's been a "more devices available soon" sign, but "soon" hasn't been defined.


The profile is mostly pretty well-designed, though there are still decidedly clunky spots. The food database is rather weak, and an advertised drag-and-drop capability in the food log is more like drag-and-crash. There are other doofus things like how your "achievements" tell you that your best day ever for calorie burn was  2700, while a graph two inches away shows that you burned 3500 just yesterday. There are also too many little labels saying "coming soon" and "not ready yet" -- almost always on things that involve simple math.


Fitbit gets it wrong
Credit: rileyroxx / flickr.com

Nothing is perfect, and that includes the Fitbit One.

What the Fitbit One Gets Wrong

  • Customer support has been offshored to a second- or third-world country somewhere. I'm sure support is fine with cookbook solutions for dummies, but they don't seem to be any good at thinking and don't even seem to read the questions. They also apologize every sentence (a personal pet peeve).
  • Many things that might be really useful are available only with a paid subscription at a cost of $50/year. No thanks.
  • And social media? I have it turned off. 'Nuff said?

An Alternative

Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker, Charcoal
Amazon Price: $59.95 $44.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 8, 2013)
You still get the profile and the step counter, but not the sleep tracker and stair-counter. A Fitbit Zip may be more your style.

The Bottom Line

When my One dies or runs off to join a circus, I'll very likely take a step back to the Fitbit Zip (or whatever its equivalent is at the time). The sleep-tracking gimmick and the stairs-counter aren't worth an extra $40 to me. Overall, though, I'm generally pleased with the One: it’s accurate and keeps securely in place, and most of all it fits my obsessive record-keeping style. They can stick their social component where the sun don't shine, though.