I have always had a bit of a thing for watches – but more specifically, smart watches. Any watch that does a bit more than telling the time has the potential to grab my attention.
Nike has a lot of experience in sport watches, and the technology they are building into their shoes is becoming cooler every day, and they all form part of Nike’s tech called “Nike+”. It all started a while back with the Nike+ shoe kit which was launched with Apple’s iPod Nano, but from there they have greatly expanded their Nike+ lineup, and it is not dependent on Apple products anymore.
Nike’s latest gadget is the Nike FuelBand – a seemingly minimalistic polymer strap, which looks almost like a slightly thicker Livestrong band. In fact, it does not look like a gadget at all. To most people it would look just like a black rubber band, but on the top there is a small raised button, and on the bottom there is a silver strip with a subtle Nike swoosh and a plus sign.
The button activates a very cool grid of bright LED’s that read out your movement metrics for the day. Press it once for Fuel, another time for steps, another time for calories burned – you get the idea. And yes, it can show the time as well. There is also a strip of LED’s that lead from red (no movement) all the way to green (goal reached).
The bottom metal strip is in fact the clasp, which is cleverly built around a USB plug, which is used to charge and sync the device from your PC or Mac. You can directly plug it into an available USB port, but there is also a neat USB extension lead that works like a dock for the Fuelband. My battery life from the FuelBand was pretty decent as well – I need to charge it about every 8 – 10 days, depending on how many times I sync it with my phone (currently a few times a day).
You don’t have to sync the FuelBand every day, and its memory can track a few weeks usage before it will start giving you low memory warnings.
The FuelBand can be bought in three sizes – Nike says medium and large fit most men, and small fits most woman, but there is a sizing chart on their site. If it does not fit perfectly, they do include some extension bits – so you do have a lot of adjustability.
Using the Hardware
The Nike FuelBand’s idea is very simple – it tracks all your movement throughout the day. It measures this activity in a new metric called “Nike Fuel”. Based on your height, weight and age, it uses a system built on oxygen kinetics, which then gives you a fuel rating throughout the day. But how does it know what you are doing?
The FuelBand uses a three axis accelerometer, not unlike the one in your smartphone, and then tracks all the movement your wrist makes during the day. The FuelBand is accurate enough to realize when you are climbing stairs, compared to walking, and it would reward you in Fuel as such. Sitting on the couch, or sitting at your desk all day just typing would obviously lead to a much lower Fuel score. It is quite smart as well – merely shaking your arms about does not lead to more Fuel.
Tracking your activity
Where other Nike+ gadgets tend to only function when you do a specific exercise, the Nike FuelBand is meant to be worn all the time. You set a goal (measured in Fuel) that you must reach in a day, and every time you press the button during the day it will tell you how close you are to that goal.
The target market here is most probably your typical office worker. My average weekday involves an hour of gym in the morning, and the rest of the day I am sitting behind my computer working away. Some people refer to this as “sitting disease“. Now, any sports scientist would probably argue that this scenario is not ideal – we should rather be moving consistently throughout the day.
And this is exactly where the FuelBand becomes handy – before you know it you find yourself checking how much movement you have done through the day. Not close to your goal because you have been lounging on the couch all day? Go take a walk. Do some jumping jacks. Whatever. Because you do not want to break your streak of hitting your goal. A typical starter day to work with is 2000 Nike Fuel, but if you do around an hour of exercise, you will easily exceed 3000 Fuel points. Here you can see a pretty leisurely day followed by an hour of tennis:
While you can track your movement using the FuelBand itself, you need to upload your movement data to Nike’s cloud, and in that way you can see your Fuel usage over time. This can be done in one of two ways – either connect it up to your computer, and sync the FuelBand using the Nike+ software, or if you have an iPhone, use the Nike FuelBand app.
The iPhone app is actually a lot nicer to use than the current web interface that you use on your desktop. Simply hold in the FuelBand’s button for a few seconds until it says “Sync” and then open the FuelBand app on your iPhone. From there it will connect with bluetooth, and the counter will whiz by with your current score, and you can also see how your day went – for example you can see you earned the most Fuel this morning at 7. You can also go look at previous days’ stats.
The gamification aspect even goes a bit further with Nike’s site checking which of your Facebook friends have FuelBands, and then makes you compete with them – you can see their results for the day or the week. Over time you get rewarded with “streaks” if you keep on hitting your goals consistently. This results in cool animation on your phone or on the web, which changes over time based on your goals. This becomes oddly addictive, and before long you really do not want to break a streak – you might find yourself running up the stairs at 11 PM just to keep your streak going!
One negative aspect of the FuelBand is that because it is wrist mounted, certain activities do seem to get more points than others – for example, riding a bicycle means your wrist stays stationary, despite your forward momentum. It is also not particularly good at giving out Fuel points for weight training – because most weight training has pretty deliberate slow movements on the wrists. But jogging, walking, and running tally up points very quickly.
(If there is one feature I would really like, it would be integration with Discovery’s Vitality service. Polar has set up an integrated service which counts the number of exercise you do, and then syncs it with Discovery Vitality’s points. Nike and Discovery should have a chat – although I am not optimistic.)
Some people have criticized the Fuelband for being inaccurate, or biased towards certain activities, and that might be true. But it does not take away from the main aim of the device – it gets you off your butt, and moving.
The hardware is pretty slick, and gets out of the way. Unlike some exercise gadgets it requires almost no effort to use, and it works as advertised. No special adaptors, or things you have to clip to clothing etc. are required.
After using it for a week I find myself checking my Fuel often during the day, and sometimes I would go take a quick walk just to get some points in order to get to my set goal. If that makes me lead a more healthy lifestyle, I think the product does what it is meant to.
Pros: Gets you moving.
Cons: Website needs some work. Not all activities “count” towards your Nike Fuel.
Price: $150. Not yet in SA, and Nike Concept stores do not know when they will arrive here.