Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nike+ Fuel Band - Principle #1 done right

The build up
Principle 1 from "newbodi.es core principles to change your body & life" is "track it".  Tracking it is all about following some metric about your life that reflects your health, fitness - whatever it is you are trying to affect change in.  It can be your weight, minutes of cardio, steps taken per day, etc.  There's lots of research out there that shows that the simple act of tracking something - anything - will result in improvement.  Tim Ferriss shares examples of a guy who tracked his body weight every day without purposefully changing anything in his daily life other doing this tracking.  Guess what - he lost weight.   He shares the story of someone who takes pictures of what they're about to eat on their smart phone.  Guess what - they lost weight.  Why?  Tracking things makes you conscious of them - perhaps even subconsciously.  The guy tracking his weight became aware of his weight and probably obsessed about it a little bit.  Not a lot, but just enough to subconsciously make shifts he wasn't aware of that started to bring his weight down.  The food photographer started thinking twice before shoving cake down their gullet.  They were tracking their food intake (they were also giving themselves moments to pause and think about what they were about to do - another great idea). It also adds a bit of game to process to keep it fun and energized.

What it is
Enter Nike, or, more precisely, Nike+.  The company has done a great job making tracking working out (and running, in particular) easier through their Nike+ sensors, sport bands, sport watches, iPod integration and website.  Nike has gone one step further with their Nike+ Fuel Band.  It still tracks standard things like calories and steps, but is the first to use Nike's "Fuel" concept.  It's less dependent on the size/build of the individual or the exercise being done, and is based on science.  As the user, you don't care about any of that, but instead are focused on the metric it provides, and how you're doing vs. a daily goal.  You set your goal, and then sync to Nike+ (through a computer via the built-in USB plug on the band, or via an iOS device by using Bluetooth) to see how you're doing.  There is an animated character, Fuelie, who motivates you with little videos when you get milestones and achievements, and it even pegs your performance against Facebook friends (I'm kicking butt, by the way).  It sounded silly, but I have to tell you, I'm totally hooked, and have stayed up walking around when I was near but not quite at my goal just to keep my streak alive.

So, with that background, let me go into a bit of a review.  This review may not be as rich as many of the ones out there from folks who went to Nike marketing events for journalists to get to know the unit.  I didn't get to work out with any celebrities, but I did earn a ton of Fuel playing with my 3 year old (plus working out a lot).  This is also likely to be a brief but honest take on the Nike+ Fuel Band.  I'll go into details by section below, but I'll sum it up with a story.

My unit broke (it wouldn't sync anymore).  I was so bummed.  Honestly, I felt as if I was heart broken. How pathetic is that? I got a replacement quickly, but it wasn't quick enough to sooth my broken heart.  If that doesn't tell you overall how I feel about this thing, you read too quickly.  Go back and read again.  Now do you see what I mean?

OK, now you can read on for more details.

What it's like
The unit is pretty understated, yet stylish.  It's like a thick LIVESTRONG bracelet, but black with a discrete button and matte silver buckle (that hides the USB adapter).  Whether it's rubber or TPU (or if TPU is just a kind of rubber) is beyond me, but it's a versatile finish that's held up well throughout my testing despite nearly 24/7 wearing through lots of workouts and other less than clean and safe situations.

It comes in three sizes (S/M/L), and each ships with two adapters (small and large), giving you three fits per size (none, small, large), though I'm guessing you could combine the two adapters to get a fourth, larger size.  I found I'm sort of in between a 'raw' medium and using the small adapter.  This is my main gripe with the unit.  I wish it was just a hair looser without any adapters, or a bit tighter than with the small adapter.  I find that my wrist hurts when using it without an adapter. That's not a warning to people, though, as I've had two wrist surgeries including a bone removal, so my wrist is weird and sensitive.  I use the small adapter to avoid pain, but just find that the band moves around a bit more than I'd like when running.  No biggie.
In the box, you get the unit with a sizing adapter installed already, plus the larger adapter and a removal tool, a USB extension cable/dock thing, manuals that don't tell you much more than that you need to sync the device, and that's about it.  It's all very jazzy looking, and the USB dock is nice.  Do I wish there was a how-to manual?  Yes, but it's really ok that it doesn't have it.  The whole thing becomes very self-evident quickly enough.

The buckle is pretty solid, and has a proper release button that seems to hold up well.  My first unit actually didn't, as I'd find it had popped open quite a bit.  My second one has done better, but this could also be due to my not using an adapter/spacer with the first unit, so being tighter, the buckle was under more tension.  The thing that plugs into the buckle is the USB adapter, which is really clever of Nike.  I never liked how I needed a cap and a special adapter to sync and charge my Jawbone Up.  Having it all self-contained is great.

Nicely done, Nike.

How you use it
The Fuel Band is pretty technically sound.  As a former Jawbone Up owner (well, actually, I had four that all died within their first 10 days (at most), and still have the last one that died since they offered you money back without a return when they pulled it from the market), there's only one thing I wish the Fuel Band could do, and several it does that the Up couldn't.  The Up's best feature in my eyes was its ability to wake you from sleep with a vibration within a window of your wake up time by sensing when you're at the right part of the sleep cycle to awaken and not feel miserable.  This is so great for waking you gently and not having your spouse or partner kill you for waking them up with an obnoxious alarm when you want to get up at 4-something to work out.  I've started using the app Sleep Cycle on my iPhone to get the same effect, but it's not quite as easy to deal with as the Up was (have to plug the phone in, have it on the mattress while hoping you don't knock it off or cover it with the pillow, and I'd recommend putting the phone on airplane mode so you aren't frying your brain all night).

The Fuel Band has 2 batteries, and seems to hold up nicely charge-wise. I'm sensitive to this given my experience with my Up.  It can display Nike Fuel, calories, steps and the current time.  You push a little button on top, and there's a really neat array of LEDs that display info while a multicolored line fills in as you approach your goal (red LEDs give way to orange, yellow and green for the goal).  When you hit your goal, a "GOAL" animation is played as an option whenever you hit the button.  It varies the animation to keep things fresh.  This display can be configured through the Nike+ Connect app on your computer or via the iOS app by using Bluetooth (whether steps and cals are shown, whether the Goal animation is shown, and whether the band is on your left or right wrist (also called flipping the display 180 degrees in the Connect app - odd that they don't refer to this the same way in iOS as on your computer).

Speaking of Bluetooth, you can also turn BT on and off by entering airplane mode, pair with a new device, initiative a sync with the iOS app, reset the device or turn the device off completely - all by holding down the little button.

My impressions - Motivational
This is what the Fuel Band is really all about.  It's not about the technical side of the Fuel metric, or the accuracy of it per se.  It's about the motivation you get by following Principle #1 - track it!  You will have a motivator with you at all times.  I dare you to get a Fuel Band and not hit the button regularly.  You can't help it. Not only is the display cool, but you'll find that you just want to know how much closer you are to your goal.  You'll feel like a giant when you're blowing through it quickly on great days.  You'll feel a little worried on days when you're not going fast enough to hit it.  Some guy tweeted to Nike+ that he was doing air punches at Starbucks to get more Fuel.  You can laugh at him.  Then you get a Fuel Band and you will do them to.  I won't hide it.  I went for a run at lunch one day at work, and when I got back into the elevator to go to my office, I turned to the mirror in the back of the elevator starting punching, looking like Billy Blanks in a Tae Bo video.  Yes, I was alone.  Yes, I felt great. Yes, I earned more Fuel.

This is my point.  The thing works for its core purpose.  And it works really well.  Really well.  It just gets you so conscious of movement and activity.  A good friend of mine just got one, and he's decided that he will be trying to do 100 more Fuel points each day as he tries to be more active.  He was originally just curious and interested in the device and didn't go into it with a goal of getting more active so much as being conscious of his activity.  The fact is, you can't help it.  You will get more active.  And you'll love it.  And Fuelie will dance his glowing green Nike's off celebrating with you.  He also has glowing green boxing gloves, ostensibly for getting Ventis or whatever a large size coffee is called.  That's another story, though.

One gripe - the performance is mind boggling inconsistent sometimes.  For example, today, I worked out more than I did on Monday.  However, Monday's Fuel reading was nearly 6500, and today, it's 10:23pm, and I have yet to hit my goal of 5k (I'm about 130 off).  Same for calories.  Two 20 minute runs around Boston yielded 547 calories one time and 390 another.  The 390 is pretty accurate given past experience, and corroborating evidence from my Nike+ GPS app.  I ran faster the second time, too.  I think the unit fit is a part of this.  If the band is swishing around on my wrist more, then the accelerometer is picking up more movement, and thus ticking up the Fuel faster.  Who knows, maybe I was swinging my arms around more one day vs the other.

But, who cares.  Taking each day in and of itself, the little black rubbery thing and its cartoon mascot motivated me.  The days it wasn't reading as aggressively got me pushed even more because I couldn't stand the thought of breaking my streak of hitting my goal.  Plus, my son loves watching the little Fuelie videos, and I would be a horrible father if I disappointed him by not earning new ones from reaching longer streaks and higher goals.

My impressions - Ecosystem & Portal
Nike+ has a really solid ecosystem and great apps to support your activity.  That's no different for the Fuel Band.  They've invested a lot of time and money in making the experience feel very complete and well designed.  Literally - the graphics and UI are really gorgeous.  I also use the Nike+ GPS app on my iPhone, and am really impressed with that, too.  The two parts of Nike+ aren't integrated today, but that's about to change (June 2012), so that just reenforces the value of the ecosystem of the Nike+ program.

For the Fuel Band, there's a dedicated iOS app which works really well.  It's not a universal app, so those with iPads who want to use it will have to make due with one of those little windows or a pixel-doubled experience of running an iPhone/iPod touch app on their iPad.  nikeplus.com mirrors the iOS functionality pretty closely, though with a slightly different user experience.  Both ways of interfacing give you the motivating achievements (including Fuelie videos), and let you post achievements to your Facebook wall or tweet them out.

This last part touches on Principle #2 - go public!  Sharing your successes (and failures) as well as your goals with your social circle (the real kind or the online variety) creates social pressure to deliver on your promises.  If you do this, don't skip posting when you fail.  Tell people that you failed and that you will do better the next day.  Get your friends to pick you back up so you don't fail again.  Or to give you a hard time for failing so you get your butt kicked enough to go at it the next day.

To buy or not to buy
In the end, I'm incredibly happy with this.  It can be corny, it may be sharing a meaningless metric that it tracks inaccurately.  Who cares.  What it really sets out to do, it does, and it does it really well.

An inevitable comparison always comes up in reviews between the Fuel Band at $150 and the FitBit at $99.  Is it better than the FitBit?  I haven't used one, so it's hard to say.  The FitBit does sleep tracking, unlike the Fuel Band.  But the FitBit has a habit of getting lost or falling off the wearer (from what I've read over and over in reviews, and then seen first hand as a friend who has one scrambled around looking for it when he went to reach for it in its belt holster to show it to me).  The FitBit is also $50 cheaper.  From what I've read, though, I'd still go with the Fuel Band as I think the ecosystem Nike has developed around Nike+ is much richer and more motivating.  If I wasn't as into working out as I am, though, I might feel differently.  Also, I believe FitBit's site ties into other devices, making the term 'ecosystem' that much more powerful.  In the end, check 'em both out and decide for yourself.  I did.

While they were in very short supply for a while (it took me 3 months of trying to get mine), they're in stock on Nike's online store and in their NYC NikeTown, with supposedly good quantities of all sizes.  If you can afford the $150, this is a great way to track it!

Another great way is with trackbodi.es - our iOS app that's all about tracking your workouts, fitness, body stats, etc easily and clearly.  Check it out at http://www.trackbodi.es!

Have you tried it, or used a competitor product?  Let me know your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Just as an update, onto my 7th FuelBand (this one stopped lighting up, and can't communicate with my computer). Still love it, but wish it was a little tougher.