Hands-on with the Fitbit Force

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Source: Fitbit

I realized the other day that I hadn't talked about my Fitbit Force yet. I ordered one as soon as they became available for pre-order and I've been using it for a few weeks now.

If you're new to Fitbit, they're essentially pedometers on steroids. The Force counts how many steps you take (and alerts you when you've reached your daily goal), the distance you've traveled, how much you climb (measured in floors rather than feet), how many calories you've burned and when you were most active in a given day. It can also track sleep patterns if you wear it to bed and remember to turn on that function (and turn it off in the morning). The Force also offers a silent alarm (it vibrates) and functions as a wristwatch.

All of this gets tracked on Fitbit's website. The Force itself syncs to a computer or to some mobile devices. To sync with my PC I just plugged in a tiny USB dongle. Simple.

I'm generally quite pleased with the Fitbit Force; it replaced my Fitbit Ultra so I basically knew what to expect. The difference is that you wear the Force on your wrist like a watch, whereas with the Ultra I had to clip it to my shirt; something I was always forgetting to do.

My only real gripes are pretty nit-picky: the clasp on the band uses 2 nubs on one strap and a series of slots on the other. I find it can be troublesome to line the nubs up with the slots on the first try. Also they don't 'click' in so it can be hard to tell if the Force is on securely. My other gripe is that the single button on the device is so low-profile that I can find it hard to push at times.

I am guessing that neither of these issues will be a problem for younger users with better eyes and nimbler fingers, but it's something to think about for my fellow old-timers.

As mentioned, the Force has a single button. Tapping it toggles between time, steps taken, distance covered, etc. Basically through everything it tracks. Holding down the button turns on or off the sleep timer, and when your alarm starts to vibrate, tapping it turns the alarm off.

Everything else, which basically means setting up alarms and daily goals, is controlled by the website. These settings get pushed to the Force when it syncs. Using a website works well for the most part, and is easier than trying to remember some arcane series of button presses (the only other way I can imagine it could work) but if for example you're in bed on the night before Thanksgiving and realize your Force is going to wake you up in the morning as if it was a regular work day, it means getting up and going to a PC to disable the alarm. I may be speaking from experience.

I haven't tested how long the Force will go between charges. I generally put mine on the charger once every couple of days, while I'm showering. It's never been below 75% charged when I do this so I imagine it would go for a week without a charge. The Force is supposed to be water-resistant so I don't worry when I'm washing my hands or working in the kitchen, but I do take it off when my arm is going to be totally immersed in water.

The Fitbit Force is $129.95. If you're interested in these devices but that price is too steep, there's a $99.95 Fitbit Flex that does everything the Force does except tell time and track altitude changes, and it still uses the very convenient wristwatch form-factor.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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