Photo: NikeInc.com

When the Nike+ FuelBand was released almost two years ago, we weren’t exactly overwhelmed. It was a fine, albeit flawed new addition to the fitness tracking market, and our review finished with the phrase, “it’s clear the technology still has a long way to go — and Nike’s sure to raise the bar whenever the next generation of FuelBands hit stores.”

Well, it’s been two years, and the FuelBand SE (“Second Edition”) is now available everywhere. Is it what we’ve all been waiting for?

Why Buy a FuelBand?

Let’s start with a compliment: Nike’s new tracker is cool. The FuelBand is a sleek, if slightly uncomfortable bracelet with a funky LED screen that would look great on anyone’s wrist (especially now that it comes in a variety of pretty colors).

Once a user plugs in his or her height, weight, and desired activity level, the gadget keeps its wearer on task by counting steps, estimating calories burned, and keeping a running tally of “fuel points” — a somewhat vague metric that determines how much somebody should be moving based on their vital stats.

It’s fun to try to boost your fuel points throughout the day (this is where the “gamification” comes into play), and the FuelBand rewards users with badges and trophies that can be shared with Nike+’s incredibly active web community of about seven million. The online component is especially helpful since it encourages healthy competition and provides some positive reinforcement for all that hard work. But all of this was true of the first edition of the Nike+ FuelBand — what’s changed with the SE?

The Second Coming

Nike has addressed some of the original FuelBand's issues by making the SE more durable and water resistant, although still not to the point that it can be used underwater (sorry, swimmers!).

The SE also has a few new functions: It now tells time and encourages its wearer to spend at least 5 minutes per hour on their feet, flashing “Go, <Name>!” whenever you’ve spent too much time on your butt. It’s a handy feature, especially for those of us who work at a desk.

But the biggest improvement is the SE’s “Sessions” feature. While the first Fuelband could only measure how many fuel points were earned each day, the SE can calculate how many are earned per minute. This makes it much more useful for figuring out when and how we burn the most calories. For instance, after logging a fifteen-minute session of sprint intervals, I learned that my workout was the most intense during its final five minutes (it must've been the Rocky remix).

The FuelBand’s Bluetooth capabilities have also improved, with the addition of newfangled Bluetooth 4.0 technology. While the first Fuelband required its wearer to hold down a button to synchronise the data with an iPhone, the SE is constantly, wirelessly connected — whenever the iOS app is open, the data (steps, calories, points, etc.) updates in real time. Bluetooth 4.0 is also uses a lot less battery power, so while the first edition needed to be plugged in every few days, the SE can last up to a week on a single charge.

Why It’s Still Deeply Flawed

The update has given the FuelBand a little more functionality, but the update hasn’t addressed any of our concerns from the first addition.

Sure, it’s harder to get fuel points from a bumpy car ride now (though they haven’t completely solved that problem), but the FuelBand still has tremendous difficulty recognizing any form of exercise that isn’t walking or running. The SE’s Sessions feature offers a kind of solution by letting a user label a gym sesh with the type of workout and its intensity, and awarding the points they probably deserve. Since this is just guesswork, it’s easy to cheat — a heart rate monitor would have probably been a better way to fix this issue.

Most egregiously, the FuelBand app is still iPhone only, so nearly all of the new features are useless for Android or Samsung users. A better option for non-Apple owners would be a FuelBand competitor like the cheaper Fitbit Force, which happily syncs with Android phones and other apps like Runkeeper and Endomondo.

The Takeaway

If you’re a runner with an iPhone, the FuelBand is a fine, if somewhat overpriced purchase. It’s good at keeping track of steps and caloric burn, and the Nike+ online community provides plenty of the group reinforcement and camaderie that runners often thrive on. If you have trouble staying active on rest days or walking as much as you should, it’s also not a bad buy. But if you prefer to work out with weights, cycling, swimming, or any other form of exercise that's not running, there are better places to spend your money.

The Nike+ FuelBand SE is now available at all major retailers for $149.99

Got something to say? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet the author @ncjms.

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