Tech Spotlight: Nike FuelBand
What you've heard about the Nike+FuelBand is largely true: It's laughably inaccurate (beating up the beat may just earn you more fuel points than a set of barbell squats); it's expensive (at $149, that's the equivalent of two-and-a-half J. Lin jerseys, or about 120 avocados); and, despite Nike's best efforts, it’s not (yet) revolutionizing health and fitness tracking technology (running watches with built-in calorie monitors and pedometers do much of the same thing).
But the Nike+FuelBand is still quite possibly the coolest gadget I own. As someone who strives to be active each and every day, it turns out writing and editing (and changing the world and stuff) doesn’t always happen with a kettlebell in hand. Nike’s solution to all that? A lightweight, LED-lit bracelet, equipped with a new metric for tracking all physical activity: NikeFuel. The band itself relies on a three-axis accelerometer (or “oxygen kinetics” in Nike-speak), which determines whether a user is engaged in an intense physical activity (like a triple jump) or something more passive (like sitting at a desk). And since fuel is universal, that puts my Tai Chi-loving grandma on the same playing field as Serena and Lebron. Watch out, kids.
Of course, gamifiying fitness isn’t a brand new idea (think: Fitocracy), and neither is tracking it (Fitbit Ultra has been around since last fall). But if Nike sales are any indication, the “Life is a Sport. Make it Count” campaign is resonating — at least for anyone with a competitive edge and $149 to burn. And for those who’d rather not broadcast their fitness feats to the Twittersphere, there’s always the incentive to compete against yourself. Set a goal of 3,000 fuel points (the suggested goal for an active person) or 15,000 steps (the device tracks steps, distance, and calories burned, too), and by the end of the day, you’ll have done everything in your power to hit that goal — because, well, losing sucks.
The band is also remarkably user-friendly: It syncs up to your smart phone via Bluetooth and to your computer via built-in USB (yup, it’s INSIDE the wristband!).
But back to all those alleged shortcomings, right? With my age, height, weight, and goal (3,000, a fairly rigorous target) all set, let’s see how the FuelBand fared on a typical Tuesday:
7:45 am I woke up this morning with a score of 54. (That’s what happens when you’re up past midnight the night before — sneeeaky points to start the day!) And after showering (Water-resistant? Check!), getting dressed, checking emails, and making breakfast, I was up to 149. Stirring oatmeal counts!
9:00 am A brisk walk to the Grand Army Plaza subway station, and I’m raking in the fuel. By the time my train arrives I’m up to 495 fuel points, and 1,750 steps. That’s just how New Yorkers do!
9:45 am I got a seat on the crazy train (victory!), but that keeps my fuel at a standstill. At 23rd street, I climbed the stairs and trekked two long blocks, locking down another 50 points. Walking seems to be the key here… And let’s not forget four flights of stairs up to Greatist HQ (what better way to start the workday?).
12:00 pm Edit, email, tweet (and repeat!). It looks like typing isn’t exactly shaking things up, though. Bathroom break, then back for more.
1:00 pm Without our usual fixin’s in the office, I’m on my own to secure lunch. Chickpea’s baked falafel wrap: 390 to 820 calories? Good thing the FuelBand’s calorie counter has no idea what’s going in. And in any case, apparently I’ve only burned 179 calories today. Hmmm…
4:30 pm By late afternoon I’m still rocking a sub-1000 score. And if my math is correct, that means it’s time to bust a move — or at least take a walk around the block. One block turns into five, and I find myself at City Bakery, where a hot cup of coffee is calling my name. Bam! 1045 it is. Every sip counts (like, a point) — just be sure to use the wristband-wearing hand.
7:45 pm A quick bus ride gets me to the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers where a leg workout awaits. But after three grueling sets of split lunges, single leg deadlifts, hip extensions, and calf raises, I’ve only racked up 220 NikeFuel points. (Whaaa?) Time to hit the track.
8:15 pm Six 50-meter sprints (with light jogs back to the starting line) tacks on nearly 400 more points, getting me past the 2,000 hump. But am I close enough to my end goal?
8:40 pm A ball rolls out onto the track and I discover dribbling works some wristband magic! Twenty minutes of full-court layups, pull-up jumpers, and free throws earns a whopping 500-plus fuel points. Time to head home!
9:15 pm Before I can pull out my MetroCard, my FuelBand lights up like a Christmas tree. GOOOOOOOAALLLLL! Happiness. Relief. Time to kick up my feet (and grab a quick dinner).
11:45 pm With just a few moments left in the day, I’ve logged 3,287 (mostly) hard-earned fuel points, taken 14,153 steps, and burned 770 calories — clearly, we’ll just ignore this last one. I’ve also learned that hand modeling is best left to the pros!
Keeping the Count — Troubles, Tips, & Takeaways
After two weeks of fueling around town and comparing notes with other Nike+ friends, it’s clear the wristband isn’t perfect. Some potential downsides to consider are listed below (just remember that these observations are by no means scientific, and users’ experiences can always differ).
- Legs get less love. Since the FuelBand is worn on the wrist, lower body movements from lunging and squatting to kicking a soccer ball aren't rewarded as highly as exercises that involve the arms. (Trust me: I tried snapping the band on my not-skinny-enough ankle for leg day last week — consider that a no-go.)
- There’s no need for speed. While we have no doubt Usain Bolt would hit his daily target, it seems speed — and force — aren't directly factored into the fuel formula. Based on my (highly unsophisticated) tests, 20 strides at 50 percent speed earned approximately the same amount of fuel as 20 strides at 80 percent.
- Cold weather keeps us down. With temperatures in the 30s, it’s tempting to keep those hands in pockets. But he lack of arm motion appears to keep fuel points from racking up as quickly. Try packing gloves to have brisk walks count — or just look forward to higher numbers come springtime.
- Transportation shakes things up. While a smooth ride should be fuel-free, rockier modes of transportation can tack on some unwarranted NikeFuel. Thanks, potholes!
- Not all sports get to shine. Because of the FuelBand’s current limitations, a speed skater won't clock as much fuel as a tennis player, and a cyclist can't compete with a boxer. And swimming — not happening. At least not yet…
At the end of the day, 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. In the meantime, users like me will continue to enjoy their fun new toy — and maybe walk those few extra blocks, do a few extra sets, and end their day having accomplished yet another healthy goal.
To learn more about the Nike+FuelBand visit www.nike.com/fuelband, available for purchase in stores and online (although don’t blame us if it’s still sold out!).
What do you think of the FuelBand? Tell us in the comments below or tweet the author at @jshakeshaft.
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