It's not a smartwatch, per se, but the Fitbit Force is definitely one of the smartest fitness trackers yet. This device sports a bright OLED display that lets you view the time, but more importantly, lets you view your progress at a glance. There's also a new altimeter that tracks how many stairs you climb each day. Combined with sleep tracking, is this $129 device worth the $30 premium over the Fitbit Flex and other wristband-style fitness gadgets?
The Force looks much like the Flex in that it's a large rubber strap with a glossy black screen on the top. However, where the Flex just has a few LEDs, the Force has an OLED display that's bright enough to view in direct sunlight. On the side of the Force is a small button used to scroll through the various metrics: time, steps, distance, calories burned, stories climbed and active minutes.
A plastic clasp secures the Force to your wrist, but we found it very difficult to close. We had the same trouble with the Flex, too. At 1.15 ounces, the Force is five times as heavy as the Withings Pulse (0.28 ounces), but is still comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and looks less conspicuous on your wrist. By comparison, the Pebble smartwatch is a slightly heavier 1.3 ounces.
Unlike the Flex, which has a removable dongle, the Force is permanently connected to the wristband; a small port on its underside lets you attach the included charging cable, which plugs into a notebook or power via USB.
The Force is available in two sizes, small and large (Fitbit provides a sizing chart on its site) and in two colors: black and slate. Hopefully, Fitbit will add additional colors, as it has with the Flex.
The Force can be set up in one of two ways: Either by plugging it into your notebook via USB (or wirelessly using a Bluetooth dongle), or via your smartphone using Bluetooth 4.0. If your Android device has NFC, you can also tap it to the Force to begin the pairing process.
After downloading the Fitbit app to our iPhone 4S and creating a free account, we paired the Force to our phone via Bluetooth. After that, any time we opened the app, it immediately synced with the Force.
The newest sensor in the Force is a built-in altimeter, so it can measure how many stairs you go up -- but not down. That's right, you only get credit for walking up. Still, this tool proved reasonably accurate as we ascended from the depths of the New York subway system. In some cases, it recorded five flights when we'd only gone up three, but we'll take the extra credit.
Being able to track how many stairs you climb is a neat feature, but we prefer the heart rate monitor in the Withings Pulse, which gives us more concrete data about our health.
When you hit your goals for the day, the Force vibrates and displays a little animation on-screen. And, when you sync with the mobile app, you get an email for each badge you earn -- such as walking 10,000 steps in a day, or climbing 10 floors. It's a nice little carrot.
For an additional $49 per year, the Fitbit Trainer feature analyzes your activity, helps you set goals to increase your physical activity, and lets you compare your statistics against other Fitbit users.
Both the Fitbit iOS app and website are colorful and intuitive to use. It was easy to see all our data at a glance, and then dig further into a particular metric. For example, selecting Distance displayed a timeline showing when during the day we walked the most.
In addition to its own app, the Force also works with 32 other fitness apps, including MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, EveryMove, TrendWeight and MyFitLeague. It also can link to the Fitbit Aria scale, so you can sync your weight data, too.
With a future firmware update, the Force will also show incoming call notifications for iOS 7 devices (iPhone 4S and higher).
As with the Flex, the Force can also record your sleep patterns, based on movement. You can either start Sleep mode through the mobile app, or by pressing and holding the button on the band itself. it will emit a gentle buzz, and a stopwatch icon will appear. The Force did a reasonably good job at measuring when we were in deep and light sleep, and was comfortable to wear while we snoozed.
When it's time to wake up, you can set the Force to gently buzz. We like that you can set individual alarms for each day of the week, too.
Fitbit says that the Force should last 7 to 10 days on a charge. After 5 days of use, it was down to about 50 percent. That's a little less than the Pulse, which will last about two weeks between charges.
The $129 Fitbit Force is a welcome addition to Fitbit's product portfolio for those who want to be a little less reliant on their smartphones to track their fitness. While it's $30 more expensive than the Flex, the Force includes a bright OLED display for checking your progress, and it also tracks the number of stairs you climbed. While we wish it had the heart rate tracking of the $99 Withings Pulse, the Force looks better on your wrist, and will be even more functional when it can display incoming calls.
For just $20 more, you could also pick up the Pebble smartwatch, which has a wider range of apps -- including fitness apps. However, you need to have your smartphone with you to take advantage of this functionality. For anyone looking to measure their daily and nightly activity, though, our advice would be the same as Obi-Wan Kenobi's: Use the Force.