The Fitbit Ultra: More Fitbit Goodness, Same Fitbit Package

I had the opportunity to use a Fitbit Ultra, the successor to a glorified pedometer that has become oddly popular and addictive to a certain subset of non-torpid technophiles. To be clear, the desire to measure your days in terms of steps taken is an old one (there is heard tell of an old Chinese tradition of walking 10,000 steps a day to reach health and prosperity), but the Fitbit does this in a decidedly 21st century fashion.

The device connects wirelessly to a small base-station/charger and records the steps taken as well as, when the device is strapped to your wrist, a fairly spotty rendition of your sleep patterns. A small OLED readout tells you current stats including calories burned, distance travelled, and steps taken. It snaps to your clothing like a clothespin and lasts about a week on a single charge. When you approach the base station the device sends its stats to the Internet where they are compiled and presented as handsome charts and graphs of current activity.

I gave the Fitbit a try early on in its creation and found it slightly lacking, especially in that it broke in half after a bit of use. I found the thought of measuring my every step as slightly disconcerting, a sort Prufrockian measure of one’s day, existence reduced to blue numbers on a little piece of plastic. However, as I began testing the $99 Fitbit Ultra, a slightly upgraded version that adds a stopwatch and altimeter for measuring stair climbs, I began to warm to the device’s charms.

This is why I’m fat

Call me a sucker for simplicity, but the thought I could improve my fitness by strapping a little thinger to my pants and walking around is fairly compelling. Wearing it for a while I noticed that I was decidedly sedentary and even my bursts of exercise that I attempt of an evening barely pushed me past the 5,000 mark. I also saw that some folks I knew were literally walking circles around me, hitting the high 20Ks while I was piddling around in 3K by the time I went to bed. I turned off Fitbit’s automatic Twitter notifications because they were quite embarrassing.

The new Fitbit is slightly more accurate than the old version and seemed to measure other exercises better including more aerobic activities like floor workouts and running. You can feasibly trick the thing into counting biking as an exercise (a process that delightfully pads the stats) but that’s not why this product exists. In short, it’s there to tell you you need to get off your butt and walk.

You can then track your progress using the online dashboard (here is mine so you can follow my exploits). If you’re really into it, you can add food consumed as well as blood glucose levels. The dashboard also tracks your sleep by telling how much you toss and turn at night.

I have a few beefs with Fitbit, though. First, I’ve not been able to trust the device after it cracked oh so long ago. To be fair, the first versions were made of chromed plastic and could have suffered some structural problems but I’ve been overly careful with this new model. Second, if you’re not careful, you will lose the little thing. The Fitbit slipped off my pants just as I was totally getting into a long run and it now remains, unloved, pining away for my hips in the dark and cold of the Brooklyn streets. To avoid this, they recommend women attach them to their sports bras, an option that while potentially possible given my pectoral girth was not applicable in my current attire. The best place to put it – on a pocket – is also the most potentially lossy. Also the Fitbit is quite small so once it’s gone it’s gone.

If you’re willing to accept that your Fitbit may disappear on you and that you’re essentially measuring out the steps until your imminent demise, this may by the statistical-gathering tool for you. If you’re a hardcore runner, biker, luger, or anything else, this is probably not the best device. A sports watch with GPS and heart-rate monitor would be far superior. However, if you’re just now realizing you spent most of the 2000s playing WoW and reading ebooks, you may want to pick one of these up if only because you can treat your daily walks like dungeon runs and your daily records like wizardly achievements.

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