On 19 January 2012, Nike announced the Nike+ Fuelband, a new product in Nike’s line-up of digital sportswear. The activity-tracking bracelet uses a 3-axis accelerometer and Bluetooth. It is also integrated with Nike+ and introduces NikeFuel, a new metric for measuring activity.
NikeFuel is said to be a “normalized score that awards equal points for the same activity regardless of physical makeup”, which is more standardized that calorie counts (more dependent on gender, body type and heart rate). It is not a perfect for everyone as the Fuelband only tracks wrist movement. More about it at the later part of this entry.
Given my new hobbies, I was completely sold on the Fuelband at the start and my sister can attest to that. The Fuelband is available at the Niketown store in New York for $149.99 (before sales tax).
The Nike+ Fuelband is currently not available in Singapore (or anywhere outside of US for that matter) So the only way to get it in Singapore is to have someone buy it in New York and ship it to you. The Fuelband is slated for launch here in June 2012.
Long story short, I have one on my wrist right now. Here’s a photo gallery of all things Fuelband as well as my review.
UPDATE: May 2012
Hard Reset / Force Firmware Update
*WARNING: May permanently damage your Fuelband. If in doubt, return your Fuelband to Nike.
Hold the button on your Fuelband and plug it into the USB port (best to use an extension cable). Your PC will not react or recognize your Fuelband. Release the button and the Nike+ Connect App will auto-start.
Solution to Nike+ website login and Fuelband setup problems
If you have problems signing in at the Nike+ website, or keep getting stuck at Fuelband setup (usually the “Almost done.”, or “Click finish to go back to Nike+ Connect to save your information and check your battery” screens). The issue might be because you are residing outside US and UK. The website is designed to work within US and UK only, but of course, there are large numbers of users outside of the regions where the Fuelband is officially available.
The SOLUTION is simply to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with a VPN server based in the United States. This can either be a free or paid service (or a corporate one if you have access). This will allow the website (and setup pages) to load properly.
It comes packaged in a nice presentation box, like Nike+ SportWatch GPS.
Each Fuelband comes with 2 bracelet links: 8mm and 16mm. The 8mm is already installed on the Fuelband, and can be removed for a tighter fit. It is not possible to combine the 8mm and 16mm link (for a 24mm extension) unless you glue them together, the locking mechanism will not work with two extensions.
So here is the Fuelband itself. It is water-resistant, so it can be worn while in the rain, or in the shower, but NOT for swimming. Also the USB connectors must be wiped dry before connecting to a port.
I have the Fuelband in medium size. It is also available in Small and Large. Use Nike’s sizing guide to find out which is best for you.
Setting up the Fuelband is a simple task. You need to download and install the Nike+ Connect application. The software will automatically bring you through the setup process and pair itself to the band. The application will launch a browser window, where you enter personal details to “Make it yours”, set a daily NikeFuel goal then link the Fuelband with your Nikeplus.com account.
Do note that the Fuelband needs to charge before it can be used. It can take about 3 to 4 hours to charge completely, depending on the power capacity of the USB port used. I would suggest plugging directly to your computer (instead of using a port hub) for the first charge. For best performance, do not unplug until it says “GO!”
I was stuck with an inactive Fuelband because of the website – but perhaps it’s also because the Fuelband is not supposed to be used outside of the US. After a few hours of relentless attempts to register, the system finally recognised my data and unlocked my Fuelband. I was at a loss for words when the Fuelband finally said “GO! GO! GO!!!!”
The Fuelband display is an attractive LED dot matrix with 100 white LEDs for the main display and 20 coloured LEDs for the Fuel meter. It can cycle through 4 main “screens”: Fuel Points, Calories, Steps and Time. So yes, it functions as a wristband watch too. The secondary menu (activated by holding the button longer) displays Sync, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and Soft Reset.
The iOS App is a great alternative to Nike+ Connect. You can configure and sync the Fuelband via Bluetooth. In order for the App to work, the Fuelband MUST be first paired with the iOS device.
Wireless Syncing must be initiated by the user by pressing the Fuelband button to activate “SYNC” mode, with the iOS device’s Bluetooth turned on. The app will automatically retrieve date from the Fuelband and upload to Nikeplus.com.
The App itself is beautifully designed to mimic Nikeplus.com, and plays congratulatory videos when users reach a goal or milestone. It allows you set goals, view your personal history and activity charts. You can also post your hard-earned progress onto Facebook or Twitter. The only thing it lacks is a battery meter, I think.
I really enjoy the ability to sync anywhere with my iPhone. If only the Fitbit supports this functionality.
The Fuelband uses accelerometers to track wrist movements, which also means that it is not effective in measuring activity for some sports that do not involve a lot of wrist/arm movement, such as cycling. Suffice it to say, preparing a meal will probably yield more Fuel Points, with all that chopping and stirring.
The Nike+ FuelBand tracks running*, walking, dancing, basketball, Frisbee, and scores of everyday actions. It is less suited for resistance activities like weight lifting or yoga, as it is only designed to measure activity where your wrist is moving as part of your overall movement.
It doesn’t track biking or flying . . . at least, not yet. And it’s not recommend for use while swimming (it’s water resistant but NOT waterproof).
* – You can wear the FuelBand for running. The FuelBand tracks everyday activity and you will earn NikeFuel for your run, but it does not track workout duration, speed or distance.
I also discovered that it does not track steps as accurately as pedometers, especially if my wrist is stationary (say I’m walking with my hands tied down with heavy bags of groceries). Some users online suggest wearing the Fuelband on the ankle. It might work.
The idea of using a standardized metric, NikeFuel, can also be seen as being too simplistic to compare one’s activity level with another user. Should a cyclist earn significantly less than someone playing racquet sports?
However, if I were to look past comparing numbers and see them as my own measure of activity – using Nike’s “the more you move, the more you earn” mantra, then I think it’s a great tool. Being active is better than the typical sedentary lifestyle, after all – but for anyone to use the Fuelband effectively, they need to understand their personal activity levels and adjust the daily goals accordingly.
Fuelband vs Fitbit
The Fuelband is not new to the growing arena of activity/fitness tracker. The closest competitors will be Jawbone’s UP and Fitbit Ultra. All mentioned devices have smartphone integration and uses gamification – game-like elements are introduced to make personal progress quantifiable with goals, rewards and achievements.
So how does the Fuelband compare to Fitbit Ultra?
Fuelband advantages over Fitbit
- Wearable on its own
- Water resistant, feels more durable
- Bright and clear display
- USB for data transfer and charging
- Syncs with iOS devices
Fitbit advantages over Fuelband
- Automatic Wireless sync
- Built-in Altimeter
- Can be used to track sleep
- Fitbit website and app are more useful for tracking calorie needs, intake and burn
- Fitbit website does not take as long as Nike+ to load
Let me state what I feel is each device’s worst points:
The Fitbit uses a proprietary data port and wireless protocol that puts it at a severe disadvantage if one forgets to carry or misplaces the Fitbit dock. The tracker is also fragile and can be easily misplaced.
The Fuelband, given how it is designed, does not track data as meaningfully or as accurately as the Fitbit. The Nikeplus.com website is also sometimes glitchy; bogged down with too much complex scripting and multimedia content.
In my opinion, neither devices can complete substitute each other. Both devices measure activity, but calorie burn measurements are at best a very rough gauge. Prospective users who are interested in using these trackers to measure their walking/running distance should be aware that GPS-based solutions are more reliable.
In short, the Fuelband is really focused on “making life a sport”, encouraging more vigorous activities and competition (personally, or with friends and strangers), turning (occasionally mundane) workouts into a game. On the other hand, the Fitbit has a more holistic focus on health, with its strengths on sleep and food tracking.
Nike is revamping their Nike+ line, unveiling two new concepts on 22nd February 2012: Nike+ Basketball and Nike+ Training. The new footwear products will be able to track new measurements, such as vertical jumps and nimbleness (for Basketball) and drill reps (for Training). This extension will strengthen the Nike+ line as a competitive “exercise-game” platform for athletes and people with active lifestyles.
Existing products (Nike+ iPod, Sportsband, SportsWatch GPS and the Nike+ GPS iOS App) are expected to include earning Fuel as a main feature in the future.
The Fuelband is available in limited quantities, at Nike’s online store and Niketown in New York. It will be available in some countries outside of US from May 2012. It is expected to arrive in Singapore in June 2012.