Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nike+ FuelBand vs BodyMedia FIT Armband

February 25, 2012

I have been contributing to this whole ‘Quantified Self’ trend by wearing a BodyMedia FIT Armband for the last two years to track personal physical stats like calories burned, sleep efficiency, steps taken, etc. And you know what? I’ve been pretty happy with it. However, when Nike announced the Nike+ FuelBand on January 19, 2012, I was immediately interested in what Nike came up with and how it would compare with the BodyMedia FIT Armband. After checking out the presentation and other information on the web, I was one of the first to put in a pre-order. After just receiving the Nike+ FuelBand on launch day (February 22nd), I have been comparing both products—and ultimately this post is for everyone who has been asking me how the Nike+ FuelBand stacks up.

The BodyMedia FIT Armband

The BodyMedia FIT Armband is about the size of Saltine cracker, and is worn behind your arm between your shoulder and triceps. I have worn it consistently over the last two years, and have gotten used to it just always being there. It’s a very simple, yet solid-feeling product that I’ve been very happy with over the last two years. The only issues I have had with the BodyMedia FIT Armband is that:
I have to answer alot of "What in the world is that thing on your arm?" questions (some folks think that it’s some type of medication releasing apparatus!).
It’s a pain to take off when wearing long-sleeve shirts. When trying to take it off while wearing long-sleeve dress shirts, I pretty much look like I’m molesting myself as I have to unbutton a couple of my middle buttons, insert my arm into my shirt to undo the band’s Velcro strap, and then shake and wiggle my arm so that the strap slides out from the cuff of my shirt. This process is even more embarrassing when done in the security line at the airport—which I’ve done multiple times!
The Velcro sticker on the armband comes off after about 6 months, and I’ve had to contact BodyMedia to send me new bands. After the 2nd time that this happened, I had them send me three back-up bands. In each case, BodyMedia was very responsive and sent them to me free of charge—but just having to go through that process was a nuisance.

These ‘issues’, however, have proven to be very minor when compared to the value and "motivation to work out” that the BodyMedia armband gives me. Knowing that I'm tracking my data many times causes me to take the stairs instead of an escalator, or park further out in the parking lot--all in the name of making my data and results look better.  Here’s a snapshot of the data that is tracked by the BodyMedia FIT Armband:

Calories Burned - (yes, it’s calculated, but “using four sophisticated sensors, the Armband captures over 5,000 data points per minute — from heat and sweat to steps and calories burned” to provide calories burned with a proclaimed “95% accuracy”)
Calories Consumed - (not really tracked by the armband; you have to manually enter this onto their website or through a mobile app—I never do this)
Steps Taken - (yawn—everything does this nowadays)
Sleep Duration - (how much sleep you’ve gotten from the night before)

It may not sound like much, but it truly is pretty enlightening to see your physical activity charted out for you throughout the day. For example, here’s some snapshots of what you see in the BodyMedia FIT dashboard for various types of days in my life:

Below is an average day during the work week, with no exercise (the y-axis is much smaller, so activity appears more drastic than reality). I labeled some of the blips in pink:

Now, here’s a typical Saturday where I have CardioTennis from 9-10am (yes, the same CardioTennis for which I made the local news and became pseudo-famous):

And finally here’s the day that Wendy and I climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan back in the Summer of 2010 (the flat line in the middle is when we slept for 4 hours on the mountain in a little hut in the wee hours of night—remember the timezone difference is ~14 hours with Japan):

As you can see, the level of detail that the data is provided to you is pretty cool. BodyMedia also provides very flexible Excel reporting on the data you’ve collected—so you can go back and download data over the last year and do further analysis. There is also an iPhone and Android mobile app that can be used for Bluetooth syncing. The BodyMedia FIT Armband retails for $199 for the Bluetooth version, AND there is a monthly subscription fee to use BodyMedia’s dashboard and website (which is required to do data loading) of $6.95/month.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed having the BodyMedia FIT Armband and the data it provides on me and my activity throughout every day. However, I am always looking for better, more innovative products.

Introducing the new Nike+ Fuel Band

FedEx delivered my Nike+ FuelBand on launch day, and I immediately set it up and began to charge it. The setup process was super-easy and worked without any issues. I then began to wear it everywhere, while also wearing my BodyMedia FIT Armband. The Nike+ FuelBand is very nice and unobtrusive. Since I wear one of those silicone bands around my wrist already, I pretty much immediately forgot the Nike+ FuelBand was there once I put it on. Clearly, if the accuracy of these measures is similar to the BodyMedia FIT Armband, it would be a no-brainer that I would stop wearing the BodyMedia armband and switch completely over to the Nike+ FuelBand—if for no other reason than the better comfort in wearing it.

The Nike+ FuelBand’s LED display is very nice in that it is ”under the surface” of the band, but still very bright. By toggling its only button, you get four types of data:

TIME - (I love that this can serves as a simple watch)
‘FUEL’ burned (Fuel is the Nike-created unit for measuring physical activity—kind of like a calorie—but not)
STEPS taken

By pushing and holding down the one button on the band, you can also initiate Bluetooth pairing and data synchronization with a very nice iPhone application (Android version will be ‘available soon’), or put your FuelBand into ‘Airplane Mode’ where Bluetooth is turned off. The Nike+ FuelBand clasp on the bottom of the band serves as not only the way to take the band on and off, but also provides the FuelBand’s USB connectivity to your PC. One item I wish was available on the FuelBand itself was a way to see how much battery life is left within the FuelBand. Currently the only way to see battery strength is by plugging it into a PC or USB power charger. But once you do plug it in, you get a very nice image of a battery on the LED display of the band that shows exactly where the current battery charge level is.

Something else that the Nike+ FuelBand does not provide is flexible, detailed reporting. Reporting of your data is only done in Day/Month/Year ‘views’ on the Nike+ dashboard, and there is currently no way to extract data into Excel for your own analysis. This may be something that Nike provides in the future, but it currently does not exist. The Nike+ FuelBand retails at $149, and has no ongoing subscription cost.

Data Comparison:  Nike+ FuelBand vs. BodyMedia FIT Armband

So, now that I have worn both the BodyMedia armband and the Nike+ FuelBand for the last 3 days, let’s compare the data from both. Right off the bat with the Nike+ FuelBand, I realized that I’m not going to get a Sleep Duration measure like I do with the BodyMedia FIT Armband—but, for me, that’s not that big a deal since I rarely review the sleep data I get from BodyMedia (I already know I don’t get enough sleep). I also quickly noticed that the ‘Calories Burned’ measure on the Nike+ FuelBand was much lower than what the BodyMedia FIT Armband measured throughout the day. As for the mystical ‘Fuel’ unit of measure, it feels very much like Total Calories consumed on the BodyMedia armband.

So, with that said, below are the first 3 days of my use of both the Nike+ FuelBand and BodyMedia FIT Armband in parallel. I’ve included the daily view from both dashboards for each day, and labeled portions of each day to highlight certain times when specific activities were being done. Let’s take a look…

Thursday, February 23, 2012
BodyMedia Dashboard
Nike+ Dashboard

In comparing the two, the first thing I noticed is that the Nike+ FuelBand does not register strength training (lifting weights) as much as it does with cardio activities, regardless of the level of intensity. On this particular day, I had a pretty tough workout at lunch lifting weights at 1pm, and then had very light activity at 5:30pm chasing balls during my daughters’ tennis lesson (I also hit a few balls with my wife and the ball machine). I ended the day watching DVR’d shows while running/jogging on my treadmill. In my opinion, my lunchtime workout and the evening run/jog session were much more intense than my activity at my girls’ tennis lessons—and the BodyMedia data supports this opinion. However, the Nike+ FuelBand registered my activity at my daughters’ tennis lessons as being at a higher ‘Fuel’ level—and my lunchtime workout was just a small blip. This doesn’t seem quite right to me.

I also noticed that the ‘calories burned’ (BM:3,317 vs NK:1,260) and ‘steps taken’ (BM:15,203 vs NK:12,160) were both different. More on this later.

Friday, February 24, 2012
BodyMedia Dashboard
Nike+ Dashboard

On my second day with the Nike+ FuelBand, I did not work out or have any real physical activity other than walking during my workday and going out to dinner at night. I found that, on days where I am not involved with any intense workout-type of activities, both the BodyMedia FIT Armband and the Nike+ FuelBand present my data very similarly. This makes sense since the only sensors really needed to track my activity on this day would be the motion sensing accelerometers—which the Nike+ FuelBand and BodyMedia FIT Armband both have.

Note again the discrepancy between ‘calories burned’ (BM:2,805 vs NK:914) and ‘steps taken’ (BM:5,098 vs NK:6,463).

Saturday, February 25, 2012
BodyMedia Dashboard

Nike+ Dashboard

On day three, I had a CardioTennis class in the morning, chilled out during lunch with the family, and then went shopping in Eastgate (groceries, birthday party gifts, etc.). Both the BodyMedia FIT Armband and Nike+ FuelBand registered CardioTennis very highly, and both registered my shopping activities in the afternoon similarly.

Note again the discrepancy between ‘calories burned’ (BM:3,020 vs NK:1,386) and ‘steps taken’ (BM:9,997 vs NK:11,573)

Discrepancy between ‘Calories Burned’ and ‘Steps Taken’

What I have come to find causes the difference in the ‘Calories Burned’ metric that both bands provide is that the BodyMedia FIT Armband includes in its calculation your body’s natural calorie burn rate while at rest (ie. the number of calories your body is continually burning just by functioning—even when you are sleeping), while the Nike+ Fuel band does not add in this additional 'natural' calorie burn. Depending on your height and weight, your body is burning on average of about 80 calories an hour (or about 2,000 calories a day)—even if you had never moved at all that day! This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and should be taken into account when tracking the number of calories you are burning throughout the day—especially if you are also tracking the number of calories you are consuming and comparing the two to determine what your net calorie burn/surplus is for the day. Thus, the BodyMedia FIT Armband provides the more accurate value for ‘Calories Burned’.  However, the Nike+ FuelBand can provide similar data if you just add the roughly 2,000 BMR calories to its ‘Calories Burned’ measure. I will also add, though, that the ‘FUEL’ metric that Nike has made up seems to take the BMR into account somewhere within its mystical calculation—so it may be more like a ‘total calories burned’-type of measure like the BodyMedia FIT Armband.  But this 'Fuel' metric has other things taken into account that I haven't been able to figure out yet, so it's not a true 'calories burned' measure, so to speak.

Regarding the discrepancy on ‘Steps Taken’ between the two bands, I cannot figure out what causes the difference between the two—some days the Nike+ FuelBand is higher, and other days the BodyMedia FIT Armband is higher. ‘Steps Taken’ doesn’t matter as much to me, but if ‘Steps Taken’ is something you track and is important to you, let it be known that I have no clue which one is more accurate!

Final Summary:  Nike+ FuelBand vs. BodyMedia FIT Armband

After a few days of wearing both the Nike+ FuelBand and the BodyMedia FIT Armband, it is clear to me that the BodyMedia FIT Armband is the more accurate of the two devices, but that the Nike FuelBand is by far the more comfortable and convenient. The BodyMedia FIT Armband's accuracy is attributable to the many other sensors that it has for measuring how much you're sweating (Galvanic Skin Response), Heat Flux, and Skin Temperature, as well as Accelerometers.  The Nike+ FuelBand only has Accelerometers.  If you are really serious about counting calories, tracking your data, and extracting your data for further analysis—then the BodyMedia FIT Armband is the way to go. This is especially true if weight-lifting is a big part of your exercise regimen, since the Nike+ FuelBand doesn’t seem to provide accurate measurements on calorie burn or Fuel consumption when doing weightlifting or other strength training exercises. Note that this higher level of accuracy that the BodyMedia FIT Armband provides comes at a higher cost: a retail price of $199, a required $7/month subscription fee, and the minor discomfort of having to wear a band on your upper arm.

However, if you want to track your body’s activity but do not need high levels of data accuracy, do not need additional external reporting for analysis, do not want to wear a band around your upper arm all the time, and do not want to pay the additional $50 one-time cost for the BodyMedia FIT Armband along with the $84 annual subscription fee—then the Nike+ FuelBand is for you!

Personally, I’m torn. I love the convenience, look, and feel of the Nike+ FuelBand much more than the BodyMedia FIT Armband, but also like the level of accuracy and extra personal analysis you get with the BodyMedia FIT Armband (I love playing with data in Excel).

With all of that being said, I will be moving completely to the Nike+ FuelBand once my annual subscription with my BodyMedia FIT Armband expires.  I think the Nike+ FuelBand will be pretty successful for folks wanting to start tracking their activities throughout the day--without having to plunk down a ton of cash up-front and in ongoing subscriptions.  There's definitely a market for their product.  I also can see Nike integrating their other Nike+ products with the FuelBand (running sensor, GPS watch, etc.) to keep Nike at the forefront of bringing more technical capability to help enable average folks and seroius athletes alike in achieving their broad range of goals.  Also, I have to add that their integration was effective on me as well, as I just ordered some workout shorts from them due to a display sales ad that was linked into their Nike+ dashboard (call me a sucker).

Hope this helps others trying to learn about both products... Here's a quick table I put together with the pros and cons of each band.

Let me know what you think in the comments...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Motorola Beats Apple to the Wrist

October 18, 2011

Motorola announced today that they would be coming out with two new devices: the Droid RAZR and the MotoACTV. 

The DroidRAZR is their newest smartphone, a super-thin, larger screen Android phone that is sweet. But the DroidRAZR doesn’t introduce anything groundbreaking, as incremental improvements to smartphones will continue to evolve, with faster, thinner, clearer, more powerful phones being launched at a ultra-high rate these days.

The MotoACTV is a small device that is like a thicker iPod Nano that fits on your wrist to provide a ton of health and fitness functionality like heart rate monitoring, run tracking, calories burned, music player, and radio. On the surface, the MotoACTV doesn’t seem to be that groundbreaking a device either… just a Nano with heart-rate monitoring.

But, the killer feature about these devices is the integration between them, allowing you to take calls and get alerts on your MotoACTV! This is the minor breakthrough. I honestly thought Apple would be the first to deploy this capability through making improvements to the Nano, since it already had the product line to allow this integration with the Nano and iPhone. Wearing my Nano as a watch back when the newest Nano was launched last year, it was easy to envision a Nano-sized device that could do basic smartphone activities like make calls, manage calendars, contacts, and even do email. And with Apple’s introduction of Siri, the need for a keyboard to do these tasks became moot and made it more feasible to do these things on a Nano. Yet, Moto beat them to the punch with the first device integration in this space.

This may be the push Apple needs to update the Nano line to enhance the Nano with wifi and Siri capability!!

Should You Get the iPhone 4S?

A repost of my Tumblr blog post...

Whenever a new Apple product comes out, I get questions from my friends on my opinion on the new stuff (like my post last year on the iPhone 4 launch, or here with my comments on the first iPad launch)... With last Friday's launch of the new iPhone 4S, here's my take on it.

First, if you have the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 already, make sure you understand that Apple launched two separate things last week: a new operating system for the iPhone called iOS 5, as well as a brand new iPhone--the iPhone 4S. You do not need to get the new iPhone to take advantage of iOS 5, as this new operating system works for older iPhones--not just the new iPhone 4S.

iOS 5

The new iOS 5 operating system is a HUGE software update that is free to existing iPhone users, so make sure you look into all the new operating system has to offer before determining if you should get the iPhone 4S.

Notification Center: iOS 5 brings a new integrated (and awesome) Notification Center--eliminating those annoying and disruptive alerts you previously received on the iPhone interrupting whatever you were doing on your iPhone whenever you received a new text message, email, or other alert. Previously, you had to clear the alert before you could continue whatever you were doing. Now, all alerts come in at the very top of the screen in a smaller, less obtrusive banner that flips in and out, so you could choose to just ignore it and continue with what you were doing. All notifications and alerts can be viewed together by opening the Notification Center by sliding your finger down from the top of the screen. This view is very similar to how Android OS devices handle alerts, and is really the best of way for users to manage/interact with them. You can configure what alerts you want to show up there in the 'Settings', and it comes with a Stocks and Weather widget. After using iOS 5 as a beta tester for the last 3 months, I've found the Notification Center to be the best improvement to the operating system.

iCloud: iOS 5 also brings a breakthrough capability with iCloud, which allows over the air (OTA) backups to be done, as well as OTA synchronization with iTunes for across all of your other iOS devices (like your other iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches) for Photos, Documents, Email, Calendars and Contacts. This capability enables users to realistically never have to plug your iPhone or iPad into a computer to backup and sync your data and media. iTunes music match will also come out soon to iOS 5 devices, enabling you to take CD's you have and digitally convert these to songs into your music library--it'll cost an extra charge a year to do this, but I think it'll be worth it.

Other Stuff: iOS 5 also brings a lot of other smaller functionality that are very snazzy, like Newsstand for managing media subscriptions, special tones to be used for text messaging, Twitter integration into almost all applications, drag and drop email addressing, iMessaging, Tasks/Reminders, camera management improvements (using the volume up button for snapping pictures is a nice minor add), and over 200 other small new features (including a Week-view of your calendar...finally!). Check out an overview here.

iPhone 4S

Now that you understand that you can reap the benefits of iOS 5 on your existing iPhone, let's get into what the new phone brings to the table. It really can be summarized with 3 major differences:

Speed and Storage: The new iPhone 4S uses the A5 dual-core chip also used in the iPad2, and in the iPhone 4S it is blazing fast. The iPhone 4S is 7x faster than the iPhone 4 (which was already faster than the 3GS), and the speed is noticable. What's even more impressive is that the speed improvements do not sacrifice battery life! I've seen that the battery life is pretty much the same as the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4S also is available in a 64GB model, for those of us that wish to store a bunch of movies on our phone to entertain our kids when we need to distract them!

Camera: The camera on the iPhone 4S is an 8 mega-pixel camera that is simply awesome. The shutter speed (the amount of time it takes from the moment you press to take the picture to it actually being captured) is significantly improved... so much so that it's on par with most high-end digital cameras. Video capture is at 1080p HD (versus 720p HD on the iPhone 4), and the iPhone 4S has facial recognition, motion stability control, better camera optics, an additional lense, and many other camera options that I honestly do not know how to take advantage of yet, but I understand serious photographers get excited about them.

Siri: Siri is why I went ahead and bought the new iPhone 4S. Voice recognition has been around for a while with other phones, and even with previous versions of the iPhone with basic Voice Control for making calls and playing songs, and 3rd party apps like Dragon Dictation bringing speech-to-text to the iPhone. However, Siri (named after the company that Apple acquired a year ago and combined with Nuance voice recognition technology--which drives the Dragon product line to make the magic happen) brings all of these capabilties to a new level, with tight integration into the phone and with the most robust execution seen to date on a mobile device. Siri is your personal digital assistant, and you simply hold down the Home button or bring the phone to your ear to bring 'her' up and ask her a question. Siri understands multiple phrases and, most importantly the context in which you are speaking, so there's no need to remember specific phrases to make things happen--you just simply talk to her. Siri understands the many different ways you can ask about the weather (What's the temperature today? Is it going to rain today? Do I need an umbrella? All of these questions Siri understands and can answer!). After using Siri for 3 days now, it is truly game changing. This technology will make its way into other consumer devices like TV's and laptops over time--heck, maybe even to kitchen appliances or cars!

Siri is dependent on an internet connection to work, however, since the voice translation functions depend on a connection to Apple's massive server farm--and Siri had issues connecting at times on Friday. I believe this was simply because millions of new iPhone 4S owners were testing Siri out all at the same time and overloading their network--and I've had zero issues using Siri on Saturday and Sunday.

The best thing about Siri is that she has a personality and even is programmed with witty comebacks for some questions (yes, I say 'she' because Siri is close to being a person since I can have conversations with her). There are many documented question/answers that users have captured already with Siri that are pretty funny, from her answers to 'What is the meaning of life?' to the infamous 'How much wood could a woodchuck...'. Here's a site collecting many of Siri's greatest hits.

Using Siri to manage my calendar, reading and sending text messages, sending email, managing my music playlist, doing web searches, finding restaurants, setting alarms and timers, and creating notes has already proven to be very helpful to me from a productivity standpoint. Siri also brings a new microphone icon into your on-screen keyboard so that, whenever you are prompted to have to type something into your iPhone, you can simply press the microphone and say what you intend to type into that field. This functionality has been present in Android devices for a while, and is nice to finally show up on the iPhone. The accuracy of voice recognition is surprisingly high!

There ARE some limitations to what Siri integrates with on your phone. Her integration into the iPhone is mostly with only the native iPhone applications (phone, music, calendar, email, messages, clock, etc.) and is not integrated into 3rd party applications...yet. I say 'yet' because I have to believe that Apple will open up API's to developers to allow Siri to access their 3rd party applications over time. In the future I expect to be able to ask Siri to find an Evernote entry that I have made, or to put in a delivery order to Jimmy John's through their iPhone app... now that would be sweet! But, even without 3rd party application integration right now, Siri is an outstanding execution of voice recognition and voice control! Don't bother asking her to marry her, though, as she is very clear that her licensing agreement won't allow it!


So, when trying to decide if you should buy the iPhone 4S, it really comes down to whether you want more speed, a better camera, or having your own digital servant. For folks with a 3GS, the speed alone is a massive upgrade. For iPhone 4 users, I think it really comes down to whether you want the Siri assistant.

One last minor note - the iPhone 4S has the exact same dimensions as the iPhone 4, but has a minor difference in the button placement for the mute switch and volume up/down buttons on the left side of the phone. These changes are minor, but folks with iPhone 4 cases MAY be at risk of having that case not be ideal for the iPhone 4S since the cutouts for the buttons may be misaligned.

Net, while I was disappointed that significant form factor change or larger screen was not introduced with the iPhone 5, overall I'm very pleased with my iPhone 4S--as the improved speed, camera improvements and Siri are definitely enough of an improvement to warrant the cost of upgrade for me. But that's just me... hope this helps your own personal decision.