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...


  1. Great post....thanks for the insight! Makes me think a higher initial investment may be worth it (up vs. fuel vs. fit). Thanks again!

  2. Bing - make sure to read about some of the problems with the Jawbone Up
    They've had some pretty big product / technical issues since their launch. Engadget had a review that was
    Pretty poor.

  3. Here's some of those Jawbone Up links:

    Based on these, I never even tried the Jawbone Up...

    Jawbone Up Engadget review:
    Jawbone Up Refund article:

  4. great post.. I'm looking at both the fuelband and the fit armband. will probably go Nike due to your review and some others. have you tried the fitbit?

  5. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, comprehensive comparison and review. I have been trying to decide between these two items, and this post has been very helpful. I've decided that I will probably go with BodyMedia for now as I lose weight, but will definitely revisit Nike Fuelband after I've hit my goal weight......

  6. I picked up a Fuelband a couple days ago after having used a BodyMedia FIT for about three months. For the last two days I've been wearing both, and have to say that your analysis is 100% right on the money. Now that the FIT has given me a somewhat accurate picture of what I'm burning, I'm likely going to switch to the Fuelband because of the convenience, comfort and better "gameplay."

  7. I've had the Nike FuelBand for 2 months now and don't see myself going back to the BodyMedia band again. The Nike band is so unobtrusive, and their ability to provide software updates to the band (there has been 3 firmware updates so far--and they've all happened without issue while syncing or charging my band with my of) is encouraging, since I believe Nike will be able to provide updates in the future with a battery/memory indicator into future free updates. Overall, I'm very happy with the Nike FuelBand

  8. Thanks for putting in the time to compare the two, it's a great review.

    Also, Costco is offering the BM Fit Link with a 12 month subscription for $199. After that I'll decide if I pay the monthly or move to something different.

  9. thank you so so much for this priceless i can decide the product which would suit me rather than just buying and then regretting,,,,,

  10. I'm doing it backwards - I bought a Bodymedia Fit, I've used it for a few hours, and got concerned about the accuracy (it's saying I've burned nearly 900 calories by 6am). I was thinking about returning it, but after reading your write up I've decided to give it a bit longer before returning it.

  11. Thank you so much for the review! I have a body media and find wearing it has become a problem when running long distances due to skin irritation. Now I feel more confident making the switch to Nike Fuel.

  12. Thank you for this post. I've been using the Nike Fuel Band for a couple of days and was very confused by the calories burned. Thanks for clarifying that the calories do not include resting BMR.

  13. I just ordered the body media link arm band this week. I paid 134.00 including a free dvd and three months free activation fee. I am glad I ordered the body media.....I am looking forward to receiving it in the mail this week! Thank you for your was very informative.

  14. Thanks so much for the in depth review - I have had the body bugg for 5 years (similar to the Body Media) and it stopped working, so I was debating on my next step. I love data, so the accuracy (and watch data display of the body bugg) is what draws and inspires me. I have a hard time with the nebulous Nike fuel concept for myself and would find the lower calorie counts disheartening, so it helped me make an informed decision. However, in trying to find something to help motivate my kids (10 an 12) to exercise, they think the nike fuel band is COOL! So, we are getting it for them. I don't mind investing in the monthly subsription since I always use it, but my kids could care less. Now we all can have something.

    1. I think that's awesome. I also am looking at N+ Fuel bands for my kids (7-9).

  15. I have used both and surprisingly for one complete year. My review would be that you should stay focused more on steps taken rather than strength training training if you want to lose weight with out being very persistent on gym going routine. This is is because if you want to add protein to your body than you must do strength training and then you have to maintain it life long. In that case neither of two gadgets are accurate. Then if they are not accurate enough then why go for expensive one for loads of info which frankly I don't give damn about

  16. Hi, excellent post. so If I'm tracking the total of calories burned in Can I use the calories burned total? I'm using Nike+ Fuel Band

    1. Unfortunately, Nike has just opened their API to allow 3rd party applications like to integrate--which is a long way of saying that the Nike Fuel Band cannot auto sync calories burn to, but it is probably in the works--depends on whether is working on it or not.

      I know just last fall created an interface to the Body Media band so that calories burned would sync into their app to complement their already extensive calories consumed library. I went back to the Body Media band for a few weeks to try it out--and it worked great! But I still got tired of wearing the band on my arm, and soon missed the convenience of the Nike band--so went back.