The Fitbit Ultra is one of a glut of new devices that purport to measure your day-to-day activity in order that you can gain insight and statistics.
It is best described as ‘a pedometer on steroids’ and goes head-to-head with the likes of Jawbone’s ill-fated ‘Up’, Nike’s FuelBand and the high-priced Ki Fit, but also takes a chunk out of the market carved out by the Nike+ and Adidas’ miCoach ‘footwear trackers’.
So does it work? And more importantly, how useful is a Fitbit Ultra tracker to helping you lose fat, build muscle or reach your other personal fitness goals?
The packaging for the Fitbit Ultra is a lesson in good design, which is a nice start to the experience. We haven’t seen packaging as nice as this since, ironically, the Jawbone Icon BlueTooth headset. On opening the box, you are immediately asked to visit the Fitbit website, where you are taken through a simple step-by-step setup process.
In the box you get your Fitbit Ultra, available in one of two accent colours (we got the blue one), a docking station, a wrist strap and a plastic clip. The docking station will charge the Fitbit in record time when plugged in, but also acts as a wireless receiver that grabs the latest information from your Fitbit whenever you stay still and are in range. So far, so good.
The design of the Fitbit Ultra hasn’t changed from the original product. What you essentially have here is a clip that you can attach to pretty much anything. When we’re out and about doing our daily chores, it clips out of the way in the corner of our trouser pocket. It is light and smooth, so won’t chafe when you attach it to your running shorts. Ladies can, according to the instructions, even attach it to the centre of their bras.
For those times when you need to clip it to something that is too thick for the Fitbit itself, you use the plastic clip. The wrist strap is used at night, and on your non-dominant arm, for the purposes of sleep tracking, which we’ll talk about soon.
Once you have set up your Fitbit Ultra, you are introduced to the most surprising part of the equation – the website. In fact, you don’t need a Fitbit Ultra to enjoy the website at all, but you’ll miss out on a lot of great features if you use it Fitbit-less.
The website will show you all your activity throughout the day, including steps taken, floors climbed, miles travelled, calories burned and an ‘activity score’. you get nice graphs and charts of your activity too. But that isn’t the best bit – not by far.
Within the website , you can also track all your food intake as well as manually adding activities. You can log everything from mood to allergic reactions, blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels and all your physical measurements. Not just weight, but body fat percentage and the size of your neck, calf, thigh etc.
Need to track something that FitBit doesn’t provide out-of-the-box, such as ensuring you’ve taken all your supplements? They have you covered there too – you can add a custom tracker for anything that can be measured with a number or a ‘Yes/No’ statement.
Comprehensive stuff for those of you who are travelling the whole ‘quantified self’ route.
Social networking isn’t forgotten either, as the Fitbit website will allow you to connect with your friends so you can see who has completed the most activities in the week. This helps with the gamification of your daily activities and pushes you to move up the leaderboard.
If you are the owner of a Withings scale, Fitbit will even import all your historical data as well as adding in details from your weigh-ins. We suspect this functionality to improve further with the announcement that Fitbit are getting into the wifi scale business themselves soon.
In addition to all the browser-based features, it is also nice to see that fitbit.com works well on a mobile device. When accessing it via a smartphone, you get a nice control panel that allows you to easily track food, activity and weight; perfect for ensuring you stay up-to-date when you’re out and about.
The food database is heavily US-oriented at this point, but since you can easily add your own foods to the system it doesn’t take long to ensure your local nutritional information is included. If you’re working any body building scheme, such as Geek to Freak or Occam’s Protocol from the Four-Hour Body, the Fitbit website will help you understand exactly what protein, carbohydrate and fat content you’re taking in, helping you adjust your intake throughout the day for best effect.
The Fitbit Ultra is similar to the prior model, but this time includes a sleep tracker and altimeter. Height is measured in ‘flights’ rather than feet or metres, so you may go on a run and the inclines may result in an increase in ‘stairs climbed’ rather than your change in real altitude.
The sleep tracker is brought into play by holding down the one button the Fitbit sports. This starts the stopwatch, which coincidentally is exactly how you track activities too. When you wake in the morning, you hold the button again and your sleep data will be transferred to the website on the next sync. You won’t get as deep a data set as you would from a Zeo sleep tracker, but it is easier to use and does offer enough information to help you understand your sleep patterns.
If you want to track a running session, you repeat the same process as for sleep tracking. Hold the button down to start the stopwatch, then get running. In tests against the Nike+ system, the Fitbit Ultra tracked within 5% of the distance run, which is about as accurate as the Nike system ever gets. The bonus? You can wear whatever shoes you like (if you wear shoes at all – yes, we’re looking at you ‘barefoot crew’) since the Fitbit clips to your clothes.
In addition to the features you gain on the standard Fitbit website, you can also purchase a yearly subscription to ‘Premium’ information. This gives you access to a ‘Trainer’ that can help you increase your activity slowly and surely, week in and week out, plus a whole gamut of reports that will show you how you stack up against every Fitbit user in the world. You’ll also gain much better reporting of your food intake, activities and sleep, as well as a handy Export feature.
Finally, the final trick up its considerable sleeve, the Fitbit website has a number of ‘apps’ available to link it to other apps and tools. While Fitbit has its own ‘badge’ system to gamify your life, you can link it to Foursquare to gain additional badges for certain checkins. Another example would be to link it to your Endomondo account to keep the two in sync. There is an API available from Fitbit, so you can expect many more of these marriages in the future as fitness app developers link their solutions to the Fitbit ecosystem.
After a month of use, it is clear to us that the Fitbit Ultra can help support your fitness needs with useful data, not least of which is the nutrition tracking capability of the website. It also pushes you to do a little more each day – the urge to make a few more trips by foot or park a little further away from the shops to gain that 10,000 steps-a-day badge is inherent in the design. That finding is supported by research too – people wearing pedometers and similar devices do 27% more work than those who don’t.
Add in the ability to track all your activities automatically or manually, with calculated calorie burn figures, and the Fitbit Ultra becomes a real part of your daily routine.
Frankly, with the Fitbit Ultra and its brilliant website, we’re hooked.
Buy the Fitbit Ultra from the UK
Buy the Fitbit Ultra from the USA
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