Extra floors, extra steps…

After much negotiation I obtained a new fitbit device and unfortunately it is exactly the same as the first one. Continues to count floors which I have not climbed. This is a hardware problem and therefore cannot be fixed by fitbit by simply doing a software update I’m led to believe. Basically fitbit would have to issue everyone with a new device after they figure out how to fix the sensor problem which they are not likely to do given the losses they would suffer. My only consolation is to not recommend it when people ask. Extremely disappointing given I have been a loyal customer for more than 10 years… More here.

In the US this would be a class action lawsuit.

Fitbit versa Lite, inspire and Ace 2

Get empowered to make a change and embrace your weight and fitness goals with activity and sleep tracking, calories burned & more on easy-to-use Fitbit Inspire and Fitbit Inspire HR.

Fitbit has announced new trackers which include a versa Lite, the inspire and an Ace 2.

Unfortunately for people like me, and so many others, recent experiences with the accuracy of the latest Fitbit trackers and the complete lack of acknowledgements for the problems from the company mean that it’s highly unlikely we will risk another Fitbit purchase.

Microsoft offering refunds to Band users

Notably, Microsoft said it would offer a refund to certain customers who own the Band. It includes those whose device is still covered under warranty, or, alternatively, anyone considered as an “active user” of the device. Microsoft defines this as someone “who has worn the Band on their wrist and completed a data sync from the Band to the Health Dashboard between December 1, 2018, and March 1, 2019.” More here.

Good move from Microsoft. One of the things I consider when purchasing a tech product is longevity. Not just in terms of the hardware, but for how long I expect the software to work and at least in this instance some will get their money back.

Wena Pro by Sony

Turn your favourite watch into a smart watch, all of the latest smart features are incorporated into the smart wena strap, giving you the perfect balance of style and convenience. Leave your bulky wallet behind thank to the contactless payment system built into the wristband. Get notifications on smartphone calls, apps and texts, all with an optional vibration mode. Monitoring your health has never been easier. Just wear your Wena wrist pro and check steps walked, calories burned, track sleep and more from a dedicated application.

Wena wrist Pro combines the beauty of analogue timepieces with the convenience of technology. Add your favourite watch face to the wena pro to create a personalised smartwatch that’s literally like no other or choose a face from the extensive wena lineup. The wena wrist pro smart strap is compatible with 18mm, 20mm and 22mm watch faces so you can truly make it your own… More here.

A good idea and I’m pleased to see a real company like Sony trying this approach. My main concern would be the quality of the fitness tracking, but time will tell.

Which was the fittest country in 2018?

When it comes to stepping, Hong Kong took first place. Leading the charge in the nearly 24 trillion steps users took in 2018, Hong Kong steppers fit in 10,493 daily steps on average over 365 days. Spain came in second with 10,002 average steps. Ireland, Sweden, and Germany rounded out the top five countries who stepped it up in 2018 with 9,726, 9,609, and 9,601 average steps respectively.

Some interesting numbers here.

How does a watch guy fall for the Apple Watch?

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When I reviewed the series 4 Apple Watch a few weeks ago I was somewhat disparaging about certain aspects. The battery life was a big downside for me, but perhaps more than anything the fact it is not a ‘real’ watch stuck with me more than anything.

I returned the watch to Apple and was happy enough, but something was nagging at me. A sense that something was missing and this was enhanced by continuing disappointment with Fitbit’s latest products. The Fitbit Charge 3 has proved to be as poor as the Fitbit Versa in terms of accuracy and with fitness currently being very important to me it was time to give up on a brand that had helped me get to the weight I was at 21 years old and which made me fitter than I had been since that age.

My experience of Apple Watch fitness has been poor over the years for a number of reasons. I don’t like the rings idea and in particular the ridiculous stand ring which is a novelty at best. However, the hardware is very accurate and I have found much consistency in the step counting, calorie calculations and the heart rate averages. This builds confidence and has given me a platform to build a fitness setup that works for me – more on that in a future article, but it’s safe to say that I have replaced the Fitbit hardware and software with arguably a much better solution.

So, the fitness was covered, after much research, and I took a punt and bought another series 4 Apple Watch. In the first few days of use I realised what had been nagging at me previously.

It’s the little things that build up to create a solution that in time feels necessary. These two examples may feel incredibly pointless, but they exemplify things that the iPhone could not do in certain situations-

I was in a meeting with a senior manager at work and my wife sent me a message asking if I wanted to walk the dog after work or if I was happy for her to do it. Being that it was a cold day I didn’t fancy ending my day getting even colder and the senior manager was sat directly opposite me so I could get my phone out without it seeming too obvious. I caught the message on the Apple Watch and managed to scroll down and send ‘OK’ as a response. The result was an hour saved later in the day and I could stay a little warmer.

The next day my daughter attended her first night at Police Cadets and was very nervous about going. We dropped her off and she had to fill in some forms, but she did not know all of the details required, which would likely have made her even more nervous. I didn’t have my iPhone with me when I saw the panicked message on my watch asking for a list of information so she could complete the forms. I replied, she was happy and the nerves subsided a little for her. This may sound unimportant, but she has had a hard time of late and attending events with groups of people is a big thing for her, and in that instance the watch helped.

So that was some of the use case covered and after wearing the Apple Watch for two weeks straight it kind of became normal. Worryingly I wasn’t missing my Oris watch as much as I expected, but there was one aspect that still bugged me. The Apple Watch felt like a bit of plastic strapped to my wrist and offer zero personality to me which is a problem for those of us who have obsessed over watches as the only bit of jewellery we wear.

I am fortunate in that I could sell a watch which would pay for a stainless steel series 4 Apple Watch and that is what I did. The final part of the experiment was to see if it felt like a real watch on the wrist while offering the functionality that I had become used to.

With the addition of a few straps to play around with I found that I started to enjoy the look of the series 4 and to this day it has remained on my wrist as my main fitness tracker, time teller and assistant which ensure I miss nothing and that my iPhone gets less use than it did before.

My wife also bought a series 4 as she was experiencing the same Fitbit problems as I was and strangely she went for the gold 44mm version. She is tiny and has small wrists, but she felt that the bigger watch looked better proportioned and despite its size it really does look good on her. Big watches on petite women always look good in my view.

The next step for me will be to see how the cellular functionality changes my usage and when my contract is moved over in a couple of days I will write about that experience, but for now I find myself surprised at the fact I am not wearing a real watch anymore and just a little bit sad at the thought of it.

Fitbit Charge 3 first impressions

The Charge 3 is a step forward for Fitbit, a very small one.

First impressions show that it wears and looks extremely similar to the Charge 2 and that the physical advantages are at first glance not indicative of a big jump forward. It is slightly smaller which is noticeable for someone like me who wears it on his dominant wrist upside down, in deference to a real watch on the other wrist. I don’t like wearing something on each wrist, but needs must I suppose.

The screen is better than on the Charge 2 and is now touch sensitive whereas previously you would need to tap the device, physically, to achieve a response. The problem, however, is that the touch sensitivity is not particularly natural and I find myself often times having to tap and tap again to get a response. Technically this is an improvement, but in the real world it still feels somewhat clunky.

You do get more information than before and some nice animations, a glitter ball for example when you hit your step goal, but these are novelty aesthetics that do not actually add functionality. Overall it feels almost exactly like the Charge 2 with little extra information on screen at any one time which at this moment feels like a missed opportunity. Add to this the fact that there is only a handful of watch faces available at launch and that these are minimal at best. For example, I used to show the time, step count and floors on my Charge 2 watch face and that is now not possible on the Charge 3. Indeed, to see the floors you have to scroll multiple times to get to the data, when the screen accepts the scrolling gesture that is.

On the subject of floors the Charge 3 is displaying the same problems as the Versa. I managed 13 floors just by driving to work for 30 minutes – it is the exact same problem that many Versa users complain about in the Fitbit forums and they are already doing so with regards to the Charge 3. Fitbit has a serious problem with its floor tracking in the latest devices and is coming up with stock answers time and time again, and not resolving what is becoming a more evidenced problem by the day,

Oh, I should also add that the Charge 3 also counts too many steps, just like the Versa, and my step count is at least 10% up from all other trackers. This is not good enough for a company that makes fitness trackers. If there are obvious problems in the sensors why are they being continued on the latest devices?

The one good point is the battery life which is exceptional, but this does not offer enough of an advantage to make the Charge 3 a worthy upgrade over the Charge 2, and mainly because the Charge 2 is accurate while the 3 is not. It’s as simple as that.

The Charge 3 may offer more watch faces and apps over time. It may be fixed to resolve the floor and step tracking issues, but today it is not worthy. Sorry Fitbit, but you need to sort this out once and for all.

Related-

Charge 3 counting too many floors

Versa counting too many floors

Confessions of a FitBit addict

One of the great philosophical questions of our time is this: if a person goes for a run and there is no Fitbit on their wrist to record it, did it really happen? I have been struggling with said conundrum all week, having been forced to go for a lonely jog without my fitness tracker, which had run out of battery.

Good article, if you can read it all by subscribing. It is a conundrum and a habit that is easy to fall into. Once you fall into the notion, however, that actually doing things and eating less works the Fitbit merely becomes a tracker to articulate your progress.

Skagen Hybrid Smartwatch (SKT1113) review – master of none

Hybrid watches are by many accounts dominating the sales figures for brands such as Fossil, and by some stats in a way which means that they are seriously scaling back on traditional watches due to a lack of sales.

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This kind of makes sense because people who are used to purchasing a watch every few years, one at the lower end of the market, could be more tempted by a hybrid that looks and feels familiar, but which offers ‘safe’ new features that do not feel too technical in a proactive or reactive sense.

Hybrids potentially appeal to those who are not in the market for a full fitness tracker, who definitely would not wear a smartwatch and who are dipping their toe in the watery idea that the wrist is a space for more than just the time. In effect, this is the majority of people which would explain the popularity. In the world of tech, a small percentage of the largest market is worth more than dominating a niche because it’s all about the future. The future is everyone. It is not geeks who want a screen on their wrist, but I am not convinced that the watch world will not be dominated by screens in a few years.

Just like PDAs and the earliest smartphones were used by a niche, the iPhone breakthrough brought the idea to everyone and at some point the same could happen with the smartwatch. Until that time we have hybrids which represent a temporary middle ground that has a small chance of becoming permanent, a very small chance in my mind.

The reason for this is that hybrids currently do one this well, which is to tell the time in a stylish well, and one thing quite poorly, which is fitness tracking. When you download the app and check out what it can do it kind of feels like stepping back in time; step tracking and sleep. That’s it really, no heart rate monitoring, no exercise tracking, no food input, no real stats over time and a light touch that is squarely designed for beginners in the area of activity tracking.

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There is nothing wrong with this and it makes perfect sense which may explain the popularity, but in comparison to a smartwatch or a dedicated fitness tracker the difference is stark. The advantages to this, however, come in the manner of a six month battery life before you need a new one, simplicity of use and the ability to completely ignore the watch if you want to.

Notifications are present, to a point, but are somewhat lacklustre because you can only choose six contacts to receive notifications from. You choose a contact and assign a number at which point the hand will move to that number when a message or call is received. It’s simple, quite elegant actually and worthy of inclusion, but it would be nice to see notifications default to a different number from those outside of your favourite six people.

The three buttons on the side of the watch are configurable and in my case, for example, I have the middle one for the date (push and the hands move to a date on the outer ring), the top one for a second time zone (push and the hands move to it) and the bottom one to start and pause music on my iPhone X. They have all worked perfectly well and the connection to the phone has been rock solid so far, but I do have concerns about Skagen as a company.

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Without making this a true statement, there is a theory that this is a Chinese company making cheap watches to the level of a Daniel Wellington and that it offers practically zero support. This theory is sadly backed up by numerous customer reports so my review here will not cover the fact that it could fail at some point and leave the user stranded.

What I can say though is that the design is quite superb. From the case to the mesh bracelet to the dial, the consistency and elegant construction are really very good for a watch at this price point (shop around and you can pick it up for slightly north of £100). Build quality is harder to judge because only long term use can show that, but I do get the sense that it is built to a price point and that it will not survive many knocks. This is to be expected for what is essentially a dress watch, but overall I have enjoyed wearing it and do appreciate the design behind the watch.

Surprisingly the lume lasts through the night which is quite unusual. I would expect this from a Seiko or a Citizen at any price point and most certainly from Oris, but many watches I have tried fail dismally in this area. Longines is a culprit, no matter the price, and I find it unforgivable for any watch brand to include lume that does not last for more than an hour, and even more so for the likes of Longines who are happy to charge upwards of £2,000 for a watch with poor lume. This Skagen does lume very well and despite a dimming from, for example, 3AM you can still see the time if you happen to wake up at night.

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Back to the design, the only thing I would change would be the hands which could be slightly wider to make the watch 100% glanceable. It is decent enough for quickly catching the time, but there is a sense that the design overcomes the practical elements around the edges and at those moments when you want your watch to do something rather than to be a statement on your wrist.

Competition

There is much competition in the hybrid watch area, much of it from the same parent company, and the likes of Fossil, Michael Kors (shudder!) and Timex are pushing hard in this arena. Hybrids have grown from fashion watch brands looking to protect their businesses against smartwatches, but the fitness gang have started to join in. Garmin makes the vívomove® HR which comes in at £169 and for that you get a heart rate monitor, V02 max, fitness age, calories, intensity minutes, stress tracking, smart notifications, music controls and so on. It’s all backed up with a very good (maybe slightly complex?) app which easily rivals Fitbit in terms of being able to give you all of the activity and fitness stats you need. In my experience the Garmin trackers are more accurate than Fitbit and better built which makes the vivomove a candidate for the best hybrid watch on the market today. The premium version (£249) takes things further with stainless steel and a classier strap, and takes the idea of a traditional decent quality watch with some advanced features to the level we would expect in 2018.

vivomoveHR-family

You can go much higher in price through the likes of Kronaby (£445), Alpina (£575) and Mondaine (£650) up to Frédérique Constant (£2,980!). The problem with all of these brands though is that no matter how refined and well made the watch is, they still default back to very simple and light touch software to undertake the smart features. I am not saying that everyone wants sophisticated fitness tracking and super smart features, which are impossible on a traditional watch design anyway, but it seems to me that the most complete hybrid watch today comes from Garmin for well under £200 which is saying a lot. To complete properly, I believe that a decent watch manufacturer needs to get into bed with the likes of Garmin or Fitbit because otherwise we are looking at a fad and little more.

Conclusion

I like the Skagen a lot more than I expected to. The design is sweet, the fitness functions work to a point (pushing 10% more steps than reality for me) and the notifications are somewhat useful. The main problem is that it is not ambitious enough, like 99% of hybrids, and I would like to see more effort put into making this kind of watch more functional. For the price, however, I believe it to be excellent value and for most people it will serve them well over time, providing the worries about Skagen reliability and support do not come to fruition.

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