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I'll always have a place in my heart for the FuelBand, Nike's recently discontinued fitness-tracking bracelet. It was, and still remains, one of the best-looking fitness trackers with its simple yet elegant design – a brushed rubberised band with a chunky locking mechanism. And accruing NikeFuel points, the currency you earned from setting off its in-built accelerometer and gyroscope, was a moreish pursuit.
The guidelines said an average human should generate 2,000 a day but I made it my goal to hit 4,000 every 24 hours, which wasn't particularly difficult if you did a big workout once a day. Our greatest adventure together was accidental – in 2012 I forgot to take it off before a half Ironman in Thailand, only realising I still had it on halfway through the 1.9km swim. The FuelBand isn't actually waterproof, only water-resistant – but somehow it survived just under an hour of sea swimming, as well as the 90km bike ride and half marathon afterwards, and was able to tell me that I'd accrued a whopping 12,000 fuel points over seven hours. I'm not sure if I was more proud of achieving that score or finishing the race.
The FuelBand also told the time, counted steps and could sync with a Nike+ app so you could keep track of your progress. I had two versions of the band, the first one and the SE, which came with a few extra features including the ability to track exercise intensity and improved battery life, but I was only able to sync the SE to my laptop (done via a USB built into the lock) and phone (via Bluetooth). When I did get it, to work, however, I liked it how certain Fuel point scores unlocked snazzy little celebratory animations.
Ultimately, though, our love affair was short-lived because the band couldn't give me enough useful information. I was doing a lot of triathlons at the time and I needed a device that could accurately track routes, tell me my minutes per mile pace and work out my split times. I wore a Polar heart rate monitor alongside the FuelBand for a bit and because of the significantly increased computing power of the Polar, the FuelBand basically became a slightly uncomfortable bracelet. After a couple of weeks I took it off and put it in a drawer, never to be worn again.
My mum recently told me she wanted a fitness bracelet so I dug it out, dusted it off and charged it up. She's been wearing it ever since and seems to like the bright, easy-to-read display and one-touch control system and keeps banging on about how many NikeFuel points she’s earned, which reminds me how good a device like this can be at motivating a normal person to make the required amount of daily to stay alive.
So why has Nike decided to pull the FuelBand? According to sources including CNET.com and Wired.com, its reasons are twofold. First, the improvement in fitness tracking tech in phones means Nike's Nike+ ecosystem is less reliant on the FuelBand, and second because it's looking increasingly likely that Apple's forthcoming iWatch will have FuelBand software on it.
If the iWatch is the juggernaut it's predicted to be, the FuelBand, albeit in a different form, will have even greater penetration into people’s lives. It also means that as soon as I’ve saved up the money to buy Apple’s impressive-looking new device I’ll be rekindling my love affair with NikeFuel. I wonder how many points the Marathon des Sables would earn me? It may be time to find out soon…
The original Nike+ FuelBand was the device that brought activity trackers into the mainstream. While it didn’t do anything new, the FuelBand looked good, was comfortable enough to wear all day and came with a well-designed iPhone app.
The new Nike+ FuelBand SE takes everything that was good about the original device and adds some new, welcome features to the mix. But with the competition getting stiffer every day, can the FuelBand SE pack enough punch to stay on top?
The Nike+ FuelBand SE is available in three sizes – small, medium/large and extra large. Medium/large is likely to fit most thanks to two extension links making it pretty versatile. You also get a tool for releasing the links once they’re in place.
One of the complaints we had when reviewing the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP recently is that both devices require a proprietary cable in order to charge them. Nike hasn’t made the same mistake, designing the FuelBand SE with a USB plug built in, so you can plug it into any computer for charging. There is also a USB extension cable in the box, making it as easy as possible to charge the device.
When you plug the FuelBand SE into your computer to charge, you’ll be prompted to download the Nike+ connection software and link your FuelBand with your Nike+ account. If you don’t already have a Nike+ account, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to create one, and yes, it’s free.
Once charged you simply put the FuelBand SE around your wrist, click it shut and get on with your life. For the really fashion conscious, a variety of colours are available – all black, black with pink, black with yellow and black with red. There’s even a rose gold edition, with suitably shiny metallic accents.
The Nike+ FuelBand SE does pretty much the same thing as other activity trackers. It uses a built-in accelerometer and some clever algorithms to track your every step and movement throughout the day. It then converts all that movement into a number of steps and an estimate of calories burned.
However, Nike has done something a bit different by creating its own metric to differentiate its products from the competition. Although you can measure your progress in terms of steps taken or calories burned, what you end up focusing on is NikeFuel.
NikeFuel takes all the data captured by the FuelBand and crunches it into a single value. The beauty of NikeFuel is that although it’s unique to Nike, it’s applied to the entire Nike+ ecosystem. So, if you also use the Nike+ Running app, or use an Apple iPod to track your runs, all that activity will count towards your NikeFuel total.
NikeFuel is the basis for all your goals and achievements. You need to set yourself a daily NikeFuel goal to work towards, and each day that you hit that goal counts towards an ongoing streak. The longer your streak, the more encouraged you are to maintain it and the more likely you are to be active throughout the day.
There’s a plethora of trophies associated with NikeFuel too, whether you’ve double or tripled your daily goal, for example, or hit a milestone such as 100,000 NikeFuel points. Each time you win a trophy it focuses you on the next – when it comes to motivation, the FuelBand SE really delivers.
The Nike+ ecosystem has always been big on community and the FuelBand makes it even easier to share, communicate and compete with friends. Facebook and Twitter functionality is built in, making it simple to share any achievements, sessions or even photos of where you’ve been training.
You can also add friends – and create groups of friends - in the Nike+ community, so you can view their progress and they can view yours.
The addition of groups allows you to keep track of specific groups of people, without needing to search through your friends list manually. This is especially useful if you’re training with friends, and you want to easily keep track of everyone’s progress.
You can also choose to be notified whenever one of your friends starts a training session. So if you’re having a lazy afternoon on the sofa and you see your buddy has started a session, it should give you the nudge you need to get up off the couch and head out for a run.
One of the problems with activity trackers is that, essentially, they just count steps and little differentiation is made between casually strolling along or chasing Usain Bolt’s 100m record. How much effort you put in has little impact. To overcome this, Nike has added a new feature called Sessions. Before you start any training, put the FuelBand SE into Session mode and it will be aware of what you’re doing and even log some more granular data.
To start a session, press and hold the button on the FuelBand SE until the word ‘Start’ appears. Release the button and press it again. The FuelBand will give you a three-second countdown after which the session will begin. Once you’ve finished, hold down the button until ‘End’ appears then press it again. The FuelBand will then tell you how long your session lasted and how much NikeFuel you earned per minute and over the session’s duration.
You can tag your sessions using either the iPhone app or the Nike+ website so you can look back and check your progress when running, cycling, playing football etc.
When Nike announced the FuelBand SE, it made a big deal about the new algorithms that allow the device to track a whole host of activities more accurately rather than just being a pedometer. For the most part those claims seem to be true, with the FuelBand SE doing a good job of tracking cycling sessions, as long as you’re riding a real bike, in the real world. The total lack of movement on an exercise bike makes it almost impossible to measure activity, unless you fancy strapping an XL FuelBand to your ankle of course.
You can also use Session mode to track your sleep. Simply start a session before your head hits the pillow and end it when you wake in the morning. Once you’ve tagged the session as sleeping you’ll be able to see how long you slept and how much of that time was spent in deep sleep.
We did experience some issues when trying to measure our sleep regularly, though. While every training session was logged perfectly, a few of our sleeping sessions failed to register, or when they did they indicated that the session was started and stopped instantaneously. It may be that there’s a slight bug when a session span two days, but hopefully Nike will address this soon with a firmware update.
The iPhone app
Despite there being a new FuelBand, there’s still no sign of an Android app, so if you’re not an Apple user you’re out of luck. That’s not to say you can’t still use a FuelBand SE. The simple USB connectivity means you can sync all your data by plugging it into your computer, although this does make the whole experience less seamless and integrated.
Before the FuelBand SE hit the street, Nike rolled out a completely reworked version of the app. This allowed existing FuelBand users to take advantage of some of the new features, such as the improved algorithms, while also adding functionality specific to the FuelBand SE, such as sessions.
One of the new features the updated app brought to the table was Win The Hour. This is designed to encourage you to stay active throughout the day, rather than sitting around for most of it and blasting out a run in the evening to hit your daily goal.
To win an hour, you need to have been active for at least five minutes of it, and your FuelBand SE will log every hour you win throughout the day, awarding you trophies if you hit a certain number of hours.
You can even configure the FuelBand and the app to send you reminders. If it looks like you’re being lazy, a message will flash up on your FuelBand to encourage you to get active, while an alert will also appear on your iPhone. Unfortunately, there’s no vibrate function, so it won’t physically nudge you the way that the Jawbone UP will.
The app is well laid out and lets you drill down into every aspect of your FuelBand activity. You can examine how well you’re doing today, or look back at how you’ve done for the past weeks or months. In the Today screen, the app will tell you how well you’re currently doing compared with the greater Nike+ community, as well as how your effort compares with your own average on that day of the week.
One thing that’s missing from the app is any kind of food tracking, which both the Fitbit and Jawbone apps provide. For anyone looking to change their whole lifestyle, keeping an accurate food diary is important, which may make the FuelBand a less attractive option. That said, there’s no shortage of free food diary apps out there, so you can still go down the FuelBand route, while tracking your calorie intake elsewhere.
Just like the Fitbit Flex, the FuelBand SE uses Bluetooth 4.0 to stay connected with your iPhone, so there’s no need to manually sync your data – as soon as you open the app, you’ll be presented with the latest stats from your FuelBand.
The implementation of low power Bluetooth also means the FuelBand SE provides better battery life than its predecessor, managing between five and six days’ use on a single charge, rather than four. Keep in mind, though, that only the iPhone 4S and above support Bluetooth 4.0.
The Nike+ FuelBand SE is more of an update to the original device than a new proposition, but that’s no bad thing. What Nike has done is build on the feature set of the original FuelBand, listening to some of the feedback from its users, and come up with a better device.
It’s also worth remembering that the FuelBand SE is essentially the Nike FuelBand now, replacing the original and carrying the same £129 price tag. But that’s where some potential users may start to veer towards the competition, since the FuelBand SE does sit at the upper end of the activity tracker market.
Both the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone UP are considerably cheaper than the FuelBand SE, but they miss a key feature – a built-in display. One of the biggest advantages of the FuelBand is that you don’t need to get your phone out of your pocket to check your progress.
A press of the button on the band itself can display your current NikeFuel points for the day, the number of steps you’ve taken, the amount of calories burned and even the time. A handy double-press feature will let you check the time regardless of where you are in the data display cycle, making the FuelBand a very usable wrist watch too. Yes, the FuelBand SE is expensive compared with competitors, but given its design, feature set, companion app, web portal, sharing ability and active community, it’s still the most motivational activity tracker out there.
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