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Nike+ FuelBand

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The Nike+ FuelBand is something I got very excited about. It’s a watch that keeps track of your activity throughout the day and promotes you to be more active. It’s essentially for regular people (not athletes) that want to get more fit but haven’t found the right catalyst. Tim Cook wears one which adds to street cred (in the geek world at least). 

 
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The attractive thing about the FuelBand is that it isn't a product that's designed for hardcore athletes like so many similar products. It can't measure lap times, or give you accurate GPS coordinates of your run. It uses something called "NikeFuel", a point based system that measures the amount of "movement" throughout the day. Not necessarily useful data but that's what makes it simple and easy to swallow.

 

Starting with the packaging - it's very similar to iPods of yesterday. If you’ve ever unboxed something like the iPod mini, you’ll be very familiar with this presentation.

 
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The watch comes in 3 sizes. S, M/L, and XL. They come packaged with two links of different sizes to help with fitment. Nike includes a small tool (basically a glorified paper clip) to remove these extenders.

 
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There is a problem here though - the links look really ugly. I was lucky that I fit perfectly in M/L without any links because that’s really the best setup aesthetically. If you are looking to buy one, I’d pick one up at the Apple Store. This way, if you bought a small and realize you need an extra link, return the small and get the medium/large.

 
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The FuelBand comes in 3 colors; black, black ice and white ice. My issue with the black version is that it is easy to scuff and it shows dust very easily. I ended up going with the black ice because of this. The white ice was also an option but I was worried that it may yellow over time from sweat and oils. After all, this is for exercise.

 
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The FuelBand is extremely well made. The band goes for about $150, which seems totally reasonable to me. Even if you never end up using the Nike+ side of FuelBand, you’ll have a nice watch to wear. Most of the watch is plastic/rubber but it feels substantial. The small amount of aluminum on the clasp also helps to bring up the perceived quality of the device. 

 
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There’s some controversy about the translucent design of the ice models. I personally think it’s interesting. There’s something Blade Runner about the appearance. It’s an intelligent watch and there's nothing about about showing a few internal components to show that off. I love the small "Just do it." printed on the circuit board too.

 
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It's almost retro futuristic. Unusual, but I appreciate it.

 
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The USB plug is cleverly used as the male end of the clasp. This beats the Jawbone Up's solution for sure. I do have an issue with the actual USB plug though. It is made from a rather soft plastic and gets marred very quickly. Nike should have used something less susceptible to scratches on a part that receives so much abuse. 

 
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The clasp has another design flaw. If you're not careful, it'll pinch you - hard. The clasp clips together aggressively with a satisfying click and if your not careful, your skin will get clamped in the process. After a few mistakes you'll develop a technique to avoid getting murdered by this watch.

 

Charging and software updates can all be done via USB. Charging happens surprisingly quick and the watch lasts for about 3-4 days from my personal experience. Not terribly great and you'll have yet another device next to your bed to plug in.

 
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Something that does confuse me is if the FuelBand is water proof or not. Nike’s own documentation doesn’t seem to mention anything about this topic but all the reviews online seem to say that it’s at least “shower proof”. I wore it every time I took a shower without it breaking so we’re probably safe here. Let’s just call it water “resistant”.
 

 
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I've left the actual functionality of the band last - as it's where the device just falls short for me. The FuelBand has a single button on the front that turns on the LED display and toggles between the time, calories burned, steps, and NikeFuel points. Calories and steps aren’t all that useful for most people so the time and Fuel points are of interest here. The actual display of Fuel is done really well. You are given a digital read-out of the number of points you’ve gathered throughout the day and a colorful bar shows you how close you’ve come to your daily goal. This visual does a great job of motivating you to reach your goal. The problem is that the FuelBand is not accurate at measuring your Fuel points. First of all, the band is unable to measure activities like biking where your arms are stationary. This is annoying, but the bigger problem is that the device thinks any arm movement is the user being active. For instance, I was at a bar one night and exceeded my goal and even got a high score. I’m guessing that I move my arms a lot when I talk. Regardless of how I got the points, the takeaway here is that the FuelBand is far from perfect at measuring the amount of physical activity you partake in.

 

Despite the inaccuracy, the iPhone app that works in harmony with FuelBand is well executed. The device syncs with the iPhone via Bluetooth which is convenient. You can see a graph of your activity throughout the day, check the status of your band and also make some minor changes to its settings. The best part are the over the top animations you get when you reach your goals. You wouldn’t want to see them in any other app but they really do motivate you in an scenario like this. 

The thing that really sucks about the app is the friends integration. The app only shows you your Facebook friends, who clearly don’t own a FuelBand or haven’t used theirs in a while. The Nike website lets you find friends from sources like Twitter but there’s no way to compete with these friends on the phone. A huge mistake on Nike’s part.

 
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Due to the inaccuracy of the FuelBand’s calculations and the total lack of tracking for cycling, I've decided to return it. A good social integration could have been the saving grace but that is also lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the FuelBand isn’t a bad product, it’s just not a perfect one. If you want a fun way to promote activity, this is a very good investment. For me personally, I felt that the $150 was better spent on buying something like Nike+ Kinect Training (which actually works really well - if you have a big room).