A girl at a bar sees the futuristic and slim black cuff cradling my wrist, points at it and asks—well, more like demands to know—what is that? I look down, thinking I might've spilled beer on my sleeve, and see the Nike Fuelband. Oh. That thing.
To demonstrate, I hit the only button on the wristband and the LED lights flash awake. Green, yellow and red light explosions illuminate the word GOAL. Nice. I've reached my fitness activity goal for the day, and the Nike Fuelband is blowing digital fireworks to celebrate. I'm happy. The girl, with her high arching eyebrows, looks happy, too. But still confused. Let me explain.
Why It Matters
The Fuelband is Nike's foray into the crowded graveyard that is fitness tracking devices. Remember the spectacularly awful Jawbone Up? The Fuelband is like that, but thankfully, not spectacularly awful. It's more like a Fitbit, but for your wrist—it's a wristband that always measures your activity as you go about your day. That means everything you do—running, doing laundry, washing dishes, having sex—is measured and totaled up to give you an idea about how active you are on a daily basis. With the Fuelband, you can quantify the consequences of your lifestyle.
The best thing about the Fuelband is that you use it without ever thinking about using it. You set a daily goal, wear it, and forget about it. It's that easy! The accelerometer in the Fuelband keeps track of your movement. To check your stats, tap the button on the Fuelband, and the previously unseen LED lights (there are a 120 of 'em) will show you how many calories you've burned, how many steps you've taken, what time it is, and how much Nikefuel you've gained.
But, uh, what in the hell is Nikefuel? Nike says it has correlated movements of the Fuelband's accelerometer with specific fitness activities, then created a way to translate all that into a Nikefuel number. It's a way to bring everyone onto the same unit of measurement for activity—if you and an Olympic athlete ran side by side and did the same activities, you'd both get the same Nikefuel number. An even playing field, so to speak.
What I like about Nikefuel is that it gets you away from thinking about the net balance of calories consumed and then burned. It shifts the focus towards how much Nikefuel you've gained. It's only a slight change in perspective, but it gives you a finish line to reach. Positive over negative. Be active, and good things—like losing weight—will eventually follow.
The Fuelband syncs with its iPhone app (via Bluetooth) and the Nike+ website (via built-in USB). There, you can log on to see pretty graphs of your activity history by day, week, month and year. Everything about the Fuelband is inexcusably easy to use. Even the battery endures. I got more than a week of usage off one charge (it's listed at 4 days).
It looks like the future. Not in the Google Glasses wearing, overtly sci-fi future, but in a more utilitarian, this-is-completely-realistic future. Matte black with one single silver strip, it's understated, yet interesting enough so that people, like that girl in the bar, are curious about what it does.
What it does is great. But a fitness wristband is only useful if you wear it. The Fuelband hits the perfect weight and structure balance—it's about the size of a puffed up Livestrong band but much more sturdy—that you can wear it in any athletic situation without it weighing you down. The numbers the Fuelband spits out are on point, too. I literally counted steps on my walk to work and the Fuelband was right there with me. It'll obviously have biases to arm movements but it's accurate enough in day-to-day activities where if you don't try and cheat the system, you'll have a pretty accurate measurement of your day.
But the best thing about the Fuelband is how it keeps you mindful of everything you're doing. Feel like taking a cab home after dinner? Wait, you should walk. Want to order delivery for lunch? Maybe go to the restaurant for take out. It's a constant reminder to live a more active lifestyle. It's like having a fitness angel on your wrist, you'll be politely reminded to take the extra step. For the casual folks who love to cut corners and trend lazy, that slight difference in activity makes a world of difference. You want to hit your goals. You don't want to disappoint the Fuelband. It notices your laziness, and it spits it back at you as numerical evidence.
It's not perfect. The Fuelband isn't for super high-performance, because some exercises just don't translate to a wrist-based accelerometer. Workouts like yoga or weightlifting don't tally up well. Riding a stationary bike won't give you an accurate reading when compared to mobile exertion. Swimmers and surfers can't even wear it—the Fuelband is only water-resistant, and not waterproof. There's also no GPS, tracking so people looking to track their runs' locations will have to look elsewhere. And finally, the app, though pretty, can definitely be improved—it feels too limited and constricting.
Should I Buy It
Yes. If you're interested in becoming somewhat healthy in the future, if you're looking for a wee bit more motivation to workout, or if you just want to be an active person, you should buy a Fuelband. It'll help you stop being lazy. For fitness freaks, however, the Fuelband's limitations might not be accurate or full-fledged enough to match your workouts.
Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, ambient light sensor
Display: 100 white LED lights, 20 color LED lights
Size: 5.79-inch (S), 6.77-inch (M), 7.76-inch (L)
Weight: 0.95 oz (S), 1.06 oz (M), 1.13 oz (L)