Tech fuel
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Tech fuel

Not the first of its kind, but the best so far – the Nike+ Fuelband may just end up making you fitter.

brunch Updated: Feb 11, 2012 19:22 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

Thwack! That was the sweet sound of the middle of the baseball bat making contact with the pure leather of the ball. It was my first home run ever and I was being coached by the New York Yankees coach himself at that time – but that wasn’t THE most amazing thing to happen to me in New York.

It’s huge – built on 24 acres. It’s expensive – it cost 1.5 billion US dollars to build – which makes it the third most expensive sports stadium in the world. It’s at the iconic Yankee Stadium – home of baseball team the New York Yankees, where I hit my home run. Yet, it STILL isn’t the most amazing thing in my NY adventures.

I spent about an hour with a man who is pure legend. He’s won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times despite being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. Yes, Lance Armstrong and I ‘chatted and hung’ for a while. And while that’s difficult to beat in emotional terms – there was still MORE amazement in store for me.

What was truly amazing was that while I did my whole baseball routine, pranced around the gigantic Yankee stadium and spent time in the company of a legend – I was also able to to accumulate and track ‘fuel’. More than 2,000 fuel points – and THAT is amazing!

Yes, fuel points were literally my life blood in New York. That's because I had strapped on a Nike+ Fuelband that was tracking my life at every stage. My activity level – was I sitting for too long, whether I took the stairs or the elevator, how much did I walk, was my run fast enough? It was pretty much a Big Brother on my wrist. And I was in competition with about 50 others.

Nike+ Fuelband is a flexible band made of thermoplastic rubber and polypropelene. It has a flexible LED screen on it, it’s water resistant, you can shower with it, it weighs just 32 grams and it comes in three sizes. This is a device that turns your life, your actions, your fitness and activity into fuel. This is a personal accelerometer that measures your activity in three dimensions – so whatever you’re doing will be tracked and signalled back to you with an array of LED lights turning from red to green as goals are met.

On top of those coloured LEDs is a screen that displays steps, calories and fuel. An app pairs with an iPhone (Android and others coming soon) for monitoring your progress on the go. And if you’re one of those people who has this insatiable need to share everything including your every activity – then your Fuelband data can be shared on Facebook or Twitter. It also connects to a personal account on the Web where you can see your performance graphed out with visuals.

It’s nice, it does quite a bit and it’s a good gauge of your daily level of activity but there are other devices that do similar things (see sidebar), maybe a bit less – but pretty similar. So why am I calling this amazing? Because it has taken the strengths of most of the others, overcomes the weaknesses – and added one critical feature.

Let me explain. The very idea of an all-day personal fitness tracker is that it must be ‘on you’ all day. And that’s the crux of the problem. Almost every other device needs a lot of extra effort from your side to give you results. Some need to strapped to your chest, some have an elastic band that must make hard contact with your skin, others need to be clipped onto your clothes and some need to be hung from a clasp. Not very efficient, you need to remember to put it on and you have to be very careful not to lose it (I’ve used a Fitbit for the last six months and gave up when I lost two of them) while you go about living your life.

With the Fuelband – you strap it onto your wrist, set a goal and forget about it. And as it monitors your life and gives you real time feedback, you truly do understand just how sedentary certain phases of your day are.

This isn’t the holy grail, it’s expensive at $149, some will dismiss it as a slickly packaged and marketed pedometer – but that’s where the comparisons stop. By packing in a lot of technology in a flexible screen band that literally becomes an unobtrusive part of your body – the Fuelband automatically starts playing the role of a coach, mentor, tracker and motivator. It charges you to move, to take the stairs, to go for a run, to not skip the gym – and may just end up making you fitter, leaner and stronger. And boy, how we all need that!

The FuelBand’s Competition

The Striiv is almost idiot proof and just works: It counts steps, your run and other activities, plus gives you challenges all day to keep you motivated. A slightly clunky interface and it needs to be clasped on – these are the main problems.

The FitBit is huge: Not in size (it’s super small) but in terms of the number of people that use it. It tracks it all – your calories, steps, even sleep. It needs to be clipped on to your waist and that’s where it gets lost very easily.

The BodyMedia FIT: FIT is where it all started. Used on the show Biggest Loser, this armband has a sensor that must touch your skin at all times. It’s very accurate and tracks a lot, such as temperature, how much you sweat, etc, but is impossible to keep on all day. It is also very expensive.

Jawbone UP: UP was a great idea but dies within a week of use. Never a good thing in a device.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.

From HT Brunch, February 12

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First Published: Feb 10, 2012 19:01 IST