Tech Review – BodyMedia FIT Link Armband

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Never heard of the BodyMedia FIT Link Armband? I think you have. It’s the one that you see the contestants of the biggest loser wearing on their arms. You may have wondered, what is that? Simply put, it’s a calorie and step tracking device used primarily for weight loss and fitness. The first question you may ask is why would anyone want this? I’d counter that with a question back to you, can you tell me (with a high degree of accuracy) how many calories you burned yesterday? Can you tell me how many calories you ate? Did you end your day in a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit? The BodyMedia FIT Link when used in conjunction with their web, or iPhone application can tell you ALL of that, down to the last calorie you burn for the day.

When you set out to make a change in your life, it’s not an easy thing to do. My opinion is any tools or technology that help present you with a greater chance of being successful, you should consider using. I’m a huge proponent of better living through technology. I was the guy that stood in line for the very first iPhone (never again by the way) but at the time, it was so revolutionary; it changed the mobile phone market forever. The FIT Link Armband is something I feel strongly about as well, it’s an amazing piece of technology coupled with some very beautiful software. The technology itself is copied by many players in the market, but I think that BodyMedia is doing almost all of it perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some things I’d like to see changed, but the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, by a lot.

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Out of the Box Experience
When I got my band at home, I opened the box it was shipped in, and found a typical clam-shell package containing an Armband, the sensor unit, USB cable (a nice and long one too!), and a small set of documentation. There’s really not much more to say, very standard retail style packaging. Nothing super special about the box it comes in. I did think it was rather large for the contents, it would be nice to see a smaller package developed. It felt like there was a lot of wasted space.

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Setup
Being an excited techno geek, I tossed the instructions aside, and found the quick-start guide. In a perfect world, I love to have gadgets that don’t rely on my computer. My home PC I’ve built is kind of my 3rd kid, I don’t really install stuff on it much unless I’m sure that it’s something I’m going to use a lot, and software I trust. I’d read a bit about the Link Armband I had received and knew that it had the capability to link directly to my iPhone using Bluetooth. I figured I wouldn’t even use the computer with it. I’ll describe my experience, but I’m telling you right now, their software is good, trust it, and start with the computer first. I’ll describe my experience.

I knew I needed to setup an account first, so I went online and created my account. It’s your typical account setup, address, name, phone, email, etc. Nothing shocking. There’s some steps to tell them about yourself, birth date, gender, dominant hand, height/weight, timezone, and your sleeping habits (normal time to sleep, and time you generally wake up).

BodyMediaRegistration1

You then choose if you’re trying to lose weight, maintain weight, or just get active. I am currently losing weight, so I chose that option. You then get to select your weight loss plan which is very similar to many other web sites, or phone applications that set a goal to lose anywhere from .5lbs to 2.0lbs. per week. You also define how you want to do it based on the activity level you want to achieve, from light to extreme, or you can set a custom definition for this portion.

BodyMediaRegistration2

BodyMediaRegistration3

BodyMediaRegistration4

Once that’s done, this is where you should just connect the sensor to your computer via it’s USB port. You’ll need to snap the unit ‘out’ of the Armband, there’s a ring that goes around it the Armband connects to, just hold each side of the armband in your hands and use your two thumbs to depress lightly in the center, and the sensor unit will pop out. I was a little scared the first time, but now it’s no big deal, everything seems to be manufactured well, and I’m not worried about it breaking.

However, what I did was now jump right to the iPhone application. Step one pair it with your phone’s Bluetooth. I read the instructions, and set the device into it’s pairing mode. I had all kinds of trouble getting it to pair with my iPhone. So I started googling it. A lot of other people had run into this as well, I found a blog with great information that said, use the computer first.

So I installed the FIT Link software that is available once you create your account at www.bodymedia.com. Their software (for PC) runs in the system tray, and when you connect the sensor to the USB cord that comes with it, everything starts to make sense. It instantly connected to the FIT Link and asked me if I wanted to apply a firmware update, ahhhh why yes, I bet that would help with my Bluetooth issues. Let me say that 90% of the time when I run into syncing and pairing issues, I really think it’s with the Bluetooth protocol and software, NOT with BodyMedia’s stuff. It took a few times, but I finally got it to pair with my phone! The amazing thing is that it hasn’t decoupled this pairing once, ever. Most Bluetooth devices I own require constant re-linking or I have to repair them on a frequent basis, not the FIT Link, it’s one of the best Bluetooth devices I’ve owned.

I’ve installed it on my Macbook too, with no issues, works great. As I’ve said their software seems really good.

Steps / Instructions for pairing
The pairing process was a little difficult, but I think that’s more of a Bluetooth problem than an issue with BodyMedia’s software or hardware. I had to do these steps a few times, and ultimately it just ended up working, I’m not really sure why.

1.) Put the armband in pairing mode. Hold the armband button for five seconds for an initial pairing. The status lights will alternate in amber color. It will remain in pairing mode for two minutes.
2.) Set your phone to discover the armband. For my iPhone I just went into Bluetooth, and it listed the armband as “JB’s Armband”
3.) If you’re prompted for a code, enter “0000” (all zeros) for the pin/pass code.
4.) If it doesn’t pair, go to step one. I had to do this a few times before it finally registered.

Using the Device
The device itself requires almost NO intervention to use. Just strap it to your left arm, halfway between your elbow and shoulder. I wear the sensor facing the back side of my arm as that seems to be most comfortable. BodyMedia says you should wear the device as much as possible, the longer you wear it, the more accurate it is. There is a button on the device that you can use to sync it’s data to the iPhone application if you don’t want to use the USB cable. The device is NOT waterproof, take it off to shower, but other than that, you should wear it all the time. I wear it to work, sleeping, and everywhere in between.

Battery Life
The battery life of the FIT Link is documented as 2-4 days. I’ve found this to be a very poor estimate. I’ve been wearing mine almost full time since I got it (almost two weeks now) without a charge. The software is reporting 50% battery life left. Battery usage is dependent on how often you sync to your phone, and how often you push data from the phone and armband to the BodyMedia online application. I’m beyond happy with how great the battery life is on this device.

Sensors
The Armband contains 4 sensors that measure motion, body temperature fluctuations, skin temperature, and skin conductivity (galvanic skin response). A proprietary algorithm uses this collected raw information along with your personal body parameters to deliver readings on calories, activity levels, steps, lying down, and sleep time. I’ve compared these to other trackers, and my personal feeling is that BodyMedia is the most accurate device available to consumers right now.

Sensors

The BodyMedia FIT Activity Manager
The online application that your armband sends data to (whether it’s via a USB sync, or it’s being pushed from your phone) is one of the best ones I’ve used period. The graphs, and display of your calorie burning data, nutritional information, and sleep patterns is better than any of the other sites that I’ve seen.

One of the coolest things that’s available in the online application is the “Fit Coach”. It’s a non-intrusive part of the application that gives you valuable feedback about your nutrition, eating habits, calorie burn, and reminds you of your personal bests. In each measured section of the summary screen numbered icons appear to the left of each section, when you roll the mouse over these sections you get useful feedback about your historical performance. Good stuff like you didn’t eat enough protein, or you ate too much cholesterol. There’s good things too, it will inform you that you’re on track to burn what you’re supposed to for the day. Some days it will even tell you how well your day before was. It’s so great to get this kind of feedback, as it’s not something that most people consider, and it’s useful in your efforts, it’s also something that I haven’t seen in other applications.

BodyMediaFitnessManager

There’s a great notifications system too. The notifications appear in the top of the navigation bar near the top of the browser window. You’ll get notifications like new personal records, and other pertinent information.

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The BodyMedia Activity Manager allows you to even sync your Withings scale to their site. Nothing makes me happier than not having to enter data manually into applications. Every time I step on the scale, it’s automatically recorded and stored at BodyMedia. It’s a nice feature.

The Activity Manager’s summary page breaks down information for you in the following manner (data is displayed based on the last point it was synced to). The left numbers in each header represent the target, and the right side is the actual measurement.

  • Calories Burned – Directly computed from your armband, so wear it all the time.
    Expanding this section shows you the total amount of calories burned, and shows the level over time.
    CaloriesBurned 

  • Calories Consumed – The responsibility is on you to enter this information.
    Expanding this section shows a detailed nutritional breakdown of everything that you ate.
    CaloriesConsumed 

  • Calorie Balance – Hands down the best feature of the application, shows you Burned – Consumed. This is where you want to see a calorie deficit if your goal is to lose weight. Having the calorie deficit available to see anytime you want is huge for me. My FAVORITE part of the application.
    CalorieBalance

  • Physical Activity – Shows the total time in minutes that are spent in moderate – vigorous activity.
    Expanding this section shows detailed graphs of when you were active, and how active you were.
    PhysicalActivity 

  • Steps Taken – Number of steps for the day.
    StepsTaken 

  • Sleep Duration – Amount of time spent sleeping.
    SleepDuration 

  • Weight – Shows your current weight.
    Weight

The area where things start to get a little tricky is around food entry. The food database that BodyMedia uses seems to be small, there’s been several times that I have had to pick “something close” to what I really had eaten. That’s frustrating because things like cholesterol, fat, and sodium can be way off. It’s easy to control the calorie amounts by adjusting the serving size, but for me, an application like Lose It just nails the food entry. What I would really like to see is the ability to sync food from other applications, like Lose it. Right now I’m entering my food consumed in two applications, and it’s really time consuming and a duplicated effort. The Summary page in the Activity Manager is so polished and has gorgeous formatting, but then you go to the food section, and it feels like a different application. It’s by no means a deal breaker, just something I think could use some improvement.

iPhone Application
The iPhone application is very similar to the online application with a few exceptions. First of all, one of the very best things that has been added recently is the ability to sync the armband directly to the iPhone application. You can then in turn push the data from your iPhone to the BodyMedia Activity Manager. This is a recent feature, and when I first started using the armband, this feature was not available. I was so frustrated by this early on. Since BodyMedia charges a small monthly fee (around $7) they promise to improve their software, and bring new features to their customers without forcing you to buy new hardware every year. I was originally skeptical when I read this, however, I’ve now experienced it firsthand. I have no problem paying a small amount of money each month for something that solves a problem and offers me a useful service. Just eliminate eating out ONE day per MONTH, it’s seriously not a big deal.

As I stated earlier, I wish the iPhone application could sync food logs from other applications. The other feature that is seriously lacking is the ability to scan bar codes using the phone’s camera. Other fitness and nutrition applications offer this feature, it’s so handy. There’s so many things we eat everyday that come pre-packaged, having the ability to scan a bar code, and have it log the calorie and nutrition information would be worth double the online price BodyMedia charges. Hopefully we’ll see this come in future versions of the software.

There’s a workout function, that allows you to record your workouts, I’m not entirely sure of why you need this, but there’s a screenshot below. It logs your activity as you workout, and you can start and stop it via the button on the armband.

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The graphs on the iPhone application are STUNNING.

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The nutrition section of the application is not as polished as the Dashboard. It’s very similar to the online application. It needs some work, it’s functional, and does not ruin the experience, it just takes a bit to learn to use, and the food database is not as big as other applications. It would be good to see some integration and user interface work here.

The Good
The iPhone and online applications are stunning. The software you install on your PC just works, and doesn’t get in the way. Having a calorie deficit available to see keeps me focused.

The Bad
The only area for improivement in my opinion is the food entry and food database that sits behind the applications.

Conclusion
The manufacturing, online experience, features and functionality of this device have surpassed my expectations. While I wish the food entry section was a little more polished, I would wholeheartedly recommend using this product. The biggest thing that I like about it is that it measures your calorie burn very accurately, all day long, and shows you the calorie deficit you’re creating. If you’ve ready my blog at all, you know this is my number one suggestion for losing weight, create a calorie deficit. Knowing each day that I’m creating at least a 1000+ calorie deficit is priceless to me. A lot of people may be concerned about wearing an armband all the time, but it’s super comfortable, and nobody notices it, even when I’m wearing short sleeves. The BodyMedia FIT Link sells for $149.00 with the first three months of online access free, after three months there is a  $7 per month subscription. If you’re on the fence about spending that kind of money, you should order one today, you’ll learn so much about your exercise and eating habits. If you stick to the plan you setup, you will lose weight. The device is not magic, you’ll have to be accountable, but if you follow it’s plan the weight predictably comes off. You can find BodyMedia on the web at http://www.bodymedia.com/, or you can follow them via @BodyMedia on Twitter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: BodyMedia sent me this Link Armband for free for me to review on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I would use and think you would find useful. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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