FitBit Ultra Review

How far do you walk in a day? Who knows!? Surely your regular everyday movement counts as some form of exercise, but you probably have no idea if you’re walking one mile a day or ten miles. Sure, there’s the classic pedometer, but now there’s something better, sleeker, more accurate, informative, and dare we say tech-sexy: The FitBit Ultra Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker. With the FitBit Ultra you can log your steps, distance traveled, floors climbed, and calories burned in real time. There’s an online portal that opens up a surplus of encouraging statistics about your activity. I can proudly say that in 17 days I have walked half a million steps!

The FitBit Ultra is well-designed gem. It’s not too much bigger than a chunky paperclip. At just under half an inch thick, it weighs less than half an ounce. The tight grip will grasp anything from thin silk to a thick jean. It has an attractive minimalistic design with a smooth matte black outer shell and blue or plum colored innards (depending on the model). My FitBit often rubs against weights at the gym and scuffing is minimal and barely-noticeable. On one side of the clip is a rubber rectangular button that looks like a grip. Pressing the button activates the beautiful OLED display which shines through the plastic. The ultra-clear blue text shines through like it’s floating on the device.

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FitBit’s sole button toggles through six different displays: time, steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, floors climbed, and a flower that grows based on activity. The metrics are all based on daily activity starting at midnight and ending at midnight. The display shuts off after a few seconds. When you hold down FitBit’s button, a timer is started and all of your daily metrics are temporarily reset to zero to log the duration of the timer. The timer can be used for logging walks, jogs, work hours, or even sleep cycles. When you end the timer, all metrics return to daily values.

With the FitBit comes the base station/charger, a sleep wrist band, and a belt holster. For the most accurate results you’re supposed to keep the FitBit attached to your mid-region. While sleeping you can use the included wrist band.

FitBit is an extraordinary little device. It has a built-in accelerometer for calculating motion patterns and converting it into metrics. There’s also a built-in altimeter for measuring vertical climb up stairs and inclines. The previous version of the FitBit (the non-ultra model) did not have the altimeter.

What makes FitBit stand apart from any similar device, is its wireless syncing and online data logging. All of your activity, for the lifetime of the device, is wirelessly transmitted from the FitBit to the charging dock and uploaded to your secure FitBit online portal. The online portal sets goals for you, logs progress and activity, and even allows you to record weight, food intake, mood, and other facets of your personal health. Think of it as an overall health and fitness journal, most of which is logged for you. In addition to all the daily stats calculated by FitBit, there are charts and graphs depicting these metrics by daily and monthly views. There’s a lot of information and stats on the FitBit dashboard including achievements, ranking, and a badge system similar to FourSquare or XBox Live. Sleep logging is most interesting; it keeps you informed of when you went to bed, how long it took to fall asleep, how many times you woke up, and when you finally woke up. You can even view a chart of movement throughout the night or a sleep efficiency on a monthly scale.

FitBit really opens up a whole new world of information that actually encourages you to make solid lifestyle improvements. From the get-go, FitBit sets a 10,000 step/per day goal and 50,000 steps per week. The goals are slowly ramped up and you have the ability to set new goals on the dashboard. Earning badges is also a fun way of encouraging and being awarded for your accomplishments.

How well does FitBit really work? As you take each step you can watch the step counter increment. The same goes for floors climbed, after taking a staircase up one story you’ll see the counter increment. Unfortunately, the less accurate metric seems to be distance. After comparing distance to Google Maps and testing FitBit on a treadmill, it appears the metric is a bit optimistic with distance. In terms of steps, the device is quite accurate and is not easily tricked. Leg tapping will not count as steps, however dancing does; but dancing is an activity.

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One of the greatest features of FitBit is it’s astonishing battery life. It’s supposed to last 5-7 days but I have gone two weeks without a charge. We had a few gripes with FitBit. One was the inability to display battery level without placing it in the dock. When it dies, it will display an empty battery, but it will not log any movement. Lastly, the wireless syncing works perfectly as long as you’re in the same room as the dock and the computer is turned on.

In case it was not clear: we couldn’t be happier with the FitBit Ultra. It has encouraged and nudged us towards a more active, and healthy, lifestyle. The device itself is so small and light you will forget it’s even attached. The on-screen display is a true delight. FitBit will give you a great frame of reference for your regular activities; I know that after my somewhat-lengthy commute to work, an hour long walk during lunch, and a nice stroll around town with the pup, I am hitting my daily 10,000 steps, which FitBit equates to about 6-8 miles. The FitBit Ultra is currently available in black with either a blue or plum (magenta) interior for $99.99. This may sound a tad pricey, but personal health is no joke; in the long run the cost is minimal. It also makes a fabulous holiday gift. FitBit offers a premium membership for $49.99/year which essentially functions as a personal trainer, nutritionist, and sleep consultant.

The Good: Small; light; durable; amazing OLED display; informative; encouraging; wireless syncing; abundance of information on online dashboard; FitBit dashboard functions as health and fitness journal

The Bad: Battery meter only available when connected to dock; wireless syncing can only happen with the dock; FitBit premium not included, distance traveled was optimistic in our tests

Update 05/11/12: Check out our full review of the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale