Fitbit? Will Google make them better?

This post was inspired by a response to a great service / fitness enthusiast who writes and videos a LOT about a LOT of gear, and Allan who asked a question on an old thread - wondering if someone would reply...

He was curious about Fitbit and their heart rate accuracy.

(Original post link here)

Hey Allan - this may sound like the rant of a bitter ex lover, but I don't think the metrics will improve. Let me explain. I've had Fitbit for years. One of the things I noticed as I got more serious about fitness was the lack of accuracy in the heart rate, the other was the way the resting heart rate didn't seem to make ANY sense. For me I found that having a few beers affected my resting heart rate that very night - however the change would be reflected in Fitbit over a period of DAYS. Likewise in the other direction. When I researched I found companies like Garmin actually had a knowlege base article explaining how they calculate resting heart rate - that they base it on the american heart associations definition, and where there was not a resting rate measured they use the lowest reliable measurement. So then I re-asked Fitbit support to clarify this issue. They told me the method "was a proprietary formula" - I asked how long the averaging period was - to which they replied "they couldn't get into the details of the calculation". How the hell they think that makes sense to anyone who asks is beyond me.

That said, during these tests I had borrowed a Garmin Vivoactive 3 music and had been wearing it on my other arm. I swapped them around to ensure that wasn't a factor. The garmin measurements made sense. RHR matched, and the heart rate matched a blood pressure cuff when checked - Fitbit never did.

I was holding on to the Fitbit because it was paid for.

Then it broke. This is the 3rd "swim proof" fitbit that got broken with a dunk in a pool, a sink or a shower (all 3 happened). And to top it off, it was after warranty. So they offered me a coupon off a new one. And I paid twice the price for an awesome Garmin. Which adds more functionality than I ever had before and less that I don't need.

So as I promised the Fitbit support people I wrote back to your question - because I am that horrible ex who's still a little salty about the 10+ years I wasted ;-)

Going to have to add this to my other posts lol


So what's wrong with Fitbit? Too many things. BUT, they also get some things right...

The Aria scale was never able to connect to modern WiFi - the Aria 2 is - and seems to be quite accurate at body composition estimation (when compared to a DEXA scan).

But their watches while quite inexpensive compared to other brands are quite fragile and often considered inaccurate. I think though that as an entry level smart watch product, maybe that doesn't matter too much? From my own experience, I was able to significantly improve my fitness through awareness of my activity, and by having an easy way to track my weight and see trends. Now I feel I've outgrown them but that really isn't what's "wrong" with Fitbit.

I think there are a few things wrong with them.

1) Support & support culture. All of the support (forums, twitter, etc.) seem to be all about welcoming you to the post "congratulations, etc." - but this is hollow. The support people often do not seem to KNOW their own product. They ask questions you might have already answered in yor original submission which makes you feel like they aren't reading or that you are dealing with a bot (the conversation is archived). Documentation is out of date or non-existent, and they can't seem to direct you to the answer if there is one. The support forums are a huge mess where your comments and questions go to die of old age. They may suggest you go somewhere else and up-vote a feature request or a bug concern, but don't fool yourself - there are often dozens of similar requests - all with votes. And no one seems to take the effort to curate this mess to produce ONE feature - so the result is people keep complaining and no one fixes anything because none of the features get enough votes.

2) Product quality. They LOOK good, but they don't last. My first Versa died the week I got it. Being it was swim proof, I went in the water with it. Up to my waist. It died. I've had that happen 3 times with different lines of their product. The ORIGINAL non-waterproof unit ironically still works years later after being in the ocean numerous times. They just can't build a waterproof watch. IF this was just my experience, I'd expect better support of the product. If mine really is the outlyer, I'd want to see it back and disassemble it - find the failure - but they dont' care.

3) Secret methods. Metrics are about accuracy. Accountability. If you can't measure it you can't improve it. Having a resting heart rate based on a weekly rolling average are things that need to be about to understand and accept, or change (i.e. a toggle) but at LEAST be informed. Saying it's proprietary and providing no details? Doesnt' feel right to me.

4) Inaccuracy. Getting steps while you are in your car driving, or while you are asleep? Not getting credit for a floor climbed sometimes? That leads to a lack of confidence - and if you can't trust the measurement, you can't feel confident in what you accomplished or push yourself when you are falling off your average.

Will Google fix this? Well lets think about that... Do you know any Google product with a manual you can locate? Have you ever seen their forums and support? If you aren't paying for a google subscription (ONE) you likely can't even get an answer or find the proper place to ask a question.

Perhaps the change will introduce a shake up? Perhaps the new sensors rumoured to be coming with blood sugar capability (and the likely implication that the device using it will be a "medical device" will encourage change?

I'm not so sure. In the immediate future, I'm voting to switch teams. Going with Garmin. Fitbit made it unreasonably painful, but I exported ALL my data month by month into hundreds of separate files which I then uploaded to Garmin.

I sync my Fitbit Aria 2 to MyFitnessPal which is also sync'd to Garmin (so my weigh ins are still automatic).

This doesn't cost money, but will take some time to do, but worth it in my opinion to keep the history.

Hopefully they will improve things. Sometimes change is disruptive but then constructive. I'd hate to lose a competitor in the industry.


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