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What is a Fitbit? A Primer for the Tracking Novice

What is a Fitbit? It’s sort of a silly name — Fitbit — but you have to admit the inherent rhyme makes it memorable and fun to say. Still, like the names of a lot of devices, its name gives no clues as to what it is or what it does. You’ve heard people talking about using a Fitbit, and maybe you’ve seen them in adverts or on the wrists of friends, but you’re still confused. What is that Fitbit thing?

Or, maybe you understand what a Fitbit is, but you’re not quite sure how it works. Your friends talk about their steps and their daily goals, and they have charts showing their sleep last night, and you wonder how in the world they were able to gather that kind of information.

This article is here to give you the answers to these questions and more. By the time you’re done, you’ll probably never wonder, “What is Fitbit?” again, and you should be able to answer the question for others.

What is a Fitbit? – It Turns Your Day Into Data

what is a fitbitFirst and foremost, a Fitbit is an activity tracker. While some models keep track of a few metrics and others keep track of lots of them (more on this in a minute), all of them will

Most Fitbit models will also track your sleep:

  • time asleep and awake,
  • total sleep time,
  • and the number of times you woke up during the night.

Fitbit is made by an American company that was started in 2007. Their trackers quickly rose to the top of the market. In fact, some people use the word “Fitbit” to refer to all activity trackers, just like some people use the word “Kleenex” to refer to any tissues. There’s good reason for this, too, as more than 20 million Fitbits have been sold since they were first introduced, and two thirds of all fitness trackers sold are Fitbits.

Relevant: Best Fitness Tracker – Fitbit, Jawbone, TomTom, Garmin and more

A Fitbit Tracker Has Sophisticated Technology

fitbit charge hr women doing a workout using the fitbit charge HRHow Fitbit is able to accurately track all of this data may seem like a big mystery, but really, it all comes down to one small component: the three axis accelerometer. This tiny sensor is the secret sauce that allows a Fitbit (and really, any fitness tracker) to know how and when you’re moving. For more accurate distance information, some Fitbit models contain a GPS sensor chip, while others have a continuous heart rate monitor onboard.

Fitbits have either a small display or no display, so to see all of your numbers, you’ll need a tablet or smartphone with the corresponding Fitbit app. A wireless BlueTooth sync will port all of your numbers to the app, where you can look at charts and analyse your progress. The app is also a good total health tracker, as it also allows you to log meals and moods, earn badges, and see what your Fitbit-using friends are up to, thanks to its robust social component.

As for power, many Fitbit models run on a rechargeable battery that lasts several days between re-ups. The lower end models have replaceable button cell batteries that should last for months before needing a replacement.

Fitbit Isn’t One Device Fits All

fitbit family, what is fitbitThere are currently six Fitbit models available, and they range in price from £49.99 for the Fitbit Zip to £199.99 for the Fitbit Surge. That’s a huge difference, but that’s because you get more functionality with the higher end devices.

If you’re mostly interested in tracking just your steps, distance, and calories, then the Zip is the one for you. Step up to the Fitbit One, and you add sleep tracking. But both of these Fitbits are clips; if you want a wristlet, you’ll want to start with the Fitbit Flex. Move up to the Fitbit Charge for automatic tracking plus smartphone notifications, or choose the Fitbit Charge HR to add heart rate monitoring. Or, if you’re a serious runner who wants GPS distance tracking, music control, and notifications, you’ll probably want to look at the Fitbit Surge.

Fitbit May or May Not Change Your Life

fitbit charge hr feature imageYou might get a Fitbit and love it. Lots of people do, as knowing the specifics about their activity and sleep is a real revelation for them. It’s often the first step toward a healthier life. Then again, for some users, the initial charm of their Fitbit (like the initial charm of any new toy) wears off quickly. In fact, about one third of fitness tracker users abandon their devices after six months, a phenomenon that has led to the somewhat funny but rather unfortunate moniker “Quitbit.”

Still, that leaves two thirds of users who continue to use their device and (presumably) enjoy the information it provides. And actually, if you really get hooked on knowing you numbers, your Fitbit may serve as a sort of gateway drug — it won’t be enough, and you’ll want to upgrade to a more sophisticated tracker or a more advanced device altogether, like a smartwatch.

So Should You Get a Fitbit?

If you’d like to join the tracking madness and you have the money to spend on one, then sure! You might find that using a Fitbit will make you more proactive about your health and exercise habits, and that’s always a positive thing.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that some tech experts feel that the fitness tracker market has already peaked and is now on its way out. While that’s a dour outlook, it does hold some water, as smart watches like the Apple Watch, Pebble, and an increasing number of Android Wear watches can perform tracker functions and much more in a sleeker package.

Still, if you’re a tracking novice, or if you want to start collecting some data about your activity and your sleep, or if you just want to see what all the fuss is about, then we highly recommend getting started with one of the less costly Fitbit models. When someone points to the funny clip on your belt or the rubbery bracelet on your wrist and asks what it is, you’ll be able to proudly reply, “A Fitbit!” And when they ask, “What is a Fitbit?”, you’ll be able to give them a well-informed answer.

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