Misfit Shine personal physical activity monitor review

Wearable tech is all the rage at the moment, whether its Google Glass at the top of the tree or the Nike FuelBand at the more accessible end.

More and more of us are intrigued by tracking our movements whether it's for fun, fitness or performance. Tapping into that interest is Misfit Wearables, the makers of a new tracking device called Shine.

So does Shine have what others don't; it is aptly named to outshine the pack? Or is this just another gimmick that you'll wear for a week and then put in the drawer? We've been wearing the Shine activity monitor for over a month to find out.

Design

Unlike the Nike FuelBand or the Jawbone Up, Shine is a small metal-clad circular pebble the size of a 10-pence piece or, for our American friends, a quarter. The pebble slots into either a rubber wrist band, rubber magnetic clip or optional extra necklace to wear as a pendant. Because it's a completely sealed unit it's waterproof too.

Power comes from a simple watch battery that lasts around four months, and that means you don't have to charge it every couple of days - an issue we've found with other devices such as the Withings Pulse.

READ: Withings Pulse review

When you aren't interacting with Shine, the gunmetal grey exterior offers no clue as to what's going on inside. When in use there are 12 lights that illuminate as you progress through your day's goal. It's a lot less subtle than the Nike FuelBand, even when it's lit up to show your progress.

The underside of the device features the Misfit Wearable logo, while the front is void of detail or buttons. It's still enough to draw attention, though, and we've had a few people comment and ask what we've got on our wrist, with many suggesting we are wearing something "medical" rather than an activity monitor.

The design also looks more feminine than the big, thick Nike offering and that's likely to appeal to those with smaller thinner wrists as it doesn't suffer the same problems as the fixed-width Nike band. The Shine straps on your wrist like a watch, and stays put - none of the sliding around of some competitors - and can even use its lights to display the time.

READ: Nike+ Fuelband review

If you opt for the magnetic clip option then Shine can easily be hidden out of sight and the magnet is strong enough to work through thin clothes or a jumper. That allows you to hide away your tracking fix from all you meet.

Tapping your way to success

The concept behind Shine is that it tracks your movement throughout the day so you can see how active you have been, or set a daily goal and try to achieve this each day. It's a product designed to keep you motivated - the same principle as all activity monitors really. 

Once you've set up your daily steps goal via the accompanying iPhone app you are tasked with making sure you reach it. To check your progress you can tap the top of the Shine twice and it will light up a number of lights depending on how you are doing.

In keeping with a clock face design your progress is divided into 12 segments or lights. Your challenge is to light up all 12 before the end of the day, when they reset.

You are also recommended to tap the device three times when you are about to do something strenuous, but you don't have to so should you forget - like we constantly did - it's not the end of the world.

Watch that all about?

After you've checked your status the Shine happily tells you the time and this is done by showing lights where the 12/3/6/9 normally are on a watch face and then lighting up two of the lights accordingly to tell the time.

Clear? No, it wasn't for us at first either. It's somewhat confusing at the start, as it will tell you the time literately: lighting the second and eighth positions is 2:40, not 1:40 as there are no watch hands to sit in between the 12 available light sections.

You can't bypass your progress to get to view the time quickly, so if that's all you're likely to want to get from the Shine then it's a lengthy and time consuming process. You'll soon give up, and that's before you've got to decode the way in which time is presented. When not worn on the watch strap we found we didn't bother checking Shine for the time at all.

It's all about the app

As with similar competitiors, the Shine's main focus and ultimate use comes from the accompanying app. Download the free app on your iPhone - that's the only platform that's supported for now - and you can the analyse the collated data to see how you are doing, when you are active in the day and what you could possibly be doing to improve it all to make sure you hit your target.

Everything is recorded so you can see your performance over the day, week, and month and individual days can be broken down to see when you were active or merely sitting at your desk probably eating a doughnut.

Connecting the two together is done simply by placing the Shine pebble on your screen - you have to have previously paired the two via Bluetooth so the two remember one another - and that experience can best be described as "magical", especially on an iPhone. It's not NFC but it certainly feels that way. Pairing takes seconds and the data transfer is quick. 

The app is easy to use, simple, and effective at getting you the information you probably want - ie, your daily total and whether or not you made your goal, presented along with a stack of various graphs to show you that running for the train was "well worth it"  after all.

Verdict

You'll know whether or not a band on your wrist that glows is good enough to motivate you and Shine doesn't promise or offer anything new here compared to the competition. If anything it somewhat lacks the "in your face" appeal of the Nike FuelBand that - and even if it is still inferior to most of the activity monitors on the market when it comes to tech prowess - carries a lot of kudos amongst those who know what it is, or are intrigued the moment you press it. On the other hand, for some, that will make Shine preferable.

Where the Shine differs is in its low power consumption and long-lasting battery, meaning you don't need to worry about charging it every five to seven days. That and its "mobile first" approach - there's no messing around plugging the Shine into a USB socket, or downloading data to your computer. That's a huge bonus and one that will save you time and effort.

However, we don't like Shine's clock display feature and find the response to tap is slow to deliver information without using the iPhone app. We've also found that splitting the target into 12 segments means you can miss the goal by a fraction of points because the data you are getting isn't granular enough. Again, for some people this more casual approach may be preferable. But if you're one of those fanatics that needs to get a streak of day-in day-out success then that's likely to annoy.

There are plenty of things we like about the Shine, including the design, waterproofing and its multiple ways to wear. It's clever, and works as prescribed to a point, but it somehow lacks the wow factor for our preferences. We were hoping that the Shine would do just that - shine as much as its name suggests. Instead it's more of a warm glow.