Nike+ FuelBand SE review
The new Nike+ FuelBand SE is the company's second version of the wearable wrist device that tracks your activity. The second-gen device promises to deliver a better and more precise experience than the 2012 original by introducing Sessions to cater for specific exercise or sleep sections of your day, and Hours for ongoing reminders to give you a virtual prod to help keep you more active. But just how successful is it?
After playing with the new FuelBand at the UK launch at the end of October, we've been living with the new wearable fitness tracker as our go-to device to test it out. Does it prove to be the must-have wearable fitness device?
On the surface the FuelBand SE looks almost identical to the original, bar for an added strip of colour on the clasp. Colours at the moment include luminous yellow, orange, pink, black, and we've also seen a rose gold version on Nike execs which is anticipated to be released in a limited run. We've been given the all-black model for review and it looks identical to the original FuelBand.
But it's what can't be seen that makes for one of the biggest changes: the FuelBand SE is water-resistant, so there's no bother jumping in the shower with it still on. It's not waterprof, as such, though, so you can't wear it in the bath or go swimming with it on.
Elsewhere the design continues much the same as the original. That means the same OLED display tucked underneath the soft rubber exterior of the band, with a single button to activate the display so you know how well you're doing in a day. The main display is a blue-tinged white, while a secondary line of colours that go from red to green show how well you are doing related to your daily target. It is clear and very easy to read in daylight.
To attach the FuelBand SE to the wrist there's a hidden USB connection that completes the loop. The catch is strong, so it holds it on tight enough - in the last year wearing the original FuelBand we've had no problems and this feels much the same - and yet is easy enough to take it off when you need to plug it in.
To provide a snug fit you get two "spacers" in the box, offering three possible sizes, and they're easy to fit. Nike suggests the band should have some movement on your wrist rather than being tight, but not too loose so that it would slide half way up and down your arm.
We think it looks cool, and even a over 18 months after the original model was released we still get comments from people intrigued as to why our wrist has just lit up like a Christmas tree.
Burning and earning: Fuel points
The premise of the FuelBand SE is that you earn Fuel points by being active. Create a Nike Account, add the Fuel Band, set a daily goal, slap it on your wrist and start moving. It's that simple to set up and that easy to get going.
An accelerometer in the band does its best to measure your movements. The naysayers will, of course, say that you can just wave your arm around on the sofa and cheat the system. You could try, but that would be totally pointless, plus a new algorithm has been introduced this time around and that makes it harder to "trick" the system. Pleasure seekers and donut eaters you've been told.
Fuel goals start from 2,000 and climb upwards. The bigger the daily target the more you need to do. Ours is set at 3,000 and to achieve that we have to do some form of exercise during the day. A 20 minute walk will earn you around 450 Fuel points for example, a 5km run around the 1,300 mark.
Depending on how you set the FuelBand SE up will depend on what information you can see. Time, Fuel, Steps, Calories, and Hours can all be set or not set depending on your preference. There is also the option for time to display in 12 or 24 hour clock - as the SE also acts as a watch. Double tap the solo button to display time no matter what stat you were looking at previously is a quick way to check the time. Problem is doing so means you don't get your Fuel point status.
New to the FuelBand SE is the addition of Hours and Sessions. With Hours the idea - and one that tries to appeal to your competitive nature - is that you have to earn five Fuel points for five consecutive minutes every hour to "win the hour". Do so and you get a tick. The more ticks you get the better you supposedly feel. It's like being the good kid in class and doing what FuelBand asks of you.
Nike says that it has introduced this feature following research into the data it pulled from users of the first FuelBand. It turns out that most do a burst of energy at the start of or end of the day and then spend the rest of the time sat on their behind. You hit your target, feel like you're done - but you aren't really active throughout a day.
To help remind you that you got hours to "win", the FuelBand lights up 15 minutes before the end of hour with a message. For us that's "Go Stuart", so you can insert your own name there.
But with no vibration option for the FuelBand SE to physically alert you - and, like most people, you'll probably be busy at your desk - to get the most out of the hours feature you'll need to sync up with the iPhone application. Doing so will ping a notification to tell you to get moving. There is no Android version of the app.
Wanting to see what impact this would have on our daily routine we spent an entire day purposefully walking every hour for five minutes to "win the hour". It's tiring stuff. Not the physical aspect, but the sheer fact that every hour we had to stop what we were doing and walk around the block. That said it certainly focuses you to make the most of the other 45 minutes available in-between. Of course this is an extreme example - we won nine hours that day - but it quickly shows how inactive we are on some days, especially when working from home. Oh, and we still didn't make our target that day by some 300 points.
Over the week we've won plenty of hours without thinking so much about it, such as those commuting days where there are multiple meetings dotted around town. Bt if you get in your office, sit and your desk for nine hours straight and then go home, it's a fascinating experiment to try and be active each hour regardless of whether you get a FuelBand or not. If, that is, your boss doesn't wonder where the heck you're going every hour and fire you.
Depending on how competitive you are will determine how much emphasis you put on Hours - we could easily see ourselves delaying exercise to straddle the start of an hour to maximise wins.
In attempt to try and catalogue exercise and sleep, the FuelBand SE is now able to record activities as Sessions to then analyse them via the iPhone app or on the desktop.
You can activate a session by holding down the single button until the word start appears. Then tap it again to instigate a three second countdown. Once started you'll get a Fuel per minute count, elapsed time, and total Fuel earned during the session. At the end you get a summary of all the data before it disappears for good. Via the band you can't recall or tag the information, though, which is where the app comes in.
Sessions are easy to start, but easy to forget to turn off - and that has caused us some problems. It's also easy to think you've started a session when you've not, or easy to forget about them altogether.
It's possible to manually edit the start and end time of a session via the app, but doing so wipes the ability to see the Fuel point data for that session. Instead you're left with a big, fat "0" rather than a new averaged number - another frustration.
In the app you can tag these sessions and that then allows you to monitor past performances, although with little data beyond Fuel there's not much to go against. Earning 1,299 points for a 26 minute run doesn't really mean much.
You can set your own tags rather than be forced to choose from ones pre-set by Nike and for activities that don't involve you moving your arms around it will ask how hard you've worked and offer to give you some Fuel points to make up for the band's shortcomings. You'll earn virtually nothing when cycling, for example, so it attempts to compensate for this.
One other reason for Sessions is that you can now use the FuelBand SE to track your sleeping habits. Start a session as you jump into bed and when you wake up and end the session you can see how long you've slept for. If you're not so tired that you forget to end it.
In bed and the band feels cumbersome though. It's not perfectly suited for resting against your face or under the pillow while you lie there. If anything it's akin to wearing a large watch in bed - and that's something we've never done.
If you don't want to view the fascinating data that tells you how much you tossed and turned, we've found you can just as effectively measure your sleep by starting a session and then putting the FuelBand SE on your bedside table instead. In our week of testing we got 45 hours and 21 minutes of sleep you'll be pleased to know.
The iPhone app
While you don't need to use the app to use the Nike FuelBand SE, to get the most out of the device you do. And that, therefore, means owning an Apple device rather than Android, Windows, Blackberry or whatever else you may happen to own.
READ: Apple iPhone 5S review
You connect the band to your iPhone via Bluetooth LE and it automatically syncs the data and sends you the Hourly alerts to get moving.
The app itself is fairly simple with the main features broken down into areas driven off a menu system that is revealed with a swipe. On the settings front you can manage the FuelBand's time, what information is shown, change your goal status and even set up when you get notifications. You can also select whether the FuelBand is worn on your left or right wrist.
The Today section shows your current activity for that day with the ability to see it in context across the given week, how much you are ahead - or behind - compared to other people in your gender and age peer group, your data compared to the same day the previous week, and the new-to-SE option to share pictures, who you are with, or location data.
An Activity tab gives you more data mining options and shows historical data points over day, week, month, and year measures, as well as a greater breakdown of whether you've achieved your Fuel points late at night, in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Yes, those midnight strolls back from the pub are there to see in plain sight. This section also shows Session data, Trophies you've won, pictures you've snapped, and averages of your data. The monthly view even goes as far as telling you when your most active days were.
The Sessions area lets you manage your sessions, as well as start them from the app if you can't be bothered to press the button on the band. It also changes colour in real time to let you know you are moving from red through to yellow and green as you come to achieve a goal.
On the social side there's a Friends section for, as the name suggests, keeping tabs on your friends. According to Nike if you've got your mates on the system you're more likely to want to do better and achieve your goals - nothing like a bit of peer pressure. You'll have to make your Nike account "Social" to find and add people, but there's nothing more entertaining than seeing that you are beating your mates. Mat Smith, sorry, it looks like we've beaten you once again.
Depending on how active you are will make a huge difference in how long the Nike+ FuelBand SE's battery will last. We've been fairly active hitting 24,533 points over eight and a half days and have needed to charge the device twice in that time. That's around once every four days. Charging takes around 30 minutes and because the FuelBand SE has USB built into the design you don't need to carry any docking station - a cable is included in the box to make connection easier but it's not essential.
Nike does warn that you should only charge it from your laptop rather than your Apple power adapter - something about it automatically trying to connect to the internet and therefore opening up a possibility of getting confused - but we've had no problem charging it from an array of USB sockets.
If you're new to the FuelBand concept, then the SE is a strong contender in the fitness category. The end result is great, particularly if you have an iPhone to get the most out of all the data.
If you're an original FuelBand user, then the main reason to upgrade to the SE is for Hours and Sessions, the more water-resistant shell, and better connectivity to the iPhone app than before thanks to Bluetooth LE. If none of those sound like they'll make a big difference to your day to day then there is little here for you. The improved algorithm and the double-tap for watch display are both features you can get in the original model via a firmware update.
Wearing the Nike+ FuelBand SE really makes you not only sit up and pay attention to how active you are, but encourages you to get up and get moving. Great if you want a springboard to get you active, but also great to help push you on a daily basis.
The SE's design is very similar to the original, but it's robust and vibrant and that encourages lots of attention from those around you. It's almost a social device in that respect; a statement. FuelBand says you are active and that you want people to know it. If other people are also "in the club" it instantly becomes a talking point - "how many points are you on?" or "what's your daily target?" - and if not then it's still a talking point from those curious as to what that light-up band on your wrist is and how it works. A great excuse to explain how obviously fit and nimble you are. Natch.
There are grumbles though - aren't there always? - but the FuelBand SE delivers more than just a simple tracker. With the app the social aspect helps drive you on, adds to the personal competition, and is exactly the sort of encouragement most people will thrive upon. That's exactly what the Nike+ FuelBand concept delivers. Now get up and go for a walk, you've got Fuel to earn.