(Pocket-lint) - The Misfit Flash is an activity tracker and the follow-up to the Misfit Shine which launched back in 2013. The new model follows a similar design cue but swaps metal for plastic and slashes the price by half, making it the cheapest activity tracker out there.
The small, colourful device monitors calories burned, distance travelled, steps taken and the duration and quality of sleep, meaning you get many of the same features as the Flash's plethora of competitors that are twice, if not three times the price. Of course there is the classic saying "buy cheap, buy twice" to bear in mind though, so we've been living with the Flash for some weeks to ensure it stands up to scrutiny.
Able to be used in a number of ways, we've been testing the Flash attached to our wrist, trainer, collar and waist. Has Misfit hit the nail on the head here, or does the change in materials and advancing competition result in a little too much compromise?
Small and subtle
The Misfit Flash is a circular pebble around the same size as a £2 coin (or a half dollar if you are from the other side of the pond). It measures just 28.5mm in diameter and 8mm in thickness so it's a pretty tiny activity tracker in the grand scheme of things, one of the smallest available despite being 0.5mm wider and 3.3mm thicker than its predecessor.
The Flash is slightly cheaper looking than the Shine, which is primarily down to the change in material from anodized aluminium to polycarbonate - i.e. plastic. This change does result in a lighter device though, with the Flash hitting the scales at just 6g compared to the 9.4g of the Shine. But set side-by-side, it's clear which costs less.
There's a six-month CR2032 coin cell battery life on board, which is great as it means you can wear it every day and every night, losing no data for charging purposes like other competitors require you to do.
Like the Shine, the Flash comes with a rubber band or a clip for slotting it into, which is brilliant when it comes to versatility. It can be worn near enough anywhere, whether that be wrist, waist, sleeve, pocket, sock, shoe or lapel - even attached to a keyring via a clip if you so desire.
We found ourselves using the clip a lot more than the rubber band as it was easier to hide the tracker, but it's worth mentioning that the band is a lot more secure than some others on the market. It is fastened with a pin-and-hole mechanism like others, but the strap has to be threaded through a loop first, which provides a little more confidence that it won't fly off your arm when running.
Available in seven colours, there's lots of choice too. Our review model is red, as shown in the pictures, making it easier to find than a black or grey equivalent. Some of the colour options are lovely and vibrant and while they then step away from the subtlety attribute of the Flash, they are fun.
The Flash is also water resistant, but not to the same depth as the Shine: it's decreased from a 50-metres rating to 30-metres. But this isn't likely to make too much difference to the average user. How deep can you dive?
Simple but flawed interface
The Misfit Flash quietly goes about its business without being in your face at all and we like this about it. The thing we aren't keen on, however, is the way the Flash displays activity progress and the time using its minimalist 12 LED clock-face display.
A press down on the Flash will firstly show activity progress, followed by the time or vice versa, depending on what you select in the app. Activity progress is indicated by the number of lights that illuminate, which is almost impossible to see when you are actually taking part in an activity as it only gives you around two seconds to count before it moves onto the time or disappears.
The time is even more tricky as it's shown with four static LEDs in the positions of 12, 3, 6 and 9 hours, followed by a brighter LED that indicates the hour and a flashing LED that indicates the minute. Simple, yet complex.
One problem: you have to make sure the pebble is the right way up to get a correct read of the time. And given that it is a circle, this is much more hassle than it should be. Other than the Misfit logo on the rear there is nothing to help you determine which way up the Flash should be placed in the clip or the band. The clip doesn't give you a great deal of leeway to insert it either - so it is quite a lot of hassle to line up. A small indent somewhere on the Flash's interface would be very much welcomed here.
The Misfit Flash will track calories burned, steps taken and distance travelled, which are the standard features available on most of its competitors.
In terms of accuracy, we found the Misfit Flash to be a little harsh and the calories burned seem to be completely off. We did a 14.5 mile walk, which we tracked using MapMyRun and GPS on our phone, and our Flash fastened to our waist. The Flash only recorded a distance of 13.6 miles but it claimed we had burned 3,055 calories, while the usual amount of calories we have burned for previous walks of this length was closer to the 1,000 mark.
Steps seemed to be off too. When we counted 500 steps, the Flash awarded us only 454, which isn't too far off - but there are other activity trackers available that are much closer to the mark, such as the Fitbit Charge HR.
The Flash also offers the ability to tag an activity by pushing and holding the button to start and end a session. It's possible to set a default activity such as cycling in the app, which we will go into more detail later, and it's also possible to edit an activity after it's been completed.
There are nine categories comprising basketball, tennis, swimming, soccer, cycling, running, walking, yoga or dancing. So while you get a variety, the options are far less than the likes of the Fitbit Charge HR. We often forgot to push the button to start tagging an activity and while it automatically registers that you are taking part in more intense activity, the record is often broken into multiple sections even if you were continuously doing the same activity for a few hours.
For example, the 14.5 mile walk we mentioned involved one stop for lunch - but the Misfit split that activity into seven sections. Despite having a very similar average pace throughout the entire walk the Flash tells us we were taking part in moderate activity for some and vigorous for other parts, which isn't an accurate analysis. Of course, MapMyRun - which we used to track the walk - may not be entirely accurate either.
Alongside activity tracking, the Misfit Flash will also track sleep quality and duration. Like many activity trackers that offer this function, we are unconvinced by the accuracy. It is far easier to determine how close to reality an activity measurement is, compared to a measure of your sleep - so we tend to take sleep tracking with a pinch of salt.
The Flash calculates the total time asleep, along with the minutes of light sleep and restful sleep, which is similar to the Withings Activité, providing data in number format, as well as a graph. It's also possible to edit the start and end time of the sleep record afterwards.
The graph is displayed with three shades of purple - representing awake, light and restful sleep - and while it looks good, determining between the awake and light bars is a little confusing unless you look closely. It certainly isn't as clear as Withings and its light blue, dark blue and orange colour combo, or Fitbit's bright pink and turquoise scheme.
The Flash does track sleep automatically though, and the sleep goal total can be changed too, both certainly things that go in its favour. Having to tell an activity tracker that you are planning on sleeping is our ultimate bug bear as it generally means we end up not being able to sleep until a good few hours later.
We have minor complaints with the Flash but the app that accompanies it is where this activity tracker wins back a few Brownie points. Misfit recently introduced a huge update that not only delivered a few more features but also made the entire app interface far more appealing to the eye, as well as easier to navigate.
There are four tabs at the bottom of the app comprising Home, Social, Devices and Me, but there is also a "+" in the middle that enables you to add one of nine activities we mentioned earlier. The "+" also has options to add a sleep log, weight or food, the last of which just launches the camera for you to take a picture, which is a little strange and not particularly useful at all.
The Home tab presents a snapshot of activity and sleep progress, which are alternated between by tapping the respective logo. However, and unlike competitors such as Withings and Fitbit, Misfit uses a points system. Which is somewhat meaningless.
A circle with the goal points presented inside has a circumference that changes to orange as activity is achieved. We found ourselves ignoring the points accrued and referring to this circle to determine how well we were doing.
Beneath this circle are the totals of distance travelled, calories burned and steps taken; in the sleep section the total time awake, time in light sleep and time of restful sleep is displayed instead. Activity, sleep and weight goals can be set in the Me tab by opening the settings section in the top right and selecting goals.
We set our activity goal at 1,000 points, which Misfit calculates as the equivalent of 1.5 hours walking, 30 minutes of running, or 45 minutes swimming so it's easy to know what is required every day without you having to get on board with the points system.
The top right-hand corner of the main home screen switches the circular points image into a graph, while the top left displays a weekly progress graph and, when tapped a second time, a monthly progress report.
These weekly and monthly reports collate activity, sleep and weight data into the same graph, differentiating them by colours. Purple represents sleep, orange activity and blue weight. This is great as it means it's easy to see the correlation between activity performance and weight loss in a simple-to-understand graphic. Beneath the graphs is a breakdown of the total miles, calories and steps achieved that week or month, along with the lowest, highest and average amount of sleep and the lowest, highest and average weight.
Scrolling down from the circular screen or the graph shows what Misfit calls a story of that particular day, presenting an activity in more detail. The Flash app can also be linked with other apps such as MyFitnessPal, which we did and a daily breakdown of the calories consumed will appear within this story section.
When in the weekly or monthly progress report screens, a scroll down here will present a breakdown of each day within the week or month. A small circle next to each date shows the percentage achieved of the set goal, and the other side shows the number of points achieved.
The Social tab is for connecting to Facebook and the Me section of the app is for joining the Misfit community and competing with friends. In the Devices tab is where another Misfit device can be added, your wearing position of the Flash can be set, auto sleep tracking can be enabled and the order of the clock and activity progress can be adjusted. This tab is also where the Misfit Flash becomes more than just an activity tracker.
A section within the Devices tab of the app called Button Command is where the Misfit Flash can be set to link with other apps, although currently only Spotify and Yo are on the list. There are three options within the Button Command, comprising Double Press, Triple Press and Press and Hold.
Press and Hold we referred to earlier when we mentioned setting a default activity tag, but the other two options make the Flash a little more fun and give it more potential for the future.
We linked our Flash to Spotify and we found it really useful when we were mid-run and didn't want to fiddle with our phone. A double press will launch the last song listened to on Spotify, while another double press will pause the song. The Misfit app has to be kept open and within range of your smartphone for it to be a successful command though and there is currently no way to skip a song, which would be welcomed. We experienced hardly any lag between double pressing the Flash and the song playing or pausing on our smartphone however.
Misfit also offers the Bolt connected light bulb, which can also be controlled through the Flash if you have these in your home.
The Misfit Flash is a tricky activity tracker to place, one that we think is best for beginners on a budget. It is cheap, cheerful and small enough to go unnoticed, but on the other side of the coin its accuracy isn't to sniper standards.
For basic activity and sleep tracking the associated app delivers the data in an easy-to-understand format. However, we couldn't quite get on board with the points-based system and the 12 LED interface used on the Flash itself is somewhat frustrating.
The Flash comes in some lovely colour options and its six-month battery life is something you won't realise how much you'll appreciate until you have to charge a tracker every couple of days. But as a device it's not as beautiful as the likes of the Withings Activité. Misfit isn't going for beautiful, it's going for bargain.
Overall the Misfit Flash is a prime example of you get what you pay for - and at £50 we can see the appeal. So while it's potentially ideal for those who want an estimate of the amount of activity they do, without GPS and heart-rate monitoring it simply won't suit those who are a little more into their exercise and want more accurate results.