Things: Fitbit Ionic

A line of blog posts highlighting something I found interesting. Something that sparked curiosity, whiled away over a few hours. Something I liked, anyway.

It is hard to keep up with the release schedule of tech wearables. They are launched at such a prolific rate that I wouldn’t be surprised if one was launched between the start and finish of this sentence. Was one? Don’t know. Probably.

I’m on my third sports wearable. The first was the short-live Nike Fuelband. The second was a longer serving Fitbit Alta, and the latest is the Fitbit Ionic, which I love. XKCD correctly noted that the wrist’s imprisonment was back after a short-lived break, but I have embraced the wearing of a watch again, and love the techy feel of the thing.

The Ionic is/was one of the flagship Fitbit devices. It is one of the only two models that the company promotes as a smartwatch and although I don’t like the term ‘smartwatch’, I think that it is at least an interesting device. It is a (currently) £200 fitness wearable that tracks GPS location, altitude, activity, step counts, sleep patterns and heart rate. It needs a couple of hours charge about every five days, and while it won’t help you magically become fit, it will give you a good idea of how active you are being (or not being, according to Sunday’s data).

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The Fitbit Ionic, with the standard wrist band. Can be changed with aftermarket purchases.

Unlike the Apple Watch and the other Fitbit smartwatch offering, the Versa, I like the boxy angles to the Ionic. The squared-off face feels more natural to me that the curved curvy smooth curviness of the other two. While it’s hard to pin down sales numbers – owing to blurry lines on the definition of smartwatch, fitness tracker, and wearable – it’s pretty safe to say that Fitbit are one of the main contenders to Apple in the arena, having made a presence in the fitness world with their trackers. They may not have all of the features and capabilities of the expensive Apple cousins, but they do have features worth looking at.

On the Ionic, GPS means don’t need a phone with you. Waterproofing lets you track your swimming. Bluetooth allows phone notifications on your wrist, if that suits your fancy. The silent alarm is very handy if you want to wake without disturbing anyone. And the sleep tracking feature shows the amount you are getting – great for proving to colleagues why you are so rubbish at work that day. Though you’ll still have to be convincing about why you weren’t sleeping.

On the Ionic you can change the digital watch face depending on your mood. This allows you to customise between a nice aesthetic or being more data heavy. Mine currently tells me in one glance the daily step count, calories burned, activity level, stories climbed, distance travelled, heart rate, and date. Oh, and the time. That too.

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Coloured bars showing progress against daily target.

I’m a fan of fitness wearables. I like that we get a better insight on our activity levels and general fitness (the latter via peak and rest heart rates). It is easy to assume we are being more active than we actually are being, and a tracker can shine a light on any sustained inactivity. It can even help remind you to get up if you haven’t moved enough while at work with a silent vibration (fun game: most reminders on Fitbits happen at ten to the hour between nine and five. Watch your colleagues and see how many of them suddenly glance at their wrist at this time). The linked app provides positive reinforcement and a dashboard.

While there are justifiable concerns about companies collecting big data on a large swathe of the population and profiting off it, in the case of fitness wearables I don’t particularly mind – I like the idea that a government, charity or medical organisation can now get a much more accurate picture on a population’s general health. Given that we tend to over-exaggerate activity and underestimate consumption of drink or unhealthy foods, I think it is needed to allow better targeting of resources and money. Why target health campaigns at a segment of your population that you can now accurately see doesn’t need it as much as others?

LTE on some smartwatches (not the Ionic) enables calls. Add the profile you create to use smartwatch/tracker somewhere, and then add GPS, and then the heart rate monitor too… and you get some amazing potential. I feel that we are a few legislative, technological and cultural hops from a remarkable feature. One where your fitness wearable can identify a heart issue and alert the emergency services to your location before you know you are in trouble. That could save a lot of lives and I’m all up for it happening.

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Default exercise app, allows choice of activity to record.

Being a smartwatch, the Fitbit Ionic can also accept apps; downloaded via the Fitbit App on your phone. I’ve not found too many of them that are particularly useful yet, but I like the feature and am waiting to see what comes up. I’m particularly looking for apps that the phone can’t do more conveniently.

 

The Ionic can take music files, for when you don’t have your phone with you on a run, and connect to Bluetooth headphones. It can also make NFC payments using Fitbit Pay – though the UK is still very limited in which banks welcome it.

I’m still waiting for when the SpO2 sensor on the Ionic (and several other Fitbit models) will be enabled by the company. This will use the onboard heart sensor to also read blood oxygen levels (possibly through wizardry). What I’d actually do with this information is, well, unknown. But I like that there is a feature on the device that might suddenly come online and give me more data. It’s fun.

Yes, then, I’m a fan of the Fitbit, and of wearable sport trackers in general. To be honest, I’d not be shocked to know that most of the people reading this post are also wearing a smartwatch / fitness tracker. I just wanted to point about that I really like my Ionic. Thanks for letting me ramble at you.

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The Fitbit app home screen.

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