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  • 11.17.09

Networked Body Smackdown: Fitbit vs. DirectLife

An uber-athlete, I’m not. But over the last year I have learned to balance long shifts hunched over a desk with regular time on my yoga mat and I begrudgingly took up running to whittle my waist. So nothing short of dread skipped down my spine when I read the poster hanging up at my gym: Almost three-quarters of annual weight gain happens between Halloween and Valentine’s.

An uber-athlete, I’m not. But over the last year I have learned to balance long shifts hunched over a desk with regular time on my yoga mat and I begrudgingly took up running to whittle my waist. So nothing short of dread skipped down my spine when I read the poster hanging up at my gym: Almost three-quarters of annual weight gain happens between Halloween and Valentine’s.

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Boycotting the holidays isn’t an option (we’re talking pumpkin pie, people). And putting Wii Fit on my holiday wish list doesn’t seem like enough: A recent study by American Council on Exercise and the University of Wisconsin found that the aerobic benefits of the video game are “underwhelming” (duh).

But maybe the next generation of activity monitors could boost my motivation — and maybe even my movement — during the impending eat-fest known as winter. Thanks to the 3D accelerometer, tracking your every step and calorie burned is as easy as strapping on a slim device. I test-drove two new activity monitors for Fast Company — the fitbit and Philips DirectLife — and found innovations and drawbacks in both. But which would win in head-to-head combat?

Round One: The Device

fitbit

Round Two: Display Feedback

Philips directlife

Round Three: Beyond the Device

DirectLife Graph

The biggest difference between fitbit and DirectLife is what’s offered beyond the device. The DirectLife Web site shows your 12-week customized program with daily, weekly, and monthly targets. A (human) personal coach e-mails you initially to learn your goals, is available for questions, and sends follow-up emails if you don’t sync your device or miss your goals for a few days in a row. (In the course of five weeks, I exchange five e-mails with my coach, Jen, and take her advice to schedule activity in my calendar at the start of each week.) The fitbit’s Web site is far more ambitious, if still a bit clunky. It lets you track your food and compare calories consumed with calories burned. You can also input activities that aren’t picked up well by accelerometers, such as weight lifting or yoga (bonus points!). But you’re left to interpret that huge sea of data yourself and to set goals and create a program solo. I was primed to give the fitbit extra points for its ability to wirelessly sync data when it’s within range of its docking station, but because I use a laptop I never left the docking station plugged in, diminishing that feature. Winner: DirectLife

Round Four: Price

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A Benjamin is all the spending power you’ll need for both the fitbit and Directlife. That $99 for DirectLife buys you the device plus 12 weeks of life coaching, with each month after costing $10. The fitbit also costs $99 and the company has plans to roll-out a subscription service of life coaching in the future. Winner: DirectLife, by a life coach’s hair

A mega-athlete looking to take your workouts to the next level? Uh, you’d probably do better to invest in a high-tech heart monitor. But both the DirectLife and fitbit seem solid fits for a particular demographc: people who want to move more and want to get patted on the back (through blinking dots and blossoming digital flowers) for the accumulation of baby steps. Because, really, aren’t you more likely to take the stairs than the elevator when you know someone–or some thing–is counting those steps?

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