Confessions of a fitness gadget whore

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Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 9.36.44 AMI have been a gadget whore for a very long time, but it is only within the last few years that I’ve started to care about exercise. And just like many people have stacks of Tae Bo DVDs languishing in their basement, I have the Gadget Drawer of Shame.

Today, we will peer into my collection of Fitness Gadgets of Christmas Past…

Wii Fit

41ZeUHZBIsL._SX342_The Wii Fit was there for me at the start of my fitness quest. I loved the automatic weight charting, and became extremely competitive about my high score on the hula hoop game. For literally the first time in my life I started to do some strength training, thanks to the step-by-step video instructions and coaching.

Unfortunately without multiplayer support, once I unlocked everything I started to lose interest. It was also challenging to keep my heart rate up, because after each three minute exercise I had to stop and pick another task. When I hit my weight loss goal I moved on from Wii Fit.

EA Sports Active

51xfkNC4UoL._SX342_Another early Wii exercise title, EA Sports Active fixed some of the Wii Fit’s problems. The activities were distinctly higher-intensity, and were incorporated in to playlists that seamlessly moved from one activity to the next. The strength training was a lot more varied thanks to the inclusion of a resistance band.

EA Sports Active has multiplayer options — though only for local players — but our living room wasn’t big enough for two people to work out at once. The motion tracking was a little laggy and sometimes frustrating. And like so many traditional workout videos, I did it religiously for about a month, occasionally for a month after that, and never since. Friends proclaimed that its successor, EA Sports Active 2, overcame a lot of my complaints but by then I had moved on to the Kinect

Xbox 360 Kinect

516DD+Tj73L._SL1300_My love affair with Kinect exergames was short lived. If my living room was too small for EA Sports Active, it was laughable to try to use the Kinect. The fitness title I had, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, was much loved by a friend of mine but just not practical for me. It joined the Tae Bo DVDs on the shelf.

Since then I’ve moved to larger digs, and do finally have enough room to use the Kinect. Although I haven’t felt like dusting off Your Shape, I do enjoy playing Dance Central. Because Dance Central is more of a game than an exercise video, it’s a lot more compelling. And as a bonus (or drawback?) I now know all the words to Poker Face.

Pokemon Nintendo Pokewalker

41Ag7gqw3XL._SX342_I learned about the Pokewalker via a Penny Arcade strip. It’s a pedometer which was released with two Pokemon games for the Nintendo DS, HeartGold and SoulSilver. Each step you take earns XP for your pokemon and unlocks new areas in the game.

You can certainly play the game without the Pokewalker, but I found it super motivating. I would go for a run specifically to level up my Pokemon (because let’s be honest — leveling up pokemon like Magikarp the traditional way sucks). Unlike most entries in the “exergame” genre, the Pokewalker incorporated fitness into a compelling game, rather than simply throwing pathetic game mechanics at a workout program.

The Pokewalker remains one of my favorite fitness gadgets, and the only reason it’s landed in the Drawer of Shame is that future versions of Pokemon sadly didn’t use it. It really was a great gimmick, and I hope Nintendo brings it around again.

Adidas MiCoach

51Le02K2A+L._SL1001_I had never heard of the MiCoach until I picked up a pair of running shoes which advertised MiCoach support (a secret compartment under the bed for a pedometer). The MiCoach consists of a shoe pedometer, heart rate strap, and a small pace computer about the size of a walnut.

The pace computer was great for working through the Couch to 5k running program. By using my heart rate data it could tell me to slow down or speed up to stay at a good pace. And then, tragically, it began to fail. I’d occasionally get an error message when syncing, and my run would be lost. When Adidas customer service proved unable to help me, I abandoned the MiCoach to the Drawer of Shame.

Nike+

41fd6wiu1mL._SY300_After the demise of my MiCoach I popped open my secret shoe compartment and replaced the MiCoach pedometer with a Nike+. Although it’s not as feature-filled as the MiCoach it gets the job done, and the social media integration is much smoother.

I do miss the nuanced pace coaching, although I don’t miss having to deal with the heart rate strap. I still use the Nike+ regularly, though not for every run, and it’s handy when I am training for a 5k.

FitBit

61hJ9VqTPdL._SL1382_The FitBit One is my gadget of the moment. And I’m not alone — at least one other Empire staffer is in the cult as well. The FitBit is a glorified pedometer, but oh, the glory!

The biggest advantage of the FitBit, over all my other devices, is the automatic wireless syncing. It communicates via low-power Bluetooth, so any time I walk by my computer it syncs. It also connects to some smartphones. The FitBit itself is very much a set it and forget it device. I clip it to my bra in the morning and wear it all day.

Unlike some of the other gadgets, which are specifically about tracking your exercise, FitBit is more about your daily activity levels. The device itself counts steps, stairs climbed, and sleep patterns. Because there’s decent social integration, I’ve gotten a little competitive about staying active. When a friend beats my score I get a notification on my phone, and it’s been great at motivating me to get up and move around.

Even though FitBit and I are currently in a stable relationship, other gadgets still catch my eye….

  • The rebooted Jawbone Up has an alarm that uses your sleep cycle data to determine when to wake you up, and that’s pretty sexy.
  • The Nike GPS SportWatch is Nike’s answer to the MiCoach, and it’s pretty tempting.
  • And FitBit is coming out with the FitBit Flex, a wearable, waterproof bracelet.

Oh, the possibilities… but I’ll stick with the gadgets I’ve got. For now.

Comments on Confessions of a fitness gadget whore

  1. I am a FitBit-er too!! Anyone want to add me as their friend? I just got mine last week so I’m not quite sure how to do that yet, but I will totally compete with all of you strangers.

    The wristband FitBit doesn’t have an altimeter, so I don’t think I’ll be making the switch.

    Also, you forgot to mention that FitBit can track your sleep and assess your sleep quality. Plus the vibrating alarm you can set. I use the vibrating alarm to wake up and take my BBT, and then I go back to sleep until my real alarm goes off. This has been awesome for me because now only I have to wake up twice, not my partner.

  2. I have a Pokewalker too! I wish they’d kept using it in the later games, but it’s still hanging around somewhere. Course, I always hope that pedometers will help me get more fit, but they never really do.

  3. I LURVE my Fitbit! My husband has been using his this week for a work challenge, and he’s made me feel super guilty about abandoning mine since I got pregnant (lazy first trimester was LAZY, but now I have no excuse). I will charge it today!

    However, all this article did was made me miss my Pokewalker. WHYYYY. Best thing ever. I’m not even sure where mine is. *sniff*

  4. I only have one friend on fitbit and it seems she has since abandoned hers to the drawer of shame too. Anyone want to add me as a buddy, i’d appreciate the competition!

  5. Wow this post came at just the right time for me… I have been looking for a way to motivate myself and get rid of my PhD belly (put on 14 kgs in the past two years!). I just went out and bought a fitbit this afternoon 🙂 Thanks offbeat home!

  6. POKEWALKER! Man, that was the hottest accessory at Comic-con the year Heart Gold and Soul Silver came out… I wish they’d bring it back for the next gen of games.

  7. Whoa, what the hell? I had a yellow pikachu walker thing aaaaaages ago. Like over 10 years ago. Is that back now or something?

    I’ve been wanting to get a fitness gadget for awhile, now that I’m more active. I also have a friend that is having some difficulty motivating himself away from his computer chair, so I was thinking of getting him one too so we could compete, but I’m having difficulty finding one that I like. Nike+ is too simple, FitBit doesn’t have as much data as something like the Basis, but Basis doesn’t have any social sharing and competitive functionality. I’ve just been hoping something better will come up but nothing yet 🙁

    • I’m curious to see how the Basis fares as it gets more popular. In my experience the optical heart rate monitors like the one in the Basis just aren’t as good as the chest straps. I know the Nike SportWatch can connect to a Polar wireless strap but buying both pushes the price point above $200.

      A big part of finding a device that’s right for you is deciding what you want it for. For general fitness and getting off the couch, the advanced features of the more expensive devices are probably overkill. I don’t find any of them to be an “all in one” solution – I use the FitBit for every day tracking, and the Nike+ for working on my running times.

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