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Fitbit Force… sorry Fitbit Charge HR Review September 21, 2015

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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fitbit-forceFitbit has become a leader in the digital pedometer movement. Of course, they more than measure steps since it can count flights of stairs, calculate miles and calculates calories. Fitbit had started with simple clip-on fitness trackers and then added wrist bands. The Fitbit Flex is a basic tracker that gets inserted into a band. It came out in mid-2013. It does have limited functionality, which is why I had want to get the Fitbit Force.
The Force came out about the same time but at higher price point. But with the extra cost came the promise of more features. The Force showed the time, whereas the Flex only showed 4-5 bars to demonstrate progress against the daily goal. Once the data was synced to the Fitbit website, the details were viewable in a phone app, but the Force also showed the actual steps taken, floors, and calories burned on the small LED screen.
The Force, from my perspective was a big step up from the Flex. In addition to the display advancement, it also offered the eventual promise of call notifications. Via the bluetooth connection, you would be able to sync the data to higher-end phones and with that, came the possibility of call notifications from the phone back to the wristband. But alas, the Force was recalled before this call notification would be realized… sort of.
Once they released the Charge series of devices in late 2013, they upgraded the firmware (software running on the device) and my Fitbit Force suddenly received call notifications. This was huge for me, since I often missed calls when my phone was on silent, vibrate or not on my personal. It was big relief to get this functionality since it was a big reason I had moved up to the Force in the first place. (I asked for it as a gift for Christmas 2013).
After using it for over a year, I started this review in February 2015 to highlight the Fitbit Force. However, in February of 2014, Fitbit opened a voluntary recall of all Fitbit Force wristband devices – only a couple of months after I got it. The Force had been recalled due to some users experiencing a rash under the wrist band.I did not have this reaction and continued to use the band for over a year after the recall. However, Fitbit offered the recall to all users regardless of if the user experienced this problem. Since the next generation, the Charge series, was only available in limited qualities (especially through the Christmas rush), I had held off on turning mine in. Shortly after I started this review though, I decided to turn in my Force and upgrade it to a Fitbit Charge HR once the product was more readily available online and at stores.
fitbitchargeThe recall process took about 6 weeks to submit my Force and get a refund. But the refund fully paid for (and some) the purchase of the my new Charge HR since I was a return customer. it felt like forever though to get my new device. I decided to go with the HR, instead of the base model Charge because I am a numbers freak. I love getting more information about my workouts. With the Charge HR, I could have immediate feedback about how hard my body was working and how well I was recovering.
The biggest downside of this instant feedback though is the battery life. While the Force could go a full two weeks, as promised by Fitbit, the Charge HR can only make it 5 days according to Fitbit. After 5 months of use, I can confirm this is accurate. It is disappointing, but it is workable. I set up the charging cord in my car and I charge my Charge HR during my 45 minute commute. It typically takes 90 minutes to charge, I charge it both ways and I am good to go for another 5 days.
While going from 14 days to 5 days of battery life is depressing, I think the re-design of the wristband made up for this weakness. The Force had a simple double male-female locking system on the band. It did not hold very well and if bumped or pulled in a certain way, the band would fall off. On several occasions, I lost my Force. It came off while taking my shirt of or when I was working in the yard. I was constantly concerned with it coming off. However, the Charge HR designed included a more standard and proven method like any belt. It holds solidly and I have never feel like it will come off, though I do still find myself checking my wrist once in awhile as a remnant of past experiences. In other words, I barely notice it is there.
Some day, I will write a review of the web site and smartphone app, but since it is constantly changing, it is hard to pin down. The app is great – I think better than the website. It displays all tracked information and allows for creating goals and challenges with friends. Since the device tracks sleep automatically, it is a great way to see if you are getting enough. It also allows you to zoom in on activities, as long as you remember to start and stop the timer during the run or activity. I like being able to see how my heart rate tracks throughout a run.
My suggestion is if you are looking to step up your game with fitness trackers, definitely consider the Fitbit Charge HR.

Gadget Review: BodyBugg Calorie Management System September 24, 2010

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I originally bought this as a gift, but since I am the techie and like checking out gadgets, it ended up being me that used it. In case you are not familiar about this device, I first learned about it from watching the NBC show, The Biggest Loser. It is essentially a high-tech pedometer. It measures your movement with an accelerometer, but it also measures temperature and changes on your skin to see how hard you are working. In this way, it recognizes a completely different level of activity between walking 10,000 steps and running 5 miles (which technically are about the same distance) – but obviously running requires a much higher intensity of energy use.

The small device is strapped onto the upper left arm and can be worn about 5 days continuous without recharging. (Recharging from a low battery level took about 2 hours.) However, it is not waterproof, so it has to be taken off when showering and can not be worn for swimming. Someone has to explain to me why any company would make a fitness device like this and not make it waterproof. It makes no sense. What happens when you run in the rain… I didn’t test it to find out. Also, the base device does not have a display, so you have no idea what it is measuring. The optional watch is available (but I did not have) and costs about $50-70. The device itself costs about $200, but requires a subscription to the website system… this is how you see the information it is recording.

Primarily, the device records calories burned. To me, I agree with their concept that this is the most important measurement for weight loss. Calories consumed must be less than calories burned. And calories burned is dependent on metabolism and activity… Increased activity, increases metabolism. Of course, it is not THAT simple, but it is a simple formula that is the basis for the process. To that end, when the device is sync’d to the website through the USB cable, it produces charts like the following:

Users can enter in their food consumed to display accurate calories there. However, the system also estimates this number based on the weight gain or loss. I did not enter any foods, but as I lost weight, it figured out how much I must have eaten in order to experience that loss. (BTW – this is not my graph.) I am big into numbers and statistics, so I found this very interesting and helpful. But I can see it is not for everyone. In the end, I lost 10 pounds in about 2 months because I cut out some extra snacking and upped my exercise/activity level. Did the BodyBugg do this for me? No, but it helped remind me of what I was trying to do.

With this realization, I ended up selling the device to another person who could also take advantage of what it teaches. I think it is a useful tool and can be used to keep people on track and able to monitor what they are doing (or not) with their bodies.

(Audio)Book Review: Born to Run By Christopher McDougall February 9, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Society, Technology.
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The following is based on my review at Audible.com: I decided I had to write this review because I saw a review (at Audible) that an “avid runner” gave it 2-stars after listening for only 20 minutes. I know the exact point at which she stopped listening – it was talking about why running is supposed to be bad for humans.

If she would have kept listening she would have been treated to an enthralling tale about the greatest distance runners of all time. This book weaves what feels like a fictional story that details the fascinating progress of science and growth of running in America (and Mexico). The amazing part of the book is that it is about real people and real events.

I have to say this is a must listen to for anyone interested in running at any level. It covers the history of running shoes. It covers the transition the human body has made for running. Of course, it covers the best ultra distance runners of our time. It is such a good read!

And for anyone who has the question… the answer is: yes, running is actually very good for the human body, if you do it right. As simple as it is, there is still a right way and a wrong way to run. If you have any question or doubt, you have to read/listen to this book.

I have many books in my WishList at Audible and when a “one book” sale came up, I had to make the decision based on the best rated books in my list. Obviously, this one won, and there is good reason. I gave it five stars in my review and it is defintely the best book I have downloaded from the site so far.

Running With Music / Right Sound at the Right Time May 7, 2009

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Zen V Plus
There is lots of controversy over whether people should run with headphones. Indoors, on treadmills, the purest says they are not able to really pay attention to the running. Outside, safety is the issue (the purest still has their case). While, I understand both viewpoints, I just can’t follow the rule. I have to have my music. It provides a quiet distraction from the outside world and gives me the motivation and rthyme to keep moving.

For any purest out there, I have to ask, do you where shoes, clothes… how pure do you need to be? Running is a pure sport to start with, it is about the self, not the equipment. I like the idea of triathlons, but there is too much equipment advantage to be gotten by those who can. Swimming should be pure, but it isn’t once you strap on these high tech suits. Certainly cycling is not pure. You can go down the line… running requires shoes, but until those shoes can have bionic springs or little sonic jets in them, it will continue to be pure. Adding a little music to it does it give enough of an advantage or disadvantage to change that.

I can more justify the safety issue when people are running outside. In certain places, not being able to hear can be very detrimental to runners. If you run in the city where people can cause you harm or on streets (city or country) where vehicles can do you harm, you have to be able to hear them coming. I am fortunate that I am an above average height male. In this respect, I feel bad for people where this is not the case and safety becomes an issue. But this only protects me from the first issue. The second issue is more of a question of common sense and self awareness. This second issue could also apply to driving, so should be ban radios from cars?

Okay, the end of my rant. The real reason I wanted to blog on this topic was the irony of the music that comes on at just the right time. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, but when I listen to music, the right music always seems to come on at the right time to give me a smile. Yesterday as rounded my nieghborhood street for the third time with son in the stroller, the Justin Timberlake song “What Goes Around, Comes Around” came on. The day before, as I made the turn on a out-and-back run, I was starting to feel my lungs burn … on came “No Air” by Jordin Sparks. My favorite was when I was really starting to suffer on a big hill towards the end of a long run… Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited”… go away pain, go away!

I think I should be alble to listen to my music, if only to put the smile on my face instead of the grimis that might otherwise be there. (BTW – my MP3 player is an 8GB Black with Red Creative Zen V Plus. It competes with the Nano and I would take this non-proprietary player over the Apple any day!)

Spark to My Fitness Regime May 6, 2009

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Work.
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SparkPeople logo
A couple of weeks ago, our organization started its third “fitness challenge” since I have been there. It is a program from the Wellness Committee that tries to get people into the habit of a little exercise. Since it is already an important part of my life, this program shouldn’t be a big deal. But it has turned out to be an extra motivator to get me doing a little bit each day. The way it works is that people team up in groups of 5-8 to try to keep each other motivated. Each person earns 1 pt for the team for each 25-45 minutes of exercise each day of the week. Of course, it counts anything as exercise so as to be all inclusive, which I think is great.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a extra bonus. If each memeber of the team signed up for SparkPeople the team got bonus points. This site is a lot like Gyminee. But it has a lot more community and tracking functionality. For me, it adds a little competition to keep me motivated… it is like having someone else to answer to. It adds to the organization’s program, reinforcing that other people are looking out for you to keep moving.

In just the first few weeks, I have jumped to the top of the leaderboard for our organization. It is clear that people are not using this site to track their activities, which is fine. But it is a little disappointing. I had hoped the site could keep me motivated by having people to compete against. Yes, there are tons of other teams, but every other team has people completing 4 times the amount of exercise as me, which ironically is similar to the total amount of the 56 people in our the whole organization that have signed up. I can’t really compete with that.

So hopefully, I can find a way to make this a motivational tool – once I got to the top of the leaderboard, it lost it’s power. If I can’t get that power back, this will fall by the way side like lots of other social networking sites.

New Forerunner 4 Christmas December 29, 2008

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Fitness, Technology.
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My other great gift I am grateful for this holiday season is a new Forerunner 305 GPS watch. I am very excited about this, what is an upgrade to my four year old Forerunner 201. I made great use of the 201, putting over 1,000 miles on it – many of which were training for my second marathon on May 2005.

However, this newer model has some awesome improvements and accessories that I plan to make use of. While it uses the same software, Garmin’s Training Center, these accessories should make that so much more useful.

First, the Heart Rate monitor will allow me to track and monitor that with the run. I had a separate monitor but having them incorporated should be very cool. Next, is the cycling cadence monitor. I have started biking more and I hope this will help me get into it even more.

But the accessory I am most excited about is the foot pod. The Training Center software does not have a place to add workouts not imported by GPS, so treadmill workouts have to be tracked separately – until now. I get many of workouts done on the treadmill, in front of my computer or TV while the kids are asleep – and it is too cold outside.

I have only taken it out of the box and charged it so far, but I look forward to making use of all the features and sharing my experiences here. Pictures to come!