I’ve been using a Philips DirectLife Activity Monitor for over two years now, and I pretty much have loved it. But I recently got intrigued by the FitBit, and I decided to give it a spin to compare the two. I think that activity monitors are really, really useful tools for health and fitness. I want to be able to share one of these gadgets with future clients, and I wanted to choose the best one. I once used a BodyBugg but I felt like it was too complicated, offered almost too much (kinda like Microsoft Word) and I hated the feel of having an elastic cuff around my arm all the time. Like having my blood pressure taken. So I switched to the simpler DirectLife and it’s been working well for a few years now.
Well. It’s a tough choice! Both the DirectLife and FitBit have some distinct pros and cons.
The FitBit arrived a few days after I ordered it and I was very excited to try it out. It has some additional features that the Philips Directlife Activity Monitor doesn’t have, like estimating flights of stairs climbed and sleep quality. I thought that was kind of cool, since there have been many studies linking quality of sleep with weight loss.
But after 2 days, my FitBit died. It just stopped doing its cool things no matter how many times I re-installed the software, stuck it with a paper clip to reset it and contacted Customer Service. All of which were time consuming and a pain in the butt. Then I got a new one. Which took over a week to arrive, which was frustrating. I had 2 days of activity tracked and I hated having that hiatus in between. Then I almost killed the new one by putting it in the washing machine. It didn’t work for many days but then somehow it revived (dried out?).
So here’s the rundown. I LOVE many elements of the FitBit, but for me, the one major drawback is that it is not waterproof. I had no idea how important a feature this was, until I didn’t have it anymore.
This is the deal. I wear my DirectLife all day, all night, every day, 24/7. I never take it off except to charge and sync it. I wear it on a chain around my neck and unless I’m going to some super-fancy affair (in which case I stick it in my bra), that’s wear it stays. I don’t ever think about it. I wear it in the shower. I wear it in the pool. I wore it during my triathlon. I NEVER TAKE IT OFF.
Maybe I’m just too clueless and lazy for a FitBit. I clip it on my clothing. And then when I take that piece of clothing off, I often totally forget about the Fitbit. And many hours of activity are lost. Sometimes it ends up in the washing machine. This is NOT GOOD. Once I clipped it on my sports bra. But then I washed it. Bad bad bad.
I really, really liked that the FitBit would show its data in real time, and that I didn’t have to connect it to the computer to see my stats. I loved that it measured steps, miles, calories, flights of stairs. SO COOL.
So to recap:
Pros: easy to use, great individual coaching, clear data online, waterproof, durable
Cons: only tracks “movement” and not individual elements like steps, stairs, etc.
Pros: easy to use, clear data online, can see data in real-time, has various data points (steps, mileage, calories, sleep, stairs)
Cons: easily damaged (?), delicate, customer service takes FOREVER, not waterproof, must transfer from clothing to clothing, no coaching
They both cost about the same ($100, give or take a few bucks). For now, I’m going to continue using both, but for my personal use I think I’m probably going to stick with the DirectLife. It’s a no-brainer for no brains like me. Also, I just remembered the amazing personal coaching that DL offers. It’s a live person who emails you especially when it looks like you’re slacking off. They support, encourage and trouble shoot.
The customer service at FitBit was maddening. Basically you send them an email. It takes 24 hours average for them to respond with some suggestions. Then if the suggestion doesn’t work, you have to send ANOTHER email, more time elapses, and UGH. There’s no way to talk to a “live” person either by phone or online and get real-time support. Which I think is a major terrible drawback. I like to be able to try something, with the person RIGHT THERE, and then I say, “yeah, that worked! thanks!” or “that didn’t work, now what?” and I can get it taken care of right then instead of waiting two days for another fruitless email exchange.
I’ve heard of another gadget – Jack something? something Jack? which I might try. Whichever one I get is going to end up with a heck of a lot of business from me (I’m incorporating one of them into my developing business), and I want to get it right.
Have you used one of these activity monitors, or another one? Which one do you like and why?
December 29, 2011 at 2:23 am
Now I’ve had a Fitbit for nearly a year. I washed my original one, AND took it swimming in a frigid river while rafting, and suffered not a bit of downtime.
Recently, the plastic housing on it started to crack and chip, right at the top of the “U” shape of the device. I emailed support about it, and they replied the next day with a request for some pictures and more information. The long and short of it is that I had a replacement unit in hand less than a week later, and did not have to return the cracked one (which means I now have a spare). No questions asked, once I replied with a couple of pics.
One thing that you don’t mention here is that, unlike the Bodybugg or the BodyMedia Fit devices (not sure about the DirectLife), you are not required to purchase a subscription in order to see your data. You can purchase a relatively low-cost subscription in order to access additional features like extra analytics, reporting, and the ability to download your data to a spreadsheet – this last is something I’ve not seen offered with other devices of this type.
Finally, Fitbit is integrated with other websites such as Endomondo, LoseIt, and (very soon) MyFitnessPal. These integrations certainly reduce the necessity of entering the same data multiple times.
Another thing I should note – I recently had a medical sleep study done, and the data from the Fitbit was much more accurate (although not as detailed) as that obtained via the study.
All in all I have to say that my experience with the Fitbit has been fantastic.
December 29, 2011 at 3:00 am
i second sue! ironically, Foodie was the one who (when I asked about pedometers) recommended the fitbit to me…and I LOVE IT. I love the data tracking and the online community.
When my fitbit started cracking after 6 months, I sent them pictures, and they sent me an immediate replacement–and the replacement happened to be an upgrade to the new fitbit, which tracks stairs. (whee!)
I am a bit annoyed that it doesn’t track “movement” in that when I bike, not much is logged (but then I can add it in as an “activity”) so no dealbreaker.
December 29, 2011 at 7:13 am
I have had a Fitbug for a the last 2 years and absolutely love it. Not waterproof but really great at tracking activity. Best thing is their web site which charts my progress and sends me a weekly report with my targets updated. It also seems to be a lot cheaper than Fitbit or the Phillips one you mentioned. Ferg
December 29, 2011 at 11:18 am
I caught your article this morning and its timely as I’ve been testing BodyMedia LINK armband against Fitbit Ultra. The Fitbit review should go up tomorrow or late today. The BodyMedia is already done. You’re correct about theFitbit being water resistant, not waterproof. And yes, I did manage to put it in the washing machine. It dried out after several days and worked although the LED wasn’t nearly as bright. Still good enough for me to give away when I bought my new one. I think this problem diminishes if people use the device to monitor sleep as you have to move the device from pants to wrist sleeve.
Your point about customer service is interesting and one I didn’t hightlight, but BodyMedia does have phone support.
I was curious though since you reference diabetes on your site if you’ve used the Glucose tracker in FitBit and if you use 3rd party apps like Microsoft Health Vault to share data? I think Fitbit does a good job of integrating with 3rd parties and developers.
December 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm
I have wanted to try the fitbit but never did because like you I tend to wash things and my pedometers that you clip on the waist always end up in the toilet…so I figured I would end up wasting $100. The Philips direct life sounds a lot more durable, maybe ill give that one a try!! Thanks for the post.
December 29, 2011 at 11:00 pm
I have and have had a FitBit since Christmas 2010. I absolutely love it and love being able to log into the website and see my stats. You are correct however in that it has a few glitches. I too had to have a replacement but had NO problem getting one (at no cost) from Customer Service. About 6 months through owning it, my FitBit would no longer charge and they immediately sent me a new one after trying a few troubleshooting techniques. Mine also will “go dead” for a bit if I sweat excessively and smother it in my chest (I wear mine in my bra). Once I put it on the charger and let it dry for a bit it comes back to me. Recently I also had to superglue it back together at the weak spot that you mentioned. I am extremely hard on mine though so I don’t completely blame the device. I like that the Phillips one you speak of is waterproof. FitBit needs to look into that.
March 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm
Yes. I agree. My FitBit ends up in the wash at least once a week. So far it still works. Waterproof and on a chain would be perfect.
December 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm
Hee! I have a small favor to ask.. Philips is considering to make a mobile application that supports the device. Consumers will then be able to check their status via a program on their smartphone. We (students in the Netherlands) are investigating this proposition and therefore I’m really hoping you can help me by answering the following questions!
Do you think this application is useful for customers using the DirectLife device? Why (not)?
Do you think you would use such an application yourself? Why (not)?
What are to you the most important functions the application should have according to you?
Do you think mobile applications are easy to use?
May 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm
I’ve been using the Activelink for several months. However, I’ve found the support to be really bad. I ordered one. There was a problem with the website, they sent me two and charged for two. I had to pay to return one, and they said that they’d refund the shipping. Its been a month and they stopped responding to my emails. BBB here I come!
I’ve switched to Fitbit One.