Review: Fitbit Zip

When the original Fitbit came out a few years ago, there was very little else like it on the market. Wearable movement trackers were a novelty, and the Fitbit had no equal, thanks to its seamless data transfers and delightfully user-friendly software interface. But time moves on, and now there are plenty of excellent options — like the monitors from BodyMedia and Nike — to track your movements, sleep and calories burned. That’s the market the Fitbit Zip, one of two new offerings from the company, waddles into.

The Zip is a key-fob-sized, er, fob with a clip on one side to hook to your clothes. On the other side is a wee (0.75 x 0.5-inch) monochrome LCD screen. You slip it in your pocket, on your collar, or pretty much anywhere, and it begins tracking your movements each day.

To see where you stand, just tap the monochrome screen — itself an improvement over the previous Fitbit. Keep tapping to scroll through calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, time, plus a little Tamagotchi-style emoticon who smiles, grins or sasses you depending on how much you’ve shaken your booty on any given day.

Even better, it’s got built-in Bluetooth. By harnessing the ancient power of radio, the Zip will send updates to either an app on your phone (iOS only, with Android on the way. Sorry, all 12 of you Windows Phone users), or a web dashboard via a small app that runs in the background on your desktop. The Zip comes with a little USB key that plugs into your computer to receive data. It’s a fantastic feature. You never have to sync anything, but your steps are just there.

But that manual inputting is, well, a chore. The Fitbit’s killer feature has always been its ability to provide a fully automated experience. Pulling your phone out and manually inputting meals and activities is a nice touch, but it’s not why you’ll buy this. Plenty of other apps already pull this off, while tracking other metrics like location to boot.

But if this product has a weak point, it’s the clip. Not that it doesn’t hold fast (it does!) but because you have to remember to clip it to your clothes each day. Twice, I left the house without it and missed full days of step-counting. I was also perpetually worried that I would forget to take it out of my pocket and have it end up in the wash. I really prefer devices that are body-wearable, like the Nike FuelBand.

And then there is the battery. It uses a 3V watch battery. This is great, in that just as you don’t have to connect the Zip to anything to transfer data, you don’t have to dock it to any sort of base station to charge it. And battery life is quite good — after more than two weeks, I’m still at a “high” battery level. But I’m guessing that when it comes time to swap the battery, a lot of these Zips will simply wink out in sock drawers of sadness like a cheap watch.

Still, overall, this is a great little pedometer and activity tracker. It’s fun to use, easy to setup and understand, and just plain works.

Update, Oct 4: The original review was changed to clarify the functionality offered on the previous Fitbit.

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