I’ve gone the ultra-geeky route over the last couple of months and worn three pedometers at once. Certainly by no means a record for me, but a pretty large number to wear at once all the same. Two of these pedometers happens to be wireless. We’re integrating wireless pedometers into Walker Tracker, and we’re wrapping up testing on the first of these.

I have on a:

Omron HJ-320 – (a non-wireless pedometer) this is my current gold standard for reliability, accuracy and usability. It’s generally what we recommend to all of our walking programs as the cheapest of the best pedometers. It’s a classic tri-axial accelerometer-based pedometer. For immediacy of data, it cannot be beat. Seven days of data is there in the display, along with a clock and mileage conversion. It can be worn comfortably in your pocket. It’s also the cheapest of the three. However, it has no wireless connectivity. More on that below.

Fitbit Zip – this is Fitbit’s new lower-end pedometer (though the most expensive of the three). The pedometer itself is very small, and when the clip is on, it essentially becomes part of the pedometer. A clever design there. You can either connect this with an included USB/wireless dongle or via their app on your smartphone. Its screen shows one day’s worth of distance, steps and calories burned as well as a clock. Everything about this pedometer seemed great at first. It marries some of the Omron’s on-screen data availability, with the Pebble’s wireless connectivity. But over time it has become my least favorite. The clip is hard to remove from clothing and it feels as though the pedometer will eject from it. The battery flap is incredibly fragile, the wireless synching is frustrating to the point where you begin to lose trust in the device, and the display is crowded with a cuteness I could have done without (preferring more data instead). I’ll talk about its accuracy below as well.

Fitlinxx Pebble – The Fitlinxx Pebble is the smallest of the three and also just released. It has no display except for 12 dots you see here, when it’s fully lit up. Though its display tells you so much less than the other devices, I have to admit that it has a sort of magic about it. It’s the smallest and most durable-feeling, and can be worn on your hip or on your shoe (I much prefer to wear them in my pocket or on my belt). Tap the front of the device five times (it feels like an incantation) and its lights jump into action, fanning out in an animated, pulsing circle to indicate where you are relative to your goal. The tapping itself felt like I was waking a sort of sentient creature. In the end I really like my devices to have that feel of magic to them.  Of the three pedometers, it consistently recorded in between the other two on step counting. While I love the Omron 320, I have often had the sense that it errs slightly on the side of too stingy, and so the results from the Pebble felt on the money. Other than that — with the base station set up, the greatest pleasure was in just having my results go live on Walker Tracker without any extra hassle  (and better, because of how we’ve engineered it, I receive a congratulatory text message when I hit my daily goal). Alternately, when you want to know how many steps you’ve walked *right now*, it’s the only device that can’t answer that question (except via Walker Tracker’s text-message integration).

Using the custom fields on Walker Tracker I was able to record results for all three devices on an ongoing basis. Or rather, in this case, the Fitlinxx Pebble recorded its results automatically, and I hand entered the Omron HJ-320 and the Fitbit One.

Step Comparisons between pedometers

Fitlinxx Pebble vs Omron HJ 320 vs Fitbit Zip

Fitlinxx Pebble (Blue) vs Omron HJ 320 (Green) vs Fitbit Zip (Orange). The Omron was the most stingy, the Fitbit the most generous, sometimes recording nearly 2x the Omron.

Over a period of three weeks, the Pebble recorded 17% more steps than the Omron HJ 320, while the Fitbit Zip recorded 36% higher on average, occasionally recording at nearly double the Omron.

Three pedometers on my hip...

Three pedometers on my hip…

In order of preference, I like the Fitlinxx Pebble best, then the Omron HJ-320 and then the Fitbit One. Wireless synching of pedometers is really awesome. I want a pedometer to do its job and keep long term records for me, and not have to compile the data myself. The HJ-320 is, in my opinion, one of the last in a long evolution of manual-entry pedometers. It does its job perfectly and effortlessly and reliably, but then asks you to take up the slack. We at Walker Tracker strongly believe that the recording and observing of personal data can lead to personal change (that which is measured, improves). With manual entry pedometers the recording of that data has always been the most tedious part. Removing that tedium is key. I think that wireless pedometers will contribute greatly to the success of pedometer wearers, and to our walking programs.

In this modern area of gadget design influenced greatly by Apple and others, I want my device to be objects I covet. To have a sense of magic. Fitbit knows this — they have fantastic design —  and they tried to do the same with the Fitbit Zip (though I’d argue they came down to far on the side of cuteness). Unfortunately, you need to be able to trust your device for it to seem magical. While the Fitbit Zip scores big points for having a smartphone app and being able to synch with that directly, if the synching is a hassle, doesn’t work, or gives erroneous results (all three for me, and others too according to app store reviews), it becomes hard to love your device. In the end, I desired to see the data it recorded less because I lost my faith in it. After attempting to synch with their smartphone app and have the data not appear, I stopped being as interested in seeing that too. Along with a few hardware issues, I’m not sure I can wholly recommend this device, as much as I’d like to. Fixing these issues (especially the crazy generosity of the step counts) will make this a great device. As a side note: we now have the Fitbit One in the office for testing, and will speak to this more later.

The Fitlinxx Pebble retained all of its magic, while showing me significantly less data than the others. It remains an intelligent enigma on my belt, more of a sentient assistant than a device with which I have to troubleshoot. Once I set up their base station (by the way — that you can synchronize many, many Pebbles through a single base-station is an incredible plus for corporate walking programs) I did not think about how the data made it into the app again. It was just there. There was nothing to troubleshoot, no settings to futz with, no setup to mess with. It’s far more subtle than the other devices, telling you so much less, but in my mind, far, far more compelling.

Integrating wireless pedometers is under active development. I’m very happy to announce we will be offering programs with the Fitlinxx Pebble device immediately! Drop us a line if you want to know more.