Report on tracker woes shows Jawbone plagued by old demons

By Jonah Comstock
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Basis 2

A new report from "consumer troubleshooting" site FixYa shows that proprietary chargers, data inaccuracies, and missing features are some of the top complaints consumers have about their wearable activity trackers.

Using data from consumer issues and complaints posted on FixYa, the company put together a list of five of the most high-profile devices -- Fitbit Flex, Nike+ Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Basis B1 Band, and BodyMedia Fit Link armband -- and what users found the most lacking in each of them, as well as what FixYa identified as positive features.

FixYa didn't rank the devices from best to worst, noting that each offering had particular features and pitfalls that would make it appeal to some users and not others. That said, the site did pick a clear winner and loser with its yearbook-style superlatives, calling the Basis Band the "Best Overall" fitness band and naming the Jawbone UP "Most Frustrating".

The top complaint about the Basis Band was that consumers expected real-time access to heart rate data. In fact, the Basis Band tracks heart rate continuously, but the data is only available to users after the fact. About 20 percent of those with a Basis complaint simply felt the device was clunky or uncomfortable to wear, partly because the placement of sensors requires that it be fastened snugly, FixYa wrote. Other complaints about the device were missing features -- the lack of food entry and a wake up alarm, present on other devices and apps. But FixYa rated the device tops based on what it does have: an app that helps users track and set complex and interesting goals, and a data yield rivaled only by BodyMedia.

Meanwhile, the site suggested that Jawbone UP, though a significant improvement on its initial, disastrous launch, may not have entirely addressed all of the battery life issues that caused the company to offer a refund for the first generation of the device. FixYa reports that about 20 percent Jawbone complainants said their Jawbone device had to be replaced, and an additional 40 percent complained of inconsistent battery life.

"The issue of a complete battery drain typically crops up around the three-month mark -- the battery going from working perfectly (10 days per charge) to completely going down the drain (1/2 day charge in best case scenarios)," the site writes.

Those customers whose UP devices functioned still found the lack of Bluetooth data syncing frustrating, and experienced issues syncing the device through its cord. Users of both the Jawbone and Fitbit were upset that the devices came with proprietary chargers, which had to be replaced by the company if lost.

jawbone-up-lowres-001FixYa identified the Fitbit Flex as the best one for beginners, as a consistent device with several attractive features, but without the depth of data provided by Basis or BodyMedia. Consumers lauded the device for being waterproof, but objected to the lack of an altimeter, a sensor present in previous Fitbit incarnations. Another issue not unique to the Fitbit, but especially vexing to Fitbit users, is that the placement on the wrist can lead to inaccuracies, reporting more steps for arm intensive activities and failing to pick up on things like bicycling.

Similar to the Fitbit, FixYa reported that the Nike+ Fuelband was a consistent, functional device whose biggest drawbacks were missing features. In this case, users wanted sleep features and manual entry. However, as FixYa writes, the lack of manual entry for activity is likely a safeguard against cheating on online competition events, one of Nike's biggest draws. FixYa rated the FuelBand "Best Online Community".

The sting of FixYa's largely negative take for the Jawbone Up may not hit the company too hard, since it recently acquired BodyMedia, whose device did quite a bit better in the report.

The BodyMedia Fit Link armband offered few surprises in consumers' evaluations of it. It was lauded for its comprehensive data and data analysis, tracking features like skin temperature and heat dissipating from the body in addition to traditional tracking metrics. BodyMedia is the only tracker with FDA clearance and boasts an impressive IP portfolio.

BodyMedia users complained about having to pay for a data plan, something no other tracker requires, but FixYa contends that the richness of the data makes it worth paying for. In addition, the device is only water-resistant, not waterproof, meaning it can't track swimming. Finally, users complained that though BodyMedia tracked sleep well, it was uncomfortable to wear while sleeping. As FixYa points out, a sleep tracker that keeps you from getting to sleep is probably not worth it.

Be sure to take a look at FixYa's full report for more.