Reviews for Fitbit, DirectLife, Contour USB

By Brian Dolan
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FitbitThe New York Times' David Pogue and the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg both published connected health device reviews in their respective newspapers yesterday: Pogue turned in a double header review for Fitbit and Philips' DirectLife devices, while Mossberg tested Bayer's just unveiled Contour USB meter for diabetes management. Each of the devices managed to make it through the reviews with mostly positive comments. Here's a quick synopsis of each:

Pogue explains that the Fitbit is "one wicked-cool piece of hardware. It’s a sleek, rounded-edge spring clip, two inches long and half an inch wide. You can clip it to a pocket edge, a bra strap, whatever. Inside, the Fitbit contains an accelerometer... [that] ...tallies how much it’s jostled during the day."

Fitbit positive: Of course, the wireless transfer is key: "The coolest Fitbit bit is the way it sends your collected activity data to its little U.S.B. charging stand. If you leave that stand connected to your computer, with the Fitbit software running, then just passing within 15 feet is enough to trigger a wireless transfer to the Web."

Fitbit Negative: The data crunching and data entering Fitbit requires of its users can be a nuisance: "Yet other aspects of the Fitbit suggest that it aims at much more hard-core fitness buffs. For instance, once the data is on the Web site, it’s just a mass of data. There’s no analysis, not much guidance; if anyone’s going to figure out how to turn it into a fitness program, that’ll be you. And that business about manually entering everything you eat and drink is well-meaning, but come on — how many non-obsessive compulsives are really going to make that effort day in, day out, for months?"

According to Pogue's review Philips' DirectLife device is not as "cool-looking" as Fitbit: "The DirectLife, from Philips ($80 until January, then $100) ... It doesn’t have the wireless transfer, either; instead, every so often, you snap it magnetically into its U.S.B. docking cradle/charger connected to your Mac or PC. And it’s not as cool-looking; the DirectLife is a white, flat, one-inch square plastic doodad that you can wear on a neck cord under your clothes, carry in your pocket or slip into a belt pouch."

DirectLife Positive: "If your goal is to lose weight or get in shape, the DirectLife is far more likely to help you succeed. First, it’s waterproof ... Second, it’s crushproof. (My first Fitbit, on the other hand, fell apart when I accidentally dropped it once.) Third, the Web site and setup instructions are far more professional, complete, well-designed and classy.... But the DirectLife’s real killer feature is the personal coach that comes with it."

DirectLife Negative: "There are no numeric displays. If you set the DirectLife down on a flat surface, a row of little green indicators lights up to show you how close you are to your activity goal so far today — one dot, you’re a couch potato; nine dots, you’re a superjock. But that’s it."

Mossberg, himself a diabetic, found the Contour USB by Bayer to be as easy to use as traditional blood glucose meters: "In my tests, the Contour USB proved quick and easy to use. When you're actually doing the blood testing, it works pretty much like any other meter, and a computer isn't involved. The meter's color screen does, by default, ask you to designate whether the reading was taken before or after a meal, an extra step that can make the results more meaningful. But this feature can be turned off. And there's an option that allows you to add a canned note, like 'Sick,' or 'Stress,' to any reading."

Contour USB Positive: "The real payoff comes when you plug the meter into a computer and launch the software, which helps you see the trends in your glucose levels over time. For instance, it can plot in various ways how often you stayed in a target zone and when you deviated. I tested this on Windows and Macintosh computers, and it worked."

Contour USB Negative: "To launch the Glucofacts Deluxe software on your computer, you have to click on an obscure-sounding file name. It's supposed to run automatically in Windows, but I never could get it to do that.... Another feature some may see as a downside is that the meter's sealed battery can't be replaced. But the company sees the freedom from buying batteries as an advantage for heavy users, and claims that even a one-minute recharge session will allow for several tests. My biggest disappointment with the Contour USB was that it doesn't provide any way to upload your results to an online repository, where you and your doctor might view them."

Both Mossberg and Pogue agree that these new connected personal health devices are a step forward. Mossberg concludes that Bayer's Contour USB is a "welcome move toward integrating home testing with the digital world." And Pogue concludes that "What’s so likeable about these new gizmos is that they’re so tiny and simple and cheap, it’s almost no effort to use them."

Those are largely the goals of the wireless health industry -- it's exciting to see such early devices are already being received as affordable and effortless to use.

For more on Pogue's reviews: Read the Times piece here
For more on Mossberg's Bayer Contour USB review: Read on here

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