Review: Budget-minded Fitbit Zip, bulked-up One

I'm that person who's always racing up the stairs. I attribute this partially to the fact that I'm an impatient pedestrian, to that disturbing news from this summer about how San Francisco's BART station escalators were shut down as a result of human waste gumming up the gears (ugh) and to the fact that Fitbit's always by my side.

Sure, I know my heart is the one that benefits, but the smart pedometer validates that extra bit of work. That's why I was especially intrigued when the San Francisco-based company recently refreshed its popular Fitbit Ultra with two new trackers: the slimmed-down Fitbit Zip and the full-featured Fitbit One. We brought both in for review.

Fitbit Zip

For $60 — $40 less than the full-featured One — the entry-level Fitbit Zip lacks: an altimeter that tracks floors climbed, sleep monitor, silent alarm clock, timer, rechargeable battery and an illuminated screen. In essence, the Zip is a very basic pedometer, tracking steps walked, distance traveled and calories burned.

The tiny Zip is adorable and comes in five fun colors: magenta, lime, blue, charcoal and white. Since there aren't any buttons, you tap the screen to cycle through your tracked stats. The screen itself reminds me of retro LED digital watch faces — low powered but gets the job done. It's readable where there's light, but that's a different story in the dark. Presumably to keep costs down, the Zip doesn't use a rechargeable battery. Instead, it's powered by a 3V lithium battery (included), which should last about six months of use, according to the company. Having to hunt for special-sized batteries is always a pain and often costly, but you can find the replacements for a dollar or less apiece online.

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While the hardware itself is pretty bare bones, for the budget-minded, this offers a discount steep enough to justify foregoing advanced features, the lack of which likely won't be a drawback for a less techie, more mainstream crowd (your parents, for instance). Still, the Zip remains a big draw for Fitbit's app and Web capabilities, which give you a comprehensive health dashboard (where you can log additional information such as food intake and workouts) and social features, which allows you to connect with and compete against your friends — if you're ruthless, you can also taunt them. Furthermore your hard-earned stats can be integrated into other popular fitness apps and services, such as Endomondo, Runkeeper and Microsoft HealthVault.

Fitbit One

In contrast, the $100 Fitbit One is the graduated version of the Ultra. For the same price as its predecessor, it packs in a few additional features in a more durable form factor. A small complaint I had about the Ultra was that it was entirely made of plastic. Over time, I noticed the clip itself became slightly askew and chipped with everyday wear and tear and occasional fiddling. This didn't affect its tracking abilities, but was a sign of physical deterioration. On both the Zip and the One, the trackers are now secured in a silicon holder with a metal clip, making the construction more durable — a small but welcome improvement.

Like the Ultra, the One tracks steps, distance, calories and sleep quality. These figures are generally within range, but not 100 percent accurate. My experience has found that Fitbit has a tendency to over count steps, and its ability to track calories burned is more so an ability to estimate based on your Basal Metabolic Rate. For instance, even though Fitbit tells me it's tracked zero steps so far today, it's also reporting that I've burned 628 calories as of this writing even though I've barely touched it.

The most notable addition with the upgrade is a silent alarm clock. No doubt inspired by the Lark sleep monitor, the Fitbit One can gently nudge you awake in the morning with vibration. (Instead of clipping the tracker to your pants or bra, taking the Fitbit to bed means wearing it on an armband.) This alarm feature is effective in getting you up without waking your partner, but it's noticeably missing the ability to time this alarm relative to the most optimal time to your sleep cycle as the Lark and many other monitors do — this despite Fitbit's integrated sleep tracker.

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On that front, it's worth mentioning that when it comes to sleep monitoring, the insight you get from the Fitbit One (and Ultra) falls short compared with the Zeo, which uses a headband to track your brain waves. The One will crudely tell you how many times you woke up over the course of the night based on motion, but at the same time it's significantly less intrusive to use.

One of the best improvements to come with the refresh is Fitbit's syncing abilities. For iPhone 4S and 5 owners (Android users, hold tight), the use of the low-power Bluetooth 4.0 allows these two new trackers to update by syncing to your phone automatically without the need to launch its app. This is much streamlined from the Ultra, which required its docking station be connected to a computer running the company's syncing software. Though it didn't require you to dock the Ultra or launch the software, the process was anything but slick. For those whose phones aren't equipped with this new Bluetooth specification, the computer remains the way to sync, but at least now there's a much slimmer USB dongle that updates your profile whenever the tracker are computer are within range of each other.

Bottom line

While the Fitbit Zip remains a barebones pedometer, its tremendous savings will put the device on many more waistbands. This hopefully will motivate people to lead more active lives and make healthier choices — to walk instead of drive, to take the stairs instead of the elevator, to sleep longer and better.

Though the Fitbit One has room for improvement, its upgrade has brought welcomed functionality without affecting the price. The Fitbit Ultra was already a great fitness tracker, and the One makes it even better.

All images by Alice Truong for DVICE.

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