Misfit Shine and the Pros and Cons of Wearable Fitness Trackers

Misfit Shine and the Pros and Cons of Wearable Fitness Trackers

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calculate how far you traveled and how many calories you burned. (I’ve found the results to be questionable at times. One day, according to the app, I walked 3,642 steps and burned 2,469 calories. The next day, I walked 12,878 steps—more than three times as far—yet the app said I used only 2,923 calories. I guess it takes more exercise to burn off a calorie than any of us would like, but it was still hard to believe that those extra 9,236 steps required only 454 calories. [Update 8/24/13: See comment section below.])

The Shine’s design embodies decisions that Vu and his team made early on to ensure that people would wear the device all day, every day. One of those was to minimize the fuss around charging. The Jawbone UP, to name one competing device, must be recharged weekly using a USB cable that connects to a computer. “One of the top reasons people stop wearing these trackers is that they forget to charge them,” Vu says. Under normal use, the watch battery inside the Shine will supposedly last about four months. (I’m sad to report, however, that mine only lasted about two weeks. My Shine is dead at the moment, waiting for me to head to Walgreens to pick up a new CR2013 battery.)

Going with a non-recharging battery led to tradeoffs, such as the Bluetooth issue mentioned above. Because computation takes power, the Shine doesn’t really try to discriminate between different kinds of activity; to tell it you’re taking a bicycle trip or going to sleep, for example, you have to tap it three times to create a “tag” for that activity in the device’s records. “There are more signal-processing tricks we could do” to classify different motions, says Vu. “But we slimmed down the feature set and the complexity of the algorithms to get a long battery life.”

The $80 Misfit necklace accessory turns the Shine into an attractive metal pendant.

The $80 Misfit necklace accessory turns the Shine into an attractive metal pendant.

Like many software-driven products today, the Shine will get better over time. New versions of the “firmware” inside the device are delivered via Bluetooth when you sync the device. “Both the firmware and the app are in many ways very 1.0, and there’s a ton of performance improvements to be made just in the next several weeks,” Vu says.

But he adds that every choice the Misfit team makes comes back to two things: simplicity, and conserving battery power. “Our goal is to get as many people as possible wearing it for as long as possible, and we think you accomplish that through wearability and long battery life.”

Which brings us back to my original questions about today’s fitness trackers: how useful are they? Is an accelerometer alone enough to give consumers the kind of feedback they need to exercise more?

Vu argues that helping people be more active isn’t always about data. “A lot of people just want to be reminded that they are committed to being more active,” he says. “The inspiration and the motivation aren’t coming from the information they are getting, but from the wearing experience.”

I’ll buy that. But the big question is how many aspiring fitness freaks will be happy with this unobtrusive variety of positive reinforcement, and how many care about split times, maps, voice feedback, and the other features that the smartphone-based fitness-tracking apps provide.

“A phone has a gyroscope and a GPS chip, and it’s hard to beat that,” Vu says. “But if you just want to go running, and you don’t want to carry your phone, then wearables are currently the only thing you can do in terms of technology”—at least until smart watches come along.

I’ll probably keep wearing my Shine, if only because syncing it and seeing my daily activity on a chart gives me a little squirt of dopamine. Also, it’s cool-looking, which makes it a conversation starter. But I’d like it even better if it replaced some other gadget in my life. It doesn’t, so I can’t say whether it will have an indefinite claim on my wrist.

Here’s a Misfit Wearables video featuring Sonny Vu:

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The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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  • Jen

    Check out more sophisticated wearables like bodymedia for better data. And yes 450 calories for 9000 walking steps is about right. Most of your calories burned is just living, not moving.

    • Brian Voll

      I’m trying to figure out how this makes any sense. I ran for about 10 minutes at a slowish pace, it counted 2326 steps, said I went about 1.5 miles. But, it says I’ve burned 1137 calories.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

    Matthew Diamond, MD, PhD, medical lead at Misfit Wearables, wrote in with the following comment expanding on the way the Shine firmware calculates calories burned. It’s worth quoting in full:

    “Thanks for your recent article on the Misfit Shine and the pros and cons of wearable fitness devices. I’m writing to comment on the experience you had with Shine’s calorie display, when it said you burned an extra 454 calories on a day when you walked an additional 9,236 steps. Indeed it does take more exercise to burn off a calorie than any of us would like — we can consume 500 calories in just a few minutes, but it takes about five miles of walking to burn that off! Here’s the math:

    -According to the nationally standardized Compendium of Physical Activity*, walking at a moderate pace (3mph) burns, on average, about 3.5 calories per kg per hour.
    -Rounding to 9,000 steps would give us about 4.5 miles, which is about 1.5 hours of walking (without knowing your specific height etc, let’s assume each step is about 2.5 feet, making each mile about 2000 steps). And for a typical 80 kg (175 lb) person, walking 9000 steps would burn 3.5 cals/kg/hr x 80kg x 1.5 hrs ==> 420 calories.

    So for the day when you walked an additional ~9,200 steps, Shine’s calorie estimate of an extra ~450 calories makes sense. (Note that in the above back-of-the-envelope calculation we would ideally subtract the basal metabolic rate, since we’re estimating the added calories of walking vs. not walking over the same period of time — this would lower our quick estimate of calories burned for walking 9,000 additional steps. But in the calculations above we also did not include other factors including the energy expenditure of non-step related activity and the thermic effect of digesting food, which Shine also calculates and which combined with the basal rate are unlikely to have changed the numbers much.) I’ve included a reference below to literature that supports Shine’s calculations of physical activity-related energy expenditure:

    *Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, Meckes N, Bassett Jr DR, Tudor-Locke C, Greer JL, Vezina J, Whitt-Glover MC, Leon AS. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: a second update of codes and MET values. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2011;43(8):1575-1581.

    The Shine team is continuously refining our algorithms and calculations based on increasing data and research, and we appreciate your feedback and welcome your suggestions.

    Best,
    Matthew”

  • Sceptic

    Thanks for the article, Wade. You state that the thickness is 3.3mm, which is also on the shine website – but it also states it has a CR2032 battery (not CR2013 as you suggested – I couldn’t find such a battery with google). The 32 in CR2032 means 3.2mm thick, so it would be practically impossible to have a thickness of 3.3mm for the whole device. Your photo helpfully shows the key dimensions with US quarters for scale, which allows a quick estimate from measurement, and it looks like it’s about 9mm (almost 1cm!) thick – could you confirm this? Your comment about these devices needing to be small is right, but this seems a little more chunky than advertised…

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Hey Sceptic. I’m looking into your question about the battery. It was a Misfit employee who told me that the replacement battery is a CR2013, but you’re right that the company says elsewhere that it’s a CR2032. As for the thickness of the device, I’ve now measured it myself and you’re right, it looks like it’s between 8mm and 9mm thick — not chunky exactly but a lot thicker than 3.3mm. I’ll look into the origins of the 3.3mm number, which also came from Misfit.

  • Phyllis

    I see that someone from Misfit replied to a post below. Perhaps someone at the company will stoop to respond to me here, as my two e-mails to the company have gone unanswered.
    Be forewarned: it is too easy to lose the tracker disk from within the wristband. My teenage son had his for a total of 5 days before it apparently fell out while he was sleeping at a friend’s, and it has not been found. What an expensive mistake and a huge disappointment. The design needs to be re-thought. My son now has a worthless rubber wristband with no activity tracker.

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Phyllis — thanks for leaving this comment. I’m sorry to hear your son lost his Shine. In my own experience, the Shine is very solidly lodged in the wristband. It takes both hands to get it out. If it weren’t for your story, I would have said that it would be almost impossible for it to fall out accidentally — and certainly not while wearing it at night.

      • MoistPup

        I had the same issue. I was carrying the duffel bag of a neighbor and swung it over my shoulder, at which point the misfit apparently popped out when the strap from the duffel bag brushed against the misfit strap. They really need to design the strap so that the misfit can only be removed from the side that the arm touches.

      • Susan Hansen Hoefert

        Mine popped out of the wrist band several times and luckily I have found it. I found wearing it on my ankle gives me better reading and haven’t lost it from there, knock on wood. I wear it 24/7 and have had it since May 27th. Today September 9th getting low battery warning. It has been acting up with syncing sometimes, but I find it a great motivator, both for exercise and eating control. One reason I got it was because of ability to monitor cycling and also not having to charge it once a week.

    • Chris

      I have had the same issue. Had the device for about three weeks and it popped out of the wristband twice. Unfortunately I didn’t notice it the second time and have no idea where along my travels it fell out (backtracked for hours and found nothing).

      I live in the Northeast and with the recent cold whether have been wearing a number of layers. I suspect that as I was putting on/off my winter jacket, it must have put enough strain/leverage on the device to pop it out – never felt it dislodge and never heard it hit the floor. I don’t know if my smaller wrist size and the tightness of the band may have caused stretching of the rubber enough to make it easier to pop out, but none the less, it is gone.

      I agree with the expense and disappointment — I guess that is the risk with a device that is flexible in its wearing. If they came out with a permanent wristband or a wristband that more encased the device, I would consider getting it again, but given the current configuration, I would think long and hard about making an investment in another Shine.

      And BTW, I really liked the device and found it surprisingly very motivating. The syncing method is very slick and not having to charge it is a plus. Wish I still had it … well not enough to shell out for a new one.

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Phyllis, I completely take back my earlier reply to your comment, and apologize for sounding so skeptical. The same thing just happened to me. The disk popped out of the wristband at some point in my travels yesterday, and is lost. This does seem to be a design flaw.

  • James Cole

    Battery is weak or device malfunctioning after only 3 days. Not impressed…

  • Rae Claire

    It is a bit large for many women (worn on the wrist). Given that women are perhaps the primary target group for this item, it ought to be better designed. It is over 10 percent wider than a U.S. quarter, and if the band is snugged up on a 5 1/2 inch wrist ( if that’s even possible) to keep the thing from flopping about like a charm bracelet, I think it would tend to pop right out.

  • Betonce M Stein

    i wear mine on my 5 1/2 inch wrist easily, and i also often wear it on my ankle

  • Donna

    Why can’t we get the misfit shine & accessories in Canada