First impressions of the Nike+ Fuelband; elegant design, limited functionality

Summary:The Nike+ Fuelband is extremely difficult to find and the harder it is to find, the more attractive it seems to be to buyers. I've spent a few hours with it and find the design to be excellent so far.

I've been using both the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Ultra for a couple of months, but the hottest and most anticipated (maybe overhyped) fitness device around is the Nike+ Fuelband. I was able to get in on the limited sale, read below for my tip that might help you next time, and spent a few hours with the Fuelband yesterday. I'll be posting an extensive comparison article covering the Fuelband, UP, and Fitbit next week after I collect more data and put the Fuelband to the test. In the meantime, you can read my first impressions and check out several pictures and screenshots in my image gallery.

The Nike+ Fuelband is very well built, much better than the UP, and yet it does not measure any food or eating data or any sleep patterns. It also doesn't connect with other fitness apps like we see with the Fitbit. At first it seems pretty limited that the Fuelband only measures Nike Fuel, but I have to spend much more time with it before passing judgement and making my choice.


Image Gallery: Check out some product shots and screenshots of the Nike+ Fuelband, desktop utility, and iPhone app.
Image Gallery: Fuelband retail box
Image Gallery: iPhone Fuelband app

Box contents and initial impressions

The Nike+ Fuelband comes in a fairly compact box with the Fuelband embedded in a compartment on the right. On the left side you will find a USB cable that attaches to the dock, a long link, and a link removal tool. It took me a few minutes to figure out the dock and cable since there are no directions to use and charge up your Fuelband.

The Fuelband is surprisingly light and the metal securing mechanism seems solid. There is a bit of a gap when closed, but in all the Nike photos I have seen this gap is shown so it seems to be normal. The display looks great and the action button is easy to operate.

Walk around the Fuelband

The Nike+ Fuelband comes with the short link (8 mm) installed in the box. I actually removed it (shown in my video above) since the best fit for me was without any links. You will find a 16mm link in the box too so there is some available adjustment in each band. The link removal tool works well and the links appear to secure together well.

The display is composed of 100 white LED lights that shows different graphics and text. While charging the lights appear when the charge reaches different levels and all 100 appear when it is full. You will see text, the Nike swoosh, Bluetooth symbol, airplane mode symbol, and more on the white display. There are also 20 color LED lights that show your goal progress from red to green.

There is an internal Bluetooth radio to connect to your phone and a 3-axis accelerometer to measure your motion. There is an ambient light sensor too so the display brightness automatically adjusts. Two lithium polymer batteries are inside the Fuelband and Nike states it should stay charged for up to four days.

Setting it up for the first time

When I first plugged in the Fuelband to my Mac I was prompted by the desktop utility to perform a firmware update. After that I went through both the website and desktop utility to set everything up, including my stats, goal level, and Nike+ account membership.

iPhone app

There is currently an iOS app that lets you connect to your Fuelband via Bluetooth and specific directions are provided in the app. The iOS app shows you many of the same stats available online. You can also easily set your mood and share your stats on Twitter or Facebook through the iOS app.

I understand that Nike is working on an Android app too and like the use of Bluetooth for connectivity.

Advertising versus reality

The Nike+ Fuelband videos show people playing basketball and soccer, skateboarding, running, and doing other activities. A few of these don't make sense to me since in some of these wearing a bracelet is not allowed or practical. I suppose you may be able to put a wristband over it in basketball, but there is no way the Fuelband can measure my activity on the rugby pitch. The Fuelband is more like a Fitbit, in terms of usage scenarios, and will likely be used by a majority of people as they walk around, go for a jog, or perform in less intensive activities than shown by Nike in their ads.

Price and availability

The Nike+ Fuelband is being sold only at Nike for $149. The site states you can find it first thing in the morning at their New York store. They have had a couple of special, extremely limited online sales where they sold out in 5-8 minutes. Their Nike Fuel Twitter site will keep you update when a sale is coming up, but the way I was able to get mine was to go to the Nike store site and continually refresh it starting 5 minutes before the public link is posted on Twitter. You can't just get a Fuelband in your basket either, but have to get through the entire process. I also used my PayPal account to pay so I didn't have to enter all my address and payment info to help speed up the process. Also make sure you have a reliable, fast connection. Life is a sport, but getting a Fuelband ordered is the real challenge.

You can also find them on ebay, but they are $100 to $200 more than retail so you have to really want one to get one through that retail channel.

Nike hasn't stated when they will have stock for all orders and look to be continuing the online, limited sales for the near term.

Fuelband usage plans

I took the Fuelband for a 3.5 mile run and earned about half my goal, 1520, in Fuel during the run. I plan to use the Nike+ Fuelband, Jawbone UP, and Fitbit Ultra over the next week and post my comparison of all three next week so stay tuned for that article with my recommended fitness device.

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Mobile OS, Security

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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