Fitbit Ace: My kids go hands-on with the company's first wearable built for them

Fitbit's looking to expand its product reach to more demographics. That now includes kids, so I had mine put the Ace to the test.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Video: Fitbit unveils Versa and Ace wearables

A couple of weeks ago, well after bedtime for my three kids, I could still hear footsteps. Rapid footsteps. Annoyed because someone was out of bed and walking around instead of trying to fall asleep, I grumpily walked down the hall to remind my youngest son what he was supposed to be doing.

When I got to his room, he raised his wrist, flashed a smile, and said, "Trying to get to 10,000."

I laughed and couldn't get too upset. He was walking around in an attempt to register 10,000 steps on his freshly unboxed Fitbit Ace. For the next week, I listened to my kids compare step counts, or bemoan alerts every hour if he or she hadn't taken the suggested 250 steps in an hour.

Read also: Does Fitbit have time to pull off its digital healthcare transformation?

Cries of "Ugh, I have 124 to go!" out of nowhere served as a reminder that there are 10 minutes left in the hour for me, as I watched each of them each walk around the living room while staring at the TV watching a YouTube stream of Dr. Lupo playing Fortnite.

When Fitbit announced the $99 Ace in March, my kids expressed interest in helping test the activity tracker. When a trio of review devices arrived in June, I decided to take a different approach to testing.

Instead of treating the Ace like a normal review, where I strictly monitor aspects like battery life and performance, I decided to let my kids use Ace as they wanted, without any input from me.

Fitbit Family

Initial setup for the Ace requires the parent to create a family account, which separates all of the kids' accounts from the broader Fitbit platform. The process takes a few minutes to complete, as long as you keep in mind that you'll need to set it up on the device your kid is going to sync his or her Fitbit with, and not your phone.

Read also: Fitbit Ionic review: Tops the Apple Watch with fitness focus

With a Fitbit family created, your child's information is closed off from the broader Fitbit ecosystem. The app transforms into a barebones version of Fitbit, lacking social aspects such as the community feed. Still present, however, is the ability to check on fellow family members and their current step counts, and send taunts or encouragement.

Ace design

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Fitbit repurposed its Alta band and placed a smaller wristband on it to fit a smaller wrist. The company's suggested age range for Ace is 8 to 13. Two of my kids fall within that range, with my youngest currently two years shy of the minimum. Despite not fitting within the age range, the band fit just fine on his wrist (pictured above).

Users can tap on the screen of the Ace to check on time, scroll through other stats, and check on notifications if it's paired to a phone.

Read also: Why Fitbit could make a good Google acquisition

The silicone band, according to all three kids, is comfortable and didn't cause any irritation.

The loudest complaint I heard from all through about the overall design is the lack of waterproofing. The Ace can withstand running through sprinklers or the occasional shower, but isn't designed to go swimming.

30 days

It would have been far too difficult to manually track how many days I noticed an Ace on each child's wrist over the past month, so instead, I looked at each day. The Fitbit app shows activity for each child's account over the past 30 days.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

What I discovered is that my kids wore the Ace for 17 of the past 30 days, on average. The two oldest tallied 19 days each, with the youngest sitting at 14 days. Oh, and there was a period of time one of the Ace's was buried in a closet under a pile of clothes.

From what I can gather, for the most part, it appears the days the Ace wasn't in use is right around the four- or five-day mark, which also happens to be just about when the battery in the Ace would need to be recharged.

So, instead of putting the Ace on the charger and coming back to put it on a few hours later, my kids would put it on the charger and forget about it for a day or two. Or it would die, they'd take it off, and then a day or two later charge it up. Then, the cycle would repeat, with a few days of activity with a day or two of nothing.

Read also: Photos: Fitbit's new Ionic smartwatch and accessories - TechRepublic

This pattern makes sense to me, considering kids are, well, kids and they aren't nearly obsessed (or is it trained?) as adults are when it comes to charging something for a few hours.

It would be nice if Fitbit would send an alert to the parent's device whenever the battery of a linked Fitbit Ace was low, as well as after a day or two of no activity.

Even after the initial excitement, I still notice a change in their behavior when wearing an Ace. They are more active, thanks in part to the gentle reminders each hour, along with the desire to beat their siblings' step count at the end of the day.

Granted, it's been a few weeks since I caught one of them walking around after bedtime to reach 10,000 steps, but they are indeed more conscious of how active they are in a given day.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The Ace is the first Fitbit designed for kids, and it does everything my family wants it to do. It serves as a watch help teach kids time management and an alarm to start the day. It also tracks sleep habits and motivates them to be more active.

As I was finishing up this article, I asked each kid if there was anything he or she didn't like or would change about the Ace. My daughter said, "No, that Fitbit is really nice." My youngest replied "Why? It's really good the way it is." But my 8-year-old, after having spent an hour trying to find his Ace by using the Bluetooth on an iPod to check if his dead Ace was nearby said: "Give it more than five days of battery life."

Read also: Apple Watch vs. Fitbit Versa: How to choose - CNET

What I want in a device I'll never use doesn't matter; It's what they want that does matter. And, right now, it's perfect.

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