By now anyone who’s stuck to rash New Year’s resolutions to get fit after the excesses of Yuletide is probably struggling to keep it up, what with the novelty having worn off and the generally depressing state of being back at work for a few weeks now. What’s needed is some additional motivation.
A few years ago, the company I worked for each year did an annual fitness initiative all around the doing 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week thing. Two years particularly stuck in my mind – one was the year when, as a side competition, the team introduced the concept of Office Mountaineering, which consisted simply of using the stairs, but keeping track of how many floors ascended and relating it to the heights of well-known mountains. This worked well in a 6 storey building, but less so when we moved across town to the 47th floor of what was then London’s tallest building. That was a bit much.
The other memorable year was the 10,000 steps a day challenge, and free pedometers were handed out. Our team took it relatively seriously (or was that just me ?), and having a leaderboard helped greatly in encouraging the effort. Personally, I found the gamification of this hugely motivating, and set about winning the thing, recording the highest overall total. The location of the office at the time in Docklands helped a lot, as it provided in-built opportunities for walks of varying lengths at lunchtime and some reasonably pleasant walking to/from work along the river.
Turning routine exercise into a game using stats and targets is something which I find essential to motivate myself to actually do the work and to push myself to do that little bit more.So 18 months ago I got myself a Fitbit. It’s the cheapest model, it’s small and it just works. I love it. And the competing with and taunting of friends who also have Fitbits.
With a number of competitor products now on the market, it wasn’t a huge surprise when Hi-Tec via their Mustard PR arm asked me if I’d like to try their version out. I eagerly said yes, and after a delay caused by it never turning up the first time, Christmas Eve saw the product eventually land. Probably not the best timing though given the prospect of exercise over the coming days.
The model they sent me was the Trek Go, which is the mid-range product retailing at about £60. This adds notifications and smartphone apps to the common offering across the range: activity tracking (steps, distance, calories burnt), sleep monitoring and caller ID. The top of the range model, the Trek Plus, adds heart rate monitoring on top of this for an extra £20. This is not something I’m particularly bothered about, so it wasn’t a problem that I didn’t get this feature.
The tracker comes with a snap-on charging cradle which connects to a power source using micro-USB. It’s a very short lead – about 12cm in total. A charge lasts in the region of 5 days.
Using the device
Because it’s wrist-worn watch-style, the first thing is to put in on your wrist. The strap fastens by means of two small lugs that pop into corresponding holes on the strap. This can be a bit fiddly. I’d much rather have had a more traditional strap fastening, but the lug and hole method will probably be more durable. The device is about 1.7cm wide, so is relatively innocuous on the wrist especially if worn under a sleeve. I found I was able to wear it on my wrist next to my watch without it feeling silly.
The display shows the time,and the touchscreen can be swiped to bring up the app functions – principally to see how many steps you’ve done or to activate the sleep tracking. During my whole time testing the device I didn’t bother activating the smartphone notifications or caller ID functions. I wasn’t prepared to run my phone battery down having Bluetooth on constantly. I’m not convinced about smart watches – if my phone rings, I’m going to be picking my phone up anyway to speak, so it’s no hardship letting my phone ring rather than have it on my watch. And on a fitness tracker like the Trek, it seems an unnecessary addition.
The Trek App
Many of the functions of the device are unusable without the corresponding smartphone app though. Conceivably you could simply write down the steps shown on the device at the end of each day, but if you’re looking for that low-tech a method you’ll probably be happier with a standard pedometer anyway. The smartphone app is used to synchronise the data from the watch and provide the various graphs and day-on-day comparisons. It’s also essential if you want to use any of the competing with friends features.
The app is straightforward and consists of a set of screens showing the stats and some settings screens:
Tapping the various images on the Home screen brings up the relevant chart for that item:
At this stage you’ll probably notice the similarity in shape between the steps and distance. They’re not measured independently and there’s no GPS or anything fancy like that going on. The distance is simply a calculation based on number of steps and your stride length (calculated from your basic body measurements).
The device can track your sleep, which in this case means the duration of your sleep only. That’s it. and even that only works if you tell it you’re going to sleep. If you forget to turn off sleep mode when you wake, the device will at least turn sleep off after you’ve done 200 steps. The sleep function is one of two things that annoy me the most about the Trek – it doesn’t provide an accurate reading and doesn’t allow for you lying in bed for an hour unable to get to sleep. Obviously it’s impossible to turn sleep mode on at the exact moment of falling asleep without that very action keeping you awake. As far as I’m concerned the sleep function is just a measure of how long you are in bed, and not of what you do in bed 😉 If you want decent sleep tracking, this may not be the product for you.
Walking with the Device
The device, despite being worn on the arm, did a reasonable job of measuring my steps, although it consistently fell short of the reading obtained from my Fitbit Zip (which was simply worn loose in a trouser pocket). It’s probably not surprising that the Trek didn’t record as many steps as something effectively worn on the leg. Some examples:
- On 24th – 26th December, my Fitbit recorded 1188, 1852 and 1701 steps respectively, compared to the Trek’s 414, 858 and 592. None of these are representative days though as I basically spent them at home. Neither tracker performs optimally when all it’s doing is measuring moving about the house.
- On the 27th I forgot to synchronise the Trek on a day when the Fitbit recorded 8647 steps.
- On the 28th December, the Trek recorded 4619 compared to the Fitbit’s 5582. This broadly reflects the pattern I saw on most other days when I wore both.
The overall conclusion after several days of running both in parallel is that the Trek was losing me in the region of 1000 to 1500 steps a day compared with the Fitbit. That may of course be that the Fitbit exaggerates my steps, but I’ve been using it for nearly a year and a half now and don’t believe that’s the case. It pretty faithfully records an urban steppage of 2200 per mile and anything up to 2500 per mile on rougher hill terrain, depending on the surface. So I do think the Trek is cheating me out of steps. It is possible to re-calibrate the Trek, but I didn’t bother.
The Trek is a reasonable bit of kit for the money being asked, but it’s not sophisticated.
- Modest size on the wrist when worn.
- The app has the ability to compete with friends, giving me the element of gamification I want.
- Having to manually synchronise the tracker when I take it off each night. My Fitbit synchronises automatically when near my PC, and even if I forget it can remember a week’s worth of data. This is my single biggest gripe with the Trek as it can mean I can wear the tracker all day and still lose the data.
- The sleep feature is next to useless considering it has to be manually turned on and off. It doesn’t even measure sleep, simply “in bed” time. I could just as easily write that down on a piece of paper next to the bed each morning.
- I felt cheated out of steps with the count falling short of my Fitbit. That can probably be rectified though.
- Having to remember to charge the device every few days. My Fitbit uses a (admittedly throwaway) battery that lasts months, and Fitbit email you when it’s getting low. There’s really no comparison here.
- It’s not good enough as a watch to replace my watch, and I don’t really want to wear two devices on my wrist.
So this probably looks like I really hate the device – I don’t. I can see it would work for some people, but for me it doesn’t give me anything my existing Fitbit doesn’t do better, and the things the Trek does that my Fitbit doesn’t (e.g. sleep tracking), I couldn’t care less about. I suspect if I were looking to buy a Trek, the Plus version with the heart rate monitoring would be the one to get. But personally I wouldn’t buy one as my Fitbit is already perfect for my needs.
For an alternative viewpoint, read Alan Sloman’s review of the Trek Plus – the lucky sod got the top of the range model, but then at his age he may need the HRM function more than I do 😉
Disclosure: Mustard PR offered me the product to try free of charge. I felt under no obligation to paint a glowing picture if unwarranted.