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Fitbit Force brings smartwatch features to a fitness tracker

Fitbit Force brings smartwatch features to a fitness tracker

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Gallery Photo: Fitbit Force images
Gallery Photo: Fitbit Force images

Fitbit is making its latest device to quantify your activity, the wrist-worn Force fitness tracker, official today. The Force is an evolution of the Flex, Fitbit’s other wrist-worn tracker, and offers an OLED display and altimeter on top of the features included in the Flex. It's very similar to the company's One tracker, but with a wristband so you don't have to clip it to your pants. The Force is available in black or a handsome bluish-gray color (Fitbit calls it "slate") today for $129.95, slightly more than the $99 Flex, which is remaining in Fitbit’s lineup.

With the Force, Fitbit addressed many of the complaints we had with the Flex. The Force includes a new OLED display, which is far more informative than the Flex’s nebulous blinking lights, allowing you to check the time and your fitness stats without having to look at the app. That display can also show incoming call information (name or phone number) when the Force is paired to an iOS 7 device, giving the device slightly more function when it’s on your wrist. Unfortunately, the display is not always on and glanceable — you wake it with the single button on the side of the Force, and you can long-press that same button to start a basic stopwatch timer. It’s no replacement for a Pebble or other smartwatch, but it’s a step forward.

The Force is pretty much the same thing as the One with the wristband of the Flex

Different from the Flex, Fitbit designed the Force as a single, contained unit. While the Flex required you to remove the actual tracking unit from the wristband to charge and sync with your computer, the Force has a proprietary charging port right on it, and it can sync with your computer wirelessly with the new USB dongle. It can also still sync with your Android or iOS device over Bluetooth 4.0, so there are fewer reasons than ever to actually take the thing off of your wrist. Fitbit claims that the Force has seven to ten days of battery life with regular use, and that the device is water resistant against sweat and splashes. It’s not designed to go swimming or in the shower with you, however.

The rubber wrist band on the Force is more or less the same as on the Flex; it’s soft touch and doesn’t snag too much on your skin. The two-pronged clasp is exactly the same, for better or worse, and the entire device is light enough to wear all day without becoming irritating. Like the Flex, the Force can be worn at night to monitor sleep habits, and the silent alarm function is calmer and less annoying than on the Flex — it just vibrates quietly at the time you set, and can be easily shut off with the button on the side of the device. That also means that it can be easily ignored since the Force doesn’t have a snooze function. If you forget to tell it that you are going to sleep, the Force will still track your activity and you can manually input the times you went to bed and woke up to see how well you slept in the app.

On top of the better design, the Force adds yet another piece of tracking data to your fitness profile: the new altimeter can measure how many flights of stairs you walked up and down during the day. The device is smart enough to tie this data directly to when you are actually taking steps up stairs — riding up and down in an elevator won’t throw it off, for instance.

The Force is more expensive than other fitness trackers, but offers more

Fitbit also recently revamped its apps for Android and iOS, offering a cleaner design that’s easier to use. The Force will sync wirelessly with the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S3, S4, Note II and Note 10.1. If you have another Android phone, you will have to sync the Force with your computer first before you can see the data in the mobile app. The Force does have NFC built-in, however, letting Samsung owners tap their phone to it to launch the Fitbit app.

At $129.95, the Force falls on the more expensive end of the fitness tracking spectrum, but its new features make it more functional than other devices that lack displays or wireless syncing. With the Force, Fitbit seems to be matching its already great services and apps with the features that its competitors such as Nike and Jawbone are offering, which is certainly not a bad thing. If the Force is able to live up to all of its promise, it could easily become the fitness tracker to get. Fitbit is offering it for sale today through its online store, and it will be in retail stores in the coming weeks.