FitBit Exercise Tracker - Accessibility and Usability Part 1

I had a FitBit a few years ago until the band broke and I lost it (I swear it’s in my house somewhere...bet I’ll find it in five years somewhere stupid).  After about a year, it was clear the thing wasn’t going to turn up, so I decided to get a new unit.  After all, new toys motivate you, right?  

So I did my research, asked friends, and checked out accessibility reviews….hey, I’m a teacher on a fixed income, if I’m going to invest that kind of money, I’m going to know what I’m getting!

After all of that effort, it seemed logical to share the knowledge I gained.  So here goes…

The Units:

There are lots of different Fitbit units.  By the time you read this entry, there may be even more.  Right now, I’m just going to focus on the Flex, the Charge 2, and the Blaze.  These three units represent the range of available units.  

The Flex 2

Picture of the basic Flex 2 fitbit band and tracker unitThis is one of the most basic units selling at around $100.  It does not have a clock face or display of exact steps.  It does have ten small lights and as you progress towards your step goal, the more lights will be active.  This unit tracks steps, calories, distance, sleep, and provides reminders to move and vibrate when you receive texts or calls if it is set up in the app.  It is also possible to wear this unit when swimming.

The unit itself is very small (31.7 x 8.9 x 6.8 mm and weighs 0.83 oz.) and must be removed from the band to be charged.  The charger itself is a unique one, so you can’t exactly use any old micro or mini USB charger that’s hanging around the house.  The unit must be inserted a specific way in order for it to connect and charge.  For those who don’t like wearing watchbands or bracelets, you can purchase pendant holders for the unit so it can be worn around your neck.  

The Charge 2

Picture of the Charge 2 fit bit with a display face.This is what I’d describe as a “middle of the road” unit and can be purchased for about $130.  It has a display face that can be personalized using the app.  This unit tracks all of the things that the Flex 2 does, but also monitors heart rate, floors climbed, sleep stages (light, REM, Deep), cardio-fitness level, and allows for automatic exercise tracking of multiple workout types such as bike, running, or elliptical and present real-time results on the display.  The unit also provides reminders to move and vibrates when you receive texts, calls, or calendar alerts if it is set up in the app.  It also provides deep breathing exercise support on the device screen and does sort of a “walk through” of a deep breathing session.  

Like the Flex 2, the Charge 2 must be used with a specific charger.  Also like the Flex, you can purchase different colors and styles of bands to match your wardrobe (or your mood).  Unfortunately, in order for the unit to monitor your heart rate, you need to wear it on your wrist, so it will not auto-detect your exercise if you are, say, walking around with it in your pocket.  It will record the steps though...

Face 2: Large Print time and date (two numbers per line) and Face 3: Exercise with heart rate and length of time

The Blaze

Picture of Blaze clock face with steps and date

This is one of the higher end units that retails for around $200.  It does all of the things the other two units do, but also provides access to on-screen workouts on the device as well as the ability to play/pause/skip songs on your mobile playlist as well as control the volume.  

 

Fitbit Blaze face with time and 5 other stats including steps and heart rateAs I’m sure you’ve guessed, the Blaze has a specific charger like the other units and has an interchangeable band to allow you to accessorize.  Also like the Charge 2, the unit must be worn to monitor heart rate, but will record steps from within your pocket.  

 

The Bottom Line:

If you have usable vision and like to be able to look at your watch to know exactly how many steps you’ve gone or to see how far you’ve traveled on your run, you might like one of the higher end trackers. That also depends on your level of vision and how willing you are to hold the tracker close to your face (especially when on an outdoor jog...which I wouldn’t recommend by the way).  Obviously lighting and other environmental factors will play a part as well.  

Another consideration of the low vision user would be the tracker’s actual face.  The Fitbit app allows the user to “customize” the display face of the Blaze and the Charge 2.  If you’re like me, too much information on the screen makes it look cluttered and hard to read, but if you have a higher acuity or are willing to work harder to see information displayed, you can choose displays that have more information.  There are also larger print displays that show the time in larger numbers.  

If you have no usable vision and are just counting steps, distance, and calories, the Flex 2 will meet your needs.  It’s smaller and slightly less expensive than the other options.  You can access what it is tracking on the app using VoiceOver.  

However, if you want the capability of tracking your heart rate and more options for sleep tracking, you can still opt for one of the higher end units because the app will still work with VoiceOver.  It is worth noting though that the Charge 2 is likely your best option because units like the Blaze are offering more bells and whistles than you will be able to take advantage of.  

Please check back for a follow-up article on the accessibility of the Fitbit iOS App...coming soon to a technology blog near you!

Be sure to view the second post in this series!  Fitbit Exercise Tracker - Accessibility and Usability Part 2.

**NOTE: All images in this article are courtesy of fitbit.com

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