This month Microsoft Evangelist Simon May tries out the FitBit Flex activity tracker and works out if it’s a gadget for the IT guy. He’s been wearing the tracker for over a month, using it on a daily basis and has learnt a little about his sleep, or lack of it, on the way.

Life as an IT guy for me used to mean that I was really active. When I first got into IT I did lots of desktop support and remote tools weren’t all that common or that good and coupled with the customer service aspects of the job I used to find myself visiting people at their desk. I typically knew every person in my building and where they sat…some I knew better than others. A few years later I moved onto doing more server work and much more remote monument work. The fitness I’d gained in my early years quickly disappeared as I entered the much more sedentary life of an admin. clip_image001

I’ve been through some fits and fats through my life, bouncing between 15 stone (when I was doing applications packaging in 2001) and 10.5 stone when I got married a few years ago. Recently I’ve also seen that all the travelling evangelists do combined with a time sucking (yet wonderful) 10 month old baby, I’ve just not been able to pay much attention to my weight. Obviously it’s gone up.

I hit 13 stone and the alarm bells went off.

Time to make a change. I decided to start eating better again, aiming for about 1500 cals max per day, which for my lifestyle seems to mean a little weight loss. A few years ago I read Tim Ferris’ 4 hour body and most things, especially the “slow carb” diet seem to work for me, so I’m back on that. Tim’s book make me much more interested in monitoring things, my intake etc. So I started looking around for a way to do just that.

The FitBit Flex was the bit of gadgetry I decided to start with.

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The FitBit flex is a silicone strap that sits around my wrist and uses an accelerometer type sensor to measure movement. It typically counts the number of steps I take in a day, it synchronised back to my PC using a little tiny nano USB transmitter (which I think is a BlueTooth 4.0 radio in disguise). I wear the fit bit all the time, its shower proof so I really don’t ever take it off.

The birth of my daughter 10 months ago has led to the same thing that it leads to with everyone, sleep deprivation. I’m obviously wearing the FitBit overnight too and it tracks my sleep too, which has become very interesting to watch. I really don’t find the FitBit to be in the way at all, in fact I barely ever notice it.

Battery

The FitBit is obviously an electronic device and it needs charging. Every week or so I take it off for about an hour or so, pop it out of its silicone wrist band and drop it into its USB charging cradle. Then I pop it on and keep doing stuff. I’m fairly careful that I charge the device when I’m not doing something, i.e. when I’m sat at my desk writing emails or some other non-strenuous activity. If I forget to charge it, which I‘ve done a few times, then I get an email letting me know that my battery is running low. That’s normally enough of a reminder to know that I need to take action.

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SaaS

Aside from email reminders there’s a really good service behind FitBit as well. All my activity and sleep is synced via my PC to the cloud and used by the FitBit service to show me info through a nice dashboard. From the website I can access charts of my activity and get a rough idea of how many calories I’m using up. I can also track the food I’m eating and plan meals and I don’t have to just type in the nutritional information from food, most things I eat are already added by other people.

I can also watch my sleep patterns, which as I mentioned early has become very interesting – I’d go as far as to say it’s become the most interesting part. I can see that my wife getting up to get our daughter back to sleep wakes me on average about 3 to 4 times a night – that’s kind of obvious. What’s really surprising is the effect that food has on my sleep. Food with high salt content – a take away curry for example – hit’s my sleep hard. The last time I had taken away curry I woke up 19 times in one night! Take away pizza resulted in 11 wake ups. Amazingly eye opening.

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You might be wondering how the FitBit knows I’m awake or asleep. The answer is that I tell the FitBit when I’m going to sleep by tapping it for 2 seconds (or retrospectively through the website), then it knows I’m awake – even when I don’t know I am – because it spots the movement.

I don’t just have to use the website, there are also Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps that I use to keep track of my progress.

Accuracy

I was also wondering how accurate the thing is at keeping track of my movements, are the 10,000 steps a day goals really being achieved with 10,000 steps? I had planned to make this the “why it’s good for IT guys” part of the post by walking around a data centre, a really, really big data centre but unfortunately no one would let me in.

Not letting a guy into the data centre to walk around it with a pedometer is though a pretty good thing. It’s a pretty weak excuse for needing access to a data centre so you can rest assured that your holsters are taking physical security seriously. Of course they probably would let you take a tour if you were a prospective customer, as you’d expect, but they probably wouldn’t let you walk up and down the hot and cold racks data isles of the shop.

I then decided to breakout my pedometer in London when I popped to GigaOm Structure Europe last week. Going into London from Reading is a great way to get my steps in and hit the 10,000 step target on my FitBit by about 2pm every time triggering a little vibration to let me know. Comparing this with a pedometer I found the FitBit flex generally aired on the side of caution, I’d done about 11,000 steps when FitBit said 10,000 – this I prefer to an under estimate.

Summary

I’m really liking my FitBit Flex, it’s making me think about doing my steps every day – in fact I have a goal to get out and do them at the end of the day if I haven’t already. I also like that it’s making me watch what I eat before bed so I can make the most of my limited night’s sleep. Is it a gadget of the IT guy? I think so, it’s doing good things for this IT guy.