Fuelband vs Fitbit: Do They Agree on Steps?

We are not the only ones curious about whether our activity level looks different when seen with different trackers. Bastian Greshake, co-founder of OpenSNP.org, has been comparing his FuelBand and his Fitbit for months. Here’s what he found.

bastian greshakeInspired by Ernesto’s post I wanted to take a look at how my data for the Fitbit and the FuelBand compare to each other. I started wearing the FuelBand in October of last year. Since then it has only left my wrist to recharge the battery. I was already carrying a Fitbit Ultra, which I’ve had since May 2012. I wear the FuelBand on my dominant arm. The Fitbit is usually clipped to the pocket of my jeans and I have it on my non-dominant arm while sleeping. From my day-to-day experience I have a sense that FuelBand steps are  usually a good way below the Fitbit steps. But I also thought that the difference was getting smaller, probably due to firmware updates on the FuelBand.

Using the Fitbit-API (and it’s integration into openSNP) it’s quite easy to get a file that contains all step counts measured with the Ultra. If you have an openSNP account you can download the complete file, also including sleep data and body measurements here. Unfortunately the Nike+ API  isn’t ready yet, so one needs to manually scrape the data. As this is boring work that can’t easily be automated I only got FuelBand step data back to 2013/11/16. Still, that should be enough to get a first insight on how both devices compare.

The simplest way to compare both devices in terms of step count is to calculate the difference (steps counted by Fitbit) – (steps counted by FuelBand) for each day. Positive values show more steps counted on the Fitbit, negative values show more steps counted on the FuelBand. One problem in comparing arises if you frequently travel through time zones: While you can easily adjust the timezone using the FuelBand iOS application there’s no easy way to change the time zone on the Fitbit if you’re traveling. Thus I excluded all days where the Fitbit & FuelBand timezones don’t match up. After removing those data and calculating the differences this is what came up while graphing my data:

Fitbit vs Fuelband

For most of the days my initial feeling that the Fitbit tends to report larger step counts holds true, although there are also some cases where the FuelBand reported much higher step counts than the Fitbit. The largest difference goes up to 3126 more steps counted on the Fitbit, the smallest difference is 21 more steps counted on the FuelBand, so there is tremendous variation in how much the devices disagree. My feeling that the difference is getting smaller due to firmware updates on the end of the FuelBand seems to be untrue. (I couldn’t find any data on when the firmware updates where released. If you should happen to know them please let us know and we can investigate this further.)

Looking at the pattern above I came to the idea that the measured difference between the FuelBand and the Fitbit might be explained by how active I was on a given day. So I plotted the step counts for the Fitbit along in the same graph (divided by 10 to make the scale of the Y-axis look a bit nicer):

Fitbit vs Fuelband

While there are some outliers (especially to the beginning) it seems to me that activity is indeed one of the factors that influence on how close the step counts of the Fitbit and FuelBand will match. Days where the Fitbit measures lots of steps tend to be those where the FuelBand underestimates the step count in relation to the Fitbit. On days where the step count on the Fitbit is low the FuelBand often overestimates the step count in relation to the Fitbit. To check this, I looked at a similar graph using Fuelband steps as my activity measure: the pattern is the same.

My guess is that these differences arise from both the algorithms used to calculate steps and the difference in where the devices are worn. On days that I walk less, the FuelBand may inflate the step count due to wrist movements. On days that I walk a lot, the FuelBand count could be falsely low because I’m wearing it on the wrist and steps may not be detected. Also, the FuelBand seems to differentiate between steps and other movements, so it may be that the FuelBand sees the activity but does sometimes mistakes it for something other than steps.

You are invited to play along.

Basic step data is here: fitbit vs fuelband.

If you want stairs climbed, sleep, etc., in csv format, look here: more Fitbit data.

Thanks very much Bastian. We invite anybody to share what they learn from their own experiments.

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9 Responses to Fuelband vs Fitbit: Do They Agree on Steps?

  1. Pingback: Fitbit vs FuelBand « AJ@QS

  2. Hey Bastian, I just posted a similar note on Ernesto’s post, but wanted to follow-up here as well. After seeing your two posts, I decided to test my results with the two devices going back to August. I similarly found that my Fitbit was fairly consistently counting a higher number of steps. I’ve posted my findings here: http://ajaqs.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/fitbit-vs-fuelband/

  3. Bastian – many thanks for pointing out the existence of API’s for the Fitbit and (soon) for Nike+ devices. This knowledge is bound to be helpful as I try to quantify the volume of data that these and other devices will create. Keep going!

  4. Pingback: Clues for Quantifying Mobile Data Volumes | When This Clicks

  5. John Breininger says:

    I only have the Nike Fuelband but I have been comparing to a decent pedometer and have found the Fuelband can be up to 40% low compared to the pedometer. The greatest gaps occur on my walks which are 3-5 miles range. A 5 mile walk for me is approx. 10,000 steps which is what the pedometer will show, while the Fuelband is 6000-7000 range.

    It is more accurate (i.e. closer to pedometer reading) on days were I don’t go on an extended walk. In fact sometimes showing more steps.

    I have also noticed since the last firmware update on the Fuelband a few weeks ago it is more accurate.

  6. Pingback: Accuracy vs. Precision in Today’s Devices

  7. Delaware Deb says:

    My friend and I have been doing daily walks while on vacation. I wear the fuel band, she wears the fit bit. Four days running our 60 minute, good-paced beach walks have yielded about 6000 steps for me (fuel band) while hers have yielded about 8000 steps (fit bit). Same walk, similar body height / weight, similar strides. Curious as to whose is “right”.

  8. Jack in NH says:

    Great blog, thanks. I have nikefuelband and my wife has fitbit and I’m always well under her steps. As others have noted, when walking long distances, the fuelband seems to under count. I don’t expect to be the same as my shorter-legged wife but somewhere within the ballpark would be good!

    I tried a slightly different approach. I checked the steps on my fuelband, walked 100 steps, check again and did the math. I got … 55 steps. I did it again and got 57 steps. It is almost like it is counting two legged steps instead of single strides. I hiked up a hill and counted and pretty much got 40% of the steps I actually hiked. I hiked down and got about 60% of the number of steps actually done.

    I don’t have an answer except to say that there doesn’t appear to be an agreed to standard to measure these things by except for a true pedometer.

  9. I am late to this thread, but my Fuelband both records less steps, yet if I am very intense in my primary form of exercise — using handweights while bouncing up and down on a high-grade German built Bellicon rebounder or mini-trampoline — and exert a lot of effort, my FuelBand perks way up compared to the FitBit. That is, actual intensity of exertion seems to be better measured by the FuelBand. All of which is a lost cause, since the FuelBand isn’t made any more, but there it is.

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