Nike+ FuelBand vs Fitbit Tracking: Are they the same?


Gary and I were inspired to start looking into activity tracker data by James Wolcott’s comment in his recent Vanity Fair Story:

According to Fitbit, I took 7,116 steps on November 27; Jawbone has me at 2,192, a bit of a discrepancy. I prefer to believe Fitbit’s higher tally is the correct one, because that is the cotton-candy cloud on which I dwell, but perhaps I’m fooling myself and Jawbone has me accurately pegged as a potted fern. Further testing is clearly indicated, as they say in those clinical trials.

Wolcott is talking about the Jawbone Up. Neither of us own a Jawbone UP (yet), but we were nonetheless curious: do common activity trackers agree? We know that this could be studied rigorously, but the first step is just to find out what happens in our own real use. Gary had a Fuelband, I had a Fitbit. Each of us bought the one we were missing. We focused mostly on step counts as this is one of the most common metrics that activity trackers provide.

NIke+ FuelbandWhat did I do? I started wearing both the FuelBand and the Fitbit (the Ultra model) on the morning of January 10th and for the next seven days they were integrated into my daily life. . I attempted to make sure that I was acting as I normally would, nothing out of the ordinary. You’ll see below, this include a wide variety of activities and levels of activities.

How did I do it? This was the simple part. I just wore the devices like you’re supposed to. The FuelBand took the place of my watch on my non-dominant wrist and the Fitbit kept it’s place on the waistband of my jeans or shorts. I put them on in the morning and took them off at night. I tried to make sure that they were always worn together so when one came off for any reason (changing clothes, showers, etc.) the other was also taken off.

What did I learn? Here’s a quick chart that illustrates my daily step totals from both devices.

Fuelband_Fitbit_Step_DataAs you can see here the FuelBand the Fitbit devices were in very close agreement across six of the seven days I wore them together. A closer look at the data indicated that at worst the difference  was 1493 steps (January 10th, a very inactive day).  The closest match between the devices was on a my most active day (that included a 10-mile run) with a difference of only 56 steps.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the data from both these devices were roughly the same.  Now, it takes some explaining here to understand why that’s surprising to me. I’ve been using accelerometers, which are the basis for both these devices, in my research and daily life for years. I’ve always been wary of wrist-worn activity tracking like that used by the FuelBand. Something about it just doesn’t seem right. I know machine learning and pattern recognition algorithms are getting better, but wrist/arm movement doesn’t always match up with leg movement, at least in my head. This short real-world test has shifted that thinking for me.

What’s next? Come back soon to hear about Gary’s experience, which was very different. If you’ve compared two different activity trackers, please let us know in the comments.


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23 Responses to Nike+ FuelBand vs Fitbit Tracking: Are they the same?

  1. I’m wearing both devices simultaneously since October 2012 (though I wear the Fuelband on the wrist of my active arm, so that might be a problem. I seem to have missed the memo in the manual of the Fuelband ;-) ). Let me post my step data for the same days.

    Date; Steps Fuelband; Steps Fitbit
    1/10/2013; 18328; 20387
    1/11/2013; 6269; 6300
    1/12/2013; 3415; 3394
    1/13/2013; 6307; 6277
    1/14/2013; 11016; 11652
    1/15/2013; 10039; 10076
    1/16/2013; 16252; 15659

    I haven’t looked into the data more closely but as a gut feeling I’d say that in general the Fitbit has slightly higher step counts, especially for active days that include faster walking/running. It seems that either the Fitbit counts too many steps or the Fuelband counts not enough steps on those days. Also without proof: I have the feeling that the recent firmware updates for the Fuelband have changed the behavior of the step tracking, thus making the Fuelband steps resemble the Fitbit ones more closely.

    • Ernesto Ramirez says:

      Thanks for sharing Bastian. This is great!

    • Anneck (@anneck) says:

      Your experience matches mine; here’s a sample day of three devices put on simultaneously and worn all day:

      Fitbit 16587
      FuelBand 16293
      Omron pedometer 14775

      Fitbit was usually slightly above FuelBand, and both were always greater than the pedometer when all three devices were worn.

      I too noticed a change in the Nike tracking after the firmware upgrade — it was taking me longer to get to my goal for the day (without any activity change of course!)

    • Bjorn says:

      Well, if you would compare the calories would be a better example, cause the Fuelband is not really made to count steps (not very accurate, just a plus for the device). I assume that the Fitbit could be more accurate by the steps, but I also hear about it for the first time.

  2. Dear Ernesto,
    I am planning to do the same research, but additionally I will also use a GPS tracker, to see what that is adding. This for my master research at the University of Amsterdam, Information Science. I am very curious about your used literature and experiment. Do you mind sending me that?

  3. Mario says:

    The author of the Vanity Fair article says he wears the fitbit on his right wrist and the jawbone up on the left.
    Assuming he is right handed I think that is normal that the fitbit tracks more activity.

    • Ernesto Ramirez says:

      I just read the article again, and you’re right Mario. The Fitbit isn’t intended to be worn on the wrist for normal activity tracking. They use the wrist for sleep tracking. Now I’m left wondering if that’s the reason there was a such a discrepancy in his step counts!

  4. Hi.

    I am using the Fitbit One and for awhile I was using my iPhone with Motion X Sleep and a new pedometer app called Moving.

    The Fitbit counted more steps than both apps, but the numbers were close.
    Common sense tells me that there has to be a difference in the accuracy between a wrist device and a clip on device.

    Motion X Sleep was closer to the Fitbit.

    I will say that the dedicated pedometer motivates to stay more active than apps, even thought Motion X Sleep sends idle alerts after you are inactive for an hour to remind to get up walk.

    This may not be the place,but I hope Fitbit implements an inactivity alert option in a future hardware update.

    Thank you!

    • Ernesto Ramirez says:

      Thanks for sharing Michael!

      I wanted to clarify, but were you using two different step-tracking apps on your iphone? This is interesting to me as most people’s phones move around during the day (pocket, hand, desk, etc.), but the Fitbit usually stays attached at one spot. It’s very interesting to see that they were similar.

      I’m all for inactivity notifications! I hope all the different monitors integrate tools to help people move all day.

      • I actually kept my phone in my pocket. There are a few glitches with smart phone tracking, in particular the iPhone… Accurate tracking will depend on memory usage at times. If your phone is “bogged down” with memory intense apps while the pedometer app is running the memory usage may cause the app to stop tracking at some points until the resources are free.

        I think standalone devices prevent that type of problem.

        I would suspect that the calculations used to determine the end user’s stride is going to vary from one manufacturer to another.

        I have to think that how Nike measures the average 6’2″ male stride is different than Fitbit.

        Who or what data is the model based on?

  5. Gustavo says:

    I used to use a simple mechanical pedometer. I call it mechanical since it has a moving piece inside, which activates the electronic counter while walking. Early on, the pedometer’s clip broke, so I just stashed it in my pocket every morning.

    At some point, a friend gave me for a couple of days her pedometer, of the exact same model. I used both for a quick comparison, to test whether they gave the same measurement, one being clipped at the waist, the other in the pocket. Results: roughly the same counts, but the one at the waist miscounted steps a sitting bus ride (as it was still in the proper vertical position) while the one in the pocket didn’t count any (as it was horizontal and thus couldn’t count). I concluded that the pocket location was slightly more accurate than the (recommended) waist location.

    After two and a half years, the mechanical pedometer started malfunctioning, so I replaced it with an Omron HJ-321. Again I wore both for comparison, and the results were quite equivalent, except the Omron counts fewer steps when I’m relatively inactive. It seems to have a minimum of 7 steps: fewer than that are simply not recorded. This affects step counts while at home. Now, after half a year using it, I can clearly see in my graph that, when compared to the equivalent period last year, my daily step counts are the same for weekdays (walking to/from the bus is the largest, fixed component) but much reduced for weekends. I used to record 4000-6000 steps/day on weekends, but these days it’s typically 1000-3000.

    • Ernesto Ramirez says:

      Hi Gustavo

      Thanks for sharing your insights into the differences you’ve found. This is really interesting and might be a function of the mechanical pedometer and it’s inherent weakness for measuring steps when “out of position”. Most accelerometers and pedometers also have a rough time with discerning between driving and actual walking. A recent 100-mile drive gave me about 350 steps for the FuelBand and about 40 steps for the Fitbit. I wonder if advances in pattern recognition will be able to detect driving and other types of transportation. Maybe integrating GPS and other sensors will help?

  6. Shyam Patel says:

    I have been tracking the results of the Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Nike FuelBand and the BodyMedia LINK for 28 days you see the results of my analysis here: – I got much larger discrepancies, but I ultimately think the FitBit One is more accurate.

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  8. I’ve been using both devices since August and your post inspired me to run a few calculations of my own here: Like Bastian, I’m fairly consistently getting higher step counts from the Fitbit than from the FuelBand. I recently got a One, and this pattern seems to have continued.

  9. Rick Meider says:

    Accurately tracking steps is a very small element in addressing the larger problem and goal of both fitness and wellness platforms. Tracking personal health is only one component of achieving your goals….whether you are in the category Fitness for measuring your performance-distance ran/walk or the very different category of Wellness, where the goal is to track your weight loss.

    Offering a few observations. Having extensively researched and built a corporate wellness platform solution, we learned and validated well documented wellness research (WELCOA, Journal of Public Health, Obesity, Towers Watson, Bucks) in addressing the fundamental problem of positive outcomes in the adoption and success of wellness models…”behavioral modification”.Perhaps the most difficult and elusive challenge to mankind. (whether smoking cessation; stress management; weight loss; alcoholism; etc.)

    1) Current trackers in the consumer market place will always have a market that parallels the enrollment and use case of fitness centers in January. Meaning, most trackers targeting wellness end up in the junk drawer after a period of time due to our own intrinsic behavior.

    2) Combining financial incentives with social networking, coaching, gaming, caloric monitoring, graphical trending, produced the best weight loss outcome. This was validated in a RCT clinical trial that included a tracker with blood draws every 2 months.

    3) However, sustainability of any wellness program is the key element or “behavior modification” (program adoption-year one – 40% leading to less than 10% – year two.

    4) A combination of altruism, social and financial, incentive will be moving towards penalties as the employer and our health care system will not tolerate the continuing vector of health care costs.

    5) Extrinsic motivation must be driven, by any and all means, to Intrinsic self motivation.Again..embracing and recognizing we are addressing behavioral modification. Technology (trackers and or apps) are merely a tool to aid in self motivation….not the single or best answer. We must weave the psychological element into the tracking or sensoring of behavior modification.

    6) No silver bullet solution…but we must continue to strive towards sustainable engagement that compliments positive outcomes.

    • Alex says:

      Although you do make some very valid points that I totally agree with, I do believe that trackers and other such gadgets play a very crucial role in that they raise awareness. Becoming aware of what we are consuming and what exercise we are truly getting can be a very powerful motivating tool. What was before abstract and fuzzy (who really knew how many calories they were burning or consuming before trackers came about?) is now clearly defined and measured and that can lead to significant behavioral changes.

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