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Fitbit One review: Discreet step tracking away from the wrist

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
80
inc VAT

Discreet fitness trackers aren’t in fashion nowadays, but there’s still a place for the elderly Fitbit One

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Most fitness trackers are worn on the wrist, but it wasn’t always that way. The original Fitbit was designed to be worn around the waist, directly in contact with the legs it was so keen on tracking. While all the attention is rightly on Fitbit’s more expensive wrist-based models – the Charge 2, Alta and Blaze – it is still possible to buy a clip-on Fitbit in 2016: the Fitbit One. Is it worth it? Let’s take a look.

Fitbit One: Design

As you may have noticed, the Fitbit One is quite long in the tooth now, first emerging in 2013. Barring the Tamagotchi-like Fitbit Zip, it’s the oldest surviving member of the Fitbit clan.

Because of this, years before a review model showed up on my desk, I had about 18 months worth of experience with the Fitbit One. I’m well aware of its strengths and weaknesses – and the main weakness surrounds the circumstances in which I stopped wearing one: it was lost on a night out somewhere in East London. Clip-on fitness trackers are just harder to keep track of, and what’s more, because they clip onto your clothes, they’re also extremely easy to send through the washing machine.

The flipside of this, for the organised at least, is that it’s still the most discreet Fitbit around. Fitness trackers have become significantly more ostentatious over the years – as much a fashion statement as an analytics tool – and if you’re not fully on board with this, then the Fitbit One is a great alternative. Just tuck it into your waistband and nobody is any the wiser that you’re monitoring your daily strolls.

Actually, you can’t just tuck it in: the Fitbit brain itself is a slippery, rounded plastic rectangle, a little smaller than a USB thumb drive. It’s quite a bit bigger than later Fitbit models, which is no surprise given the advancement in battery technology we’ve had in the intervening years.

So, to hold things in place, the Fitbit One ships with a rubbery sheath with a stiff metal clip built into it. These come in two colours: black or burgundy, but neither are designed to be seen. The sheath has been designed in such a way that data can be read directly from the device, without having to sync with the accompanying app, with a gap for the screen left in the front. Despite this, the sheath securely holds the device in place, with no risk of it coming loose.

This approach to fitness tracking gets a bit fiddly if you want to use the device’s built-in sleep tracking. While I would sometimes wear it to bed tucked into the waistband of my boxer shorts, the official guidance it to pop it into the bundled fabric wristband. Whichever method you choose, you have to manually activate and deactivate sleep mode with a long press of the button on the front. Suffice it to say, I usually ended up forgetting this crucial step, rendering the sleep tracking all but useless to me. I much prefer later models’ ability to estimate sleep with no manual intervention.

Fitbit One: Performance and battery life

The Fitbit One functions just as well as its identically priced venerable cousin, the Fitbit Flex. In some respects it functions better. The Fitbit Flex’s lack of screen means you have to consult the app post-sync to keep tabs on your progress, while the Fitbit One lets you check at any time – provided you don’t mind being seen fiddling around with your waistband. Additionally, the Fitbit One uses a barometric altimeter to measure floors climbed, which is an especially rewarding metric to keep an eye on.

Elsewhere it’s business as usual: steps, calories and distance traveled are all estimated in the same way, although arguably with more accuracy, given the tracker is less likely to be thrown off by misreadings. (I’ve discovered that playing the drums would make wrist-bound Fitbits think I’d been out running, for example.)

That’s the limit of the Fitbit One’s abilities however. There’s no GPS, heart rate tracking – unsurprisingly given it’s worn nowhere it could record a pulse – and its screen shows no mobile notifications. It’s basic, but the upside is great battery life. The company estimates ten days, but I sometimes found it would go two weeks or more. Given that the average for other Fitbit devices is around the five day mark, that’s very good indeed.

It’s disappointing that the proprietary charger costs £17 to replace, though, and no, no other Fitbit cable will fit.

Fitbit One: Verdict

So is the Fitbit One still worth buying in 2016? That depends on a couple of things.

First, if you don’t want to advertise your fitness tracking, then your options are distinctly limited. It’s basically either this or the Misfit Shine 2. Pretty much every other major fitness tracker in 2016 is worn on the wrist, either discreetly or overtly.

If you’re not fussy, you then have to ask what you really want from a fitness tracker. The Fitbit One has no bells and whistles, just tracking steps, really. And if you’re interested in sleep tracking, it’s a lot more fiddly. Add to that the fact that it’s very easily misplaced or put through the washing machine, and you may decide – as I did when I lost mine – that a wrist-based wearable is a safer purchase.

This is especially clear when Fitbit is about to release a brand new Fitbit Flex – which has all the same features, better sleep tracking and is entirely swim proof – for the same price. Good as it is, unless you really do believe a fitness tracker should be hidden away, you’re probably better off getting one of its more modern cousins in 2016.