Saturday, October 25, 2014

A fitness band update–Fitbit Flex vs Sony Smartband


I am a lucky girl, really I am. I was given a Fitbit Flex to try to compare with the Sony Smartband I’ve been using. They both essentially do the same thing – measure sleep patterns, record steps and have some software to help you keep track of it all. They’re both around the same price. You can get the Sony Smartband here and the Fitbit Flex here.

Style and comfort

There’s not a lot in it, they are both lightweight and they both have rubber wrist straps and a similar fastening. The Fitbit Flex wins out in comfort – it’s slightly smaller, you can wear it in the shower without worrying about it and it buzzes to tell you when you’ve hit your 10,000 step goal without having to synch to the app.


They both have a battery life of about 5 days. Charging the Sony Smartband is easy – it takes the same kind of connector as any smartphone so it works with any phone charger. The Fitbit Flex, in order to keep it waterproof I guess, has a special casing to put it in to then plug into your computer or a plug. That adaptor will be very easy to lose as it’s small and a bit fiddly. I did buy an additional adaptor to keep at my Mum’s house so that I can keep the one at home, at home and in the same place all the time.

The strap clasp on the Fitbit Flex is more fiddly than the Sony Smartband. That means it’s not going to come off easily, but it also means if you lack manual dexterity, you will struggle to get it on and off. That rules it out for elderly people. Equally, having to place the Flex device into the special charging adaptor is also a bit fiddly if you’re not as good with your hands as you used to be.

The Sony Smartband can be set up to do other things with your device, but I didn’t set it up that way. I would never remember what you’d have to do to use it. And it’s not a big deal to get my phone or tablet out to move to the next track on my MP3 player, for example.

The Fitbit Flex has a very nice feature where you can tap the light bar to see how near (or not) you are to reaching your step goal. I found that useful. Even more useful would be a watch and/or timer but I guess that’s coming with the next iteration.

Step counting

I wore both bands for a couple of weeks to see how closely (or not) they matched on step count. I wore them on the same wrist so that they were registering the same movements with that arm. They came out differently. The Sony Smartband routinely came out at a significantly higher step count than the Flex – like a 15 to 20% difference. That’s quite a lot. My conclusion is that neither is probably recording terribly accurately so to use the step count as a guide rather than a fact. And the fact that the Fitbit comes in at a lower count means you have to move a bit more to reach the goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Annoyingly on both devices, neither registers a step count when you’re cycling on a fixed cycle in the gym. And on the treadmill, you need to be using it with your hands moving rather than on the rail, otherwise your steps won’t be counted. The steps are more based on arm movement than they are on leg movement. This also means you can up your step count by moving your arms around from your arm chair. And I admit, I have done this to get to my 10,000 when I was close to it! Dancing and marching or running on the spot also works for step count as long as you move your arms.


The Fitbit Flex has the edge for me on the software now because I can link the app to MyFitnessPal which is where I’m recording what I eat. I am sort of interested in the calorie counting, but what I like most about MyFitnessPal is the nutritional value. This is of much more interest – it helps me see if I’m lacking in iron or a particular vitamin, or if I’m over my carbohydrate goal for the day. I find that much more useful than calories per se. The Fitbit Flex does have its own food diary element, but I much prefer MyFitnessPal and connecting that up to the app.

I haven’t yet explored the online community for Fitbit Flex. There are all kinds of challenges, tips for exercise and more. Right now, I’m happy with how I’m using it and I think delving more into the online stuff would be a distraction until I am set in my new patterns.

Sleep Patterns

Neither is perfect on this. With the Sony Smartband, you set the time you typically go to bed and the time you want the alarm to go off and it calculates your sleep quality based on those times – even if they weren’t the times you actually went to bed. I never quite got the hang of turning it from day to night mode.

With the Fitness Flex, you tell the app when you went to sleep and when you woke up and it makes the analysis from that. I’m not sure it’s giving me more insight, but at least there’s a record there.


Neither is perfect. And because of that, I can’t say one is better than the other. They’re both flawed.

The Sony Smartband allegedly uses NFC or bluetooth to synchronise. Except, I couldn’t get the NFC element to work consistently. I also had to download two other apps to get the smartband synching properly and that seems excessive. The bluetooth synching did work, but not consistently. It took too long to synch most of the time, and in retrospect, that was a waste of my time.

The Fitbit Flex uses bluetooth to synch and when it works, it works really well. The trouble is, the Fitbit system is very often down for maintenance. Also, your back data isn’t stored locally so you can’t see it offline. That seems a bit daft to me.


One of the things that made a difference to me in terms of my own health and fitness was the ‘add your friends’ feature on Fitbit Flex. This means I can see how a couple of my close friends are doing in their weekly step challenge. I didn’t want to be shown up, so it did get me moving to keep up with them. And that has been a very good thing. If you’d said to me that the competitive element would be attractive to me, I’d have said no, not at all. But I’ve actually found it useful and relevant. It’s about giving me a benchmark to work from and to see others like me and what they’re achieving.

The other impact this process has had is that I’m paying much more attention to my diet, I’m paying much more attention to how much I’m moving and I’ve rejoined the gym. I don’t suppose I’m ever going to have six pack, but if I can stave off future ill-health by working on my fitness now, then that’s great. A friend turned me on to the Julia Buckley book ‘The Fat Burn Revolution’. I’m not one for fitness books, but I’m enjoying this one and it has helped me rethink how I structure my exercise regime and what it’s actually doing for me. It’s very readable, the exercises are doable and Julia has a very down to earth approach which appeals to me.

So, if I had to choose one over the other, it would be the Fitbit Flex.

Will I still be using this device in three month’s time? Honestly, I have no idea. But I think maybe I will.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A short history of proximity marketing

A couple of months back, I took part in Mobile Marketing Magazine’s Making Sense of Proximity Marketing event. Some of you reading this will know that I first got into mobile marketing by way of joining a start-up called ZagMe back in 2000, with Russell Buckley, where we sent promotional text messages to shoppers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls (two of the largest malls in Europe at the time). In this video interview, I explain how ZagMe worked and what I learnt in the process and how it applies to our current world of proximity marketing.

If you’re interested to know more about ZagMe, what worked, what didn’t and best practice recommendations, download Russell’s free white paper here. It was written 10 years ago, but it’s still relevant.

There are also more videos from the event from some of the other speakers which include some useful case studies if you’re looking at implementing beacons, indoor GPS, local couponing or other location based initiatives, these videos may prove useful.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dear Mary Portas…

I had a bit of a rant on Facebook earlier today when grappling with Mary Portas’ latest report on the High Street – essentially an update on her Portas Review from a couple of years ago. She states that digital is one of the solutions to keeping our High Streets alive. There is some irony around her championing digital as part of the solution but then having a 40+ page document pretty much unreadable in a digital format. Suffice to say, I haven’t managed to read much further as I’ll have to print the document to read it properly. If someone else has read it, feel free to share the key points here!

You can read the full post here. The comments are also pertinent about why our High Streets are still important (or not). Feel free to add your point of view.

Download the free Mary Portas ‘Why our High Streets still matter’ report here (links straight to the pdf).

Download the original Portas Review here (links straight to the pdf).

Wearables–Part 2–What about the data?

sony smartbandWearing the Sony Smartband more or less every day for the last 5 or 6 weeks has got me thinking about wearables. It’s a constant reminder that my data – my activity levels (or lack thereof), my location, my sleep patterns, and more, are being tracked by this tiny little device. I’m trusting that Sony hasn’t included any backdoor into this and is tracking anything other than what they say they’re tracking, but they could be. And there are more sophisticated devices tracking body temperature, your pulse rate and lots more besides.

To have any utility for the Lifelog application, you have to upload your data and all of this is being stored and managed in the cloud. That means Sony knows a lot about us. And Sony is fairly new to this game – think about how much data there is courtesy of the Nike Fuelband or the Jawbone devices that are already popular and out there.

I’m not even sure what terms and conditions I’ve accepted with regards to using this device or whether it’s even possible to use the device and monitor all this activity at a local level. I’m surprised at my own ambivalence about the data privacy aspect. This is very personal health and wellness data being collected and is in the hands of corporate servers, outside of the UK and probably outside of the EU (I’m guessing the US, but I have no idea). Am I placing too much trust in Sony to keep this data safe and secure? Do they even know what they’re doing with it? I can only see some of the data as I can’t extract it to use or visualise it anywhere else. And I actually don’t know what is being collected or saved at the server level.

So three hypothetical scenarios are running through my head -

1. What if a rogue Sony employee or corporate spy were to hack into the system and extract my data? What’s the worst they could do with it? Would that impact on my life? Does it matter? In what cases does it matter?

2. What if the government got hold of the data? Would it affect my chances of getting access to specific healthcare? Would it improve or worsen the healthcare in my local area? What’s the worst that could happen if the government got hold of the data?

3. What if AN other big business got hold of the data (say through a partner data-sharing agreement)? If it’s a marketing company, how would that affect the adverts that I see or how I get communicated with? What assumptions (right or wrong) could or would be made? What if an insurance company got hold of it? Would they withhold insurance from me? Would it affect the pricing of personal health insurance?

In the first scenario, I’m not sure what the worst is that they could do except sell the data to the government or to a big business. And in the latter two scenarios, there are pros and cons of large organisations having access to this data.

The trouble is, life is complicated enough already. I have a hard time keeping up with daily life as it is. Do I want the added responsibility of having to keep up with my data life as well. Yes, I am bothered about who has my data and what they use it for. But the practicality of the matter is that I probably don’t have the time to do much about it unless there’s a crisis. By which time, it will probably be too late.

What are your thoughts on this?

Want to read my review of the smartband? You can do that here: Wearables Part 1 – Sony Smartband review

Wearables–The Sony Smartband–Part 1

sony smartbandI don’t normally get round to doing reviews, but I’m going to make an exception today as I think it will give some insight into product and service development and how important it is to be thinking about your consumer.

I spoke recently at an event at LBi in London. As a thank you, I was given a Sony Smartband, one of these. I’m not one for gadgets. This is my first so-called wearable. A wearable fitness band wasn’t even on my wish list, but since I’d been given it as a gift, I thought I’d give it a go. I was also given this just before heading off to Glastonbury Festival so I thought it might be interesting to know about how much walking I actually do there (it’s a lot!) and compare that with my normal life.

It’s one of the less expensive wearables. It uses a normal micro usb port to charge it up so I can use one of the myriad chargers I have and it’s light and relatively comfortable to wear. It does look odd though as it’s just a black band. I’d like it better if it also had a watch face on it – digital or analogue, I don’t mind. But something that would give it a more regular purpose than simply being on my wrist would be helpful.
Allegedly, this band uses NFC as one of the mechanisms to update the proprietary software – Lifelog. Despite having a lovely Google Nexus 7 tablet, I couldn’t get it to work consistently so I use the low-powered Bluetooth instead. It’s not perfect, it takes a little while to update and a few refreshes, but it gets there eventually. It also means I don’t have to actually have the two devices touching in order to get them to sync up. The touching thing is not terribly convenient when one is in a wristband and the other is in a hard case.

Because the device doesn’t have a screen, I’m sure I don’t use all the functionality correctly. I sync it, I charge it up and that’s about it. I don’t have the patience to be fiddling with the button presses – press once for this, press twice for that – and remembering what that actually means. So I have it on the same mode all the time and I have it on automatic nightmode. I really wanted it to just, you know, work. Is that too much to ask?

I’m still wearing the device, although I’m not entirely sure why as I don’t love it. Here’s why I don’t love it…
The alarm is really annoying. The idea is that the band will wake you up between a certain time interval at the point where you are sleeping the most lightly so it doesn’t come as a shock to the system. Except that the buzzing alert feels like a small electric shock to me and it’s so horrid, that I switch it off as quickly as possible and go straight back to sleep! Something that started more gently and rose in intensity would be much better. The vibration thing is just a bit too harsh. That was disappointing. I had high hopes of being woken up gently and feeling refreshed! Tis not to be.

I don’t know when the battery is running down. I think it’s supposed to emit a light, but if/when it does, I haven’t noticed it. So the device has run down its battery on a few occasions which means I’ve skipped some meaningful days of data when I actually was doing a lot of walking or exercise or whatever. Maybe a visual alert on my tablet would be more useful. Or, you know, if it was also a watch (even a really simple one), it could show me something there.

The nightmode is weird. I’ve managed to switch it on at times when it’s not night (I don’t know what I did) and other times, it hasn’t kicked in. Your sleep is only measured when it’s in nightmode so if you’ve had a very late night, and you’re still dancing in your nightmode hours, those steps aren’t being counted. And then when you sleep your day away, your sleep pattern isn’t measured. I’m sure there is a way to switch it on and off but I haven’t worked out or remembered how to do that.

The Lifelog app is a bit rubbish. Yes, I can see some nice graphs of how many steps I’ve taken by day, week or month, but there’s no context to it. I can’t annotate the data, e.g. adding a location – Glastonbury Festival, or my Mum’s house. And I can’t extract the data either. And it doesn’t link in with any other apps such as myfitnesspal, which  I might use more if they synched with each other. And I can’t keep the lifelog app on for any length of time as it’s a massive battery drain so I only monitor activity on the smartband (you can also monitor your online activity).

There’s also no real meaning… what does it mean if I’ve done 5000 steps or not. Should I be doing more? If I do less, what’s the consequence? How does this compare with other women of my same build, height, weight and age?

The good thing is that I now know what 5000 steps looks like (it’s basically a walk to my local supermarket and back). I also know that I spend a large proportion of my time sat at my desk. And my sleep isn’t as good quality as I thought it was.

So maybe it has its uses. And I am still wearing it, so at some level, I must be getting something out of it otherwise I wouldn’t bother at all. But would I pay £70 or so for it, nope. And why would you when the new Xiaomi Mi Band is just £8 for more or less the same functionality and a 30-day battery life? Oh, and it’s prettier than the Sony Smartband too.

Read Wearables Part 2 - What about the data? 

When not to have a meeting

I met Hugh MacLeod many years ago at London Geek Dinners when he was living in London and just getting into the whole social media thing. I have one of his limited edition posters too from his time at Stormhoek wine. More recently, I’ve signed up to his Gapingvoid newsletter. Yes, it serves to promote his artwork and business services that are both for sale, but I really enjoy the pithy commentary and the cartoons that he shares. It’s one of the few newsletters that has escaped And today’s really struck a chord with me. It’s about when not to have a meeting.

  • there's no clear solution and the problem requires speed, not consensus
  • more than half the people in the meeting will end up spending most of it playing with their phones
  • no one is leading the meeting
  • no one knows the agenda
  • there aren't enough constraints
  • you're holding the meeting just because you've always held a meeting at this time
  • most people are in it for the snacks
  • you don't really need anyone else's ideas i.e., it's not for brainstorming
  • you're facing down a dragon

These are all good tips for when not to have in-company meetings. And even for one-to-one meetings, or ‘catch-ups’, I think it’s clear to know the agenda – i.e. what’s in it for either party. Sure, it’s nice to catch up now and then, and that can be reason enough (as long as that’s clear), but if you have a lot of contacts (and some of us have met a lot of people along the way), catching-up with even 5% of them is simply not feasible. So next time you think you need a meeting, think on whether you really need a meeting or not!

Source: Gapingvoid newsletter