For the past several months, I’ve worn a Fitbit Sense smartwatch/fitness band ($228 at Amazon) to track my exercise routine, pulse, breathing rate, skin temperature, oxygen saturation at bedtime, and “stress level.” resting heart rate and heart
Rate Variability (HRV). That last metric reflects the variation in time between heartbeats, and according to Fitbit, “a higher HRV is associated with better health.” Like the Apple Watch, Sense can also be used to check for irregular heartbeats via the EKG (electrocardiogram) function.
The Sense has a 1.6-inch square color screen, which is big enough for my aging eyes to see at a glance. I think it’s a good size even for people (like me) with relatively small wrists, but some people prefer smaller bands, and there are certainly many people looking for more affordable fitness bands.
Enter the Lux, Fitbit’s latest fitness band, which measures .7 inches wide by 1.4 inches long and .4 inches thick, selling for about $149. Fitbit touts Lux as “the new fashion-forward health and wellness tracker,” but fashion is in the eye of the beholder. Its small size makes it less intrusive than larger trackers and smartwatches, but it’s still an electronic device, not a piece of fine jewelry, which is true of nearly all electronic products. The sample sent to me comes with a generic black band, but for about the same price, you can get it in “lunar white” and orchid (pink) or you can buy a gold stainless steel Parker Link bracelet from Jewelry for $50 can pay more. Brand Gorjana, there are other bands available that can dress it up even more.
Although it’s billed as a fitness tracker and not a “smartwatch” like My Sense and Fitbit’s Versa 3 and Versa 2, it does have some of the features you’d find in a smartwatch, including calls, texts, and smartphones. Notifications, silent alarms, and a timer and stopwatch are included. . As a fitness device, it tracks your heart rate 24/7, displaying speed and distance during walks, jogs, hikes and bike rides if paired with your smartphone (its own GPS and tracks and reports your steps and physical energy expended. It displays a “stress management score” via a Fitbit smartphone app that tracks physical signs of stress with a score of 1 to 100. I have this feature on my senses and don’t pay too much attention to it because it doesn’t match well with my own understanding of my own stress level. If you wear it to bed, it gives you a sleep score and tracks your sleep stages (light, deep and REM sleep).
Not that we’re competing, but my wife, Patti, who is wearing the new Luxe, got a score of 80 last night while I beat her to 81 with my Fitbit Sense. I slept for 7 hours and 41 minutes, while he only logged 7:10, although he got more deep and REM sleep than I did.
Fitbit says the Lux will track oxygen saturation throughout the night, but that feature is “coming soon.” I have it on my senses and see it almost every day. It shows the overnight range (high and low) and an average. Mine is usually slightly lower than what I get with a pulse oximeter during waking hours, which is normal according to many of the articles I’ve read. UCSFHealth.org.
Fitbit says the Lux can last up to six days on a single charge, but this will vary depending on usage. I haven’t had enough time to know how long the battery lasts, but my Sense, which is also rated for six days, typically lasts about four days between charges. I use it overnight to track my oxygen saturation, which uses up extra energy. The nice thing about a multi-day battery is that you can wear it overnight instead of charging it. The Luxe charges very quickly, so it’s very easy to turn it off during the day or just before bed.
The Luxe’s small size comes with a drawback. The screen is a bit hard to read compared to other Fitbit devices. Clock faces (there are several available) don’t always display as much information as you’d get with larger Fitbit devices.
If the size and luxe metal back and color screen aren’t a big advantage to you, you can get more for your money with the Fitbit Charge 4 ($99.95). It’s a little wider than the Luxe (.9 versus .7 inches), but it’s the same size from top to bottom and only .1-inch thick. Unlike the Lux, it has its own GPS chip, which allows you to measure your runs, walks, hikes and bike rides without having to pass your phone. Fitbit says it offers up to seven days of battery life, but it has a grayscale rather than color display, which isn’t a deal killer for me.
The tracker itself displays some information along with more information available on the app. For the most information and data, you’ll need to subscribe to Fitbit Premium for $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. Depending on what’s on offer at the time, it comes with a 90-day or 6-month free subscription (you need to provide a credit card, so a calendar entry for when you need to cancel to avoid getting charged do). Anyone can subscribe to the AARP Supplemental Health Insurance Plan for free.
Before buying any fitness tracker, make sure you are familiar with the tools you have on your smartphone. Android and iPhone both have fitness apps (Google Fit and Apple Health track your steps, bike rides and other activities, even if you haven’t connected them to a smartwatch or fitness tracker).
And if you’re using a fitness band, smartwatch, or app to track your health and fitness, make sure you check with a health care provider before relying on or insisting on any data you reveal. Consult a professional. These devices do a relatively good but very accurate job of tracking various health and fitness trends, but they are not meant to diagnose medical conditions. For this you need an expert.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and Internet security activist.