Fitbit’s Flex wristband goes on sale: harder to lose, easier to track

When I started wearing Fitbit’s clip-on fitness tracker a few months ago, I loved how easy it was to hide. You can clip it to a pants pocket (or ladies can clip it to an undergarment) and no one has to know that it’s there.

But I, like a few of my colleagues and other users, soon discovered a downside to Fitbit’s (see disclosure) discreet design — it’s so inconspicuous that you can forget about it entirely. On several occasions, it ended up in my laundry hamper, on the verge of taking a dunk in the washing machine. And many days, I’d simply forget to re-attach it to an article of clothing.

So I was curious to check out Fitbit’s newest device, the Flex wristband, which the company debuted earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show and is available starting today.

Like the Nike Fuelband (s NKE) and Jawbone’s UP, the Flex is a sporty band worn around the wrist. It logs steps taken, distance traveled, hours slept and active minutes – a new stat measuring the number of moderate-intensity cardio minutes experienced a day. It syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth with Fibit iOS and Android apps and also displays data through an online dashboard.

fitbit oneI chose Fitbit’s One tracker over the Fuelband and UP precisely because I didn’t want an extra accessory on my wrist. But after wearing the Flex for a couple of days, I can see the benefits of the new design. It’s nice not rummaging through your laundry hamper to find the tracker or trying to find a suitable pocket each day on which to clip it. And while I loved the One’s sleep-tracking and alarm capabilities in theory, I rarely actually put it in the device’s nighttime wrist band so that it could do actually do its job. With the Flex, it’s easier to monitor sleep and use its wake-up feature because the tracker is already attached to your wrist (although you do need to remember to tap it into sleep mode).

I also liked the simplicity of the Flex’s display. With the One, I was constantly fumbling under layers to check my steps or loading the app and waiting for the Bluetooth connection to show my progress. But the Flex includes LED lights that indicate how close you are to achieving your daily goal instead of an actual screen that shares stats. With a couple of taps, it shows one to four lights, with each light representing 20 percent of your daily steps. When you reach your goal, the device buzzes in acknowledgement.

Still, despite the extra convenience I experienced with the new Flex design, I’m still not in love with its aesthetic. The band was more comfortable and unobtrusive than I expected it to be, but (like the Fuelband and UP) it’s still more of an accessory than I’d like it to be. It also took me a while to get the band to snap into place on my wrist (the company acknowledges that the clasp can be tricky but wanted to err on the side of making it more secure).

Those who already have a Fitbit or other activity tracking device might not be in a rush to buy another. But it’s an attractive, full-featured option for those in the market for an activity tracker — and its $99.95 price tag might be more appealing than the slightly more expensive Fuelbands and UPs.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.