Nike+ FuelBand SE

  • Category: Accessories

  • Review Date: 11/13/2013
  • Bottom line: The Nike+ FuelBand SE fitness-tracking bangle looks sporty and feels comfortable, but it's priced higher than other devices that measure more meaningful data.
  • Pros: Sporty, sturdy, and comfortable design. Displays time, steps, calories burned, and "fuel" on band. Wirelessly syncs over Bluetooth. iOS app is free. Neat group features. Lets you isolate and name special activities.
  • Cons: Slightly pricey. Doesn't track distance, stairs climbed, heart rate, skin temperature, or sleep. No auto-detection for specific activities. "Fuel" is murky in meaning. No Android app. Mobile app exhibited some bugs.
Editor Rating: 3.50

By Jill Duffy

The market for fitness trackers—those modern day equivalents of 1980s pedometers—couldn't be more exciting. Wearable technologies help us get more exercise, or at least become more mindful of how sedentary we are so we can start to make a change. The Nike+ FuelBand SE ($149 direct), from the international sports apparel giant, is the second generation of the Nike+ FuelBand series, and it does a decent job of tracking your daily activity and displaying it to you when and where you want to see it.

The bangle is the same form factor as its predecessor, only now with eye-catching accent color options. A few new features and improvements make the SE better than the original FuelBand, but the competition is certainly fierce, and the FuelBand SE's moderately high price makes it $50 more expensive than the best trackers on the market, namely, Fitbit One and Withings Pulse. Those two devices simply do more and cost less.

Nike measures all your movements regardless of the type of activity, and translates them into "fuel," a unit of measure that Nike invented that I find highly reminiscent of Weight Watcher's proprietary "points." Fuel is a murky concept at first, although it becomes more relevant over time as you get comfortable with how much fuel you earn in an average day, or how much fuel your friends earn. If you prefer tracking calories expended and steps taken, the Nike+ FuelBand SE does indeed allow you to add those metrics (via the iPhone app) so that they'll light up on the dot matrix display on the bracelet any time you want. But you can't see distance traveled, and it doesn't track how many flights of stairs you climb, either, which the Fitbit One does. Want to see your heart rate? The FuelBand SE also can't help you there, although the Withings Pulse and Basis B1 Band ($199 direct) can. In my eyes, you'd buy the Nike+ FuelBand SE if you absolutely love its design. And it's spectacularly sporty and chic. But for capturing a lot of data, you're better off with another product.

The simple matte black rubberized FuelBand SE is a hard bangle with an LED dot matrix display. It snaps into place beneath a little Nike swoosh logo. The Nike+ FuelBand SE currently comes in all black, or black with an accent color—yellow, magenta-pink, and orange. They come in three sizes (S, M/L, XL), and helpful guidelines on Nike's site steer you toward the right size based on height, weight, and sex. Each band comes with two different-sized extender links, so even within each size, there's some wiggle room.

Also included in the package (the packaging itself looks as elegant as anything you'd buy from Apple) is a USB charging cable and sizing tool.

The display, which is super retro-chic, works with an ambient light sensor that detects environmental light and adjusts the brightness automatically. Even in strong sunlight, the FuelBand SE's readouts are totally legible.

Hidden beneath the Nike logo that fastens the band is a connection point that plugs into a USB charger, which also uploads data from the band to your Nike+ account via a Windows or Mac computer.

I like the design quite a bit, really. The simple bracelet doesn't look like much at all, and the accent colors give it a hint of style (I opted for magenta-pink). I really hate fitness gadgets that stand out too much, such as the unsightly and highly visible BodyMedia Fit Core armband ($179.99 plus $6.95 per month). The FuelBand SE, on the other hand, blends right in with casual attire.

The sole button on the SE is practically flush with the rest of the band—not even visible at a distance. Pressing the button lights up the LED display, where you'll find the current day's data: fuel, calories, steps, time, and "hours won" (hours when you were active for at least five consecutive minutes).

The band is water-resistant, but not water-proof. There's no need to panic in a rainstorm, but you should remove it to swim.

Nike+ FuelBand SE in Action
I picked up my band on a Friday morning and started tracking my activity immediately. One new feature on the SE is the ability to record special activities, such as runs, bicycle rides, soccer games, or anything else you want. To activate this feature, you press and hold the button until "START" appears on the band, then press the button once more to begin recording. It's almost like a stopwatch feature, except that when you upload your data to the Nike+ Web account or app later, you'll be able to name this activity and add notes to it, such as the intensity level.

This new feature is a huge step in the right direction, but it doesn't go nearly as far as a recent firmware update for the Basis B1 fitness watch, which now automatically detects the difference between a run, walk, and bicycle ride. The Basis B1 Band even displays on the watch itself which activity it's sensing and how much time it has recorded for it so far.

The first time I used the new feature for recording special activity (a bike ride) with the FuelBand SE, I forgot to press the button again when I finished. The next morning when I woke up, the band was still recording my time, and the battery was very low. Whoops. When I logged into the Web account, however, I was able to adjust the total time on the activity.

As you move throughout the day, the band keeps count cumulatively. There's a little row of colored lights bordering the top of the main dot matrix display, which starts with just one light at first and slowly increases throughout the day as you're active. The more you move, the more lights are added, and they go from orange, to yellow, then green. When you hit your goal, the full row of lights illuminates, and a message pops up to congratulate you. It's helpful in terms of checking in on your progress, and similar to the Fitbit One's growing "flower" display, which becomes taller the more active you are.

Accuracy Testing
I also took the FuelBand for a very precise one-mile stroll around a circular outdoor track while I used a click counter to keep track of how many steps I took: 3,093 (if you search the Internet for how many steps, on average, make up a mile, and you'll find the estimation is 2,000). Since the Nike+ FuelBand SE doesn't record distance, the data it provides is hard to prove accurate or inaccurate—unless you literally count your steps as I did. The FuelBand SE said I took 1,865 steps! That's almost half what I got with the click counter.

On the same four-lap journey, the Fitbit One logged me at having traveled 0.98 miles and taken 2,087 steps. The mile reading was impressively close (0.02 miles difference is within what I'd call the margin of error), although the steps were still more than 30 percent off.

During the controlled walk, the FuelBand SE estimated I burned 77 calories, which is spot-on what the Internet thinks I burn in a one-mile walk based on my weight and speed (about 3.0 to 3.5 miles per hour; I had to go a little slow to use the click counter). It credited me as having earned 347 fuel points, which doesn't mean anything to new users who have no frame of reference for what "fuel" means. (I'm keen to repeat this measured mile test a few more times to see if the results are consistent. Stay tuned.)

Seeing as fuel is its own measurement, it become more valuable and relevant as you watch your data over time. For example, if you consistently reach 2,000 fuel points in a day, you might want to increase your goal to 2,500. When you change your goal, the app and Web account do provide some suggestions as to whether you're about to turn the heat up on yourself too much. Still, no one really knows what "fuel" means, so it's all rather arbitrary until it's comparative.

Fuel App
The Nike+ FuelBand mobile app (free) is for iPhone only, which will be likely be a show-stopping reason Android users won't want to pay $150 for this particular fitness tracker. iPhone users, however, will find that the app provides access to the controls you need rather wonderfully. You can change the time, swap which wrist you've designated for calibration, and choose which metrics you want the FuelBand SE to display (steps, calories burned, and hours "won").

The app gives you insight into your current day's progress. You can sync data to the app via Bluetooth 4.0. In testing, syncing was totally smooth.

There's a neat "move reminders" setting that causes the band to light up and motivate you to get out of your chair more frequently throughout the day. Without a vibration function like the Jawbone UP ($129) has in its similar setting, though, I often didn't see it flash.

I did hit one bug in the Nike+ FuelBand app. I wanted to adjust the time that my Move Reminders would be active from the 9-to-5 default to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. When I saved the change, the app reverted it to 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Only on-the-hour settings seemed to stick. The save button behaved differently on this page compared with others (it flashed, but did not cause the screen to close out), so I'm guessing that's where the bug lies.

There isn't any way to differentiate between weekday and weekend reminders, either, which would be a great feature. Even better: I'd love to see the ability to adjust my personal goal for different days of the week, seeing as I typically get 50 percent more activity on the weekends.

You can find a number of social features in the app, as well as in the Web dashboard, which include connecting to Facebook and Twitter, of course. A new feature is the ability to create groups of other users, such as a runner's club. You can invite people to join a group that you set up, where people can see one another's Nike+ progress with a leaderboard, comment on the group page, and so forth.

Nike+ FuelBand SE for Design
The very best thing Nike+ FuelBand SE has going for it is the design. The fun, black bangle with bright accent colors looks great and feels comfortable all day long. Unfortunately, it doesn't track nearly as many kinds of data as other fitness trackers that cost a third less, and for accuracy, I'd think most users would want to see distance traveled—the primary metric that FuelBand doesn't include.

The clip-on Withings Pulse, our Editors' Choice, hits the sweet $99 spot in price while giving you great insight into your data, as well as a built-in heart rate monitor (though it's not continuous). For twice as much money, you can see continuous heart rate throughout the day and night with the Basis B1 Band, which is by far the most interesting fitness tracker on the market, even though it's expensive. I'm also still a huge fan of the very practical and highly accurate Fitbit line, particularly the clip-on One because it includes an altimeter for tracking stairs climbed, but also the Fitbit Flex ($99.95) and Force, if you prefer to wear something on the wrist.

But if you liked the original Nike+ FuelBand, understand "fuel," and are looking to upgrade, the FuelBand SE is a fine choice.