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Review: Fitbit Force fitness monitor

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
Fitbit's latest activity tracking device looks to improve on the company's earlier offerings by incorporating a host of sensors, onboard screen and wireless connectivity into a wearable package.

Fitbit


Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a multi-part review series featuring fitness monitors and activity trackers. Over the coming weeks, AppleInsider will offer pros and cons for a number of upcoming devices, as well as those currently available.

Fitbit's recent offering, the Fitbit One, had a few flaws. Its clip would come off in our pants pocket, the device would constantly fall out of its holster and it wasn't waterproof. Does the new Force address these concerns and add to the user experience, or detract from it by making concessions in the name of wearability, like a smaller OLED screen?

Design



Fitbit Force improves on some of these things, if you don't mind wearing a wristband. The clasp to adjust the band is easy to use and the band itself is quite comfortable. It doesn't fall off under high activity. Unfortunately, it's not waterproof and the charging cable is offensive from a design sensibility standpoint.

Fitbit


On the upside, the band makes for an OK watch and a decent fitness tracker. Pressing the one button on the side of the display triggers an animation that reveals the time. Pressing it again cycles through steps, miles/km, calories, stairs climbed, activity, and any alarms for waking up that may have been programmed from the accompanying iOS app. When about six seconds have elapsed, the animation reverses and blanks the display. It's actually a very nice touch.

Fitbit Force is a medium-sized activity monitor, about the same size as the Nike+ Fuelband SE, but with a flat profile and squared-off edges rather than a curved surface. Where Nike has an array of LEDs that shine through its band, Fitbit has chosen a high quality OLED and smoked lens for it to shine through.

Fitbit uses a proprietary charging cable. In this instance, it plugs in on the back of the case inside the band. This is alright, but the shape of the plug doesn't appear to have gotten the same love from the design department as the rest of the product did. It looks ugly and plugging it into the band has a strong feel that seems like overkill. In all, it feels like a big step back from the good charging experience that we associated with the Fitbit One model.

In Use



In our testing we used the iOS app with an iPhone 5. Fitbit does ship a Bluetooth Low Energy USB dongle for computers that don't have BLE (Bluetooth 4.0.).

With Fitbit One, we found ourselves checking the steps taken during the day. When we wore the Nike+ Fuelband, we used it as a watch and checked steps. With Fitbit Force, we oddly have changed our behavior and don't even bother checking. We set an arbitrarily low goal of 4000 steps a day, and we notice when the wristband vibrates to tell us of our successes.

Fitbit


In use, the algorithm appears to be about as accurate as the Fitbit One or other variants of these smart pedometers, differing by a few steps here and there, but on the whole being accurate enough. It's important to remember that the goal isn't necessarily to hit 10,000 steps per day, but to hit about that much or more - there's nothing magical about Ten Thousand Steps, other than it means "We've properly managed to get off the couch, sedentary things that we are."

It's not the same as the prior device - the old one would occasionally encourage me to action, or display a flower as a way of showing my exertion. The smaller display on the new device prohibits that. Here, there are no encouragements, and the whole experience is more passive.

Instead of the flower on the display, there's number of minutes spent being active. This is ok, but it's not nearly as delightful a visual experience.

Fitbit has activity tagging similar to Misfit's Shine, but it's more closely focused on sleep. The button on the side of the Force band can be held for a long-press which starts a stopwatch. This records a sleep activity. The actigraphy used to determine the sleep cycle isn't amazing, but it's better than that used by apps on the iPhone that use the iPhone's accelerometer alone.

For example, it knows with pretty good accuracy when we actually fell asleep and awoke, even though the button was pressed sometime before falling asleep and an extended time after waking up. It also pinpoints restless periods and awake periods during the sleep cycle reasonably well.

A Word on Syncing and Firmware Updates



Syncing with the iOS app or updating firmware on the wristband happens through the iOS app. This sucks on ice.

We cannot express how frustrating this process is. The wristband connects via Bluetooth Low Energy, so there's no need to pair it in settings; it has to just work. And yet when syncing, we see the app telling us that it's looking for the Fitbit device.

Fitbit


Sometimes sync happens quickly, sometimes it takes quite a long time. When attempting a firmware update for the previous device, Fitbit One, it locates the device and then takes forever to update. For the Force, it took us repeated attempts for an update to take place. We fear firmware updates on the Fitbit Force or any Fitbit device thanks to the lousy experience we've had with this so far.

Also, if you happen to have more than one Fitbit device, the app is only able to sync with one at a time. If you're going to do something like replace an older device with a newer one, you need to know to force the sync on the older one before adding the new one. If you don't, you'll lose all data that's stored on the first device and hasn't been synced.

Fitbit


In our opinion, Fitbit knows that when it introduces a new device some percentage of users will update, and it should make one last sync to the old device an integrated part of adding the new device to the account.

Conclusion



Despite these problems, when it comes to recommending a device to family members, Fitbit is one this author can vouch for.

When the app syncs in the background, it works quite nicely. The web interface is a pleasure to use, although entering data for activities that were missed by the device isn't perfect - you may enter an activity but it isn't treated the same way data is that's been gathered by the device.

Fitbit


Fitbit Force is available in either black or slate and comes in two sizes, both of which can be purchased for $130.

Score: 3.5 out of 5



ratings_hl_35.png

Pros:


  • Great design
  • Beautiful OLED display with good animations.
  • Long battery life


Cons:


  • Inelegant charging cable
  • No multi-device or easy migration from old device to new
  • Updating firmware can be a chore
  • Not waterproof (water-resistant only)
post #2 of 26
I've been enjoying my Force.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Despite [the aforementioned] problems, when it comes to recommending a device to family members, Fitbit [Force] is one I can vouch for.

Good review and the above quoted text sums my feelings nicely.


edit: I had assumed the iOS app would periodically check for a firmware update and then push it (or ask to push it) to my Fitbit Force when the app syncs. It's pretty sad one needs to use Terminal to do an update when it can already sync to your devices via BT.

Mac
  • Open a Finder window.
  • Navigate to Applications > Utilities.
  • Double-click on the Terminal application to open it. A terminal window appears.
  • Now enter: FB_OPEN_MODE="userFirmwareUpdate" /Applications/Fitbit. app/Contents/MacOS/Fitbit
  • The Fitbit application will launch and upgrade your firmware.
  • Do not close the terminal window until after you have quit the Fitbit application.

Edited by SolipsismX - 12/1/13 at 7:28pm

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post #3 of 26
One additional (huge) con -- the clasp is awful. I had numerous issues with the force unhooking, until finally it fell off and poof was gone! $130 gone in a week! Based on that alone, I would not reccommend.
post #4 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK Terp View Post

One additional (huge) con -- the clasp is awful. I had numerous issues with the force unhooking, until finally it fell off and poof was gone! $130 gone in a week! Based on that alone, I would not reccommend.

Once I had it fall off but after that I made sure it was secure whenever I put it back on after a shower and that seems to have done the trick. But I agree that the clasp could be a lot better designed.

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post #5 of 26
Agree with others that there does seen to be a right and wrong way about making sure the wrist clasps are secure. Mine has come off a few times. My two year old likes to pull it off.

I like the Force much better than the Flex. The Force is accurate like my Fitbit One. The Flex was very inaccurate when pushing strollers, shopping carts, or elyptical machines. If you arms weren't moving the Flex wasn't counting. The Force has no such issues.

On the water resistant side, I've got mine very wet: showers, bathing my son, and some swimming. Nothing long term and not diving to a bottom of a pool, but fairly wet. I dry it off when I get out. No issues whatsoever. If it couldn't handle a shower I wouldn't want to own it.
post #6 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I've been enjoying my Force.

And may it be with you.

Lame, sorry. I remember you are a swimmer, correct? As this one isn't waterproof, what, if any, do you use? I'm still planning on trying to do a 70.3 one day, yes, one day, and would like feedback on what device people use for swimming. TIA
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post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post

And may it be with you.

Lame, sorry. I remember you are a swimmer, correct? As this one isn't waterproof, what, if any, do you use? I'm still planning on trying to do a 70.3 one day, yes, one day, and would like feedback on what device people use for swimming. TIA

I do swim, today I even went surfing for a couple hours, but I don't use any pedometer when I swim. In fact I don't even get mine wet. I have the power cable in a power outlet outside my bathroom so I charge while I shower which seems to be more than enough to keep it at capacity.

So far the only one I know that is designed to be feasible for repeated water sports is John Scully's Shine, but I didn't care for that one. Plus, I don't think any of them are smart enough to know when you're swimming v. walking so I assume you only get the same credit in terms of calories burned as you would if you're walking. Paces walked shouldn't even be a factor unless somehow weighted but distance traveled in miles/kilometers would likely be accurate.

A Half Ironman is pretty hardcore. I certainly couldn't do that but I also really dislike jogging. I've never once gotten a runner's high but I do get very, very irritable about everything (like how my shirt feels on my skin) after running for several miles which is why I'm convinced my body releases un-dorphins instead of endorphins when I run¡ What timeline are you looking to complete this 70.3? And do they offer one in the Nether Region or would you have to travel to another country?

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post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I don't think any of them are smart enough to know when you're swimming v. walking

Timex makes watches that do know. Or at least, you hit the start button before hitting the water haha. But they seem to be the best out there, even measuring your strokes. Garmin also makes these trisport watches, but I use their most expensive GPS device for cycling, and it's a total piece of shit. The whole design, software, HW, every singel thing is so freaking bad that I wish I hadn't bought it. But at the same time I don't want to simply throw it away while it still functions. I simply enter the data in my log and hope it will brake soon.
Quote:
I'm convinced my body releases un-dorphins instead of endorphins when I run¡

Too funny!
Quote:
What timeline are you looking to complete this 70.3? And do they offer one in the Nether Region or would you have to travel to another country?

Need to travel for an official event, closest is Hamburg. Or Luxembourg. For now I'm just trying to get my training together. I was already cycling for a few years, and can easily do the 90km within 3 hours. The running I just picked up this year; my fastest 21.1km is 1h49min. I just need to learn how to swim. Right now I just look at the clock in the pool where I swim, but will need a proper device (watch) when I can do 100m within 2 min.

So basically I'm trying to get a 'decent time' for each sport. Then hopefully next year I can try this 70.3 out at an unofficial event in The Netherlands; finishing would be great for now, lol. Setting a good time comes secondary.
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post #9 of 26
I think your comment calling the design of the charging cable "offensive" is ludicrous.

What is offensive is a reviewer whose critique of such an inanimate object that serves a sole function without any comparison to any other highly designed charging cable.
Why?
Because there is NO highly designed cables in existence.
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by atltl View Post

I think your comment calling the design of the charging cable "offensive" is ludicrous.

What is offensive is a reviewer whose critique of such an inanimate object that serves a sole function without any comparison to any other highly designed charging cable.
Why?
Because there is NO highly designed cables in existence.

  1. Why can't a person be offended at the designers of a shipping product that they think fails in certain ways?

  2. I wouldn't call it offensive but it's certainly not the ind of cable you can plug in easily when you're half asleep or sozzled. From my PoV it's much better than having a lowly designed micro-USB port and/or having it on the side of the device even though either one of these things would make it much easier to plug in than the current design.

    But with design comes trade-offs and luckily it's something you need to plug in often like with current "smart watches" from Sony and Samsung. Plus it nicely hidden and I assume the greater than usual pressure used to attach it is to help keep it water tight, both of which I am grateful for. One possible solution could be a slide option that is open on one or both ends so that the pins click in place in a channel which but that might add thickness or increase wear and tear in a way that isn't feasible right now (assuming they tried another method).

  3. I think Apple's Lightning Connector and mini-DisplayPort/Thunderbolt ports are of high design, with the former being of remarkable design. USB 3.0 Standard-B has gotten much worse and Micro-B for USB 2.0. while ubiquitous now with other vendor's devices, is a horrible design when it comes to longevity of use, with Micro-B for USB 3.0 getting obnoxious in size for a modern, micro-connector, but at least is seems more resilient than Micro-B for USB 2.0.

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post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I've been enjoying my Force.
Good review and the above quoted text sums my feelings nicely.


edit: I had assumed the iOS app would periodically check for a firmware update and then push it (or ask to push it) to my Fitbit Force when the app syncs. It's pretty sad one needs to use Terminal to do an update when it can already sync to your devices via BT.
 
Mac
  • Open a Finder window.
  • Navigate to Applications > Utilities.
  • Double-click on the Terminal application to open it. A terminal window appears.
  • Now enter: FB_OPEN_MODE="userFirmwareUpdate" /Applications/Fitbit. app/Contents/MacOS/Fitbit
  • The Fitbit application will launch and upgrade your firmware.
  • Do not close the terminal window until after you have quit the Fitbit application.

It's possible to do the firmware update from iOS, although it may work better to do so from Mac in Terminal. My speculation is that this would be a result of the way developers at fitbit program devices when they're testing them on their bench.

post #12 of 26
Originally Posted by atltl View Post
Because there is NO highly designed cables in existence.

 

I’m sorry, you have to be joking. That’s all there is to it. You cannot possibly be basing your argument on this.

post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK Terp View Post

One additional (huge) con -- the clasp is awful. I had numerous issues with the force unhooking, until finally it fell off and poof was gone! $130 gone in a week! Based on that alone, I would not reccommend.

Contact fitbit's support and tell them so. 

post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by vmarks View Post

It's possible to do the firmware update from iOS, although it may work better to do so from Mac in Terminal. My speculation is that this would be a result of the way developers at fitbit program devices when they're testing them on their bench.

Last night I downloaded the Fitbit app for the Mac and tried to see if there was a firmware update. I quit after it couldn't find my device and recommended using the USB dongle. I assumed my 2013 MBP's BT 4.0 would meant I didn't have to go that route.

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post #15 of 26
Not exactly sure where you got the No easy migration from old device to new. It took me under 60 seconds to switch from my Flex to Force. It was as easy as syncing the Flex for good measure, setting up the Force (aka logging in to my account), and syncing my Force. I didn't lose any data in the process, and in setting up the Force, my Flex was removed from my account making it available for my mother to set up. It couldn't have been easier.

Aside from it's obvious lack of style (friends have asked me if it's like an ankle bracelet for house arrest), my only gripe about it really has been the lack of waterproofness. Not having to worry about wearing my Flex in the shower or that time my friend flipped my kayak over during vacation was a plus.
post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by amocko View Post

Not exactly sure where you got the No easy migration from old device to new. It took me under 60 seconds to switch from my Flex to Force. It was as easy as syncing the Flex for good measure, setting up the Force (aka logging in to my account), and syncing my Force. I didn't lose any data in the process, and in setting up the Force, my Flex was removed from my account making it available for my mother to set up. It couldn't have been easier.

Aside from it's obvious lack of style (friends have asked me if it's like an ankle bracelet for house arrest), my only gripe about it really has been the lack of waterproofness. Not having to worry about wearing my Flex in the shower or that time my friend flipped my kayak over during vacation was a plus.

 

Steps to repeat:

 

  1. Purchase and use Fitbit Zip or Fitbit One.
  2. Purchase and use Fitbit Force, mid-day.
  3. Notice that the app says only one device may be used at a time. 
  4. Realize that data that has not synchronized from older Fitbit device is now going to be lost on the web account - that you can end up with a day where 61 steps are reported from the new device when you had thousands pre-upgrade.

 

Additional gripe: You now own two devices. One may be more appropriate for some settings than others (bracelet for sport, zip or one for more discreet occasions. You can only use one device with the app / account at a time. 

post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by amocko View Post

Aside from it's obvious lack of style (friends have asked me if it's like an ankle bracelet for house arrest), my only gripe about it really has been the lack of waterproofness. Not having to worry about wearing my Flex in the shower or that time my friend flipped my kayak over during vacation was a plus.

That's is one of my concerns too. Hate to be shallow but these things need to look sleek, minimal, and sexy IMHO. As well as durable and water resistant.

Been wanting to get one of these but they are always lacking in one department or the other. I also would love a heart beat monitor.

If they tweaked the design of this one for the clasp and the size a bit, added a hearty beat sensor and made it completely water proof it'd be a no brainer for me.
post #18 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by amocko View Post

Aside from it's obvious lack of style (friends have asked me if it's like an ankle bracelet for house arrest),

It is rather plain but I like that about it, at least in comparison to other options out there.

Welcome to the forum.

Quote:
Originally Posted by StephanJobs View Post

That's is one of my concerns too. Hate to be shallow but these things need to look sleek, minimal, and sexy IMHO. As well as durable and water resistant.

Been wanting to get one of these but they are always lacking in one department or the other. I also would love a heart beat monitor.

If they tweaked the design of this one for the clasp and the size a bit, added a hearty beat sensor and made it completely water proof it'd be a no brainer for me.

All the things you mention are why I think it's going to be tough for a company like Apple to produce a revolutionary, unified product akin to the iPhone.

How do you make something that is durable athletic wear that can be considered jewelry (or at least seem a luxury-class item) while so having an advanced computer system with long battery life?

I'm not sure it's possible. The long lasting fitness monitors are too simple, and the complex smart watches are large and power inefficient. Can Apple find a model ground that isn't the "no compromise" of the MS Surface in that it's bad at everything? Eventually, sure, but in 2014 I'm not so sure the state-of-the-art will be there.

PS: It would be nice to constantly monitor one's heart rate (blood pressure, oxygen saturation, etc.) but that would require constant pressure on the skin in some fashion until one-a-day ePills are commercially available. There are, however, several free iOS apps that use the camera and LED flash to accurately measure your heart rate. If you only want a periodic measure they work quite well.

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post #19 of 26
I shall remain in love with Nike and forever and every .... until they begin supporting android crap!

Until then .... my Nike SE has been serving well pushing me to move my a$$ and run around!

....the lack of properly optimized apps is one of the reasons "why the experience on Android tablets is so crappy".

Tim Cook ~ The Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2014

Inside Google! 

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....the lack of properly optimized apps is one of the reasons "why the experience on Android tablets is so crappy".

Tim Cook ~ The Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2014

Inside Google! 

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post #20 of 26
I purchased the Fitbit Force the first day it came out. As you can see in the picture of this review, my Fitbit Force also had the dry glue on the side, which would not come off. There is no motivation built in with this gadget. The band itself is a piece of junk and easily comes off, it is also a pain to put on. I used it in the shower and it registered over 300 steps, very inaccurate. I returned it after 4 days of use and instead purchased the Nike+ Fuelband SE, which I have owned for the past 2 weeks and am very content with it, even though it lacks some of the Fitbit Force features, the Fuelband SE is still worth buying. I was holding out for the LG Smart Activity Tracker, or see what Apple has up its sleeve, but both companies failed to make a fitness tracker product in time for the Holidays. Merry Christmas.
Edited by jcintron - 12/2/13 at 4:59pm
post #21 of 26
I have found that even after aggressively trying to squeeze it on, my Force falls off unexpectedly. A brush against something is all it takes to gracefully fall off. I tried various methods of attaching it more securely and found that a simple paper clip, preferably plastic coated, can be bent to slip into a latching slot and then over the clasp. It works well and is comfortable. I wish I could add a picture to this post to show everyone.
post #22 of 26

That said, the latching mechanism is a design flaw that FitBit really needs to rectify. I am hopeful that as new designs emerge, FitBit will offer free or very low cost retrofits to existing customers. I think they would buy a lot of brand loyalty if they do this. I am certain that people are losing there devices because of the poorly engineered clasp mechanism. Lastly, by recording what I eat and keeping within a calorie budget, I am actually having fun losing a bit of weight without noticeable hardship. For a borderline diabetic like me, this is a transformative life tool.  

post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SageSigh View Post

I have found that even after aggressively trying to squeeze it on, my Force falls off unexpectedly. A brush against something is all it takes to gracefully fall off. I tried various methods of attaching it more securely and found that a simple paper clip, preferably plastic coated, can be bent to slip into a latching slot and then over the clasp. It works well and is comfortable. I wish I could add a picture to this post to show everyone.

It does take more effort and awareness than should be needed to attach the band but mine holds quite well once it's attached. Perhaps you can contact them and get a replacement as I doubt you're the only one having this issue.

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post #24 of 26

It is important to note that many people (go to discussions on Fitbit website) are experiencing what looks like a "burn" under the location of the charging port on the Fitbit Force.  The company is not responding appropriately or quickly enough to the consumers who are showing increasing frustration and disappointment with this otherwise wonderful product.  The company seems to believe it is a contact dermatitis associated with the nickel used on the charging port.  Consumers are beginning to question whether there is low level radiation that is causing contact radiation burns. This is not good!!  The burns appear anywhere from 2 weeks to a month after wearing.  Many people switch wrists and end up with burns on each wrist.  The healing time has been inordinately long for a contact dermatitis which would resolve fairly quickly after the offending allergen is removed. 

Buyer beware!

post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

All the things you mention are why I think it's going to be tough for a company like Apple to produce a revolutionary, unified product akin to the iPhone.

How do you make something that is durable athletic wear that can be considered jewelry (or at least seem a luxury-class item) while so having an advanced computer system with long battery life?

I'm not sure it's possible. The long lasting fitness monitors are too simple, and the complex smart watches are large and power inefficient. Can Apple find a model ground that isn't the "no compromise" of the MS Surface in that it's bad at everything? Eventually, sure, but in 2014 I'm not so sure the state-of-the-art will be there.

PS: It would be nice to constantly monitor one's heart rate (blood pressure, oxygen saturation, etc.) but that would require constant pressure on the skin in some fashion until one-a-day ePills are commercially available. There are, however, several free iOS apps that use the camera and LED flash to accurately measure your heart rate. If you only want a periodic measure they work quite well.

Yes..it's gonna be difficult to maintain all these qualities. I can forgo a couple, as long as it looks nice, is waterproof and has some ingenuous qualities to it.

I think apple can tackle at these qualities easily. I look forward to their answer.

I actually am quite happy their are so many options out there. It's gonna be another one of those products where apple most likely will come along and prove why they still are the best at revolutionizing.

I've notice that nowadays, when companies hear of a product rumor apple could be producing, they rush to the market to make something in the attempt not to be overshadowed. Samsungs smart watch is a perfect example.

Funny how their vision has actually turned some people off to the idea.

I still think there's something great coming.
post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by StephanJobs View Post

Yes..it's gonna be difficult to maintain all these qualities. I can forgo a couple, as long as it looks nice, is waterproof and has some ingenuous qualities to it.

I think apple can tackle at these qualities easily. I look forward to their answer.

I actually am quite happy their are so many options out there. It's gonna be another one of those products where apple most likely will come along and prove why they still are the best at revolutionizing.

I've notice that nowadays, when companies hear of a product rumor apple could be producing, they rush to the market to make something in the attempt not to be overshadowed. Samsungs smart watch is a perfect example.

Funny how their vision has actually turned some people off to the idea.

I still think there's something great coming.

Google has some something in the works that is getting FDA approval. The word is people that do with heart rate monitoring are examining it. so it could be a wrist device, something for the eye with Glass, or a headphone/headset in the form of a pulse.

I want Apple to tackle this but I find this unlikely for an always-on device on the wrist unless it uses some sophisticated wireless to take a pulse. But do we really need that on all the time? Wouldn't just the option to place your finger on the device on your wrist to take the pulse whilst running be enough? If not, perhaps the headphone pulse rate monitor I've read about would be a good fit.

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