For the past several months, I’ve been wearing a Fitbit Sense smartwatch/fitness band ($228 at Amazon) to track my exercise routines, pulse, breathing rate, skin temperature, oxygen saturation while sleeping and “stress level,” It also tracks resting hearth rate and heart
rate variability (HRV). That last metric shows the variation in time between heart beats, and according to Fitbit, “a higher HRV is linked with better health.” Like the Apple Watch, Sense can also be used to check for an irregular heartbeat via its EKG (electrocardiogram) function.
The Sense has a 1.6-inch square color screen, which is big enough even 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 of course many people are looking for more affordable fitness bands.
Enter the Luxe, Fitbit’s newest fitness band that measures 1.4 inches long by .7 inches wide and is .4 inches thick sells for about $149. Fitbit bills the Luxe as a “new fashion-forward health and wellness tracker,” but fashion is in the eye of the beholder. Its diminutive size makes it less intrusive looking than larger trackers and smartwatches, but it’s still an electronic device and not a piece of fine jewelry, which is true for 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 pay $50 more for a gold stainless steel Parker Link Bracelet from the jewelry 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 has some of the features you get in a smartwatch including call, text & smartphone notifications, silent alarms and a timer and stopwatch. As a fitness device, it tracks your heart rate 24/7, displays pace and distance during walks, jogs, hikes and bike rides if it’s paired with your smartphone (it doesn’t have its own GPS) and tracks and reports your footsteps and calories burned. It also, through the Fitbit smartphone app, displays a “Stress Management Score that tracks physical signs of stress with a score from 1 to 100. I have this feature on my Sense and don’t pay a lot of attention to it because it doesn’t seem to corollate well with my own sense of my stress levels. 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 with an 81 from my Fitbit Sense. I slept for 7 hours and 41 minutes while she only logged 7:10, although she did get more deep and REM sleep than I did.
Fitbit says the Luxe will track oxygen saturation overnight, but that feature is “coming soon.” I have it on my Sense and look at it almost every day. It shows the overnight range (high and low) and an average. Mine is generally a bit lower than what I get with a pulse oximeter during waking hours, which is normal according to several articles I’ve read including one from UCSFHealth.org.
Fitbit says the Luxe can run for up to six days on a single charge, but that will vary depending on usage. I haven’t had the Luxe long enough to know how long the battery lasts, but my Sense, which is also rated for six days, typically runs for about four days between charges. I use it overnight to track my oxygen saturation, which uses additional energy. The nice thing about a multiday battery is that you can wear it overnight rather than charging it. The Luxe charges very quickly, so it’s pretty easy to top it off during the day or even right before bed.
The Luxe’s small size comes with one drawback. The screen, compared with other Fitbit devices, is a bit hard to read. The clock faces (there are many available) don’t always display as much information as what you get with larger Fitbit devices.
If size and the Luxe’s metal back and color screen aren’t a major advantage to you, you can get more for your money with a Fitbit Charge 4 ($99.95). It’s slightly wider than the Luxe (.9 vs .7 inch), but it’s the same size top to bottom and only .1-inch thicker. Unlike the Luxe, it has its own GPS chip, which allows you to measure your runs, walks, hikes and bike rides without having your phone nearby. Fitbit says it gets up to seven days battery life, but it has a grayscale rather than a color display, which isn’t a deal killer for me.
The tracker itself displays some information with more available on the app. For the most insight and data, you need to subscribe to Fitbit Premium for $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. Depending upon the offer at the time, it comes with a 90-day or 6-month free membership (you need to provide a credit card, so make a calendar entry for when you need to cancel to avoid being charged). Anyone on the AARP supplemental health insurance plan can get a free membership.
Before you buy any fitness tracker, make sure you’re familiar with the tools that are on your smartphone. Both Android and iPhone have fitness apps (Google Fit and Apple Health track your footsteps, bike rides and other activities even if you do don’t have them paired to a smartwatch or fitness tracker).
And if you are using a fitness band, smartwatch or an app to track your health and fitness, make sure you consult a health care professional before relying on or stressing over whatever data they reveal. These devices do a relatively good but far-from-perfect job of tracking various health and fitness trends, but they are not meant to diagnose medical conditions. For that you need an expert.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.